Where did Christ go when He died on the Cross?

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Copyright 2005. All scripture is Authorized King James Version, 1769 edition. This article may be copied and used without permission of the author, provided it is copied and used in its entirety. Certain words and phrases of Scripture have been emphasized by the use of underlining.

As we have seen from the passages of Scripture that addressed the issue of the location of “paradise,” it is not reasonable to suppose that the Lord Jesus Christ went to Hell to preach to the dead, but rather, went directly to Heaven.

One of the primary ways this is expressed in Scripture is from the passage of Luke 23:40-43. In addition, in John 19, verses 29 and 30, the last words of the Lord Jesus Christ are recorded for us:

Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost. (John 19:29-30)

In the above passage, when the Lord Jesus declares “It is finished” He declares that all things required of Him relating to His suitability as man’s substitute are accomplished. Thus His work on earth is done. This also means that Satan has no more opportunity to tempt the Lord Jesus, or try to destroy the Lord Jesus and His work as man’s redeemer. Additionally, since the gospel has been preached since the world began, there is no point in the Lord Jesus going anywhere else except heaven. (Which is the destination He declared to the thief on the cross.) The fact that the gospel has always been preached was stated plainly in Luke, chapter 1:

And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: . . . (Luke 1:67-70)

And again:

And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him. (Jude, 14-15)

Thus, everyone who has ever lived, lived in a time when the gospel was, and is preached. Since it is the LORD God that seeketh those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth, and that everyone has an instinctual knowledge that God is real and God exists (John 4:23, Romans 1:19) no one has any excuse at all. Thus it is unreasonable to propose that Christ went to preach to those in Hell, rather than going straight to heaven.

Why then did the Lord Jesus go straight to heaven, though His body lay in the grave? To begin with, where else would He go? In reply, Hebrews tells us what He did in Heaven and why it was necessary for Him to go to heaven.

But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. (Hebrews 9:11-12)

It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:23-26)

By this we see that there were things to be done in heaven pertaining to the covenant the persons of the Godhead had for man’s salvation. Since the Lord Jesus Christ is the mediator, and thus High Priest, it is for Him to accomplish the sacrifice in heaven to provide the payment for man’s sin.

Nevertheless, there are some passages of Scripture that are used as the justification for some to believe that Christ did go to Hell to preach to the dead. The primary passage used to support this is from I Peter.

Now I have included the entire sentence instead of just verse 19. The reason for this is that we will automatically take the statement in verse 19 out of context without the entire sentence structure to give verse 19 a framework. Regardless of the fact that phrases of a sentence do not make for proper interpretation of any text, biblical or not, some do depend solely upon verse 19, and use verse 20 to support it.

However, here we will look at the whole sentence and see what it reveals concerning the meaning of this problematic verse.

For 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, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. (I Peter 3:18-20)

Now I have placed the verse that is used in its proper context and sentence structure, instead of isolating it and attempting to make it stand out of context. It is quite a long sentence, and its structure makes it a complex sentence.

The first full clause ends with the word “Spirit” and a colon (:). There are phrases and clauses contained therein separated by commas. In order, these phrases and clauses are:

  1. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins,
  2. the just for the unjust,
  3. that he might bring us to God,
  4. being put to death in the flesh,
  5. but quickened by the Spirit:

The second clause is less complex, consisting of only one part and ending in a semi-colon (;):

  1. By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;

And, the third clause consists of the following phrases and clauses:

  1. Which sometime were disobedient,
  2. when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah,
  3. while the ark was a preparing,
  4. wherein few,
  5. that is,
  6. eight souls were saved by water.

Thus the sentence is complete. The question is: What exactly does this sentence state?

To begin with, we must look at the basic structure of the sentence and what the major punctuation means with regard to this sentence. First, is the use of the comma (,), which sets off non-essential participial phrases, adjective clauses, and adverb clauses. Second, is the use of the colon (:), which, in this use, delineates two independent clauses as the second clause gives a fuller understanding of the first major clause. Third, is the use of the semi-colon (;), which joins two independent clauses by the transitional word “Which.” Finally, we have the period which ends the sentence.

What this does for us is call attention to the fact that verse 19 is actually the second clause addressing something in the first major clause. In which case, we must ask:

“By which what?”

Of all the minor clauses and phrases in the first major clause, only the last clause contains anything that would be expanded upon by the second clause. Moreover, it is the only last three words in the first clause that the second clause is tied to. This means that we could restate the second clause in this way:

‘By the Spirit also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;’

Now the question remains: What spirits in what prison? However, the third major clause explains that quite well. First, these are “disobedient spirits” which were in “sometime.” Now, what is meant by “sometime”?

This could be problematic, but the clause immediately following gives us the time period, which is “in the days of Noah” which eliminates all the rest of the Old Testament and confines preaching to the spirits in prison strictly to the days of Noah.

Now, it just so happens that the LORD God included in His word a statement from that time period. In Genesis, chapter six we find the following: And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. (Genesis 6:3)

The word “spirit” here means the very same person as “Spirit” in I Peter 3:18: The Holy Ghost. Incidentally, this has always been one of the major duties of the Holy Ghost. The Lord Jesus Christ revealed this in John, chapter 16:

Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.
And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.
I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.(John 16:7-13)

By the way, just which person of the Godhead revealed to the prophets in the Old Testament the “things to come?”

Finis

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