What Did Jesus Do When He Descended Into Hell?

Some of the most significant theological problems about Jesus Christ are brought up by the topic of the agonizing reality of hell. Many people have never even heard of the doctrine because it is not particularly well known. However, this idea is a crucial component of Christian thought and ought to be taken into account in any research on heaven and hell.

Did Jesus Descend into Hell?

He began by preaching to the dead. According to the Bible, after Jesus died on the cross, there were a great number of people in Hades who were eagerly awaiting His return (1 Peter 3:19-20). After that, He took them up into heaven (Revelation 4:1-11). Then they spread Christ’s message throughout creation (Revelation 5:9-10).

Second, by preaching and freeing people from their imprisonment in darkness, Jesus delivered Old Testament saints from damnation (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 1:6).

What is Hades Like?

Before delving into Jesus’ actions in Hades, it’s essential to grasp the foundational divisions within this realm.

Two-Part Model:

According to Luke 16:19-31, Hades is depicted as having two distinct compartments: Paradise for the righteous and torment for the unrighteous. This separation suggests a clear distinction between the destinies of the righteous and the wicked after death.

Single Compartment Model:

In contrast, some interpretations propose a single-compartment model of Hades, where both righteous and unrighteous souls coexist without separation. This perspective challenges the traditional understanding of a divided afterlife and offers a more unified view of Hades.

What Did Jesus Do in Hades?

Now, let’s delve further into the different interpretations regarding Jesus’ activities within the realms of Paradise and torment, expanding on the significance of His actions.

Jesus in Paradise

1. Jesus’ Presence with the Penitent Thief:

When Jesus assured the repentant thief on the cross, “Today you shall be with me in Paradise,” it indicates His immediate presence in this realm, alongside the redeemed. This profound statement not only offers comfort to the repentant thief but also underscores Jesus’ compassion and willingness to extend salvation to those who sincerely seek it.

2. Preaching Deliverance to the Righteous Souls:

Scriptures such as 1 Peter 3:18-19 and Ephesians 4:9 imply that Jesus proclaimed deliverance to the righteous souls in Paradise, offering them assurance of redemption. His descent into Paradise serves as a beacon of hope for the righteous departed, demonstrating God’s unfailing promise of salvation and eternal life.

3. Liberation of the Righteous Souls:

Building upon Ephesians 4:8-10, some interpretations propose that Jesus liberated the righteous souls in Paradise, leading them to Heaven during His ascension. This transformative act symbolizes Jesus’ victory over sin and death, as He breaks the chains of captivity and ushers the righteous into the fullness of God’s presence.

Jesus entered hell after he died in order to set the prisoners free. According to the Bible, when Christ died, “the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.” (Matthew 27:52-53)

They were not given a resurrection body but rather made an appearance in resurrected flesh. This means that those who had been resurrected from the dead did not appear as glorious beings with angelic wings, but instead appeared just like walking, talking humans. They could be seen by many people in Jerusalem on that first Easter morning because they didn’t have a resurrection body at all!

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Their first appearance after being raised was during Jesus’ ascension back into heaven (Acts 1:3). The apostle Paul confirms this when he writes about his experience seeing some men who had been raised from death: “For I am sure that neither death nor life . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Jesus and the Tormented

1. Preaching Judgment to the Unbelievers:

It is suggested that Jesus preached judgment to the unbelievers in torment, as referenced in 1 Peter 3:18-19. While His descent may not have directly impacted the souls in torment, it symbolizes the proclamation of divine justice and the solemn reality of accountability for one’s actions.

Jesus’ announcement to the dead was an announcement of judgment to those who were unbelievers, according to 1 Peter 3:18–19. Because Christ paid the price for sins once and for all, the just for the unjust, to reconcile you to God. This chapter teaches us that Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for our sins, allowing us to be pardoned and granted eternal life with God. When Jesus entered hell, he did so as a sinner just like us who also needed to have his sins forgiven, not as our replacement. Since they were in torment, he went into hell and preached to them there about the need for redemption and an afterlife with God (Luke 16:19–31).

2. Limited Impact on Souls in Torment:

Alternatively, some interpretations posit that Jesus’ descent had no direct impact on the souls in torment, as their fate was sealed by their rejection of God. This perspective underscores the stark division between Paradise and torment, emphasizing Jesus’ primary mission of delivering the righteous rather than intervening in the fate of the unrepentant.

Theological Perspective

Beyond the primary interpretations of Jesus’ descent into Hades, it’s crucial to explore different views and actions attributed to this event, shedding light on the diverse theological perspectives.

A. Traditional View (Western Christianity):

In the traditional view upheld by Western Christianity, Jesus’ descent into Hades is seen as a triumphant conquest over death and the domain of Satan. He did not come to liberate those already condemned but rather offered salvation to those who had not received it before. This interpretation emphasizes Jesus’ proclamation of victory over death and evil, asserting his divine authority. Scriptures such as Ephesians 4:8-10 and Colossians 2:15 are cited as evidence of Christ’s triumph over the powers of darkness. Scholars like Gustaf Aulén in “Christus Victor” elaborate on this concept, elucidating the significance of Jesus’ triumph over sin and death.

The dead in Christ resurrected at that time, receiving justification via His proclamation, and ascending with Him into paradise. The Old Testament saints who had passed away before the birth of Christ were included in this (see 1 Peter 3:18-20). They were brought back to life through the power of His Spirit, made righteous by the shed blood of the cross (Romans 4:25), and raised from the dead.

By establishing their righteousness through faith alone in Christ alone, Jesus also saved individuals who had been lost throughout history, including the Antediluvians, Sodomites, Egyptians who perished in the Red Sea during Moses’ departure, etc.

B. Eastern Christian View:

In contrast, Eastern Christianity presents a view that focuses on Jesus’ mission to liberate the righteous souls of the Old Testament who awaited his arrival in a separate compartment of Hades. This interpretation highlights Jesus’ actions in rescuing these souls from the realm of the dead and opening the gates of heaven to them. Scriptures such as 1 Peter 3:19 and Matthew 27:52-53 are cited as evidence of Jesus’ proclamation to the spirits in prison and the resurrection of saints after his crucifixion. Scholars like John Meyendorff in “The Orthodox Faith” delve into the theological perspective of Eastern Christianity, offering insights into Jesus’ descent into Hades within this tradition.

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Jesus entered hell to set everyone free. Not just believers, but also non-believers, the good, the bad, and the dead. This comprised both the saints of the Old Testament who were in heaven and those who were not yet buried.

Since everyone for whom Jesus died on the cross at Calvary is included, Jesus’ fall into hell was a mercy for all of mankind in this way.

All of the deceased’s tombs were opened and their bodies were raised while Jesus was dying. They traveled to Jerusalem and made numerous appearances. Christ’s resurrection served as evidence that everyone who had faith in him would also be raised from the grave.

C. Experiencing the Depths of Death View:

Another perspective, known as the Experiencing the Depths of Death View, suggests that Jesus descended into Hades to fully experience the separation from God and the power of death. Despite not suffering its eternal consequences, Jesus’ actions demonstrated his solidarity with humanity in suffering and his ultimate triumph over death. Scriptures such as Mark 15:34 and Psalm 22:1 are cited as evidence of Jesus’ profound experience of separation from God. Scholars like N.T. Wright in “The Death of the Messiah” and Wolfhart Pannenberg in “Systematic Theology” explore the historical and theological significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection within this framework.

Jesus’ descent into hell was part of Christ’s victory over death. Jesus descended into hell and proclaimed to the dead that He was victorious (1 Peter 3:18). He preached the gospel to those who were in hell, and He proclaimed to them that they would be judged (1 Peter 4:6). Jesus also stated that no one has gone down into the grave except for Him who came from heaven—a clear indication that all men are destined for eternal torment unless they believe on Christ and accept His sacrifice for their sins.

D. Symbolic Interpretation:

Finally, the symbolic interpretation suggests that Jesus’ descent into Hades symbolizes his victory over spiritual forces like sin and death. This metaphorical triumph signifies the inauguration of a new era of salvation and reconciliation. Scriptures such as Romans 6:9-11 and 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 are cited as evidence of Christ’s victory over death and sin. Scholars like John Walton in “The Bible and Its World” and Donald Guthrie in “New Testament Theology” explore the symbolic significance of Jesus’ descent into Hades within the broader theological context.

In the Bible, it is stated that when Jesus died on the cross, He descended into hell and released all of souls that were there. But what does this mean? What did Jesus do when He descended into Hell? For example, Matthew 17; Luke 16 tells us that Elijah or Moses appeared on earth in resurrected bodies for a time. They appeared to Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration where they spoke with Christ about His coming death (Matthew 17:1-13). The account includes details about how these two great prophets looked like when they were seen by those men – their clothes, how tall they were and their hair color (Luke 9:29). It was also noted that these men had flesh bodies like ours but with no sin because they had been resurrected!

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Each of these perspectives offers unique insights into the complexities of Jesus’ descent into Hades, enriching our understanding of this profound theological mystery.


To wrap up, we’ve seen how Jesus preached to the spirits in prison, and judged them. This is a teaching that many of us are unfamiliar with, but if we read through the scriptures—particularly 1 Peter 3:18–20—we can come to better understand how it all fits together. After His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus descended into hell where He was victorious over Satan himself. Although, this is not certain by other Christian doctrines. As Christians today, we are called to take this victory on faith because we cannot see Him or what He did for us.

FAQs about What Jesus Did When He Descended Into Hell

The concept of Jesus descending into hell, often referred to as the Harrowing of Hell, is a complex theological concept with various interpretations across different Christian denominations. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

What happened to Jesus when he was in hell?

There are various views on what transpired during Jesus’ descent:

  • Triumphant conquest: This view sees Jesus overcoming death and the powers of evil, offering salvation to those held captive.
  • Preaching to the dead: Some believe Jesus proclaimed the gospel to those who died before him, offering them a chance at salvation.
  • Spiritual experience: This interpretation focuses on Jesus experiencing the depths of human separation from God, further demonstrating his solidarity with humanity.

Where did Jesus go between his death and Resurrection?

The Bible uses various terms for the place Jesus went:

  • Hades: This refers to the realm of the dead, generally understood as a place of waiting, not necessarily eternal suffering.
  • Sheol: Similar to Hades, this Hebrew term denotes the state of the dead without specific judgment.
  • Heart of the earth: This metaphorical expression emphasizes Jesus’ complete death and descent into the unknown.

When was “he descended into hell” added to the Apostles Creed?

The phrase “he descended into hell” isn’t explicitly mentioned in the original Nicene Creed. It later appeared in the Apostles’ Creed, but the exact timeline and reasons for its inclusion are debated. Estimates range from the 4th to 6th centuries.

What did Jesus say about hell?

Jesus used various terms associated with suffering and eternal punishment, like “gehenna” and “outer darkness.” However, interpretations differ on whether these references describe literal eternal torment or metaphorical warnings about separation from God.

Did Jesus suffer in hell after he died?

Most Christian denominations believe Jesus’ suffering culminated on the cross. His descent into the realm of the dead is not seen as additional suffering but as a further extension of his victory over death and its power.

What did Jesus do while in the grave?

Beyond the theological interpretations, the Bible offers limited details about Jesus’ specific actions during his time in the grave. The focus remains on his death and resurrection as central aspects of the Christian faith.

Who died and went to Hell in the Bible?

The concept of “hell” in the Bible doesn’t directly equate to the modern understanding of eternal punishment. The Bible mostly mentions individuals descending to “Sheol” or “Hades,” which encompass the state of the dead, not necessarily implying their eternal destination.

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