The Bible does not specifically state what happened to Jesus immediately after He died on the cross. Because of this, there is debate surrounding the answer to the question of where He went and what He did. So, I will present differing views so you might know the scope of the answer and decide for yourself which position is preferable.
Perhaps the best known scripture that appears to deal with this issue is found in 1 Pet. 3:18-20,
"For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water."
When Jesus was made alive in the spirit, it is not saying that His spirit died and then it became alive again. "Made alive in the spirit" is contrasted with "put to death in the flesh." He first lived as mortal men but "...He began to live a spiritual 'resurrection' life, whereby He has the power to bring us to God."1 Furthermore, some Bibles (NIV, KJV, and NKJV) render the verse as "made alive by the Spirit," referring to the Holy Spirit's work with Christ. 'By the Spirit' translates one word, pneumati, which could refer to the third Person of the Trinity as the agent of Christ's resurrection.2
One view where Jesus was and what He did before His resurrection is that He went to Hades (the place of the dead) and made proclamation to those who were in spiritual prison. The word "proclamation" in Greek is kerusso. It means to proclaim and is a different word than "euaggelizo" which means to preach the gospel. Therefore, it is most probable that Jesus was not preaching the gospel to those in Hades/Spirit prison so they could be saved, but was instead proclaiming the truth to them. After all, the Bible says, "And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment," (Heb. 9:27).
But who were the ones in spiritual prison? Some believe it is the people who were alive at the time of Noah's flood and who were killed in the flood. Others believe it is all humanity who died before the time of the cross. There seems to be support for the former position in 2 Pet. 2:4-5,
"For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly."
Needless to say, this passage also raises many questions and much debate can be found as to its precise meaning. Nevertheless, as far as the other option goes, that Jesus simply presented the facts concerning His work on the cross to those in spiritual prison, we can look to Eph. 4:8-9 for possible support.
"When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men. 9 Now this expression, 'He ascended,' what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things....
Some theologians believe that during the three days between Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, He descended into Abraham's bosom (Luke 16:19-31),3 proclaimed to them the mystery of the gospel, and then led them into heaven to dwell with God. The belief is that they were not permitted to enter into the presence of God in heaven until after the atonement. Once that had happened, Jesus who had died, descended to Abraham's bosom, proclaimed the gospel, and then led its residents into heaven.
So, even though we cannot determine precisely where Jesus was and what He did during those three days, it seems apparent that He presented the gospel message (not to have them get saved) to those in spirit prison and possibly also to those in Abraham's bosom.
- 1. Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1998.
- 2. Walvoord, John F., and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Wheaton, IL: Scripture Press Publications, 1983, 1985.
- 3. Abraham's bosom seems to have been the pre-crucifixion holding place for those people who had died in expectant hope of the coming Messiah.