Where was Jesus for the Three Days Between His Death and Resurrection?
For the thinkers, the days between Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection are often a source of confusion.
Beyond simply wrapping our minds around the idea that God the Son died a human death and was buried as a human, there are verses in the Bible that suggest He was active on the day we refer to as Holy Saturday.
But where was Jesus and what was he doing?
Part of the confusion is a result of a line in the often-recited Apostles’ Creed.
Christianity Today explains, “At church services around the world, believers recite it without reservation. But there’s one part of the creed that’s apt to generate confusion and suspicion. Sandwiched between its rendering of the events of Good Friday (‘He was crucified, died, and was buried’) and Easter Sunday (‘The third day he rose again from the dead’) is a perplexing affirmation: that Christ ‘descended to hell.’ Because of their discomfort with this language, evangelicals have often neglected the importance of what Christ accomplished on Holy Saturday.”
Yes, you read that right.
Some people believe Jesus descended to hell in the days between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
However, this is controversial in church circles.
According to The Gospel Coalition, “The most contested line in the creed is ‘[Jesus] descended into hell.’”
Therefore, it is easy to see why the question is one of the most frequently asked.
There is much we don’t know (and probably won’t know until we can ask Jesus in person) about the days in between death and resurrection, so instead, let’s focus on what we do know.
His Physical Body Was in the Tomb
“And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.” -Matthew 27:50
The first thing we know is Jesus’ physical body was in the tomb.
Jesus died a human death and was buried like a human.
His body was wrapped in linen cloth and placed in a tomb.
Multiple people saw his dead body and saw where it was placed.
Got Questions explains, “Jesus’ body was in the tomb, of course, but His spirit, having departed at His death (Matthew 27:50), was elsewhere for those three days.”
His Spirit Proclaimed to Imprisoned Spirits
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.” -1 Peter 3:18-20
At some point after His death and before His resurrection, these verses tell us Jesus’ spirit went and made a proclamation to the imprisoned spirits – specifically those who were disobedient.
However, this passage does not say where He visited these imprisoned spirits or what He said.
We can assume that He proclaimed his victory over death and the enemy.
He Did Not Visit Hell
“Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay.” -Acts 2:31
In some translations, “the realm of the dead” is named Hades.
When the idea of Jesus’ proclaiming to the imprisoned spirits is combined with Hades, people assume it means Jesus descended to hell between his death and resurrection.
This is incorrect. Got Questions explains, “The idea that Jesus went to hell in order to continue His suffering is unbiblical; His suffering ended when He said, ‘It is finished’ upon the cross (John 19:30).”
Moreover, while some people use the terms Hades and hell interchangeably, they refer to different things.
Hades refers to a temporary place where those who are dead wait for resurrection.
In contrast, hell is a place that serves as a permanent separation from God.
Additionally, the Bible clearly distinguishes between the two.
“The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” -Revelation 20:13-15
He Led the Captives to Their Eternal Home
This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) -Ephesians 4:8-10
Theologians agree this passage of Scripture points to Jesus releasing the captives, such as the Old Testament saints, from captivity and took them to their eternal home in Heaven.
Got Questions suggests, “That is, after securing their salvation on the cross, Jesus brought Abraham, David, Joshua, Daniel, the beggar Lazarus, the thief on the cross, and everyone else who had previously been justified by faith, and led them from Hades to their new spiritual home.”
He Was Resurrected
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright, the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” -Luke 24:2-7
There is very little in the Bible about what happened in the days between Jesus’ death and resurrection.
While we may have to wait to get all the details until we see Him face to face, we can rest assured that our Savior died on the cross and rose from the grave conquering death and sin once and for all.