After Jesus died on the cross, where was He until He rose again three days later? From my last post, we know He was left in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb with the stone rolled over it and the Jewish leaders had it sealed and the Roman soldiers guarded it.
Let's look at what we know about the afterlife BEFORE Jesus died and rose again.
The dead went to a place called Hades in Greek and Sheol in Hebrew meaning the Place of the Dead. It's possible that it was in the "bowels of the earth" as it is described in the Bible.
While the bodies die and lie in the grave here on earth, the souls went to Sheol/Hades either to the righteous side or the ungodly side.
Job talks about how his body dies but his soul goes to Sheol and he believes there is a future where God will bring him out. Jesus did that.
Job 14:12-14 So man goes down to his last resting-place and comes not again: till the heavens come to an end, they will not be awake or come out of their sleep. (13) If only you would keep me safe in the underworld, putting me in a secret place till your wrath is past, giving me a fixed time when I might come to your memory again! (14) If death takes a man, will he come to life again? All the days of my trouble I would be waiting, till the time came for me to be free.
2 Peter 2:9 ((Bible In Basic English - BBE) The Lord is able to keep the upright safe in the time of testing, and to keep evil-doers under punishment till the day of judging;
There is a prophesy by Isaiah about the death of the King of Babylon. Isaiah 14:4-20 the eventual defeat and death of the king of Babylon who was king of the nation that would eventually send Judah into captivity. (By that time, Israel had divided into Judah and Israel.) The kings of the earth (Isa. 14:9), who preceded him in death, taunt him. These are kings he had conquered with the sword and ruled over with a cruel hand (Isa. 14:6). These men welcomed him in Sheol. All of those who find themselves in this section of Sheol/Hades will be faced with the punishment of knowing they have no hope of ever have a relationship with God. They missed their chance. While their bodies have been placed in their graves, the King of Babylon was not so honored. This man's body was tossed aside and treated as trash while his soul went to Sheol.
Isaiah 14:18-20 (Contemporary English Version - CEV) When kings die, they are buried in glorious tombs. (19) But you will be left unburied, just another dead body lying underfoot like a broken branch. You will be one of many killed in battle and gone down to the deep rocky pit. (20) You won't be buried with kings; you ruined your country and murdered your people. You evil monster! We hope that your family will be forgotten forever.
In Ezekiel there is another Prophet who prophesies over Pharoah, the ruler over Egypt, and the King of Assyria, another enemy of Israel/Judah, In this quote, Ezekiel is talking about Pharoah, as compared to his rival world power, the King of Assyria.
Ezekiel 31:13-15 (MKJV) On his ruin shall all the birds of the heavens remain, and all the beasts of the field shall be on his branches, (14) to the end that none of all the trees by the waters shall be exalted in their height, nor give their top among the thick boughs, nor should their trees stand up in their height, all that drink water. For all of them are given to death, to the lower parts of the earth, in the midst of the sons of men, with those who go down into the Pit. (15) So says the Lord Jehovah: In the day when he went down to the grave, I caused a mourning. I covered the deep for him, and I held back its floods, and the great waters were held back. And I caused Lebanon to mourn for him, and all the trees of the field fainted because of him...
Ezekiel 31:18 To whom are you like in glory and in greatness among the trees of Eden? Yet you shall be brought down with the trees of Eden to the lower parts of the earth. You shall lie in the midst of the uncircumcised with those slain by the sword. This is Pharaoh and all his multitude, says the Lord Jehovah.
Ezekiel 32:11-32 (ERV) That will happen because of what the Lord GOD said: "The sword of the king of Babylon will come to fight against you. (12) I will use those soldiers to kill your people in battle. They come from the most terrible of the nations. They will destroy the things Egypt is proud of. The people of Egypt will be destroyed. (13) There are many animals by the rivers in Egypt. I will also destroy all those animals. People will not make the waters muddy with their feet anymore. The hoofs of cattle will not make the water muddy anymore. (14) So I will make the water in Egypt calm. I will cause their rivers to run slowly—they will be slick like oil." This is what the Lord GOD said. (15) "I will make the land of Egypt empty. That land will lose everything. I will punish all the people living in Egypt. Then they will know that I am the LORD! (16) "This is a sad song that people will sing for Egypt. The daughters in other nations will sing this sad song. They will sing it as a sad song about Egypt and all its people." This is what the Lord GOD said. (17) On the fifteenth day of that month in the twelfth year of exile, the word of the LORD came to me. He said, (18) "Son of man, cry for the people of Egypt. Lead Egypt and the daughters from powerful nations to the grave. Lead them to the world below where they will be with the other people who went down into that deep hole. (19) "Egypt, you are no better than anyone else! Go down to the place of death. Go lie down with those foreigners. (20) "Egypt will go to be with all the other men who were killed in battle. The enemy has pulled her and all her people away. (21) "Strong and powerful men were killed in battle. Those foreigners went down to the place of death. And from that place, those who were killed will speak to Egypt and his helpers. (22) "Assyria and all its army are there in the place of death. Their graves are deep down in that deep hole. All the Assyrian soldiers were killed in battle, and their graves are all around his grave. When they were alive, they made people afraid, but they were all killed in battle. (24) "Elam is there and all its army is around her grave. All of them were killed in battle. Those foreigners went deep down into the ground. When they were alive, they made people afraid. But they carried their shame with them down to that deep hole. (25) They have made a bed for Elam and all its soldiers who were killed in battle. Elam's army is all around its grave. All those foreigners were killed in battle. When they were alive, they scared people. But they carried their shame with them down into that deep hole. They were put with all the other people who were killed. (26) "Meshech, Tubal, and all their armies are there. Their graves are around it. All those foreigners were killed in battle. When they were alive, they made people afraid. (27) But now they are lying down by the powerful men who died long, long ago! They were buried with their weapons of war. Their swords will be laid under their heads. But their sins are on their bones, because when they were alive, they scared people. (28) "Egypt, you also will be destroyed, and you will lie down by those foreigners. You will lie with the other soldiers who were killed in battle. (29) "Edom is there also. His kings and other leaders are there with him. They were powerful soldiers, but now they lie with the other men who were killed in battle. They are lying there with those foreigners. They are there with the other people who went down into that deep hole. (30) "The rulers from the north are there, all of them, and there are all the soldiers from Sidon. Their strength scared people, but they are embarrassed. Those foreigners lie there with the other men who were killed in battle. They carried their shame with them down into that deep hole. (31) "Yes, Pharaoh and all his army will be killed in battle. Pharaoh will be comforted when he sees his many men and all the others who went down into the place of death." This is what the Lord GOD said. (32) "People were afraid of Pharaoh when he was alive, but he will lie down next to those foreigners. Pharaoh and his army will lie down with all the other soldiers who were killed in battle." This is what the Lord GOD said.
This place was divided into 3 sections: Abraham's Bosom (sometimes referred to as Paradise) where those, who believe in the true God, went. There was also a place of suffering punishment where those who rejected God went. And, finally, Tartarus where the fallen angels dwell. The divide between the Paradise and where the ungodly are suffering punishment is a huge and uncrossable chasm. Sheol is a "temporary" place off the dead.
Luke 16:19-31 (Contemporary English Version - CEV) There was once a rich man who wore expensive clothes and every day ate the best food. (20) But a poor beggar named Lazarus was brought to the gate of the rich man's house. (21) He was happy just to eat the scraps that fell from the rich man's table. His body was covered with sores, and dogs kept coming up to lick them. (22) The poor man died, and angels took him to the place of honor next to Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. (23) He went to hell and was suffering terribly. When he looked up and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side, (24) he said to Abraham, "Have pity on me! Send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and touch my tongue. I'm suffering terribly in this fire." (25) Abraham answered, "My friend, remember that while you lived, you had everything good, and Lazarus had everything bad. Now he is happy, and you are in pain. (26) And besides, there is a deep ditch between us, and no one from either side can cross over." (27) But the rich man said, "Abraham, then please send Lazarus to my father's home. (28) Let him warn my five brothers, so they won't come to this horrible place." (29) Abraham answered, "Your brothers can read what Moses and the prophets wrote. They should pay attention to that." (30) Then the rich man said, "No, that's not enough! If only someone from the dead would go to them, they would listen and turn to God." (31) So Abraham said, "If they won't pay attention to Moses and the prophets, they won't listen even to someone who comes back from the dead."
2 Peter 2:4 For if God did not spare sinning angels, but thrust them down into Tartarus, and delivered them into chains of darkness, being reserved to judgment.
After Christ's death and resurrection, Paradise (or Abraham's Bosom) was moved to Heaven. After Jesus Christ rose from the dead He ascended to the Father, taking the saints who were in Abraham’s Bosom to heaven with Him. Thus, He took “captivity captive”.
Ephesians 4:4-10 (Modern King James Version - MKJV) There is one body and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling, (5) one Lord, one faith, one baptism, (6) one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in you all. (7) But to every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. (8) Therefore He says, "When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive and gave gifts to men." (9) (Now that He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? (10) He who descended is the same also as He who ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things.)
There we await Christ's return and the final judgment. Because we know Christ and have accepted Him as our Savior and received His forgiveness, we are safe with God and will be a part of His kingdom that He will establish. He will resurrect our bodies from the grave (even if we are but dust by then), making them immortal and our bodies will join our spirits again to live eternally!
Believers now wait in God’s presence in Heaven until the time of their resurrection to enter His Kingdom. The ungodly and unrighteous, those who rejected God, are in the part of Hades/Sheol where they experience suffering. At the final judgment, they will be sent to Gehenna, the Lake of Fire for eternal torment with Satan and his fallen angels (demons).
Now we come back to our original question. Where was Jesus and what He was doing after He died on the cross and before He rose from the dead?
During the waiting period it is somewhat of a mystery. But there are other scriptures that may give us some light.
Jesus Christ was fully God but He was also fully man. He came to experience what we experience except that He did not sin. When He died, He may have gone to Hades/Sheol, the place of the dead, just as all men did. He was sinless yet had taken on the sins of the world for all time. So He experienced death. That was the human part of Him. But He did not stay dead! He rose from the dead and that is the divine part of Him!
Acts 2:22-36 (Contemporary English Version - CEV) (22) Now, listen to what I have to say about Jesus from Nazareth. God proved that he sent Jesus to you by having him work miracles, wonders, and signs. All of you know this. (23) God had already planned and decided that Jesus would be handed over to you. So you took him and had evil men put him to death on a cross. (24) But God set him free from death and raised him to life. Death could not hold him in its power. (25) What David said are really the words of Jesus, "I always see the Lord near me, and I will not be afraid with him at my right side. (26); Because of this, my heart will be glad, my words will be joyful, and I will live in hope. (27) The Lord won't leave me in the grave. I am his holy one, and he won't let my body decay. (28) He has shown me the path to life, and he makes me glad by being near me." (29) My friends, it is right for me to speak to you about our ancestor David. He died and was buried, and his tomb is still here. (30) But David was a prophet, and he knew that God had made a promise he would not break. He had told David that someone from his own family would someday be king. 31) David knew this would happen, and so he told us that Christ would be raised to life. He said that God would not leave him in the grave or let his body decay. (32) All of us can tell you that God has raised Jesus to life! (33) Jesus was taken up to sit at the right side of God, and he was given the Holy Spirit, just as the Father had promised. Jesus is also the one who has given the Spirit to us, and that is what you are now seeing and hearing. (34) David didn't go up to heaven. So he wasn't talking about himself when he said, "The Lord told my Lord to sit at his right side, (35) until he made my Lord's enemies into a footstool for him." (36) Everyone in Israel should then know for certain that God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ, even though you put him to death on a cross.
Matthew 12:38-42 (Easy To Read Version - ERV) Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law answered Jesus. They said, "Teacher, we want to see you do a miracle as a sign from God." Jesus answered, "Evil and sinful people are the ones who want to see a miracle as a sign. But no miracle will be done to prove anything to them. The only sign will be the miracle that happened to the prophet Jonah. Jonah was in the stomach of the big fish for three days and three nights. In the same way, the Son of Man will be in the grave three days and three nights. On the judgment day, you people who live now will be compared with the people from Nineveh, and they will be witnesses who show how guilty you are. Why do I say this? Because when Jonah preached to those people, they changed their lives. And you are listening to someone greater than Jonah, but you refuse to change! "On the judgment day, you people who live now will also be compared with the Queen of the South, and she will be a witness who shows how guilty you are. I say this because she traveled from far, far away to listen to Solomon's wise teaching. And I tell you that someone greater than Solomon is right here, but you won't listen!
We don't know for sure where Jesus was but other scriptures indicate that He went to Sheol, to the righteous dead.
Look at Matthew 12:40 again in the Modern King James Version: For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the huge fish, so the Son of Man shall be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Psalm 30:3 (MKJV) O Jehovah, You have brought up my soul from the grave; You have kept me alive, so that I should not go down to the Pit.
Ephesians 4:8-10 (MKJV) Therefore He says, "When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive and gave gifts to men." (9) (Now that He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? (10) He who descended is the same also as He who ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things.)
If He descended into Sheol, the place of the day, then what did He do there? We know that no one comes to the Father but through Jesus. He is the only gate to a right relationship with the Father. But those who died before Jesus, what happened to them? They went to Sheol. If God knew they had a heart after Him, then their faith would make them righteous where Jesus could tell them the good news, the gospel, in Paradise.
1 Peter 4:3-6 (CEV) You have already lived long enough like people who don't know God. You were immoral and followed your evil desires. You went around drinking and partying and carrying on. In fact, you even worshiped disgusting idols. (4) Now your former friends wonder why you have stopped running around with them, and they curse you for it. (5) But they will have to answer to God, who judges the living and the dead. (6) The good news has even been preached to the dead, so that after they have been judged for what they have done in this life, their spirits will live with God.
In summary, I am NOT a trained scholar with a long list of degrees. But it seems to me that the Bible indicates people went to Sheol where they lived in Paradise or the place of punishment. Jesus died and He went to Sheol to preach the gospel of His victory in His death and resurrection. To those in Paradise, it was the word of life, but, to those in the ungodly place, they were words of condemnation.
Colossians 2:15 (MKJV) Having stripped rulers and authorities, [Jesus] made a show of them publicly, triumphing over them in it.
Revelation 1:17-18 (MKJV) When I saw him, I fell at his feet like a dead person. But he put his right hand on me and said: Don't be afraid! I am the first, the last, (18) and the living one. I died, but now I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys to death and the world of the dead.
So Jesus triumphed over sin and death and He rose in victory!
1 Corinthians 15:55 (MKJV) "O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?"
Satan thought he had taken the Son of God out when Jesus was crucified. But Jesus went to the place of the dead and preached the good news and then He stripped satan of his power and took the keys away from him. Then Jesus arose in victory and triumph over sin and death!
Revelation 7:12 (MKJV) "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen!"
The Apostles Creed says, “He descended into hell” (translated Hades, that is, the temporary abode of the dead – not the eternal lake of fire). Jesus descended to the realm of the dead to save the righteous souls, such as the Old Testament patriarchs, who died before his crucifixion.
You may not agree with my interpretation but, as Christians, we can agree that no matter what happened during those 3 days, Christ was the victor and provided us with forgiveness, righteousness and eternal life! Maybe the Bible is deliberately vague on those 3 days because it is God's mysterious ways but the end result is salvation through Jesus Christ. Upon Jesus I rest my faith in what He did on the cross and in the resurrection.
After Jesus' death and resurrection, human beings still die. Our bodies go to the grave to be raised when Christ returns. Those who are saved go to Heaven and those who are not, are in the section of darkness and punishment in Sheol/Hades. We live with Christ in Heaven until it is time for Him to return. Upon His return, He resurrects our fleshly bodies from the grave. They are transformed into perfect, immortal bodies and our spirits join our bodies. At the Great Judgment, God looks to see if our names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life. Jesus writes our names in His book when we are born again. So, as believers, our name is there and we are accepted by God as one of His children and ushered into His Kingdom forever. Those who have rejected Jesus and refused His gift of salvation, face the judgment of eternal Hell. God did not want anyone to go to hell so He provided the way to forgiveness of our sins and eternity in Heaven through accepting His Son, Jesus Christ. It is the only way to be saved but it is open to everyone. There is no need for anyone to go to hell, but we have the freedom of choice and if we choose to reject Jesus Christ, then we suffer the eternal consequences.