Peter, writing to believers scattered throughout various provinces of Asia Minor (1 Peter 1:1), encourages them even as they face suffering and persecution. In a section of his first epistle, Peter speaks of the gospel that “was preached also to those who are dead” (1 Peter 4:6, NKJV).
To understand what Peter meant by the gospel’s being preached “to those who are dead,” we should look at the immediate context. Here is a brief summary of the verses leading up to 1 Peter 4:6:
1 Peter 3:18–22, Christ has suffered for sin, was raised again, and ascended to His position of authority in heaven.
1 Peter 4:1, Believers in Christ must likewise be ready to suffer in this world and consider themselves dead to sin.
1 Peter 4:2, Life is to be lived for the will of God, not for the lust of the flesh.
1 Peter 4:3, Before they were saved, believers lived as the pagans do, pursuing all sorts of sin.
1 Peter 4:4, Now, believers’ lives have changed, and their former companions are surprised at the transformation and engage in slander against the believers.
1 Peter 4:5, The unsaved who are persecuting the believers will give an account to God, who is ready to judge all.
This brings us to 1 Peter 4:6 and its statement that the gospel was preached to those who are dead. We will consider the verse phrase by phrase, using the New American Standard Bible:
For the gospel has for this purpose - The good news of salvation in Christ has a certain divine objective.
been preached even to those who are dead, - During their lifetime, the gospel was preached to those who are now dead, martyred for their faith in Christ. (The NIV and CSB insert the word now before dead to make the meaning clearer.)
that though they are judged in the flesh as people, - These believers died, as all people do.
they may live in the spirit according to the will of God. - Because of the gospel, these martyrs live forever, according to God’s purpose.
So, in this passage the apostle Peter gives great hope and encouragement to believers who are suffering for their faith. They are following Christ’s example, as He also suffered at the hands of sinners. Their enemies will be judged by God, who is keeping track of injustice. Their friends who have died are right now experiencing eternal life in heaven, and they, too, will overcome death through the power of the gospel.