Did Christ go to hell after dying on the cross? Did Christ suffer for sins in hell? Was he there to open the gates of hell to liberate those lost in their sins? Is hell the same as the Lake of Fire?
The short answer:
No. Jesus did not go to suffer in the flames of Hell. After dying on the cross, Christ went to the place of departed spirits. That is, he went to SHEOL (the Hebrew word) or HADES (the Greek word). He did not go to suffer in the flames of hell or go to Lake of Fire as some mistakenly believe.
The full answer:
To give a full answer to these questions one must study several scriptures and the meaning of the word SHEOL translated HELL in some versions of the Bible.
What scirptures say that Christ was in sheol/hades?
Starting with Psalm 16:10, which is quoted in the New Testament in Acts 2 in reference to Christ and his resurrection, we see the two words used in reference to Christ and his resurrection.
Psalms 16:10-11 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. (11) You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (ESV)
Here is the same verse from Psalm 16 in the King James Version. Notice that hell is used in place of sheol.
Psalms 16:10-11 For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. (11) Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. (KJV)
Acts 2:22-33 "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know-- (23) this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. (24) God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (25) For David says concerning him, "'I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; (26) therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. (27) For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. (28) You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.' (29) "Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. (30) Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, (31) he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. (32) This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. (33) Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. (ESV)
In the KJV the verse is written with the word hell in place of hades.
Acts 2:27 Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. (KJV)
Act 2:31 He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. (KJV)
The meaning of SHEOL and HADES
In the King James Version, the Hebrew word SHEOL is usually translated as hell. The corresponding Greek word HADES is also translated as hell. Sheol means “the place of departed spirits” and hades means the “place of the dead”. The word “hell” conjures images of darkness, flames, torment and agony. However, the departed spirits of the Old Testament believers also went to sheol/hades, but not to suffer torments.
According to Vines Dictionary…
Hades is the region of departed spirits of the lost". This includes the blessed dead in periods preceding the ascension of Christ. It corresponds to "Sheol" in the Old Testament. In the Authorized King James Version it has been unhappily rendered "hell" (Psalms 16:10) or "the grave," (Genesis 37:35) or "the pit" (Numbers 16:30-33). In the New Testament the Revised Version always used the rendering "hades". In the Old Testament, they have not been uniform in the translation. For example in Isaiah 14:15 it is translated "hell" with a note in the margin that says "Sheol". Usually they have "Sheol" in the text and "the grave" in the margin. Sheol never denotes the grave, nor is the permanent region of the lost.
Most Bible translators avoid using “hell” to translate the words sheol and hades. Instead they simply transcribe the words from the original Hebrew (sheol) or Greek (hades) as seen above in the examples from the English Standard Version (ESV). Other translations that use “sheol” instead of hell include the New American Standard Bible (NASB), The New King James Version (NKJV), Darby, and Young’s Literal Translation. The NIV and other loose translations and paraphrases use a phrase such as “the realm of the dead”. So to say that Christ went to hell means that he went to a place where spirits have no bodies.
Hades – one place with two conditions
There is a wider meaning to sheol and hades than what the word hell – eternal torments - brings to mind. Sheol/hades is a place, or perhaps better stated a condition, with two very distinct environments. The lost suffer in Hades while the saved enjoy rest there. For example, in Luke 16:19-31, the rich man opened his eyes in Hades being in flames of torments. Lazarus died as well and was in Hades as well, but in a completely different condition. Lazarus was “far off” at Abraham’s side. There was “a great chasm” separating Lazarus from the Rich Man which was impossible to cross which indicates that there are two separate places to which people went. However both are in “the place of departed spirits” – that is SHEOL or HADES. When the Lord was on the cross, he promised the repentant thief that “today you will be with me in paradise”. This refers to the place of departed spirits of the saved. The thief went to the same place as Lazarus – “to Abraham’s side.” It is presumed that the other non-repentant thief went to hades the same day, but to the place of torments.
Where did Jesus suffer for sins – while on the cross or did he suffer in hell?
The fact that the KJV bible states that Jesus went to “hell” leads some to the conclusion that Christ he went to hell to suffer for our sins. As seen in the preceding paragraphs, the word hell (sheol/hades) does not necessarily indicate a place of suffering, only the place of departed spirits.
The idea of Christ suffering while his body lay in the tomb is contrary to other scriptures that teach he suffered for our sins on the cross. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24) “once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). He canceled “the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:14). The cross is “the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18) to those of us who are saved.
The cross is the lowest point that Christ’s sufferings took him.
Philippians 2:8-9 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (9) Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
Hebrews 12:2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
The work of salvation was completely finished when Christ died. “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, "It is finished," and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30). His suffering in our place was completed. His soul/spirit went to the paradise side of hades. Jesus did not go to the torments of hell. Jesus’ suffering ended the moment He died. The payment for sin was paid. He then awaited the resurrection of His body and His return to glory in His ascension.
Did Jesus go to hell? No. He did not suffer in the flames of torments.
Did Jesus go to sheol/hades? Yes. He went to the place of departed spirits.
Other questions that are related to this are:
“Did Christ take people from Hades to Heaven when he rose from the dead?” Ephesians 4:8-10 talks about Christ “leading a host of captives” when he ascended.
“Did Christ go talk to spirits in Hades to declare his victory over Satan and death?” 1 Peter 3:18-20 has many interesting interpretations to consider on this question.
Some of the questions below will help you see the meaning in these statements.