Did Jesus Visit Hell?

Posted on April 24, 2019

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By David Ettinger

The Premise
Based on several Bible passages, there is a widely-held view that between His death and resurrection, Jesus descended to Hell to offer people who lived before the Flood a second chance for salvation.

A quick clarification is needed. As understood in pre-New Testament times, what we refer to as “Hell” is the Old Testament “Sheol” and corresponds with the New Testament “Hades” ­– the “holding place” of both the righteous and unrighteous dead. (Read my blog, “Examining Sheol.”) What we think of as “Hell” is most closely related to the final place of judgment – which has not yet come – the “Lake of Fire” (Revelation 20:14-15).

Therefore, the real question is, Did Jesus Visit Hades?

The Passages
Three passages have led to the Jesus Visiting Hades teaching:

  • Ephesians 4:8-9: “Therefore it says, ‘When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, And He gave gifts to men.’ (Now this expression, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth?”
  • 1 Peter 3:19-20: “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.”
  • 1 Peter 4:6: “For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men [through physical death], they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.”

The Explanation
I will keep this brief, but if you want to study this further, I suggest a good commentary.

First, the Ephesians passage, particularly the phrase “He also had descended [from Heaven] into the lower parts of the earth.” Don’t forget, the New Testament was written in Greek. Therefore, a strict translation from the Greek can read, “He also had descended into the lower parts, EVEN the earth” (“the lower parts”). Or, the one I agree with, is that the “lower parts” refers to burial beneath the ground, a reference to death.

Second, the 1 Peter 3 passage, particularly the phrase “in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient …” Notice the phrase “who once were” (NASB). The KJV says “Which sometime …” The ESV says “they formerly …” The NIV says “to those who were …” The HCSB says “who in the past were …”

The idea is that Jesus was not preaching to those who were currently in Hades, but to those now in Hades when they were alive during the 120 years it took for Noah to build the ark (Genesis 6:3). Jesus was preaching repentance through Noah, who Peter refers to as “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5). The people of Noah’s day – along with all others throughout history who have denied God and died physically – are “spirits now in prison” (1 Peter 3:19), that is, disembodied souls awaiting final judgment. All were preached to while they lived, though they are “now in prison [Hades].”

Third, the 1 Peter 4:6 passage, particularly the phrase “For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead …” This is a reference to believers who accepted Christ (or before the time of Jesus were righteous believers) who died physically. Yes, they are now physically dead, but will “live in the spirit according to the will of God.” These too were preached to while alive.

The Conclusion
Two quick points. First, there is no scriptural support to the thinking that Jesus preached to the unsaved dead in Hades to give them a second chance. No such doctrine exists. In fact, Hebrews 9:27 tells us: “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (emphasis added).

Second, where did Jesus go following His crucifixion? The answer is Heaven, to be with His Father, as He told the thief on the cross: “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43, emphasis added).

There are no second chances for those who die in unbelief. Therefore, let we who love the Lord Jesus be faithful in sharing a saving Gospel of a living Savior to this lost and dying world!