There are plenty of ideas out there about where Jesus was for the three days that His body lay in the grave. Some of these ideas seemed to have been pulled straight out of the imaginations of men with little to no scriptural support. Other ideas have been primarily founded on scriptures that have been taken out of context, thus inventing more false stories. All of this is totally uncalled for when considering that the Bible does provide sufficient information on this subject. It may not be the easiest subject to investigate in the scriptures, but the truth is certainly there, and we’re about to go find it.
There are many who believe that Jesus spent some time (if not all of three days) in hell. They get this idea from scriptures like Act 2:31 where Peter, quoting from the psalms, said: “he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption.” The KJV adds more confusion by translating the word for “hades” as “hell” in this verse. But “hades” does not mean “hell,” the original Greek word “hades,” which is not translated in many English translations, means “the realm of the dead.” Consider how this definition rightly fits back into Acts 2:31. So then, this verse does not explain that Jesus went to hell for three days, but that He went to the realm of the dead for three days until He was resurrected.
The other verse, often used to compliment Acts 2:31 (or vice-versa), that allegedly places Jesus in a place of torment for three days is 1 Peter 3:18-22, which says: “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. There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.”
It is easy to see why so many misunderstand Peter’s words here; for in context, he is taking about the death and resurrection of Christ. But a closer look at the context will prove that Peter is specifically addressing salvation through Christ, and the Old Testament likeness (or shadow) of the salvation that came through Christ in the New Testament. Peter is speaking of New Testament salvation which is through the obedience to the words that came from the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament likeness, salvation in Noah’s day was essentially the same, Noah was saved through obedience to the words of the Spirit of God. Peter remarks that there were many in the days of Noah that the Spirit of God preached salvation to, but only eight were saved. Now that is how 1 Peter 5:18-22 reads. But somehow, the imagination of man takes over often times when reading this text and the result is the concept that Jesus went down to the spirits of the dead in prison and preached to them within the three days that Jesus was in hades. But nothing could be further from the truth. Peter says nothing about Jesus preaching to spirits in prison, but that the Holy Spirit did the preaching; that is mistake number one. Notice how Peter said “made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison.” The “by whom” refers to the Spirit; so then, the Word (who is Jesus, John 1:1) of salvation was preached to these Spirits who are now in prison through the instrument of the Holy Spirit.
The second mistake is to say that the Spirit preached to these folks while they were in prison; Peter says no such thing. He first describes who these people are, that they are spirits in prison in Peter’s day (and therefore our day as well), and that they are there because they were formerly disobedient in the days of Noah. But if you read it again, Peter’s explanative interjection is surrounded by commas on each side: “who formerly were disobedient,” if the interjection is removed for the moment, it is easier to see what our English teacher in school would have already saw: “He went and preached to the spirits in prison when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah while the are was being prepared.” So altogether, the saving Word was preached to these individuals not while they were in prison, but when God’s longsuffering waiting for them to turn to him in the days of Noah. But how did the Spirit deliver this message to them? The same way that He usually does, through the instrument of a man; a prophet. Just like all the days of the Old Testament, the Spirit used certain people to deliver the words of God to the people. In the case that Peter is referring to, the Spirit spoke through a man named Noah, who was a preacher (2 Peter 2:5). So then, in conclusion to Peter’s statements, Peter never had any thought to the three days of Jesus in the grave, nor to a concept that someone can be preached to after they have died. Even though that way of thinking is common among a lot of people who have read 1 Peter 3:18-22, this is not what Peter taught, nor could it be, for these concepts contradict what the Bible teaches elsewhere. Namely, Jesus’ discussion of the rich man and Lazarus is a particularly clear text about the realm of the dead. Within the text, Jesus provides valuable information on Hades:
That Hades contains both a place of torment and a place of paradise (Luke 16:22-23).
There is a fixed separation between the two places, and no one is able to pass from one to the other (Luke 16:26). So what would be the point of Jesus preaching to spirits in prison?
Opportunity for sufficient revelation that one needs to be obedient to God’s word does not happen in the realm of the dead, but to those still living (Luke 16:27-31). So why would Jesus be delivering revelation to those in torment?
Jesus’ words certainly contradict everything that many believe Peter to be saying, and we can’t have that! So then, what is the truth of the matter? Where did Jesus go for three days? I would suggest we take His own word for it, as He said while he was on the cross “assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43), and a little later, He said “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit” (v.46). I believe in the words of Jesus, that He spent His short stay in the realm of the dead in a place of paradise.