How many of you clicked this because of the title? It’s okay. You can admit it. Yes, you read it right. While it may sound blasphemous to one without understanding, by the end of this article, it may actually sound like solid doctrine. This subject was brought up in a recent episode of The Particular Baptist podcast and I wanted to flesh it out a bit more for the blog.
We always say that God loved us so much that he gave His son to die on the cross but how many of us really stop to think about it? We all know Jesus died and rose again three days later, but most people don’t really think about the time in between.
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,The Apostles Creed
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sinsa;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.
Before going any further, I will admit there have been varied interpretations of this over the years. Among Particular Baptists, Hercules Collins’ An Orthodox Catechism is a favored work. Question 23 of the catechism recognizes the Apostle’s Creed as one of our articles of faith. Question 44 attempts to answer the question of what “He descended into hell” actually means. While being a helpful work, I do believe Collins got this one wrong. In response to why the Creed has that line, Answer 44 says,
“To assure me in times of personal crisis and temptation that Christ my Lord, by suffering unspeakable anguish, pain, and terror of soul, especially on the cross but also earlier, has delivered me from the anguish and torment of hell.”Hercules Collins, An Orthodox Catechism
According to Collins, the “hell” being spoken of was nothing more than the “anguish, pain, and terror of soul” that Christ went through both on the cross and in the events leading up to it. By Him experiencing hellish torment and anguish, He has saved us from actual hell with eternal torment. I just don’t feel this adds up and I can’t help but think this is just one of the many ways Christians try to avoid the difficult-to-grasp truth of what I believe to be plainly taught in Scripture.
Not only did God send His Son to die on the cross, but He also sent His Son to hell for three days. Now, I want to clarify when I say hell. I’m not referring to a place of torment that we know it as. In English, we are very limited in our wording (for instance, our one word for love versus the four words in ancient Greek). When I say hell, I am actually referring to Hades, the Greek abode of the dead. I’m merely referring to it as “hell” for familiarity’s sake, as this is what the vast majority know it as. Please keep this in mind as you see the many references to hell in this article. As a whole, Hades did not refer to a place of suffering nor did it refer to a place of peace. It was simply the storage location, or abode, of the dead. The Hebrews believed in the same place, only they called it Sheol.
At this point, no human was in heaven since the only way in is through the Son (John 14:6). The only other place for Him to have gone during those three days was Hades. It was simply where all human souls went after they died. Imagine how happy Satan must’ve felt when he thought he had triumphed only to be proven wrong a few days later. Ever wonder what Jesus went through during those three days? Really stop to think about it. God loves us beyond our comprehension!
Some may ask why God would send His only begotten Son to hell for even one day let alone three. I’m not one to guess why God set up the timeline the way He did but I am willing to bet the three days wasn’t meant to “work off” any sin as if he were in some form of purgatory.
And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him. (Hebrews 9:27-28, NASB)
Jesus bore the sins of the entire world. He was condemned as guilty and unsanctified despite having committed no crime. Though never becoming a sinner, His righteousness was imputed to us while, at the same time, our guilt and shame was imputed to Him. Sin must be punished. Due to God being just, He issues no waivers. Sin will, and must, be dealt with according to His standard set forth from eternity. Our debt could not be brushed to the side. Jesus did more than declare us innocent. He transferred His innocence upon us while, simultaneously, transferring our guilt upon Himself. Because of this, He died and went to Hades. God’s timeline said three days later He would rise. I don’t know why He picked three days but He did and that’s that. Jesus’ judgment was hell just as any others would have been. God had His plan for Jesus to rise. After He had risen, He was in a glorified state, free of any filth of imputed sin. He had already died and received judgment. Now, He was alive for the second time. It was an entirely new life. It was a life that would never again see the sting of death.
And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, (Hebrews 9:27, NASB)
As it is appointed unto man once to die. Jesus had defeated death, risen from the grave, and visited his disciples one last time before rejoining his Father in Heaven. I say rejoined because He was there since the beginning (Genesis 1:26).
To understand why Jesus went to hell, we must understand the reasons people go there:
- They do not trust in Christ as their Savior. They do not believe that He was the Son of God who died on the cross for our sins and rose again on the third day.
- They cannot enter heaven blemished with sin.
- They have not repented of their sins and turned in faith to Christ as the ultimate sacrifice.
A friend once attempted to prove this wrong by saying it was the blood of Christ that washes away our sins. In and of itself, this is correct theology. The point he was trying to make was that since Christ had already shed His blood, He no longer had a need to go to hell because His blood covered it all while He was still on the cross. The same argument was used for the thief on the cross. The problem with this is that, while the new covenant was established upon His death, the captives were not set free until Jesus had risen from the dead (Ephesians 4:8). We can believe Jesus was who He said he was all we want but unless we also believe that He conquered death by rising from the grave on the third day, one is not truly saved. That is a vital part to our salvation!
Jesus did not have to deny God or Himself as He is God (John 10:30). The reasons I gave previously were all reasons why men go to hell. Points one and three above cover point two now that He is raised, but Jesus was still bound by one simple fact. Yes, He had already died but He had not yet risen. He died just as any other man under the old covenant. It was once He had risen that the new covenant began and He was brought up into Heaven.
Now that we have a biblical understanding of what the requirements of entry into heaven are, we can focus on the biblical support for Jesus in Hades.
Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things. (Ephesians 4:9-10, NASB)
for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:40, NASB)
“Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s Bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame.’” (Luke 16:22-24)
While many respected theologians throughout the years have interpreted “the lower parts of the earth” to be Jesus’ condescension through the incarnation coupled with the suffering he underwent in the crucifixion, I don’t believe this is sound for a number of reasons. During the times of Jesus, it was a normal belief that Hades was located deep within the Earth. Hades was broken into two parts. There was a place of torment and a place where there was peace. Before the death and resurrection of Christ, the faithful went to a temporary holding place of peace. The unfaithful went to a place where there was torment and suffering. This temporary holding place was not purgatory. It was not meant to work off the sins of the flesh. We also know Heaven is a place of eternity and not merely temporary. This place was meant to act as a holding area for those Old Testament saints awaiting the death and resurrection of Christ so that they might gain access to Heaven. This place was known as Paradise, or Abraham’s Bosom. Those with faith were in Paradise and those without faith were in a place of tormenting flames; a precursor to the Lake of Fire called Gehenna.
To further elaborate, picture the afterlife as four separate chambers. These chambers consist of:
- Sheol/Hades (non-tormenting side)
- Sheol/Hades (tormenting side)
- Gehenna/Tartarus (the actual fiery Hell)
Prior to the cross, both heaven and Gehenna were devoid of humans. No man had been granted entrance into heaven yet the final condemnation to the flames of Gehenna had not been carried out either. Upon the resurrection of Christ, both Gehenna and the non-tormenting side of Hades were empty. While Christ redeemed those in Abraham’s Bosom, those in the tormenting side of Hades remained. Their final condemnation to Gehenna still awaits. Only upon the second coming of Christ will both sides of Hades finally be empty and everyone in their eternal residence. Those with faith in Christ will continue to be in the presence of the Lord. However, those who rejected the Savior will finally see weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 22:13) in the fires of Gehenna for all eternity.
Looking back at Matthew 12:40, some have tried to say it was likely speaking of a cave or a tomb in which Jesus’ body was kept. I would like to take a moment to explain why this was not the case. The tomb of Jesus would have been more of a cave. The heart of the earth is hardly a hole in a mountain. The word used for” heart” is the Greek word kardia. It was used in the sense of being the center of the earth and to say the entire earth comes from it. Kardia is certainly not being used to speak of a tomb. It speaks of the center of the earth. The kardia of the earth is referencing Hades, the location that was once believed to be in the center of the earth.
We all remember the story of the thief on the cross. Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” The thief went with Jesus, as well as all the rest of the Old Testament saints, to Hades. Yes, they went to Hades. No, they did not go to be tormented. As Jesus said, they went to Paradise; the non-tormenting part of Hades, the abode of the dead.
What do we know as of now?
1) Jesus was in the grave for three days.
2) Jesus descended into the lower parts of the earth.
3) Jesus was going to be in Paradise the day of His death.
4) Jesus was in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.
Based on this information, we can see Jesus spent three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Since this was the exact same amount of time His body was in the grave, we can conclude that if He was in Paradise on one of those days, Paradise would have to be in the heart of the earth. The only way to heaven is through the Son. It is not simply a belief in the Son that grants us access. It is belief in who the Son is as well as belief in what took place in the death and resurrection. Before this process was complete, man had no way into heaven. It was not until the resurrection that Paradise was relocated into heaven and all the saints from that day forth could share in the Glory of God in heaven. For those who may want to argue that Paradise has not been relocated to heaven and that it still resides in Hades, they must first explain how believers who die will be absent from the body and at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). After all, He’s no longer in Hades. Additionally, I believe this is what the dead saints rising in Matthew 27:53 after his resurrection is evidence that the Old Testament saints are no longer in Hades. When Christ ascended, so did they (Ephesians 4:8). While it is true that we will still go to Paradise upon death, Paradise is now located in heaven with the Lord.
In which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, (1 Peter 3:19-20a, NASB)
What exactly did Jesus do during His three days in Hades? 1 Peter makes mention of Jesus proclaiming the truth to the spirits in prison. These spirits were characterized as being disobedient. The Old Testament saints that went to Abraham’s Bosom certainly were not characterized by disobedience. Their obedience and faithfulness was the thing that saved them. They just had to wait for Christ before they could enter the kingdom of heaven. Verse 19 also says the spirits were in prison. Prison is a place where you go as a result of wrongdoing. You break the law and you go to prison. The demons and disobedient people of the world both broke the law of God. As a result, they would have been imprisoned in Hades awaiting the final judgment of God when all of Hades is cast into the lake of fire: Gehenna (Mark 9:43, Revelation 20:14).
For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; (2 Peter 2:4, NASB)
The fallen angels are in prison. The NASB uses the word “pits” but, if you look, the KJV uses the word “chains” in their translation. The Greek word for this was σειρά (seira). It literally meant a line, rope, or chain. The fallen angels, as well as disobedient people, are in chains in prison.
When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man And He placed His right hand on me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. (Revelation 1:17-18, NASB)
Jesus conquered death. Death no longer has any hold over a Christian. Sure, we will all die. The difference is that we will live in heaven because we have been reconciled to God through Christ. Christ is the only way to heaven. What of the people from the Old Testament? Did they go to heaven? I would have to say no. They performed sacrifices but this was a continued action. Christ cannot be compared to an animal. He is called the Lamb of God but He was so much more than that. No mere animal could cleanse the way Christ did. I fully believe the Old Testament saints went to Paradise as a place of storage awaiting the death of Christ. Even more, I believe they stayed there until the resurrection. While they were saved through the same faith as New Testament believers, it was not until Jesus rose from the grave that He truly defeated death.
Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" (John 20:17, NIV)
This has commonly been misinterpreted to mean Jesus had to remain pure and did not want anyone to touch him. The problem with that interpretation is that it is in direct contradiction with John 20:27 when Jesus told Thomas to touch his wounds. In truth, Jesus was telling Mary not to cling to him. He was telling her to not expect His presence to continue for much longer for He had not yet returned to the Father but would soon be doing so. This brings me to my point. Jesus rose on the third day. Up until this point, He had not yet returned to His Father. He had not rejoined God in Heaven as of yet. Well, where was He then? He was in Paradise during this time. After the third day, He rose from the dead, saw His apostles along with hundreds of others, and joined God in Heaven.
Looking back, we see a few things:
1) The kardia of the earth is Hades and not a hole in a mountain.
2) Jesus preached to the spirits in prison.
3) The spirits in prison are the fallen angels and those who rejected God.
4) Jesus had not yet returned to the Father.
The very basis of the disbelief in Jesus going to Hell for three days is:
1) People do not want to believe Paradise was a section of Hades.
2) People refuse to believe Jesus (being God) could go to Hades.
There is no biblical evidence stating that Jesus did not go to Hades. On the other hand, the biblical evidence is stacked saying He did. Ask yourself these questions: If He had not yet returned to the Father, where was He those three days? What spirits in prison was He preaching to? Why would Scripture speak of the center of the earth?
If He was in a tomb that whole time, He would not have been able to preach to anyone. This is another sign that the kardia of the earth is not speaking of the tomb of Jesus. Jesus was preaching to the spirits in prison. He was in the kardia of the earth while doing it. He had not yet returned to the Father. That only leaves one place and it makes perfect sense biblically.
The doctrine of Jesus in hell (Hades) is both a very biblical and accurate teaching. I do not believe He went there to suffer in pain. I believe He went there as a result of the sin of the world being on Him. It was the same reason any of the other Old Testament saints went there. They placed their faith in God but they still owed the penalty of sin. Jesus was spotless up until the point that He became the ultimate sacrifice and took the sin of the world upon Himself as our substitutionary atonement (2 Corinthians 5:21). He then went to Paradise and rose three days later, defeating death once for all.
~ Travis W. Rogers