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Did Jesus Suffer in Hell?

Today’s Question: I have a question about Jesus' descent into hell. In Luke 23:43, "And Jesus replied,’ Today you will be with me in Paradise. This is a solemn promise." TLB

The question I am wondering about is how could He have defeated Satan in hell if He declared to the thief that they both would be in Paradise that day? I believe Jesus made an open display of Satan on the Cross, according to Col.1:14: "Who bought our freedom with His Blood and forgave us all our sins."

Could you also explain to me how the Word of Faith teaching responds to Luke23:43? I'll be waiting for your reply.

Sincerely, William Carpenter

Bible Answer: I do not dare speak for the entire Word of Faith movement, but I would like to share some of my insights in this area.

As far as the passage in Luke 23:43 Jesus did go to Paradise that day. I agree. Jesus, however, did not say that He would be there for all three days. That's where you make a wrong assumption. Jesus said, "Today, you will be with me in Paradise." Today does not mean three days; it simply means the current day.

Before we proceed any further, we need to establish the fact that man is a three-fold being. God made man’s body from the dust of the ground then breathed into him the breath of life which is man’s spirit, and man became a living soul (Gen 2:7). He is a spirit, he has a soul, and he lives in a body. "May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1Thes 5:23). This truth is important to understand if you are to comprehend Christ descent into hell and His victory over the devil in hell.

Next, you need to realize that Adam’s sin resulted in not just physical death but spiritual death. God warned Adam and Eve, "The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Gen 2:17, KJV). God said they would die in the day that thou eatest. Adam and Eve did not die physically that day, but they did die spiritual on that day. For Christ to eradicate Adam’s transgression He would have to experience the full judgement of sin, not just physical death.

The Bible teaches there is more than one type of death. As Paul said, "You were dead in your transgressions and sins" (Ep 2:1). This speaks of spiritual death. Then there is the passage in Rev 20:14: "Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death." The soul suffers eternally in the lake of fire. Obviously from these passages there is more than one death. There are three deaths, and they all correspond to our three-fold nature: physical, spiritual, and soulish.

The message of the gospel is simple: Christ died for our sins. Does this mean only physical death? Well, if that’s all sin does is kill us physically, then all Christ would have to do is die physically, but as we have already established, there are three deaths of the sinner. So if Christ is to die for the sinner, then He must die in all three ways.

Isaiah the prophet confirms Christ’ three deaths:

He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. (Isa 53:9)

The Hebrew word used for death1 is plural. Literally it reads, "He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich is his deaths." Scholars still don’t understand why it is in the plural, so they usually translate it in the singular.

Isaiah chapter 53 speaks of Christ’ three-fold death. Isaiah mentions Christ’ afflictions and wounds—that’s physical (vs. 4-5). He also alludes to His spiritual death by saying that the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (v. 6). Finally Isaiah expresses Christ suffering in hell by declaring:

…when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfiedhe hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isa 53:10-11, KJV)

Notice how often Christ' soul is mentioned. Jesus did not suffer in body only; His soul suffered as well. The soul suffers in hell.

Peter, in his first sermon, mentions the suffering of Christ’ soul in hell:

Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. (Acts 2:27, KJV)

Jesus’ soul was in hell, but not left there. Praise God. Why did Jesus go to hell for us? He went there because the punishment of sin is for the soul to be cast into hell. Since Christ suffered the penalties and punishment for our sins, it stands to reason that He would have to suffer in hell, and He did!

I asked the Lord to give me a clear passage about this and He did. He gave me Leviticus chapter 16. You need to read all of it. There you find the sacrificial order on the Day of Atonement. What is important to notice is that there are three sacrifices on this day: two male goats and one ram for a burnt offering.

From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. (Lev 16:5)

Now why are three sacrifices necessary? Simply because the three sacrifices speak of the three-fold death of Christ—his physical death, his spiritual death, and his soulish death.

Study the three sacrifices in Leviticus chapter 16. In this passage, only the first goat was killed through the shedding of blood; this speaks of Christ physical death and His shedding of His blood on the cross.

The Second goat had the sins of the nation confessed onto it and then banished alive in the desert; this speaks of Christ spiritual death whereby he became sin for us. This is why Christ said, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me" (Matt 27:46). Jesus was made sin there on the cross (2 Cor 5:21).

And now here is where it gets real interesting. After the sacrifices of these two goats, there is a time lapse. The Priest takes off his filthy garments and puts on clean garments (Lev 16:23-24). He washes himself and makes sure he is clean; this interim period is where I believe Jesus descent into Paradise takes place. Jesus is free from sin and He proves it by saying, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" (Luke 23:46). Jesus is restored to God the Father and is cleansed much like the Priest was. So Jesus is free from sin when He meets the thief in Paradise.

Now comes the final sacrifice that the priest makes, which is the ram and burnt offering. This is the only sacrifice that is burnt in the fire; I believe this speaks of Christ sacrifice in hell fire.

After Jesus meets the thief that day, the sun goes down over Jerusalem and the Passover officially begins. The first Passover is recorded in Exodus 12. God makes clear when the Passover should begin. (A Jewish day begins at sundown.)

Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. (Exod 12:6)

As you know, Jesus died on the day before Passover. For Jesus to fully fulfill the Scriptures He must be sacrificed on Passover. He was. Jesus descends into hell on Passover day and becomes like the ram in the burnt offering. Passover last for 12 hours. I believe this is the time Jesus suffers in hell. At dawn on Passover, Jesus strips the devil of his authority over mankind. He enters the deepest part of hell called the dungeon and declares His victory over Satan.

…He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison (1 Pet 3:18-19)

Jesus was made alive in His soul right in hell itself. He then preached victory to the spirits in prison. He also led all the Old Testament saints out of Abraham’s bosom.

This is why it says: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men." (Eph 4:8)

Jesus message is clear:

I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. (Rev 1:18)

Jesus defeated the devil in Hades (hell) and took the keys from him. He now rules!

I truly believe Satan hates this message; this is why he has tried so hard to keep people from understanding this. Heresy hunters have condemned preachers to hell if they preach this.

Hank Hanegraaff writes:

"It is at the cross—not in hell—that your salvation is either won or lost." (Christianity in Crisis, page152, Emphasis in the original)

For Hank it is an "either or" proposition. For him it is not possible that both the sufferings at the cross and in hell are essential for salvation. And to scare people from the Word of Faith position he writes:

"They are heretical, which is another way of saying that they directly oppose the clear teaching of Scripture on matters of essential importance as highlighted in the creeds and councils of the church." (Ibid. page 46, Emphasis in the original)

If you should believe like I do that Jesus' sufferings were three-fold, then he is ready to label you a heretic and send you to hell. Notice, he appeals to the creeds of the church. Well, let’s talk about the most famous creed, The Apostle’s Creed. A portion of the creed affirms Jesus descent into hell, the very thing that Hanegraaff disbelieves. It says:

"I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty…" (Emphasis added)

It’s clear that the early church believed that Jesus descended into hell. Were they heretics? The fact is, during their time if anyone refused to believe in the entire creed they were disfellowshipped. Because of efforts like Hank Hanegraaff some churches have removed this part of the Apostle's Creed from their statement or they rephrase the creed to say, "He descended into the Grave." (The word "grave" does not make sense since the previous statement in the creed already mentioned that he was "buried"; why repeat the thought? Remember that the creed was originally written in Greek, and the word for hell is Hades, and it is used consistently to speak of the place of punishment, see Luke 16:23 as an example.)

Now I’m not labeling anyone a heretic simply because they don’t have as full an understanding of the full atonement, but Hanegraaff is definitely wrong to imply that this teaching about Jesus descent into hell contradicts all the creeds. This teaching did not originate with the Word of Faith movement. It is as old as the early church.

It is time to quit using scare tactics to make people believe a certain way. I believe that a person can be saved without fully understanding what Jesus accomplished for us in His redemptive work. Hank thinks only people who believe exactly like him about the atonement can make it to heaven. He writes about the importance of his view versus our view:

"The stakes here are enormous—no less than salvation itself." (Ibid. page 154)

Wow! Hank’s fear tactics just won’t work with me. I am quite secure in my salvation and I am in fact very grateful for all Christ went through for me. Satan won't stop me from preaching the full redemptive act of Christ.

Follow up Question: Your position rings true in light of the Scriptures, but another verse came to my mind - John 19:30, where Christ says "It is finished". Could you please comment on how the Lord's statement fits into the Word of Faith position on this issue?

Thank you for your time, Sandi

Bible Answer: The term it is finish means what it says, "It's paid for". Jesus descent into hell is still part of the cross and the same redemptive work of Calvary. They are not separate sacrifices, but taken together as one complete act in the same way that the three animals used on the Day of Atonement is still one complete act of one atonement. 

 

1 Text from one of my Bibles. You may click the text for a larger view.

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