What Is Meant By 'Jesus Descended Into Hell'?

What Is Meant By 'Jesus Descended Into Hell'?

As part of our "Ask Pastor Dave" blog post series, a parishioner wrote in to ask... 

"In the Apostle's creed, in one version it states that Jesus descends into hell before rising from the dead. What does that mean? We did not see a reference in the Bible to support that statement. If you have a perspective, I would love to hear it."

Pastor’s response:

This is an interesting question. The notion that Jesus went to hell between his crucifixion and resurrection arose very early in the church's history. It is based on 1st Peter 3:18-32. Peter states that Jesus “went and preached to the spirits in prison.” I love this passage, because of the way it expresses how deep God's grace is. God is willing to go to hell for us, if that is what it takes. There is an old story that claims someone once asked Luther if he would be willing to be damned, if it would somehow lead to another person's salvation. He responded that he'd gladly do what his Lord was willing to do.

The problem is, of course, that “spirits in prison” is a bit vague. And among first century Jews there was not a single widely-held belief about what comes after this life. The Pharisees believed in the possibility of heaven after this life, and the Sadducees didn’t. But most Christian commentators have taken this passage to mean that Jesus went to the place of the dead (an alternate translation of the Apostles' Creed reads "he descended to the dead"), which was not necessarily a place of condemnation, and invited those who lived BC to receive the grace that God extends through Christ.

So the next time someone tells you to "go to hell" you can say, "Gladly."

Do you have a question for Pastor Dave? Reach out directly and ask. Your message will be kept confidential unless you give us permission to publish the correspondence here on the Saint Peter blog.

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