Did Jesus actually go down to hell during the three days?
What happened during the 3 days and nights from the cross to the resurrection?
There has been much discussion on this subject amongst the church leaders, and even some disagreement. But true Spirit-filled Bible scholars will agree that the Bible is very clear on several events following Jesus' crucifixion, and one of the events is that He definitely went into hell for a short, three day period. There is also some evidence of what happened down there and the spiritual significance of why it was needed. This seems to be a touchy subject for some reason, probably because it's hard to imagine that our Lord, the Holy One, went down to hell. But it is scriptural nonetheless.
Remember that Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead by God's Spirit, but He did not rise until the 3rd day (of being dead). The question is, "What happened during those three days?"
"For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:40). The heart of the earth refers to the center of the earth, which most believe is the literal location of hell. The story of Jonah is a type (a symbol) of Christ. Jonah was three days and nights in the whale's belly (whether dead or alive the scripture does not say), and Jesus was three days and nights in the center of the earth. The heart of the earth is specific and could not possibly refer to 'six feet under' in a grave. (As a side note, notice that we Americans celebrate Resurrection Sunday and 'Good Friday' (the day Jesus was supposedly crucified). But It should really be changed to 'Good Wednesday', since a Friday death and a Sunday resurrection does not give us three full days and nights. Of course, that is only a traditional annual celebration that really should be celebrated all year, every day because Jesus' resurrection is everything to us! It is our reason for existing!)
Also, speaking of Jesus giving gifts unto men in the form of preachers (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers), Ephesians 4:8-10 says:
".When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fulfill all things.)"
Notice that before He ascended (to heaven, after the crucifixion), He actually descended somewhere; but from where to where? From earth to hell (the lower parts of the earth). We all know, because it is commonly preached, that Jesus ascended to heaven. But the scripture says that He first descended. Let's investigate further.
"And you, being dead in your sins.hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it." Colossians 2:13-15.
Upon His death and burial, Jesus spoiled (defeated and took all the goods) all demonic power, including Satan himself. The term 'made a show of them openly' is a Greek word that means 'to strip the clothes off of another', and is an old empirical term referring to the defeat of a city during a war. The defeated king would be captured and tied to the back of a chariot, in which the victor would parade the king around his own city, humiliating him in front of everyone. That's what Jesus did to Satan and his demons; He paraded them around in hell, proving their defeat! That's the finale of Jesus' words, "I give unto you authority. over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you (Luke 10:19)." The devil is a defeated foe. We must only enforce this truth in the earth, in Jesus name. Think about it. Jesus triumphed over all of hell right at the time all of hell was thinking it had triumphed over Him. What a plan of God! Satan searched the world for thousands of years, trying to kill the man that God said would 'bruise his head' (Genesis 2:15). And when he finally achieved his goal, it became clear that it was God's plan all along! That plan was for Satan to violate a spiritual law: he killed a perfectly righteous and sinless person, when he only had the right to kill a sinner. That violation enabled God to take back what Satan had stolen from Adam in the beginning: 1) mankind, and 2) mankind's God-given authority on this earth! God defeated Satan at his own game! He tricked him! Can you imagine how Satan and his fallen angels felt as they were rejoicing over the crucifixion of Jesus, when suddenly Jesus stands up and yanks the rug out from under them? Praise the Lord Jesus Christ!
What else did Jesus do while in hell? ".Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient.Jesus Christ.Who is gone into heaven and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him" (1 Peter 3:18-22).
Jesus preached to the disobedient people in hell (those who died from the flood of Noah on, who weren't right with God). There is not much more mentioned about why He needed to do that, but it is consistent with God's ways. God is a judge, a righteous judge, and anytime there is judgment, He gives reasons and evidence behind it.
Here is another interesting point: As our Savior, Jesus paid a dear price for our acquittal. He is called our 'Substitute'. Instead of us paying for our own sins, Jesus paid for them. The scripture says, ".the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6). Isaiah 53:4,5 says more, "He was stricken by God (God had to put our sins and sicknesses on Jesus in order to accept humanity).he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes, we are healed."
Remember Matthew 27:46, when Jesus said on the cross just before He died, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" We know that God did not actually forsake Jesus, and we know that Jesus probably knew that God wouldn't forsake Him. But it seems that this could have been the moment that Jesus actually experienced "the iniquity of us all" as God laid it upon him. And when a person has sin on them, God must remove His presence (for God cannot be in the presence of evil; or better yet: evil cannot be in the presence of God). So, Jesus probably said those words as He felt God's presence depart from Him for the first time in His life!
Furthermore, if Jesus was substituting for us, then He paid the price for the sin penalty. What is that price for a sinner? It is not to be crucified at a cross. Instead, it is separation from God in hell. "The wages of sin is death." (Rom 6:23). This word death is not natural death, but spiritual death. Spiritual death is separation from God. When spiritual death occurs, a person loses his consciousness of God's Spirit of love, joy, peace, and blessing. This is why Jesus gives the prerequisite of 'being born again', in the spirit, in order to enter God's kingdom and see God.
So, Jesus' blood shed was not quite enough to complete our redemption from sin (there have been many before and after Jesus to shed their blood on a cross, so that event alone does not complete this monumental accomplishment). He had to somehow experience brief separation from God. Now, here is where some would stretch the truth and make up a story of Jesus suffering down in hell for the entire 3 days. We know that He couldn't have done that, because he was doing some other things down there that took some time. The safest explanation is to realize that for some amount of time between Jesus' comment that God had forsaken Him and the time he stood up in hell to spoil the devil, He was momentarily separated from His Father. Then the Bible says that the Spirit of God raised Jesus from the dead. So, it is clear that Jesus descended into hell after the cross. And it is clear that He did a few things there, but there is no evidence to suggest that He suffered extensively, except for a brief experience of iniquity, and therefore, a brief separation from God.
One argument that has been raised is that Jesus said to one of the thieves on the cross, the one that believed, "To day shalt thou be with me in paradise". And that somehow this proves that Jesus went to heaven the same day that He was crucified. But that is incorrect. Jesus is referring to the place that departed spirits went to if they were righteous. For instance, in Luke 16, the rich man goes to hell and Lazarus the beggar goes to ?Abraham's bosom', which is across the river (the great gulf). In the old testament, and up until Jesus rose from the grave and ascended to heaven, no one was ever permitted into heaven where God lives, for sin had not yet been paid for. All the righteous dead went down into Paradise to await the resurrection of Jesus and the redemption of mankind. Down there, Lazarus and the rich man were even able to talk to one another (see Luke 16), which doesn't happen now with folks in heaven vs. hell.
Jesus ascended to heaven and took all the righteous dead with Him (He led captivity captive: He captured the captives and took them home), and the Bible says, "hell hath enlarged itself". Now, there is only one compartment in hell where all the unbelievers depart to upon death of the body.
Here is some further clarification. In John 20:17, Jesus has risen from the grave and Mary is crying that someone has stolen his body. Jesus appears to her and says, "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren and say to them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God."
So, after 3 days, Jesus admits that He has not yet been to Heaven. Thus, when He said to the thief, "To day you will be with me in paradise", either He was not referring to Heaven or He was not referring to the exact day of His death, but only a general 'Today - within 3 days.' Regardless, the scripture is clear that Jesus went into the heart of the earth. "Then that same day at evening." Jesus reappears to Mary and the eleven disciples and allows Thomas to touch him (for Thomas had doubted that it was Him). So, apparently, Jesus rises from the grave and then ascends to Heaven for the first time, specifically on the 3rd day.