Truth about Death

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Did Jesus go to hell in 1 Peter 3:18-20?

By Bill Wong

 

 

 

Contrary to its misleading name, the Apostles’ Creed did not come from any of the 12 apostles (including Matthias who replaced Judas Iscariot, and the apostle Paul) of the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

It teaches that the Lord Jesus descended into hell after He died and before His resurrection. However, both the doctrines of hell, a realm of the dead and eternal torment, and the continued existence of an “immortal” spirit after death before judgment & resurrection, are false. The Bible clearly teaches against the Apostles’ Creed on these two points. Please see articles: ‘The Bible Truth about Death’ and ‘Does Hell Exist’.

 

In this article, we will briefly discuss other reasons why Jesus did not continue to live as a spirit after His death and did not descend into hell during the 3 days and 3 nights He was in the tomb before His resurrection.

 

 

 

When does Jesus take up His life again?

 

If the Lord Jesus lives as a spirit being after His death, but before His resurrection, then what are we to make of His statement below?

 

John 10:

17   "Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.   (NKJV)

 

 

The Lord is telling us that after He dies He will take up His life again. The question we should ask ourselves is:

 

At what time will His life be taken up again?

 

 

Is it right after He dies and He would then exist (live) as a disembodied spirit or is His life taken up again only when He is raised from the dead and resurrected bodily to life?

 

Are we really expected to believe taking up His life again means taking it up again as a disembodied spirit? How could He take up His life again as this spirit, since it really means He did not die, but is just living in a different form of existence, since He has the same mind and identity as this supposed spirit? Of course, this also totally ignores the Bible’s intense focus on bodily resurrection as return to life and the dead knowing nothing in the sleep of death.

 

Or is the Bible truth just simply that after we die there is a cessation of all consciousness and life, and then this life resumes upon resurrection of our bodies from the grave? The simplicity in the statement that one dies and then lives again tells us that it is entirely seamless and sequential: one dies, knows nothing, and then is raised to live again. There is no continued living in-between as a disembodied spirit after death, but before resurrection.  Life only resumes when we are bodily raised.

 

Everyone knows when His life is picked up again – at His resurrection.

 

 

 

We die and decay – we do not continue to live as spirits

 

In John 11, we are told about the death of Lazarus:

 

John 11:

21   Now Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.

22   But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You."

23   Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."

24   Martha said to Him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."

25   Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.

26   And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?"

27   She said to Him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world."

 

38   Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.

39   Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him,

     "Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days."

40   Jesus said to her, "Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?" (NKJV)

 

 

The Bible is very clear in this matter; it is a central theme in Christianity: the Lord Jesus died and then was raised to life – to conquer sin and death and show us the template of what Christians are to expect if we are in Christ to the very end. Nowhere in this central theme of Christianity does it say the Lord existed as a spirit being after His death and before His resurrection. The Bible always just says the Lord died and then was raised with absolutely no mention of life in-between; He does not continue living as a disembodied spirit; otherwise the Bible would explicitly say so.

 

As another example that after we die, we are truly dead and decay, but do not continue to live as spirits, the apostle Peter’s makes this clear in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost immediately after the spirit of God descended upon the disciples in the upper room:

 

Acts 2:

24   whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.

25   For David says concerning Him: ' I foresaw the LORD always before my face, For He is at my right hand,

     that I may not be shaken.

26   Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad; Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope.

27   For You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.

28   You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence.'

29   "Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried,

      and his tomb is with us to this day.

30   Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body,

     according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne,

31   he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades,

     nor did His flesh see corruption.

32   This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.

33   Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit,

      He poured out this which you now see and hear.

34   "For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: ' The LORD said to my Lord, " Sit at My right hand,

35   Till I make Your enemies Your footstool." '   (NKJV)

 

Comment:

Verse 24 states the only way you become free from the pains of death is by being raised. There is only death and life after death by resurrection. There is no mention of our spirits living while we are in the grave.

Verse 27 reaffirms that a person being left in the grave is equated with death.

Verse 28 reaffirms that life is being free from being left in the grave and the decaying mentioned in the previous verse; this implies a bodily resurrection for this freedom from death.

Verse 29 states that King David is still dead – there is no mention of his spirit being alive anywhere.

Verse 34 states that David has not ascended to heaven.

 

 

The Lord Jesus Christ only conquered death upon His resurrection. Continuing to live as spirits after we die is not death, but just continuing to live in a different form. The Bible is telling us that we only regain our lives when we are resurrected. Mary and Martha knew this and Jesus confirmed this.    

 

 

 

1 Peter 3:18-20 clarified

 

Some Christians believe that Jesus went to hell for 3 days before His resurrection to preach to the spirits of Noah’s day.  Aside from the obvious contradiction of what we just discussed above and the Bible's declaration that we sleep and the dead know nothing, this is based on an entirely wild and un-Biblical interpretation of 1 Peter 3:18-20 below:  

 

1 Peter 3:

18   For Christ also has 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:

19   By which also he went and preached to the spirits in prison;

20   Which sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah,

     while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.  (AKJV)

 

 

What 1 Peter 3 says is that God has always been breaking bonds and freeing prisoners from the shackles of sin (verse 19). It says He did this in the past in the days of Noah, and He still does it now with His son.

 

In the Gospel of Luke, this is one of the very first things the Lord Jesus said Himself (compare 1 Peter 3 verse 19 with Luke 4 verse 18 below):

 

Luke 4:

16   So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was,

     He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.

17   And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:

18   " The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor;

      He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind,

      To set at liberty those who are oppressed;

19   To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD."    (from Isaiah 61:1-2, NKJV)

 

 

God has always been freeing prisoners of sin and death:

 

Psalm 102:

19   For He looked down from the height of His sanctuary; From heaven the LORD viewed the earth,

20   To hear the groaning of the prisoner, To release those appointed to death,

21   To declare the name of the LORD in Zion, And His praise in Jerusalem,

22   When the peoples are gathered together, And the kingdoms, to serve the LORD.     (NKJV)

 

Psalm 146:

7     Who executes justice for the oppressed; Who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free.

8     The LORD opens the eyes of the blind; The LORD raises up those who are bowed down; The LORD loves the righteous;   (NASB)

 

Isaiah 42:

6     " I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness, And will hold Your hand;

        I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the Gentiles,

7        To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the prison, Those who sit in darkness from the prison house.  (NKJV)

 

Zechariah 9:

9     Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you;

     He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

10   I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim And the horse from Jerusalem; And the bow of war will be cut off.

     And He will speak peace to the nations; And His dominion will be from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth.

11   As for you also, because of the blood of My covenant with you, I have set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.

12   Return to the stronghold, O prisoners who have the hope; This very day I am declaring that I will restore double to you. (NASB)

 

Comment: In verse 11, the pit without water is the grave – a metaphor for death.

 

 

The misinterpretation comes due to the traditional belief that our spirits continue to live in heaven or hell after we die, which affects our objectivity, makes things confusing and misleads. The Bible does not say that the Lord Jesus died and was still alive as a spirit and went to hell before He was resurrected.

 

 

If we look at 1 Thessalonians 4, we will see there is no interlude mentioned between death and resurrection where the Lord continued to live as a spirit or doing something:

 

1 Thessalonians 4:

14We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.     (NIV)

 

We must notice in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 above that the apostle Paul directly contradicts and refutes the Apostles’ Creed, because Paul only mentions belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection as conditions for our own resurrections. There is absolutely no mention of Jesus living as a spirit in-between His death and resurrection, nor the need to believe such a thing as part of our faith, as the Apostles’ Creed falsely states.

 

 

 

Let us analyze 1 Peter 3:18-20 more closely:

 

1 Peter 3:

18   For Christ also has 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:

19   By which also he went and preached to the spirits in prison;

20   Which sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah,

      while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.   (AKJV)

 

 

I have underlined the end portion of verse 18 and the beginning portion of verse 19. They are the vital key to understanding what the Bible is truly saying.

 

We should read them together: “but quickened (made alive) by the spirit, in which also he went”.

 

Notice the underlined words. What does “by the spirit” mean? What does “in which” mean? There is a clear reference to the working of spirit. But more than that, it says that it is this same spirit that preached to the people of Noah’s day.

 

Past tense is used as to when Christ preached (“he went”), so we need to know if the apostle Peter is referring to the recent past or the long ago past from when he wrote the letter? Is Peter referring to the Lord preaching during the time period between His death & resurrection or His preaching during the time of Noah?

 

Peter tells us himself in his writing. What Peter essentially says is that Christ preached “by the spirit” to the people of Noah’s day. This does not mean after He died that He was already spirit before being raised by His father, but it means that the spirit of Christ was working at the time of Noah. Truly, people speak even now of being “in the spirit” or being led “by the spirit”, when they feel God is working mightily within them, so the term “by the spirit” should not be mistaken for actually existing as a spirit after death and before resurrection.  We do not say that people who are working in the spirit or by the spirit are actually spirits themselves. 

 

The Bible makes this evident when it declares our change to spirit happens at resurrection and not before it. The Lord’s death and resurrection is the precursor, the prototype, to our salvation unto eternity where flesh is changed to spirit; the corruptible to the incorruptible; the mortality to immortality:

 

1 Corinthians 15:

50   Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.

51   Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed ---

52   in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound,

     and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

53   For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

54   So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality,

     then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory."

55   " O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?"   (NKJV)

 

 

We must note in 1 Corinthians 15 that God specifically says we only gain victory over death when corruption (death and decay) puts on incorruption (eternal life). This only happens during our resurrections.

 

If the Lord Jesus or anyone else who has died continues to exist as a spirit being before resurrection, it makes 1 Corinthians 15 and all other places in the Bible that hail resurrection as triumph over death mean absolutely nothing.

 

 

Christians believe the Lord Jesus pre-existed before coming in the flesh. So in the time of Noah’s day, if He tried to have the people repent, that should not be difficult to understand. However, this also is not what 1 Peter 3:18-20 is saying.

 

Peter is not saying Jesus Himself was preaching at the time of Noah, nor that Jesus was a spirit after He died and before He was resurrected, teaching the spirits in hell from Noah’s day.

 

So what does Peter mean exactly? The Bible tells us directly what 1 Peter 3:18-20 is talking about:

 

Is there a Spirit of Christ?   – Yes.

 

Does the Bible mention that the Spirit of Christ works in God’s prophets? – Yes.

 

But most important of all to our discussion, is this same Spirit of Christ mentioned by Peter referrred to earlier in the very same letter? – Yes.

 

The Spirit of Christ was working with God’s chosen prophets all throughout history to break the bonds of slavery to sin. The apostle Peter opens this epistle by stating this fact from the very beginning two chapters earlier in 1 Peter 1:

 

1 Peter 1:

10   As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries,

11   seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ

     and the glories to follow.  (NASB)

 

 

Context therefore shows us that it is this same Spirit of Christ which worked within the prophets in 1 Peter 1 that was also working in 1 Peter 3 within Noah – the only righteous man in all the earth at that time, who tried desperately to preach God’s truth for others to repent, but the world would not listen. The Bible is not telling us that Christ is preaching in hell as a spirit, but God’s word is telling us it is the Spirit of Christ within Noah that was reaching out to people to liberate them from bondage to sin in the days of the Flood.

 

It is the Spirit of Christ within God’s people that is being referred to and not Christ as a disembodied spirit after His death and before His resurrection.

 

 

 

2 Peter confirms 1 Peter

 

This is confirmed by the parallels Peter uses in his two letters 1 Peter and 2 Peter. The parallel is drawn between the time just before the world was deluged by water in Noah’s time and the time yet to come where the world will be overwhelmed by fire.

 

Additionally, these points are also addressed: both refer to God working through His people to call sinners to liberty from sin before the world is remade, but are ignored; and both speak to God’s long-suffering.

 

In 1 Peter 3, Peter writes about the longsuffering of God in the days of Noah and the world was washed in water, but in 2 Peter 3 he writes about God’s longsuffering again and the world being remade by fire:

 

2 Peter 3:

2     that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us,

     the apostles of the Lord and Savior,

 

Comment:

Note that Peter is again reminding us that God spoke through His holy prophets in the past which we saw was by the Spirit of Christ (and includes Noah), and now speaks through the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

 

3     knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts,

4     and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep,

     all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation."

5     For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water,

6     by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water.

7     But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word,

     are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.

 

Comment:

The earth was cleansed in water, but is now currently reserved for fire. As in the days of Noah where unbelievers scoffed at Noah who was preaching with the Spirit of Christ within him (and so only 8 people were saved), unbelievers now in this present day and future will also scoff at the preaching of God’s people who have the Spirit of Christ within them.

 

 

8     But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

9     The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.  (NKJV)

 

Comment:

As God was patient in the days of Noah, but only 8 heeded Him, God even now is longsuffering and it is through His word – the Bible, and His chosen people that the world is called to repent.

 

2 Peter 3 confirms the theme of 1 Peter 3: God is longsuffering and works through His prophets by the Spirit of Christ to call people to repentance before destruction comes, first by water and later by fire. It does not teach Jesus being a disembodied spirit going to hell.

 

 

 

Conclusion

 

The Bible tells us in many places and various ways that when the Lord Jesus died and before He was resurrected, He was not still living as a disembodied spirit and descended to hell.

 

The Bible tells us we conquer death only when we are raised. Still living as a spirit means you are not dead – you are just living in a different form. Mary and Martha knew living only resumes during resurrection with nothing in-between and the Lord Jesus confirmed this Himself.

 

The apostle Paul clearly refutes the Apostles’ Creed when he states in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 that Jesus’ death and resurrection is what we believe and that is what will happen to us. He mentions nothing about Jesus living as a spirit between His death and resurrection.

 

Many people are confused about 1 Peter 3:18-20, but they should not be. The internal context of 1 Peter as stated in the first chapter tells us that Peter is referring to the Spirit of Christ that works within all the prophets which include Noah. This Spirit of Christ was what was within Noah trying to get people to repent, but they refused and met certain destruction. The comparative context between 1 Peter and his second letter, 2 Peter, confirms this and that it will happen again in the future.

 

So how is it that the Apostles’ Creed does not know any of this, but instead teaches false doctrine? The Bible makes it plainly evident. The apostle Peter boldly states in his epistles that the Spirit of Christ works within the prophets and apostles of God. If the Apostles’ Creed truly came from the apostles, it would not be teaching falsely that the Lord Jesus descended to hell as a disembodied spirit. But since the Apostles’ Creed does indeed teach this falsehood, then it shows that it does not come from the apostles. 

 

The Apostles’ Creed does not come from God it does not have the spirit of Christ.