The question is what did Jesus do during the 3 nights of His death. Did Jesus just hang out in the tomb waiting for the angels to roll away the stone on the third day? Did He as some believe go down to the place where the dead were waiting and preach to the souls in “prison”? I suppose one of the first things to deal with is that the apostles Creed claims something about Christ’s ministry in His death that it is thought by some that there are no obvious writings in Scripture that are stated as clearly. This is regarding the statement that Jesus “descended into hell”. Even though the apostles Creed was composed after the apostles had died, it was still believed that it was an accurate compilation of the Apostle’s teachings on a few issues.
Starting with just that question of where did Jesus go or what did Jesus do, we can look at Ephesians 4:9 where it is written that Jesus first descended into the ‘lower parts of the earth’. There are three words used. The three designations paint a fuller picture that some people miss. Some assume that Ephesians 4 is saying that first Christ descended to the earth in His incarnation, and then He was resurrected. If that were meant, all that needed to be said was that first Christ descended to the earth, not under it. Instead Paul said that Christ descended to the ‘lower parts”, or bowels of the earth, before He ascended.
“kai katebE proton eis ta katOtera merE tEs gEs” = and/also he descended/stepped down first into the lower parts of the land/earth.
Katoteros = lower,
Meros = part, section,
Ge = ground, land, earth, world
This just happens to fit with Peter’s statement in 1 Peter 3:19 that Jesus “preached to the spirits in prison”. Note that Peter did not say “people in prison”, which wouldn’t have made a lot of sense since the dead no longer had their bodies. The word used “pneuma” is often used alone to represent a human soul that has left the body in death. (Gen. 1 & 2 says “living soul” in Heb.) So the picture is that Christ preached to the dead souls in the bowels of the earth, sometimes called hell, hades or sheol. This could very well refer to Ps. 68:18 which is quoted in Ephesians 4:8 it is said the Jesus “led captivity captive”. Jesus captures prison, freeing the prisoners. That is also the statement that Jesus read in the temple from Isa. 61:1. Jesus proclaimed liberty TO the captives, not regarding or about the captives. To proclaim something to someone, we must speak directly to (not about) that one. So the implication is again that Jesus proclaimed or preached liberty to the spirits in prison or captivity (or metaphor for hell, sheol, hades). And those who would have believed would have been freed. When the freeing would happen we don’t know.
At least this would give Jesus something constructive to do while He was waiting to fulfill the prophesies of resurrecting on the third day. Since death could not hold the sinless divine, it makes sense that Christ would preach the gospel message to those who never had the chance to hear it. This also settles one of the complaints of non-believers. Jesus has given every soul the opportunity to accept or reject His offer of redemption. No one has any excuse to call God unfair, even those who died before the Messiah came.
NOTES AND SCRIPTURE REFERENCES:
° 1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also 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, 19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison,
° 1 Pe. 4: 5 They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
° Ps. 139: 7Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? 8If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. 9If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,…
° Ps. 68: 18
You have ascended on high,
You have led captivity captive;
You have received gifts among men,
Even from the rebellious,
That the Lord God might dwell there.
° Isa. 61: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
° Ephesians 4: 8 Therefore He says:“When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive,And gave gifts to men”. 9 (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)
° Excerpt from Apostles Creed
“was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose from the dead; “
° There are three Greek words rendered "hell" in the New Testament: gehenna, hades (equivalent of Hebrew sheol used in the Old Testament), and tartaroo. Gehenna is the lake of fire, hades is the grave and tartaroo is the abyss, the place of restraint for Satan. For English speaking people during the time of King James, "hell" [hades] was a cellar to store potatoes, not a lake of burning brimstone. In Acts 2:27, "hell" is hades, meaning the grave, while in Matthew 10:28 and Mark 9:43-48 "hell" means the lake of fire. The only place tartaroo is used is in 2 Peter 2:4