by Shawn Brasseaux
In Acts 2:31, the Apostle Peter preached to the nation Israel: “He [David] seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.” Did Jesus Christ really go to hell between the time of His death and His resurrection? Did Jesus’ soul really suffer the flames of hell after He died? To answer these questions, we need to look at the doctrine of hell from the dispensational standpoint. Hell is a greatly confused topic, and it should not be. Remember, dear friends, we will not make sense of any Bible doctrine if we do not “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
The doctrine of hell is a dispensational doctrine. In other words, it is presented differently throughout the time during which God’s Word was revealed and written in human language. Today, in the Dispensation of Grace, we know that no believers in Christ go to hell, yet King David writes in Psalm 16:10 concerning the Messiah: “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” (This is the verse Peter quoted earlier. He also quoted it in Acts 2:27.) David writes that he will go to hell and the Lord Jesus Christ will go to hell. We know, however, that both the Lord Jesus Christ and David never went to suffer in the flames of hellfire. Then, what is the “hell” spoken of in Psalm 16:10, Acts 2:27, and Acts 2:31?
Hell had two compartments in time past. In the Old Testament, those who had faith in JEHOVAH, the God of the Bible and the God of Israel, could not go to heaven after death because the atoning blood of Jesus Christ had not been shed (Hebrews 10:11-12). “Hell” is the Old Testament term given to the place where the souls of both believers and unbelievers would go, but they would go into their respective compartments of hell. In Luke chapter 16, the Lord Jesus Christ speaks to His disciples regarding this matter. The following is not a parable—the next verses document a true story (a parable never contained names, but this one clearly contains a real man’s name, Lazarus). Here is Luke chapter 16 KJV:
“19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.”
Again, in the Old Testament, prior to Calvary, the souls of the just (believers) and the souls of the unjust (unbelievers) went to a spiritual place called “hell.” At this time during the earthly ministry of Christ, prior to Calvary, “hell” was divided into two regions: (1) “paradise” (or, “Abraham’s bosom”) and (2) “torments” (or, “this flame”). Lazarus went to paradise because he believed God’s Word to him (he was a man of faith)—he did not go to paradise because he was poor. The rich man went to torments, not because he was rich, but because he died in his sins—he had faith in his wealth but not in God’s Word to him. Let us continue reading Luke chapter 16:
“24 And he [the rich man] cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.”
The rich man is in torments; this is what we know today as “hellfire.” He is thirsty, and begs for water, but he is still in unbelief. Even after death, this lost man has no regrets for his unbelief and he has no repentance toward God! Now, please note that “Abraham’s bosom” is not a place of suffering and it is not purgatory. Notice that there is a great gulf fixed between the torments side and the paradise side of hell. The unbelievers could not leave the torments side and go to paradise, and the believers in paradise could not access the torments side. Here is a figure of hell to help you understand what we stated thus far:
WHERE IS HELL?
Where is hell? Scripture always defines “hell” as being downward (Job 11:8; Psalm 55:15; Proverbs 15:24; Isaiah 14:9, 15; Ezekiel 31:16,17; et al.). In fact, the Lord Jesus tells us in Matthew 12:39,40 KJV: “But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” According to Jesus, hell is in the center of the earth!
Compare that to Luke 23:43 KJV: “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” The Lord tells the believing thief on the cross next to him that he will be with Him in “paradise”—notice the Bible does not say “heaven.” Jesus Christ, when He died, went to Abraham’s bosom, the paradise side of hell, the place where the souls of the saved had been kept (this place is called “Abraham’s bosom” because these believers died having Abraham’s faith, that is the faith in God that Abraham had).
“Paradise” does not describe hellfire; therefore Jesus Christ did not die and then go to hell to suffer the flames of hellfire. Everything that Christ suffered He suffered while hanging on the cross of Calvary. It was in the last three hours on the cross—the three hours of darkness—that Jesus Christ in His soul suffered God the Father’s wrath for our sins (Matthew 27:45,46; Psalm 22:1; Isaiah 53:10-12). All the suffering that Christ experienced happened on Calvary’s cross, not after He died: actually, it is heresy to say that Jesus Christ went to suffer in hellfire. Jesus Christ’s soul went into the “heart of the earth” for the three days and three nights during which He was dead, just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale. Again, Jesus Christ’s soul went to hell, but it was the paradise side of hell, not the torment side.
What happened to the believers in the paradise side of hell after Jesus Christ arose from the dead? While it is often taught that Ephesians 4:8-10 describes Jesus removing the saints’ souls from hell/paradise, I no longer hold that view: Ephesians 4:8-10 has a context and removing saints from the paradise side of hell is not the context. Whenever Jesus removed those believers’ souls, we do not know. It was after His resurrection, but there are no verses to say exactly when. After He resurrected, He brought all of the souls from the comfort side of hell (the believers in Abraham’s bosom, paradise) straight up into the third heaven. We know that paradise is in the third heaven where God the Father dwells because Paul uses the terms “paradise” and “third heaven” interchangeably in 2 Corinthians 12:2,4. In this Dispensation of Grace, there is no divided hell; “hell” now only applies to the place where lost people go today when they die. The paradise side of hell is now in the third heaven (see Hebrews 12:22-24). Consequently, the great gulf disappeared, and hell was entirely transformed into a place of torments. This is how hell exists today (see figure of hell, above). As the Prophet Isaiah says, “hell hath enlarged herself” (5:14).
Today, anyone who dies as an unbeliever still goes to hell, and it is still in the heart of the earth as before. When a member of the Church the Body of Christ dies, he or she will go into the presence of the Lord in heaven, not to paradise like in the Old Testament economy. Let us see what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 KJV:
“6 Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:
7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)
8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”
SHEOL, HADES, AND HELL
By the way, the King James translators have been heavily criticized for their use of the word “hell.” In fact, most modern English “bible” translations refuse to use the word in their text. Instead, they read, “the grave,” “sheol,” or “hades.” (This is also true of the NKJV.) These are nothing more than numerous instances of watering down God’s Word to make it more “politically correct.” The Qur’an mentions “hell” by name, and yet we are too afraid to have God’s Word, the Holy Bible, say it?! “Sheol” (Hebrew) is a transliteration; it is not a translation. “Hades” (Greek) is a transliteration; it is not a translation. “Hades” and “Sheol” are two meaningless words to the English reader; it does not help the English Bible reader to retain the Hebrew and Greek terms. The King James Bible is a translation; therefore it should have translations in it. We should not water down and soften God’s Word just so it reads nicer to English speakers. There is most definitely a hell, and when people curse, they use the word “hell” (not “Hades” and not “Sheol”). “Hell” is the correct term in English. The King James translators are right and they are unjustly censured.
Jesus Christ died and went to hell (Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27,31), but He went to the paradise side of hell (Luke 23:43). Hell in time past was divided into two compartments: one for saved people (“paradise,” “Abraham’s bosom”) and the other for lost people (“torments,” “this flame”). Today, in this Dispensation of Grace, Abraham’s bosom (paradise) has been taken into the third heaven. Today, believers die and their souls go into the third heaven, not paradise (the heart of the earth) like in time past. Lost people still go to hell, the heart of the earth, when they die. In fact, Revelation 20:11-15 says that the “lake of fire” will one day replace hell. Eternal judgment will only be understood when we “rightly divide the word of truth.” Dispensational Bible study is critical to understanding and enjoying the Bible.
Everything that Christ suffered He suffered while hanging on Calvary’s cross. It was in the last three hours on the cross—the three hours of darkness—that Jesus Christ suffered God’s wrath for our sins (Matthew 27:45,46). All the suffering that Christ experienced happened on Calvary’s cross, not after He died. Again, Jesus Christ’s soul went to hell, but it was the paradise side of hell, not the torments side. He never suffered the flames of hell (that is heresy).