Did Jesus go into Hell for 3 days after He died on the cross?
There are a few issues to address when answering this question that was posed by a user on Hubpages, including:
1. What is the definition of death and what happens when you die?
2. What are Heaven and Hell and where are they?
3. Why did Jesus (have to) die and what was the end result?
What is Death?
There are two deaths known to mankind. The "first" death from which no one escapes, and the "second death" commonly associated as the rendering of judgment at the end of the world. For the purpose of answering this question, let's explore the universally-known death that occurs to end life in this section.
Death was something understood by the ancient people of the Bible to equate to sleep. It wasn't something that they thought up by themselves, however. Prophets inspired by God made references to it, just as Jesus Himself did.
Death did not mean a sudden transition into Hell OR Heaven, but as just a time where the body and mind ceases to exist in the absence of the "Breath of Life" (see Genesis 2:7). Upon death, that "breath" aka "soul" goes back to God. Not thoughts, consciousness, or anything from personal identity that would somehow float to God as a supernatural replica of one's body that was once alive. To think otherwise would mean that people are floating around as omniscient beings, who are doing the work of God in helping answer prayers, guiding people from harm, or sending out signals from beyond the grave. No where in the Bible does it state that humans would ever be given that privilege, for God is a jealous God (Exodus 34:14) who alone has been and continues to be in charge of upholding all humanity. Only angels can be sent to Earth as messengers, and they are separate beings entirely from humans in the past, present or future. Mankind, instead, is said to be "made a little lower than the angels...with glory and honor" (Psalm 8:5 summarized).
Let's take a look at what the Bible says about this "sleep" known as death:
- Account of Abraham's death where he "gave up the ghost, and died a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people" Genesis 25:8.
- God declared Moses would die "Behold, you shall sleep with your fathers..." Deuteronomy 31:16.
- Nathan the prophet told King David God's word that "why your days have been fulfilled...you shall sleep with your fathers" 2 Samuel 7:12.
- David describes that the "dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence" Psalm 115:17.
- Jesus raised up a girl who whose sickness caused her death, telling everyone to "go away, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping" Matthew 9:24.
- Account of Jesus by the Bible writers to explain who was alive at the time of the writing, and who was not "...of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep" 1 Corinthians 15:6.
- Finally, one large passage that sums it up about this sleep starting from Adam, the first man, and ending with what will one day be at Christ's second coming comes from the entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 15. Because of its length, I encourage you to read it here. Anyone questioning the purpose of faith and life and death are all found within those important verses.
So...the real question is, did Jesus really experience the first death? Yes! By sleeping in the grave for three days. He didn't "go" anywhere, or else why would He come back after that point? Also, consider the miracles He performed of raising up the dead - such as with the above-mentioned girl, Lazarus. Or what about the large group of people who came to life out of the grave after Jesus died? What merit would it have been for any of them if they had all gone up to "heaven" by dying, only to be resurrected back to earth? No one who has ever died, not even Jesus, went anywhere except to the grave. In slumber.
Where are Heaven and Hell?
Heaven and Hell are traditionally unseen, yet are probably two of the most described places ever to exist! One speaks of light and righteousness, as a place where God dwells with Jesus on His right hand. The other refers to horrors of unspeakable pain, flames, and where the sinners go for punishment, to be ruled over by Satan. No wonder that there are so many skeptics in the world, because of these two mindsets! What happens to someone who doesn't find either place as the ultimate destination?
People playing harps while floating on clouds, and the devil with a pitck fork while waiting underground is all made-up fluff. It's no wonder people can start to think of organized Christianity akin to mythology! Interestingly enough, the Bible paints a completely different picture, mentioning more than one "heaven." In English translations, the word "heaven" is a misnomer, when in fact there are different words used in Hebrew and Greek to describe heaven in the context of the sentences where it appears.
Heaven can be the sky, the galaxy, or where God rules. To say that all three are only one heaven contradicts what we know about Science! It stands to reason that heaven where God rules is both endless and limitless as it is invisible. It exists in the same way we have the force of air, but as an undefinable timeline to explain how God has existed and continues to exist as "I Am Who I Am" (Exodus 3:14). God even clarifies the existence of plural heavens by saying as such: "Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished (being created)" in Genesis 2:1. This was also repeated in Genesis 2:4 as "generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens" and ascertained by Peter in 2 Peter 3:5 that "...by the word of God the heavens were of old."
We know of at least two version of heaven as described in creation:
- The firmament that was below and above the waters which was called Heaven in Genesis 1:8. This is also what we would call the atmosphere, as it was described several chapters later as where the windows of heaven were contained to produce rain, in Genesis 8:2.
- The firmament of the heaven where there was light to serve multiple purposes such as illuminating the earth, establishing signs, seasons, days, and years, and dividing between light and dark, in Genesis 1:14-18. It was again mentioned in Genesis 26:4 as a sign to Abraham of how his ensuing generations would be multiplied as the stars of heaven.
So where exactly is the other heaven, the one where God rules, described? Well, there's plenty of mention of God of heaven throughout the Old Testament. What we can only conclude from the much talked about two existing heavens that we know of that God is in both of them and among us at the same time, thus ruling over ALL in that manner. His presence has been described both as a cloud or thunder cloud with lightning, as well as a bright orb or glowing star - as if a combination of elements found in both heavens!
So does this mean He has an actual kingdom? Does He have a dwelling itself? His dwelling was at one time among the people, when God instructed Moses to create a sanctuary (see Exodus 25:8). His glory would hover over the people who worshipped from around the tabernacle. It was then taken away after Jesus died on the cross, as signified by the rending of the veil of the tabernacle from the top, down.
The topic of where God's kingdom was talked about all throughout the New Testament in a way that seemed to show how the people in that day thought of the kingdom as a political power to overthrow Roman authority. But what did Jesus command His disciplines to do as they preached? "...the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Matthew 10:7) It meant the kingdom was in their midst! Obviously Jesus was a living, walking, temple of God, since He was God incarnate, that is, in the flesh. In that sense, He was the kingdom. And because he promised to send the Holy Spirit as our Helper until He returns, He lives within us, so that heaven and the kingdom is with each of us who profess a faith in Jesus. Furthermore, Jesus says in several account that God is in heaven (such as Matthew 6:9), as present tense.
Later, the apostles said that heavenly things were purified by the blood of Jesus so that He could enter God's presence on everyone's behalf (Hebrews 9:23-24). But here is something that speaks of the future - that only when the second coming of Christ happens, will God's kingdom come out of heaven and be here on earth (Revelation 12:10). Wherever and if ever there is heaven with a throne set up for God right now, it is not pinpointed. Instead, there is much mention of the City of God that with come out of heaven to be on a newly renovated earth (Revelation 21:2). All of this simply means that the end has not occurred, that all are awaiting Christ's return to kick-off the culmination of heaven in the truest sense of the word and what it holds for every believer who ever lived.
Lest I forget about the mentioning the opposite of heaven, the word "hell" can mean "the grave" or a synonym for a "place of torment." But both are not the same, and it is a misfortune that English misleads us into thinking the two definitions fit the one word.
Hell as a grave is mentioned in Ezekiel 37:13 as a futuristic event: "And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves." or in Job who reflects in chapter 21:13: "(the wicked) spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave."
Yes, Jesus went to the grave, but not a place of torment (as in Revelation 1:18). Judgment of that kind is only reserved for those who die the second death after the resurrection, when the just in Christ are raised up to eternal life with God, while those with a lack of faith are led to complete annihilation, along with Satan, the father of all lies (see Matthew 23:33). That hell is a fiery pit, but not one that will constantly torment. Instead, it is likened to the wicked cities of Sodom or Gomorrah which were destroyed by heavenly fire. Are those cities still burning? No. Once they were ashes, they were obliterated. The fire was extinguished. That's the kind of hell awaiting the wicked. Once they are gone, they are gone, with no hope of ever returning! You can read more about the final judgment, fiery pit, and end of Satan and the sinners who blasphemed God's Holy name in Revelation 20:10-15.
Why Did Jesus Die?
Jesus had to be the sacrificial lamb to purify all of mankind whose sins had kept them from eternal life in God. Jesus was the only One who walked right with God, without sin. In foretelling of His death, he said many times that He "first must suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation" (Luke 17:25). And to fulfill prophecy from Isaiah 53:7, Jesus surely was "oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth." By doing the one unthinkable act, submitting to death, Jesus removed the obstacles that were raised up by centuries of sinful and selfish living, where following laws had become more important than deepening a relationship with the Creator. When Jesus arose and appeared to the disciples, He promised eternal life, as John is only too happy to relay: "this is the promise that He has promised us, even eternal life." (1 John 2:25)
Sin had meant death, but no more! Because of Jesus Christ, every one who claims His name and lives in Him has earned that wonderful gift of God!