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1 Peter 3:18-20

Jesus Descended into Hell

When Jesus descended into hell, he entered not Gehenna but Hades; in other words, he really died, and it was from a genuine, not a simulated death that he rose (Acts 2:31-32).

1 Peter 3:18-20 tells us briefly what Jesus did in Hades:

  • First, by his presence he made Hades into Paradise (a place of pleasure) for the penitent thief and, presumably, for all the others who died trusting him during his earthly ministry, just as he does now for the faithful departed (Luke 23:43; Phil. 1:21-23; 2 Cor. 5:6-8).
  • Second, he perfected the spirits of Old Testament believers (Heb. 12:23; 11:40), bringing them out of the gloom which Sheol (the pit) had hitherto been for them (Ps. 88:3-6, 10-12) into this same Paradise experience. This is the core of truth in the medieval fantasies of the harrowing of hell.
  • Third, “he went and preached (presumably announcing his kingdom and appointment as the world’s judge) to the spirits in prison” who had rebelled in antediluvian times (presumable the fallen angels of 2 Pet. 2:4-10 who are also the sons of God in Gen. 6:1-4). Some have based on this one text a hope that all humans who did not hear the gospel in this life, or who, having heard it, rejected it, will have it savingly preached to them in the life to come. Peter’s words provide no warrant for this inference: a first, non-saving announcement to a group of fallen angels does not imply a second saving announcement to the whole host of unsaved human dead. Had Peter believed in the latter, surely he would have said it straightforwardly.

Your Father Loves You by James Packer, Harold Shaw Publishers, 1986, page for April 6