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Where Was Jesus Between His Death and Resurrection?

October 9, 2023

We know that Jesus’s physical body was placed in the dark, sealed tomb awaiting the resurrection – which Jesus had predicted. We know that Jesus’s spirit had already left His body. This occurred while He was on the cross. John 19:30 says, “Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” When Jesus died His spirit left His body. So where did His spirit go? The Bible does not answer this question explicitly. But we do get a hint in a few New Testament scripture passages.

The primary passage I want us to look at is in 1 Peter 3:18-20: “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all time [speaking of Jesus’ death on the cross], the just [Jesus] for the unjust [us, sinful mankind], so that He might bring us to God [made a way for our salvation], having been put to death in the flesh [His physical body died], but made alive in the spirit [in His own spirit]; in which He also went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison, 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.” OK, so this is not the easiest verse to understand, but we will try.

“Spirits in prison," hmmm. Who or what are these spirits? The Greek word translated as “spirits” doesn’t really help us much here because it can refer to either human spirits, or angels or demons. Now there are several possible interpretations of the 1 Peter passage I just referenced, but for the sake of time I won’t go into those. I’m only going to mention the interpretation that I hold to and the reasons for it.

Between Christ’s death and resurrection His living spirit went down to the abyss (hell) and preached. There He “proclaimed” to the demon spirits who were there. Second Peter 2:4 sheds some light on who these spirits might be – “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, held for judgment...”

So, these are fallen angels, demons. These are those spirit-beings who aligned themselves with Satan in his rebellion against God. They were bound up and are being kept for judgment. Jude 6 says that God is keeping them “in eternal restraints under darkness for the judgment of the great day” – a reference to the Great White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20. Based on 1 Peter 3 the “imprisoning” of these fallen angels or spirits occurred way back during the days of Noah. So, what exactly did Jesus proclaim to these imprisoned spirits? If indeed Jesus was addressing the demons in hell (my belief) then more than likely He was proclaiming His final victory over sin, death, hell and the grave – a victory accomplished by His death on the cross and soon-to-be resurrection. I lean strongly to this interpretation based on the passages we just looked up plus Colossians 2:15. Paul in this verse says, “When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.”

So then, for at least part of the time in question it appears that Jesus’s spirit was proclaiming His victory to the agents of hell. I am sure that when Jesus died on the cross the spirits of hell were rejoicing – they thought they had won – “Jesus is dead!” The reality was that they had been defeated. They didn’t realize that Jesus’ death was part of God’s plan of redemption, reconciliation, substitution, propitiation and justification.

Another passage tells us that Jesus went to Paradise when He died. Do you remember the thief on the cross? Jesus told him after he had professed his faith in Him: “Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Paul says that for a believer “to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). So where exactly was Paradise? It was the place where the spirits of Old Testament saints went when they died. Heaven is the place where we understand that the spirits of New Testament saints go after they die (this includes all believers from the time of Jesus’s resurrection until His Second Coming). So then, at some point on the same day that Jesus died (Good Friday), when the thief on the cross died, he was reunited with Jesus in Paradise. His spirit and Jesus’s spirit were together just as Jesus promised.

These passages are about all we have to indicate where Jesus went during the time between His death and resurrection. Some people will bring up Ephesians 4:8-10 where Jesus “ascended on high and led captive the captives and gave gifts to people.” This verse probably refers to the transitioning at some point in time when the believing saints were transferred from Paradise to Heaven. This is my understanding. But we cannot be certain when this occurs. Some will argue that perhaps this transition took place during the time between Jesus’ death and resurrection. Perhaps, but we don’t know that for certain either. We know that Jesus spent time in Paradise with the saints but that He also was likely in hell for part of the time proclaiming His victory.

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