What we do know from Scripture, concerning what immediately happened after Jesus’ death, is that he was glorified by the Father and that he was in Paradise (Heaven). In John 13:32, Jesus says, “If God is glorified in him …” (a reference to what he had just affirmed in v. 31—the glory displayed/ revealed/ achieved at the cross) then, he says, because this is true “God will glorify him in himself, and will glorify him at once.” Shifting from the past tense to the future tense while using the term “at once” (ESV), also translated “immediately” (NASB), Jesus changes focus from the cross to his state immediately after his death on the cross. This means immediately upon Jesus’ death upon the cross, when “he gave up his spirit” (Matt. 27:50), the Father glorified the Son. Then in Luke 23:43, Jesus’ makes his promise to the thief on the cross, informing us, at the same time, that not only was Jesus immediately glorified, but that he was glorified in Paradise (Heaven) on the day he died.
This teaching flies in the face of the natural understanding of the clause in the English language, which is that Jesus went to Hell upon his death. To take it a step further in the natural understanding, due to Hell being hell, there is an implication that he suffered the punishment of hell (which is what is picked up on by Calvin, etc. with the workaround – that the hell referred to punishment). The Scriptures give absolutely zero support to the interpretation that he went to Hell and suffered, and it is certainly not the reality to which 1 Peter 3 testifies. The atonement for our sins was on the cross. There was no need for him to suffer in Hell. “It is finished” (John 19:30).
So, to avoid confusion when clarity is needed, and to ensure biblical accuracy when we recite The Apostles’ Creed, we will leave out the clause “descended into hell.” When we recite the creed together, we will say (at that point), “… born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. The third day he arose from the dead.”
If you have any questions about this, feel free to ask me or one of the elders. We’d be happy to discuss it with you.
In Christ, Roger