Jesus Christ’s Descent into Hades: A Response to a Muslim Inquiry

Sam Shamoun

Bassam Zawadi produced a paper (*) discussing certain passages which suggest that the blessed Lord Jesus descended into hell after he physically died.

It is true, of course, that many early church fathers believed and taught that Christ did indeed descend into the realm of the dead, the place where disembodied souls went after death. Their position seems to be supported by the following Biblical texts:

"he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption." Acts 2:31

Christ was not left in Hades, Hades being the word which was commonly used to refer to the spiritual realm of the dead or to the grave. Another passage even says that the Lord Jesus descended into the abyss:

"But the righteousness based on faith says, Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down) or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)." Romans 10:6-7

The abyss is the place where evils spirits are/will be imprisoned:

"Then they arrived at the country of the Ger'asenes, which is opposite Galilee. And as he stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons; for a long time he had worn no clothes, and he lived not in a house but among the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him, and said with a loud voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beseech you, do not torment me.’ For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him; he was kept under guard, and bound with chains and fetters, but he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the desert.) Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss." Luke 8:26-31

"Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key of the bottomless pit (Greek- tes aBussou, "the abyss") and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit (ten aBusson), and shut it and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years were ended. After that he must be loosed for a little while." Revelation 20:1-3

In light of the foregoing it seems to be pretty clear that Jesus did descend to the netherworld upon his death on the cross.

Yet a clear distinction needs to be made at this point regarding Hades and hell since the two are not necessarily synonymous. As we already noted, Hades can refer to the grave or to the place where disembodied spirits went upon death. Hell or gehenna, on the other hand, refers to the place where physical beings (as well as Satan and his angels) are sent to be judged. In other words, hell is where unbelievers are sent to be punished both in body and spirit after the Day of Resurrection:

"And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both SOUL AND BODY in hell." Matthew 10:28

"And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched." Mark 9:43-48

"Then I saw a great white throne and him who sat upon it; from his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and if any one's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." Revelation 20:11-15

Death and Hades being thrown in the lake of fire means that physical death will no longer occur where the body goes to the grave ("Death") and the soul descends to Hades, since a person will either live physically forever with God or will suffer conscious physical punishment in hell forever:

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment. He who conquers shall have this heritage, and I will be his God and he shall be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.’" Revelation 21:1-8

Furthermore, Hades at the time of Christ wasn’t necessarily a place of torment, since there seems to have been a part reserved for the spirits of believers to dwell in peace and bliss:

"There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Laz'arus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Laz'arus in his bosom. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz'arus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz'arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’" Luke 16:19-26

In light of the foregoing it seems that the Scriptures are implying that Christ went to that place known as Abraham’s bosom, presumably to take all the souls of the believers who were there into heaven upon his resurrection. And now after Christ’s ascension all believers are said to go to be with the Lord in heaven upon their death:

"For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage; we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. We are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body." 2 Corinthians 5:1-10

"For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account." Philippians 1:21-24

What this further implies is that there is no longer a place in Hades called Abraham’s bosom since believers do not go there anymore now that Christ has opened the doors of heaven for them by his death, resurrection and ascension:

"We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest for ever after the order of Melchiz'edek." Hebrews 6:19-20

"Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh," Hebrews 10:19-20

Furthermore, the Scriptures also seem to teach that while in Hades for the period between his death and bodily resurrection Christ proclaimed the fulfilment of God’s promises to those spirits who didn’t embrace them during the time of Noah. Due to their disbelief and rejection of God’s message these spirits ended up suffering imprisonment:

"For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water." 1 Peter 3:18-20

Moreover, Christ’s descent not only entailed a proclamation of his victory but a disarming of the powers of darkness as well. In other words, Christ descended into Hades to demonstrate his sovereignty over both it and physical death, destroying the power of Satan through his glorious resurrection since the enemy had been given control over death:

"But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it is said, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.’ (In saying, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)" Ephesians 4:7-10

"He who commits sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." 1 John 3:8

"Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage." Hebrews 2:14-15

"When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand upon me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one; I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.’" Revelation 1:18

Finally and most importantly, Jesus DID NOT descend into Hades to be tormented or tortured, and to say that he did is a blasphemous distortion of Biblical teaching.

Will Jesus Go to Hell According to the Quran?

Zawadi spent his time focusing on the Holy Bible without ever informing his readers that it is his book, the Quran, that teaches that Jesus will go to hell:

Surely you and what you worship besides Allah are the firewood of hell; to it you shall come. Had these been gods, they would not have come to it and all shall abide therein. For them therein shall be groaning and therein they shall not hear. S. 21:98-100 Shakir

This text says that all those whom people worshiped besides Allah will end up in hell. The Quran acknowledges that Christians worshiped Jesus as God:

Surely, in disbelief are they who say that Allah is the Messiah, son of Maryam (Mary). Say (O Muhammad SAW): "Who then has the least power against Allah, if He were to destroy the Messiah, son of Maryam (Mary), his mother, and all those who are on the earth together?" And to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and all that is between them. He creates what He wills. And Allah is Able to do all things. S. 5:17 Hilali-Khan

Surely, they have disbelieved who say: "Allah is the Messiah ['Iesa (Jesus)], son of Maryam (Mary)." But the Messiah ['Iesa (Jesus)] said: "O Children of Israel! Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord." Verily, whosoever sets up partners in worship with Allah, then Allah has forbidden Paradise for him, and the Fire will be his abode. And for the Zalimun (polytheists and wrongdoers) there are no helpers. S. 5:72 Hilali-Khan

And the Jews say: 'Uzair (Ezra) is the son of Allah, and the Christians say: Messiah is the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouths. They imitate the saying of the disbelievers of old. Allah’s Curse be on them, how they are deluded away from the truth! S. 9:30 Hilali-Khan

Thus if the Quran is correct then Jesus will be one of those whom Allah will send into hell due to the worship given to him by Christians!

See these articles for further discussion:

Moreover, Jesus isn’t the only righteous slave of Allah (according to the Muslim position since God’s true Word proclaims him to be more than a slave) who will go to hell. According to the Quran, ALL PEOPLE will go to hell, both believers and unbelievers:

Not one of you there is, but he shall go down to it; that for thy Lord is a thing decreed, determined. Then We shall deliver those that were godfearing; and the evildoers We shall leave there, hobbling on their knees. S. 19:71-72 Arberry

Hence, not only Jesus but also all the righteous saints and prophets will end up entering the hellfire as well!

For more on the Quran proclaiming that everyone will go to hell please read the following articles and rebuttals:

Rebuttals to Answering-Christianity
Articles by Sam Shamoun
Answering Islam Home Page