For centuries the dominant translation of the Bible was the King James Version. In answer to the question, “Where did Christ’s soul go after His death?” Acts 2:27 in the K.J.V. reads:
Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
Not so surprisingly, people seized upon this verse to create a whole line of erroneous doctrinal thinking. It goes like this: “Christ’s soul went to hell when he died because He had to suffer our punishment in hell as a part of Him paying the penalty for our sins.” But think about it, if He really did have to endure the required amount of torment and suffering in hell to pay our sin debt, wouldn’t it have been eternal suffering? I mean, isn’t that the rule? When a sinner dies without Christ, his or her soul has to suffer a lot longer than three days worth of punishment in hell, right? Also, the whole idea of Christ’s soul suffering the torment of hell flatly goes against what He told the thief on the cross, “…today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
As I noted in my last post, whenever you read the word “hell” in the old King James translation you’ve got to dig a little deeper and find out the word used in the original language. Concerning the Old Testament, in 100% of the instances where the K.J.V. reads “hell” the Hebrew word is Sheol. But the interesting thing is that in the Old Testament the souls of both the saved and the lost go to Sheol. For example, Psalm 9:17 puts the lost souls of the wicked there, but 2 Samuel 22:6 puts the soul of David right on the brink of being there.
You see, this hints at the fact that Sheol has two sections to it. It has a bliss section for the souls of the saved, and it has a torment section for the souls of the lost. Really, the Hebrew word Sheol is simply an umbrella word that refers to the general afterlife realm of the dead. That afterlife could be spent in the bliss section or it might be spent in the torment section, depending upon one’s salvation or lack of it. As a matter of fact, just as the K.J.V. Old Testament translates Sheol as “hell” in thirty-one instances, it translates it as “the grave” in another thirty-one instances.
As for the New Testament, the equivalent of the Hebrew Sheol is the Greek Hades. And Luke 16:19-31, where the K.J.V. translates Hades as “hell,” leaves no doubt as to the place having two very different sections. The saved soul of the beggar Lazarus goes to the bliss section, while the lost soul of the rich man goes to the torment section.
And so Christ’s soul went to the bliss section of Hades when He died, the same place where the souls of the Old Testament believers went. You see, even though Lazarus the beggar, the thief on the cross, and Jesus lived in the days of the New Testament, they still lived and died in what we might call the Old Testament dispensation. What I mean is, the really big changes concerning afterlife abodes wouldn’t take place until Christ’s resurrection and ascension.
And here now is where we bring things into our current era. So please take special note of what you’re about to read: When Jesus ascended back to heaven forty days after His resurrection, He emptied the bliss section of Hades and took those saved souls formally into heaven with Him. The passage on this is Ephesians 4:8-10, which reads in the New King James translation:
Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.” (Now this, “He ascended – what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)
What Paul is doing in this passage is playing off the scene of a Roman general leading a procession through the streets of Rome after a victorious military campaign. For such a procession the general would be at the front of the parade. Then behind him would be the “trophies” he had “won” through his military victories. Some of those “trophies” would be people who had been captured as prisoners of war by the general’s army.
And so, using this earthly illustration, Paul describes how Jesus “won” the souls out of the bliss section of Hades. First, Jesus descended into the lower parts of the earth. (Remember that in the previous post I explained that Hades is located somewhere deep in the heart of the earth.) Second, He ascended to heaven with those souls. Third, He marched victoriously into heaven with those souls behind Him. The N.I.V. translation does the best job of conveying Paul’s imagery. It renders Ephesians 4:8 as, “…he led captives in his train…”
You ask, “But why did those millions of saved souls have to wait until Christ’s resurrection before they could formally enter heaven?” It was because Jesus had to officially shed His blood in time and history before their sins could be eternally cleansed. Keep in mind that Hebrews 10:4 says that it wasn’t possible for the blood of the Old Testament sacrifices to take away sin. The best such blood could do was cover sin and stay the wrath of God. It is only Christ’s literal blood that can eternally cleanse sin. As I once heard a Bible teacher say, “Really, the Old Testament believers were saved on credit by looking ahead to Christ’s death on the cross just as we look back upon it.”
And so what does all this mean for the Christian today? It means that at the moment of death the Christian’s soul goes straight on up to heaven. There is now no longer a need for the bliss section of Hades. Surely that section still exists, but it’s empty. The same Paul who wrote about how the resurrected, ascended Jesus entered into heaven with those saved souls from Hades also taught in 2 Corinthians 5:1-8 that now when a Christian is absent from the body he is present with the Lord. He also said in Philippians 1:23 that he desired to depart this earth and be with Christ, which is far better. When he said that he knew full well that Jesus is now seated at the right hand of God the Father up in heaven. For that matter, just before Steven died his martyr’s death he saw Jesus in heaven standing to immediately receive his soul (Acts 7:54-60).
And right there is where I’ll stop for today. In my next post I’ll finish up the teaching on Hades by explaining what is going to eventually happen to the lost souls that are currently abiding in its torment section. You see, when all the dust has settled and everything is said and done before the dawn of eternity, there won’t be one soul left in either section of Hades. With this post I’ve explained how the bliss side got emptied, and I hope you’ll stay tuned for the explanation of how the torment side will eventually get emptied as well.