Leading Captivity Captive



John Hoole - June 12, 2011






Where did Jesus go in the time between His death and resurrection?  I have been asked that on several occasions.  Sometimes it is phrased, "Did Jesus go to hell during that time?"


We are not presented with a great deal of where Jesus went between his death a resurrection, or about what He may have done during that time.  There are a few verses, however, that might give us a hint of where He went and what He did.


Let's first answer the question sometimes raised: Did Jesus enter hell between his death and resurrection?  This question comes up because of a statement made by the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost.  The apostle is describing to the listening people about the death and resurrection of Jesus.  And in his description, he quotes a passage written by King David in one of his Psalms.  Let's read both of those verses.


Acts 2:27 NKJV


27     For You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.


Psalms 16:10 NKJV


10     For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.


While we are not told that Jesus went to hell, which is the future eternal destiny of Satan and those who have followed him, these verses imply that He did go to the temporary place of the souls of those who had died.  In the above verses, we note that Greek Hades and Hebrew Sheol are used.  As we have discussed in several previous lessons, these were the temporary place where the spirits of those who had died went.


Why would Jesus go to Hades/Sheol during this time.  This is where the questions about what Christ did between his death and resurrection come from.  We are given what may be a few clues about possibly two things Christ did.


Notice what is written by the apostle Peter in his first letter.


1 Peter 3:18-20 NKJV


18     For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,

19     in which also He went and preached to the spirits in prison,

20     who formerly were disobedient, when once the divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah,...


This passage speaks of when Jesus was dead in the flesh but alive in spirit.  It speaks of him preaching to spirits in prison.  Some have taken this to mean that Christ gave those in Hades a second chance for salvation.  While most evangelical theologians do believe this prison is Hades, most do not believe Jesus was preaching the gospel the those in prison.


First of all, it does not mention the gospel at all.  The Greek word, Euangelion, which means to share the good news (gospel) is not used anywhere in this Passage.  The Greek word is Kerusso, which is a more general word and means to make a proclamation.


And that is the way the New American Standard version translates it.


1 Peter 3:19 NASU


19     in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison,


This has led many theologians to understand this verse as saying Jesus proclaimed his triumph, not to spirits of departed humans, but to wicked demons bound in prison.  To substantiate this, it is to be noted that in making this proclamation, Peter makes mention of disobedience that had some relevance at the time of the flood.


To further substantiate this, it is noted that Peter also mentions the time of Noah in his second letter.


2 Peter 2:4-5 NKJV


4       For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment;

5       and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly;


This verse speaks of fallen angels - demons - who committed such a sin, that they are not allowed freedom as other demons, but are held in prison in chains until they are judged.


To bring this part to a close, many evangelical theologians believe Jesus very possibly could have went to these spirits to proclaim His victory over death, hell and the grave.  It was an official proclamation of His triumph over evil, and that He had struck a death blow against all His enemies.


There is one more aspect of what Jesus did between his death and resurrection.  You have heard me say in prior lessons that Hades/Sheol had at least two compartment prior to the resurrection of Jesus.  Both of these are mentioned in the story Christ gave about the rich man and a beggar named Lazarus.  One compartment of Hades is called a "place of torment" (Luke 16:23).  The other place in Hades was called "Abraham's bosom" (Luke 16:22).  Abraham's Bosom is elsewhere called "paradise" (Luke 23:43).  You have also heard me teach that the "paradise" section is now empty.  We now know from 2 Corinthians 5:8, that at death, the spirit of a believer goes to heaven.


This idea or belief is found in another letter by the apostle Paul


Ephesians 4:8-10 NKJV


8       Therefore He says: "When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men."

9       (Now this, "He ascended" — what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?

10     He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)


The Scriptures indicate that Christ descended into Hades before He went back to the Father, at the time of His crucifixion and resurrection and ascension.  What I want us to focus on is the phrase in verse 8, "He led captivity captive."  But also keep in mind that this involves him going to the "lower part of the earth."  For some, the phrase "He led captivity captive" may be an awkward statement, leaving us somewhat at a loss for its meaning.  We need to let the Bible be its own commentary here.  This is a phrase that is found in two other books - both in the Old Testament.


First, note the first 3 words of Ephesians 4:8 - "Therefore he says."  Who is "HE"?  The NIV reads: "This is why it says..."  The apostle Paul is actually quoting from a Messianic Psalm written by David.


Psalms 68:18 NKJV


18     You have ascended on high, You have led captivity captive; You have received gifts among men,


Before examining the meaning of this phrase, let's look at the one other place where it is used.


Judges 5:12 KJV


12     Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam.


Many of the people of Israel were being held captive by their enemy.  The enemy at this time was Jabin, king of Canaan.  And God, using the judges, Deborah and Barak, were to lead those captives out.  This is a phrase that means to set free those who have been captive.  We know that God is not telling Deborah and Barak to take their enemies into captivity.  We know that because we are told no enemy captives were taken.  This phrase means the release of captured friends.


And this is its essential meaning when Paul quotes David, from Psalm 68:18.  King David begins that Psalm with the words of a song we have sung.  Let God arise, Let His enemies be scattered.


Now, back to what Christ did between his death and resurrection.  When the apostle Paul mentions that Christ "led captivity captive," the very next verse (in Ephesians 4:9) says he does so in conjunction with his "descending into the lower part of the earth."  Many take this as another statement of Christ going into Hades.  And Christ, then takes the believers in paradise and releases them from that prison.


They have been there waiting for the final and complete payment for sin they looked forward to.  These righteous souls could not be released into heaven until the penalty for sin had actually been paid.  God accepted them as righteous because they had faith in a sacrifice that had not yet taken place.


They were looking forward to the promised sacrifice.  However, until that sacrifice had actually been offered - that is the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, they could not be released.  After Jesus had sacrificed Himself, He went down into Hades and in some way took the righteous from Hades with Him into heaven.  He took captivity captive and they became the captives of Jesus and of righteousness.