The key to understanding I Pet. 4:6 is in knowing the identity of the “dead” spoken of by Peter. At the time Peter wrote this epistle (about A.D. 67 to 69), multiple thousands of Christians had already been living according to the way of life that was preached by the apostles. In the span of time after the apostles’ preaching began, some had lived a Christian life and had died. Many had suffered martyrdom at the hands of unscrupulous religionists or pagan civil leaders.
When did these dead have the Gospel preached to them? Obviously, they had the Gospel preached to them while they were yet alive. The Bible shows that “the dead know not any thing” and that “there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave” (Eccl. 9:5, 10). Clearly, the dead cannot receive any communication whatsoever. Preaching is for the living, not the dead.
There is one other sense in which the Gospel is preached to those who are “dead.” In this case, the term “dead” is used in reference to people who have not repented, and thus have not been forgiven by God. They are still “dead” in their trespasses — they have not yet received God’s Spirit, which is the down payment of eternal life. Jesus mentions such people in Luke 9:60. Paul explains further in Ephesians 2:1 by saying that such people are “dead in trespasses and sins.” Some who exist physically are dead spiritually because they have not yet heeded the Gospel of the Kingdom.
The Church of God has been commissioned to preach the Gospel as a witness to the world (Matt. 24:14). Yet, most people have not yet been called by God and do not heed that message. They remain both in ignorance and in sin. They continue to live and be judged by the standards men devise, rather than “according to God in the spirit.”Each of these individuals will ultimately be given an opportunity to receive salvation.