Did Jesus Descend to Hell or Go to Paradise?
What happened to Jesus after He died? Every Sunday millions of Christians recite the Apostles Creed, which states: "He descended into hell, on the third day He rose from the dead." Jesus went to hell? The Bible says that?? And then, as I pointed out in my article from last week, Jesus promised the dying thief on the cross: "Truly I say to you, Today you will be with Me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). OK, so which is it? Or are both true, and we just have a misunderstanding about some terminology?
I am convinced that Jesus went to paradise right after He died, according to Luke 23:43. And I believe that the Apostles Creed, while not on the same par as Holy Scripture, gives us a nice summary of the truth contained in Scripture — truth that all Christians have always believed everywhere.
As I have studied the Bible, I think there is a difference between the abode of the dead before the crucifixion of Jesus and afterward. In the Old Testament, as far as the OT saints understood things, they were all going to die and go to a place called in the Hebrew language "sheol." Sheol is not described in very vivid details in the OT.
Apparently God did not see fit to reveal much to Abraham or Moses about this place for the dead. Though sheol in the OT is often presented as a place of darkness and woe, there are passages that tell us it is also a place of conscious activity (Isaiah 14:9-11; Ezekiel 32:21). (In some English translations "sheol" is translated as "hell," regrettably.)
Samuel continued to exist in sheol and was allowed to return to earth to warn King Saul (1 Samuel 28:13-19). King David, while mourning the death of his infant son, received some comfort when thinking about the afterlife: "But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me" (2 Samuel 12:23). How is this hopeful? It is hopeful for David because he knows he will see his son in sheol.
The joyful expectation of all those who believed in the only true God was not that they would die and go be with God in heaven. Instead, they looked forward to a resurrection and a kingdom here on the earth (Job 19:25-27; Daniel 12:2-3). The OT sometimes uses "phenomenological language" illustrating how the dead appear to us, the living. Ecclesiastes 9:5 says that "the dead know nothing."
But we must remember that the author of Ecclesiastes is speaking as a man "under the sun" (1:3). It appears to humans unaided by divine revelation that the dead are asleep or unconscious. However, in the same breath, the author declares in 9:5-6 that the dead "have no more reward" and "nevermore will they have a share in anything done under the sun." If we believe that the dead are extinct or unconscious, then do we also believe that they will never have a reward either? There is no future giving out of rewards? Of course not. As stated before, Ecclesiastes is stating how things appear to us here on earth.