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Where did Christ go after he died and before He rose from the dead?

Some use Ephesians 4:7-10 to teach that Jesus went to hell or to Hades to release the prisoners held there and take them to heaven or into God’s presence. The idea is that before His death, all Old Testament believers were in Abraham’s bosom—the paradise part of Hades. Hades or Sheol was seen as the place of the dead with three areas or compartments: (1) the abyss or tartarus, the place of confinement for those demons who sinned in the days of Noah; (2) torments, the place of suffering for all unbelievers until the time of the resurrection of the unjust and the Great White Throne Judgment when they will be cast eternally into the lake of fire, and (3) a third place separated by a great gulf (see Luke 16), called Abraham’s Bosom, the place of blessing for believers. Because Christ had not yet died to pay the penalty for their sin, they were not yet able to go directly into the presence of God. After His death, however, the barrier was removed and He took them out of prison and into God’s presence.

The Ephesians passage, however, refers only to His descent to earth and perhaps to the grave: “of the earth” is better understood as an appositional phrase meaning that Christ descended (at His incarnation) into the lower parts (of the universe), namely, the earth at His incarnation, or perhaps even into the grave in His burial following His death on the cross. The prisoners He took are not the OT believers confined in Paradise, but those Jesus defeated by His death and resurrection. In keeping with the analogy of the Roman Triumph Paul had in mind, it refers to Satan and his demon host (see Col. 2:14-15).

1 Peter 3:18-20 is another passage that is often used in this regard because it seems to refer to Christ’s spirit proclaiming His victory over death to those demons who were bound in the abyss. This passage could possibly refer to a glorious proclamation He made by His human spirit while His body lay in the grave, but Bible students and scholars are divided on this issue.

As to paradise or Abraham’s bosom, the gulf fixed separating the two compartments in heaven is probably the heavens themselves. Remember that Elijah was taken up into heaven. Because of the need of Christ’s death to remove the barrier, Old Testament saints may not have been allowed into the direct presence of God, but Sheol or Hades for them (the place of the dead) was a paradise and in the third heaven somewhere. Remember that Sheol or Hades refers to the place of the dead and the exact condition and location (heaven or hell) depends on whether a text is referring to believers or unbelievers. Sometimes, depending on context, it refers simply to the grave.

Related Topics: Resurrection, Hell, Heaven