CLAIM: Some interpreters claim that Christ descended into hell between his death and resurrection. Is this the case?
RESPONSE: Jesus did not go to hell in between his death and resurrection. Instead, he went directly into the presence of God. Jesus said to the thief on the Cross, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:43). As Jesus died, he said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Lk. 23:46). Jesus also said, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). Why would he say that his work was “finished,” if he was being sent to hell for three more days? Moreover, Hebrews 9:11-12 seems to say that Christ went directly into the presence of God. We infer this in part because Jesus could not have been resurrected if his sacrifice had not already been accepted.
Three interpretations have been offered for this difficult passage.
First, this could refer to his descent into hell to proclaim victory over the demonic (1 Pet. 3:18-19). Under this view, Christ did not go to hell to be tortured. Instead, he went to proclaim his victory on the Cross. This message was not a proclamation of repentance; instead, it was a message of victory and judgment. On the other hand, 1 Peter 4:6 might refer to a proclamation to the OT saints, who live in Abraham’s bosom (Lk. 16:22).
Second, Calvin and Hodge believed that this referred to Jesus’ incarnation. Under this view, Jesus descended from Heaven to Earth, rather than from Earth to Hell.
Third, this could refer to the exaltation and humiliation of the Cross. Under this view, Paul is not thinking in spatial terms. Instead, he is thinking in terms of humility and glory. By descending, Paul means that Jesus humiliated himself (Phil. 2:5-8).