Did Jesus Descend into Hell After He Died on the Cross?

Update March 2012

[ For an update to this post on a more scholarly level please see Did Jesus Descend into Hell According to the Apostles’ Creed? ]

This question is usually asked once a year after people remember what actually happened on Good Friday. I ask the question myself each year and go back and re-read the pertinent scripture information to refresh my understanding because the question is asked by believers, but it’s also asked by those with a secular worldview, atheists, and skeptics alike. When the secularist asks this question they are actually calling scripture into question itself by saying scripture says Jesus descended into Hell and Jesus said to the criminal on the cross “today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43), and both can’t be true. That worldview understanding comes from a populist misunderstanding of scripture and what we think of as pointing to this, the facts about Hell, or Apostle’s Creed, not actually what scripture teaches us about the subject.

Of course I am certainly no scholar on the subject what-so-ever, but the short answer to the question “Did Jesus Descend into Hell After He Died on the Cross on Good Friday?” is no, He did not, at least not according to scripture. His suffering ended on the cross when Jesus said “It is finished”.

As you might guess, scholars aren’t in complete agreement on this theological issue but if you dig deep into scripture specifically trying to prove one or the other you will probably succeed. If you follow scripture, in context, attempting to understand beyond just our postmodern view of life, the text points to the suffering of Christ taking place on the cross, and ending on the cross. This is what Jesus was in such agony about in the garden of Gethsemane.

Much of the confusion today comes from the Apostle’s Creed where our modern-day translation says “and he descended into hell”. We forget the Apostle’s Creed came from the early church fathers and really needs its own translation into our modern-day language. The translation of the word “Hell” from the Apostle’s Creed is more likely to be translated Sheol or Hades, which is not the same thing as Hell even though our modern understand places the terms Sheol, Hades, and Hell all as being the same locale. Often we see in scripture Sheol being depicted where the Saints went prior to the resurrection, one side being a heaven-like side of paradise prior to the ascension into Heaven, the other being a place of torment. This is depicted in scripture in the story of Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 but scripture tells us “Sheol/Hades is a realm with two divisions (Matthew 11:2316:18Luke 10:1516:23Acts 2:27-31), the abodes of the saved and the lost”, and Christ’s suffering, completed on the cross then descended to Hades or Sheol, scripture never says Jesus was sent to a place of torment for 3 days, and in fact we have scripture, from Jesus’ own words saying he was in “Paradise”.

The best summation of the question comes from GotQuestions.org where the writer says:

When Jesus cried upon the cross, “Oh, Father, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46), it was then that He was separated from the Father because of the sin poured out upon Him. As He gave up His spirit, He said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). His suffering in our place was completed. His soul/spirit went to the paradise side of hades. Jesus did not go to hell. Jesus’ suffering ended the moment He died. The payment for sin was paid. He then awaited the resurrection of His body and His return to glory in His ascension. Did Jesus go to hell? No. Did Jesus go to Sheol/hades? Yes.

There are some who might say we aren’t to question our faith in this manner, many who say the question I pose is irrelevant, and others in the Christian faith who just don’t care. I have always grown in my understanding of the Christian faith by asking questions and then searching for the answers.

Update March 2012

For an update to this post on a more scholarly level please see Did Jesus Descend into Hell According to the Apostles’ Creed?

Other Scriptural Resources to Understand Jesus’ Death on the Cross

This is not an exhaustive look at scripture on the subject by any means. There are some great resources online that deal with the question about Jesus and Hell so if you are so inclined, below I have listed some further reading on the subject. At the bottom I have included two scholarly papers, which debate the issue from both sides. They are both very interesting arguments for and against the wording in the Apostle’s Creed.

Whether Christ spent time in actual Hell or not after His crucifixion, one thing is certain, Christ was raised from the dead and after appearing to more than 500 people here on our own physical earth, he ascended into Heaven and the new covenant was established.

  1. He Did Not Descend into Hell, Understanding Through Scripture (pdf)
  2. Did Jesus Descend into Hell? (pdf)
  3. He Did Descend into Hell, Defending the Apostle’s Creed (pdf)

6 thoughts on “Did Jesus Descend into Hell After He Died on the Cross?

  1. Pingback: Did Jesus Descend into Hell According to the Apostles’ Creed? « ScottFillmer.com

  2. billy murray jr.

    The emphatic no is subjected to interpretation.Jesus did say to the two on the cross beside him,this day you will be with me in paradise.but one must remember that god said to Adam,if he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,that day he would surely die. Adam lived over 900 years before he died,thereby showing that one day in the holy realm is approximately 1000 years. So,when Jesus said this day he could have been implying thru parables 1000 years.

    Reply
    1. billy murray jr.

      Jesus went to hell and preached a sermon to give those who were dead and didn’t know of him,an opportunity to life in paradise.

      Reply
      1. Scott Fillmer Post author

        i actually addressed both of these issues in my subsequent post and research paper located at http://scottfillmer.com/2012/03/19/did-jesus-descend-into-hell-apostles-creed/ the scripture you refer to in Genesis has a proper hermeneutical interpretation of a “period of time” where as the Scripture on the cross is referring to “immediately.”

        The other passage you referred to above is address on the other post. The full research is available at http://www.scottfillmer.me/wp-content/uploads/docs/christ-descent-into-hell-fillmer.pdf which gives a much more detailed overview of the various arguments and why or why not they are valid.

        Thanks for the comments.

  3. Charity Potter

    Scott, hi, it is evident to me that you are in a state of grace and you’ve found a way to put your knack for understanding Jesus to work for others. Thank you. I completed the Rosary for the first time today it was very hard for me. Following this most truthful act, I came across your post when I asked the same question “Did Jesus Really Go to Hell.” I gave google a spin and found your post. I read it and the scriptures you recited here within and prayed once more. God Bless You and Yours, Charity

    Reply

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