After Jesus stated 'It is finished' and died, we are told He descended into the "lower parts of the earth."*
What happened to Jesus' spirit & soul
Jesus had told the repentant thief 'Today you will be with me in Paradise.*" Paradise, also known as Abraham's bosom, was the place of the righteous dead in the heart of the earth where they were held 'captive' until their sins could be paid for by Messiah, and was believed to be a park like place of peace and rest. *Ephesians 4:8-9, Luke 23:43
Ephesians 4:9 tells us Jesus first descended into the lower parts of the earth. At that time Paradise and what we call hell were 2 separate compartments in the spirit realm in the earth - hell for the unrighteous dead and Paradise for the righteous dead. The best description is from Jesus in Luke 16:19-31 where He speaks of a beggar named Lazarus laid at the gate of an unnamed rich man, hoping to at least be fed from the garbage thrown out by the rich man's household.
Jesus said in the process of time each man died, the rich man went to hell and the beggar to Abraham's bosom. As the rich man pleads with Abraham to give him water, Abraham notes there is a huge canyon between the two places and those from hell who would want to come over cannot, and he from Paradise could not go over to hell to bring him water. The rich man said he was tormented by the heat, but note it wasn't bad enough that he couldn't carry on a conversation.
An interesting thought is by the law the rich man was no doubt righteous - he would have had the means to fulfill the Law with gifts of money and sacrifices at the proper times, while the beggar Lazarus had skin sores and was therefore unclean by the Law, unable to make sacrifices or give money - yet he ended up in Paradise while the rich man went to hell. The condition of their hearts not outward appearances their 'ticket' to their respective places.
Preached in hell?
In I Peter 3:19-20 it says Jesus went and 'preached' to the spirits in prison who had been disobedient in the days of Noah. The word translated 'preached' in the King James Version is not 'preached' like we would think (Greek, euangelizo), that is to preach the gospel, but rather merely to 'announce' (Greek, kerusso) with no expectation of repentance. The word 'prison' denotes a condition of imprisonment rather than a place of imprisonment. In other words, Peter, who calls Noah a preacher of righteousness*, shows the people in hell who didn't believe Noah are in hell as a condition of their unbelief. Some commentators have stated it wasn't so much that Jesus singled out the generation of Noah, but rather proclaimed Himself Lord to all in hell.
There is no evidence in the Word that Jesus fought a battle with Satan, for His work on the cross was a legal transaction, not an act of war. When Jesus said 'It is finished', as noted last week, He was saying all that remained was the mopping up, the taking of spoils, and that's what He did in the heart of the earth.
For after proclaiming Himself in hell, Jesus went to the other part of the lower parts of the earth, Paradise, crossing over the chasm as no other could do, to be greeted by the righteous dead. Why did the righteous dead have to go to a waiting place like Paradise? Because their sins had been only temporarily covered by Old Testament sacrifices, but not obliterated. They had to wait for Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, that precious blood as the final sacrifice before they could go to heaven.
And so it was that Sunday morning John records Mary Magdalene came to the tomb to discover the stone rolled away. Without pausing to look inside she runs back to Peter and John and tells them someone has removed the body. They 3 ran to the tomb and John 20:8-9 tells us they all believed someone had taken His body:
"Then Peter came into the tomb and saw the head cloth laying separately from the grave clothes, and (John) went into the tomb as well and he believed (what Mary had said about someone had stolen the body) for as yet they didn't know the scripture that He must rise from the dead."
I need to make 2 points here - the first is about the 'napkin' or head cloth. Some 7-10 years ago someone made up a story about a napkin folded at a table meant the master of the house was going to return to the table, and then they said this is what the 'napkin' laid separately from the grave cloths meant. NOT. First, 'napkins' weren't used like that in the 1st century and 'napkin' isn't the Greek word used. Secondly, to stay with the analogy it would mean Jesus was making the statement He was going to return to the tomb.
In fact the word 'head cloth' (not napkin) was used to wipe sweat from the brow - it has no relation to food at all. And it wasn't folded but the Greek indicates it lay twisted up aside. The real point as to why it was separate is very simple - John makes the point to show Jesus was physically raised from the dead. It wasn't as the Gnostics and others said at the time he wrote the gospel of John, that it was some sort of 'spiritual resurrection', nor was His body stolen away which would have meant all burial cloths would have remained intact on the body. John was saying Jesus was literally, physically, raised from the dead and took the head cloth off Himself and laid it aside as He arose.
The second point is to correct the idea (made popular by a Don Francisco song years ago) that when John and Peter went into the tomb they believe Jesus had been raised. Versus 1-9 make it clear they believed what Mary had told them - someone had stolen the body. OK, end of rabbit trail, getting off my soap box.
What DID Jesus do?
While John 20:10 tells us Peter and John left the tomb to return to their respective homes, Mary lingered, mourning at the tomb. It was there the Lord graciously came up behind her and asked, "Woman, why are you crying?" She thought he was the gardener and continued with her thought that someone had taken the body: "Sir, if you have taken Him from here tell me where you put Him and I will take Him away."
With that, the Lord simply spoke her name: "Mary" She recognized His voice and turned and exclaimed "Rabbi!" And then Jesus said something unique: "Don't touch me for I have not yet ascended to my Father. But go to my brethren (brethren is a term including men and women) and say to them I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." v17
Later that day He would invite them to touch His wounds, but why is He telling her she is interrupting His ascension to the Father and for her not to touch Him?
What Jesus did
The answer comes in Hebrews 9:11-24 and Ephesians 4:8. Paul said in 4:8 "When He ascended up on high He led captivity captive..." Captivity, a reference to the people of Paradise, was being led now captive by the Lord, ascending to heaven no longer held captive by their sins. Paradise was wholly taken to heaven by the just risen Lord.
Hebrews 9:11-24 tells us what Jesus did once there: "For Christ being a high priest...neither by the blood of bulls and goats but by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place having obtained eternal redemption for us....For Christ did not enter into the holy place made with hands, which are mere figures of the true, but into heaven itself to appear in the presence of God for us..."
The cross was a legal transaction as I said. Colossians 2:14-16 says of the cross: "...blotting out the handwriting of ordinances (Law, sin) that was against us and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross. And having spoiled principalities and powers He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it."
Jesus had spoiled the devil the same way Exodus 12:36 speaks of Israel when the Egyptians gave them everything they had just to get rid of them, "...they spoiled the Egyptians." Jesus openly triumphed over the enemy in hell, which explains why He announced and didn't 'preach' there. And we also see Him taking the people of Paradise up to heaven at His resurrection. and why He also appeared to many over a span of 40 days after His resurrection. Paul says at one point He was seen by over 500 people at once time* - Jesus was openly showing His triumph during those 40 days, 1 day for each day of temptation at the start of His ministry, among other meanings. *I Cor 15:6
Now there is but 1 compartment in the earth, that holding place called hell. But Paradise and all who believe in the Lord when they die now ascend to heaven, which is why Paul when speaking of his trip to heaven said, "I know a man in Christ about 14 years ago, whether in the body or out I don't know, who was caught up to Paradise..." He also said '...absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." II Corinthians 12:3-4, 5:8
But something changed that affects you and I today. Jesus used terminology He had never used before when He spoke to Mary by the tomb: "Go to my brethren and tell them I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." Why did He speak like that? Because something had changed for all eternity between Him and the Father - and that is next week.
Until then, blessings,