Reader Question: What’s Up With Jesus Being In Hell?

Jenna (a very bright middle school student) asked,

Where does the statement “he descended into hell”  come from? Is it in the Bible?

Great questions Jenna!

The phrase comes from the Apostles’ Creed:

I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,  and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
Is it in the Bible? Well, sorta.

Most Christians would cite the following Bible passages, Acts 2:31; Ephesians 4:8-10; 1Peter 4:6; and 1 Peter 3:18-20. However, none of these passages use the exact phrase “he descended into hell”. And over the years Christians have differed on exactly what these passages mean. [1]

So why then do we recite it in the Apostles’ Creed?
What is clear in the Bible, is that when Jesus died on the cross, He took upon Himself all of our sin and all of our punishment (2 Corinthians 5:21, Colossians 2:13-15, 1 John 4:10). This likely would include the punishment of Hell. As John Calvin put it, Jesus underwent, “the severity of God’s vengeance” and “the terrible torments of a condemned and forsaken man”.[2] Another way of thinking about it is, on the cross Jesus took upon Himself the fullness of our sin. And in Hell Jesus took upon Himself the fullness of our punishment.
What does this phrase means for us today?

The song In Christ Alone sums it up perfectly:

 In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand
In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
‘Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live
There in the ground His body lay
Light of the World by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ
No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
‘Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand


Because Jesus conquered sin, death, and Hell, now all who trust in Him have nothing to fear, for it is in the power of Christ we stand!