What Happened after the Cross and before the Resurrection?
Did Jesus go to Hell?
This is an interesting and important question. Those in the so-called “Faith Movement” have a version of this that is highly unscriptural. A leading teacher in the “Faith Movement,” Frederick K.C. Price, has said, “Do you think that the punishment for our sin was to die on the cross? If that were the case, the two thieves could have paid your price. No, the punishment was to go into Hell itself and to serve time in Hell separated from God…Satan and all his demons thought that they had Him bound, and they threw a net over Jesus and they dragged Him down to the very pit of Hell to serve our sentence” (Hanegraaff, Hank. Christianity in Crisis. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1993. p. 163). This is not what the Bible tells us. Jesus did not go to Hell.
Jesus did have some important work to do after the cross and before the Resurrection. Scripture tells us, “Therefore He says: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.’ (Now this, ‘He ascended’—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)” (Ephesians 4:8–10).
To understand exactly where Jesus went, look at the story Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31). This was not simply a parable, for Jesus used an actual human name. Thus, we can conclude that Jesus was giving us an actual glimpse of life beyond the grave. The story describes a place called Hades, where there was both a place of comfort and torment. In the Old Covenant, when a person died, he went to Hades. If the person was a believer, he went to the place of comfort in the bosom of Abraham (Hebrews 11:13). The nonbeliever, on the other hand, went to the place of torment, which was separated from the place of comfort by a great chasm.
When Jesus died, He descended to Hades into Abraham’s bosom, the place of comfort, and proclaimed liberty to those who had died in faith. He then took those believers with Him (along with the thief on the cross) to Heaven, where all believers now go immediately upon death.
To this day, the nonbeliever will go to the torment compartment of Hades, to await the Great White Throne Judgment described in Revelation 20:13–15: “The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the Lake of Fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the Lake of Fire.”