Theology 101: Did Christ Descend Into Hell Prior to Resurrection?

There is a heretical view of Christ’s atonement that encapsulates a theory commonly referred to as Ransom Theology or Ransom Theory, which states that Christ paid a ransom to Satan in His death in order to buy the rights to save humanity which has fallen captive to Satan.

Throughout the ages, this view became increasingly recognized as heretical as it is readily apparent that Satan is himself a rebel who cannot hold any claim on humanity, and therefore God does not owe him anything but eternal punishment.

The problem is that certain peripheral aspects of Ransom to Satan Theory have persisted to this day in some denominations.

Some hold that after His death on the cross, Jesus descended into hell to proclaim victory (possibly evangelize) to those who perished in ancient times, based on 1 Pet 3:18-20

“18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah…”

This view is not acceptable for the following reasons:

1. Christ’s work of redemption was finished on the cross for EVERYONE to see: God the Father, angels, heavenly creatures, humans, demons, and Satan.  In John 19:30, Jesus proclaims in the final seconds of His life: “IT IS FINISHED.” There is no other work to be done for proclamation of victory or redemption.  Heaven and hell were witnesses.  There is no need for Christ to descent into hell for any proclamation or evangelism.

2. When Jesus died on the cross, He went straight to the Father.  Again, in the final seconds of His agony, Luke presents the following:  “Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last (Luke 23:46).

3. A descend by Christ into hell opens the door to heresy.  Proclamation of victory or evangelism in hell presents similar ideas to purgatory and possibility salvation of unrepented sinners after death.  This is against sound Christian doctrine which views death as a final decisive event with respect to outcome of salvation or damnation.

So what did Peter mean when he said that Christ went to proclaim to the “spirits in prison?”

A close examination of 1 Peter 3 shows that the context of this affirmation is linked to the preaching of Noah in the pre-flood era.

Here is the ESV commentary explanation:

a. Peter calls Noah a “herald of righteousness” (2 Pet. 2:5 ), where “herald” represents Greek kēryx, “preacher,” which corresponds to the noun kēryssō, “proclaim,” in 1 Pet. 3:19

b. Peter says the “Spirit of Christ” was speaking through the OT prophets ( 1:11 ); thus Christ could have been speaking through Noah as an OT prophet.

c. The context indicates that Christ was preaching through Noah, who was in a persecuted minority, and God saved Noah, which is similar to the situation in Peter’s time: Christ is now preaching the gospel through Peter and his readers (v. 15 ) to a persecuted minority, and God will save them.

Christ finished His work on the cross and did not need to descend into hell for any further work.

He said it “IT IS FINISHED.”

And it was finished.

6 comments on “Theology 101: Did Christ Descend Into Hell Prior to Resurrection?

  1. I really enjoyed this blog! I never realized the dangers of the Ransom Theory and how it conflicts with His finished work on the cross. But I was curious to where else I heard that Jesus descended as well as ascended–and I found it in Ephesians 4. But I wanted to recommend 2 videos on Youtube by David Assherick called The Cross pt. 1 & pt. 2. Jesus finished his work on the cross for mankind, but I’m wondering if there could have been another purpose for proclaiming to the spirits in prison that pertains to angels and not humans. The video I’ve included discusses what the cross means for God Himself, the angels, fallen angels and our adversary: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zX0hXrmkfHI

    Check them out whenever you get the chance…and God bless!

    • Thanks Nir! I will check them out.

      Actually, the funny thing is that the background I come from (Romanian Baptism and Pentecostalism) teaches that Christ descended after His death to proclaim victory to various entities based on a few passages found in the Psalms as well as the NT. Many actually continue to teach this view and it is def not heresy. The only thing that is heresy is the idea that Christ went into the abyss to evangelize lost souls.

      So when I came across the more reformed view of Christ preaching via Noah, that sounded so much better as that view allows for Chist to fulfill 100% what He told the repentant thief, that he will be with Him in heaven, TODAY.

      Again, thanks!

    • Rodi, after talking to several people I found out this weekend that the descent of Christ into the deep (so I do not say hell) is commonly taught across the board in Romania. I suspect it has to do with some orthodox influence. The good news is that they do not teach that Christ descended to proclaim the Gospel (although some do) but that He descended to proclaim victory.

      My question is why? Why would He need to proclaim the work that is finished at the cross, a work that was witnessed by ALL?

      Many also teach that Christ had to liberate the souls of the saints, and that is why He had to descend into the deep.

      For that we need to look in Scripture and see that saints like Moses and Elijah were not held captive in any way as they were free to appear at the transfiguration. Abraham is also pictured in Scripture as content in heaven, prior to Christ’s death. I do not understand the idea that some other saints were held in some way captive.

      What do you think about these positions and why they are held the way they are in Romania?

  2. I think you are right about the Romanian evangelicals believing Jesus preached in hell because of assimilated orthodox theology. During the communist era, most of the written material as far as commentaries went, came from the Romanian Orthodox. Some Baptists who attended universities in the early years, even attended Orthodox schools, since the communist regime would not accredit any other denomination. see here-http://vaisamar.wordpress.com/tag/alexa-popovici/

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