Now THAT’s a Good Question!

Did Jesus descend into hell on Saturday between His death and resurrection?

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I was asked this question several times over the weekend by multiple people. I think there are several reasons this question gets into our minds:

(1). The phrase “Jesus descended into hell” is in one (not all) of the versions of the Apostle’s Creed.

(2). If I understand correctly, many Catholics hold to this teaching.

(3). Faulty interpretations by Protestants of 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 4:4-6.

I guess you know my answer. No, I do NOT believe Jesus descended into hell between the time He died on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter Sunday.

First of all, let’s look at the 2 passages in 1 Peter:

3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,19 in which  he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. (emphasis mine)

4:4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. (emphasis mine)

Peter NEVER says in these verses that Jesus preached in hell. He also never says He went there between His death and resurrection. In fact, the context of the chapter 3 passage clearly points to the fact that Jesus preached through Noah to those who did not enter the ark – who are now in prison. Peter has already alluded to the fact that the Spirit of Christ was alive and well through preachers in the Old Testament. So, Jesus did not go and preach to them in hell. Rather, he preached through Noah – during the time of Noah – to those who are NOW in prison (i.e., “hell”).

Likewise, in the chapter 4 passage, the line of thought in verse 6 goes like this: “For this is why the Gospel was preached (past tense) even to those who are dead (present tense).” You see? Jesus preached the Gospel through His servants. Obviously, they rejected the message. They are now dead, in hell. Peter never says Jesus went to hell to preach the Gospel. He preached the Gospel to those who are now dead in hell.

There is no biblical evidence, whatsoever, that Jesus descended into hell on Saturday of Holy Week.

Second, consider the HUGE biblical evidence of where He DID go:

What did Jesus tell the repentant thief on the cross just before their deaths? “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Not, “next week.” Not, “when I return to earth the 2nd time.” TODAY. Want to know where Jesus was between His death on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter? Paradise with the repentant thief. Considering what Jesus says about hell throughout the Gospels, it’s not paradise. Jesus was not in hell.

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There is no biblical proof that Jesus descended into hell when He died. There IS, however, glorious biblical evidence that He was in paradise with the Father and the newly converted burglar.

Aren’t you glad?

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8 thoughts on “Now THAT’s a Good Question!

  1. Rodney Wimberly says:

    Pastor, I was taught as a child, and still believe Jesus did go into hell for the 3 days He was in the tomb, one man, The Son of God, alone against the evil one and all of his followers and after he had defeated every last one, He rose mighty with the keys to the gates in His hands. I was taught this based on Ephesians 4:7-10 (NKJV):

    “7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

    ‘8 Therefore He says:
    “When He ascended on high,
    He led captivity captive,
    And gave gifts to men.”

    ‘9 (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first[b] descended into the lower parts of the earth?

    ’10 He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)”

  2. Rodney, I appreciate your response (as always!) and your beliefs. However, I disagree with you on the basis of the Scripture you chose to use from Ephesians 4. Context indicates that when Jesus ascended on high (back into heaven – Acts 1), He sent His Holy Spirit (“gifts”) to man. He ascended to heaven after His death, burial, and resurrection – AFTER He had descended to earth (from heaven). In other words, in the context of Ephesians 4 – the “descending” here is not into hell, but rather His descending to earth to do His earthly ministry. Jesus was from heaven (above), came to earth (below), and then ascended back to heaven (above). You see?? Make sense? No where does the Bible say Jesus went to hell. He “endured hell” so to speak on the cross (separation from God, punishment, death, etc.). That’s where He was victorious. Not in some cosmic battle in hell. He was victorious over the evil one and death and hell and sin ON THE CROSS (Colossians 2:14-15).

  3. Shannon Morris says:

    OK tell me where John 20:17 plays into this. He says he has not yet ascended to the father?? We have been discussing the subject at work a lot lately so your insight is very interesting!!

    • Rodney Wimberly says:

      Yes it makes sense. Shannon had my next question. Again, not arguing, trying to learn, the search is never over in the pastures of my mind.

    • Shannon, you have asked a VERY good question!!!! (please tell Steve I said so!). When Jesus tells Mary not to cling to Him, and that He is yet to ascend to the Father, He HAS to be referring to the ascension that took place in Acts 1:9-10. We know that even now – today – Jesus is with the Father interceding before Him on our behalf (Hebrews 8:1-7). Likewise, we know from Hebrews 10:12 exactly what Jesus did when He paid for our sins on the cross (He was/is with the Father).
      Jesus makes two things very clear when He told Mary not to cling to Him: (1). He was going to ascend (again!) to the Father; and (2) His presence with us would not be as before (in person, ‘face to face,’ while on the earth). No, He would send His Spirit to dwell IN us. She wasn’t to ‘cling’ to Him physically. He would come dwell with her by the power of His Spirit.
      Make sense????

  4. I think this is a great post and a great discussion. John 19: 28 After this, Jesus, knowing that ALL was now finished, said, “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

    If going to hell for 3 days and duking it out with satan was necessary then what weight does this scripture hold? Victory was won at the cross.

  5. Rodney Wimberly says:

    I do know this for a fact, wherever Jesus spent those 3 days, He did whatever was required for my salvation, because there is nothing I can do, He had to do it all.

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