Where and what did Jesus go and do between Death and Resurrection?
Normally when we speak of “hell” we mean “the fires of hell” or Gehenna. However the Greek word hades really refers to the interim state of the disembodied soul, while Gehenna is the ultimate state of the damned, the lake of fire. The Latin word infernum, as read in the Nicene Creed means simply the lower regions, which could signify Purgatory, the Limbo of the Fathers or the Limbo of Children. It does not signify the hell of the damned!
In English usage the word "Hades" first appears around 1600, as a transliteration of the Greek word "ᾅδης" in the line in the Apostles' Creed, "He descended into hell", the place of waiting (the place of "the spirits in prison" 1 Peter 3:19) into which Jesus is there affirmed to have gone after the Crucifixion. Because this descent, known in Old and Middle English as the Harrowing of Hell, needed to be distinguished from what had come to be more usually called "hell", i.e. the place or state of those finally damned, the word was transliterated and given a differentiated meaning.
This development whereby "hell" came to be used to mean only the "hell of the damned" affected also the Latin word infernum and the corresponding words in Latin-derived languages, as in the name "Inferno" given to the first part of Dante's Divina Commedia. Greek, on the other hand, has kept the original meaning of "ᾅδης" (Hades) and uses the word "κόλασις" (kólasis – literally, "punishment"; cf. Matthew 25:46, which speaks of "everlasting kolasis") to refer to what nowadays is usually meant by "hell" in English. - Christian views on Hades
When Christ died he freed those souls who had previously died and were not in the hell of the damned but were in Limbo awaiting the time of their liberation by Jesus Christ, himself.
The concept of limbo still remains a viable theological possibility within Catholic theology. Neither the Eastern Orthodox Church nor Protestantism accepts the concept of a limbo of infants; but, while not using the expression "Limbo of the Patriarchs", the Eastern Orthodox Church lays much stress on the resurrected Christ's action of liberating Adam and Eve and other righteous figures of the Old Testament, such as Abraham and David, from Hades!
Christ was without sin and he fully paid the price of our redemption on the cross. So if Christ’s suffering was finished on the cross, why did His human soul descend into hell?
First we must confer with Saint Thomas Aquinas and other saints and doctors who divide hell (infernus) into four abodes:
Purgatory (abode of those being purified)
Limbo of the Fathers (abode of the Old Testament faithful – now it’s empty)
Limbo of the Children (abode for unbaptized children under the age of reason)
Gehenna (abode of the damned)
Usually when we speak of “hell” we mean “the fires of hell” or Gehenna.
At STh III, q. 52, a. 2, Saint Thomas Aquinas is clear that Christ did not descend into Gehenna. (For those interested in such things, Hans Urs Von Balthasar stands if full contradiction to Catholic tradition on this point.)
Christ’s soul descended to the Limbo of the Fathers, also known as Abraham’s Bosom:
“And it came to pass that the beggar died and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. And the rich man also died: and he was buried in hell.” (Luke 16:22, D-R)
In the Old Testament, the gates of Heaven were not open to human souls. So the faithful in the Old Testament remained in the Limbo of the Fathers until the passion and death of Christ – those from Adam till even the thief on the cross.
Now Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches that since the Old Testament faithful did not have the sacraments, that Christ’s descent into the inferno was for them as the sacraments are to us:
Hence, as the power of the Passion is applied to the living through the sacraments which make us like unto Christ’s Passion, so likewise it is applied to the dead through His descent into hell. On which account it is written (Zechariah 9:11) that “He sent forth prisoners out of the pit, in the blood of His testament,” that is, by the power of His Passion.
So Abraham was not baptized, but he did receive the efficacy of baptism by the descent of Christ into the Limbo of the Fathers. Thus, the doctrine of Christ’s descent into Hell solves many theological difficulties: the lack of sacramental efficacy in the Old Law, the salvation of people before Christ, and the distinction of abodes in hell. - Why Did Christ Descend into Hell? The Salvation of the Old Testament Faithful
Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? - Ephesians 4:9
But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. - Acts 2:24
Christ then preached to the spirits that were being kept in prison. - 1Peter 3:19
Christ’s decent into the lower regions between his death and Resurrection is known as the Harrowing of Hell!
Christ's descent into the world of the dead is referred to in the Apostles' Creed and the Athanasian Creed (Quicumque vult), which state that he "descended into the underworld" (descendit ad inferos), although neither mention that he liberated the dead. His descent to the underworld is alluded to in the New Testament in 1 Peter 4 (1 Peter 4:6), which states that the "good tidings were proclaimed to the dead". The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes Ephesians 4 (Ephesians 4:9), which states that "[Christ] descended into the lower parts of the earth", as also supporting this interpretation. These passages in the New Testament have given rise to differing interpretations. The Harrowing of Hell is commemorated in the liturgical calendar on Holy Saturday.
The Harrowing of Hell was taught by theologians of the early church: St Melito of Sardis (died c. 180) in his Homily on the Passover and more explicitly in his Homily for Holy Saturday, Tertullian (A Treatise on the Soul, 55; though he himself disagrees with the idea), Hippolytus (Treatise on Christ and Anti-Christ) Origen (Against Celsus, 2:43), and, later, Ambrose (died 397) all wrote of the Harrowing of Hell. The early heretic Marcion and his followers also discussed the Harrowing of Hell, as mentioned by Tertullian, Irenaeus, and Epiphanius. The 6th-century sect called the Christolytes, as recorded by John of Damascus, believed that Jesus left his soul and body in Hell, and only rose with his divinity to Heaven.
The Gospel of Matthew relates that immediately after Christ died, the earth shook, there was darkness, the veil in the Second Temple was torn in two, and many people rose from the dead, and after the resurrection (Matthew 27:53) walked about in Jerusalem and were seen by many people there. Balthasar says this is a "visionary and imaginistic" description of Jesus vanquishing death itself.
Although the Harrowing of Hell is taught by the Lutheran, Catholic, Reformed, and Orthodox traditions, a number of Christians reject the doctrine of the "harrowing of hell", claiming that "there is scant scriptural evidence for [it], and that Jesus's own words contradict it". John Piper, for example, says "there is no textual basis for believing that Christ descended into hell", and, therefore, Piper does not recite the "he descended into hell" phrase when saying the Apostles' Creed. Wayne Grudem also skips the phrase when reciting the Creed; he says that the "single argument in ... favor [of the "harrowing of hell" clause in the Creed] seems to be that it has been around so long. ...But an old mistake is still a mistake". In his book Raised with Christ, Pentecostal Adrian Warnock agrees with Grudem, commenting, "Despite some translations of an ancient creed [i.e. the Apostles' Creed], which suggest that Jesus ... 'descended into hell', there is no biblical evidence to suggest that he actually did so." - Harrowing of Hell