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My kids go to a Lutheran School. It is a great school and we are so blessed to be able to send our children to a private school. Fortunately, my wife teaches there which makes it somewhat affordable (it’s an investment in my children I keep telling myself).

I attend chapel at the school on a somewhat regular basis. As Methodist pastor, I consider this quite magnanimous. I enjoy the service and being able to worship without being in charge. However, one part of the service has always made me uncomfortable: the Apostles’ Creed. In the creed that this Lutheran church recites (it’s my only experience with a Lutheran Church) they include a line that has never been a part of my recitation of the creed. Below I have included the text from the United Methodist Hymnal (#881) and the one recited in the Lutheran service I attend. See if you can spot the difference (I’ve tried to make it obvious):

Methodist

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;

the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Lutheran

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day He rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Christian Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen

We Methodists (along with several other denominations) leave a line out: he descended into hell. Hmmm…very interesting. I confess that when reciting the creed at the Lutheran church, I leave that line out. Why? Well, here are a few reasons.

What happens when we die?

In order to understand what most likely happened at Jesus’ death, what he was doing after His death prior to his resurrection, let’s look at several pieces of evidence.

In the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), Sheol is the place that contains the souls of the dead. This includes all souls; the souls of the righteous and the unrighteous, the just and the unjust are held in Sheol. In Sheol, there are evidently two compartments, however. One compartment is for the unrighteous (those who do not please God) and the other for the righteous (those who please God). Sheol is described as darkness (Job 17:13), a pit (Job 17:14), and as characterized by loneliness and solitude (Psalm 31:17-18; Isaiah 47:5). In contrast, the second compartment, the home of the righteous, is a consolation for the social outcast (Job 3:11-19) and a place of comfort (as in the parable of Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31).

In the story of Lazarus, the two compartments are described as Hades (the Greek word for Sheol) and Abraham’s bosom, for the dwelling places of the unrighteous and righteous, respectively. Hades is a place of torment; Abraham’s bosom is a place of comfort. Abraham’s bosom is also sometimes called Paradise (Luke 23:43).

So, where did Jesus go when he died?

On the one hand, many Christians recite the Apostles’ Creed that Jesus “descended into hell.” So, the moment Jesus died on the cross, he went to hell (a specific Greek word which we will discuss in a moment). So, their answer would be that Jesus went to hell.

On the other hand, it appears that Jesus did not go directly to heaven as many Christians believe because his soul was separated from His body and He had not yet risen from the grave and ascended into heaven. Given the biblical evidence, it appears that Jesus may have gone to Sheol, the place of the dead. However, remember there are two dwelling places in Sheol, one for the righteous and one for the unrighteous. Think of all the great matriarchs and patriarchs of the faith who were waiting for the day when they could be in the presence of God (Hebrews 11:39-40). Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob, Deborah, and David among many others, would all be present and waiting for the day Jesus was to come and retrieve them, so that they too could share in His resurrection, and live eternally in the presence of God (Ephesians 4:8-10). Thus, Jesus went to that location in Sheol where the righteous dwelled, to Abraham’s bosom, to Paradise, but not to Hades, the dwelling of the unrighteous. When Jesus ascended to heaven, he took all those who resided in Abraham’s bosom to heaven to enjoy God’s presence for all eternity.

So, where do we go when we die?

A logical question is Will I go to Sheol when I die? The answer to that question is an emphatic, “No!” We live in the post-resurrection, post-ascension era and the good news for us is that when we die we go directly to heaven to enjoy God’s presence for all eternity (Philippians 1:23). That’s the good news.

The bad news for those who are in Hades, the place of the unrighteous dead prior to Jesus’ ascension, and for all those who do not respond positively to the grace of God in Christ is that they continue in Hades until the Day of the Lord, the day that Jesus returns “to judge the living and dead,” at which time they will be cast into hell or the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20).

The Greek word for hell is Gehenna. Gehenna has an interesting history. It is a valley just to the southeast of the city of Jerusalem that what used for child sacrifice by worshippers of Baal and Molech (2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6), was defiled by Josiah, so that it cannot be used as a holy site (2 Kings 23:10), was prophesied to be a place of mass graves for Israel’s enemies (Jeremiah 7:30-34), and in Jesus’ day may have been used as a garbage dump where trash was dumped and burned. These images would conjure very vivid images to Jesus’ hearers and many early New Testament readers.

So, what do we conclude?

There is no solid evidence that Jesus went to Hades or Gehenna. Even if these two words are understood to mean the same location, there is no definitive biblical evidence that Jesus actually went to either of these locations. For instance, some use Ephesians 4:8-9 to justify the claim that Jesus descended into hell. But, Paul could have just as easily meant that Jesus descended from heaven to earth, rather than that Jesus descended from earth to hell.

Some people use 1 Peter 3:18-20 to say that Jesus preached in hell. But this raises questions as to why Jesus would proclaim the good news to only one select group of people (the people alive at the time of Noah) and not everyone in Hades. If Jesus preached in hell, it would also contradict a very clear teaching that there are no more opportunities for repentance after death in Luke 16:19-31.

What we can say with absolute certainty is that there is no biblical evidence that Jesus descended to hell or that he preached to the unrighteous who had previously died.

For us who through faith and grace believe in Jesus Christ, there is no need to fear death because upon our death, we are bound for heaven to spend eternity with our Lord.

By God’s grace. For God’s glory.

WadeArnold

WadeArnold

Husband. Father. Pastor. I am passionate about helping people live like Jesus.
WadeArnold

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