As Easter has arrived, and Resurrection Sunday is just hours away, I thought I might deal with and explain an issue which I (and others far more intellectually savvy) are asked each spring about this time.
What happened from the time Jesus died, until His resurrection?
And there are corollary questions that go with that, like:
Where are the souls of those who died (faithful and faithless) prior to the time of Christ?
What's the difference in "hades" and "gehenna"? Aren't they both "hell?"
Is the "Paradise" which Jesus mentioned to the thief on the cross the same as "Heaven?"
Did Jesus "go to hell?"
And there are many other variations and related inquiries. I hope the following explanation will be enlightening and help to make sense of these questions....
Until the time of the Cross, ALL men who died, went to a "temporary" place for the dead -- "sheol," "hades," etc... The righteous dead -- those who died in FAITH -- departed to "Abraham's bosom," or Paradise [as did Lazarus] while the faithless dead went to "Hades" [as did the 'rich man'] (Luke 16:19-31).
"For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; 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" (I Peter 3:18-20; cf. Psalm 16:10).
This "Preaching," however, WAS NOT meant to be remedial, nor to offer those who had died without faith "another chance." Rather, it was to declare to those who had died the [b]final revelation of the redemption [/b]which they had [i]already[/i] received or rejected -- and that revelation was JESUS CHRIST Himself.
[i][b]And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire[/b][/i] This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:11-15).
In other words, after the Millennial Kingdom, at the Final Judgment, THEN "death and hell [HADES] are cast into the Lake of Fire [GEHENNA]" for eternity.
So, in summary, when Jesus "gave up the ghost," He "descended into Hades" and "preached unto the spirits in prison" in the sense that he presented Himself as the ultimate redemption which those in Paradise had looked forward to in faith, and those in hades had rejected in faithlessness. He then "led captivity captive," opening the way for all those who had by faith trusted God for redemption to enter into Heavenm the very presence of God. Those in hades remain there in waiting until their final judgment and their final disposition as eternal occupants of the Lake of Fire. Since Jesus' resurrection, ALL who have trusted Him upon their death are IMMEDIATELY ushered into heaven, for "to be absent from the body [is] to be present with the Lord" (II Corinthians 5:8).
Hope this presents a solid explanation of what Jesus did "from the Cross to the Throne," and what the disposition of the People of God is past, present and future.