QUESTION: Did Jesus literally burn in Hell after He died and before He rose again?
ANSWER: In our discussion it would be necessary to remember that before the resurrection Hades consisted of two parts. Between these parts there was a great gulf that divided those who were suffering (in Hell) from those in the safety of Abraham’s Bosom or Paradise (Luke 16:19-26). Old Testament saints had to wait until Jesus actually paid the sin debt before they could enter Heaven.
The Scriptures do teach that Christ descended and preached to souls in Hades. Three days and nights later He would gloriously lead those souls on the Paradise side up into Heaven (1 Peter 3:19-20; Eph 4:8-9). While in Hades, however, I do not believe Jesus suffered in the awful flame side of that place for the following reasons:
First, in Mark 8:31 the Lord tells His disciples of the many things he must suffer and no mention was made of the fires of Hell. In Acts 3:18 we are reminded that the Old Testament prophets told us how Christ should suffer, and again nothing they said suggests Christ had to endure the fires of Hell. Then, Hebrews 13:11-13 tells us that Christ suffered outside the city walls of Jerusalem (that would be on the hill called Golgotha). 1 Peter 4:1 tells us that He “suffered for us in the flesh” (not in Hell). Later in the same epistle Peter said he was a witness of the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 5:1). Peter could not have witnessed those sufferings if they occurred in Hell. The Psalmist agrees: “Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.” (Psalm 91:8)
Along that same line the Bible goes on to tell us that Jesus never saw corruption (Psalm 16:10 & Acts 2:31 cf. also Gal 6:14; Col 2:14 & Heb 12:2). Hell is called the “pit of corruption” in Isaiah 38:17.
The most significant proof that Jesus did not suffer the flames of Hell lies in the doctrine of the atonement. It is the blood Jesus shed that atones for our sin (Lev 17:11; Acts 20:28; Rom 5:9; Eph 1:7; 2:13; Col 1:14; Heb 9:22; 1 Peter 1:18-19; Rev 1:5; 5:9). It was as the last drops of life (blood, Leviticus 17:14) were flowing from Jesus’ body He made the statement, “it is finished” (John 19:30). If there were more to be done to secure our redemption (i.e. three days and nights of suffering in Hell), it would not have been finished yet!
During the three hours of darkness and before His final breath was taken Jesus took the sin of the world upon Himself, the Father forsook Him, and his body or “visage” was so marred by the trauma that wrung the blood from His veins that when the darkness was removed, people were astonished that His body no longer even resembled that of a man (Isaiah 52:14). Christ indeed suffered for us in the flesh. The cross is an iconic representation for many of salvation, not the flames of Hell.
I understand those who would say that one drop of Jesus blood is powerful enough to save the world, but in reality it all had to be shed. Sin is that wicked. Sin is that powerful. If you have never repented of your sin and received the sacrifice of Jesus as your own – that He died in your place – won’t you do it right now? “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom 10:13).
On a side note of interest have you ever wondered why in Scripture Hell is always down while Heaven is always up? Every time I hear of a volcano erupting I think of Isaiah 5:14.