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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).


Romans 14
1Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don't see things the way you do. And don't jump all over them every time they do or say something you don't agree with--even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently. 2For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume all Christians should be vegetarians and eat accordingly. 3But since both are guests at Christ's table, wouldn't it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn't eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. 4Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God's welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.
5Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience. 6What's important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God's sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you're a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. 7None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. 8It's God we are answerable to--all the way from life to death and everything in between--not each other. 9That's why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other. 

10So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I'd say it leaves you looking pretty silly--or worse. Eventually, we're all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren't going to improve your position there one bit. 11Read it for yourself in Scripture: "As I live and breathe," God says,"every knee will bow before me; Every tongue will tell the honest truth that I and only I am God." 12So tend to your knitting. You've got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God. 13Forget about deciding what's right for each other. Here's what you need to be concerned about: that you don't get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. 14I'm convinced--Jesus convinced me!-that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it. 15If you confuse others by making a big issue over what they eat or don't eat, you're no longer a companion with them in love, are you? These, remember, are persons for whom Christ died. Would you risk sending them to hell over an item in their diet? 16Don't you dare let a piece of God-blessed food become an occasion of soul-poisoning! 17God's kingdom isn't a matter of what you put in your stomach, for goodness' sake. It's what God does with your life as he sets it right, puts it together, and completes it with joy. 18Your task is to single-mindedly serve Christ. Do that and you'll kill two birds with one stone: pleasing the God above you and proving your worth to the people around you. 19So let's agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; 20don't drag them down by finding fault.


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