Article by Casey McFall
Mark 15:37 says, “And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.” This verse describes the death of Jesus on the cross when His spirit left his body. There is no question where Jesus’ body went as Matthew 27:57-66 describes how Joseph of Arimathea took the body of Jesus, put it in a new tomb, and the pharisees actually set a watch over the tomb to ensure that no one would take His body.
The question that many have then, is where did Jesus’ spirit go? Some people believe that when Jesus died, He went to heaven. After all, this is where all of the saved go when they die, right? Others; however, believe that Jesus actually went to hell and suffered there for our sins. Fortunately, the Bible does give us some indication as to where Jesus was during this time. Although the Bible does not give us a specific 3-day itinerary for the duration of Jesus’ death, it does talk a little bit about what He did and did not do during this time.
What He didn’t do
While He was dead, Jesus did not go to heaven. John 20:17 “Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” These are the words that Jesus said to Mary after His resurrection. He told her directly that He had not yet ascended to heaven to God the Father. Thus, we can see that He did not go to heaven when He died.
What He did do
Jesus went to paradise. We know this, because of His promise to the thief on the cross in Luke 23:43. Jesus is truth and every word He says is truth (John 17:17). So we can trust any promise He makes to be kept and to be true! While He was there, He made a very significant change! The Bible tells us that He led the saved souls from paradise to heaven. Remember that Jesus Christ is the way, truth, and life and none may come unto God the Father but by Him (John 14:6). Thus, before His death on the cross, all of the saints which had believed in His future coming and death were abiding in paradise waiting for Him to come. Ephesians 4:8-10 teaches that before He led captivity captive and ascended up on high, He first descended into the lower parts of the earth. This is because that is where paradise was at the time. But Jesus descended into paradise, opened the way to heaven, and led the saints of God from paradise to glory.
Another thing that the Bible teaches, is that He took the keys of hell and death from Satan. We know this because Hebrews 2:14b states: “that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil”. Although God created all things and has authority over everything, the devil has been given power over certain things. Other than the fact that Satan is called the prince or god of this world (John 12:31, II Cor. 4:4), he also offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. How would this have been a temptation for Jesus if Satan did not have some kind of authority over them? Everything is in God’s plan and anything that happens He allows to happen, but not all that happens is necessarily the will of God (read more about the will of God in “A Biblical analysis of the will of God”). One day, Jesus will rule and reign over this earth, but Satan offered Him a shortcut in exchange for worship (Matt. 4:8-9).
What it all boils down to is that Satan does have some limited power and authority over certain things. One of things that he used to have authority over is the power of death (and likely hell). This can be seen in Hebrews 2:14, which was referenced previously. That verse also says that Jesus, through His death, destroyed the devil. The Bible discusses this further in Revelation 1:18 where Jesus says, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” Jesus has the keys of hell and of death because He took them from Satan after dying a sinless death on the cross of Calvary!
Next, we can see that He proclaimed His victory to the fallen angels. I Peter 3:18-20 describes how Jesus died in the body but His spirit was alive; and while He was in this state, “he went and preached unto the spirits in prison”. The Bible does not specifically tell us where these spirits were or what Jesus told them. However, it is likely that these are the same angels referenced in II Peter 2:4 and Jude 1:6. As for what He told them, the word “preach” means “to proclaim”. He was not “preaching” to them in the sense of how we understand the word today, nor was He giving them a second chance at redemption. After all, unlike us humans, angels cannot be saved (Heb. 2:16).
The key to understand what it is that Jesus proclaimed to these fallen angels can be seen in verse 22 of the same chapter (I Peter 3:22). The end of this verse states: “angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.” This can be combined with Colossians 2:15 “And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” Jesus did the impossible in that He fulfilled the law, satisfied the requirements of God, and opened our path to heaven. Some time in the 3 days that He was dead, He descended into the earth (Eph. 4:9) and proclaimed His victory to Satan and the angels which are bound in darkness!
Very important note!
One thing that is of utmost importance to note, is that in all of this, of all the things that Jesus did while His physical body lay in that tomb, He never gave anyone a second chance at redemption! Neither the angels nor the human souls in hell were given an opportunity to repent and turn to God! Hebrews 9:27 tells us: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment”. After we are dead, it is too late to change our minds or to repent! Nor is there any hope of passing this judgement with our own strength or good works. We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), and all of our best deeds are but disgusting trash when compared to God and His standard for salvation (Rom. 3:19). Our only hope of eternal redemption is to believe in Jesus Christ and confess that He is God! (Rom. 10:13).
Did Jesus suffer in hell for our sins?
When I initially wrote this article, I wrote it from the standpoint of Jesus absolutely did not go to hell to suffer for our sins. While reviewing the article prior to publishing however; my father, missionary to Kyrgyzstan, disagreed with this standpoint and we had a very in-depth and lengthy (several hours) conversation about this point. It was an excellent discussion and very thought provoking, so I intended to write a follow-up article to this one that would present both sides of the argument and allow readers to come to their own conclusions. The article got very deep and very complicated very quickly however! So for now, I will keep thinking and studying about it and may write something in the future if I can simplify it enough. Until then, I would highly encourage all of my readers to look into it for themselves and study the Word of God in order to arrive at their own conclusions. I will only give this pointer as a start: when it comes to determining if Jesus did or did not go to hell to suffer during the three days that He was dead, there are three main points to consider. First, what is “hell”? Second, what did Jesus mean when He said “It is finished”? And lastly, what is the “death” referenced in Romans 6:23 as the wages of sin (ex. Physical death, spiritual death, or eternal punishment in hell)?
Excellent apologetics in this article!
The truths of God's Word are explained clearly and reveal even more extensively what a wonderful sacrificial Lamb of God that our Savior is!