Jesus, being a man, had both a human body and a personal spirit, in addition to the Holy Spirit within him. Jesus’ human body was conceived by the Holy Spirit within the womb of Mary, and Jesus is thus the Son of God by conception. Mary was a descendant of David, and Jesus is also called the son of man and the son of David, his inheritance from his mother. The fact that Jesus was tempted just as we are shows that he had a spirit that belonged uniquely to Jesus, separate from the Holy Spirit, since the scriptures teach that God is not tempted by evil.
As we follow the gospel story, we are led to conclude that Jesus, son of man and Son of God, had a personal spirit that was formed at the time of his conception by the power of God. When Jesus died on the cross, that spirit went to the place of the spirits of the dead. Then that spirit was rejoined with the body of Jesus at the time of His resurrection, and later that human body and spirit were glorified and ascended into Heaven where Jesus reigns as Lord of Lords and King of Kings in his eternal glory which he had in the beginning as the Word of God.
Jesus sometimes struggled with the submission of his spirit to the Spirit of God within him. Many times Jesus referred to his humanity, and the scriptures reveal clearly that the man Jesus had a personal spirit that communicated with the Father and that interacted with the Holy Spirit. When Jesus prayed, he prayed to his Father, and struggled with his humanity.
He knelt down and prayed, saying, "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done." Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
The Scriptures teach clearly that the personal spirit of Jesus left his body at the time of his death on the cross.
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.
And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, "Father, 'into Your hands I commit My spirit.' " Having said this, He breathed His last.
So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.
Jesus’ spirit separated from his dead body and went to Hades at the time of his death on the cross. This is supported by the record, and by the sign of Jonah promised by Jesus. There has been much discussion about how the burial of Jesus fits the sign of Jonah, three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. When we realize that the heart of the earth is referring to Hades, we understand that the spirit of Jesus went to Hades at three PM on Thursday afternoon, just before the three hours of daylight that followed the three hours of darkness while Jesus died on the cross. When we count those three hours as one day, the spirit of Jesus was in Hades for three days and three nights. The Thursday crucifixion date suggests Jesus’ death in AD 30 when the Holy Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread fell on Friday, making the Sabbath reference, the burial of Jesus before evening of the High Sabbath, apply to Friday of the crucifixion week.
That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near. And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.
When Jesus died on the cross, his personal spirit, made alive by the Power of God, went to the lower parts of the earth. There are several scriptures that teach the fact of the visit of Jesus’ spirit to Hades during the time of His death.
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence.'
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore He says:
"When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men."
(Now this, "He ascended"--what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)
1 Peter 3:18-19
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,
Since the Bible is fundamentally a message about God’s plan for redeeming his people, students of the Scriptures need to look at each part of the Bible in comparison to the total message about salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Being faithful to this framework of revelation will help readers to reach correct conclusions as they examine Bible truth. .
The Bible teaches truth by the student’s examination of Bible facts to make reasonable conclusions intended by the context of the message. The Holy Spirit gives an illustration of Paul making a deduction from what is written. The inference is contained in parentheses.
Eph 4: 7-10.
“ But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore He says: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.’ (Now this, ‘He ascended’--what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)”
Paul says the fact that Jesus ascended on high implies that Jesus first descended to the lower parts of the earth. To learn what lower parts of the earth means in this context, one should study all that the Bible has to say on the topic. The scriptures reveal that “lower parts of the earth” is used to describe the place of departed spirits, called Sheol in the Old Testament, and Hades in the New Testament. Following are a few scriptures that use lower parts of the earth to refer to the place of spirits of the dead.
But those who seek my life, to destroy it, Shall go into the lower parts of the earth.
"There is Elam and all her multitude, All around her grave, All of them slain, fallen by the sword, Who have gone down uncircumcised to the lower parts of the earth, Who caused their terror in the land of the living; Now they bear their shame with those who go down to the Pit.
(Now this, "He ascended"--what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?
What is the problem related to Jesus’ spirit going to Hades? The scriptures teach that people are held accountable for the deeds done in the flesh, and that all will face judgment in the condition in which they die. Thus there would be no second chance for the spirits of the dead. This is the general rule and it covers all people this side of the cross. There is no second chance for those who reject the gospel in this life. The following scriptures teach that mankind will be judged for the things done in this life.
For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another-- He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.
2 Cor 5:10
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
Beginning with the preaching of the gospel on the day of Pentecost, salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ by obeying the gospel and trusting Jesus in our lives. Before his death on the cross, Jesus forgave the sins of people according to his desire. Those who lived before the establishment of the new covenant were saved by faith in the message of God. We wonder about how the blood of Jesus reached and saved the ones who died before the cross. They could not be saved by animal sacrifices.
But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.
Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: "Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, 'Behold, I have come--In the volume of the book it is written of Me--To do Your will, O God.' "
Previously saying, "Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them" (which are offered according to the law), then He said, "Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God." He takes away the first that He may establish the second. By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them," then He adds, "Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more."
Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin. Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh.
It was necessary that the blood of Christ be given for the redemption of all those who will be saved. We struggle to understand how the blood of Jesus reached back to those who died before the Gospel age. Perhaps their salvation was also through faith in Jesus? When Jesus’ human spirit visited Hades, every spirit there may have had the opportunity to hear Him. But why would they believe Him? We can assume those spirits had no additional evidence other that what they had been taught by God’s Prophets during their lives on earth, and the message of Jesus. In the account of the rich man and Lazarus, Abraham says that those who refuse to believe the Prophets would not even believe if one were to rise from the dead. We can understand that a man’s spirit coming down to Hades would have no basis for producing faith in the spirits there other than what they previously believed of the message of God through the prophets. Their faith would be based on evidence.
27 Then he said, 'I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.' 29 Abraham said to him, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.' 30 And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' 31 But he said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.' "
The evidence of the prophet Isaiah is that the spirits of the dead are not respectful of all those who come down to the pit. Isaiah gives a picture of how the King of Babylon would be welcomed into Sheol. While this language is highly figurative, it does covey the idea that the spirits of the dead interact with spirits who come down to the pit. The spirits of the dead have understanding in the place where they abide.
"Hell from beneath is excited about you, To meet you at your coming; It stirs up the dead for you, All the chief ones of the earth; It has raised up from their thrones All the kings of the nations. They all shall speak and say to you: 'Have you also become as weak as we? Have you become like us? Your pomp is brought down to Sheol, And the sound of your stringed instruments; The maggot is spread under you, And worms cover you.' "How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: 'I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.' Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, To the lowest depths of the Pit. "Those who see you will gaze at you, And consider you, saying: 'Is this the man who made the earth tremble, Who shook kingdoms, Who made the world as a wilderness And destroyed its cities, Who did not open the house of his prisoners?'”
When Jesus’ spirit went down into Hades, what kind of welcome did his spirit receive? We can imagine the mocking of the unbelievers, as they welcomed Jesus’ spirit to the realm of the dead. However, there was one group of spirits there who had good reason to believe the message of God. The spirits of those who died in the flood must have realized the truth of God’s message through Noah as they were drowning. Unfortunately for them, it was too late for them to be saved physically. They died in the days of Noah buried in water because of their sins. Did God give them a chance to live by faith in Jesus Christ? That is God’s business, and not our place to decide. But we should have open minds to the evidence he has given us in the scriptures.
Jesus taught about the place of departed spirits in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Some say that this is a parable, and not an actual story, but it makes no difference so far as the information about the spirit realm is concerned. Whether it is a true story or a parable, it contains the truth about spirits. Jesus always used illustrations based on principles of truth, and never used any illustration based on false information. Since we can establish that Jesus’ human spirit went to Hades following his death on the cross, and since Abraham and the spirit of the rich communicated in Hades, it seems reasonable that Jesus would have something to say in Hades. The great gulf that separated the wicked spirits from those in Abraham’s bosom did not hinder Abraham and the rich man from talking, therefore it would not hinder Jesus from speaking to any or all of the spirits in prison at the time of his visit.
"There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 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. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 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.' 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. 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.' Then he said, 'I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.' Abraham said to him, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.' And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' But he said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.' "
What did Jesus do while dead in the body but alive in the spirit? Peter wrote that Jesus preached the gospel to the spirits in Hades. Specifically, Peter says that the gospel was preached to the spirits of the disobedient people who were killed in the flood in the days of Noah. He says that the gospel was preached even to the dead, so that they might live according to God in the spirit.
1 Peter 3:18-20,
“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, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.
1 Peter 4:5-6,
“They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 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.”
What would Jesus have said to the spirits in Hades? He likely would have told them about who He is, what had happened to him, and what he was going to do. The spirits would have no way to verify that Jesus’ spirit had the power to leave Hades. Their only basis for faith would have been their belief of the Prophets and the words of Jesus. For those who perished in the flood, the remembrance of Noah and his construction of the ark, and the demonstration of the power of God in destroying the earth with water, may have given them a strong movement toward faith. Those people do fit a type of baptism. They were covered with water because of their sins, and thus died to sin. Their time on earth was ended by the decree of God, and they were buried in the flood. Thus their hearing the gospel in Hades and believing in Jesus could have given them the opportunity to be raised with Jesus. We do not have to understand such things. If God saw fit to give them a chance for salvation based on faith in Jesus Christ, in Hades, that is God’s business, and we should have no objection. It only applies to the circumstances then existing, and has no application this side of the cross. Jesus’ visit to Hades gives absolutely no support to the Roman Catholic doctrine of Purgatory, or to the fantastic fables told by the Gnostic heretics.
However, the action of Jesus in Hades may reveal how the spirits of the Old Testament saints were saved by the blood of Christ. Following his death on the cross, Jesus in his personal spirit visited them in Hades, and led the spirits of the faithful from Hades to heaven, where they are pictured with Christ.
Heb 12:22-24, -
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.”
The possibility of the spirit of man going into heaven is confirmed by the words of Paul. The third heaven is understood to be the dwelling place of God.
2 Cor 12:2-4
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago--whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows--such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man--whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows--how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
While we may have difficulty answering questions raised by the fact of Jesus’ spirit visiting Hades, more problems result from denying the plain teaching of the scriptures. Jesus, being fully human as well as fully divine, had a spirit that belonged to him as a man, which we may consider separate from the Holy Spirit within him. This spirit of the man Jesus communicated with God, struggled in submitting to the will of God, was tempted in all points like we are, and yet without sin. If Jesus did not have the capacity to sin, then this entire story line falls short. God is not tempted. God cannot sin. God cannot die. Thus we are forced to examine the humanity of Jesus essentially separate from His divine nature, and then we understand his words on the cross, “Father! Father! Why have you forsaken me?” The human body of Jesus died on the cross, separated from the Father by our sins, and his personal spirit, made alive by the Spirit of God, visited Hades, preached the gospel there, ascended on high in the resurrected and glorified body of Jesus, and led captive a host of captives. This host of captives are those spirits who had been separated from God by sin, and were now cleansed by faith in the blood of Jesus and allowed to follow Jesus into the presence of God.
We should study the Bible by putting facts along side each other and following the story line that is presented in the scriptures as we seek understanding. Important Bible doctrines are taught in themes that can be followed through the Holy Scriptures, and be understood in their proper context. We need to examine all of our treasure of traditional doctrines of the church, and throw away those that are contrived to win arguments without being true to the simple teaching of the Holy Spirit contained in the scriptures. The Bible is best understood when we approach its teaching with a mind clear of prejudice, and open our heart to the revealed message. Our understanding and agreement is not needed to make God’s word true. His word is true, and all who are wise will submit to the simple truth revealed therein.
Our plea that the Holy Scriptures preserved in the Bible are the only basis for faith and teaching in the church sound hollow if we add contrived arguments, and proclaim them equal to clearly spoken truth. Derived arguments are subject to error, because the basic premises of the argument may be removed from the proper context, and thus become a pretext. If we stick with what is clearly taught, and use that as a basis for our faith, we will be pleasing to God and equipped for every good work, as we put into practice the things we learn. Learning is not enough, but we must live the pattern of Jesus Christ.
The facts are simple. Jesus had a personal spirit that separated from his body when he died on the cross. That spirit of Jesus visited Hades, and preached the gospel to the spirits there. The purpose for that preaching was so that they might have opportunity to live in the spirit by faith. The spirit of Jesus ascended from Hades, and led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men. That is the record. We may not understand it, but we can accept it by faith as the simple narrative of the scriptures.
Footnote: This article was begun in Katmandu, Nepal, Nov 2003, starting every morning at 5:30 AM while waiting on the cooks to wake up and start our coffee in the Marco Polo Business Hotel. We had free Internet service there, and I sent the file to my email address just before I left for home on Nov 10th. Ken Shoop and I had discussed this topic for twenty-two years without coming to an agreement. Finally I decided to put down my thoughts in organized form, and this is the result after about fifteen rewrites. Today is January 12, 2004.