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Three Mysterious Days
Did Jesus descend into Sheol as a suffering Savior or a conquering King?

What happened between the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus?

One of the greatest biblical mysteries concerns what happened between the crucifixion of the Son of God and His resurrection three days later. Very little is written in Scripture about the “subterranean” events that were so monumental two earthquakes shook Jerusalem before and after that 72-hour span of time (Matthew 27:54; 28:2).

Some Bible teachers have suggested Jesus suffered damnation in hell as a sinner temporarily, and that this was a major component of His substitutionary sacrifice for a fallen human race. Those who subscribe to this view insist that Jesus’ physical death was insufficient in paying the full price of redemption, and that a spiritual death afterward was also necessary. In other words, He had to go through everything lost sinners would go through if they died in a fallen state, without God. If this was the case, the Messiah would have to recover from a “spiritual death-state,” as well as rising from the dead physically, so that we could identify with His great victory and inherit resurrection-life in every area of our being.

Often, the related idea is also promoted that during those three days, the Son of God was tortured by Satan and his demonic underlings in the pain-filled, hellish realm of the wicked. As that “wrestling meet” with the prince of darkness came to a close, the Prince of life was finally able to wrench the keys of death and hell away from him and overcome—for His sake and for ours. Proponents of this concept believe, at some point, miraculously, the Spirit of God reentered Jesus (Yeshua) and He was “born again.” At that point of spiritual regeneration, He gloriously became “the firstborn from the dead” and “the firstborn among many brethren” and shortly after, emerged from the tomb triumphantly (Revelation 1:5, Romans 8:39).

If this multi-faceted doctrine is true, it should be enthusiastically proclaimed, shouting it from the housetops. On the other hand, if it is the product of an overactive imagination, and the result of faulty exegesis, it should be denounced and rejected. There is very little, if any, middle ground. Let’s explore the Bible together to find the answers.

Paul’s revelation: the descension and ascension of Jesus              

The apostle Paul opened a small portal of understanding in this area by quoting from the following Old Testament passage that foretold Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Here is the original Messianic prophecy from the psalmist David:

     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. (Psalms 68:18 KJV)

Then Paul added a vital insight (handing us a major piece of the puzzle) by explaining that there was also a “Descension” that took place first, right after Jesus’ death on the cross:

     Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also He who ascended far above all the heavens that He might fill all things.) (Ephesians 4:8-10 MEV)

There it is—unmistakable and undeniable—the Son of Man went below before He returned above. However, that revelation spawns several questions that need to be answered. When Jesus “descended,” where exactly did He go? Why did He go there? What condition was He in, and what did He do when He arrived? Whatever transpired, it resulted in “captivity” being led “captive”—which is a very mysterious statement. Should it be interpreted symbolically or literally—or both? Let’s explore:

The symbolic interpretation—Could this declaration mean that all those things that ever have possessed or ever will possess the power to “captivate” God’s people in this world (depression, fear, unbelief, lust, and so on) were all brought under the dominion of the Son of God and, in a sense, “captivated”—through His death, burial and resurrection? Did the Messiah accomplish this great feat so that His people, throughout all generations, could be set free from all negative, worldly influences? If the answer is  Yes,” then in a figurative sense, Jesus “led captivity captive.”

The literal interpretation—Could this declaration of Paul have a literal fulfillement? It seems evident that the redeemed of the Old Testament, during the previous era, could not enter the highest heaven at death, because the supreme sacrifice of Jesus’ blood had not yet been paid (the precious spiritual substance that cleanses our the souls of God’s people—Revelation 1:5-6, 1 John 1:7). They were, in a sense, “captives,” held in a temporary abode for the righteous called “Abraham’s Bosom” (Luke 16:22). Did Jesus descend into that realm in order to reveal Himself as the Messiah to the Old Covenant saints and deliver them from the lower world. Did He then carry them up to paradise, to the spectacular wonder of the third heaven? That would have been a more literal fulfillment of leading “captivity captive”—captivating His covenant people from that era with the greatness of His glory, the depth of His love, and the wonder of their final inheritance (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).

Here is the BIG question, though—Did Jesus visit the realm of the wicked as well? Giving an authoritative answer to this query is challenging, because there are so few passages in the Bible that reference it, and those that do are not extremely clear. However, there are six other primary puzzle parts that link together with the ones already mentioned to produce a powerful picture of one of the greatest steps taken by God in His spectacular plan of redemption for mankind.

Sheol and the story of the rich man and Lazarus

The next piece of the puzzle concerns the original language of the Bible. In Old Testament Hebrew, the netherworld location for all departed souls—both the righteous and the wicked—was a spiritual place called Sheol. This Hebrew word is translated only three ways in the King James Version: grave, pit, and hell. That’s part of the interpretive problem; there are times it is rendered “hell” erroneously in that version of Scripture, because some scriptures are referring to the afterlife abode, not only of the wicked, but of the righteous also. The Greek equivalent of Sheol is Hades.

Jesus provided tremendous insights when He told the story about “The Rich Man and Lazarus,” because He described the nature of Sheol during the Old Testament era. (See Luke 16:19-31.)  That well-known narrative features the soulish destiny of two men who passed away. The rich man, because of his selfish and egocentric lifestyle, went to a place of torment, reserved for the wicked, while Lazarus, the beggar, went to a place of comfort, reserved for the righteous (referred to as “Abraham’s bosom”). Jesus also described an impassable gulf between these two sections of the underworld.

When Jesus descended into the “lower parts of the earth,” He evidently visited this mysterious spiritual realm—that’s a certainty. However, the mystery of the matter concerns whether or not the Messiah visited both chambers. Also, as I have already asked, when He arrived, what condition was He in and what did He do? Let’s keep digging and go to some other Bible writers to find some more puzzle pieces.

Peter’s revelation

The apostle Peter gave us extremely important revelations into this pivotal part of the Son of God’s redemptive journey. On the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit fell in the upper room, Peter launched the New Covenant era with a powerful, anointed message that facilitated the conversion of three thousand souls. One of the primary points in his message involved informing his audience how the Psalmist David foretold the resurrection of the Messiah when he wrote the following words:

     “For You will not leave my soul in Hades, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.” (Acts 2:27)

The original verse (Psalm 16:10) uses the word Sheol while the New Testament uses the equivalent Greek word Hades. Then Peter continued his explanation about David and Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah (as translated in the Complete Jewish Bible):

    “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 2:29-32 CJB)

Later on, Peter added another puzzle part (a new and fresh revelation) in his first epistle:

     For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. (1 Peter 3:18-20)

In the next chapter of the same epistle, Peter added:

     For to this end the gospel was preached also to the dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the Spirit. (1 Peter 4:6 MKJV)

What conclusions can we reach through these three statements from the apostle Peter?

Jesus preached to the righteous—If Jesus “preached the Gospel to the dead,” He definitely preached the good news of what He accomplished to the righteous—those who walked in covenant with God who had passed away during the entire span of time from the fall of Adam and Eve up to the crucifixion. He did this that they might “live according to God in the Spirit” (in fellowship with God)—in other words, that they might be “born of the Spirit,” receiving a “new spirit” and being filled with God’s Spirit (John 3:3, Ezekiel 36:26).

Jesus preached to the wicked—Peter also indicated that after the Savior died, He preached to “spirits in prison” who were “disobedient” in the days of Noah, during the time leading up to the flood. Therefore, the Messiah must have entered, not only that temporary place of heaven-like bliss called Abraham’s bosom, but also, the hellish realm of torment reserved for the wicked. Though the Scripture does not go into any more detail, it is possible that He preached to every fallen and cursed human being who had ever entered that dreadful place of suffering from the beginning of time. My head is shaking with awe just imagining the possibilities.

According to these references from Peter’s writings, it can be deduced that Jesus declared the availability of salvation to both the righteous in Abraham’s Bosom and the wicked in the realm of the tormented. Did He give both the good and the evil an opportunity to repent and receive Him as Lord and Savior? It seems possible that He did! Some interpret the “spirits in prison” to be fallen angels, but that’s illogical, because there would be no purpose attached to such an action. Why would Jesus take the time to preach to fallen angels, since they cannot repent and they cannot be restored to a status of righteousness? All of this is quite a mystery.

We do know that God is just, and we do know that God somehow gives those who are ignorant of the Law (and the Gospel)—yet they respond positively to their conscience during their lives—an opportunity to be judged on that basis in the afterlife. (See Romans 2:14-16.) What that involves, only God knows—yet still, even if a person tends to live by his conscience during his earthly sojourn, that would not be sufficient to earn eternal life in heaven. AT some point, it would be necessary to accept Jesus’ subsitutionary death, because no person can be saved just by works of righteousness. So was there a powerful call to repentance and faith presented in both realms in the lower world? It’s worth pondering, for sure.

Revealing admission—what Peter, Paul, and Jesus did not say

Neither Peter, nor Paul, informed us that Jesus suffered as a sinner in hell. In fact, quite the opposite—Peter claimed that the Messiah, prior to His descent into the lower world, was “made alive by the Spirit” and that He was thus empowered by the Holy Spirit to descend into Sheol (1 Peter 3:18). Evidently, when He journeyed into that shadowy realm, He had already been set free from the shackles of sin and the curse. He was already “alive” spiritually, in perfect oneness with the Father. He descended, not as a victim, but as a victor. He was not overwhelmed by the darkness; He overpowered it. In consideration of these verses, it is logical to believe that Jesus did not enter Sheol as a banished sinner, but as the triumphant King of saints, the Liberator of all who love Him and call upon His name. Remember, the Son of God did not tell the repentant thief, “This day you will witness me suffering in hell.” Rather, He rejoiced to declare, “This day you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Did Jesus wrestle with Satan for the keys?

A traditional and often-preached idea is that Jesus wrestled with Satan for the keys to death and hell during His descent into Hades. Did this really happen? To discover the answer, we must begin by asking two more questions:

1. Does Satan reign in hell, directing demonic activity on earth from some kind of dark seat of power there?
2. Does the Bible teach that the devil at one time possessed the keys of death and hell?

Though it is a traditional Christian belief, depicted in many Christian plays and writings, there is no scripture verifying that Satan, the Prince of darkness, rules in hell—or that he sends demons out from hell to infiltrate the lives of human beings on earth, to pull them back into that place of fiery torment. Scripture describes the devil’s sphere of activity and authority to be a realm above us, not below us. Read the following words carefully:

     And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience. (Ephesians 2:1-2)

Jesus called Satan the “prince of this world” three times (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Paul called him “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Peter even warned, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour”—describing the enemy moving invisibly through the global population (1 Peter 5:8). Not one of them—Peter, Paul, or the Lord Himself—ever describe Satan in hell. They all present him in the world, performing invasive maneuvers to subvert the human race. Apparently, one enhancement of that role is his higher vantage point as “the prince of the power of the air, dominating the world under his influence (Ephesians 2:2)

In the book of Revelation, John offered a similar perspective, describing the devil’s plight in the last days (certainly, the time in which we are living). The Revelator described the final disintegration of the enemy’s kingdom in the following way:

     Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.” (Revelation 12:12)

Notice, John did not say, “The devil has come up to you” (from below). Instead, he explained, “The devil has come down to you” (from above). So we can extrapolate from all of these insights that Satan’s primary sphere of rulership at the present time is above. Could that be the second heaven? My logic says, “Yes!” Most likely, the first heaven is the physical heaven: the atmosphere around the earth and the natural cosmos beyond. The third heaven is the highest heaven, paradise, the manifest presence of God (see 2 Corinthians 12:2-4). Therefore, the second heaven must be a spiritual realm that is sandwiched dimensionally between the first and third. Apparently, it is full of angelic and demonic activity, resulting in supernatural clashes, territorial conflicts, and intense spiritual warfare.

Additional insights about Satan’s past and future

The original curse pronounced over Satan is found in Isaiah 14:12-19. Below are the first four verses of that passage:

     “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’ Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the pit.” (See Ezekiel 28:12-19.)

The prophet explained that the enemy was cursed and would eventually be “brought down to Sheol,” but he never gave a timeline concerning when that ultimate judgment would take place. If it had happened immediately after his rebellion against God in the beginning, the wicked one could not have infiltrated this world with his contaminating influence in the millennia that have followed. His ultimate incarceration evidently will not come until the end of this age, as revealed by John, in the last part of the book of the Revelation:

     Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while. (Revelation 20:1-3)

The Greek word translated “bottomless pit” is abussos from which we get our English word abyss, which can mean the infernal regions below.

Two scriptures that seem to contradict

There are two main scriptures that make it sound like the angels who rebelled in the beginning (including Satan) have already been judged and are therefore, already confined. Here are the pertinent passages:

     For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell [Greek Tartaroo] and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment. (2 Peter 2:4)

     And the angels who did not keep their proper domain [Greek arche, a principality], but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day. (Jude 1:6)

In the passage above, Peter describes an imprisonment for fallen angels in the lower world, not in the future tense, but in the past tense. The Greek word translated “hell” in 2 Peter 2:4 is Tartaroo (also known as Tartarus—thought to be the lowest abyss of hell, even below Sheol). However, Peter’s reference to “chains of darkness” and Jude’s reference “everlasting chains” could mean a state of being, not a particular location: an experience of total separation from the God who is light (“in Him there is no darkness at all”—1 John 1:5). So possibly, these passages are talking about the present spiritual condition of angels on their way to final judgment.

The keys of death and Hades

We know that Satan is described as having “the power of death” prior to the coming of the Son of God into this world (Hebrews 2:14). But Scripture never states that he possessed the “keys of death and hell,” nor that Jesus had to wrestle with him to obtain those keys. Such language is figurative anyway, because those “keys” are not literal keys. So, to teach that some kind of “netherworld wrestling match” took place is probably the product of an overactive imagination. When Jesus appeared to John at the beginning of the book of the Revelation, He said:

    “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.” (Revelation 1:17-18)

The King James Version says “the keys of hell and death,” which is misleading, because once again, the word translated “hell” is Hades, which includes both chambers. Jesus secured the keys to the underworld (Sheol, Hades), not because he jerked some literal keys out of Satan’s hands, but because He secured those keys in a metaphorical sense: paying the necessary redemption price to liberate the souls of humankind.

Satan is described as having the “power of death” because through his influence in the beginning, death was introduced into this world which has since exerted power and control over all humanity, not because he predetermines exactly when people will die. Then Jesus introduced resurrection life, which trumped the power of death that was wielded by Satan and gave victory to those who yield to the Son of God’s Lordship. Only Jesus could “unlock” the door of Hades to release the souls that were bound there, the souls that responded with repentance and faith when He preached the everlasting Gospel.

The prophecies of Isaiah

To complete our study, two other passages of Scripture need to receive our attention: Isaiah 53 and Psalm 88. First let’s focus on the prophecies of Isaiah. Reading the entire chapter (twelve verses) is helpful:

     Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
     For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.
     He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
     Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
     But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.
     All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
     He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.
     He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
     And they made His grave with the wicked—but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.
     Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You 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 the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities.
     Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:1-12)

Two key statements are found in the latter part of this chapter: Jesus’ soul was made “an offering for sin” when He “poured out His soul unto death.” Does that mean the Messiah went into the lower world as a condemned sinner or is it referring to something that happened prior to His descent into the lower world? The following five points are keys to understanding:

1. The soul has three primary functions: mind, will, and emotions.

2. A person’s soul can be “poured out” without dying. Hannah “poured out” her “soul before the Lord,” in a grief-stricken, prayerful way because she was barren (1 Samuel 1:15). Job said, “Now my soul is poured out because of my plight,” deeply sorrowful over the horrible situations he was facing (Job 30:16). The writer of Psalm 42 (one of the sons of Korah) admitted that pondering the idea of standing before God one day overwhelmed him to the point of saying, “I pour out my soul within me” (Psalms 42:4).

3. This biblical phrase can mean a time of being totally drained mentally, depleted emotionally, and spent spiritually. Jesus pouring “His soul unto death” could simply mean that He faced all-consuming grief when He who “knew no sin” became sin for a fallen human race (2 Corinthians 5:21 KJV). It is believable that when He was crowned with thorns He felt, not only piercings in his skull, but the mental anguish of all the lost who ever have lived or ever will live in this world. Psalm 22:14 prophetically depicts the Messiah, during His passion on the cross, crying: “I am poured out like water.” Around the time the soldier pierced His side with a spear, surely His heart was also being pierced with all the emotional anguish of a fallen race. Considering all these things, it is logical to conclude that these Isaiah 53 verses were most likely fulfilled, not after Jesus died, but during His time on the cross.

4. Nephesh, not ruach—The Hebrew word translated “soul” in Isaiah 53:10-12 is nephesh. The Hebrew word for “spirit” is ruach. In the New Testament, the equivalent Greek terms are psuche for soul (pronounced psoo-khay’) and pneuma for spirit(pronounced pnyoo’-mah). Jesus did not pour out His spirit unto death, but His soul. There’s a big difference. Descending into hell in a state of spiritual death would have made it necessary for His “spirit” to be poured out in death, but that’s not how the Bible describes His latter moments. The soul is made up of three functions: mind, will, and emotions. The spirit is the part of us infused with the presence of the Father (for those who are born again). Its functions are communion with God, revelation from God, and conscience. Surely none of these areas were contaminated by evil and overpowered in the firstborn Son of God.

5. Right before Jesus gave up His life willingly, He cried, “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit (Greek pneuma)” (Luke 23:46). It is unimaginable that the Father would respond by rejecting Jesus’ request and by instead casting His spirit downward into the iron-clad grips of darkness and evil. In His final moments, the Savior also cried, “It is finished!”—so the primary process for the redemption of humankind was completed once the Savior breathed His last breath. The cancellation of the curse was finished. The dominion of sin was finished. The supremacy of Satan’s authority in this realm was finished. The salvation price necessary for our deliverance was finished. From that point forward it was the release of God’s power, the intimidation of the forces of evil, and the manifestation of God’s dominion. He “bore our sins in His own body on the tree” on Golgotha’s hill; He did not bear our sins in the agony of hellfire (1 Peter 2:24).

The questionable proof from the Psalms

Those who believe Jesus suffered in hell as a condemned sinner almost always refer to Psalm 88 as proof (a psalm of the sons of Korah, a contemplation of Heman the Ezrahite). Here it is in entirety:

     O LORD, God of my salvation, I have cried out day and night before You.
     Let my prayer come before You; incline Your ear to my cry.
     For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to the grave.
     I am counted with those who go down to the pit; I am like a man who has no strength,
     Adrift among the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom You remember no more, and who are cut off from Your hand.
     You have laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the depths.
     Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and You have afflicted me with all Your waves. Selah
     You have put away my acquaintances far from me; You have made me an abomination to them; I am shut up, and I cannot get out;
     My eye wastes away because of affliction. LORD, I have called daily upon You; I have stretched out my
hands to You.
     Will You work wonders for the dead? Shall the dead arise and praise You? Selah
     Shall Your lovingkindness be declared in the grave? Or Your faithfulness in the place of destruction?
     Shall Your wonders be known in the dark? And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
     But to You I have cried out, O LORD, and in the morning my prayer comes before You.
     LORD, why do You cast off my soul? Why do You hide Your face from me?
     I have been afflicted and ready to die from my youth; I suffer Your terrors; I am distraught.
     Your fierce wrath has gone over me; Your terrors have cut me off.
     They came around me all day long like water; they engulfed me altogether.
     Loved one and friend You have put far from me, and my acquaintances into darkness. (Psalms 88:1-18)

Some Bible teachers insist this psalm is graphically and prophetically descriptive of what the Messiah was yet to utter in the lower worlds when He descended there as a condemned sinner. However, it sounds much more like Heman the Ezrahite is going through a lengthy, devastating, personal trial. He is pouring out his soul to God over a period of time while yet alive in this world? However, three verses could be Messianic prophecies, applicable to what happened when Jesus descended below. The Son of God surely worked “wonders for the dead. He surely declared God’s “lovingkindness . . . in the grave.” He surely declared God’s “faithfulness in the place of destruction.” He surely made God’s wonders “known in the dark.” He surely celebrated God’s “righteousness in the land of forgetfulness.” So, yes, Heman, it happened! You asked if it could happen and it did!

Wrapping up!

So did Jesus suffer in hell as a sinner, tormented by demons, separated from the Father, and writhing under the power of the curse, until He was finally “born again” after three days? I believe the evidence is stacked against that assumption. Are those Bible teachers who believe in this concept heretics? Absolutely not! Those who sincerely love Jesus are all “striving together for the faith of the Gospel”; we are doing our best to understand mysteries that are very challenging to the human mind (Philippians 1:27). Even if we do not fully understand all the details of this profound closing to Jesus’ journey through time, we can still respond with worshipful awe.

What really happened?

Though none of us knows for certain exactly how these grand events unfolded, based on all this information, I believe the most logical conclusion to reach is that Jesus hung on the cross as a suffering Savior, but He descended to the lower worlds as a conquering King. Truly, this is one of the greatest mysteries of the Bible. All those in Sheol who responded positively to His preaching were born again, made righteous, and translated to heaven. Can you imagine the unspeakable joy especially among those who had prophesied of the Messiah in advance, the joy of finally seeing that “Seed of the woman” who crushed the head of the serpent, that “Seed of Abraham” who came to bring a covenant relationship to multitudes like the sand of the sea and the stars in the sky, that “Seed of David” who will reign on the throne of God forever? Can you imagine the power of seeing God’s promised deliverance finally coming to pass? It must have been a very intense and awe-filled gathering. No wonder some of them rose from the dead in advance (See Matthew 27:52-53). The power of what they witnessed was too glorious.

When the saints of the Old Testament era followed the Messiah out of Abraham’s bosom to their eternal place in the celestial world, another prophecy of Isaiah was brought to pass. The “earth” was “made to give birth in one day” and a “nation” (God’s New Covenant “holy nation”) was “born at once” (Isaiah 66:8). What a majestic and amazing event that was!

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Written by Mike Shreve