Did Jesus Christ descend into Hell?

Paul Wong


This is a difficult question and also a controversial subject, and I realize there are others that do not agree with my views and I pray they will at least be open-minded and read what I am presenting.  I am not dogmatic and I do not consider my views are the only correct ones, and they are open for correction.  This study is my personal view and does not represent that of any religious organization. It is purely for research and investigation. 


I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian congregation and had my education from Kindergarten through High School in an American Missionary school in Ipoh, Malaysia. This doctrine of Jesus descended into hell has never been preached in our congregation or in school during the early (pre-college) part of my life.  The first time I heard this doctrine was in the Charterhouse, London, England where the architectural firm that I worked was located.  The principals of the firm were devout Church of England (Anglicans or Episcopalians) members and we used to have chapel services for the whole company that included architects, engineers and surveyors.  Their common liturgy required everyone to recite the Apostles' Creed during the service.  The Apostles Creed was printed in their Prayer Book.  For those who are not familiar with the Apostles' Creed I have it copied below:


Traditional version

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.
. . . .From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost,
  . . .the holy catholic Church*,
. . . .the communion of saints,
. . . .the forgiveness of sins,
. . . .the resurrection of the body,
. . . .and the life everlasting. Amen.

I can accept most of the Apostles Creed except the sentence "He descended into hell."  The "holy catholic Church" does not refer to the Vatican Church but to the universal church.  Let me give you very simple reasons why I do not accept the doctrine that our Lord Jesus Christ "descended into hell."


I have read the four gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John that describes the life of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I cannot remember reading a single verse that our Lord ever said that He would "descend into hell."  The traditional Apostles Creed states that Jesus Christ "descended into hell" after His death.  I cannot find this event in the Bible.


Here is what the Holy Bible states exactly where our Lord Jesus Christ went after His death (Luke 23:42-46).


42.       Then he said to Jesus, "Lord,  remember me when You come into Your kingdom."

43.       And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."

44.       Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.

45.       Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two.

46.       And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, "Father, 'into Your hands I commit My spirit.' "Having said this, He breathed His last.”


The Gospel according to St. Luke stated very clearly that when He died our Lord Jesus Christ went to Paradise and He committed His spirit to His heavenly Father.  There is not a single word that even remotely suggests that Jesus ever went to hell, as stated in the traditional Apostles' Creed.



According to the Catholic Encyclopaedia - Click here:  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01629a.htm

The sentence "He descended into hell."  was not in the original Apostles' Creed




De Virg. Vel., 1

Adv. Prax., 2

De Praecept., 13 and 26

(1) Believing in one God Almighty, maker of the world,

(1) We believe one only God,

(1) I believe in one God, maker of the world,

(2) and His Son, Jesus Christ,

(2) and the son of God Jesus Christ,

(2) the Word, called His Son, Jesus Christ,

(3) born of the Virgin Mary,

(3) born of the Virgin,

(3) by the Spirit and power of God the Father made flesh in Mary's womb, and born of her

(4) crucified under Pontius Pilate,

(4) Him suffered died, and buried,

(4) fastened to a cross.

(5) on the third day brought to life from the dead,

(5) brought back to life,

(5) He rose the third day,

(6) received in heaven,

(6) taken again into heaven,

(6) was caught up into heaven,

(7) sitting now at the right hand of the Father,

(7) sits at the right hand of the Father,

(7) set at the right hand of the Father,

(8) will come to judge the living and the dead

(8) will come to judge the living and the dead

(8) will come with glory to take the good into life eternal, and condemn the wicked to perpetual fire,


(9) who has sent from the Father the Holy Ghost.

(9) sent the vicarious power of His Holy Spirit,



(10) to govern believers (In this passage articles 9 and 10 precede 8)

(12) through resurrection of the flesh.


(12) restoration of the flesh.


Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England - Anglicans (Episcopalians) have changed the wording from "He descended into hell."  to  "He descended to the dead." 

Please check out these web sites:

1.  Roman Catholic Church - Click here:  http://www.catholicfirst.com/TheFaith/Prayers/apostlescreed.htm

2.  "Anglicans Online web site."  Click here:   http://anglicansonline.org/basics/apostles.html


 Many other mainline Christian denominational churches have also abandoned the sentence "He descended into hell" from their versions of the Apostles Creed.  There is indication of some progress in mainline Christianity.


Some teach the Lord Jesus Christ went to hell during the three hours of darkness.  They interpret His cry "My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?" as the sign that He went to hell at that moment (Mt. 27:45-46).


There are theological problems with this teaching.  Our Lord Jesus Christ is both God and Man.  In the Spirit He is God and in the flesh He is Man.  If He did, then which part of Him went to hell?  If you say that His Spirit went to hell then you are saying that God went to hell or the Holy Spirit went to hell.  That is a heresy.  God and the Holy Spirit did not go to hell and suffered for mankind.  If you say that Jesus' flesh went to hell then how do you explain that He was still alive on the cross?  His physical flesh cannot be on earth and in hell at the same time.  This doctrine has many flaws and errors.


Here is the correct explanation of our Lord's cry.  The Lord Jesus Christ did not go to hell when He was crucified but He was bearing the sins of mankind on His own body.  This is the absolute truth.  Here are the Biblical proof texts:


"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." (Isa. 53:6)

"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." (Isa. 53:11)

"For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Cor. 5:21)

"who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness--by whose stripes you were healed." (1 Pet. 2:24)


Remember our Lord Jesus Christ is both God and Man at the same time.  When Jesus was crucified He was bearing the sins of mankind.  God did not bear the sins of mankind, but only Jesus the Man was the sin-bearer on the cross.  God is absolutely holy and therefore cannot be a partaker of man's sin.  "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear.  But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear." (Isa. 59:1-2)  At that very moment when the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified and bore the sins of mankind He was temporarily separated from God.  It was the sins of mankind that Jesus bore on His own human body that caused His separation from the holy God.  It is also because Jesus was bearing your sins and my sins that God cannot hear His prayers.  The Psalmist have prophesied this truth.  "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, And from the words of My groaning?  O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; And in the night season, and am not silent." (Psm. 22:1-2)


No, the Lord Jesus Christ did not go to hell when He was crucified.  The reason that He cried "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?"  that is, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" is because He was bearing the sins of mankind in His own body.


Did not the apostle Peter preach on the Day of Pentecost "Because You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will you allow Your Holy One to see corruption" ? (Acts 2:27, 31)  In the Authorized version (KJV) the word "Hell" is used instead of Hades.


The original Greek word used in those verses is "Hades" (hah'-dace) adhn Strong's Number 86.   It has the meanings of:

1.  The name of the nether world, the place of the dead.

2.  Later used for grave, death or hell.


Peter was quoting the prophecy from Psalm 16:10.  "For you will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will you leave Your Holy One to see corruption."  The original Hebrew word "Sheol" (Sha'owl)  lwaX Strong's Number 07585.  It has the meanings of the underworld, designation for the abode of the dead, grave or hell.  There is also another verse in Psalm 49:15.  "But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for He shall receive me. Selah."  From these two verses in Psalm which is the source of Peter's sermon we can see that Peter was not talking about Jesus Christ going to hell but going to the grave.  He used the word "corruption" twice.  Dead bodies do get corrupted in the graves.  In Acts 2:31 Peter wrote: "he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption."   It is obvious that Peter was writing about Christ's death, burial and resurrection.  Nowhere in the New Testament is there a doctrine that states Jesus died, went to hell and was resurrected.  The whole gospel of Jesus Christ is about His death, burial and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-4). 


1.          "Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand,

2.    by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you--unless you believed in vain.

3.          For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,

4.          and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures



Does 1 Peter 3:18-20 indicate the Lord Jesus Christ descended into hell when He died and preached to the "spirits in prison" who were the unsaved people during the time of Noah's Flood ?


Let us examine these verses and see what we can learn from them.


18. "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,

19. by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison,

20. 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.”


We need to establish some fundamental truths about the One True God Whom we worship.  Some teach that God changed His plan of salvation during the time of Noah. "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.  So the Lord said, "I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them." (Gen. 6:5-7)  The Bible did not say that God changed His mind.  It says that God was sorry that He had made man on the earth.  God is constant and unchanging (Mal. 3:6).  "So He destroyed all living things which were on the face of the ground: both man and cattle, creeping thing and bird of the air. They were destroyed from the earth. Only Noah and those who were with him in the ark remained alive." (Gen. 7:23)  Peter also wrote that God  "did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly" (2 Pet. 2:5)  The Eternal God is not a fickle-minded diety that destroys people then go down to hell and rescue them.  That is not His method of salvation.  The Holy Bible states very clearly, "And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgement." (Heb. 9:27)  Jesus spoke the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.  From this parable we can understand that when a person is not saved at the point of death there will not be another chance for him or her to be saved and go to heaven (Lk. 16:19-31). Our Lord Jesus Christ's statement establishes the finality of a person's spiritual condition at death. "Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." (Jn. 8:24)  The people during Noah's time already had their chance of salvation but they rejected the gospel as preached by Noah who was a preacher of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:5).  Noah's Ark is a true symbol and witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. [Click Here] The Ark is also God's testimony of salvation through baptism into Him (1 Pet. 3:20-21)  If we can fully understand the immutableness of God and the clear teachings of the apostle Peter then we know for sure the doctrine of Jesus Christ going back in time to preach to the unsaved people of Noah's time is incorrect.  Our Lord Jesus Christ did not go back in time to preach to the unsaved persons in hell.


Who are the "spirits in prison" that our Lord Jesus Christ went to preach?  Let us study the ministry of the Messiah as prophesied by the prophet Isaiah.


"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;" (Isa. 61:1)


During His ministry Jesus have loosened many that were bound with the spirits of infirmity.  They were the "spirits in prison". "And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up.  But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, "Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity."   And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. . . . . So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound--think of it--for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?" (Lk. 13:11-16)  Demon-possessed persons are "spirits in prison"They can no longer control their own physical, mental and spiritual faculties (Mk. 5:1-5, 15).  Casting out demons is like releasing the "spirits in prison"

Our Lord Jesus Christ had fulfilled His ministry of preaching to the "spirits in prison"  who are those that have serious illnesses and were possessed by demons.  This is part of the ministry of the Messiah.

"So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.  And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:   "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.  Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him.  And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."  (Lk. 4:16-21)


Does the apostle Paul mean that Jesus descended into hell when he wrote about the Lord had descended into the lower parts of the earth in Ephesians 4:9-10 ?


Let us read the two verses and try to understand their meanings.


(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.)

The apostle Paul was writing about the sequence of our Lord Jesus Christ's positions.  He must first descend "into the lower parts of the earth" before His ascension to heaven.  In Scriptures the "lower parts of the earth" does not always mean hell.


1.  The "lower parts of the earth" may refer to the mother's womb.  David wrote, "My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth." (Psm. 139:15)  The Messiah of God must be born of a woman (Gal. 4:4).  "Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus." (Lk. 1:30-31)  Our Lord Jesus Christ "first descended into the lower parts of the earth" may refer to His incarnation.


2.   The "lower parts of the earth" describes the grave or burial ground according to Psalm 63:9.  "But those who seek my life, to destroy it, Shall go into the lower parts of the earth."  Our Lord Jesus Christ descended to "lower parts of the earth" in His burial.  Our Lord Jesus Christ prophesied about His own burial, "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (Mt. 12:40)


It is finished

“So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.” (Jn. 19:30)

The famous last words of our Lord Jesus Christ “It is finished!” are comprehensive, decisively finite and complete. It means that all the plans, work, goals and purposes of Jesus for His earthly ministry as the Messiah and the Son of God have been accomplished at that moment when He died on the Cross. The words of Jesus “It is finished!” delivers the final and fatal blow to the doctrine that Jesus Christ must descend into hell in order to complete His work of salvation. No, Jesus need not have to go to hell to save mankind. He did it all on the Cross at Calvary. Jesus is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29) “And according to the law almost all things are purged with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.” (Heb. 9:22) There could be no shedding of the Lord’s blood in hell. There is no remission of sin by His going to hell. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” (Lev. 17:11) Since only the blood of Jesus Christ can make atonement for the soul, and the blood was shed on the Cross and not in hell, Jesus did not, could not, and need not have descended into hell to save mankind.

There is a teaching that Jesus Christ went to hell in the place of sinners who would have to go there if they did not believe in Him. If you search the whole Bible you cannot find a single verse that states Jesus went to hell in the sinners’ place. The Holy Bible is very clear about Jesus Christ being the substitute for the sinners.

“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.” (Isa. 53:4-6)

Here we are informed that the Lord Jesus Christ “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, . . . And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” There is not a single phrase that suggests Jesus went to hell in our place. The doctrine of Jesus descended into hell in the place of saved believers is simply not in the Old Testament. Let us look at two verses in the New Testament and see whether or not this doctrine is there.

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21)

“who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness -- by whose stripes you were healed.” (1 Pet. 2:24)

No, there is no doctrine in the New Testament either that states Jesus Christ would descend into hell to take the place of sinners who would go there if they do not believe in Him.

Some teach the Lord Jesus Christ descended into hell to triumph over Satan and take “the keys of Hades and of Death” from him. This is not a Biblical doctrine. Here is the Biblical truth.

Our Lord Jesus Christ did not have to descend into hell to get the keys from Satan. He already has the keys. This is what Jesus said: “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and Death.” (Rev. 1:18)

Here is a very clear teaching on how the Lord Jesus Christ conquered over the devil and death. “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,” (Heb. 2:14)

There are two significant purposes for the Lord Jesus Christ to be manifested in the world. Here is the first purpose. “And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.” (1 Jn. 3:5) This is the second purpose. “He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” (1 Jn. 3:8) The Lord Jesus Christ did not descend into hell to fulfill these two purposes. He accomplished them when He died on the Cross. This is the reason why He could say with great confidence and sense of accomplishment, “It is finished”.


This Article is a response to an ARK Forum E-mail
It is first published on January 18, 2002
For comments please write first to: [email protected]

May God bless you.

Paul Wong is a Christian minister and the President of ARK International.
His ministry also serves as an architectural service company in Houston.
The ARK Forum on the Internet is international and non-denominational.

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