There is a heretical view of Christ’s atonement that encapsulates a theory commonly referred to as Ransom Theology or Ransom Theory, which states that Christ paid a ransom to Satan in His death in order to buy the rights to save humanity which has fallen captive to Satan.
Throughout the ages, this view became increasingly recognized as heretical as it is readily apparent that Satan is himself a rebel who cannot hold any claim on humanity, and therefore God does not owe him anything but eternal punishment.
The problem is that certain peripheral aspects of Ransom to Satan Theory have persisted to this day in some denominations.
Some hold that after His death on the cross, Jesus descended into hell to proclaim victory (possibly evangelize) to those who perished in ancient times, based on 1 Pet 3:18-20
“18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah…”
This view is not acceptable for the following reasons:
1. Christ’s work of redemption was finished on the cross for EVERYONE to see: God the Father, angels, heavenly creatures, humans, demons, and Satan. In John 19:30, Jesus proclaims in the final seconds of His life: “IT IS FINISHED.” There is no other work to be done for proclamation of victory or redemption. Heaven and hell were witnesses. There is no need for Christ to descent into hell for any proclamation or evangelism.
2. When Jesus died on the cross, He went straight to the Father. Again, in the final seconds of His agony, Luke presents the following: “Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last (Luke 23:46).
3. A descend by Christ into hell opens the door to heresy. Proclamation of victory or evangelism in hell presents similar ideas to purgatory and possibility salvation of unrepented sinners after death. This is against sound Christian doctrine which views death as a final decisive event with respect to outcome of salvation or damnation.
So what did Peter mean when he said that Christ went to proclaim to the “spirits in prison?”
A close examination of 1 Peter 3 shows that the context of this affirmation is linked to the preaching of Noah in the pre-flood era.
Here is the ESV commentary explanation:
a. Peter calls Noah a “herald of righteousness” (2 Pet. 2:5 ), where “herald” represents Greek kēryx, “preacher,” which corresponds to the noun kēryssō, “proclaim,” in 1 Pet. 3:19
b. Peter says the “Spirit of Christ” was speaking through the OT prophets ( 1:11 ); thus Christ could have been speaking through Noah as an OT prophet.
c. The context indicates that Christ was preaching through Noah, who was in a persecuted minority, and God saved Noah, which is similar to the situation in Peter’s time: Christ is now preaching the gospel through Peter and his readers (v. 15 ) to a persecuted minority, and God will save them.
Christ finished His work on the cross and did not need to descend into hell for any further work.
He said it “IT IS FINISHED.”
And it was finished.