Jesus Did Not Descend into Hell
Karen Pansler-Lam, J.D.
The false teaching that Jesus descended into hell after His crucifixion is a doctrine of devils.
Some theologians and other false teachers declare that Jesus descended into hell between His death on the cross and His resurrection. Some denominations include this as traditional biblical teaching. For example, it is included in the Apostles’ Creed. It is sometimes argued that Jesus descended into hell to preach to the dead, suffer torment for our sins, or to rescue the Old Testament saints. Word of Faith heretics teach that Jesus was born again in hell. All of these doctrines of devils are from hell.
Certainly, if Jesus first descended into hell before His ascension, God’s Word would have clearly told us. Specifically, the Bible tells us in plain words about Christ’s birth, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. So, God’s Word would have told us in plain language if Jesus descended into hell. But nowhere in the Bible is it expressly stated or implied.
The passages cited to support this doctrine of devils are Ephesians 4:8-10 and I Peter 3:18-20.
First, consider Psalm 68:18…
Thou hast ascended on high,
thou hast led captivity captive;
thou hast received gifts for men;
yea, for the rebellious also,
that the Lord God might dwell among them.
Webster writes in his 1828 dictionary: “To lead captivity captive,
in Scripture, is to subdue those who have held others in slavery, or
captivity. Psalm lxviii.”
Now, consider Ephesians…
he ascended up on high,
led captivity captive,
that he ascended,
is it but that he
also descended first into the
parts of the earth?
that descended is the same also that
up far above all heavens,
he might fill all things.)
There is no mystery here. Throughout Bible times, rocky hillsides were favorite burial places. At Jesus’ death, He was placed in a tomb, a grave or place of burial. In other words, Christ was buried in a tomb – a hole in the earth (the bowels of the earth) - the lower parts of the earth.
These Scriptures neither expressly state nor imply that Jesus descended into hell. These Scriptures celebrate the victory of Christ! At His resurrection and ascension, Christ defeated the powers of darkness: “he led captivity captive.”
Matthew Henry comments:
great conquerors, when they rode in their triumphal chariots, used to be
attended with the illustrious of their captives led in chains, and were
wont to scatter their largesses and bounty among the soldiers and other
spectators of their triumphs, so Christ, when ascended into heaven, as a
triumphant conqueror, led captivity captive.
It is a phrase used in the Old Testament to signify a conquest over
enemies, especially over such as formerly had led other captive; see
Judges v.12. Captivity is here put for captives, and signifies all our
spiritual enemies, who brought us into captivity before.
He conquered those who had conquered us:
such as sin, the devil, and death. Indeed, he triumphed over these on
the cross; but the triumph was completed as his ascension, when he
became Lord over all, and had the keys of death and hades put into his
he gave gifts unto men;
in the psalm it is, He received gifts for men. He received for
them, that he might give to them, a large measure of gifts and graces;
particularly, he enriched his disciples with the gift of the Holy Ghost.
As after a triumph the conqueror distributes the spoils, so Christ, on His ascension, sent the Holy Spirit to bestow gifts on His Church. Next, Paul tells us the gifts:
he gave some,
the perfecting of the saints,
the work of the ministry,
the edifying of the body of Christ.
To teach “he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth” means “hell” is unreasonable and wholly unscriptural. The meaning is simple: Jesus Christ descended into the lower parts of the earth…the bowels of the earth…when he was buried in the dark depths of the tomb. And then He gloriously ascended into the heights of the heaven of heavens that He might bestow gifts and graces on His Church.
Christ triumphed over death, rose from the grave, and became the King of His Church.
have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.
The Lord God is the King of kings and the Lord of lords…
he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written,
LORD OF LORDS.
Next, consider the other Scripture often used to support the devilish doctrine that Jesus descended into hell…
Christ also hath once suffered for sins,
just for the unjust,
he might bring us to God,
put to death in the flesh,
quickened by the Spirit:
which also he went and preached
the spirits in prison:
sometime were disobedient,
once the longsuffering of God
in the days of Noah,
the ark was a-preparing, wherein few,
is eight souls were saved by water.
1 Peter 3:18-20
Some teach that “he went and preached unto the spirits in prison” means Jesus descended into hell. This is wrong. And it doesn’t even make sense in the context of the chapter. Again, God’s Word would have declared, “he went and preached unto the spirits in hell.” But it doesn’t. To repeat, the Bible tells us in plain language about Christ’s birth, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. So, God’s Word would have told us in plain language Jesus “went and preached unto the spirits in hell.” But this verse says “prison,” not hell. And nowhere in the Bible is it expressly stated or implied.
The keys to understanding “by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison” are the parallel Scriptures Isaiah 61:1 and Luke 4:17-21.
spirit of the Lord God is upon me;
because the Lord hath anointed me
preach good tidings unto the meek;
hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
proclaim liberty to the captives,
the opening of the
prison to them that are bound.
And Luke records that when Jesus was in Nazareth on the Sabbath, He went into the synagogue and stood up to read.
there was delivered unto him
book of the prophet Esaias.
when he had opened the book,
found the place where it was written.
Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor;
hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted,
preach deliverance to the captives,
recovering of sight to the blind,
set at liberty them that are bruised,
preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
he closed the book,
he gave it again to the minister, and sat down.
the eyes of all them that were
the synagogue were fastened on him.
he began to say unto them,
day is the scripture fulfilled in your ears.
Henry comments: “As Isaiah
was authorized and directed to proclaim liberty to the Jews in Babylon, so
was Christ, God’s messenger, to publish a more joyful jubilee to a lost
that is the best expositor of scripture has no doubt given us the best
exposition of these verses, even our Lord Jesus himself, who read this in
the synagogue at Nazareth (perhaps it was the lesson for the day) and
applied it entirely to himself, saying, This day is this scripture
fulfilled in your ears (Lu. 4:17,
); and the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth, in the
opening of this text, were admired by all that heard them. As Isaiah was
authorized and directed to proclaim liberty to the Jews in Babylon, so was
Christ, God’s messenger, to publish a more joyful jubilee to a lost
world. And here we are told,
How he was fitted and qualified for this work: The Spirit of the
Lord God is upon me,
The prophets had the Spirit of God moving them at times, both instructing
them what to say and exciting them to say it. Christ had the Spirit always
resting on him without measure; but to the same intent that the prophets
had, as a Spirit of counsel and a Spirit of courage,
. When he entered upon the execution of his prophetical office the Spirit,
as a dove, descended upon him,
. This Spirit which was upon him he communicated to those whom he sent to
proclaim the same glad tidings, saying to them, when he gave them their
commission, Receive you the Holy Ghost, thereby ratifying it.
How he was appointed and ordained to it: The Spirit of God is
upon me, because the Lord God has anointed me. What service God called
him to he furnished him for; therefore he gave him his Spirit,
because he had by a sacred and solemn unction set him apart to this great
office, as kings and priests were of old destined to their offices by
anointing. Hence the Redeemer was called the Messiah, the Christ,
because he was anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows. He
has sent me; our Lord Jesus did not go unsent; he had a commission
from him that is the fountain of power; the Father sent him and gave
him commandment. This is a great satisfaction to us, that, whatever
Christ said, he had a warrant from heaven for; his doctrine was not his,
but his that sent him.
III. What the work was to which he was appointed and ordained.1. He was to be a preacher, was to execute the office of a prophet. So well pleased was he with the good-will God showed towards men through him that he would himself be the preacher of it, that an honour might thereby be put upon the ministry of the gospel and the faith of the saints might be confirmed and encouraged. He must preach good tidings (so gospel signified) to the meek, to the penitent, and humble, and poor in spirit; to them the tidings of a Redeemer will be indeed good tidings, pure gospel, faithful sayings, and worthy of all acceptation. The poor are commonly best disposed to receive the gospel (Jam. 2:5 ), and it is likely to profit us when it is received with meekness, as it ought to be; to such Christ preached good tidings when he said, Blessed are the meek.
2. He was to be a healer. He was sent to bind up the broken-hearted, as pained limbs are rolled to give them ease, as broken bones and bleeding wounds are bound up, that they may knit and close again. Those whose hearts are broken for sin, who are truly humbled under the sense of guilt and dread of wrath, are furnished in the gospel of Christ with that which will make them easy and silence their fears. Those only who have experienced the pains of a penitential contrition may expect the pleasure of divine cordials and consolations.
3. He was to be a deliverer. He was sent as a prophet to preach, as a priest to heal, and as a king to issue out proclamations and those of two kinds:—(1.) Proclamations of peace to his friends: He shall proclaim liberty to the captives (as Cyrus did to the Jews in captivity) and the opening of the prison to those that were bound. Whereas, by the guilt of sin, we are bound over to the justice of God, are his lawful captives, sold for sin till payment be made of that great debt, Christ lets us know that he has made satisfaction to divine justice for that debt, that his satisfaction is accepted, and if we will plead that, and depend upon it, and make over ourselves and all we have to him, in a grateful sense of the kindness he has done us, we may be faith sue out our pardon and take the comfort of it; there is, and shall be, no condemnation to us. And whereas, by the dominion of sin in us, we are bound under the power of Satan, sold under sin, Christ lets us know that he has conquered Satan, has destroyed him that had the power of death and his works, and provided for us grace sufficient to enable us to shake off the yoke of sin and to loose ourselves from those bands of our neck. The Son is ready by his Spirit to make us free; and then we shall be free indeed, not only discharged from the miseries of captivity, but advanced to all the immunities and dignities of citizens. This is the gospel proclamation, and it is like the blowing of the jubilee-trumpet, which proclaimed the great year of release (Lev. 25:9, Lev. 25:40 ), in allusion to which it is here called the acceptable year of the Lord, the time of our acceptance with God, which is the origin of our liberties; or it is called the year of the Lord because it publishes his free grace, to his own glory, and an acceptable year because it brings glad tidings to us, and what cannot but be very acceptable to those who know the capacities and necessities of their own souls. (2.) Proclamations of war against his enemies. Christ proclaims the day of vengeance of our God, the vengeance he takes, [1.] On sin and Satan, death and hell, and all the powers of darkness, that were to be destroyed in order to our deliverances; these Christ triumphed over in his cross, having spoiled and weakened them, shamed them, and made a show of them openly, therein taking vengeance on them for all the injury they had done both to God and man, Col. 2:15 . [2.] On those of the children of men that stand it out against those fair offers. They shall not only be left, as they deserve, in their captivity, but be dealt with as enemies; we have the gospel summed up, Mk. 16:16 , where that part of it, He that believes shall be saved, proclaims the acceptable year of the Lord to those that will accept of it; but the other part, He that believes not shall be damned, proclaims the day of vengeance of our God, that vengeance which he will take on those that obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, 2 Th. 1:8 .
He was to be a
comforter, and so he is as preacher, healer, and deliverer; he is sent to comfort
all who mourn, and who, mourning, seek to him, and not to the world,
for comfort. Christ not only provides comfort for them, and proclaims it,
but he applies it to them; he does by his Spirit comfort them.
There is enough in him to comfort all who mourn, whatever their
sore or sorrow is; but this comfort is sure to those who mourn in Zion,
who sorrow after a godly sort, according to God, for his residence
is in Zion,—who mourn because of Zion’s calamities and
desolations, and mingle their tears by a holy sympathy with those of all
God’s suffering people, though they themselves are not in trouble; such
tears God has a bottle for (Ps. 56:8
), such mourners he has comfort in store for. As blessings out of Zion are spiritual blessings,
so mourners in Zion are holy mourners, such as carry their sorrows
to the throne of grace (for in Zion was the mercy-seat) and pour them out
as Hannah did before the Lord. To such as these Christ has appointed by his gospel, and will give by
his Spirit (v. 3),
those consolations which will not only support them under their sorrows,
but turn them into songs of praise…
mission was to deliver us from the bondage of sin: “the opening of the prison to them that are bound.”
is the Deliverer! Christ came
to break us free from the heavy chains of sin.
We were prisoners to sin…Christ has set us free!
So, what does 1 Peter 3:19 mean?
which also he went and preached
unto the spirits in prison:
Peter explains that the Lord God is longsuffering and merciful; He sent Old Testament prophets such as Noah to preach to the rebellious. God was not willing that any soul should perish, so he commissioned Noah to preach while building the Ark. Put another way, the Lord God sent prophets to preach to those imprisoned by their sins. Just as the Lord God delivered the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt, He sent prophets to deliver the wicked from the bondage of sin.
Today, the Lord God has called true ministers to preach the Gospel message to sinners: free pardon on repentance, of salvation, of atonement, of deliverance from sin, of a Comforter to support, sustain, and cleanse the heart, and give men peace and joy.
Jesus’ own words refute the devilish doctrine
that He descended into hell between the crucifixion and ascension. To
begin with, Jesus told the repentant thief on the cross that he would be
with Him in Paradise on the day of their crucifixion (Luke 23:39-43).
I say unto thee,
shalt thou be with me in paradise.
And this devilish doctrine refutes Jesus’ last words on the cross: “It is finished.”
Jesus therefore had received the vinegar,
he bowed his head,
and gave up the ghost.
In other words, the victory was won on the cross!
Jesus did not have to descend into hell to pay the price for our sins because His shed blood - the blood of the Sacrificial Lamb - redeemed and saved us.
Matthew Henry comments:
It is finished, that is, the work of man’s redemption and
salvation is now completed, at least the hardest part of the undertaking
is over; a full satisfaction is made to the justice of God, a fatal blow
given to the power of Satan, a fountain of peace and happiness laid that
shall never fail. Christ had
now gone through with his work, and finished it, ch. xvii.4.
If the battle was not won on the cross, and Jesus had to descend into hell, it makes His shed blood on the cross powerless. But Paul writes to the church at Colossae…
out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us,
was contrary to us,
took it out of the way,
having spoiled principalities and powers,
made a shew of them openly,
over them in it.
Colossians 2: 14,15
Jesus triumphed over Satan and sin and death on the cross and proclaimed, “It is finished.”
Don’t be fooled by doctrines of devils that corrupt the Word of God with devilish fables. The false teaching that Jesus descended into hell after His crucifixion is a doctrine of devils. The Bible tells us in plain words about Christ’s birth, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. So, God’s Word would have told us in plain language if Jesus descended into hell. But nowhere in the Bible is it expressly stated or implied.
did not descend into hell between His crucifixion and ascension to preach
to the dead, suffer for our sins, rescue the saints, or be born again.
These are all devilish lies.
proclaimed victory over Satan on the cross...