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Did Jesus go to Hell before His physical resurrection?

Today’s question has to do with the activity of Jesus before His resurrection from the dead—Did Jesus go to Hell before His physical resurrection? If Jesus did go to Hell prior to His resurrection, what did He do there? Since this idea has led to a variety of theological errors, let’s see the truth from the Scripture.    

The passage at the heart of this question is 1 Peter 3:18-20. In particular, we will be dealing with Peter’s statement in verse 19 “…by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison…” The context of this passage is necessary to understand the bigger point that Peter is making: Peter is helping Christians to understand that suffering for righteousness’ sake will result in blessing from God. Peter presents Christ as the ultimate example of One who has suffered: “once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit,” and thus providing salvation for sinners who call on the name of Jesus. Now if we just examine these verses it is clear that Peter has in mind the saving work of Christ on the cross of Calvary and His resurrection from the dead which result in bringing sinners into a right relationship to God. This is his major point in writing to Christians who are experiencing suffering and persecution for their faith in Christ.

In order to responsibly interpret our phrase that answers our question today, we cannot disconnect the meaning of verse 19 from Peter’s previous teaching about the suffering of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. In order for us to dig down into the meaning of our phrase we will have to go piece by piece. First, Peter says “by whom also He went…” and notes that He went in the Spirit after His death on the cross. Second, the apostle notes—“He preached”—that is, according to the Greek word (kerusso) used by Peter here, Jesus made a proclamation of His victory over death and the grave. Third, Peter says that Jesus made this proclamation “to the spirits in prison” who disobeyed the Lord back in the days of Noah. When we put these pieces together what we discover is that Jesus did, in fact, go to Hades (the place of the dead) and made proclamation to those demons who were imprisoned because of their wicked disobedience long ago.

Why would Jesus do this? Well, my friend, there are many clues in the Bible that point to the same truth—salvation has now been accomplished for God’s people through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And it is this truth that God desires to proclaim throughout the earth—throughout the heavens—and yes, even from the bottom of Hell! Praise the Lord!





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