Did Jesus go to Hell for three days after His death on the cross in order to finish paying for the sins of the saved?
The doctrine that our Lord descended into Hell in-between the time of His death on the cross and His resurrection is usually created from a combination of these three verses:
- Matthew 12:40 says, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
- 1 Peter 3:19-20: “By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.”
- Acts 2:27: “Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.”
Before analyzing these verses let’s just take a look at some of the things that Jesus said as He was hanging on the cross right before He died:
“And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” - (Luke 23:43)
“And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.” - (Luke 23:46)
“When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.” - (John 19:30)
Instead of teaching that Jesus had to suffer after the cross to complete the work, our Lord said the contrary while He was on the cross - “It is finished.” Our Lord did not say that He was going to Hell to be tormented by Satan, He said the opposite - that His Spirit was then received by His Father, not Satan, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” He did not say that He was going to be in Hell for three days. On the cross Jesus said the opposite - that the same day He would be with the thief in paradise. Either Jesus was lying, out of His mind, or this doctrine that Jesus had to go and suffer in Hell after the cross until His resurrection is twisting three verses of scripture to say something much different than they do.
Here’s one important piece of information you need to know: The torment of Hell is the absence of God. The lake of fire is indeed a physical place (often referred to as Hell), but the reason that it is so tormenting is that there is no presence of God there. Was Jesus’ main torment on the cross His physical pain? No, it was the fact that He was forsaken by God - and this is the main torment of Hell as well. Jesus suffered this torment on the cross:
“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” - (Mar 15:34)
Jesus did suffer the torments of Hell. WHILE He was on the cross! This explains the verse:
“Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.”- (Act 2:27)
The corruption mentioned here is talking about His physical body. Jesus’ body was buried in the earth (the “heart of the earth”) for three days while his Spirit ascended to His Father in Heaven (Luke 23:46). This simple explanation makes the following verse clear:
“For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” - (Mat 12:40)
Just as Jonah was buried in the fish, Jesus’ body was buried in the earth. So now we have one verse left which is a bit hard to understand. 1 Peter 3:19-20: “By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.”
How did Jesus preach to the spirits in prison? The key to this passage lies in verse 18. Always remember to take scripture in context. Look before and after the verse to find out what it’s talking about.
“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison” (1Pe 3:18-19)
If you read the bible in context it does not say that Jesus went to prison to preach. It says that He preached to the spirits in prison by the Spirit. Which Spirit is the bible speaking of here? It is speaking of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ preached to the spirits in prison not by going down to Hell, but by the Holy Spirit.
You’re probably asking yourself, “then what does it mean for Jesus to preach by the Spirit to those that are in prison?!” Nobody disagrees that this refers to the unsaved in Noah’s time whom are dead now, correct? Ok, here’s a question – when did Jesus preach to them by the Holy Spirit? Even if He did it after He was killed on the cross, we know that He would have been in paradise while He did it. Does it make sense that the Holy Spirit would convict people already dead? Perhaps unsaved dead people can repent and be saved! Are there any other instances in scripture of the Holy Spirit speaking to condemned people after they’ve died for any reason? No, Jesus Christ preached to these at a different time – before they were dead. He preached to them while they were on earth in Noah’s time. Did Jesus by the Holy Spirit preach to people in the Old Testament? 1 Peter 1:11 says that He did. “Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” (1Pe 1:11)
To accept the doctrine that our Lord Jesus Christ had to descend into Hell to finish suffering and paying for the sin of man is a terrible mistake forming a colossal false doctrine about salvation from a couple of hard to understand verses. Don’t base your faith first on the hard to understand scripture, but the easy to understand scripture! Then interpret the hard to understand with what is easy to understand. This is the correct way to study the bible. If you don’t then you’ll easily end up believing in some type of heresy or some other terrible doctrine such as this. This single false doctrine changes the whole doctrines of salvation. It contradicts everything that Jesus said right as He was dying on the cross. And worst of all, it says that the cross was not enough. The bible is clear. Jesus SUFFERED on the cross, FINISHED the work on the cross, and then His Spirit ascended to His Father while His body was buried in the earth for three days until His resurrection where His spirit and body were then re-united forever in a glorious incorruptible form to exist in the presence of God. This is the hope in Christ that every believer has been promised.