For the preaching
of the cross
is to them that perish
but unto us
which are saved
it is the
power of God.
I Corinthians 1:18 (KJV)
Did Jesus descend into Hell after the crucifixion?
Rev. Bradley J. Stevens
Mon, April 13, 2009
There is a time period of three days between Jesus' sacrifice and his resurrection. Where did Christ go during that time?
You're asking a question that could require a lifetime of writing to cover! Even then there would be remain room for discussion and much uncertainty and speculation.
The Baptist Faith & Message does not mention this question: "...in His substitutionary death on the cross He made provision for the redemption of men from sin. He was raised from the dead with a glorified body..." Of course, silence on the question should not be construed as constituting any statement of conclusion or opinion.
Some people explain the same passages that are used to support Jesus' descent into Hell as simply making reference to a sort of upper level of Hell which serves as a waiting place until the judgment. In other words, they would say that He did descend to where the souls were in holding -- we do not see this as "purgatory," though some might argue that it is.
Some believe that when Jesus referred to "Gehenna" He was referring to the final Hell and that the Greek word "Hades" was used to denote a sort of waiting room that was Hell, but not the final Hell.
See why it is such a challenging topic?
The point that holds up for almost all of us is that Jesus died for our sin. But it would seem that a substitutionary, atoning death would require that He suffer separation from God in His death, just as we would, if we died bearing the burden of our sin. Merely ending His human existence would hardly be equivalent to the human experience of dying for sin.
So if Jesus, bearing our sin, was separated from God in His death, then He must have been somewhere that God would not go -- though being part of the Trinity makes it impossible to comprehend that He could go very far from Himself. This debate becomes a question of how deep into Hell and how far from God, the answers to which we are not privileged.
Some choose to take references to preaching to those spirits in prison (I Peter 3:19) who died in the time of Noah and leading captivity captive (Ephesians 4:8-10) as references to simple evangelism -- but that seems an awful stretch in order to deny the possibility that Jesus did descend into Hell.
From my perspective, it seems that if Jesus was to defeat death, Hell and the grave for our substitutionary atonement, then He would be immersed in the total experience of dying for sin and enduring separation from God. So maybe He did ultimately defeat Satan on his own turf. I did say "maybe," because, while I may believe or even accept that as possibility, I can neither prove nor disprove it as fact.
What matters is that He was victorious over death and the grave -- somehow.
So I cannot say what happened as a factual step of history. I can only say that understanding or explaining this part of the mystery of our redemption process is neither prerequisite nor requisite for enjoying the benefit and blessing of our salvation by grace through the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Aren't we glad that there is only one question on the final exam? And aren't we especially glad that this is not the question!
God bless you,
©2009 Bradley J. Stevens