Where Did Jesus' Spirit Go When His Body Died?

Jesus was crucified between two thieves, and He said to one of them, "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43 Emphasis added). But in Acts 2:31 Peter quoted Psalm 16:10 when he preached, "He [David] seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption" (Emphasis added). This might seem to be a contradiction because paradise is Heaven (2 Cor. 12:2-4), not Hell! Did Jesus go to Heaven directly, or did he first go to Hell?

Many Bible scholars criticize how the King James Version translates the Greek term Hades as "Hell" (Luke 16:23; Acts 2:31). They say it is more accurate rather to translate the term Gehenna as "Hell" (Matt. 5:22, 29-30; 18:8-9; 23:15; Mark 9:43-47; Jam. 3:6). That is why most other Bible versions do not translate Hades as "Hell." Rather they adopt the Greek term into the English text. The 1991 Edition of Webster's Expanded Dictionary defines Hades as "the abode of the dead; the state of departed souls." The late W. E. Vine (a reputable Greek scholar) taught that the term Hades most likely came from hado which means "all receiving." I resort to all of this speculation to show why I believe Hades is the place where all Old Testament people went when they died, not just unbelievers.

Read Luke 16:19-31 if you are not familiar with the passage. In this true story, the rich man went into torment, but Lazarus went into comfort (vv. 22-25). There was a "great gulf" that separated them (v. 25), but strangely, the rich man could see Lazarus "afar off" with Abraham at his side (v. 23). Although nobody could cross over the gulf (v. 26), Abraham and the rich man were still close enough to communicate with each other. Therefore, Hades (duped "Hell" in the KJV) actually had two sides: one for believers, and one for unbelievers. Unbelievers were tormented on one side of the gulf, but Old Testament believers were in a state of bliss on the other side. When Jesus died and rose, He moved the believers’ souls from (Abraham's side of) Hades up into paradise (Heaven). I believe this is what Paul meant in Ephesians 4:8-9 where he states that Christ “descended into the lower parts of the earth.”

There are others (as Dr. Charles Ryrie) who say that Old Testament believers went directly into Heaven upon death, because Elijah went into Heaven (2 Kgs. 2:11). That is true, but Elijah’s case was very unusual. He ascended in the body (as did Enoch in Genesis 5:24). Certainly that does not imply that all other believers' disembodied souls did likewise. Let us not forget that that the rich man in Hades could see Abraham and Lazarus; he could also communicate with them (Luke 16:23-31). How could that be if Abraham and Lazarus were up in Heaven? Is it not naturally repugnant to suggest that the inhabitants of Heaven and Hades can actually see each other and converse with each other?! (This area of disagreement is a peripheral Christian debate which does not call for division.)

Some popular televangelists teach that Jesus was tormented in Hell (or the unbelievers' side of Hades) after he died on the cross. They say that he was handed over to Satan as a condemned man and suffered on our behalf until he arose. They say that his suffering in Hell was necessary to complete the atonement for our sins. This theology is not merely a peripheral Christian debate; rather it is totally unacceptable! It is heretical because it denies the finished work of the cross (John 19:30)! It also stands in direct contrast to Jesus' words to the faithful thief (Luke 23:43), and to the Heavenly Father (v. 46). First Peter 3:19 can mean that Jesus went into Hades to preach to the lost souls, but it cannot suggest that he suffered with them on our behalf! Such doctrine is a false gospel (Gal. 1:8-9).

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