I recently heard a well-known mega-church pastor say that Jesus did NOT descend into hell when He died. He said, "This metaphorical descending into hell isn't that Jesus goes to an actual place of hell but that Jesus experiences, in this moment, in a very mysterious way, the presence of God to bless, and He feels for the first time the presence of God to judge." The pastor said that when many evangelicals read the Apostle's Creed they leave out "descended into hell," because they don't believe that. He also said the Bible doesn't teach that. Does the Apostle's Creed have it wrong?
The Apostle's Creed is not wrong. Jesus DID descend into Hell, and the Bible does teach that. However, we need understand where and what the place of Hell is, and what is meant in the Apostle's Creed words:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Amen.
What confuses and disturbs many Christians is saying that Jesus went to Hell. Some churches have changed the words to say, "He descended to the dead." Others have even omitted the words, "He descended into Hell." However, there is no good reason to make any changes. The creed beautifully proclaims faith in our God as Creator, Lord and Saviour and it affirms our hope in Him. So, how should we understand these words?
"He Descended Into Hell"
To say that Jesus only went into the grave, not to a real place, denies what took place from the time of Jesus’ death to His resurrection. It also denies Jesus words. Jesus declared that He would be in "the heart of the earth" for "three days and three nights" (Mat 12:40). A grave is not "the heart of the earth." Paul confirms that Jesus "descended into the lower parts of the earth" (Ephesians 4:9) and we know that Jesus' body wasn't even buried in the earth. His body was laid in an above-ground tomb (Matthew 27:57-60). Paul could not have been speaking of Jesus' body. It was Jesus' soul that went into "the lower parts of the earth" — to Hell.