A common misconception in the church today is the belief—or assumed belief, rather—that Jesus went to hell during the three-day period between his death on the cross and his resurrection. In fact, I surmise that this belief came about because it was included in the Apostles’ Creed, back in 390 at the council of Milan. Nonetheless, this view has actually been retracted and deemed unbiblical from many church denominations because of its controversial meaning (http://www.creeds.net/ancient/descendit.htm).
In this blog, I will aim to refute the belief that Jesus went to hell for three days after his crucifixion and before his resurrection by allowing the Bible to speak for itself about this matter.
First of all, before refuting the belief that Jesus went to hell for three days, it is crucial to understand why people believe that he went to hell, or why he had to go to hell. Essentially, the belief that Jesus went to hell—or had to go to hell—stems from the assumed base belief that Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion on earth was not quite sufficient for atonement for sin; thereby, he had to go to hell to suffer more for our sin until it was finally, completely atoned for. Then, after his suffering in hell, God deemed that his atonement was completed.
This view is unbiblical and therefore not true for a several reasons outlined in Scripture:
1. When the thief on the cross beside Jesus repented and claimed Jesus’ lordship, Jesus told him, “today, you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). It is logical to assume that the “paradise” Jesus is referring to is not hell. Indeed, the man was repentant and claimed Jesus’ lordship, and anyone who does that “will be saved” (Rom. 10:13).
2. Jesus said “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46). What does this mean? This means that the sins of the whole world were laid upon Jesus, and thus, God was forced to turn away from Jesus (Is. 53:10). This indicates that sin was being currently atoned for—that Jesus was bearing our sin. Indeed, God cannot share association or fellowship in the midst of sin (hence, the reason why he turned away from Jesus and broke fellowship with him; and as a result, Jesus uttered the phrase, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” in response to God’s turning away from him).
3. Jesus uttered “It is finished” right before he died on the cross (Jn. 19:30).What is this “it” that is “finished”? It is atonement for sin. Jesus’ sole purpose was to come to earth to die for the sins of the world (Jn. 3:16-17) and offer his righteousness to sinners by grace (2 Co. 5:21). The fact that “it” is finished indicates that atonement for sin is done and completed in full. On the cross, Jesus drank the whole cup of God’s just wrath for the sins of the world (Luke 22:42). It was not like he only drank half of it on the cross, and then drank the other half by suffering more in hell for three more days after his crucifixion. No. He finished “it” on the cross.
4. The veil in the temple was torn when Jesus died, not when he resurrected (Mt. 27:50-51). The temple veil separated the holy place of God’s presence in the temple from the rest of the temple. The function of the veil served to indicate how God’s presence cannot coexist in the presence of sin. There had to be a barrier to separate us from God’s holiness; in fact, our sin essentially is that ‘barrier’ that separates us from God. In addition, anything that was tarnished with sin that entered into the holy place beyond the veil instantly died if not previously being atoned for. Therefore, the tearing of the veil at Jesus’ death symbolizes the fact that sin was completely, perfectly atoned for–being soaked up in Jesus’ flesh so that the presence of God could come and dwell with man (Eph. 2:14-18). If the veil was torn at his resurrection, then we might have reason to believe otherwise, because it would imply a different significance. However, the veil was immediately torn once he died, indicating that sin was completely atoned for in his death.
5. 1 Peter 2:24 says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on a tree, that we might to die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed”. The Bible seems to say in this verse what all the other verses in the Bible have been saying—that our sins were paid for on the cross. ….Not nailed upon the cross and then further paid for by Jesus’ extra time in hell on our behalf.
*Now, some of you are probably thinking of the brief, vague, and maybe confusing mentions of Scripture where it alludes to “Jesus descending”. Haha, for that, I will direct you to this source: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2000/february7/31.74.html
I hope this blog served to expose the misconception that Jesus went to hell for three days between his death and resurrection by refuting it not with opinion, but with Scripture itself. Indeed, Jesus’ suffering up to his death on the cross, bearing the sin of the world, and drinking the cup of God’s wrath for all sin was completed at his death by his perfect obedience. He did not have to be more obedient than he already was, nor did he have to suffer more than what already happened to him both physically and spiritually at the cross. Rather, It is finished, it is done. Jesus did not—and did not have to—go to hell after his crucifixion—and that’s because he bore its full weight and power at once, and once and for all.