Jesus in hell - Where did He go while His body was in the tomb?
Some believe that while Jesus' body was in the tomb, His spirit was in hell. Scripture does not support that position when it is taken in context and we look at the meaning of the word "hell." In the Old Testament, the place of the dead or the place of departed souls was called "Sheol." It was to this place that all souls of the dead went to await resurrection.
In the New Testament, we find the story of Lazarus and the rich man who both died and went to Hades (Luke 16:19-31). The King James translates the Greek word "hades" as hell but most other translations use the Greek word. Hades had two separated parts. Those who died in faith believing in God's promise waited for the resurrection in Abraham's Bosom. Those who died spiritually separated from God wait in torment for the resurrection unto death, or eternal separation from God. The rich man was on the torment side and Lazarus was in Abraham's Bosom, which was called "paradise" by the LORD Jesus Christ when He addressed the thief who found faith the day Jesus was crucified (Luke 23:42-43).
We are not given all of the details about where Jesus was during the time between His burial and resurrection morning, but we can say that Jesus did not descend into hell, which is the final abode of the lost. The word "Hades and Sheol" do not mean hell and so we cannot place the Spirit of Jesus in hell while His body was in the tomb. We do know that Jesus did not see the corruption that man goes through in the grave (Psalm 16:10-11) even through Jesus said that He would spend three days and night in the "heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:40).
We know that Jesus did go and "preach unto the spirits in prison" (1 Peter 3:19). The use of the word "spirits" and not souls in this passage would seem to indicate that these were not the unsaved. Rather, it would seem that these are not human at all. The word used by Peter in this passage that is translated "prison" means a cage, a guarding, ward, or imprisonment. Scripture tell us that unclean spirits are "chained" in prison. "For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment" (2 Peter 2:4). The word translated "hell" here is not the Greek word "hades" but is the Greek word "tartarus" meaning abyss or the lowest regions. This could very well be the "gulf" that was fixed between the place of torment and Abraham's Bosom (Luke 16:26).
Therefore this preaching of Jesus in hell was probably a message of victory over Satan and those spirits held prisoner in chains, not in hell itself where souls wait, but in the abyss beneath. This truth is reinforced by a passage in Ephesians that also speaks about Christ leading captivity captive. "Wherefore He saith, When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things" (Ephesians 4:8-10). Leading captivity captive seems to refer to Jesus taking all those that waited in Paradise to heaven to be with Him. The descending into the "lower parts" then refers to Jesus' mission of declaring victory to the prisoners in the abyss.
Although we cannot be completely dogmatic about all of the events of the three days, we do know that Jesus in hell is not a Biblical concept. We can say that Jesus' body was recognizable by the women that came to the tomb so the facial disfiguration that occurred during His scourging must have gone and Jesus told the women not to touch Him because He had not yet "ascended" to the Father (John 20:17). However, that same day at evening Jesus appeared in the midst of the disciples and invited Thomas to not only touch Him but to reach into His side (John 20:27). In this life we look through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12) and all of the answers to the questions that arise may not satisfy us completely, but what a comfort to know that one day we shall know as we are known (1 Corinthians 13:12).
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