by James T. Bartsch
"...You will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay." Acts 2:27
Did Jesus go to Hell between His Death and Resurrection?
The Apostles' Creed declares, among other things, that Jesus descended into hell between His burial and His resurrection on the third day. The Apostles' Creed, of course, is not Scripture and does not carry the authority of Scripture. Church tradition holds that it is an accurate reflection of Scripture.
So we ask the question, "Does Scripture teach that Jesus went to hell between His death and His resurrection?" The answer to that question really depends on what version of the Bible you are reading. No matter which version is used the context indicates the person being discussed is undoubtedly the Messiah, Jesus.
For example, here is the King James Version translation of Acts 2:27: "Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption."
On the other hand, the New American Standard Bible (1995) translates Acts 2:27 in this fashion: "Because You will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay."
So what is the preferable translation?
The Greek word in Acts 2:27 under consideration is the noun hades (86). The definition provided by Friberg Analytical Lexicon is as follows: "Hades (literally unseen place); (1) the place of the dead underworld (Acts 2:27); (2) usually in the NT as the temporary underworld prison where the souls of the ungodly await the judgment (Luke 16:23); (3) personified as following after Death (Rev. 6:8)."
This definition is a start, but it could use some tweaking. It is always instructive to look at specific Scriptures in context. With that in mind, let us begin with what I consider to be a central passage on Hades, Luke 16:23. The larger context is Luke 16:19-31.
We begin with a question: Is this account which Jesus gave us a story to illustrate a point, or is it an authentic history of something that actually happened? Not to be evasive, but my reaction is that it really doesn't make any difference. If it is only a story, I have to believe that Jesus would have given us an accurate story. So let us assume the veracity of the account which Jesus gave us. Let us briefly recount the incident, and then draw some conclusions.
The story line:
A wealthy man lived sumptuously with no cares or needs. A poor man named Lazarus was a beggar who lived at the gates of the wealthy man. He was so poor he longed for crumbs from the rich man's table. Both men died. The poor man was carried by angels to "Abraham's bosom," obviously a place of comfort. The wealthy man found himself in Hades in a place of torment. He saw Abraham a long distance off with Lazarus in his bosom. He begged Abraham to allow Lazarus to come dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off his tongue, because he was in torment in the flame. Abraham demurred. He reminded the wealthy man that in the previous life the wealthy man had been in comfort, while Lazarus had experienced bad things. Now, their positions were reversed. Lazarus was in comfort and the rich man was in agony. Abraham continued that there was a great chasm between the two places so that it was impossible to cross from one side to the other.
With no hope for himself, the rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to his father's house to warn his five brothers so they would not join him in this place of torment. Abraham countered that they had Moses and the Prophets. His brothers should listen to them. The rich man argued that if someone came to them from the dead, they would surely repent of their evil. To which Abraham replied, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead."
Let us now draw some conclusions:
(1) Jesus was speaking of the place of the dead at the time of the gospels prior to His death and resurrection.
(2) Hades, the place of the dead, was / is a place of consciousness.
(3) Hades is divided into two compartments. Using modern terminology, one part of Hades is "air conditioned," while the other part is decidedly not "air conditioned." In fact the un-airconditioned compartment is a place of conscious agony and torment, both physically and mentally. The rich man mentioned that he was tormented "in this flame."
(4) People in the hot compartment of Hades are aware of the comfort of people in the pleasant compartment of Hades. To some degree, the reverse is also true.
(5) People in the hot compartment have a memory of and an awareness, to some degree, of conditions back on earth. They have a sort of remorse and wish that they could influence the choices of relatives and friends back on earth who have not made wise choices.
(6) Nothing can be done in Hades to change the outlook and the actions of those back on earth.
(7) There is no second chance in Hades. One cannot traverse the chasm from the place of torture to the place of bliss.
(8) If people on earth do not respond favorably to the Scriptures, there is really no hope nor remedy for them. Their doom is sure.
So let us answer the question, "Did Jesus descend into Hades between His death and His resurrection?" I believe the answer is, "Yes, He did." Now the question is, did He descend into the Air-Conditioned compartment or the Flames and Heat compartment?"
My answer is that Jesus descended into the Air-Conditioned segment of Hades. He is not less righteous than either the poor man or Abraham himself. There is no reason to believe there would be any need or advantage for Jesus to descend into the flaming portion of Hades. They cannot undo the past, and they cannot alter the present. Moreover, it would be too late for any of them to respond positively to Jesus and thus change their destiny.
What happens to believers who die in the present Church era?
We know, as believers in Christ, that while we are "at home" in this present life in our body, we are physically absent from the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6). Our preference is to be "absent from the body" and "at home with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:8).
We know that Jesus is presently sitting at the right hand of the Father (Eph. 1:20). We conclude, therefore, that believers who die in this present Church Age go directly to heaven to be with Jesus in the presence of God. In other words, believers in this age do not go to the "air conditioned" part of Hades. They go directly to be with Jesus and God in heaven. There is nothing in Scripture about waiting in a purgatory of any sort.
Consequently, we ask the question, "At what point did believers who died stop going to Hades and start going to heaven?" The answer, I believe, is at the ascension of Christ into Heaven following His resurrection. Furthermore, I believe there is a cryptic reference to this event in Ephesians 4:7-10. In Eph. 4:8 Paul freely quotes from Psalm 68:18. He does not quote verbatim, but summarizes the entire Psalm, suiting it to his purpose.
When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men. (Eph. 4:8)
When an ancient king conquered a tribe or nation by defeating their army, there would be a victory celebration. The victorious king would parade captured enemy soldiers through the city streets of his own capital. There would be much rejoicing over this conquest.
But I believe there is more than this going on. I believe it means that when Christ ascended to heaven after His resurrection, He led those believers of all ages who had been captive in the "air-conditioned" portion of Hades up into heaven, the abode of God. So Jesus, at His ascension emptied the "captives" from the comfortable side of Hades / Sheol and took them with Himself up to heaven. Shortly thereafter, beginning on the Day of Pentecost, He began His ongoing practice of giving gifted individuals to the Church.
Paul continued, ("Now this expression, 'He ascended,' what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? (Eph. 4:9) He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.") (Eph. 4:10) I believe Christ's descent into the lower parts of the earth included His descent into Hades / Sheol, the place of the dead, to retrieve the believing captives there (in the "air-conditioned" segment of Hades) and take them with Him up into heaven.
I also acknowledge there are other interpretations of Eph. 4:7-10. But for the record, I am not the only one who holds this view. So did J. Vernon McGee.
In summary, what is the answer to the question, "Did Jesus go to hell between His death and resurrection?" The answer is, "NO." There is no record in Scripture that Jesus entered "hell" (geenna). Nor is there any record that Jesus entered the "lake of fire." I believe there is sufficient evidence to state that Jesus entered the "air-conditioned" side of Hades / Sheol and took believers up to heaven with Him at His ascension.
(Scripture quotation taken from the NASB 1995)
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Posted July 23, 2022