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Did Jesus go to hell?

 It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.  1 Peter 3:17-22

The Apostles Creed states, in one of its lines, "He was crucified, dead and buried.  He descended into hell."  The proper translation of that word is Hades, which means "grave."  He was put/lowered/descended into the grave, not he made a pit stop in hell.

However 1 Peter 3 brings up a curious statement that makes people wonder if Jesus did go to hell.  Keep in mind there is a current "hell" and a future hell.  The current hell is a called the grave or Sheol.  There are two sections of Sheol, one for believers (also called Paradise or Abraham's bosom) and one for non-believers (a prison where they are awaiting sentence).*  It's where the spirits wait for resurrection and final judgment, then the believers are escorted to eternal heaven and non-believers to eternal hell.

To understand this statement, we have to read it in context, not just the verse that we wonder about.

In this chapter, Peter is talking about suffering for doing good and not evil, stating that Jesus died for all, the righteous and unrighteous.  He says that when he died (then his spirit came alive) he preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed back in the days of Noah.  These "spirits" (Gr. pneuma) are probably demons, a term not used for souls of the dead.  The word for "preached" also means proclaimed, meaning his death proclaimed his victory, word of it reaching those in spiritual prisons.  These spiritual prisons are not in a dimension we understand and probably not in the same place as the souls awaiting final judgment.  So during Jesus' time between death and resurrection, his spirit was somewhere, doing something, proclaiming his victory.

But not hell.  Keep in mind, if Jesus goes to hell, it's no longer hell.  Hell is the separation of man and God.  If God shows up, the residents experience a slice of heaven.

Why would he preach to the demons? They can't be saved. Would Jesus be doing a victory dance in front of them like an NFL running back?  What would he say?  "I told you so!"  Not of that seems to fit the character of Christ.

Peter is talking about salvation and he wants to make clear that Jesus died for everyone, reaching out a hand of salvation to all.  That salvation was like Noah's ark, saving people from the torrent of sin, while many perished under the surface. 

Jesus died for those souls (people) who perished long ago and his death/resurrection made a proclamation to those spirits (demons) who tried to disrupt the plans of God (in this case his salvation plan through Noah).

So Jesus’ spirit, during that three day transition before coming alive in a resurrected body, proclaimed his victory by dying on the cross for the sins of mankind, both past, present and future.  This victory made a point especially to those demons/spirits from the time of Noah who tried to disrupt God’s plan of salvation.


* Read the story of Lazarus and the Rich man in Luke 16 to understand this separation.