Friday, November 22, 2013

Handling a Tough Question Like, Did Jesus Go to Hell Before His Resurrection


Our beliefs are passed down from so many avenues, from reciting creeds to catechisms. So let's say we are sitting in a Bible study with believers from diverse backgrounds. We are all coming under the Scripture's authority, when a leader in the group references, Jesus' going to hell before His resurrection. Many of us, because of our backgrounds might think nothing of it. But is it true?

This posting is relevant to a phrase in the Apostle's Creed, that is not what is really taught from Scripture, and is pointed toward the fourth statement in the creed which states the following:

"Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried; He descended into hell:" 

This writer agrees with everything up to the phrase "dead and buried." But did Jesus really descend into hell before His resurrection? I really don't think that He needed to. Let's look at the real issue behind this and see what we find.

Setting up the issue

The scripture passages that are often appealed to are 1 Peter 3:19-20 and Ephesians 4:8. Let me set those up for us.

1 Peter 3:19-20 (NASB), 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits {now} in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through {the} water. 

Ephesians 4:8-10 (NASB), 8 Therefore it says, "When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men."  9 (Now this {expression,} "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) 

If we look at these passages, we do not see the word, "hell" in them.  So what is the problem?  The problem is that the Apostle Paul in Paul in Ephesians 4:9 states that Jesus “descended into the lower parts of the earth.”  However, the Apostles’ Creed declares that after Jesus died, He “descended into hell.”  At the same time, it is interesting to note that in Scripture, when Jesus was dying, He committed His spirit into His Father’s hands (Luke 23:46) and He told the thief on the cross that he would be with Him in Paradise (Luke 23:43), which is in the “third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2, 4).  So where did Jesus go?  Was it to heaven or to hell? Let's look at the views.

The Solution. 

There are essentially two views as to where Jesus went the three days His body was in the grave before His resurrection.  One view is that He went to Hades (hell), and the other is that He went to Heaven. Let's look at the first view, the Hades view.

The Hades View.  

This position claims that Jesus' spirit went into the spirit world, while His body was in the grave. It is here that it is believed that He spoke to the "spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:19, 20) who were in a temporary holding place until He would come and "lead captivity captive," that is take them to heaven.

According to this view, there are two compartments in Hades (or Sheol), one for the saved and the other for the unsaved. They are separated by the "great gulf" mentioned in Luke 16:26, which no person could pass. The section for the Old Testament and pre-Calvary saints was called "Abraham's bosom" (Luke 16:23). When Christ, as the first fruits of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20), ascended into Heaven, He led these Old Testament saints into Heaven with Him for the first time.

Sounds simple enough. The question is what is Hades and are there two compartments. This writer does not believe this is the case. It is true that the Lazarus to Luke 16 went to Abraham's bosom, but Abraham's bosom is not referred to as Hades. The rich man in that account, looked and "saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom" (Luke 16:23).  Bearing this in mind, let's look at ten reasons why the Heaven View is the most plausible and the most biblical.

The Heaven View.

This view holds that the souls of the Old Testament believers went directly to Heaven the moment that they died. Here are ten arguments that will sustain this teaching.

First, Jesus affirmed that His spirit was going directly to heaven, declaring “Father into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46).

Second, when Jesus was on the cross, before He died, He promised the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).  The Apostle Paul called Paradise “the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2, 4).

Third, when the Old Testament saints departed this life, they went directly to heaven. God took Enoch to be with Himself (Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5), and Elijah was caught up into “heaven” when he departed (2 Kings 2:1).

Fourth,  “Abraham’s bosom" (Luke 16:23) is a description of heaven. At no time is it ever described as hell (Hades). It is the place that Abraham went to, which is the “kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11).

Fifth, when the Old Testament saints appear in the gospels, it is before the crucifixion. In these appearances, Moses and Elijah appear from heaven on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:3).

Sixth, the Old Testament saints had to await Christ’s resurrection before their bodies could be resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:20; Matthew 27:53), but their souls went directly to heaven. Jesus Christ was the Lamb slain “from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8), and they were there on the merits of what Christ would accomplish at Calvary.

Seventh, when Ephesians 4 speaks of Jesus, "descending into the lower parts," it is not a reference to hell, but the grave. Even a woman’s womb is described as the “depths of the earth” (Psalm 139:15). The phrase simply means caves, graves, or enclosures on the earth, as opposed to higher parts, like mountains. Besides this, hell is not in the lower parts of the earth – it is under the earth according to Philippians 2:10.

Eighth, the phrase "he descended into hell." was not in the earliest version of the Apostle's Creed. It was not added in until the fourth century. [1] Another added thought to this is that a creed is not inspired. Only the Bible is inspired by God. A creed is only a human confession of faith.

Ninth, with reference to "the spirits in prison" in 1 Peter 3:19, these were not saved, but unsaved beings. Indeed, they may refer to angels, but not to human beings. Bearing this thought in mind, the Bible is clear that there are no second chance salvation opportunities.
Lastly, when Christ “led the captivity captive,” He was not leading friends into heaven, but bringing foes into bondage. It is a reference to His conquering the forces of evil.  Christians are not “captives” in Heaven. We are not forced to go there against our own free choice (Matthew 23:37; 2 Peter 3:9).


Raised in a mainline denominational setting before my conversion led me to questions about what and why we believe what we do. It is hard when one has been taught that, x is true, only to find out that it does not pass the test of biblical scrutiny.  

I pray that if you have been raised in a setting reciting the Apostles Creed, that you will examine it in light of Scripture and these ten reasons. Please note that I believe that all of the creed excluding the phrase "he descended into hell" is biblical. Jesus did not need to go to hell, unlike the teachings of the Word Faith theology would like unsuspecting believers to take and accept. 

Jesus preached to the lost spirits in prison declaring that the victory for our salvation is paid in full, and completely accomplished by His finished work at the cross and His resurrection. Soli Deo Gloria!


[1] The Creed, then, was not set from its beginning, but was fluid. Scholars call this version "The Old Roman Form"—the earliest creed of the Roman church.  Apparently the clause first appeared in the East with Sirmium's fourth formula in 359—also called the "Dated Creed"— though the Eastern church rejected it as tinged with Arianism. The first mention of the descent in the West occurs in the writings of Rufinus of Aquileia, who included it in his baptismal creed around 400. Over time, the Latin church appropriated it as well, officially integrating it into the Creed in 750. For a good treatment on this issue see

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