Did Jesus Go to Hell When He Died?

1 Peter 3:18-20, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: (19) By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; (20) Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.

A common teaching is that Jesus was in hell between the time He died on the cross and when He was resurrected. The Apostles’ Creed (which is not part of the Bible) states, “He descended into hell.” Did Jesus really go to the place of suffering and torment called “hell”?

Some think 1 Peter 3:18-20 refers to Jesus speaking to human beings in hell after His death on the cross. Others think it refers to Christ’s spirit speaking in the days of Noah to warn of impending judgment and offer salvation to Noah and his family. But it is more likely that it refers to Christ pronouncing His victory over the demonic spirits who are bound in the abyss.

Luke 8:31: “And they besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep [abyss].”

Jude 1:6: “And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.

Revelation 9:11: “And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon.

On the cross, Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). His suffering was over; there was no more payment needed for salvation. Also just before His death, Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Upon death, His spirit went to the Father, not to hell. Also, Jesus promised the thief on the cross that they would be together today in paradise (Luke 23:43). This could not have happened if Jesus had spent three days in hell.

The clause “He descended into hell” in the Apostles’ Creed may have been well-intended, but is so controversial that some denominations consider it optional or even exclude that portion of the creed. Jesus’ body was in the grave for three days and His Spirit was with the Father, but He did not go to hell.

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