Anybody like mysteries?
Hint: He did not go down to Hell and preach. But in the Gospels, there are some “missing” days, with obscure verses elsewhere in the Old and New Testaments giving other hints.
[This is a somewhat lengthy read, as much of my study writing is. It is an expansion on something I studied and wrote on around a year ago, and have looked at from time to time since then. I’m oftentimes a man of few words, but my fingers can be fingers of many words (plus a few piano notes 🤗 😊.) I love to dig into the Word of God, and research the original languages, see what various commentaries have to say, etc. In my study of and searching for the Hebraic undertones of the New Testament, and the Gospels in particular, I like to use Jesus’ Hebrew name Yeshua.]
I want to look at a mystery, at least to me, which I feel has some intriguing thoughts to consider, from some studying that I have done. This is something I don’t recall ever hearing anyone discuss to any great degree, and I suppose it could be a little controversial; on the other hand, maybe not. It’s nothing that will affect the salvation of a current believer. Therefore, let’s just get down to business with this mystery (we might even jump out on a few rabbit trails) – Where might the Risen Yeshua have been during the first week following His resurrection? Scripture is somewhat silent on that, but some digging will bring us a few clues.
We know that the Yeshua appeared first, just outside of the tomb, to Mary Magdalene, on the morning of His resurrection, Sunday, the first day of the week. Some of the other women appear to have been with her. Mark 16:9-20 is NOT found in some of the oldest Greek manuscripts that have been discovered. Some feel that perhaps the last page was lost, and a later copyist filled in the ending verses. Whatever the case, the Holy Spirit was ultimately in charge of the Word of God coming together, and He allowed these verses to remain. Brackets, parentheses, and footnotes are translator based. Mark 16:9 notes that Mary Magdalene was the first to see the risen Lord.
Later He appeared to two of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. When asked why they were so sad, one named Cleopas, surprised that this “stranger” had not heard the news, explained, and said that “we hoped that it was He who should redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). No one was expecting Yeshua to be killed, no one was thinking of a victorious resurrection; they didn’t understand, they felt that Yeshua as the Messiah would take charge at that time and overcome Rome. The Heavens had a greater plan yet to unfold.
Cleopas was the only one named of these two disciples in this story in Luke 24, and this is the only mention of him (her?) in Scripture; some commentators believe that the other disciple may have been Luke himself, who spoke of himself impersonally just as Paul and others did. Still others feel that it was Peter, since John 20:10 says that after Peter and John saw the empty tomb, “the disciples went away again to their own homes.” Paul noted in 1 Corinthians 15:5 that Yeshua appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve. A few scholars feel that Cleopas was a contraction of Cleopatra; could this have been Peter and his wife walking that road to Emmaus? That, I know, is of high conjecture, yet – stay with me – Luke 24:33-34 says that after these people in Emmaus at last recognized Yeshua, they hurried back to Jerusalem and found the eleven, and told them “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” (Perhaps calling them “the eleven” was simply a way of saying that they went and found the apostles.) Simon was Peter’s original name; Peter means “Rock” and is actually more of a nickname. (Peter was transliterated into English from the Greek Petros. Cephas (pr: Kay-phas) was the transliteration of the Hebrew Kefa (pr: Kay-fah) into Greek; Kefa also means “Rock.”) Now if Peter was in Jerusalem with the other disciples, why would these others run back and tell them that the Lord had appeared to Simon (Peter)? Perhaps Cleopas (Cleopatra?) made that announcement, as an excited wife? Again, there is really no solid Scripture backup for this, but at the same time I don’t feel that this thought is necessarily out of line with Scripture.
Yeshua later suddenly appeared to the disciples, who were together in a room with a locked door (Scripture does NOT say that He walked through a wall or door), and took the time to convince them that it really was Him. He then asked for some fish, and ate it before them. Following that, and the synoptic Gospels do not say so, but John 20:26 says that after eight days, Yeshua appeared to His disciples again; Thomas, who was missing the first time, was there this time. They were still locked into that room in Jerusalem. Again, a locked door did not deter Him.
John 21:1 then says, “After this,” or, “After these things.” (Remember, when originally written, Scripture did not have chapter and verse breaks.) “After this,” after the appearance eight days later, when Thomas was present, He then appeared to them again at the Sea of Tiberias (also known as the Sea of Galilee). I did an online search, and it apparently takes from four to six days to walk from Jerusalem to the Sea of Galilee. The apostles had been locked into a room, fearing for their lives. They probably left Jerusalem at night, and may have traveled a good part of the way at night, or dusk and early dawn – at least until they were a good distance out of Jerusalem. They had been told to meet up with Yeshua at the Sea, so they were probably on the move. The apostles certainly had some time to think during that time on foot, questioning, wondering. Peter was seemingly at a loss of what to do next, except to go back to what he had known previously – fishing. Wuest translates John 21:3 this way: “Simon Peter says to them, I am going off, breaking my former connections, to my former fishing business.” So Yeshua had some time to tend to other “business” while the disciples walked to the Sea of Tiberias.
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:5-7 that Yeshua first appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve, then He was seen by more than 500 brothers at one time, but no time stamp is given. Then He was seen by Jacob/James, Yeshua’ brother, then to all of the apostles. (To the twelve, then later to all of the apostles – that could be a study all on its own.) We are told in John 7:5 that Yeshua’s brothers were not believing in Him. So at some point prior to, during, or immediately following His death, burial, and resurrection, His brothers came to believe. Possibly that was the 1 Corinthians 15:7 visit to Jacob/James; and in Acts 1:14 we see that Yeshua’s mother Mary, and His brothers, were gathered in the upper room with the apostles following Yeshua’s ascension. We also know that by Acts 15, Jacob/James had become a major leader of the Messianic community in Jerusalem. (The name James does not exist in the Hebrew.)
Acts 1:3 gives a time-frame of forty days that Yeshua spent with His followers before ascending to His Father. That would place His ascension roughly ten days before Shavu’ot, or Pentecost. If the forty days began “after eight days,” then His ascension would have been just a couple of days before. Yeshua had to return to the Father before the Holy Spirit could come. “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7). A comment I read somewhere once said that perhaps Yeshua had to return to His glorified state at the throne of His Father before the Holy Spirit could be released in such a way as happened at Pentecost, as only in His glorified state could Yeshua direct the Holy Spirit. That could be. We do know, from Philippians 2:6-7, that Yeshua was not operating under His own “God power” while on earth: “although He existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself….” His short ministry only began following His immersion, when the Holy Spirit settled on Him and then empowered Him.
So there were a lot of witnesses to His resurrection. But back to our question – Where might the Risen Savior have been during the first week following His resurrection? We are given a few brief hints in Scripture. 1 Peter 3:19 says, “in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison….” What does that mean? Colossians 2:15 says of Yeshua, that “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” Did He put them to open shame in their own “territory?” Revelation 1:17b-18, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Ephesians 4:8-10: “Therefore it says, ‘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 regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things)” (my emphasis). In Psalm 68:18, David wrote prophetically of Messiah, “You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the LORD God may dwell there.” Isaiah 42:7 says that the Chosen Servant will, “bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” Granted, that means those in this life who are in spiritual darkness, but perhaps it goes beyond even that.
There is an apocryphal book called The Gospel of Nicodemus. The term apocrypha refers to a collection of ancient writings that were not considered by the early Jewish sages, or the early Church fathers, to be inspired or worthy enough for inclusion in the canon of the Bible, sometimes because of content, sometimes just because they were written too late to be included in either Old or New Testament compilations (although there are some denominations that do hold certain apocrypha books as Scripture). Now this does not mean that they should be considered as unworthy for study. Many modern biblical scholars are investigating further and finding that some of those books are actually very factual and honest historical writings, although others truly are a lot of nonsense. The Didache – again, not Scripture, but a writing by early church fathers – is just one example of a very fine book to study.
The Gospel of Nicodemus is a short book depicting Yeshua going into the depths of Hades following His resurrection, and preaching to those who were trapped there, then leading out those who came to trust in Him. Hades is a Greek term, and can be compared to the Hebrew Sheol. These are understood to be terms for the abode of the dead; Hades, although sometimes translated as such, is NOT Hell. Hell in Greek is Tartaros, and is considered to be the final abode of the damned.
Revelation 6:8, “And I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him….” Death as pictured here is riding out to afflict a large portion of the earth, who will be thrown into Hades. In the end, Death and Hades are thrown into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:14). “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).
Again, Hades and Sheol are NOT Hell. Hell is the final place where all go who have rejected the Lord. It is comparable to the Hebrew Gehenna. Gehenna is derived from the Hebrew ge hinnom or the “valley of Hinnom.” The valley of Hinnom is a deep narrow valley just outside of Jerusalem. It was also called Tophet, the valley of dead bones. It was a place of child sacrifice (see Jeremiah 7:31) until the good King Josiah put an end to this (2 Kings 23:10). The area later became the dumping ground for the sewage and refuse of the city. It was a place of crawling worms and maggots. Fires burned continually to destroy the garbage and impurities. The name Gehenna came to be thought of as a symbol of punishment. The LORD said through the prophet Isaiah, “‘And it shall be from new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all mankind will come to bow down before Me,’ says the LORD. ‘Then they shall go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched; and they shall be an abhorrence to all mankind’” (Isaiah 66:23-24, my emphasis). That italicized phrase is emphasized by Yeshua in Mark 9, and is inferred in Revelation 14:11, “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name” (my emphasis).
I do not support or promote the religion of the Eastern Orthodox Church, but I did find that they have a whole teaching, along with much music, about Yeshua’s preaching to those who were in Hades. The early Eastern Orthodox fathers believed this, but their conclusions varied as to whom was delivered by Yeshua. Some believed it was all souls, some believe it was a select few who chose to follow Him at that time.
An argument I have heard from time to time is, “Well, what about those who never heard the gospel? Why would a loving God send them to hell?” First of all, from my study on this Yeshua going to Hades subject, I could say that anyone on earth who had ever heard the gospel, and then rejected it for whatever reason, has made their choice, and their judgment is set. Yet I’m not sure I would even totally agree with that. For one thing, thankfully, neither I nor you are the Judge.
So follow along. Many people have rejected the gospel because of seeing or hearing “Christian” behavior, basing their decision on the actions of a weak or foolish believer. Many have rejected Yeshua out of pain, discouragement, depression – the hardness of life. Jewish people who survived the Holocaust, or had family and/or friends who survived, have largely rejected the Christian Jesus, not believing that He has anything to do with their Judaism; in fact, that is taught by their rabbis. That ideology can be traced back to some writings by an aged and angry Martin Luther, and later Hitler, who picked up on the very evil things that Luther had written about Jews and Judaism and went after the Jews in full force. So in reality many people may have never heard the “true” gospel, or met the real Jesus. Do they go to Hell for that?
I have personally pondered on a thought for a few years now, wondering if it could have been possible that Yeshua was in the death camps and the gas chambers of the Holocaust, ministering to His Jewish brethren who had little time left; perhaps He has done that as well in so many similar brutal situations throughout man’s history. Things like that we will only find out after we step into eternity. “Now I heard, but I did not understand. So I said, ‘My Lord, what will be the outcome of these things?’ Then he said: ‘Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end’” (Daniel 12:8-9).
Still we ask, what about those who never heard the gospel, the good news of Yeshua Messiah? We know that the eternal Creator, our God, is not limited by time. Psalm 115:3 says, “Our God is in the heavens—He does whatever pleases Him!” We know that “He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison.” Could He not perhaps have preached to all those who died with a strong faith, yet not knowing the fullness of their faith (Old Testament saints), and who had been “looking for that city?” The saints of the Old Testament who “… all died controlled and sustained by their faith, but not having received the tangible fulfillment of [God’s] promises, only having seen it and greeted it from a great distance by faith, and all the while acknowledging and confessing that they were strangers and temporary residents and exiles upon the earth” (Hebrews 11:13 Amp).
And transcending time – that is, operating outside of the confinements of physical time, could Yeshua’s preaching in Hades possibly even have reached to all the dead, from history past and up to our current day, and beyond into the future? Does that seem impossible or unlikely? We looked at 1 Peter 3:19, “…in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison….” Verse 20 continues, “who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.” Eight Biblically represents a new beginning. Yeshua seemingly was “away” for eight days. Peter says that eight persons were brought safely through the water. New beginnings. We cannot base a thought just the words of 1 Peter, we must incorporate the other words of Paul and John from above.
Death is the step into eternity from this mortal life; time as we know it does not exist in eternity. That is, all those from our history past up to our history future, who never had or will have a chance to hear the gospel in this life, but lived as moral a life as possible, and believed in God to the best of their ability; who treated Israel, and the downtrodden in life, with justice and compassion, have they been given a chance to hear the good news in the afterlife, in the abode of the dead? Is it possible those are some of the “sheep” of Matthew 25:31-46? Also we must consider 1 Peter 4:6, wherein the Apostle states, “For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does” (my emphasis). It just seems to me that this is a “first chance” for those who never had opportunity to hear the gospel while living in the flesh. He does not desire that any would perish.
I must point out here that I believe that those who have died “in the Lord” are with Him now, in Paradise, just as the thief on the cross was promised. One question is, where was Yeshua on Saturday, the Sabbath? We know that just prior to His dying on the cross, He told one of the thieves that today he would be with Him in Paradise. We think of today as a 24-hour period, but if we take a look at the Hebraic background, and know that Yeshua was/is Jewish, today could take on the meaning of a passage such as Psalm 95:7b-8a, “…Today, if you would hear His voice, do not harden your hearts….” In Hebrew, today can also be defined as, “a space of time defined by an associated term.” That being said, perhaps Yeshua did not go to Paradise until after He arose. He was a Jewish Rabbi, so I can imagine that His beaten body and His exhausted spirit simply rested on the Shabbat. Again, that for us now is a total unknown.
The term paradise refers to “a garden, a park, specifically an Eden, a beautiful place.” The Hebrew for Eden means, “delicate, delight, pleasure,” and comes from a Hebrew root, ah-dahn, which means “to be soft or pleasant, to luxuriate, delight oneself.” Paradise may not necessarily mean Heaven itself, but wherever, whatever it is, it is a beautiful place. In 2 Corinthians 12:4, Paul said that he knew of a man in Christ – himself as he later revealed – was caught up to Paradise. The Thayer Dictionary defines Paradise as, “1) among the Persians a grand enclosure or preserve; 2) a garden, pleasure ground, grove park; 3) the part of Hades which was thought by the later Jews to be the abode of the souls of pious until the resurrection: but some understand this to be a heavenly paradise; 4) the upper regions of the heavens. According to the early church Fathers, the paradise in which our first parents dwelt before the fall still exists, neither on the earth or in the heavens, but above and beyond the world; and 5) heaven.”
I wonder, if Paradise is where the righteous dead are, then when Yeshua told the thief that today he would be with Him in Paradise, perhaps it is wherever this location is. We do know that Yeshua wouldn’t let Mary cling to Him yet, as He had not ascended to His Father. That may indicate that Paradise is not in the actual Heaven of heavens. Perhaps the third heaven that Paul was caught up into was not the full Heaven where the Father is on His throne, but He saw Paradise, which is glorious on its own. John was caught up even farther in the book of Revelation. This would explain how Yeshua could be with the thief in Paradise, but not ascend to His Father yet. If the story of Lazarus and the rich man, in Luke 16 can be construed as, if not actual, yet being based upon fact, it is possible that Hades and Paradise are within eyesight of each other, with “a great chasm fixed” between the two, “in order that those who wish to come over from here to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.”
I know all of this may sound a little far-fetched, perhaps a little extra-biblical, and I thought so too, at first. But the more I considered it, I thought, why not? John3:17 says, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.” 2 Peter3:9 tells us that, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some people think of slowness; on the contrary, he is patient with you; for it is not his purpose that anyone should be destroyed, but that everyone should turn from his sins.” Could not His hand of grace reach into the grave to offer a first chance to those who had never had one? Paul states in Romans 1:19-20, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made….” There surely have been throughout history those [sheep] who were kind and generous, and were never in a position to hear of Jesus, Yeshua the Messiah.
I know that Hebrews 9:27 says, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment….” I also know that the popular teaching is if you die unsaved, you go straight to hell. Perhaps, yet I came across an interesting quote by John Wesley, the famous English evangelist and revivalist from the 1700’s who said, “There is not a word in scripture of a particular judgment immediately after death.” The “after that” of Hebrew 9:27 may not necessarily mean right away. I make a motion that we let our Creator be the judge, and we simply do our part to share His love the best we can. I am not trying to raise a false hope, but neither do I want to defer hope.
Here are some passages to consider: Romans 5:13, “for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law” (ESV); or as the CJB translates, “Sin was indeed present in the world before Torah was given, but sin is not counted as such when there is no Torah.” In other words, a person is not fully aware of what sin is until it is pointed out to them by Scripture and the understanding given through the written Word via the Holy Spirit. Man was given a conscience, and unless it has been seared, it works pretty well, causing many “unsaved” to do the right thing, while being unaware that the wrong thing they did not do is considered to be sin.
After Yeshua had told His disciples that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, in Matthew 19:24-26, “When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’ But Yeshua looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” In the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), those who came to work early in the day and then received the same wages as the last-minute hires became upset. I have heard lifetime Christians think poorly of “deathbed confessions.” Yet we must consider the repentant thief on the cross. I won’t go into it here, but there can be found in Scripture various inferences to differing degrees of eternal reward and punishment. And certainly, one should not hope to wait until just before death to repent, for who can surely know the day of their death?
Now my purpose here is NOT to say that someone who has come to faith in Yeshua is free to handle their faith carelessly, or ignore it altogether, and expect another chance at salvation after death. I do believe that for someone who has once came to believe in and follow Yeshua, had at least a modicum of faith, served Him willingly for a season, and then lost that faith and fell away, that their hope is gone. This relates to the parable of the seed and the sower; some seed grew properly, some grew briefly, others died (Matthew 13:18-23).
Perhaps this is an example of “Reckless Love,” Yeshua going into Hades to try to rescue people who had never heard of him. We can read examples of the reckless love of humans – firefighters or someone going back into a burning building to save someone. A parent frantically searching for a toddler lost in a crowd. Family trying to get to a hospital after hearing of a loved one involved in an accident. These types of things and more happen every day somewhere. Anyone who highly loves someone else may occasionally have to love in a reckless manner if a situation calls for it. John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” That’s pretty “reckless.”
King David said in Psalm 139 that there was no where he could go to get away, to hide from the LORD, that even such an idea is an impossibility. God is love, and there is nowhere in the universe that His love is not able to reach. Here’s just a few examples David gave in Psalm 139:8-10, “If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”
[One time, Yeshua questioned His disciples], “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:12-14).
(Luke 10:17-18, 21) “The seventy came back jubilant. ‘Lord,’ they said, ‘with your power, even the demons submit to us!’ Yeshua said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven…” At that moment he was filled with joy by the Holy Spirit….” I don’t find the phrase “filled with joy” translated much differently in any version, but the Greek definition for ag-al-lee-ah’-o is literally, “jumped for joy, exulted, with exceeding joy.” Yeshua leapt for joy that satan was on the run!
My final point in all of this is that Yeshua’ body is NOT in a grave. He arose in victory, and anyone who calls upon His name and obeys His commandments, who loves Him with all of their being, has the gift of eternal life. My desire that all who read this will be a part of that. He’s coming back for us some day. Paul stated in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.” Are the dead in Christ those who are in Paradise when He returns?
If you have read this far, and feel that you can’t or don’t agree with the ideas in this writing, that is fine. This may be an entirely new paradigm for you. Maybe give it some time to soak in. I do know that the Lord wants no one to perish; maybe we’ve been to quick to send someone to hell. There’s a lot of great mystery and conjecture to some of the above mentioned events. I realize that some of what I wrote is speculation, although there are hints of biblical facts, and I enjoy the research. There may be something in Scripture I’ve overlooked. If you have any questions or thoughts, feel free to send me a private message at email@example.com, or on facebook messenger.