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Did Jesus spend time in Hell between the crucifixion and resurrection?

Jesus died and was raised from death on the third day.

Where did Jesus go during the period from His death to resurrection? Was He was with God or still on Earth?

What is the significance of three days?

Some believe that He was in purgatory. However, He died for our sins because He was sinless - in that case, this belief (regarding purgatory) is questionable.

Is there a biblical answer, or one within the realm of Christian faith?

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marked as duplicate by Flimzy, Jon Ericson, Andrew, Yuletide Geek, Narnian Nov 29 '12 at 14:05

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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Welcome to Christianity.SE! This is a good question and I hope you get done quality answers. Just a heads up, we m might help you reframe it a little bit. This is a widely disputed issue with CHristians from different traditions coming down with different interpretations of the small evidence we have to go on. The only way this is answerable here is of answers are expected to cover the whole picture, not just advocate for one position. –  Caleb Jul 19 '12 at 11:17
    
See also, two related questions. –  Jon Ericson Jul 19 '12 at 17:12
    

6 Answers 6

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Very little is said in the Bible of where Jesus was and what he was doing during the three days, but here's what we do know:

He promised the thief on the cross that they would be together in paradise after death. (Luke 23:39-42)

When Mary recognized him in the garden after his resurrection, he told her that he had not yet been to heaven. (John 20:15-17 ) From this we can deduce that Heaven, where God is, is something distinct from Paradise, where Jesus had been while he was dead.

While he was dead and in paradise, he "went and preached unto the spirits in prison." (1 Peter 3:18-20) This shows that he wasn't simply laying around relaxing, but continuing his ministry on the other side, preaching the gospel to sinners just as he had in mortality.

Beyond that, the Bible doesn't have much to say.

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Jesus' body was in the tomb (Matthew 27:59ff; cp Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19).

Jesus' spirit was in Paradise (Luke 23:42ff) - else He could not have truthfully promised the thief crucified with Him that "today you will be with Me in Paradise". See also Luke 16:19-31.

Jesus paid our debt in completion while on the cross - while He absorbed the full wrath of God to be our propitiation (Hebrews 2:16ff; cp Romans 3:24ff), He was not put into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:9ff) and pulled back out (Revelation 19:20), as that would have been a victory for the Devil whom Christ had already broken (Genesis 3:15) by becoming our atonement.

Three days is significant for a variety of reasons, both in foreshadowing, and in practicalities.

  • it is a finite period of time
  • the body won't begin to decay yet (Psalm 16:10)
    • compare to Lazarus in John 11:17 & 39:
      • "So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days." &
      • "Jesus said, 'Remove the stone.' Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, "Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.'"
  • it was presaged by Jonah (Matthew 12:38ff; cp Jonah 1:17)
  • it was how long the plague of darkness lasted in Egypt (Exodus 10:21ff)
  • Jesus said it would only be three days (Matthew 26:61; cp 27:63, Mark 8:31, John 2:19)
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(Here's the "tl/dr" summary: Article four of the Apostles' Creed says Jesus "descended into hell" between the time that he was buried and the time that he rose from the dead.)


That's a good question. I'm aware of no specific place in scripture that provides an extensive & thorough, "He was at [location] to accomplish [goal]"-type answer, although there are some important references, such as 1 Peter 3:18-20. The Apostles' Creed is one widely regarded, but extra-biblical source frequently used to address the issue, and many people believe it is entirely consistent with biblical teaching. It is an ancient set of statements that outline the basic tenets of Christianity, as they are understood by a significant number of believers, and it is used by Roman Catholic church and several Protestant denominations.

Here's author Philip Schaff's description of the Apostles' Creed:

Philip Schaff, in his Creeds of Christendom, writes of the Apostles' Creed, “As the Lord's Prayer is the Prayer of prayers, the Decalogue is the Law of laws, so the Apostles' Creed is the Creed of creeds. It contains all the fundamental articles of the Christian faith necessary to salvation, in the form of facts, in simple Scripture language, and in the most natural order—the order of revelation—from God and the creation down to the resurrection and life everlasting.”1 The simple doctrinal statements within this creed are clear and concise, and their meaning cannot be misconstrued. (source).

And here is New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia's brief description:

A formula containing in brief statements, or "articles," the fundamental tenets of Christian belief, and having for its authors, according to tradition, the Twelve Apostles.

Article four of the Apostles' Creed says that, between the time that Christ was buried and the time that he rose from the dead, he "descended into hell." Cf. 1 Peter 3:18-20.

The Apostles' Creed:

  1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
  2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
  3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
  4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:
  5. The third day he rose again from the dead:
  6. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
  7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
  8. I believe in the Holy Ghost:
  9. I believe in the holy catholic* church: the communion of saints:
  10. The forgiveness of sins:
  11. The resurrection of the body:
  12. And the life everlasting. Amen.

* Note that, in this context, the word "catholic" in article nine refers not exclusively to the Roman Catholic church, but to the church consisting of all who have a saving faith in Christ.

See also this Christianity.SE question: Did Jesus spend time in Hell between the crucifixion and resurrection?

Here are some additional sources you might want to consult:

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Welcome to Christianity.StackExchange! Thank you for your well-researched answer. Here is a link with some useful formatting tools for future reference. Also, users sometimes like to put a Summary (or "Short Answer") at the top for the lazy readers! I hope you stick around and continue to contribute; we can always use more experts who are willing to contribute well-researched answers! Ciao. –  Jas 3.1 Jul 21 '12 at 21:39
    
@Jas: Good point. I just added a quick summary to the beginning. Thanks also for that formatting link. <hat tip>. –  Philip Schaff Jul 21 '12 at 22:25

The Orthodox Liturgy (paschal troparion) says about this time:

In the tomb with the body and in Hades with the soul, in Paradise with the thief and on the throne with the Father and the Spirit, wast Thou, O boundless Christ filling all things.

I don't know however how other traditions say about it.

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Where did Jesus go during the period from His death to resurrection?
Was He was with God or still on Earth?

According to 1 Peter 3: 18-20, when Jesus died, he went to preach the gospel to spirits in prison which could be referring to souls being held by the devil. It's probably the grace of God to all humanity, He gave them the opportunity to ear the gospel but the decision was theirs.

What is the significance of three days?

Jesus said in John 2:19

Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.

Jesus was telling that He would be kill but will rise from the dead. It was to accomplish this.

Some believe that He was in purgatory. However, He died for our sins because He was sinless - in that case, this belief (regarding purgatory) is questionable.

This depends on everyone's understanding of the scriptures. I believe Jesus came to earth and died for our sins. He asked us to be His representative here on earth, which is to live the same life He lived. However He was God and human and we are just humans; so we may fall in sin. When it happens, scriptures say in 1 John 1:9

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us

So to me that belief is questionable.

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@Bunyan.. Your answer clears the question in my mind. Thanks for that. Only exception is that, after descending into hell what exactly He did is not sepcifically spellt out in Apostles creed but this is answered in 1 Peter 3:18-20 as Mason Wheeler has pointed out. My Thanks to Mason too. –  JoaoRodrigues Jul 23 '12 at 3:57

For three days Jesus was "with the dead".. meaning that he was not with God.

This underlines that he was separable from God, and under his own authority, and it contrasts to Jesus' being the only way to eternal life (with God).

It is common for people to talk about "Hell" as his destination for these days, and most churches even recite the Apostles Creed to this effect. But if you consider the text of the creed and the Hellenistic world at the time it isn't the proper conclusion.

descendit ad inferos, tertia die resurrexit a mortuis,

The latin word "inferos" depicts the Hellenistic premise of a "land of the dead" ... but the inference of this into the Pan-European "Fiery" Hell is so pervasive that you'll find that if you enter that latin line in its entirety into a translator you'll come up with "hell"... but if you enter just the word "inferos" you'll come up with something like "underworld".

Hellenistic culture (which we find as a significant audience to the ministry of Jesus & the apostoles) had a cultural understanding of "Hades" as an "underworld" where everybody went to journey until they reached Elysium or Tartarus.

The first stage of Hades, Asphodel, was effectively a place of wandering. This parallels the Judeo-Christian premise of where humans went after they left the Garden (Nod, wandering) and what the Israelites had to wander between slavery (as the Gospel notes we are slaves to sin) and the fulfilled promise.

But Jesus speaks to the thief next to him about "paradise" which parallels the concept of Elysium. The audience at the time would understand Jesus to be telling the man he *will not go to a place of Torment, but to a place of joy.

Why three days? Many answers in this thread have addressed this well: rotting bodies, plague of Egypt, "because he said he would", the rebuilding of the temple.... and these are all great examples of the underlying premise of the symbolic nature of "three" in Hebrew numerology to mean something like "a good amount, but not too much"

This is contrast with the importance of things like "seven" to mean "a whole lot!" and Jesus' use of "seventy-seven" to mean "way more than a whole lot!"

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