Jesus Went To Hell Today #Allegedly

Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, (19) in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, (20) because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. (1 Peter 3:18-20)

It’s a question that used to nag me a bit around this time of year.

Jesus went to the terrible cross on Friday and was laid to the tomb.

He arose bodily on Sunday defeating death itself.

But where was the Son of God in between those two universe-shaking events?

1 Peter 3:18-20 seems to indicate some answer for us. As we know, fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Martin Luther, after studying and meditating on this passage said: “This is a wonderful text and a more obscure passage than any other in the New Testament so that I do not know for certainty what Peter means.”

The three most common views of this verse are:

Christ preached the gospel to the dead saints and unbelievers

Many (maybe most) Christians believe after the cross, Christ literally descended into hell (or place of the dead, or purgatory) and preached the gospel to the pre-Christ Old Testament saints so that they may be set free for the fullest experience of heaven. A majority of Catholics hold to this interpretation. A more controversial branch of this view is that Christ actually went and preached the gospel to unbelievers (IE those who died in the flood) and gave them a second chance to repent and believe on Him. The Apostle’s Creed seems to intimate some variation of this doctrine:  “[He] was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead.”

Christ preached the gospel through Noah during the days of Noah

There is also a pre-existent Christ view of this passage that reflects the view of many modern Reformed theologians. This view states that Jesus was the one preaching in the actual days of Noah, possibly through Noah himself.  So through the mouth of Noah, through the words of Noah, the pre-incarnate Christ was preaching to spirits in prison, understood metaphorically as those who are in spiritual darkness.  The Spirits in prison were humans that were in spiritual bondage in Noah’s day. Many believe this was St. Augustine’s view and it seems to confirm the meaning of 1 Peter 1:10-11.

Christ preached His triumphant reign to the spiritual world

A final view of this passage is that Jesus proclaimed His triumph to those who are in hell and to the demonic realm itself. This view holds that Christ preached His triumphant proclamation over the spirit world not in between the cross and resurrection, but in between the resurrection and ascension.  This was a view widely held in the 17th century.  It states that Peter seems to be speaking here in a sequential, chronological way.  He speaks about the death of Jesus (v. 18), he speaks about the resurrection of Jesus (v. 19), and then the ascension of Jesus (v. 22).  In between mentioning the resurrection and the ascension, he mentions this preaching to the spirits in prison (v. 19-20). Christ wouldn’t be preaching the gospel to the unsaved, rather heralding his triumph over sin, death and over all spiritual principalities, even Satan. The “spirits” in prison hearing the message of Christ’s victory would be the demonic realm He defeated at the cross.

Both the second and third views would suppose Christ was in “paradise” between the cross and resurrection, just as He promised the repentant thief on the cross (Luke 23:43)

I lean to the second view being most plausible, but it is only a slight lean. Some of my favorite theologians hold the third view I can see it as a solid explanation. And yet the first view has a strong historical witness that favors it. There is much more that can be said about all three views.  I would have to defer to Luther’s previous statement above before dying on any three of these hills.

Regardless, I believe proponents of all three major views can rejoice over the cross of Christ where our due wrath was taken by the God-man, and the resurrection of Christ where He decisively proved that death was truly put to death forevermore. Such gospel truths are beautifully and simply clear to us in Scripture (1 Corinthians 15:-1-3).

As Martin Luther wrote in his classic hymn (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God):

And though this world with devils filled   Should threaten to undo us
We will not fear for God has willed   His truth to triumph through us
The Prince of Darkness grim  We tremble not for him
His rage we can endure For lo his doom is sure
One little word (He is risen!) will slay him

One things for sure. The  Son already went through hell on the cross in such a total terrifying way, the Father was eternally satisfied (Psalm 22). All is quiet this Saturday in Jerusalem, but Sunday is coming peeps.

Peace and grace,

Bryan Daniels

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Author: Bryan Daniels

I am a follower of Jesus, a husband to Jessica, and a father of three boys: Josiah, Gideon and Judah. I teach high school math as a job, read reformed theology as a hobby, and write this blog just for kicks. With the rest of my time I coach football and track.

8 thoughts on “Jesus Went To Hell Today #Allegedly”

  1. In a day when almost every conceivable formulation of efficacious atonement is in denial, it’s refreshing to read it in yours (and other’s) thoughtful blogs.
    Thank you.

  2. I also subscribe to #2, as I wrote a blog post on that yesterday. I used to lean #3 until I finally realized that there was no need for Christ to descend into hell to proclaim victory, as heaven, hell, and earth were witnesses to the entire spectacle at the cross.

  3. After much study and prayer on this topic, I can say with assurance that I believe #3 with 3 notable differences. I take 1 Peter 1:10,11 along with Colossians 2:9-15:

    “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”

    Verse 15 tells us Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame” and I think that was a actual event done in the spiritual realm. In Heaven? In Paradise? I don’t know that it matters but it wasn’t hell. Hell as indicated in Revelation has not been opened and utilized yet. True hell (lake of fire) is reserved for Satan and his angels and those who after all God offers still refuse Him. Hades and Sheol exists for the souls of those opposed to God before the final judgement. The story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 gives us a glimpse of this. A study of the original language used for Hades and Sheol and hell is helpful here. Sadly, most English translations like to use these words interchangeably but that is not how they are used in the original language.

    The second difference is that this disarming was done before He showed himself in bodily form again on the earth as the Risen Lord. (as opposed to something He did between resurrection and ascension.) And the last difference is I don’t believe it was just to the demonic spirits He made His proclamation – I believe it was to the WHOLE of the spiritual realm – the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness. What a wonderful moment for those spirits of the faithful (as spoken of in Hebrews) to behold Him as the Risen Savior, the fulfillment of the now present Messiah and the Victorious Lamb they had preached of so faithfully!

    My understanding of God (from Scripture) is that He is very detailed and very precise. He had the tabernacle/temple built in a very precise manner on earth as it was to be an exact representation of what is in Heaven (see Hebrews 9). If things on earth represent truths in actuality in heaven, then I don’t think this event – the fulfillment of such a great prophecy, the payment of such a great debt, and the enormous victory it brought us and the changes it wrought in the spiritual realms would have been just a clip on the screen in Heaven in which the whole of heaven, earth and the spirits of darkness witnessed by stooping to view what was happening on Calvary. The kingdom of darkness obviously did not fully understand what was going on. If they had, Satan would have been feverishly trying to prevent Jesus’ crucifixion not orchestrating it! I believe the proclamation spoken of in 1 Pet 1 cleared this up for everyone.

    In addition, “having canceled the debt with its legal demands” (verse 14) denotes an actual accounting in God’s realm – wherever that needed to be. Such a legal declaration would have to be held in a “court of law” that I believe is in actuality in the spiritual realm (somewhere in God’s literal realm). As such I believe there was an actual proclamation and an actual disarming that occurred according to 1 Pet 1 and Colossians 2.

    While I believe 1 Pet 1:11 and Colossians 2:14,15 were huge and actual events in the spiritual realm, they apparently were not events we needed to be physically present at but rather ones we need to understand the impact of – which 1 Pet and Colossians 2 gives us. Not all the inhabitants of the earth at that time visibly witnessed Jesus death on the cross but we can all receive the full benefit of it. Amen!

    What these passages tell me is that while Satan and his demons continue to work hard to convince humanity that they still have power over us, they do NOT. We can utilize the “weapons of our warfare” spoken of in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 and Ephesians 6 and defeat them. They are very much aware they are defeated but as long as humans are ignorant of that fact, they will continue to wreak havoc on humanity and on the earth.

    These are precious promises that we must act on to bring the gospel of Jesus to the inhabitants of the earth. Having the Holy Spirit to guide us, we are now “Jesus on earth.” It is a great and important responsibility and I pray we do well for His glory until He comes!

    Blessings,
    Julie

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