As horrible as the cross ordeal was for our Lord, what He suffered immediately upon His death was far worse than that of the cross; for at the moment of His death His soul was then cast into hell. Many Christians do not know or believe that Christ Jesus also suffered in hell on mankind’s behalf. Therefore we present the following Scriptural evidence.
We begin with the law that was given by God to Adam as He placed him in the Garden of Eden.
The Apostle James explains the Law of sin and death in this way,
Sin is the transgression of God’s law, lawlessness (1 John 3:4), thus it is the manifestation of evil. God hates sin. Sin is His enemy because it morally corrupts and converts to evil that which He created and gave life to through love. Because God is just, there is perfect balance in His temperament; He loves to the equivalent measure of His hate, and He hates to the equivalent measure of His love. Therefore His wrath is poured out in the form of death upon the evil body and soul of the un-repented sinner to the equivalent measure of His life giving love. And He also gives death in the same measure that He gives life; it is eternal.
To begin to understand the work of our Lord Jesus and His sufferings we must have some understanding of the term “death.” Death is a term which, when applied to the lower orders of living things such as plants and animals, means the end of life. With reference to the souls of men, however, the term death takes on a different meaning. The Bible teaches that because of the nature of his creation man is more than a physical creature; he is also an eternal spirit being (Genesis 2:7). For man, therefore, the lifeless state of his physical body does not mean the end of existence but signifies the transition of his soul, which is spirit, to another dimension in which his conscious existence continues.
In the Genesis account of the fall of man we find that physical, spiritual and eternal death comes as a result of sin (Romans 5:12-21). Because of the sin of the first man Adam, all men are born in the flesh spiritually dead-- separated from God who is the Source of life (Romans 3:23). Then it must be that death for man is threefold: spiritual, physical and eternal. As the body of man lives there is hope of redemption of his soul from spiritual death through a new spiritual birth in Christ Jesus (Romans 5:17); the reversal of death unto life for those who believe.
And so when a born again person’s soul departs his body, his body enters a state of lifelessness and goes to the grave to undergo decay, this is the physical, or the first death; but his soul enters into God’s rest that has been prepared for him in Christ Jesus; thus his soul does not suffer the ‘second death’ (Revelation 2:11; 20:6).
But everyone who has not been redeemed by Christ is spiritually dead (Luke 15:32; Ephesians 2:1-3; Colossians 2:13). Thus, when his unredeemed soul departs his body, his body enters a state of lifelessness and goes to the grave to undergo decay also; but the soul of the lost person enters into death. This is called the eternal death. Eternal death is a state of never-ending decomposition and destruction of the soul of the wicked person. The Bible also speaks of “the second death” (Revelation 2:11), which is eternal death, the everlasting separation of the lost soul from God in HELL. The “second death” is equated with “the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14), “the lake which burns with fire and brimstone... is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).
The eternal death, the second death and hell are synonymous, that is to say they are equivalent or one and the same. Whatever hell consists of is the eternal death. The Bible exhausts human language in describing death and hell; it is no doubt more terrible than words of man can express. The eternal death is the ultimate penalty and punishment for sin (Revelation 20:11-15; 21:8).
Jesus came to save men from the sufferings of a never-ending decomposition and destruction of their souls in the eternal state of existence known as death. At His trial, Jesus was accused, beaten and mocked. On the cross, He became a curse that He might bear the curse for all mankind. Yet, during the time of His ordeal, He never denied who He was; but He never defended, or denied the things of which the Sanhedrin and others accused Him (see 1 Peter 2:22-23). If He was to take on the sins of mankind, he could not declare His innocence. In this way, He took on mankind’s sins, although He himself had never sinned (see 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24; Galatians 1:4).
During the time of the sufferings of the Christ, He became sin both in body and soul. God the Father withdrew His life giving Spirit from Jesus. God had given His Son as a sacrifice for man’s sins (John 3:16).
Our Lord was now separated from the Father in the likeness of sinful Adam; His soul was in the state of spiritual death as His body also suffered the penalty of sin.
His soul had now departed into death and His body was left lifeless as God’s wrath continued upon His soul.
Isaiah prophesied of Him saying, “But the Lord (God the Father) was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring (the church), He will prolong His days (raise Him from the dead), and the pleasure of the Lord (God) will prosper in His hand” (Isaiah 53:10).
Because Jesus became sin on our behalf He was counted among the transgressors (Isaiah 53:12). Then it must be also that in our stead He suffers the penalty of the eternal death that was ultimately due us. If the “rich man” is suffering punishment in the state of death or hell (Luke 16:19-31) and Jesus did not go and suffer on our behalf with him then God is not a just God. But God is a just God and Jesus did suffer the punishment of hell on our behalf. The innocent for the guilty, such as typed by the release of a robber named Barabbas, while Jesus is held and ultimately crucified the guilty went free (Matthew 27:16-26).
The following is Scriptural evidence that Jesus suffered such a fate as death; that is to say, He suffered hell on our behalf.
“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered Him, saying, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.’ But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth’ .” (Matthew 12:38-40 NAS)
As Jesus refers to Jonah, he speaks of him as a prophet and saying, “for just as,” meaning, in the same manner as; and then continues, saying, “so shall the Son of Man be---.” Therefore I believe that Jesus was saying that He would suffer “three days and three nights” in a like manner as Jonah suffered.
Reading the book of Jonah we learn Jonah was very tormented and he cried out as a prophet saying, “----I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice (Jonah 2:2 KJV).” Therefore, Jonah being a prophet spoke prophetic utterances concerning the sufferings of the Christ.
The word “heart” used throughout the Holy Scriptures and applied here in verse forty, usually referred to the inner most parts of the subject. The tomb in which the body of Jesus was laid was virtually on the surface of the earth, thus it must be that His soul was in the “heart of the earth” just as Jesus stated.
The Apostle Paul writes, “But the righteousness based on faith speaks thus, Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), or ‘who will descend into the abyss? (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)’” (Romans 10:7 NAS).
Now we know Christ is in heaven, then why would the Apostle even mention descending “into the abyss” if our Lord had not, at some time, been there also? Thus I believe Jesus was in the abyss, signified by Jesus as the “heart of the earth,” that is to say, the bottomless pit or the chaotic deep.”
Further evidence is given by Luke, in recording the Acts of the Apostles, he writes of Peter as he speaks thus:
God spoke through Isaiah the prophet saying, “I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you. And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations. To open blind eyes. To bring out prisoners from the dungeon. And those who dwell in darkness from the prison” (Isaiah 42:5-7).
The Apostle Peter also tells us that Jesus preached to the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:19) that “they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the sprit (1 Peter 4:6).”
The Apostle Paul writes, “(Now this expression, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things)” (Ephesians 4:9-10 NAS).
Now how could Jesus preach to spirits in prison except that He descend into the lower parts of the earth and enter by way of death into the prison of death? There, while imprisoned by death, God saw the toilsome labor of His soul and was satisfied that the law of sin and death had been fulfilled and that man’s sin debt had been paid in full for all who believe (Isaiah 53:11).
At this time, I believe that because of our Lord’s faith, God reached into the pits of hell and by His Holy Spirit reversed the process of eternal death by restoring eternal life to His Son and He “became the first born of the dead” (Colossians 1:18) or the first to be born-again, that He might have first place in everything and be the head and “corner stone” of His church. Thus it is written, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, ---” (Ephesians 4:8ff).
Now this is the summation of my convictions. I believe that from the time of my Lord’s arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, until He was born-again in the pits of hell, He suffered the wrath of God being poured out upon sin (Matthew 10:28). Thus He fulfilled the Law of sin and death on my behalf and all who believe; He suffered the punishment that was due me. Through faith He conquered the enemy of death and was resurrected on my behalf also, that I might through faith have eternal life with Him. He is filled with the love of the Father and He pours it out upon me, thus I have made a vow of faith to be faithful to Him and to love Him with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind and all my strength and to share His precious love with all mankind.
James C Sanford