So many believers are very conversant with what happened before the cross and during the cross but they never knew what happened after the cross and before resurrection because they have not been taught. One of the causes of people’s ignorance on what happened after the cross is based on the wrong translations of the word “Hades” making us think there is just Heaven and Hell. People also believe that Jesus went to hell to wrestle with the devil and take the keys of death from him but that is not what the Bible teaches.
In the Old Testament, there was no such thing as hell but they had knowledge of the place called “Sheol” which means the land of the dead. According to the Hebrew tradition, Sheol was a place all the dead men go to both the righteous and the unrighteous. The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 139:8 “If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.” This means God’s presence is also in Sheol.
So many Bible translations have wrongly interpreted Sheol and Hades as hell but it is wrong interpretations because in the Old Testament there isn’t any instance of hell. There has always been a belief that Sheol is a permanent place for the dead including the righteous and the unrighteous but in Isaiah 26:19 the Bible says “But your dead will live, LORD; their bodies will rise— let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy— your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.” This is a prophecy indicating that God had plans for those who have been dead.
When Jesus came, He brought a clearer picture of how Sheol is and we saw that even though the righteous and the unrighteous go to Sheol when they die, they weren’t having the same experience. Jesus told the story of Lazarus and the rich man and from that story we could see that Lazarus died and was carried to a place of comfort in Abraham’s bosom while the rich man died and was taken to Hades but they could still see each other and communicate with each other (Luke 16:22-31). This story dates back to the time of Moses and Jesus showed us that everyone who died in faith in those times was taken to the side of the father of faith and an obstacle prevents them from reaching out to those who were in Hades. There is no Abraham’s bosom in heaven; what we have is the seat of Christ where we are all seated.
HELL IS NOT HADES | ABRAHAM’S BOSOM IS NOT HEAVEN
Going back to the Prophecy of Isaiah, we realize the dead weren’t left out in God’s salvation plans. God loved the world including the dead and the living and Jesus was God’s answer to the righteous and the unrighteous. Many also teach that Jesus went to hell after He died on the cross to fight the devil but that isn’t what the Bible teaches. The devil was defeated on the cross and not in combat in hell. The devil isn’t in hell at the present time neither is he in Hades. Concerning the devil, the Bible says
“The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire” – Revelation 20:10.
“I turned you to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all who saw you. … You … shall be no more forever” – Ezekiel 28:18, 19.
The devil is not the Lord of hell neither is he the one in charge to punish sinners! Everything that is condemned in the end will burn up in hell and will cease to exist and hell itself will also cease to exist after all rejected things are burnt up! The hell is simply the old earth burning away and making way for the new earth! Hell is not a location, it is an experience of God’s final judgement on the devil and everything that stands with him. Jesus defeated the devil on the cross and not in hell as the Bible says
“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” – Colossians 2:15
As people beheld Jesus on that cross when He said: “it is finished!” That was when the war with the devil got all over! When Jesus said, “if this cup shall pass over me…” The devil must have thought he was winning but Jesus fought further. Destroying the power of sin was simply the defeat of the founder of sin. The purpose of hell isn’t to give the devil a place to be the boss; the devil isn’t God’s staff! Hell is the wiping out of all traces of sin and misconducts so that the new earth can be safe! Hell is for the father of sin which is the devil and all his angels and also those who have sold out themselves to him. The Bible says
“Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” – Matthew 25:41.
“Anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” – Revelation 20:15.
“For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more. … The enemies of the Lord … shall vanish. Into smoke they shall vanish away” – Psalm 37:10, 20.
Hell is not eternal; it will cease to exist the moment the enemies of God are burnt up in it. God will not watch it in delight because it isn’t God’s desire that anyone perish. Now you see, nobody is in hell yet and Jesus wouldn’t have gone to hell after He died on the cross.
Another point worth noting is that Abraham’s bosom is not heaven. This is explained in Hebrews 11:8-10, 16
“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God… Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”
Where did Jesus go to when He died on the cross?
THE GOSPEL IN SHEOL
Jesus was crucified alongside two criminals. One had doubts about Jesus and asked Him to prove Himself by saving Himself and them but the other criminal expressed total belief in Jesus as the saviour of the world and by believing, he was passing away from earth in faith. For that reason, Jesus said to him
“Truly I tell you; today you will be with me in paradise.” –Luke 23:43
Many argue that Jesus was referring to the man being with Him in heaven but if that was the case, how could Jesus say “today” since He would resurrect on the third day? Another school of thought would say that the Spirit of Jesus was already committed to God and therefore in Spirit, the robber would be with Jesus in Paradise on that day. Truth is, the Spirit of Jesus is the Spirit of God and there is no difference but would Jesus be referring to the robber being with Him in heaven? How about others who died in faith and the Bible recorded they rose from the grave and walked into the city? Why weren’t they in heaven with Jesus too?
The big and amazing truth is that Jesus had plans for those who had died even before His coming. They were not left out in God’s salvation plan! This is a part that many people don’t talk about. Jesus didn’t go to hell to wrestle with the devil; the devil was already defeated on the cross! Jesus went to Sheol (The Land of the Dead) to preach Himself and His salvation to the dead! Both Paradise and Hades are in this Sheol.
It wouldn’t be necessary for Jesus to preach if it was going to be of no effect. The gospel is God’s power unto salvation (Romans 1:16) and anywhere the gospel is preached, the essence is to get the hearers saved if they believe. Oh, what love that those who were dead in the past was not left out! Remember we saw earlier that Sheol had two parts; Hades and paradise (Abraham’s bosom). This is why He said to the robber “TODAY, you shall be with me in paradise.” Because He would get to the land of the dead for missions! It was a rare privilege. The Bible gives us a clue in 1 Peter 3:18-19 saying
“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the spirit, in which He also went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, while the ark was being built. In the ark, a few people, only eight souls, were saved through water.”
When Jesus resurrected, He said to Mary “Don’t touch me because I haven’t appeared before my father!” (John 20:17) He didn’t go to Heaven immediately He died but why say to the robber “TODAY” concerning being in Paradise? This is because the robber died in faith too and will meet Jesus in Paradise on that very day. Jesus said in Revelations 1:18
“I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
This is the expectation the world has been groaning for! What a story of love for the righteous (people of faith) and the unrighteous (people without faith!) who were dead! They resurrected with Jesus too and probably ascended with Him in the Spirit and we are all seated with God! The Bible says in Matthew 27:52-53
“The tombs broke open, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After Jesus’ resurrection, when they had come out of the tombs, they entered the holy city and appeared to many people.”
They had become Saints now! Concerning salvation for the entire world, the Bible says
“Yet the number of the Israelites will be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God.” –Hosea 1:10
God’s plan of salvation included everyone! If the dead had to hear the gospel and believe, you too have to believe so that it can become yours! The ways of God isn’t the ways of men and God doesn’t carry out His plans as men do. There is more we are yet to know and bit by bit, God keeps making Himself clearer to us but as the Bible says
“After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” –1 Thessalonians 4:17
“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” –1 Corinthians 13:12
We simply know in parts now, some things aren’t clearer yet and as each bit get clear; we receive the clarity of the word in humility. However, when we see Jesus face to face in a physical sense, we will see the exact picture of who we have become in Him and we will know all things as nothing will be a mystery to us again.
God bless you!
~ George O.N