Did Jesus Go to Hell?
As we approached Easter, I paused for a moment to think about how much of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection we take for granted. Most evangelicals will agree that He was crucified, resulting in His death and subsequent burial. On the first day of the week the disciples found the tomb empty and Jesus alive. But what happened on Friday night and Saturday? There has been a belief that Jesus did some sort of battle in hell or underwent some sort of torment. This actually diminishes what was done on the cross. Was Jesus not giving Himself as the most pure and effective sacrifice for the sins of His people? Did He not, in that moment, drink the full cup of God’s wrath that was to fall on sinners and destroy them? And why would Jesus utter, “It is finished” with His precious last breaths if there was still a battle for the souls of His people left to fight? Did Jesus go to hell?
My experience with that question is that most people believe He did. But why? Most seem to arrive at this belief from the Apostle’s Creed which shows up in the church around 390 AD. Since then it has undergone a few revisions but has nonetheless served as a summary statement of core Christian doctrine throughout the centuries. The problem with the line, “He descended into hell,” is that the English language does not help us to understand what is really meant by that phrase. In other words, the term “hell” for us may carry a singular definition, tainted by poor biblical theology of what hell is. In too many of our minds, Hollywood has been allowed to give us a theology on hell that involves demons with pitchforks, hot fires, and Satan on some sort of throne. Biblically speaking, Hell is a place where Satan and his minions do not want to be. You remember the story of Jesus encountering the man with a legion of demons in Mark 5:1-20. The demons beg Jesus not to torment them and instead, beg Him to leave them in the country by sending them into a nearby heard of swine. Therefore, implying that they desire to stay amongst the living to roam and do the works of their father, the devil. The Bible clearly identifies a place, which we refer to as Hell, being prepared for the devil and his angels, where some are present and remain in chains (see Mt. 25:41; 2 Pt. 2:4; Rev.20:10). We can then deduce that hell is not a place where Jesus must fight off fallen angels and set free those being tortured by them, but it is a place for the evil ones under the judgement and wrath of God. There is, however, a place known in the Bible as “Hades” or “Sheol” which refers to the abode of the dead before Christs’ victory on the cross (Lk. 16:25-26). This place is separated by a great chasm so that the demons and wicked people may not cross over to the abode of the righteous in Abraham’s bosom.
Therefore, the idea of Jesus descending into “Hades” or the heart of the earth (Mt. 12:40; Eph.4:9; 1 Pt. 3:19-20) is a bringing the Saints from one place of rest to a more fully realized glory that is only possible after Jesus finished His atoning work of redemption and reconciliation on the cross. When Jesus tells the thief on the cross “Today you will be with Me in paradise,” what He means is that today you will be with Me in Abraham’s bosom (Lk. 16:22-23). Luke 16 gives a picture of the situation of the dead before Christ’s victory. The faithful are in peace, awaiting the finished work of Christ, and the wicked remain in torment and anguish, awaiting being cast into the eternal punishment with the devil and his angels. In summary, Jesus died, descended into the abode of the dead, made known to the saints His victory, by His victory brought them into the glory of the Father in heaven where He would be seated at His right hand, and then rose again bodily on the third day and appeared to at least 500 brothers, demonstrating His power over death and displaying what those who repent and believe in Him would one day experience; a glorified, eternal existence which abides forever in the light of the glory of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor. 15:1-6; Col. 1:20; 1 Pt. 3:18-20; Rev. 21:23)
For further clarity please refer to the links below.