CHRIST was three days in the bowels of the earth: What was He doing during this time?
Some claim Jesus did not really die on the cross. In their opinion He was in a coma, unconscious. They suggest that later when He appeared alive to His disciples, He was not a resurrected Christ -- but a revived Christ. But the Word of God emphatically declares: "Christ died" (Rom. 5:6,8; 14:9; 1 Thes. 5:10). "He gave up the ghost" (Mat. 27:50), and "He rose again on the third day."
Concerning Himself Jesus predicted: "Three days and three nights the Son of man shall be in the heart of the earth" (Mt.12:40). What was He doing during that period? He was not unconscious, for the Bible clearly shows there is consciousness after death (Lk. 16:23-31). We must not lose sight of the purpose for which Christ came to earth; it was "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Lk. 19:10). His death was a vital part of the divine scheme to bring about our salvation. When Jesus breathed His last on the cross, His spirit left His body and was transported elsewhere. But where?
As stated above, Jesus foretold that He would be "in the heart of the earth." Thus when He died, He found Himself in the nether world of spirits, somewhere in the heart of the earth. Apostle Peter tells us, Jesus "went and preached unto the spirits in prison" (1 Pet. 3:19). The word "preached" may also be translated, "announced," or "declared." But who were those "in prison" to whom He went, and what did He have to say to them? What kind of prison was it?
Christ came to defeat Satan and his evil forces of sin and death (Jn.3:8).
He came to first pay the penalty of man's sin -- which was death, -- "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). And He accomplished this. Though sinless (1 Pet. 2:22), He took our sin upon Himself and died in our stead. His death paid the penalty for humanity's sin.
On entering the nether world, Jesus boldly stood before the tyrants of the abyss -- with no sin of His own (Jn. 14:30). Consequently, Satan (who seemed to be in charge of Hades -- the nether world) had no power or authority to torture, detain or imprison the Sinless One who fearlessly faced him. Thus, Jesus confidently entered Satan's domain, fully intent on defeating him (Heb. 2:14). Many years before, it was prophesied, "He will swallow up death in victory" (Isa. 25:8,9).
Satan does not easily give up, so one can assuredly conclude there was conflict in Hades between Christ and satanic forces. But "Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world." (1 Jn. 4:4). Satan was no match for Jesus. The Lord defeated him centuries before, and cast him out of heaven following his rebellion against God (Isa.14:12-15; Ezek. 28:13-17; Lk.10:18). This time, He again defeated Satan, and took from him "the keys of hell and death" (Rev. 1:18).
Until that time, "Hades" -- the place of the dead, was divided into two areas and located in the heart of the earth. Jesus gives us a glimpse of this as He relates the story about a rich man, and a beggar named Lazarus (Lk. 16). On dying, the rich man found himself in "hell", one of the areas of Hades, a place of torment where unbelieving and rebellious souls found themselves after death. On the other hand Lazarus found himself in "Abraham's bosom," the other section of Hades, a place of rest, a paradise for the faithful who put their trust in the Lord. These places were prisons, where both the faithful as well as the rebllious were kept, because redemption had not yet taken place, -- not until Jesus came and paid the price.
It was here Jesus found Himself and faced the powers of death. He disarmed them, and stood triumphant. The Prophet Isaiah (25:9) cried out, "the Lord...will swallow up death in victory. ..And it shall be said in that day, 'Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him and He will save us; This is the Lord; we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation."
Jesus soundly defeated and humiliated Satan by taking the keys of death from him, and setting free the captives in "Abraham's bosom". He gained complete victory and mastery over the devil and his forces. He emphatically validated His power and authority by rising from the dead (1 Cor.15:20; Jn. 10:17,18; 1 Pet. 3:22). Jesus came forth a complete victor over Satan and death (1 Cor. 15:54-57).
During His three days in the heart of the earth, Jesus "preached"-- declared His victory (I Peter 3:18,18) to all the spirits in the nether world. He specially announced deliverance to those who during their lifetime had put their trust in the Lord. They had faithfully looked forward to the grace of God that promised them salvation through the "Seed of the woman," -- "The Lamb of God,". They believed He would crush the serpent's head.
On the third day He set these captives free, leading "captivity captive" (Eph. 4:8,9; Ps. 68:18). "Abraham's bosom" was transfrerred from a prison lot in the region of Hades, in the heart of the earth, to become "paradise" in the "third heaven" -- which Paul was priviledged to see (2 Cor. 12:2-4; Mat. 27:52,53). But alas, "hell", the other section of Hades, remains the same to this day, -- a place of darkness and torment, awaiting the last judgement (Rev. 20:13,14).
Tragically, multitudes of the unsaved, are still rebelliously increasing its population. (Isa 5:14)
What a Savior! How victorious!
In three days, while in the bowels of the earth facing Satan's hordes, Jesus single-handedly whipped them, established His authority, took from them the keys of hell and death, set the captives free, and rose triumphantly from the dead. "Lo, this is our God...we will rejoice in His salvation"