Where was Jesus for the three days in between His death and resurrection?
By S. Michael Houdmann, Got Questions Ministries
The “where was Jesus?” question understandably becomes very common around Easter. The death and resurrection of Christ being celebrated on Good Friday and Easter Sunday raise the questions: What happened in between? Where was Jesus and what was He doing for those three days? Why three days? Did Jesus go to hell in between His death and resurrection? Etc., etc. Answering the questions is difficult because the Bible does not say much about where Jesus was and what He was doing between His death and resurrection. The Bible gives a few details, but even the interpretation of those details is difficult.
The first thing that should be made clear is that when we ask “Where was Jesus?”, the question is referring to Jesus’ soul/spirit. Jesus’ body was in the tomb from the time it was placed there until the resurrection. Jesus’ soul/spirit, however, was not in the tomb. The question really is: “Where was Jesus, spiritually/immaterially, between His death and resurrection?"
There are three primary Bible passages that give us hints to the “Where was Jesus?” question. First, Acts 2:31 (see also Psalm 16:10-11), says that Jesus was not abandoned to Hades. Hades is the realm of the dead. Jesus was in the realm of the dead, but He did not remain there. Why was Jesus sent to the realm of the dead? The second passage, 1 Peter 3:18-19, answers the question. Jesus went to Hades in order to preach to the spirits in prison. Who were the spirits in prison? According to 1 Peter 3:20, they were those “who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.” This is referring back to the Genesis 6 account. But, that does not answer the question either, as there is disagreement over that passage as well. Were the sons of God who married the daughters of men fallen angels or human beings? If the answer is fallen angels, were the spirits in prison those fallen angels that God judged for their sin in Genesis 6, or were they the spirits of the people who had been destroyed by the flood? The most interesting and frustrating part of the “where was Jesus?” discussion is that every disagreement leads to other disagreements.
The third passage is Ephesians 4:8-10, which refers to Jesus leading “captivity captive” (KJV) or leading “a host of captives.” What in the world does this refer to? Most Bible scholars believe it refers to Jesus taking all of the righteous dead, who were held “captive” in the paradise compartment of Sheol/Hades, and taking them to heaven. Prior to the death of Christ, the righteous dead were saved, but since their sins had not been atoned for, were not allowed in God’s heaven. Once Jesus’ sacrifice had been applied to them, they were allowed entrance into heaven, and Jesus took them there. That is sure a lot to read into “taking captivity captive,” but that is how most Bible scholars interpret the text.
So, where was Jesus for the three days in between His death and resurrection? For a time, He was in Hades, preaching to the spirits in prison (whoever they were). Then, He released all of the righteous dead of Sheol/Hades and took them with Him to heaven. But, again, there is controversy on virtually every point.
Ultimately, it seems that the Bible does not go into great detail on the “Where was Jesus?” question because in comparison to His death and resurrection, it is not nearly as important what went on in between. And, maybe that should be our lesson. Let’s spend less time debating the side issues and instead celebrate the core issues. Jesus died for our sins and rose from the grave, demonstrating that His death was sufficient.
Related GotQuestions.org article: "Where was Jesus for the three days in between His death and resurrection?"
Image credit: David Holt; "Garden tomb Jerusalem"; Creative Commons