Did Jesus Suffer in Hell? (Part 1)

Is Spiritual Death Necessary?
Some teachers claim that Jesus’ physical death on the cross could not redeem mankind but that He had to die spiritual to pay our debt. Some go so far as to say that we can’t be saved unless we believe that Jesus suffered in Hell. Why do they make this claim? It is a myth that has been propagated and grown over the years, but is contrary to the Bible and Christianity throughout history. There is no scriptural reference supports this idea. The Bible says just the opposite. Look at Colossians 2:

13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,
14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

How were our sins taken out of the way? They were nailed to the cross. Look now at Colossian 1

21 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled
22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight —

We were reconciled from our wicked works in the body of His flesh through death. If it is true and we can’t be saved unless we believe that Jesus suffered in hell, why hasn’t spiritual death been mentioned? Jesus’ supposed spiritual death is not found anywhere in the Bible. Romans 10:9 says, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”. The Bible does not say, “You cannot go to heaven unless you believe with all your heart that Jesus took your place in hell”. The Bible says that you must confess Jesus as Lord with your mouth and believe that God raised Him from the dead and you will be saved (Romans 10:9).

Romans 8:3 tells us that Jesus Christ condemned sin in the flesh. 1 Peter 3 says:

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

The Bible says that Jesus’ death was in the flesh but His spirit was made alive. If the Bible teaches that death was physical and the Spirit was and is life, how can anyone claim that Jesus had to die a spiritual death?

You cannot find anywhere in scripture where it is even remotely implied that Jesus served man’s sentence in hell. In fact, there is not a single implication that Jesus suffered beyond the cross. Everything in scripture points directly to the cross as the victory over sin and death. There is an erroneous teaching that says Jesus suffered spiritual death and was then revived by God in Hell. He was born again with a new spiritual nature and he then emerged with the keys of hell. They point to the Apostle’s Creed as evidence that the early church believed the same things they are teaching. The point in the Apostle’s Creed in question states:

[Jesus] Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead

Where is spiritual death in this statement? Where is suffering in hell in this statement? There is no question that Jesus descended into Hades because scripture clearly states this, but it does not say He suffered. The confusion comes from the KJV use of the word hell. In the Old Testament, the KJV uses the words grave and hell interchangeably. In the New Testament, the KJV makes no distinction between hell and Hades.

Before we dig in, let me stop and make it clear that I am not degrading the KJV. I am merely pointing out the fact that the King James Version makes no distinction between Greek words. This is common in all translations. As students of the scriptures, we should examine the original intent to clear up meanings between Greek and English. The great preachers of the past did not rely on translators. An example is Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon spent 40 or more hours a week looking up the meanings of words in order to understand scripture. He was arguably the greatest KJV preacher in history. However, he was committed to understanding the meaning behind the words in order to accurately understand the Word of God.

Understanding the word Hell
One basic principle I frequently reiterate is that the Bible is one complete revelation. To properly interpret scripture, it must be taken in light of scripture as a whole. We will see some examples that show why this is so important as we proceed. The concept of hell was not introduced until Jesus taught it in the New Testament. Old Testament saints had no distinction between hell and the grave. Jesus’ teaching is the first glimpse of hell that God ever revealed. In the Old Testament, the word ‘hell’ comes from the Hebrew word ‘sheol’. Psalm 18 provides an example of this word usage:

4 The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.
5 The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me.
6 In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears.

In this Psalm, David is lamenting his sorrows. The word ‘hell’ is the word ‘sheol’. Even in the context of the passage it is being used, it is clear that the Bible is referring to the grave. Death compassed me; the sorrows of ‘sheol’ (or the grave) compassed me. It makes perfect sense to say that death and the grave is surrounding me. David was a man of God; he was used greatly by God and inherited the promise of God. He was the lineage that Christ would one day descend from. David was not going to hell when he died – at least not in the sense of today’s meaning. Sheol simply means the grave. It may be translated as hell, but it did not mean to be separated from God and tormented.

Look at Psalm 88:

3 For my soul is full of troubles: and my life draweth nigh unto the grave.

Sheol has now been translated as the grave in the KJV. It is the exact same word and used in the same context, but this time it is called the grave. Now let’s move to a passage that is used to show that Jesus descended into hell. Psalm 16 says:

9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope.
10 For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

Is this passage foretelling of Jesus’ separation from God, or is this prophecy pointing to His death, burial and resurrection? The apostle’s save us the confusion and interpret this very passage for us. Look at Acts 2:

26 Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad; Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope.
27 For You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
28 You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence.’
29 “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.
30 “Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne,
31 “he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption.
32 “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.

Only the KJV translates this as hell in verse 27. The word ‘hell’ comes from the word ‘Hades’ which means ‘the abode of the dead’ or the grave. The KJV translates three Greek words into the word hell. We will examine this in more detail shortly. To the English reader it comes across as the same word, therefore it is assumed be the same meaning, but this is not so. It is understandable that the Old Testament never addresses the issue of hell. Sheol is always used. The grave (or death) can be judgment, but it is not always. As we have already discussed, the concept of torment in hell was unknown in the Old Testament because Jesus revealed this in His teachings. Before Jesus came, the grave was a dark unknown to the Old Testament saints. The New Testament reveals a lot about hell. Understanding the different references will clarify much of the confusion about Jesus’ descent into hell.

There are three primary words translated into the word ‘hell’ by the KJV. Hades, geenna (or gehenna), and tartaroo are translated without distinction in the King James Version of the Bible. Hades is translated into the grave and hell in the KJV. Hades means the underworld, grave or place of the dead. Acts 2:27 is an example of Hades:

For You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.

The KJV translates this as hell, but the Greek word is Hades. The KJV translates the exact same word as grave in 1 Corinthians 15:55

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

The prophecy of Jesus not remaining in Hades is talking about the body. Jesus’ body did not remain in the grave, nor did His body see corruption (or decay). This is a reference to His resurrection.

The word Gehenna is also translated into hell. Gehenna was a valley of Hinnon just south of Jerusalem. This was a wasteland where animal corpses were dumped and burned. It was a horrible place and Jesus used this as a word-picture for hell fire and judgment.

Matthew 18 is an example of this word:

9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.

This word is intended to represent eternal judgment and torment. The Bible never mentions Gehenna as being the place of Jesus’ destiny after the cross.

The last word for hell is Tartaroo (or Tartarus). This means the deepest abyss of Hades. This is where the Greeks believed the wicked dead were cast when they died. 2 Peter 2 is an example of this word:

4 For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment;

The Bible is teaching that angels in rebellion are cast into the deepest abyss to await judgment.

Putting it into perspective.
Now that we can see the different words used to describe death, the grave, hell and the abyss, let’s go back to the question of Jesus’ descent into hell. Was Jesus condemned to hell? I heard one teacher say that the demons threw a net around Jesus and dragged Him into hell to torture Him. This would imply that Jesus was defeated on the cross and was later rescued by God. (Which would also imply that Jesus was not God). Jesus did suffer in hell when He died. His body went to the grave, but His spirit was fully alive. Jesus made this clear in John 2:

19 Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
20 Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?”
21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body.

It was the temple of His body that would be destroyed, not His spirit. When Jesus died, He immediately surrender Himself into the Father’s hands. Of course we don’t know the exact events or when they occurred, but we do know that after this He descended into Hades. We will discuss this in-depth a little later. Jesus’ own words give us a small glimpse. On the cross, one of the thieves repented and asked Jesus to remember him. Jesus responded in Luke 23:

42 Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

To remove the contradiction of Jesus’ statement and the doctrine of Jesus suffering in hell, one teacher offered this explanation:

Jesus did not say, ‘I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise’ the comma is misplaced. It should read, ‘I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise’. In other words, “Today I am saying this. You will be with Me in Paradise”.

This is reading into the text. There would be no need for Jesus to tell the thief when this statement was being made. Even so, all we need to do is read three verses farther and Jesus clears up the issue completely.

46 And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’ ” Having said this, He breathed His last.

It is a contradiction to say that Jesus’ spirit was dragged into hell, when Jesus said His spirit was in the Father’s hands. The Bible tells us that the first place Jesus’ spirit went was to be with the Father. In light of what He told the thief, we can assume His destination was Paradise. Jesus’ body went to the grave, but His spirit was fully alive. We may not know the exact events that happened after Jesus’ physical death, but the Bible does offer several pieces to this puzzle. Look at 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,
20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.

Again I want to bring your attention to the truth of scripture. Verse 18 tells us that Jesus was put to death in the flesh, but alive by the Spirit. After making this point unmistakably clear, the Bible then tells us that He also preached to the spirits in prison. If the Bible is true, then the teaching that Jesus suffered for 3 days in hell must be false. There is a chasm between these two doctrines. Jesus claimed His spirit was yielded into the Father’s hands, the scripture also claims that Jesus triumphed on the cross and then preached to the spirits in prison. How does suffering fit into these scriptures? It is not found in scripture, therefore it must be added.

Proverbs 30:6 warns us not to add to God’s words or else He will rebuke us and we will be found to be a liar. Isn’t that exactly what is happening in the doctrine of Jesus suffering in hell? Teachers are adding to God’s word what clearly is not there. The Bible always points to the cross as Jesus’ victory over sin and our redemption. The cross is the message of the gospel. If Jesus triumphantly declared, “It is finished”, what right does any man have to say, “No, the process of redemption has only begun”?

Each of these passages of scripture testifies that Jesus was alive in the Spirit, in the Father’s hands, entered Paradise, etc. No passage even remotely implies that He suffered beyond the cross. If there are countless verses that teach that He triumphed over sin on the cross and He preached in victory, and no passages say He suffered spiritually, then doesn’t it make sense to take the Bible speak for itself on this subject?

Satan hates the cross and will attack it on every level. Look again at Colossians 2:

13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,
14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.

If Jesus made a public spectacle of Satan and his forces on the cross and through the cross He triumphed over them, is it any wonder that satan desperately wants to discredit the cross? Since the cross is a reminder of Satan’s defeat, we can surely expect that he will do anything to take attention away from the cross.

Eddie Snipes

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