Jesus in Hell?

D Green

Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” (Acts 2:27)

 Only recently have I began to hear that some believe Jesus went to hell when He died for our sins.  I think this stems from a misunderstanding of the word “Hell” in passages such as Acts 2:27.

The word “Hell” is so often applied in common speech, and in the English translation of the New Testament, to the place of torment, that the genuine meaning of the word, in which however it is used in many passages of our King James Bible, is missed.  Most people never hear of Hell, but their thoughts are carried to that awful place, “where the fallen angels are kept in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.”

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“There are three words used in Scripture which are translated “Hell” in the King James version, viz.: Hades, Tartarus and Gehenna. Hades used for the general place of departed spirits, both righteous and wicked. In no place is punishment, or torment, associated with it, except in Luke 16:23, in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. This is to be explained, in accordance with the use of the word in all other passages, by the fact that, as Hades contains the wicked, as well as the righteous, and as the wicked there are in a state of suffering, so the rich man in Hades was tormented, while Lazarus who was in the same general abode, was enjoying the blessed state expressed by his being in Abraham’s bosom.

The word Tartarus appears only in 2 Pet 2:4, which is translated “For if God spared not angels when they sinned, but cast them down to hell, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgement.” The Revisers point out in the margin that the word Hell is expressed in the Greek by Tartarus. This passage evidently has respect to the condition of these angels before the judgement day.

The places in which Gehenna occurs are Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5, and James 3:6. All of them refer to torture and punishment hereafter. This is distinctly associated with the punishment of the judgement day, in Matt. 18:9, by the preceding verse where “eternal fire” is used as the equivalent term to Gehenna; in Matt. 23:33, where Christ asks the Scribes and Pharisees, “How shall ye escape the judgement of Hell (Gehenna);” in Mark 9:43, where the language is “to go into Hell (Gehenna), into the unquenchable fire,” and in Luke 12:5, in which Christ says, “Fear him which, after he hath killed, hath power to cast into Hell (Gehenna).”

 James Petigru Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 479–480.

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What word is used for our text?   It is the word Hades in the Greek, which corresponds to the word Sheol in the Hebrew as it is used in Psalm 16:10.  Simply put, it is not to be understood as the place of damnation, but rather, it is the place of departed dead, whether lost or saved.     Prior to the Death of Christ, there was two sides (some use the word compartments) to hell – Luke 16:23.  

When Jesus died He went to Paradise (where the saints were).  See what Jesus told the thief on the cross:  “….Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43).   This would have been the place He went as described in Ephesians 4:8-10.   Since His death and resurrection, the saved go to heaven and not paradise.  

Back to Acts 2:27 – “Because thou wilt not leave my soul in [the place of the departed dead], neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.”   

“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. 21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: 22 Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.”   (1 Peter 3:18–22)

This passage is used sometimes to say that Jesus went to Hell – the place of the damned.   In fact, the Catholics use this as a proof text for purgatory.   However, as we have seen, if there were any preaching to spirits by Jesus when He died it was not to the ones who were in torments.  No!  It would have been to those who were saved.   And how were people saved before His death?   The exact same way you and I are…with one exception, they were looking forward to the coming of the Savior while we look back to His coming.  (See passages such as John 8:56-58).

So, no doubt there was much rejoicing in Paradise at the appearance of our Lord.

But, I have been toiling over this passage and I do not believe either of these interpretations are correct.   Notice the context of the passage:

In verse 18, we find an order of events.   Jesus suffered for sins, died in the flesh and was quickened (made alive) in the Spirit.

Now if Peter was writing chronologically – which there is no indication he is but if he is that would mean Jesus went to preach to the Spirits after His resurrection.   

This isn’t the case because as we looked at it a while ago, Luke 23:43 Jesus told the thief on the cross, TODAY you will be with me in Paradise.   Not, in a few days, but today!

No doubt Jesus entered into the Paradise side of Hades and there was much worship and excitement.   

I believe this indicates a better interpretation of this passage.  The preaching that occured were to the people alive in the days of Noah.  Christ, by his spirit, by which he was quickened, went in the ministry of Noah, and perhaps even Enoch could be referred to here…… and preached both by words and deeds, by the personal ministry of these men, and by the building of the ark, to that generation who was then in being; and who being disobedient, and unrepentant, a flood was brought upon them which destroyed them all; and whose spirits, were then in the prison of hell.

Regardless of which interpretation you take, comparing scripture with scripture, there is NO WAY Jesus went to the hell reserved for Satan and those who die without Christ.

Some argue that Jesus had to go to hell in order to take our place.  However I submit to you today that Christ suffered in a few hours the EQUIVALENT of the eternal suffering of the sinner in Hell.  What sinners would have suffered extensively, because finite, Christ suffered intensively, because infinite.   

John 10:14-18

“It was necessary that Jesus be divine in order to endure a few hours the eternal suffering due believing sinners, but it was also necessary He be human to endure the equivalent of that which human beings are to endure in Hell.  Human suffering can be endured only in human nature.”   -T.P. Simmons, A Systematic Study of Bible Doctrine

Thomas Brooks wrote extensively against the idea that Jesus went into hell fire.  One of the things he brought up and I shared it on Facebook was this:

The place hell is no part of the payment. The laying down of the price makes the satisfaction. This is all that is spoken and threatened to Adam, ‘Thou shalt die the death,’ Gen. 2:17; and this may be suffered here. The wicked go to hell as their prison, because they can never pay their debts…Hell, the place of the damned, is no part of the debt, therefore neither is suffering there locally any part of the payment of it, no more than a prison is any part of an earthly debt, or of the payment of it. The surety may satisfy the creditor in the place appointed for payment, or in the open court, which being done, the debtor and surety both are acquitted, that they need not go to prison. If either of them go to prison, it is because they do not or cannot pay the debt; for all that justice requires is to satisfy the debt, to the which the prison is merely extrinsecal. Even so the justice of God cannot be satisfied for the transgression of the law, but by the death of the sinner; but it doth not require that this should be done in the place of the damned. The wicked go to prison because they do not, they cannot, make satisfaction; otherwise Christ, having fully discharged the debt, needed not go to prison.”

 Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 5 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1867), 110.

Satisfaction was made at the Cross!   Not in hell.

By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”   (Hebrews 10:10 (KJV 1900)

(KJV 1900)

Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”  (1 Peter 2:24)

“In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace…” (Ephesians 1:7)

On a side note, I have found the idea that He went to Hell (meaning the place of the damned) in Catholic literature, the so-called Apostles Creed, a gnostic gospel, John Calvin  and some Pentecostal writings. I have not located it in the Bible or any historic Baptist writing (including old Baptist Examiners).  We need to be careful not to parrot old heresies even if they do sound good or appeal to the flesh.

From what I have read, it seems to me that this idea that Jesus went to hell fire comes from men who look at things from an emotional or begin in the wrong place.

Calvin for instance begins his argument with the Apostles Creed.    Oh beloved, let us start every argument, discussion or doctrine with the Bible, God’s inspired Word.

John 5:39   – “Search the Scriptures.…”   What Scriptures was He speaking of?  The Old Testament.  And through the types, shadows there pointing to Him….the sacrifices.   NONE of it alludes to anything further than His death on the cross.   Either that was sufficient for redemption or it wasn’t.

“Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)