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Doctrines that creep in: Word of faith movement and Jesus suffered in hell

Some say the price Jesus paid on the cross wasn't enough
Some say the price Jesus paid on the cross wasn't enough
Photo by Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images

There are many preachers in the word of faith movement teaching Christ's atoning act was not completed on the cross. They say that He not only died physically on the cross, but He died spiritually and experienced the death of His soul. They teach that He had to go to hell and suffer in our place; in hell, He was separated from God and was dead spiritually; and after three days of suffering, God said it was enough and He sent resurrection power into Jesus so that He was raised from the dead and born again.

On his website, Creflo Dollar teaches, “ … we forget that He (Jesus) was actually the first person to ever become born again. That’s right. He suffered what He did on the cross so that He could become the prototype for the new creation. He was the first begotten son of Almighty God … He was the first man to ever be born again, or spiritually recreated from death to life. He set the precedent for you and me. When Jesus died on the cross and descended into the depths of hell to pay the price for your sins, He died both physically and spiritually (Romans 10:7). In those agonizing moments, Jesus became sin, and His heavenly Father turned His back on His Son (Matthew 27:46) … After spending three days and nights in the pit of hell, the power of God resurrected Him back to spiritual life with a new spirit, and a glorified body.”

(Romans 10:7 does not say that Jesus died both physically and spiritually. That is why you should always check a teaching with what the Bible actually says.)

There is a clip on Youtube in which Kenneth Copeland and Kenneth Hagin appear. You can hear parts of this teaching in their own words. Quotes attributed to them and other preachers on this subject can be found at Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.

Leaders of this doctrine teach that if Christ had not suffered in hell, then we could not be saved. It is reported that Joyce Meyer in her 1991 booklet, The Most Important Decision You Will Ever Make, goes so far as to claim, “There is no hope of anyone going to heaven unless they believe this truth I am presenting. You cannot go to heaven unless you believe with all your heart that Jesus took your place in hell.”

When they preach this message, they also provide details of the events that supposedly occurred in hell along with conversations that were spoken there. You can click on this link Joyce Meyer – Jesus Tormented in Hell by Satan and Demons to listen to her tell it. More from her can be read and heard at Fighting for the Faith. Quotes attributed to Creflo Dollar on his version of what happened when Christ died can be read at Let Us Reason Ministries.

The best document that I have seen supporting the position of Christ's alleged suffering in hell is on Tim Brown's website. He teaches there is more than one type of death. Here are some extracts from his webpage:

… There are three deaths, and they all correspond to our three-fold nature: physical, spiritual, and soulish … The message of the gospel is simple: Christ died for our sins. Does this mean only physical death? Well, if that’s all sin does is kill us physically, then all Christ would have to do is die physically, but as we have already established, there are three deaths of the sinner. So if Christ is to die for the sinner, then He must die in all three ways. Isaiah the prophet confirms Christ’ three deaths: He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. (Isa 53:9) The Hebrew word used for death is plural. Literally it reads, "He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich is his deaths”.… Jesus’ soul was in hell, but not left there. Praise God. Why did Jesus go to hell for us? He went there because the punishment of sin is for the soul to be cast into hell. Since Christ suffered the penalties and punishment for our sins, it stands to reason that He would have to suffer in hell, and He did! ...Leviticus chapter 16 … you find the sacrificial order on the Day of Atonement. What is important to notice is that there are three sacrifices on this day: two male goats and one ram for a burnt offering. From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. (Lev 16:5) Now why are three sacrifices necessary? Simply because the three sacrifices speak of the three-fold death of Christ—his physical death, his spiritual death, and his soulish death … In this passage, only the first goat was killed through the shedding of blood; this speaks of Christ physical death and His shedding of His blood on the cross. The Second goat … speaks of Christ spiritual death whereby he became sin for us … And now here is where it gets real interesting. After the sacrifices of these two goats, there is a time lapse. The Priest takes off his filthy garments and puts on clean garments (Lev 16:23-24). He washes himself and makes sure he is clean; this interim period is where I believe Jesus descent into Paradise takes place. Jesus is free from sin and He proves it by saying, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" (Luke 23:46). Jesus is restored to God the Father and is cleansed much like the Priest was. So Jesus is free from sin when He meets the thief in Paradise … Now comes the final sacrifice that the priest makes, which is the ram and burnt offering. This is the only sacrifice that is burnt in the fire; I believe this speaks of Christ sacrifice in hell fire. After Jesus meets the thief that day, the sun goes down over Jerusalem and the Passover officially begins … Jesus died on the day before Passover. For Jesus to fully fulfill the Scriptures He must be sacrificed on Passover. He was. Jesus descends into hell on Passover day and becomes like the ram in the burnt offering. Passover last for 12 hours. I believe this is the time Jesus suffers in hell. At dawn on Passover, Jesus strips the devil of his authority over mankind. He enters the deepest part of hell called the dungeon and declares His victory over Satan … Jesus was made alive in His soul right in hell itself … Jesus defeated the devil in Hades (hell) and took the keys from him.

You have seen what is taught on this subject. It's time to see what the Bible actually says:

Luke 23:43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.

Acts 2:27 Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

Acts 2:31 He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.

Acts 13:35 Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

Ephesians 4:9 Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?

1 Peter 3:18b quickened by the Spirit: 19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; 20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.

That's all of the Bible verses on this subject. The Bible does not record anything about Satan or his demons laughing, about the Father pacing, about Jesus being in hell illegally, about Jesus demanding keys from Satan, of Jesus suffering, etc. The Bible does not record anything about Satan having keys or Jesus taking keys from Satan. As mater of fact, the Bible doesn't say that Satan was in hell at Christ's death nor is he there now. Satan “walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He can't even go there now because Jesus holds the keys to hell (Revelation 1:18). Satan does not live in hell today as is so commonly depicted in cartoons and other fanciful stories.

What about the claim that Jesus went into the very depths of hell or the deepest part of hell or the lowest part? It's not written in the Bible.

The word used for hell in Greek (the original language) is hades. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew language word translated as hell is sheol. These words refer to the temporary places where spirits of the dead reside. In Luke 16, Jesus gives us a glimpse of hades when He tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man.

22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; 23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.

Jesus reveals there are two compartments in the realm of the dead. One is Abraham's Bosom or, as Jesus called it when He talked to the thief on the cross, Paradise. It was a place where the souls of the saints went upon their death and from Luke 16:25, we know it was a place of comfort. Until Christ's final redemptive work was completed, the godly could not leave sheol/hades. They remained there until Jesus was resurrected and He (according to Ephesian 4:8) led “captivity captive,” meaning He freed the Old Testament saints from Paradise and led them into heaven where they are now with the host of heaven.

The other compartment is called gehenna and from 16:26 we know it was separated from Paradise (Abraham's Bosom) by a great gulf. From Luke 16:23, 24, 25, and 28, we know it is a place of torment. It is also a holding place, but for the souls of the ungodly where they will remain until the Great White Throne Judgment. The Bible uses the Greek word gehenna when Jesus taught about being cast into hell (as in Matthew 10:28).

Since the Greek in Acts 2 says Jesus went to hades and not gehenna, we can conclude that He did not go to the pit of hell to suffer, but rather, He went with the thief on the cross to Paradise in hades.

What about His preaching to the spirits in 1 Peter 3? It doesn't say He actually went there. We know from Luke 16 that Abraham and the rich man communicated across the gulf between hell and Abraham's Bosom. Jesus could have preached in the same manner.

What about Tim Brown's three deaths and the Day of Atonement sacrifices? The Old Testament ceremonial Law were pictures of the things Christ would accomplish. Thus it was by His blood (Hebrews 9:11-24) that He entered the holy place in heaven. That doesn't mean that Jesus had to conduct every event or have every event occur to Him that foreshadowed Him in the Law. For instance, did he have to be sprinkled by water passed through the ashes of the red heifer? Additionally, just because Tim Brown – or anyone for that matter – takes a verse and claims that it supports their position, doesn't make it Spiritually inspired.

What about the claim that Isaiah confirms Jesus would have three deaths? Brown is correct when he said the Hebrew word for death in Isaiah 53:9 is plural. In Wayne Jackson's article, Was Jesus the “Suffering Servant” of Isaiah 53?, he explains the plural may be an idiom (a figure of speech):

(1) Some see the plural as an expression of “intensity,” signifying “the condition of death.”

(2) Others see the plural as expressing an intensity of glory, i.e., “His supreme, wondrous death.”

(3) It could mean a “violent death” or a “martyr’s” death. As meant in Ezekiel 28:8,10 where “death” in the plural is employed of violent activity.

(4) A similar expression is found in the book of Job. Job says the evil man “shall be borne to the grave [pl. graves]” (21:32). The plural here may indicate merely the realm of the dead.

Aben Ezra observes that the word which we translate "in his death" could mean a structure over a grave, like a sepulchral monument. The verse would then read, "his grave was placed with the wicked, but his tomb,” or sepulchral monument, “was with the rich.”

Matthew Poole sees it as figurative. Christ’s deaths might refer to the hardships and threats He faced during His ministry and could be thought of in the plural like Paul when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:31, “I die daily,” and 2 Corinthians 11:23, “I was in deaths oft.”

The point is: there is no commentator prior to Tim Brown who expresses an opinion that Isaiah 53:9 is intended to mean Christ would suffer three types of death. Brown would probably explain this lack of interpretation in the same manner he explains the translation, “Scholars still don’t understand why it is in the plural, so they usually translate it in the singular.” Now, there are examples where scholars didn't or don't know how to translate a piece of ancient text. The KJV has "candlesticks" when it should have been "oil lamps." We aren't exactly sure what all of the musical instruments that are listed in Daniel 3:5 actually are. Sometimes you might see a footnote in your Bible that says something like, "The Hebrew is obscure. The exact meaning is uncertain." For the most part, these uncertainties are minor. But the idea that “deaths” is directly related to Christ atoning actions by suffering in hell has been unknown for centuries until Tim Brown arrived is unimaginable, especially when you consider that Joyce Meyers has been quoted as saying, “You cannot go to heaven unless you believe with all your heart that Jesus took your place in hell.”

John 19:30 tells us Christ's atoning work was finished on the cross. The Greek word “it is finished” there is tetelestai. It means "it is paid in full." Tetelestai was written on payment receipts in that era. On the cross, Jesus said it in past tense. He wasn't saying a prayer about something that was about to happen or would happen after 3 more days of suffering. He was saying it had been paid in full as of that moment. Colossians 2:14 tells us that the the things that were against us were nailed to the cross. If it was paid in full on the cross and if our sins were nailed to the cross, then there was no need for Jesus to suffer in hell in our place. Also, on the cross, Jesus said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” He didn't say He was commending His spirit into the hands of Satan or into hell.

Christ's purpose was not to suffer the penalties and punishment for our sins. His purpose was to shed His blood. Hebrews 9:22 tells us things of the Law are purged with blood and without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin. It says nothing about suffering. No where did the Law have any requirement for suffering as a price to pay for atonement.

Animals have no afterlife. They would not and could not have to suffer after death to atone for sin. Since the Day of Atonement is a shadow of Christ's purpose and there was no suffering required of the animals involved, we can conclude that there was no requirement for Christ to suffer beyond the cross.

The claims of what happened with Jesus in hell are not from the Bible, they are from the imaginations of creative people. There are no verses that demonstrate that Christ suffered in hell or that He took keys from Satan or that Satan is even in hell. The verses these teachers do quote are applied incorrectly.

When all Scripture verses on the subject are taken as a whole, we find Christ shed His blood to atone for our sins. His work was completed, finished, tetelestai on the cross. When He commended His spirit to the Father, His spirit went to Paradise and His body was laid in the tomb. At some point during those three days, He preached to the spirits. On Sunday morning, His body and spirit were reunited and His earthy body was made immortal. He freed the saints from Abraham's Bosom and ascended to heaven where He entered the Holy place and is seated at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us. One day, He will return and those who have called upon Him to be saved will reign with Him forever.

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