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The Christian understanding that everyone was born with origin sin, and then when Jesus/God was killed at the cross, and then he was resurrected from death after 3 days.

From what I understand, there is the idea of Jesus descending into Hell to free the spirits/souls of people.

Who were these people? Was it everyone before his time that died? Did it include the righteous and wicked people or? Prophets also?

Is this a creed based belief only or is their scripture to back this up somewhere?

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revelant – bit_ly_1selcQ3 Mar 3 '14 at 18:51

First, be careful with your statement "The Christian understanding that everyone was born with origin[al] sin". Yes, this is a common Christian belief, and it is indeed a Catholic one, but it is not universal. This is irrelevant to the rest of your question, but worth noting.

And yes, there does indeed exist the idea that Jesus descended into "Hell" between his death and resurrection, i.e. between the first Good Friday and the first Easter morning. We see this in the Apostles' Creed, for instance: "He descended into Hell". This is an event widely known as the Harrowing of Hell.

Now, the first thing to note is that this is a very different thing to what we imagine Hell to be like today. It does not mean a place of everlasting torment. It's sometimes known as the "Limbo of the Fathers". In Hebrew it is Sheol, the abode of the dead. As the Catechism says, "Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer."(CCC 633)

It was precisely the just -- those made righteous by faith in God and his promised Messiah -- who were saved by Jesus' descent into Hell: "Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him."(CCC 633)

This emphasises the totality of Jesus' redemptive work. It extends not only to those on earth, over whom God is known to have power, but also to those who have died.

The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfilment. This is the last phase of Jesus' messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ's redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption.(CCC 633)

See also this article on EWTN.

As to its biblical foundation, there are various texts that we might point to.

The Catechism points to the following texts, among others:

When it says, ‘He ascended’, what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? (Eph 4.10)

you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead (Acts 3.15)

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. (Rom 8.11)

He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison (1 Pet 3.19)

For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does. (1 Pet 4.10)

Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live (Jn 5.25)

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I tagged the question as Catholic, so I was being specific in that regard. – user1361315 Mar 3 '14 at 17:22
So your saying "Hell" in this instance is not a place of any punishment, they are just in some 'middle ground' area? No punishment at all? is this a nice place then? Hell has a certain negative tone to it for most English speaking people. – user1361315 Mar 3 '14 at 17:25
No, it's not a "nice" place, but it's not the stereotypical place of eternal punishment either. It's typically understood as a lonely, sad place, away from the knowledge of God, but not as Hell in the way it's understood today. In fact, today's understanding of Hell is quite new - it's late-mediæval at best. – lonesomeday Mar 3 '14 at 18:58
So Prophet Abraham, Adam, are all in this 'sad place'? Everyone? – user1361315 Mar 3 '14 at 19:45
The belief in life after death is not present in the majority of the Old Testament. – lonesomeday Mar 4 '14 at 9:22

An important aspect of Christ's activity after His physical body had died and was entombed in Joseph of Arimathia's tomb, was the victory march of the conqueror. After Jesus had

"disarmed powers and authorities, making a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross" (Colossians 2:15),

He then


In the preceding verse, Paul was paraphrasing, and in the process also modifying and re-interpreting, Psalm 68:18, where we read

"You have ascended on high, You have led captive Your captives; You have received gifts among men, Even among the rebellious also, that the LORD God may dwell there [my emphasis]."

In its historical context, verse 18 of this Psalm paints a picture of the triumphal march of a king who has just led the soldiers in his army in a stunning military defeat of their enemies. In those days, the vanquished enemies who had survived the battle were taken captive, and as the returning army marched into, say, Jerusalem, the POWs were now shackled with chains and forced to bear the taunts of the citizenry.

When I think of this verse, I picture King Jesus in a majestic chariot ascending into the "heavenly places," heretofore the uncontested battleground in which Satan and his hordes held sway. In His train are both the saints of old who have emerged from the realm of the dead and are being led by Jesus into heaven itself, and the spiritual "powers and authorities" which are disarmed through the redemption Jesus accomplished on the cross. They will be freed for a time, but with their power and authority greatly diminished by Jesus' death. From now on, they are powerless to defeat God and His kingdom-building in the hearts of the redeemed.

Furthermore, as the redeemed put on the complete armor of God (see Ephesians 6:10-17), they are not to be in attack mode; rather, they are simply to "stand firm" (v.14) against the enemy of men's souls. Apostle Paul says this about the victory of which the church is assured:

"Nay, in all these [seemingly negative] things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us" (Romans 8:31-39 KJV)

Desiring to reward the citizenry with the spoils of war, the king and commander in chief would distribute some of the booty of battle to them. These gifts could be articles of clothing, weapons confiscated from enemy troops, household possessions, and perhaps even gold, silver, and precious stones which the victors seized from the homes of the conquered citizenry.

Notice as well, in verse 18 the triumphant king "receives gifts among men" (my emphasis), whereas in Ephesians 4, the triumphant king "gives gifts to men." This difference in wording is perhaps deliberate on Paul's part, yet both verses underscore a common truth; namely, the conquering king, such as David, who was both king and commander-in-chief of Israel's army, certainly deserved receiving gifts from men (i.e. his "subjects").

Christ, however, the antitype to King David, who as the only begotten Son of God and the conqueror of sin, death, and hell, was not content simply to receive gifts from His subjects. No, He delighted in giving gifts to His subjects. Instead of material gifts, He distributed spiritual gifts, such as apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers, so that through the church universal these gifted people would, through their exercising of those gifts, extend the victory of the conquering king for generations to come.

The gifts can be seen legitimately as a "gifting" or supernatural ability given to Christian men and women. More importantly, however, the gifts are the people, whether apostles, prophets, evangelists, or pastor/teachers. These gifted people are given to the church universal (and to the church local) so that the victory of Christ might be extended in its redemptive and transforming power to the entire body of Christ (viz., the church) in every generation until the church universal is completely and perfectly formed (see Ephesians 4:13-16; for the "spirituals" see 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4).

When Christ completes the building of His church, one living stone at a time (1 Peter 2:5), the church as the bride of Christ will be ready for the "marriage supper of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:7 and 9). Then our risen Savior and Lord will usher in the events described in the Revelation of Jesus Christ, including the creation of a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells forever (Revelation 21:1).

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I'm not sure I follow you, can you answer the question like is Prophet Abraham and his followers in this place called "Hell"? These people were there for hundreds of years then right according to this? – user1361315 Mar 4 '14 at 15:55
@user1361315: They were in the abode of the dead until Jesus freed them and took them with Him to heaven, just prior to His resurrection. Yes, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, King David, Isaiah, Rahab, Ruth, ad infinitum, were all escorted to heaven, since the sacrificial Lamb had been slain, His blood spilt, and these Old Testament saints' sins were washed in the blood of the Lamb. Sheol (the abode of the dead) was NOT a place of punishment. On the contrary, it resembles in some ways a waiting room, where the OT saints and true believers awaited their release by the triumphant Christ. – rhetorician Mar 4 '14 at 23:52
Why is the term "hell" used then? – user1361315 Mar 7 '14 at 19:33
Check out Ligonier Ministry's website here:… The Apostles' Creed uses the word "hell," but the Bible does NOT. The Bible does, however, speak of “this Jesus, who by the same spirit by which he [was] raised from the dead [went and preached] to the lost spirits in prison”(1 Peter 3:19). Where or what that prison is--not to mention who the lost spirits are--is a controversial issue. Personally, I think Christ did descent to Sheol, the abode of the dead, and declared the good news of liberation to its residents. – rhetorician Mar 8 '14 at 1:08

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