For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights (Matthew 12:40 – NLT).
For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21 – NLT).
When Jesus died on a barbaric Roman cross, His last words were, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” Many have the idea that Jesus went immediately to heaven when He died because He said to one of the thieves hanging on a cross beside Him, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” But Jesus went first to hell when He died.
Before Jesus died, no believer, no Old Testament saint could yet go to heaven. Old Testament believers had a promise of heaven through the sacrifice of animals that pointed to the coming one day of the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. But, the promise had yet to come to fruition. Jesus was the fulfillment of that Old Testament lamb of sacrifice.
Before Christ’s death, hell was divided into two compartments. One compartment was called Paradise, or Abraham’s bosom. It’s where those who had a promissory note under the Old Covenant went when they died. Heaven was not yet available. God had promised to pay the price for sin, but God’s lamb of sacrifice had not yet been born. Since Old Testament believers showed their faith by giving animal sacrifices that covered their sins once a year, when they died God placed them in paradise, or Abraham’s bosom, the righteous side of hell.
The other compartment of hell was a place of heat, flame, and torment. And those who died before Christ without trusting the Old Covenant promises went to this tormenting, horrible place of agony. Notice what Jesus said about the afterlife in the story of the Rich man and Lazarus.
Luke 16:22-26 (NKJV) – So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. (23) And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. (24) “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ (25) But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. (26) And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’
Jesus went immediately to that righteous side of hell when He died. The thief that died beside Jesus that day was also there because of his faith. What we do not know for sure is whether or not Jesus did time in the unrighteous side of hell, the part with the heat and the flames.
Psalm 22 is a prophetic look forward to the day of Jesus’ death:
Psalms 22:1-21 (NKJV) – My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, and from the words of My groaning? (2) O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; and in the night season, and am not silent. (3) But You are holy, Enthroned in the praises of Israel. (4) Our fathers trusted in You; they trusted, and You delivered them. (5) They cried to You, and were delivered; they trusted in You, and were not ashamed. (6) But I am a worm, and no man; A reproach of men, and despised by the people. (7) All those who see Me ridicule Me; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, (8) “He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him; Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!” (9) But You are He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts. (10) I was cast upon You from birth. From My mother’s womb You have been My God. (11) Be not far from Me, For trouble is near; For there is none to help. (12) Many bulls have surrounded Me; Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me. (13) They gape at Me with their mouths, Like a raging and roaring lion. (14) I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It has melted within Me. (15) My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death. (16) For dogs have surrounded Me; The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet; (17) I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. (18) They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots. (19) But You, O Lord, do not be far from Me; O My Strength, hasten to help Me! (20) Deliver Me from the sword, My precious life from the power of the dog. (21) Save Me from the lion’s mouth And from the horns of the wild oxen!
Yet there is another prophetic Psalm that perhaps shows Deity in hell, suffering untold torment for you and me. Psalm 88 could easily be a look into that period of time during Jesus’ three days and nights of death that he went to the unrighteous side of hell for you and me. There, as our substitute, He paid the legal price for our sins, suffering the torment we should suffer in our place. And because He suffered in our place in that damnable, horrible pit, we can go free.
Let’s look at it:
Psalms 88 (NKJV) – O Lord, God of my salvation, I have cried out day and night before You. (2) Let my prayer come before You; Incline Your ear to my cry. (3) For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to the grave. (4) I am counted with those who go down to the pit; I am like a man who has no strength, (5) Adrift among the dead, Like the slain who lie in the grave, Whom You remember no more, and who are cut off from Your hand. (6) You have laid me in the lowest pit, In darkness, in the depths. (7) Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and You have afflicted me with all Your waves. (8) You have put away my acquaintances far from me; You have made me an abomination to them; I am shut up, and I cannot get out; (9)My eye wastes away because of affliction. Lord, I have called daily upon You; I have stretched out my hands to You. (10) Will You work wonders for the dead? Shall the dead arise and praise You? (11) Shall Your lovingkindness be declared in the grave? Or Your faithfulness in the place of destruction? (12) Shall Your wonders be known in the dark? And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? (13) But to You I have cried out, O Lord, and in the morning my prayer comes before You. (14) Lord, why do You cast off my soul? Why do You hide Your face from me? (15) I have been afflicted and ready to die from my youth; I suffer Your terrors; I am distraught. (16) Your fierce wrath has gone over me; Your terrors have cut me off. (17) They came around me all day long like water; They engulfed me altogether. (18) Loved one and friend You have put far from me, and my acquaintances into darkness.
Could it be that Jesus, the bearer of my sins and yours, died and went to the God forsaken flames of hell, bearing our sin, our shame, our separation from God, and paying the price we should pay for our sin?
Could it be, that when God was satisfied that our sin debt had been legally paid by substitution and sacrifice, that the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus the Forsaken there in the unrighteous side of hell? And could it be that Jesus, being raised from spiritual death by the Glory of the Father, then went to the righteous side of hell and there preached the gospel to them that are dead that is, to the Old Testament saints in Abraham’s bosom?
1 Peter 3:18-19 (NKJV) – For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, (19) by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison…
1 Peter 4:6 (NKJV) – For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
Could it be that, after Jesus preached to these Old Testament saints and showed them that He was the real lamb of sacrifice, that He was resurrected from the dead, and that these Old Testament saints were resurrected with Him, leaving that righteous side of hell, and in their resurrected bodies appearing to many in Jerusalem?
Matthew 27:52-53 (NKJV) – And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; (53) and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
Jesus went to the place that you and I should go to pay our sin debt. Jesus went to hell so that we do not have to go there when we die. Take some time today to thank your Father in heaven for loving you enough to pay your sin debt for you.
2 Corinthians 5:21 (NKJV) – For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
John 3:16 (NKJV) – For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.