Without going into the specifics of three days and three nights or some configuration, where and what did Jesus go and do between the time of His death/burial and His resurrection, if anything?

We know that Apostles Creed says "[He] descended into hell" (or sheol, Abraham's bosom, hades), although see here.

So, what happened?

I'm looking for any of the following denominational points of view: Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, other Protestants.

  • 2
    This depends very much on the interpretation of 1 Timothy 3:16 God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. and the interpretation of Psalm 16:10 For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; Interpretations vary widely from what used to be held as orthodox and credal (descended into hell, rose again from the dead).
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 5, 2023 at 15:19
  • 1
    I changed your denomination-survey tag to comparative-christianity tag, because it seems more appropriate to your question based on the tag usage described here. I think by explicitly asking for all major interpretations across Christianity, this can be a good comparative-christianity question. Secondly, you may need to be more explicit whether this is about Jesus's intermediate state or about our intermediate state. It seems you are asking about Jesus's, so I updated the question accordingly. Commented May 5, 2023 at 16:41
  • I've deleted my answer based on the clarified restrictions. ¶ It's unfortunate though that there aren't any answers yet other than the one Roman Catholic response. Commented May 7, 2023 at 15:05
  • @RayButterworth appreciate it. Presumably, though see my link in the OP, traditional Christianity believes in the "harrowing of hell" with various scriptural supports. But we'll see.
    – SLM
    Commented May 7, 2023 at 17:35
  • 1
    Latter-Day Saints aren't Protestant, so an answer from our point of view wouldn't be appropriate. I think our perspective, however, is one of the more detailed and interesting explanations in Christianity, assigning great importance to what Christ did during his several-day intermission. There's a brief article here if anyone is interested.
    – Lige
    Commented May 11, 2023 at 23:14

3 Answers 3


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

  • 2
    This should start by saying it is the Roman Catholic perspective. ¶ Also, "limbo" was never a doctrine, and is no longer supported by the Church. It was removed from the catechism in 1992. Catholic Church buries limbo after centuries | Reuters. Commented May 6, 2023 at 2:07
  • 1
    Limbo is a Catholic doctrine, but is as yet undefined . The concept of limbo is still permitted in the Church. Although the limbo of the children is in doubt by many theologians the limbo of Fathers is still maintained. Even if the Catechism dropped this subject matter, the Church still permits it belief.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented May 6, 2023 at 11:34

Just to share a quote from Irenaeus who's quoting various scriptures here about this question.

But the case was, that for three days He dwelt in the place where the dead were, as the prophet says concerning Him: “And the Lord remembered His dead saints who slept formerly in the land of sepulture; and He descended to them, to rescue and save them.”4710 And the Lord Himself says, “As Jonas remained three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so shall the Son of man be in the heart of the earth.”4711 Then also the apostle says, “But when He ascended, what is it but that He also descended into the lower parts of the earth?”4712 This, too, David says when prophesying of Him, “And thou hast delivered my soul from the nethermost hell;”4713 and on His rising again the third day, He said to Mary, who was the first to see and to worship Him, “Touch Me not, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to the disciples, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and unto your Father.”4714

I suppose Irenaeus may not be considered strictly in a denomination, but he is Trinitarian. His is an ancient view of what happened. Irenaeus was taught by Polycarp who was taught by Apostles John and Philip.

TO ADD about my comment on Irenaeus and Trinity (the basic idea being the Son and Spirit have always existed and were not created), but to be clear this is getting afield:

  1. I have also largely demonstrated, that the Word, namely the Son, was always with the Father; and that Wisdom also, which is the Spirit, was present with Him, anterior to all creation, Against Heresies Book IV Chapter XX

Against Heresies, Book 5, Chapter XXXI

  • 1
    Millions of Christians believe Christ was in the beginning with the Father, but do not believe in homoousios. Would you accept an edit that "Irenaeus taught that the Son and Spirit have always existed" in place of "he is Trinitarian", since this is what is shown by the quotation? Commented May 15, 2023 at 18:13
  • 1
    From the same link: "For with Him [God] were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by whom and in whom, freely and spontaneously, He made all things, to whom also He speaks, saying, “Let Us make man after Our image and likeness;” The bible quote confirms the same essence. Also "anterior" means after all creation. Some erroneously believe Christ was created or of a different likeness.
    – SLM
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 21:48

Protestant Point of View Two scriptures must be considered when dealing with the journeys of Jesus between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection:

  1. Luke 23:43 - Jesus answered him, 'I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in Paradise.'

This was spoken during Friday afternoon, just before His death. He then expired on Friday, and ascended to Paradise. He did not say they were going to Sheol, or Hades, nor Abraham's bosom. Other references to Paradise in the N.T. all point to the heavens and the 'paradise of God, where the Tree of Life was. (Revelation 2:7) This could not hardly be any part of the underworld.

So, why would Jesus need to go to the Presence of God right away? According to the fulfillment of O.T. typology, the blood of the slain Lamb had to be placed on the Altar (Ark) by the high priest. This is confirmed by Hebrews 9. (See Ephesians 1:7, In Him we have redemption through His blood.)

  1. Secondly, Matthew 28:18 All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. The Victim had to be recognized as the Victor. The Prince of Life had to be crowned as the King of Kings. Jesus went to the Father to be coronated!

We know that He was not coronated after His physical Ascension, when He finally sat down at the Father's right hand, because before His Ascension, Jesus declared that All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me! (Matthew 28:18). That this is possible is underscored by the fact that Jesus spent 40 days before His Ascension teaching about the "Kingdom of God". He was well qualified to do this because He was its enthroned Coronated King!

Other events of Jesus during this time period are dealt with by the above comments and articles listed. The Creeds do not have the same weight as scripture, and can be misleading. What is meant by O.T. and N.T. verses which mention Hades is open to several interpretations.

  • 1
    The punctuation in "I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in Paradise." was supplied by the English translators. Moving the comma from after to before "today" gives it a different meaning that is more consistent with other scriptures and balances the thief's statement, "remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom". See my answer to Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." Luke 23:43. Commented May 11, 2023 at 23:16
  • @Ray Butterworth I consulted your Answer on 70904 and it isn't convincing. The familiar phrase Jesus used throughout His ministry was "Verily (Verily) I say unto you..." To change it just for this verse would not be appropriate. I checked other translations--both by committees and by individuals like Moffat, Berkeley, etc--and they ALL placed the 'Today' with the second phrase! Lamsa was the only one who hinted of a possible change of comma, but insisted on translating as the rest did. The WHEN of the thief is answered by the TODAY of Jesus.
    – ray grant
    Commented May 12, 2023 at 20:51
  • Well, you've also got to address Psalm 16:10 For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. To be left in hell implies it is there; that is, after His death descending into hell (Sheol). Obviously, Peter believed this, quoting it in Acts 2:17. Also, how did the first fruits get out Mt. 27:52?
    – SLM
    Commented May 13, 2023 at 18:16
  • @SLM The last paragraph of my Answer referred to the "other events" whereof you speak. Whatever the underworld is and whenever Jesus went there, does not take away from the necessity and actuality of Jesus ascending to up to Paradise with the ex-con right after the Crucifixion on Friday. This direct, clear statement of Jesus cannot be negated by speculation about Sheol-events later on (Psalm 16:10, Acts 2:17, 1 Peter 3:18-20). The rising of saints in Matt. 27 is listed as occuring "after His resurrection." But that question is different from the one posted here, and off-topic.
    – ray grant
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 20:04
  • @SLM Referring to Psalm 16:10 notice that the first phrase refers to DAVID, and the second one to Messiah. David expected to be resurrected in the future...BUT the Messiah would not see corruption! "Not-neither" clearly define the two differences. As to your second question, the scriptures said "they came out of the graves 'after' His resurrection." (which is off-topic for this post.)
    – ray grant
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 21:31

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .