Descended into hell?

Okay, I’m having a couple of very busy days. And I don’t want my blogging to suffer. So I’m doing what people often do when they are short on time. I’m piggybacking my thoughts on things I find on other blogs.

The main Christian blog I read is Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed on So sorry for being on the McKnight bandwagon two days in a row, but it is saving me time and hopefully is still providing interesting fodder for discussion and thought.

On the Jesus Creed blog (Scot McKnight of North Park University and author of about a hundred books), there is some discussion today about the traditional Christian idea, found in the Apostle’s Creed (I remind people that this creed, though venerable, is not actually from the apostles directly), that Yeshua descended into hell. The line in the creed says it this way:

. . . He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again . . .

What does this mean? Is it a true notion? What does it say about afterlife, the realms of the dead, and so on? How does it relate to other literature: Isaiah’s sheol passages? The Hebrew Bible’s mentions of “being gathered to the fathers”? Apocalyptic literature and talk of realms of the dead and demons and so on? Early mishnaic and midrashic texts on related topics? New Testament texts on the topic?

Hey, I can’t answer all those questions. I’m just saying this is an interesting area to think about.

“Descended into hell” to me means “descended into the grave” or “descended to the dead.”

The New Testament texts potentially bearing on this include:

For the Messiah himself died for sins, once and for all, a righteous person on behalf of unrighteous people, so that he might bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh but brought to life by the Spirit; and in this form he went and made a proclamation to the imprisoned spirits, to those who were disobedient long ago, in the days of Noach, when God waited patiently during the building of the ark, in which a few people — to be specific, eight — were delivered by means of water. This also prefigures what delivers us now, the water of immersion, which is not the removal of dirt from the body, but one’s pledge to keep a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah. He has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God,t with angels, authorities and powers subject to him.
–1 Peter 3:18-22

they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to the dead, that though judged in the flesh like men, they might live in the spirit like God.
–1 Peter 4:5-6

But God has raised him up and freed him from the suffering of death; it was impossible that death could keep its hold on him. For David says this about him:

‘I saw ADONAI always before me,
for he is at my right hand,
so that I will not be shaken.
For this reason, my heart was glad;
and my tongue rejoiced;
and now my body too will live on in the certain hope
that you will not abandon me to Sh’ol
or let your Holy One see decay.
you have made known to me the ways of life;
you will fill me with joy by your presence.’

Brothers, I know I can say to you frankly that the patriarch David died and was buried — his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, since he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn an oath to him that one of his descendants would sit on his throne, he was speaking in advance about the resurrection of the Messiah, that it was he who was not abandoned in Sh’ol and whose flesh did not see decay. God raised up this Yeshua! And we are all witnesses of it!
–Acts 2:24-32

Just then the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks were split apart. And tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had died were raised. (They came out of the tombs after his resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.)
–Matthew 27:51-52

Now what is the meaning of “he ascended,” except that he also descended to the lower regions [of] the earth?
–Eph 4:9

Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death – the lake of fire.
–Rev 20:14

Here are some questions we might discuss:

What did Yeshua do between his death and resurrection? What evidence persuades you of your view?

What happens to us immediately upon death?

This is discussion, so it’s okay to present some tentative ideas/hypotheses. You don’t have to present a finished idea your are ready to die arguing. Please be brief. No dissertations. I’ll pop in when I can, though I’m snowed under today and tomorrow.

About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christian, Life to Come, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism, Scot McKnight, Yeshua and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Descended into hell?

  1. captainkudzu says:

    Very interesting. I had heard this but never understood why Yeshua went to minister in Hell if the dead were already judged.

    My understanding is that BC all dead went to Sheol, the grave, a semi-common holding place.

    After Christ, the dead either went to Heaven or Hell. As He told the thief on the cross, today they would be in Paradise together.

  2. tnnonline says:

    You should consider adding Luke 17:19-31 to the list. The way I understand it, the belief that Yeshua descended into Sheol/Hades is rooted within the idea that there were once two compartments: one for the righteous, one for the condemned. After His ascension, the compartment for the righteous was vacated. Those who believe in an intermediate afterlife can now legitimately say that after death we go to be with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8; Phil 1:23), as opposed to all of the dead going to Sheol.

    I am not convinced that Sheol is just another synonym for “the grave.” Hebrew has its own terminology for a place of burial, most especially kever. In Isaiah 14, we see that the king of Babylon is cast out of his kever, only to be joined by the shades of other kings in Sheol.

  3. judeoxian says:

    I haven’t studied the language of the Apostles’ Creed in depth, but I’ve always thought that hell/hades refers to some abode of the dead, not as a place of torment. Unlike John, I do think sheol refers to the grave, though perhaps in poetic usage, describes an intermediate state (though John does raise a good point).

    Either way, the important thing we must emphasize is the “dead-ness” of the Master after the crucifixion, which is what the author’s of the Apostles’ Creed were trying to emphasize. He truly died. In experiencing death, he conquered it.

    Without a true death, there can’t be a real resurrection.

  4. florin says:

    I think it may be helpful to consider that this touches on two distinct dimension: our existence (limited by space and time) and God’s existence (permeating our existence, but not limited to it). The key point of reference is the passage from one dimension to the other (which even though is not easily determined, can shed light on answers we give to these question).

  5. warland52 says:

    It is a better reading to understand it as a descent to the “underworld” or “Sheol”(as everyone seems to realize). However, that leaves questions since those earlier concepts were not that precisely defined. But one understanding (perhaps the most common among the early church) is that He went to the “sheol of the righteous” and “liberated” them so they could enter paradise. This is often joined to the idea of original sin and that even the old testament “saints” couldn’t enter heaven until Christ redeemed the world and made remission for original sin. That falls apart as a “necessary” state of affairs because God is outside time etc. as other commenter noted. Although perhaps that was the “normal” state of affairs unless God granted a particular grace. For example, in Catholic doctrine, Christ’s redeeming act was applied to Mary at her conception , in other words before His redeeming act took place “in time”. She was “baptized” at conception just because God willed it. Just threw that in there for fun.


  6. Some Interesting things are put here. What Todd says is based on 1Pe3:18-19. (isn’t it?) That states: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: 19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;..” And: 1Pe4:6: “For unto this end was the gospel preached even to the dead, that they might be judged indeed according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” Though I think its hard to understand these text.

    Another difficult aspect Todd brings is the relation time/eternity/predestination.


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