Friday, October 23, 2015

Did Christ Suffer in Hell?

     Did Christ go to Hell and suffer for three days and three nights prior to His resurrection from the dead?
     The Greek text of Scripture nowhere declares that Christ went to Hell. The King James Version may be to blame for this misconception, for it mistranslates Acts 2:27 to read, “Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption” (emphasis added). The word “hell” (Acts 2:27, KJV) is actually the Greek word hades.[1] The Scriptures declare that Christ went to Hades, not Hell. 
     Hades is the intermediate place of the dead.[2] Prior to the ascension of Christ, Hades included both the lost and the saved dead, the two groups being separated by a “great chasm” (Lk. 16:26).[3] Jesus’ account of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 gives confirmation to the Jewish idea of two compartments in Hades, distinct from and yet near one another. On the cross, Jesus referred to Abraham’s bosom as “Paradise”.[4] It is evident that He did not mean Heaven, for Jesus clearly stated in Matthew 12:40 that He was going to be “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth”.
     The Greek word hades is equivalent to the Hebrew term sheol (Acts 2:27; cf. Psa. 16:10). In the Old Testament, sheol is described using various terms such as “grave” (Gen. 37:35), “pit” (Num. 16:30), and “hell” (Psa. 18:5, KJV). In the New Testament, hades is described simply as Hades (the New American Standard Bible often simply transliterates from the Greek) or (unfortunately) “hell,” as the KJV usually (10 out of 11 times) translates the term.[5]
     But did Christ suffer in Hades? A proponent of the teaching that Christ suffered in Hades writes:

The Greek word soul is also used in Matthew 10:28 and puts a differentiation between physical life on earth and the soul referring that the soul will be destroyed in Hades.

But the word "Hades" does not appear in Matthew 10:28. (In Matthew 10:28, Jesus says, "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.") Even in the original Greek language of the New Testament, the word hades does not appear in Matthew 10:28. The Greek word that actually appears in Matthew 10:28 is geenna and the New American Standard Bible correctly uses the English word “hell” to translate it. 
     Hades and geenna (hell) are not interchangeable - they are two different Greek words distinguishing different places, each having unique characteristics. The Greek word geenna, from which we get the English word Gehenna, is the eternal place of the damned and has only one compartment.[6] In contrast, Hades has two compartments as Luke chapter 16 explains. One of the compartments is used as a temporary holding tank for the wicked dead (Rev. 20:13-14). The other compartment of Hades was for the righteous dead up until the time of the resurrection of Christ (Lk. 16:22, 23:43).[7] After the resurrection of Christ, believers go directly to Heaven when they die (2 Cor. 5:8; 2 Cor. 12:2-4). And so while Hades is a temporary place of confinement (Lk. 23:43; 2 Cor. 12:2-4; Rev. 20:13-14), Gehenna/Hell/The Lake of Fire is an eternal place of confinement (Rev. 20:10, 20:15). These are some of the differences between Hades and Hell.
     Considering the question of whether or not Christ suffered in Hades, it will help to consider a few specific Bible passages. The passage in Acts 2:24-32 deals with Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and manifestation. And Hades is specifically mentioned in verse 27. In verses 25-28, the apostle Paul quotes from Psalm 16:8-11 and applies David’s words to Christ. Paul says in Acts 2:31, “[David] looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay”.
      In studying this passage, it will help to define some key terms. What does Paul mean in Acts 2:24 by “agony of death”? The word “agony” is the Greek word odin, the primary definition of it simply means: the pain of childbirth, travail pain, birth pangs.[8] This is seen from the four New Testament references to odin (Matt. 24:8; Mk. 13:8; Acts 2:24; 1 Thess. 5:3). Interestingly, Acts 2:24 (where odin is translated as “agony”) is the only time in the New Testament that odin is not translated as “birth pangs”. Here in Acts 2:24 “the agony of death” could be an allusion (an implied or indirect reference) to Psalm 18:4-5.
     Some think that the “agony” in Acts 2:24 should be equated with the “agony” in Luke 16:24. Although the English language shows no distinction between the two terms, the Greek language does employ two distinct Greek words to differentiate between the two terms. As stated previously, “agony” as found in Acts 2:24 is the Greek word odin, while in Luke 16:24 the word is odunao. The term odunao is found four times in the New Testament and is variously rendered as “anxiously” (Lk. 2:48), “agony” (Lk. 16:24, 16:26), and “grieving” (Acts 20:38). Odunao means: to cause intense pain, to be in anguish, be tormented, to torment or distress one’s self.[9] It is clear that these individual terms have distinct meanings and contexts and should not be exactly equated.
     Various versions of the Bible have translated “agony of death” in Acts 2:24 as follows:

  • “throes of death” (Weymouth) 
  • “pains of death” (KJV) 
  • "horrors of death” (Living Bible) 
  • "pains of death” (TEV) 
  • "agony of death” (NIV) 
  • "bitter pains of death” (Phillips) 
  • "pangs of death” (RSV) 
  • "pangs of Hades” (Jerusalem Bible) 
  • "pangs of death” (NEB)
  • " agony of death” (NASB, with a footnote that reads “Lit., birth pangs”)

     In Acts 2:24, Paul is talking about Christ’s physical bodily resurrection when he says, “God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power”. The context is clearly speaking of physical bodily resurrection (Acts 2:29, 2:31-32). Furthermore, the word “death” in Acts 2:24 is the Greek word thanatos. The primary meaning of this word has to do with physical death, not spiritual death.[10] Thanatos is the word that the gospel writers (as well as Jesus Himself) used when referring to Christ’s physical death on the cross (Matt. 20:18, 26:66; Mk. 10:33, 14:64; Lk. 23:15, 23:22, 24:20; Jn. 12:33, 18:32, 21:19; Acts 13:28).
     The culture of Jesus’ day understood thanatos to be referring to physical bodily death. When Jesus said to the Jews, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death [thanatos]” (Jn. 8:51), they clearly understood Jesus to be meaning physical death (see John 8:52-53). Jesus was speaking connotatively (not denotatively), using the secondary meaning of thanatos (i.e. speaking spiritually), but this only emphasizes the fact that the common, denotative, ordinary, and plain meaning of thanatos has to do with physical death (cf. Matt. 10:21, 15:4; Acts 22:4, 23:29, 25:11; 1 Cor. 11:26) – because if a word is to have a connotation it must first have a denotation!
     Here are some other key Scriptures which indicate that “death” (thanatos) in Acts 2:24 is referring to Christ’s physical bodily death:

“Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death [thanatos] He might render powerless him who had the power of death [thanatos], that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).

“In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from [NASB footnote: “Or, out of”; also see A.V. marginal note in the Scofield Study Bible] death [thanatos], and He was heard because of His piety” (Hebrews 5:7). NOTE: This Bible verse is referring to Christ’s bodily resurrection, for it is clear that the Father did not save Christ from physical death on the cross, but the Father did save Christ out of physical death via Christ’s bodily resurrection.

“And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24). NOTE: Christ bore man’s sin penalty not in hell or hades, but “in His body on the cross”.[11]

Concerning Acts 2:24, also consider the following statements by well-known Bible scholars. A. T. Robertson, the American Baptist theologian and renowned scholar of the Greek New Testament writes:

The pangs of death (ta ōdina tou thanatou). Codex Bezae has “Hades” instead of death. The LXX has ōdina thanatou in Psalms 18:4, but the Hebrew original means “snares” or “traps” or “cords” of death where sheol and death are personified as hunters laying snares for prey. How Peter or Luke came to use the old Greek word ōdina (birth pangs) we do not know. Early Christian writers interpreted the Resurrection of Christ as a birth out of death. “Loosing” (lusa) suits better the notion of “snares” held a prisoner by death, but birth pangs do bring deliverance to the mother also. Because (kathoti). This old conjunction (kata, hoti) occurs in the N.T. only in Luke’s writings. That he should be holden (krateisthai auton). Infinitive present passive with accusative of general reference and subject of ēn adunaton. The figure goes with “loosed” (lusa) above.[12]

John Gill, the English Baptist pastor and theologian writes:

“having loosed the pains of death”; this may be understood either of what Christ had done for his people by dying for them; he had abolished death; he had took away its sting, and delivered them from the curse of it, having fulfilled the law, satisfied justice, and made full atonement for their sin; so that though they die, death is not a penal evil to them, nor shall they always continue under the power of it: or of what God did in raising Christ from the dead; he delivered him from the power of death, by which he was held in the grave, and which is expressed by a word which signifies pains and sorrows, even those of a woman in travail; which though he felt not now, he had gone through them; his low state in the grave was the effect of them . . .[13]

Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder and first president of Dallas Theological Seminary writes:

Here David affirms not only that he hopes personally of resurrection but that Jesus Christ, described as the “Holy One,” should not see corruption, that is, stay in the grave long enough for His body to decay. This passage is quoted by Peter in Acts 2:24-31 and by Paul in Acts 13:34-37 as indicating the resurrection of Christ.[14]

The apostle Paul writes:

And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, “Thou art My Son; today I have begotten Thee.” And as for the fact that He raised Him up from the dead, no more to return to decay, He has spoken in this way: “I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.” Therefore He also says in another Psalm, “Thou wilt not allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay.” For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers, and underwent decay; but He whom God raised did not undergo decay.[15]

     I believe that there is sufficient evidence from the Greek language, the immediate context, and other Scripture passages so that we can interpret the phrase in Acts 2:24 “putting an end to the agony of death” (tas ōdinas tou thanatou) – literally, “the birth pangs of physical death” – as referring to the resurrection of Christ’s body from the grave. As a result, Christ’s flesh did not “suffer decay” (Acts 2:27, 31).
     Now let's look into the tearing of the temple veil as it relates to the death of Christ. A proponent of the teaching that Christ suffered in Hades writes:

Yes, the veil was torn in two before Jesus breathed His last, according to Luke 23:45, Jesus hadn’t even died yet. Again, everything required by the physical sacrificial lamb had been accomplished. The veil was torn not so much to signify the completeness of the sacrifice but to give a physical sign that the former holy of holies had been rendered ineffective and no longer where God was going to receive the sacrifices for Israel.

     The following is a harmony of the accounts of Christ’s death in relation to the tearing of the temple veil (taken from the synoptic gospels).[16] The text is quoted from the New International Version (NIV).[17]

Matthew 27:50-54
50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. 52 The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. 54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

Mark 15:37-39
37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Luke 23:44-47
44 It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. 47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.”

     Matthew and Mark seem to indicate that Christ’s death occurred prior to the tearing of the temple veil, while Luke seems to place Christ’s death after the tearing of the curtain. Comparing the three texts, it seems best to interpret the tearing of the veil as happening simultaneously with Christ’s death. The veil may have been rent after His death, but it seems unlikely that the curtain was torn before Christ died.[18] The tearing of the veil signified that because of Christ’s death, access into God’s presence was now available to everyone (Heb. 6:19-20, 9:6-12, 10:19-22). Arno C. Gaebelein writes:

The veil itself was the sign that man was barred from coming to God; that heavy, solid veil, ever gave that testimony that it is impossible for man to approach God. The rent veil shows that it has been made possible. The rent veil declares that the great sacrifice on the cross of the spotless Lamb of God has been accepted. It is the first great answer of God to the majestic word of the dying savior, “It is finished.”[19]

     Now concerning the resurrection of Christ, a proponent of the teaching that Christ suffered in hell writes:

Our redemption was not “‘finished’ at the cross” . . . That would not be including what it says in Peter 1:3 “. . . according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” If what you say is correct, then it was actually finished at the cross and the need for 3 days and 3 nights in the heart of the earth and the resurrection would add nothing to the equation of salvation, rendering the resurrection as a non-essential for salvation.

     In answer to the statement above, I believe that the resurrection was not punitive, but demonstrative. The resurrection was not “for our” transgressions, but “for [or “because of” (NASB)] our justification” (Rom. 4:25). Christ’s death on the cross was “for our sins” (Isa. 53:5-6; 1 Cor. 15:3; Heb. 5:3, 9:15). His resurrection was “because of our justification” – our justification having been previously accomplished on the cross (Rom. 3:23, 5:9; 2 Cor. 5:21). Professor John Hart of Moody Bible Institute has well said, “The resurrection proved our justification, but it did not provide for our justification.”[20] The resurrection is part of the gospel (1 Cor. 15:4). But the resurrection was not the means by which Christ paid for our sins. It was Christ’s death (thanatos) on the cross that paid the penalty for our sins (Heb. 9:15) and the reason why we are justified (Rom. 3:23, 5:9; 2 Cor. 5:21). As Lewis Sperry Chafer has said, “It is thus assumed that as sin caused Christ’s death, so justification necessitated His resurrection”.[21] Christ rose from the dead, “since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:24; cf. Jn. 20:9). Chafer states again that Romans 4:25 indicates that “. . . having completed the ground of justification by and through His death and Hs body having remained the prescribed time in the tomb, Christ arose”.[22]
     Justification (Rom. 5:9), redemption (Eph. 1:7), forgiveness (Eph. 1:7), peace (Eph. 2:13-14; Col. 1:20), and cleansing (Heb. 9:14) were all accomplished on the cross, not while Christ was in Hades and not as a result of the resurrection – but a result of His death on the cross (cf. Rom. 3:24, 5:9; 2 Cor. 5:21). Concerning this, see Lewis Sperry Chafer’s Systematic Theology, in which he deals with these topics and Romans 4:25.
     Let's move on to discuss whether Christ possessed power over His Spirit, or whether it was “given over to God to pay the spiritual price for our sin, death, and separation,” as some believe. There are texts that indicate that Christ’s death occurred because He willed it. Even before Christ went to the cross He told His disciples, “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father” (Jn. 10:17-18).[23] In Matthew 27:50 it says that “Jesus . . . yielded up His spirit” (i.e. He physically died). Similarly, John 19:30 states that Jesus “gave up His spirit”. Luke 23:46 seems to indicate that Christ was in control of His spirit until His death. And in Galatians 2:20 the apostle Paul says that “the Son of God . . . delivered Himself up”. Louis Barbieri, the chair of the Department of Theology at the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago writes:

With one last cry Jesus . . . gave up His spirit, committing it into the hands of His Father (Luke 23:46). Jesus was in complete control of His life and died at the precise moment He determined by dismissing His spirit. No man took Jesus’ life from Him, as He had said (John 10:11, 15, 17-18). He laid His life down in keeping with God’s plan and He was involved in taking it back up again in His resurrection.[24]

     It is true that the Father also played a part in delivering up His Son (Rom. 4:25, 8:32). But in Galatians 2:20 and Ephesians 5:2 we see the self-surrender of the Son. I believe the union of these two truths can be seen in passages like Psalms 40:8-9, “I delight to do thy will” and John 10:18, “This commandment I received from my Father”. I believe Lewis Sperry Chafer rightly says concerning Christ, “That He was delivered [into the hands of sinful men to be put to death on the cross] intimates that aspect of His death which reckons it a deed at the hand of God and equally a work of wicked men [Lk. 24:20; Acts 2:23]. There is an aspect in which it is true that no man took His life from Him (John 10:18)”.[25]
     Let me discuss another statement made by someone who thinks that Jesus suffered in hell. The individual writes:

In John 20:17, Jesus told Mary to “stop clinging to Me; for I have not yet ascended to my Father…” He had not yet presented the whole of His sacrifice before the altar in the true holy place in heaven. Then and only then would the total sacrifice be finished in body and spirit.

     In regards to John 20:17, Lewis Sperry Chafer makes some interesting comments in which he gives evidence that seems to indicate that Christ ascended on the resurrection morning and presented Himself before the Father in fulfillment of various Old Testament types: 

  • The two birds, the first of which was killed while the second was dipped in its blood and set free (Lev. 14:4-7).[26]
  • The high priest on the Day of Atonement went into the holy of holies and applied blood to the mercy seat (Lev. 16:14). 
  • The sheaf of the first-fruits (Lev. 23:9-14). C. H. Macintosh sets forth the idea that in the Passover Christ’s death is pictured, in the sheaf of the first-fruits Christ’s resurrection is pictured, and in the feast of Pentecost the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the church is pictured.[27]

In distinction to Chafer, Charles Ryrie states:

Some think that John 20:17 indicates one or more ascensions before the one detailed in Acts 1. However, the verb “I ascend” is most likely a futuristic present referring to the coming public ascension of Acts 1 and referring to it with certainty. It is as if the Lord were saying to Mary, “Stop clinging to Me. There is no need for this, as I am not yet at the point of permanent ascension. You will still have the opportunity to see Me. However, there is no question but that I certainly will ascend to My Father”.[28]

Similarly, John Walvoord writes:

The question has been raised whether Christ ascended into heaven prior to the event recorded in Acts 1. A number of expositors teach that Christ ascended to heaven on the day of His resurrection based on the implications of John 20:17 and Hebrews 9:6-20. They argue that just as the high priest in the Old Testament observed the Day of Atonement by taking blood into the holy of holies and sprinkling the mercy seat, so Christ, a new High Priest after a higher order, on the day of His resurrection applied the blood of His sacrifice to heaven itself.
     This concept of an immediate ascension into heaven after His resurrection has been refuted, however, by able scholarship. Most conservative theologians hold that the work of Christ was finished on the cross and that the physical application of the blood never extended beyond the cross itself. Hebrews 9:12, which states that Christ entered into the holy place, properly translated by the American Standard Version indicates that it was “through his own blood” (dia with a genitive) rather than with His blood.
     The statement to Mary in John 20:17 (ASV), “Touch me not; for I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God,” actually is a prediction rather than a statement of immediate accomplishment. It is probable that the verb “I ascend” is a futuristic use of the present tense as A. T. Robertson points out. [A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, p. 880.] In view of the fact that Christ appeared to others not long after His appearance to Mary Magdalene, it is unlikely that there would be a rapid ascension into heaven and return in a comparative few minutes. Many, therefore, have concluded that it is improbable that Christ ascended in a formal way to heaven until the event of Acts 1.[29]

     Whenever Christ ascended, the Scriptures are clear that Christ’s presentation of Himself in heaven did not add to His finished work on the cross, for “He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12, emphasis added). The propitiation therefore was already accomplished when Christ presented Himself in heaven. It is significant that Christ is said to have entered heaven “through” (not “with”) His blood (Heb. 9:12).[30] Christ obtained eternal redemption when He died, not when He presented Himself in heaven. F. W. Grant states the point well when he writes:

Where shall we expect to find it if not in Hebrews, where confessedly the Day of Atonement is the text upon which the apostle is dwelling in all this part? And where is it to be found in Hebrews, or anywhere else in the New Testament, that Christ went into heaven to make propitiation there? . . . Quite another thing is, in fact, taught there, - namely, that Christ entered in once into the holy places, having obtained eternal redemption. As risen from the dead, raised up by the glory of the Father, He entered once, not the second time, propitiation therefore already accomplished, the resurrection the evidence of the ransom accepted . . . .”[31]

We must not make the mistake of building a doctrine on an Old Testament type alone. It has been said that “no parable can teach doctrine”.[32] F. W. Grant elaborates by saying, “We must find elsewhere the doctrine which the type illustrates, before we can find the ground for a just application”.[33]
     I believe that after Christ ascended in Acts 2, He appeared in heaven as the antitype, or fulfillment, of the Old Testament types. This act of Christ appearing in heaven “through His blood” (Heb. 9:12) simply demonstrated the value of His completed sacrifice on the cross. Concerning this matter, Dwight Pentecost writes:

Specifically, Christ’s sacrifice is the ultimate fulfillment of the Day of Atonement. At the Cross, God was the one being propitiated (satisfied); the blood of Christ was that which propitiated a holy God; the body of Christ was the place of propitiation (the mercy seat); and all guilty sinners were those for whom propitiating blood was being offered to God.[34]

In reference to Hebrews 9:12, several other quotes may prove helpful. Sir Robert Anderson writes:

But having entered there [heaven] in virtue of His blood – that is, of the death by which He put away sin – He is there by a title that He can share with His people. Therefore is it that He is the mercy-seat – the meeting-place between God and men. Twice only does this word occur in the New Testament: in Heb. ix. 5 it refers to the typical “propitiatory,” and in Rom. iii. 25 to Christ Himself, the antitype.[35]

The words of [Hebrews 9] verse 12 are, “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, He entered in once for all into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption.” It is not the Priest going in to make atonement – to finish an unfinished work – but the Mediator going in on the ground of a work finished and complete.[36]

The assistant superintendent of the Moody Bible Institute under R. A. Torrey, William R. Newell writes:

having obtained eternal redemption at the Cross: pardon, justification, reconciliation, association . . . through (dia) His own blood, reveal that Christ entered Heaven with a memorial of His own sacrifice. . . . He entered in by virtue of His blood. He might have entered Heaven at any moment during His perfect life here. But He would have gone alone as He came alone. But He has not entered Heaven in that way. Always pleasing unto the Father, through the eternal Spirit He offered Himself without blemish {at the Cross} unto God (vs. 14).[37]

     John 20:17 is an intriguing text and needs to be examined in light of the Greek language. Is Jesus prohibiting Mary from touching Him when He tells her in John 20:17a, “Touch me not” (KJV)? This seems to be the case when this verse is read in many translations. However, in the Greek language the verb “touch” is a present imperative. R. V. G. Tasker, Professor Emeritus of New Testament Exegesis at the University of London writes, “...when used as a prohibition this should normally give the meaning ‘Stop touching me’ or ‘Do not touch me any more’. A more correct translation would therefore be, ‘Do not cling to Me’ (RSV ‘Do not hold me’).”[38] Similarly, A. T. Robertson, the American scholar of New Testament Greek writes:

Touch me not (mē mou aptou). Present middle imperative in prohibition with genitive case, meaning “cease clinging to me” rather than “Do not touch me.” Jesus allowed the women to take hold of his feet (ekratēsan) and worship (prosekunēsan) as we read in Matthew 28:9.[39]

And so we see that in John 20:17a, Jesus is not prohibiting Mary from touching Him, Jesus is telling Mary to stop clinging to Him (an act she had already begun). Concerning the phrase “I am not yet ascended”  in John 20:17b, Tasker writes, “The verb translated I am not yet ascended is in the perfect tense, and implies, ‘I have not yet completed my ascent’.”[40] It is also interesting to note that the phrase “I ascend” in John 20:17c is a present active indicative Greek verb.[41] Greek scholar William B. Mounce writes:

The present active indicative verb in Greek is basically the same as in English. It describes an action that usually occurs in the present. It can be either a continuous (“I am studying”) or undefined (“I study”) action. We recommend using a continuous translation by default, and if it does not fit the context switch to the undefined” (emphasis added).[42]

In light of Mounce's statement above, the phrase “I ascend” in John 20:17 should more accurately be translated “I am ascending”. Tasker states, “I ascend should be taken as a continuous present “I am in the process of ascending’.”[43] In light of the Greek language, John 20:17 could be translated, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet completed My ascent; but go to My brethren, and say to them, ‘I am in the process of ascending to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” 
     Edwin A. Blum gives this very helpful commentary on John 20:17:

She may have embraced Him physically, for the Lord responded, Do not hold on to Me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to My brothers and tell them. . . These words spoke of a new relationship, new relatives, and a new responsibility. Many wanted to “hold onto” Jesus. The KJV translation “Touch Me not,” has caused many interpreters to wonder why He could not be “touched.” The NIV translation is more accurate, for He certainly was not untouchable (cf. Matt. 28:9; John 20:27). Mary had lost Jesus once before (at His crucifixion) and it was natural to fear the loss of His presence again.
     Jesus said, in effect, “This (the physical contact) is not My real presence for the church. A new relationship will begin with My Ascension and the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church.” Jesus then explained the fact of the new relatives. He called His disciples His brothers. Earlier He had said they were friends: “I no longer call you servants . . . instead, I have called you friends” (15:15). Believers in Jesus become a part of Jesus’ family with God as their Father (cf. Heb. 2:11-12; Rom. 8:15-17, 29; Gal. 3:26). Mary’s new responsibility was to testify to His risen presence.[44]

     Chafer’s argument for more than one ascension of Christ is well stated, but I am inclined to side with Walvoord. Regardless of the time of Christ’s ascension, I believe Christ’s sacrifice and our redemption was finished on the cross when He cried “It is finished!” Based on Hebrews 9:12 (“through His own blood. . . having obtained eternal redemption”), I believe that the historical fact of Christ’s blood shed on Calvary was the ground of man’s redemption (the resurrection then being the receipt of our previously accomplished redemption) and heaven’s cleansing.
     Let me address another quote in which someone has said, “I believe that Christ suffered my punishment in hell, that is not adding to the gospel”. I believe that saying Christ’s suffering in hell is subtracting from the gospel – it is subtracting from the worth of Christ’s death on the cross. I believe that saying Christ suffered in hell is subtracting from Christ’s cry from the cross, “It is finished!” I don’t want to say that the statement above is adding to the gospel, but I do know that when the apostle Paul explains the gospel in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, he says nothing about Christ suffering in hell – or in hades for that matter. The gospel is: 

1.) Christ died for our sins . . .  (1 Cor. 15:3b). Where did Christ die for our sins? The Scriptures clearly declare that Christ died for our sins on the cross (“on a tree” – Gal. 3:13; “through a cross” - Eph. 2:16; “His cross” - Col. 1:20, “the cross” - Col. 2:14; “on the cross” - 1 Pet. 2:24,  “For Christ also died for sins once for all...having been put to death in the flesh” - 1 Pet. 3:18). In fact, the cross is so pivotal that Paul uses the term as a synonym for the gospel (1 Cor. 1:17).   

2.) Christ was buried . . . (1 Cor. 15:4a). The text does not say that He was buried for our sins, but simply that He was buried. Christ’s death on the cross and His shed blood there on the cross (not His burial) completely satisfied the righteous demands of the Father (Rom. 3:25, 5:9; Col. 1:20).

3.) Christ was raised . . .  (1 Cor. 15:4b; cf. Lk. 24:7, 24:21; Acts 10:40).[45]

4.) Christ was seen . . .  (1 Cor. 15:5).

Hence, Paul’s gospel says nothing specifically about Christ suffering in hell or in hades.
     Another question has been asked by someone trying to argue that Christ suffered in the flames of hell:

Did Jesus suffer the hell penalty for your sins? Isn’t hell fire what you deserve? The just chastening for your sin? Isaiah 53:5,6 “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well being fell upon Him . . . but the Lord caused the iniquity of us all to fall upon Him.”

     God’s Word speaks of Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross, not His substitutionary suffering in hell or hades. Isaiah 52:13-53:12 refers to Christ’s death on the cross. It was there that the sinless One died for the sins of many. The Scriptures teach, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).[46] I deserved to die, but Christ died in my place. “for while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (Rom. 5:6).[47] The word “for” is the Greek word huper, primarily meaning “on behalf of, for the sake of, instead of”. Christ tasted death “for every man” (Heb. 2:9); He died for us (Rom. 5:8). On the cross, Christ died in my place, What was the result of Christ’s death on the cross? Romans 5:9 says, “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” 1 Peter 3:18 says, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit”.
     As I stated earlier, I believe that Christ was in hades between His death and resurrection, but I do not believe that He was suffering there. Let me explain. Christ prophesied that He would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matt. 12:40). Acts 2:27 tells us that Christ was in “Hades” after His death. Thus the “heart of the earth” is synonymous with “Hades” or sheol (cf. Psa. 16:10). Even though Christ was raised on the third day (Lk. 24:7, 24:21; Acts 10:40; 1 Cor. 15:4), and not after three days, Jesus’ prediction still held true because the Jews reckoned any part of a day as a full day. But Jesus also said to the thief on the cross next to Him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise”. Therefore, Paradise must have been in “the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). Paradise must have been synonymous with hades. Is this consistent with the Scriptures? I believe that it is. In Luke chapter 16, Christ told the true story (actual accounts of events use proper names) of Lazarus, after his death, went to a place called Abraham’s bosom. The Greek scholar A. T. Robertson has said, “To be in Abraham’s bosom is to the Jew to be in paradise”.[48] I believe that “Sheol”, “the heart of the earth”, “Paradise”, “Abraham’s bosom” and “Hades” all refer to the same compartment of Hades. Luke 16:19-31 makes this clear. On one side of the “great chasm” (Lk. 16:26) Lazarus was “comforted” (Lk. 16:25a), while on the other side the rich man was in “agony” in the flames (Lk. 16:25b). The bible says that due to the great chasm, no one could cross over to the opposite side (Lk. 16:26). To review, Christ said that He would be in the center of the earth after His death (Matt. 12:40), the book of Acts further clarifies the place as being Hades (Acts 2:27), and Christ specifically told the thief they were going to Paradise (Lk. 23:43). Therefore, I believe that Christ went to the upper compartment of Hades (remember that in luke 16:23 the rich man “lifted his eyes,” therefore he was in lower Hades), or “Abraham’s bosom” as Luke calls it, during the “three days and three nights” following His death and prior to His resurrection. Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest writes:

In Acts 2:27, 31, our Lord at His death went to Hades, the passage in Acts being quoted from Psalm 16:, where the Hebrew is “Sheol.” His soul was not left in Hades, the “paradise” portion, nor did His body in Joseph’s tomb see corruption, for He was raised from the dead on the third day. He as the Man Christ Jesus, possessing a human soul and spirit, as He possessed a human body, entered the abode of the righteous dead, having committed the keeping of His spirit to God the Father (Luke 23:46).[49]

     In light of this, there are at least two positive references to Hades in the New Testament. The first positive reference is in Luke 16:25 (“Abraham’s bosom”) and the second one is in Luke 23:43 where Christ said to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise”.
     There are a number of positive references to Sheol in the Old Testament. Like Hades in the New Testament, Sheol in the Old Testament had two compartments – one for the wicked dead and one for the blessed dead. Looking insightfully at the text, we can conclude that Sheol was the destination of godly individuals upon death, such as:

   1.) Job (Job 14:13-14) – J. Dwight Pentecost states that Sheol “was regarded as temporary and the righteous anticipated the resurrection out of it into the millennial age (Job 14:13-14; 19:25, 27; Ps. 16:9-11; 17:15; 49:15; 73:24)”.[50]

   2.) Abraham (Gen. 25:8; Lk. 16:22-30) – Abraham was “gathered to his people” after his death, therefore he was not the first saved individual in Sheol. That he was there can be seen from the account in Luke 16, which specifically mentions him as being in Paradise. 

3.) Isaac (Gen. 35:29) – Like his father before him, Isaac was “gathered to his people” and therefore went to be with Abraham in Sheol. 

4.) Jacob (Gen. 44:29; 49:33) – Jacob expected to go to Sheol (Gen. 44:29). Upon his death he was “gathered to his people” and joined the saved in “Abraham’s bosom” (Lk. 16:22).

   5.) Samuel (1 Sam. 28:13-15) – The biblical text indicates that the Samuel spoken of in this account is actually Samuel the prophet. Apparently God permitted Samuel to speak with King Saul and the spirit medium. It seems evident that this miracle was not from the witch due to her surprise and fright at seeing Samuel. The Bible says that Samuel “came up out of the earth” (1 Sam. 28:13). This is consistent with how Sheol is described elsewhere in the Bible – as being down, or in the center of the earth (cf. Num. 16:30; Amos 9:2; Jonah 2:2; Matt. 12:40). It is consistent with the Scriptures to say that Samuel was in Sheol and that he was allowed by God to rise to speak with King Saul. Samuel prophesied that King Saul and his sons would be killed by the Philistines and said that “tomorrow you and your sons will be with me” (1 Sam. 28:19).

  6.) Saul and his sons (1 Sam. 28:19) – We can conclude that Saul and his sons went to be with Samuel in Sheol upon their deaths.

  7.) David and his child (2 Sam. 12:23; 1 Kings 2:10; Psa. 88:3)

  8.) Solomon (1 Kings 11:42-43)

  9.) Daniel (Dan. 12:13; cf. 1 Sam. 28:15; Lk. 16:25)
  10.) All men (Psa. 89:48) – Therefore all the blessed dead are seen to be enjoying rest and comfort (1 Sam. 28:15; Dan. 12:13; Lk. 16:25) in Sheol, separated of course from the wicked dead who are in conscious torment there (Isa. 14:9-11).

     Let me quickly answer a few objections before moving on. Some may wonder how Enoch and Elijah fit into the concept of Sheol being in the center of the earth because both men are said to have gone to heaven, not Sheol (Gen. 5:22-24; 2 Kings 2:1). I believe that this objection is easily answered when it is remembered that Sheol is the temporary place of the dead.[51] Since neither Enoch nor Elijah died, they would have no right or reason to go to Sheol. Instead, I believe they went straight to Heaven – possibly waiting a future assignment (see Revelation 11:3-12). But (it might be argued) how can sinful men stand in God’s presence? One thing is certain – God’s Word states that Elijah went to Heaven (2 Kings 2:1). And if Satan can stand before God (Job 1:6, 2:1), surely Elijah is not as bad as Satan! Furthermore, the apostle Paul in the New Testament, still in his sinful body, says that he was caught up to Paradise (2 Cor. 12:4). I believe that God, in His grace, “passed over” the sins of those who lived before Christ’s death (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 9:15). Their sins were covered year by year by the blood sprinkled on the mercy seat, but not completely removed until Calvary. In light of this, it seems consistent to believe that Elijah could be, like Paul was in 2 Corinthians 12:4, in the “third heaven”.
     Another objection that may be raised concerns the transfiguration. How is it that Moses, who had died and gone to Sheol, could be seen talking to Christ (Matt. 17:3; Mk. 9:4; Lk. 9:30)? It seems that God raised Moses from Sheol similar to the prophet Samuel before him (1 Sam. 28:13-15). Although I do not believe that the souls in Sheol possess physical bodies, it seems they are still recognizably similar to what their physical bodies looked like (1 Sam. 28:14, cf. 1 Sam. 15:27). It is interesting that the rich man in Hades is described as having eyes, fingers, and a tongue (Lk. 16:23-24). Therefore I believe that Moses appeared to the disciples in a form similar to that of his physical body.[52]
     Now concerning the Greek word abussos, meaning abyss. This word is a general term that describes a deep bath or a deep place, including Hades (Rom. 10:7), tartarus (Lk. 8:31; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 1:6), and the bottomless pit (Rev. 9:1, 9:2, 9:11, 11:7, 17:8, 20:1, 20:3). Abussos is often used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) and describes, for instance, the waters of the earth before creation (Gen. 1:2), and the subterranean fountains that opened during the flood (Gen. 7:11, 8:2). Douglas Moo writes, “the ‘sea’ and the ‘abyss’ were somewhat interchangeable concepts in the OT and in Judaism; and some Aramaic paraphrases of the Deut. 30:13 used the language of the abyss.”[53]
     To understand what abussos means in Romans 10:7, we must understand the immediate context. We cannot impose a meaning from a different context onto the context of Romans 10:7. To do this would be reading something into the text that the author did not intend. Romans 10:7 is a loose quote from Deuteronomy 30:13, “Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?”
     Romans 10:7 is referring, I believe, to the resurrection of Christ from the dead (Rom. 10:7b), and possibly is a reference to Hades. It is clear that Hades is in the deep, for it is called a “pit” (Num. 16:30, 16:33; Job 17:16), Samuel is said to have come up out of it (1 Sam. 28:13), and Christ said that He would be “in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). Amos 9:2 describes a contrast much like Paul does in Romans 10:7. Amos says, “Though they dig into Sheol, from there shall My hand take them; and though they ascend to heaven, from there will I bring them down”.
     Here I quote Wayne Grudem concerning Romans 10:6-7:

These verses contain two rhetorical questions, again Old Testament quotations (from Deut. 30:13): “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down) or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” But this passage hardly teaches that Christ descended into hell. The point of the passage is that Paul is telling people not to ask these questions, because Christ is not far away – he is near – and faith in him is as near as confessing with our mouth and believing in our heart (v. 9). These prohibited questions are questions of unbelief, not assertions of what Scripture teaches. However, some may object that Paul would not have anticipated that his readers would ask such questions unless it was widely known that Christ did in fact descend “into the abyss.” However, even if this were true, Scripture would not be saying or implying that Christ went into “hell” (in the sense of a place of punishment from the dead, ordinarily expressed by Gk. Geenna), but rather that he went into “the abyss” (G,. abyssos, a term which often in the LXX is used of the depths of the ocean [Gen. 1:2; 7:11; 8:2; Deut. 8:7; Ps. 106 (107):26], but it can also apparently refer just to the realm of the dead [Ps. 70 (71):20]).[54]
     Paul here uses the word “deep” (abyssos) as a contrast to “heaven” in order to give the sense of a place that is unreachable, inaccessible to human beings. The contrast is not, “Who shall go to find Christ in a place of great blessing (heaven) or a place of great punishment (hell)?” but rather, “Who shall go to find Christ in a place that is inaccessibly high (heaven) or in a place that is inaccessibly low (the deep, or the realm of death)?”[55]

Similarly, William R. Newell writes:

Our Lord plainly said he would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matt. 12.40). This was not Joseph’s tomb (which was on the surface of the earth), but the Hebrew Sheol (Greek, Hades), which is always in Scripture located below the earth’s surface – even “the lower parts of the earth” (Eph. 4.9). To another compartment of these “lower parts” the wicked also went; as see Ps. 63.9. That this was in the general region called Hades, the rich man of Luke 16.22,23 proves. (Always read the Revised Version about the words SheolHades: for it transliterates them. The King James simply obscures them by various renderings.) While Christ’s body lay in Joseph’s tomb “not seeing corruption,” His soul (or quickened spirit, I Peter 3.18) – as Peter and Paul, quoting Ps. 16.10, plainly show (Acts 2.31; 13.34, 37) was duly brought up again “from the depths of the earth” (Ps. 71.20).[56]

     After Christ ascended I believe a change took place that affected Paradise, or upper Hades.[57] The Paradise section of Hades was removed from the “heart of the earth” and taken into the presence of God in heaven. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 that he was “caught up to the third heaven . . . into Paradise”. Believers in the New Testament, upon their death, are said to be “absent from the body” and “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). In Philippians 1:23, Paul said that he would “depart and be with Christ” upon his death. It seems clear that Paradise is no longer below, in the earth, but above, in heaven.
     It does not appear that any change has taken place in lower Hades. I believe the unsaved in lower Hades await their resurrection to the Great White Throne judgment of Revelation 20:11-15. At the judgment of the Great White Throne, Hades gives up the dead that are in it (Rev. 20:13) and they, being lost, are thrown into the eternal lake of fire – also known as Hell (Matt. 25:41; Mk. 9:43-44; Rev. 20:10).
     I believe the Biblical evidence supporting the position that Christ suffered in hell – or even in Hades – is weak at best. It would be foolish for me to change my position based on a few controversial texts, which I believe can be explained to mean something other than Christ suffering in hell. These explanations I have tried to set forth in this/my paper. I believe there are more passages, clearer texts, better exegesis, and a greater degree of Scriptural harmony supporting the position that Christ's suffering took place and was completed on the cross, not in Hades and not/nor in Hell.

Appendix A

“Verily I say unto thee, today” (Luke 23:43)

     What did Jesus say to the repentant thief hanging next to Him on the cross? Did He say, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (NASB) or “Truly I say to you today, you shall be with Me in Paradise”? The question of the comma has great significance, for its placement changes the whole meaning of Christ’s statement. By placing the comma before “today”, Christ would be emphasizing when the thief would be with Him in Paradise. By placing the comma after “today”, Christ would be emphasizing when He was talking to the thief, and His statement would simply mean that at some undefined point, the thief would be with Him in Paradise.
     We cannot go to the original Greek to answer this question. The question is concerning the placement of a single comma, and the original Greek language had no commas. Therefore, other means must be relied upon to determine the meaning of Christ’s statement. First, the author will appeal to common sense. Second, cross-references will be consulted to shed light on this text. Third, other translations will be consulted.
     First, common sense demonstrates that the comma should be placed before “today”. Christ was not saying, “Truly I say to you today, you shall be with Me in Paradise” for that would be nonsense (to place the comma after today). Of course Christ was talking to the thief when it was “today”! He was not talking to the thief when it was “yesterday” or “tomorrow”! Christ was not emphasizing when He was talking to the thief, Christ was emphasizing when the thief would be with Him in Paradise!
     Second, cross-references demonstrate that the word “today” should be excluded from the introductory statement of Christ in Luke 23:43. The Scriptures clearly indicate that the comma should be placed before “today” in Luke 23:43. The phrase “Verily I say unto thee” (Lk. 23:43) is a common expression in the New Testament. Every time this expression is used in the New Testament it is never “Verily I say unto thee today”, but simply “Verily I say  unto thee”. This phrase is simply an introductory statement emphasizing that something is true, the speaker then proceeds to explain what it is that is true. The exact phrase “Verily I say unto thee” occurs nine times in the Greek text (Matt. 5:26, 26:34; Mk. 14:30; Lk. 23:43; Jn. 3:3, 3:5, 3:11, 13:38, 21:18). In the New Testament the word “today” is never included in the expression “Verily I say unto thee”. Likewise, the phrase “Verily I say unto you” – being almost identical in construction – also omits the word “today” every time it occurs in the New Testament (Matt. 5:18, 6:2, 6:5, 6:16, 8:10, 10:15, 10:23, 10:42, 11:11, 13:17, 16:28, 17:20, 18:3, 18:13, 18:18, 19:23, 19:28, 21:21, 21:31, 23:36, 24:2, 24:34, 24:47, 25:12, 25:40, 25:45, 26:13, 26:21; Mk. 3:28, 6:11, 8:12, 9:1, 9:41, 10:15, 10:29, 11:23, 12:43, 13:30, 14:9, 14:18, 14:25; Lk. 4:24, 11:51, 12:37, 13:35, 18:17, 21:32; Jn. 1:51, 5:19, 5:24, 5:25, 6:26, 6:32, 6:47, 6:53, 8:34, 8:51, 8:58, 10:1, 10:7, 12:24, 13:16, 13:20, 13:21, 14:12, 16:20, 16:23). To include “today” in Christ’s introductory statement (“Verily I say unto thee”) demonstrates either an ignorance of Scripture or a theological bias. Sixty-eight cross-references clearly indicate that Luke 23:43 should correctly read, “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (KJV).
     Third, various translations, versions, and interlinears indicate that the word “today” should be excluded from the introductory statement of Christ in Luke 23:43. The following Bibles place the comma before the word “today”, thus excluding it from Christ’s introductory statement:
  • King James Version
  • The Living Bible
  • Phillips Modern English 
  • Revised Standard Version
  • Today’s English Version 
  • New International Version
  • The Jerusalem Bible
  • The New English Bible
  • The Weymouth New Testament
  • New American Standard Bible 
  • And even the Greek Interlinear (Today’s Parallel Greek-English New Testament)!

In fact, the only Bible (that I’m aware of) to include the word “today” in Christ’s introductory statement is the Jehovah Witness’ New World Translation! However, Greek scholars agree that the New World Translation is totally unreliable. Dr. Robert Countess, who wrote a doctoral dissertation on the Greek of the New World Translation, concluded that the translation “must be viewed as a radically biased piece of work. At some points it is actually dishonest. At others it is neither modern nor scholarly.”[58] British scholar H. H. Rowley asserted, “From beginning to end this volume is a shining example of how the Bible should not be translated.”[59] Rowley went on to say that the New World Translation is “an insult to the Word of God.”[60] Dr. Julius Mantey, author of A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, calls the New World Translation “a shocking mistranslation.”[61] Dr. Bruce M. Metzger, professor of New Testament at Princeton University, calls it “a frightful mistranslation,” “erroneous,” “pernicious,” and “reprehensible”.[62] Dr. William Barclay concluded that “the deliberate distortion of truth by this sect is seen in their New Testament translation . . . . It is abundantly clear that a sect which can translate the New Testament like that is intellectually dishonest.”[63] Those who advocate that the word “today” should be included in Christ’s introductory statement have not based their argument on God’s Word. Instead, (whether conscious of the fact or not) their argument stand supported only by a translation condemned as unscholarly and heretical.
     In conclusion, it is evident that Luke 23:43 has been correctly translated by the overwhelming majority of modern versions and translations. Common sense, cross-references, and the majority of translations indicate that the word “today” should correctly remain after the comma in Luke 23:43, thus excluding it from Christ’s introductory statement.

Appendix B

An Examination of Luke 16:23 and Luke 23:43

     Those who advocate that Christ suffered in Hades must deal with Luke 23:43, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise”. In order to harmonize this passage with their belief that Christ suffered in Hades, proponents of that position define the phrase “with me” (Lk. 23:43) in an interesting way. They state that “with me” actually means “in the general vicinity of”; “with me generally”; “in the same general area with me”. With this definition, Christ could have suffered in Hades, while the thief – in the same general vicinity but on the other side of the “great chasm” (Lk. 16:26) – enjoyed Paradise.
     Luke 16:19-31 tells the true story (real names and real places are spoken of) of just such a situation. Is the rich man suffering in Hades described as being “with” Lazarus while he enjoys Paradise in Abraham’s bosom? That should be the scenario according to those who advocate that Christ suffered in Hades. But the Scriptures actually state exactly the opposite. Instead of the rich man being “with” Lazarus, the two are said to be “far away” from each other (Lk. 16:23). The phrase “far way” is used five other times in the King James Version of the Bible (Mk. 14:54, 15:40; Rev. 18:10, 18:15, 18:17) and is translated as “a distance” each time (it is never translated as “with”).
     In our language, it is obvious that the terms “with” (Lk. 23:43) and “far away” (Lk. 16:23) have very different meanings. The Greek language also affirms that the terms “with” and “far away” have different meanings. The term “with” (Lk. 23:43) is the Greek word meta which primarily means amid, with, or in the midst, and denotes accompaniment. The term ”far away” (Lk. 16:23) comes from two Greek words. The word “far” is the Greek word makrothen, which means far, a far, long, or from a distance. The word “away” is the Greek word apo which means from, away from, of, or off. The term apo indicates the separation of a person or an object from another person or an object which were formerly united but are now separated.[64] Thus the phrase “far away” (Lk. 16:23) speaks of a far separation from something, while the term “with” (Lk. 23:43) denotes accompaniment.
     On the cross, Jesus said to the dying thief next to Him, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:43). Jesus could not have meant that although He would be suffering in Hades while the thief enjoyed Paradise “far away,” they would be in the same general vicinity. The term “with” in Luke 23:43 and the phrase “far away” in Luke 16:23 prohibits such an interpretation. Notice that Jesus said to the thief, “today you will be with Me in Paradise”. Jesus did not say, “today you will be far away from Me in Paradise”. It is quite obvious that the thief could not be “with” Jesus and “far away” from Jesus at the same time. Hence, it is clear that after his death, Jesus was not “far away” across the great chasm suffering in Hades, but was “with” the repentant thief in Paradise!

[1] Iversen Norman (Editor), Today’s Parallel Greek-English New Testament, p. 339.
[2] The Paradise side of Hades held the spirits of the saints who died before Paradise was relocated to the third Heaven. Paradise is no longer located in hades “in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40; Lk. 23:43) as it was, but is now in heaven with Christ (2 Cor. 5:8, 12:2-4; Phil. 1:21-24). Those spirits of the saints who were confined in the Paradise section of Hades as of yet have not been raised to life (with the exception of the “many,” but not all, that were raised in Matthew 27:52) out of Paradise (that will occur after the Great Tribulation: Dan. 12:1-2; Rev. 20:4), but Paradise was relocated to the third Heaven. Therefore, it is clear that the Paradise section of Hades was intermediate and temporary. The torment section of Hades is also seen to be intermediate and temporary. Hades will give up the dead that are in it (Rev. 20:13) just prior to the Great White Throne judgment of unbelievers (Rev. 20:5a, 20:11-15). Then Hades will be “thrown into the Lake of Fire” (Rev. 20:15). The torment section of Hades is the temporary place of confinement for the spirits of the unsaved dead, while the Lake of Fire (Hell) will be their eternal prison.
[3] All Scriptures are quoted from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) unless otherwise noted. Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
[4] If Christ went to the torment side of Hades, it would contradict what Jesus said to the thief on the cross: “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:43). Christ was not saying, “Truly I say to you today, you shall be with Me in Paradise” – for that would be nonsense (to place the comma after today). Of course Christ was talking to the thief when it was “today”! He was not talking to the thief when it was “yesterday” or “tomorrow”! Christ was not emphasizing when He was talking to the thief. Christ was emphasizing when the thief would be with Him in Paradise! This is verified by looking at other Bible verses in the New Testament. The phrase “Truly I say to you” is a common expression in the New Testament. Every time this expression is used in the New Testament, it never says “Truly I say to you today”. Instead, the phrase is always simply “Truly I say to you”. This phrase is simply an introductory statement emphasizing that something is true. The speaker then proceeds to explain what it is that is true. And so we see that the comma correctly belongs where it is in Luke 23:43, after “you” and before “today”. In similar passages such as Luke 18:17, 18:29, and 21:32, we see that the phrase “Truly I say to you” is an introductory statement emphasizing the thought to follow. The word “today” is never included in this introductory expression. To include the word “today” in the introductory expression in Luke 23:43 is to go against the rest of Scripture as well as make Christ speak nonsense. See Appendix A for further discussion on this topic.
[5] The one exception being 1 Corinthians 15:55 where hades is translated as “grave” (KJV) or “death” (NASB).
[6] The Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest writes that Gehenna is “the Greek representative of the Hebrew ‘Ge-Hinnom,’ or Valley of Hinnom, a deep narrow valley to the south of Jerusalem, where, after the introduction of the worship of the fire-gods by Ahaz, the idolatrous Jews sacrificed their children to the god Molech. After the time of Josiah, when this practice was stopped, it became the common refuse-place of the city, where the bodies of criminals, carcasses of animals, and all sorts of filth were cast. From its depth and narrowness, and its fire and ascending smoke, it became the symbol of the place of the future punishment of the wicked. The word is used in Matthew 5:22 in the phrase ‘the hell of fire,’ (Greek), and thus refers to the final abode of the wicked dead which is called in Revelation 19:20 ‘the lake of fire burning with brimstone.’” (Wuest, Treasures from the Greek New Testament, p. 44.)
[7] Commenting on Luke 16:23, New Testament scholar A. T. Robertson writes: “To be in Abraham’s bosom is to the Jew to be in Paradise.” (Robertson, Robertson’s Word Pictures.)
[8] W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary, p. 827; Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary, p. 1497.
[9] W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary, p. 1066; cf. Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary, p. 1027.
[10] W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary, p. 268; cf. Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary, p. 717. Zodhiates writes that thanatos means “Death. (I) generally and of natural death”. (Ibid.)
[11] Similarly, the apostle Paul says that the Father’s righteous demands for judgment were satisfied – propitiated – when Christ physically died on the cross. Paul writes, “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in [NASB footnote: “Or, by”] His blood through faith” (Rom. 3:24-25). The blood of Christ washed my sins away, not His suffering in hades (see Romans 5:9; Ephesians 1:7, 2:13; Colossians 1:14, 1:20; and Hebrews 9:14). Hebrews 13:12 says, “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate”. Christ did not suffer in hades, but “outside the gate” of Jerusalem on the cross. It was on the cross that He suffered, shed His blood and cried “It is finished”! It was on the cross that Christ experienced “hell”. For what is hell if it is not outer darkness (Matt. 27:45; Mk. 15:33; Lk. 23:44), burning thirst (Psa. 69:21; Jn. 19:28), “grief” and “sorrow” (Isa. 53:4), “oppression” and “affliction” (Isa. 53:7), and spiritual separation from God (Psa. 22:1; Matt. 27:46; Mk. 15:34)? Our salvation is not centered on what Christ did in hades, but what Christ did on the cross! It has been said that the cross is where God did business with sin.
[12] A. T. Robertson, Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament, commentary on Acts 2:24.
[13] Gill, John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible, commentary on Acts 2:24.
[14] Chafer, Major Bible Themes, p. 66.
[15] Acts 13:32-37
[16] The Apostle John’s account of the crucifixion does not give any information concerning the tearing of the temple veil.
[17] THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
[18] For more information see John Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 2 Volumes, Vol. 2, pp. 90, 190, 262; J. Dwight Pentecost, A Harmony Of The Words And Works Of Jesus Christ, pp. 156-157.
[19] Gaebelein, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 604.
[20] Hart, “Why Confess Christ? The Use and Abuse of Romans 10:9-10,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society (Autumn 1999): p. 12.
[21] Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 Volumes, Vol. 2, p. 274.
[22] Ibid., Vol. 5, p. 248.
[23] At the same time, Hebrews 13:20 states that the “God of peace [i.e. God the Father] . . . brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep . . . even Jesus our Lord”.
[24] Barbieri, John Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Editors, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 2 Volumes, Vol. 2, p. 90.
[25] Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 Volumes, Vol. 5, p. 204.
[26] Walter Wilson states, “The dead bird represents Jesus on the cross as the dying Savior. The live bird represents the Lord Jesus on His throne as the living Lord.” (Wilson, Wilson’s Dictionary of Bible Types, p. 57.)
[27] Macintosh, Notes on Leviticus, American Edition, pp. 337-339, 341-342.
[28] Ryrie, Basic Theology, p. 270.
[29] Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord, pp. 220-221.
[30] See W. H. Griffith Thomas, Let Us Go On, pp. 112-113. Griffith Thomas points out, “It was not necessary for our High Priest to present His blood (nothing so material), but only to present Himself (vv. 12, 24).”
[31] F. W. Grant, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Editor, Systematic Theology, 8 Volumes, Vol. 5, p. 266, emphasis his, ellipsis added.
[32] Ibid.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Pentecost, A Faith That Endures, p. 148.
[35] Anderson, Types In Hebrews, p. 166.
[36] Ibid., p. 167.
[37] Newell, Hebrews Verse-By-Verse, pp. 289-290.
[38] Tasker, The Gospel According to St. John, p. 225.
[39] Robertson, Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament, commentary on John 20:17.
[40] Ibid.
[41] Ibid.
[42] Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek, Second Edition, p. 125.
[43] Tasker, The Gospel According to St. John, p. 225.
[44] Blum, John Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Editors, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, pp. 342-343.
[45] The two disciples on the road to Emmaus seem to have understood Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:40 to mean that Christ would rise from the dead on the third day. It is common knowledge that the Jews reckoned part of a day as a full day, therefore Matthew 12:40 in no way contradicts those passages that state that Christ rose “on the third day”.
[46] Spiros Zodhiates, writes, “Death” (Rom. 6:23) is the Greek word thanatos, primarily and generally meaning natural death.” (Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary, p. 717.)
[47] The word “died” (Rom. 5:6) is the Greek word apothnesko, which speaks of the natural death of human beings. (See W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary, p. 300.)
[48] Robertson, Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament, commentary on Luke 16:22.
[49] Wuest, Treasures from the Greek New Testament, p. 46.
[50] Pentecost, Things To Come, p. 556.
[51] There may be living souls in Sheol, but they are the living souls of people who have died (cf. Lk. 16:22).
[52] Although the disciples had never seen Elijah or Moses before, it is possible that they heard Jesus mention them by name.
[53] Moo, The Epistle To The Romans, p. 655.
[54] In Grudem's statement quoted above, he has a footnote in which he says: "1 Clem. 28:3 uses abyssos instead of the Septuagint’s hades to translate Ps. 139:8, 'If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!' In the New Testament, the term is used only in Luke 8:31; Rom. 10:7; and seven times in Revelation (there it refers to the 'bottomless pit'). Therefore, although the term can refer to the abode of condemned demons (as in Revelation), this is not its common sense in the LXX or a necessary sense in its New Testament usage. The primary force of the term is a place that is deep, unfathomable to human beings, ordinarily unable to be reached by them. (C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 2.525, notes that abyssos is the ordinary LXX translation for Hebrew tehom, and that tehom is used in the Mishnah [Pesahim 7:7; Nazir 9:2] to refer to a grave that had been unknown.)"
[55] Grudem, Systematic Theology, pp. 588-589.
[56] Newell, Romans Verse-By-Verse, p. 397.
[57] C. I. Scofield is representative of many who distinguish between the abode of the dead before and after Christ’s resurrection. In his Reference Bible, pp. 1098-1099, Scofield writes, “(1) Hades before the ascension of Christ. The passage in which the word occurs make it clear that hades was formerly in two divisions, the abodes respectively of the saved and of the lost. The former was called “paradise” and “Abraham’s bosom.” Both designations were Talmudic, but adopted by Christ in Lk. 16:22; 23:43. The blessed dead were with Abraham, they were conscious and were “comforted” (Lk. 16:25). The believing malefactor was to be, that day, with Christ in “paradise.” The lost were separated from the saved by a “great gulf fixed” (Lk. 16:26). The representative man of the lost who are now in hades is the rich man of Lk. 16:19-31. He was alive, conscious, in the full exercise of his faculties, memory, etc., and in torment. (2) Hades since the ascension of Christ. So far as the unsaved dead are concerned, no change of their place or condition is revealed in Scripture. At the judgment of the great white throne, hades will give them up, they will be judged, and will pass into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:13-14). But a change has taken place which affects paradise. Paul was “caught up to the third heaven . . . into paradise” (2 Cor. 12:1-4). Paradise, therefore, is now in the immediate presence of God. It is believed that Eph. 4:8-10 indicates the time of the change. “When he ascended up on high he led a multitude of captives.” It is immediately added that He had previously “descended first into the lower parts of the earth,” i.e., the paradise division of hades. During the present church-age the saved who die are “absent from the body, at home with the Lord.” The wicked dead in hades, and the righteous dead “at home with the Lord,” alike await the resurrection (Job 19:25; I Cor. 15:52).”
[58] Countess, The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New Testament, p. 91.
[59] Ibid.
[60] Ibid.
[61] Erich and Jean Grieshaber, Redi-Answers on Jehovah’s Witnesses Doctrine, p. 30.
[62] Ibid.
[63] Ibid., p. 31.
[64] The rich man and Lazarus were near on earth, but were “far apart” from each other in Hades.

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