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Did Jesus Go To Hell?

Updated on April 9, 2020
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Barry is the founder and Professor of the M.Div. program for Mindanao Grace Seminary, Philippines.

Did Jesus Go To Hell?

“in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison” 1 Peter 3:19

Some will use this verse to teach that Jesus went to hell after His death.

If Peter intended to teach that Jesus went to hell, he fails to give us any explanation. In light of an overview of the book, it seems out of place that Peter would start a topic about Jesus preaching in hell and not give us any further explanation. Such an explanation would not be necessary if we had other verses to enlighten us but we do not. The concept of Jesus going to hell and preaching after His death is strange to the New Testament and certainly would require explanation but Peter gives us none and neither does anyone else. Peter does not even mention the death of Jesus in this passage. Did Jesus spend three days in hell after His death?

The Gospels record the last words of Jesus as He is dying on the cross. Jesus has a short conversation with the thief that is dying beside Him. Before he dies, the thief expresses his belief in and faith toward Christ. Then the dying thief appeals to Jesus to have mercy on him.

And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He (Jesus) said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:42-43

Jesus told the thief that he would be with Him that very day. If Jesus did go to hell to preach, He did not stay there for three days. Jesus says to the thief that they will be together. Perhaps Jesus was in hell for only half a day or just a few hours? I don’t think so. Let’s return to the original text of Peter and look at it in detail.

A Closer Look

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you--not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience-through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him. 1Peter 3:18-22

Note the beginning of verse 21: “Corresponding to that...” The question we have to ask is “corresponding to” what? The only way to answer that question is to look at the previous verses.

who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. (v.20)

Peter is referring to the event of the flood and the ark made by Noah. Just as God was patient in the days of Noah before destroying the sinners with a flood, so God is now also patient with sinners but will one day judge the world once and for all. Just as Noah was saved from the flood by the ark, these Christians can trust that God will deliver their souls from destruction despite the persecutions that they are now facing.

Note the phrase:

"He went (past-tense verb) to those who were once disobedient (past-tense) but are now in prison (present tense)."

That is a strange construction. Perhaps some would argue that Peter is referring to the death of Christ which was past tense. However, Christ's death is never mentioned. How do we explain the relationship to Noah in the very next phrase: “...when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah...”

Why does Peter only mention people who were alive during the time of Noah? Surely there are more people in hell than just those who were alive during that time? Remember, Peter is writing to people who are being persecuted and he is encouraging them to not forsake the faith and not give up hope in light of their suffering. Peter explains that just as the ark delivered Noah and his family from the flood so will those who are in Christ be delivered and preserved. That is why Peter relates the ark to baptism. Peter is saying do not worry, do not fear, if you have been united with Christ, which is symbolized in baptism then you are safe. But what about the proclamation of Jesus to those who are in prison now?

Peter tells us that the Old Testament prophets spoke of the grace to come and predicted the coming and the sufferings of the Messiah through the power “of the Spirit of Christ” (1 Peter 1:10-11). Peter also identified Noah as a preacher of righteousness, in the line of those prophets (2 Peter 2:4-10). The building of the ark was a proclamation of judgment on the world and it was the faith of Noah that saved him (Hebrews 11:7).

Noah preached by the power of the Spirit of Christ. It is in this way that Jesus proclaimed the Gospel to those who witnessed the building of the ark during the time of Noah. The building of the ark was an act of obedience and an act of faith. It was also a message that judgment was coming. Noah believed God and was saved from the flood. Only Noah and his family were saved. The rest of the people did not repent at the preaching of Noah but rejected the message. Those people are now in hell. This passage is not about Jesus going to hell after His death on the cross. Peter is showing that those who rejected Noah’s preaching in the power of the Spirit are now in hell. That is all this verse is saying.


Endure Persecution

The ark was the only thing on earth at that time that would save people from the coming flood. The ark was a picture of Christ. The flood was a picture of the final judgment of fire that will one day come on the world.

Imagine being the neighbor of Noah and seeing him build the ark. We would ask him what he was doing and he would say that he was building a giant boat to save his family from the coming flood. This, of course, would seem ridiculous. There had never been a flood before. No doubt, those who saw the efforts of Noah thought he was crazy and mocked him. This would be like a man today building a rocket ship in his back yard because he believed the earth was going to be destroyed by a giant meteor. That man would be the laughing stock of the community. The people that Peter was writing to were also being mocked. They were mocked because they not only believed that Jesus had risen from the dead but that He would return to rescue them. Imagine being under persecution and there is no escape. There would be the tendency of the persecutors to mock and say “Where is your Jesus? Why does he not come and rescue you?” And it is the same today. Many deny that Jesus was raised from the dead and that he is coming back. Peter encourages them and us to be patient (2 Peter 3:8-9) and to persevere (v.1-18). Christ will return.


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