This is the second in a two-part series on the whereabouts of Jesus between His death and resurrection.
In the previous column we addressed different views about where Jesus went between His death and resurrection.
Now, we briefly examine five New Testament passages that in some way touch on the subject. Keep in mind the most biblically faithful view: Jesus neither went to hell (Gehenna) nor to Hades (the temporary abode of the dead) but to heaven after His death.
Acts 2:27 – “Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption“ (KJV).
In this portion of Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, he quotes from Ps. 16:10, a psalm of David and a Messianic psalm that Peter applies to Jesus.
The word translated “hell” in the King James rendering of Acts 2:27 is the Greek term Hades, which is similar to the Hebrew word Sheol. In both cases, it is a flexible term that most often refers to the temporary abode of the dead but can mean “grave.”
The New International Version (NIV) translates this, “Because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.” This is preferable because the context emphasizes that Christ rose bodily from the dead as opposed to David, whose body is still there.
The Christian Standard Bible (CSB) renders this passage, “because you will not abandon me in Hades or allow your holy one to see decay.” This translation acknowledges that David’s soul went to Hades without assigning Jesus’ soul to the same place.
This is the first in a two-part series on the whereabouts of Jesus between His death and resurrection.
One of the more puzzling questions about the redemptive work of Christ is where His soul went between death and resurrection.
The Gospel writers confirm that Jesus’ body was placed in a tomb after His death, and remained there until His resurrection.
But what about the immaterial part of Jesus – namely His soul and / or spirit?
One view is stated in the Apostles’ Creed: “He [Jesus] descended into Hell; the third day He rose again from the dead.”
The meaning of this phrase is much debated. The traditional interpretation is that Christ went to the abode of the dead to preach the gospel to Old Testament saints in order to set them free for the full experience of heaven.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church embraces this view, as do many Protestants.
However, theologian Wayne Grudem points out that the troublesome phrase, “He descended into Hell,” is a “late intruder into the Apostles’ Creed that never belonged there in the first place and that, on historical and Scriptural grounds, deserves to be removed.”
The Missouri Baptist Convention has published a new resource called The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith. The 275-page book is available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon, and in print from the MBC. But we also want to make each of the 16 chapters available online. This post features the last portion of Chapter 8: Kept with Eternal Chains: When Angels Desert.
Previously: Principles of Biblical Interpretation
… and He has kept, with eternal chains in darkness for the judgment of the great day, angels who did not keep their own position but deserted their proper dwelling. (Jude 6)
Whoever these particularly nasty angels are, God is keeping them under wraps until the day they are cast into the lake of fire. The word “kept” in Jude 6 is from the same root word Jude uses in verse 1 to describe believers, who are “kept” by Jesus Christ. Some translations render it “reserved” rather than “kept.” In a parallel passage, Peter writes that these fallen angels are “delivered … to be kept in chains” (2 Peter 2:4 – emphasis added).
The questions, then, are where these demons are imprisoned, and how. Certainly, if they are spiritual beings, physical chains cannot hold them. The Greek actually describes them as being confined, without hope of escape. While Jude does not name this place (or state) of confinement, Peter, in the parallel passage just referenced, calls it Tartarus.
Many translations render this word, found only in 2 Peter 2:4, as “hell,” including the King James Version and the New American Standard Bible, while others, like the English Standard Version and the New International Version, provide footnotes linking the English word “hell” to the Greek name Tartarus.
The Holman Christian Standard Bible simply transliterates the Greek word in this passage, which reads: “For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but threw them down into Tartarus and delivered them to be kept in chains of darkness until judgment …” A footnote in the HCSB reads, “Tartarus is a Greek name for a subterranean place of divine punishment lower than Hades.”
In the apocryphal Book of Enoch (20:2), Tartarus is used as a place where fallen angels are punished, an interpretation Peter affirms.
So, Tartarus seems to be a place separate from Sheol, the Hebrew term for the abode of the dead; Hades, roughly the Greek equivalent of Sheol; and Gehenna, the lake of fire created for the Devil and his angels (Matt.25:41), where wicked people also spend eternity (Rev. 20:15). Ancient Greeks regarded Tartarus as a place where rebellious gods and other wicked ones are punished.
Romans 1 is a graphic depiction of human depravity, which is not a steep vertical fall, but a descending spiral of ungodliness that begins with rejection of God’s revelation and ends with a fateful last step into outer darkness.
It’s a story we should tell more often because it cuts to the chase. Paul doesn’t promise happiness, wealth, or comfort to the sinner who receives Jesus as Savior. Rather, he warns those who persist in rebellion against God of the peril they face when the divine hand of grace finally lets them go.
First, Paul makes it clear that no person stands before God with a valid defense for unbelief. God has revealed Himself to all people in at least two ways: creation and conscience.
In creation, He has shown the wicked His eternal power and divine nature, “being understood through what he has made” (v. 20). A simple gaze into the heavens on a starry night reveals the vastness, beauty, and intricacy of the universe, so that any reasonable person must conclude a divine Designer is behind it all.
Further, God has placed in every heart a knowledge of His holy standards. Regardless of geography, religion, culture, or historic era, everyone knows intuitively that certain deeds are always wrong for all people at all times, and certain deeds are always right (Rom. 2:14-16).
This universal moral compass points inextricably to a divine Law Giver.
The doctrine of hell is disturbing. The very idea of suffering and separation beyond the grave elicits a wide range of responses, from anguish to anger.
The possibility of departed loved ones languishing in outer darkness only adds to the grief of those laying flowers on their graves.
Some atheists cite hell as a reason to deny the existence of a loving God.
What’s more, Anglican cleric John Stott, who wrote the influential book Basic Christianity, found the idea of eternal suffering in hell so repugnant that he rejected it in favor of annihilationism.
According to a 2014 survey by LifeWay Research, fewer Mainline Protestants believe in hell than do Americans in general (55 percent vs. 61 percent, respectively).
And for many evangelicals, hell remains an inconvenient truth.