Why does the Apostle’s Creed say that Jesus descended into hell?

He did it in our place.

The person who asked this question really put the question a little differently.  Her actual question was, “Many preachers have said that Jesus went to hell and suffered for our sins there.  I thought when Jesus said “It is finished” he meant all the payment for sin.”

Occasionally when preachers preach they do not clarify every statement just to be sure that their hearers are getting everything correctly according to doctrine.  This allows them to make a statement that helps to “drive the point home” without having to stop the sermon just to explain the correct doctrinal application of what they said.  When a preacher teaches, on the other hand, he will take the time to explain everything doctrinally so that the hearers fully understand the lesson.

When a preacher says that Jesus went to hell and suffered for our sins, what’s he saying?  He’s saying that the Lord’s soul ended up suffering in hell as a consequence of our sins that he bore in his own body on the tree.  But the hearer has to understand that he wasn’t “paying for” the sins in hell, rather he was suffering the consequences of sin.  The “payment” was made on the cross.

We have often heard preachers talk about Jesus going to hell and depositing our sins there.  Actually, when you look for scriptural references to substantiate that he actually took the sins to hell, you can’t find any.  Instead, you find verses like Is 38:17 where sins are cast behind his back, Ps 103:12 where transgressions are removed as for as the east is from the west and Mic 7:19 where the sins are cast into the depths of the sea.

According to verses like Ps 65:3, sins need to be purged away.  This purging accomplishes what David prayed in Ps 51:2 when he said “cleanse me from my sin.”  Well, the thing that God gave us that cleanses away our sin is the blood of Jesus Christ, not a trip to hell (or purgatory for that matter).

1 Jn 1:7 says, “the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”  Rev 1:5 says, “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.”  The blood of Jesus Christ not only cleanses us and washes us but it also purges our consciences after we are saved.  Heb 9:14 says, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”

So, suffering in hell was not how God got rid of our sins.  What he used to pay for the sins is the shed blood of Jesus Christ, because “without shedding of blood is no remission,” (Heb 9:22).  So, as the author of the question said, “when Jesus said “It is finished” he meant all the payment for sin.”  That’s right.

This may leave you questioning, then, why Jesus went to hell.  He went there to take our place.  His death on the cross was only part of the substitution for the penalty of sin in our lives.  After his death on the cross his body went into the grave which is where we are heading as a result of sin (Rom 6:23).  Furthermore, his soul went to hell for three days and three nights as our substitute because that is where we were heading before we trusted Christ.  According to Rev 21:8 our souls were heading for “the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”  Literally, Jesus took our place in death and hell.

Hence, by shedding his blood on Calvary, Jesus paid for our sins.  By being buried three days and nights in the grave he took our bodies’ penalty for sin.  By going to hell three days and nights, he took our souls’ penalty for sin.  Having done these things, he completely satisfied all of the judgment of God on our sins and saved us (Rom 5:8-9).  Now, the bodies of dead saints will rise from the grave to live for ever (1 Thes 4:16-18) and our souls will never see hell because he has already been there for us (2 Cor 5:8).

Hope this helps,
Pastor Bevans Welder