Where Is Jesus Between His Death and Resurrection?

040315Where is Christ after He dies on Friday afternoon and before He rises on Easter Sunday? Both Scripture and Tradition answer this question. Consider the following excerpt from a second century sermon as well as this meditation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday (ca. 2nd century A.D.):

Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness. A great silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. … He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him—He who is both their God and the son of Eve. … “I am your God, who for your sake have become your Son. … I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.”

Nothing could be more beautiful than that line addressed to Adam and Eve: “I am your God, who for your sake have become your Son.”

St Ephrem the Deacon also attests to this descent among the dead and describes it rather colorfully:

Death could not devour our Lord unless he possessed a body, neither could hell swallow him up unless he bore our flesh; and so he came in search of a chariot in which to ride to the underworld. This chariot was the body which he received from the Virgin; in it he invaded death’s fortress, broke open its strongroom and scattered all its treasure. (Sermo de Domino nostro, 3-4. 9: Opera edit. Lamy, 1, 152-158. 166-168)

Scripture also testifies to Christ’s descent to the dead and what He did: For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison. … 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 (1 Peter 3:18; 1 Peter 4:6).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church on Christ’s descent to the dead (excerpts from CCC # 632-635):

[The] first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ’s descent into hell [is] that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead.

But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there [cf. 1 Pet 3:18-19]. Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, “hell”—Sheol in Hebrew, or Hades in Greek—because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God [cf. Phil 2:10; Acts 2:24; Rev 1:18; Eph 4:9; Pss 6:6; 88:11-13].

Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer [cf. Ps 89:49; 1 Sam 28:19; Ezek 32:17-32; Luke 16:22-26]. “It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior … whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell” [Roman Catechism I, 6, 3].

Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.

[So] the gospel was preached even to the dead. The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfillment. This is the last phase of Jesus’ messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ’s redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption.

Christ went down into the depths of death so that “the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” [1 Peter 4:6]. Jesus, “the Author of life”, by dying, destroyed “him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and [delivered] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage” [Heb 2:14-15; cf. Acts 3:15].

Henceforth the risen Christ holds “the keys of Death and Hades”, so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” [Rev 1:18; Phil 2:10].

Here is a recording of a sermon I preached on this topic: Where is Jesus Now.

27 Replies to “Where Is Jesus Between His Death and Resurrection?”

  1. Into this finality (of death) the dead Son descends, no longer acting in any way, but stripped by the cross of every power and initiative of his own, as one purely to be used, debased to mere matter, with a fully indifferent (corpse) obedience, incapable of any active solidarity – only thus is he right for any ‘sermon’ to the dead. He Is out of an ultimate love however) dead together with them. And exactly in that way he disturbs the absolute
    loneliness striven for by the sinner: the sinner, who wants to be ‘damned’ apart from God, finds God again in his loneliness, but God in the absolute weakness of love who unfathomably in the period of nontime enters into solidarity with those damning themselves. (Hans Ursa von Balthasar)

    1. Dont’ be reading Von Balthasar’s stuff. His stuff is flowery but it is a WICKED SPELL! Balthasar taught universal salvation which is a heresy. I’m telling you don’t read his stuff because they are beautifully worded…. Satanic Spells…no kidding!

    2. St. Thomas Aquinas has quite a different account of Jesus’ effect on the souls of the damned than solidarity:

      “I answer that, A thing is said to be in a place in two ways. First of all, through its effect, and in this way Christ descended into each of the hells, but in different manner. For going down into the hell of the lost He wrought this effect, that by descending thither He put them to shame for their unbelief and wickedness: but to them who were detained in Purgatory He gave hope of attaining to glory: while upon the holy Fathers detained in hell solely on account of original sin, He shed the light of glory everlasting.”–St. Thomas Aquinas

      Summa Theologica > Third Part > Question 52>Article 2

      He goes on to say that in its essence Christ’s soul only visited the souls of the just.

  2. Thank you Monsignor for this reflection. To have the scriptural passages there as reference is very helpful in anyone’s faith journey , even to non believers. God bless you! We follow your blog here in Houston Texas.
    Happy Easter.

  3. I have always found this confusing. We say hell in the creed, but do we really mean hell or do we mean purgatory? Or some Old Testament prefigurement of purgatory, this bosom of Abraham? Is there some third place where the just dead go that is separate from hell and different from purgatory? Why do they not just say purgatory?

    1. We mean the abode of the dead. They were not being purged, they were sleeping in death waiting the coming of the Messiah. Sheol doesn’t exist anymore since Jesus emptied it. Some went to Hell of the damned, others went to heaven

      1. Wow, I have never heard of sheol before, and I’ve been a Catholic for 20 years now. Thanks for the explanation!

  4. Oh, how great is the Love of GOD that those, even those in death are redeemed. One lash, one wound was enough to redeem all men, in all time, all generations but HE has to accept every punishment and torture the arrogant men can give HIM that those in the valley of the dead receive redemption as well. What more do want of HIM who gave HIS All in all out of Love and Mercy? Nothing more except that we need to return HIS Love. Where was HE after HIS death? Maybe we know, maybe we don’t know, but what I know wherever HE was, HE still was loving HIS Creation that even those in death HE called to HIS Presence, for we were not created to wallow in death but to a Life for whom HE IS. Thank YOU, LORD. Thank you, Monsignor for such a profound reflection. YHWH MEKADDISKEM

  5. We could never be aware of what Hell actually is, for the simple reason that Jesus perfected all through his death, so hell is not an exception, the fact that he has the keys, and for sure, since before,Satan owned the keys only to lock souls in,Jesus is in a position to liberate souls from that kind of hell when time comes:

    A person was condemned to life imprisonment by a lie!

    When truth was established he was released!

    ALL souls are pouring down into hell because of a lie!

    Adam was never in the truth within himself, since he sinned! But still under the influence of the first ever ORIGINAL SIN,/lie by Lucifer in the heavens through which is the cause of all this mess!

    The first fruits, regarding the flesh, which were subject to that lie were liberated by the sacrifice of the innocent flesh and blood of Jesus simply to justify the truth! AND BECAME THE FATHER OF ALL FLESH IN THE TRUTH!

    Although regarding our flesh,we are justified in Jesus’flesh,we are still subject,and yet to be justified due to that same old lie, regarding our SOULS,the fact that we are still influenced by the old cursed flesh of Adam, like he was in the first place, since we are not in the position to die, and live in Christ,still not in the truth. Now when the truth is established,and we are justified, this time through Jesus again, THE WORD, since all in him, all by him and all for him, but as Our Holy Virgin Mary’s soul, our mother IN THE TRUTH, from the cross, suffering since then to save us all, since Eve condemned us all! Genesis 3:16, Luke 2:35

    ALL would be liberated, those in hell or not! and Satan’s head would be crushed once and for all.

    This in no way means that we DELIBERATELY sin!

    And till then, Here where God’s justice through his wisdom of benignity works unfathomably since from the cross he said: Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing!!!!

    We are subject to an illusion, a lie, blameless!

    1. I’m sorry, but I don’t understand what you’re saying. Do you speak of the universalism mentioned above? If so, please consider this teaching goes against everything our Lord said and did. This thinking insults the Holy Spirit, is improper to the gift of free will and strips from the gift of faith its true meaning.
      ‘If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin. If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. If we say, “We have not sinned,” we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.’ (1John 1:6-10)

  6. Msgr. Pope: From your explanation, it is my understanding that Sheol, the abode of the dead, no longer exists. Then, where are those who died after the Ascension up to the present, who never heard the Gospel preached to them. There are those who live in the hinterlands, in the jungles who never heard about Christ much less the Gospel. Please enlighten me. BTW I have most of your articles for my reflections. I’m praying that more of the clergy would be like you. Thanks a lot and may God bless and keep you.

  7. Or you can believe what PJPII taught in a homily.


    He seems to be teaching that Christ did not literally descend into hell, since he said it was metaphorical language, and he also seems to deny the Church’s teaching that Christ always enjoyed the Beatific vision by saying He gained it at the moment of death.

    1. Are you aware that I was quoting from the Catechism? (JP II promulgated it)

      I think JP IIs comments to which you refer are a combination of misunderstood (since many moderns are untrained in philosophy and unable to distinguish state and place or how they are related, and also the nature of language and meaning. His comments about purgatory and Heaven are similarly misunderstood) and controversial.

      But the Catechism is a better source than a Papal allocutio and a clearer exercise of the papal magisterium (remember JP II promulgated it).

      I wonder too if you personally misunderstand that “metaphor” does not mean “unreal” or “unhistorical” The concept of metaphor can include historical truth but expressed in language that speaks to its mystery rather than in purely univocal sense. Take for example the word “descent” (for we say Christ descended to sheol). Is this word descent meant in a merely literal sense of going vertically downward to position B in relation to position A? Is heaven UP and Hell Down in some physical sense? In relation to what?

      Very often when we speak to cosmology we use phenomenological language. For example we say the son rises and sets. But that is not literally true. The sun is not rising or setting at all, the earth is rotating. However, something IS really and truly happening, though our language speaks to it an a phenomenological way, i.e. it describes the movement of the sun from our perspective of going “up” in the sky and “down” later. Language is often artful, and some sophistication is needed to know what it is describing and how our words about it are to be understood.

      Thus when JP II speaks of something being “metaphorical” he is not denying the existence of thing described, per se. He can also (or alternately) be referring to way that language is limited, especially when describing great mysteries, and that our analogous way of speaking can only grasp and express a small part of a much greater reality.

      1. I see you did not touch the Beatific Vision aspect of what he wrote. It is kind of hard to come up with mental gymnastics for that one. Homilies are for educating and making clear a teaching, not confusing it. If what you say is true, then one would think a simple statement, “We know that Christ did descend literally into hell to ransom the captives but metaphorically it could mean…” would have been added to make clear what the Church teaches. Not that difficult.

        Yes, I did notice you quoted the CCC. I don’t see why that makes a difference. I see a lot of things in the CCC ignored and not taught.

        The CCC, in many ways, is a product of the Modernistic takeover of the Church at VII. PJPII was certainly part of it. Modernists give with one hand and take away with the other. However, their actions or what they don’t say gives them away most of the time.

  8. Msgr. Pope: I do not have your knowledge. I have always understood that God is outside of time. To Him everything is an ever present now. He has always seen the entire picture. We see it coming together a piece at a time. Therefore it seems that the next thing the just who died before Christ “experienced” is Him being with them and their being with God–not in time but in nature. That is why the Crucifixion and Resurrection are always present in the sight of God. Could you please comment about my understanding?

    1. If I may, here is my vision, poor though it is: I do not think of God in relation to the concept of time except that in the ‘fullness of time’ the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and that He will soon return in Glory, all according to His Will. Everything is simply present to God, but not continually made present. I do know Jesus bears His wounds before our Father, interceding for us. God alone is Eternal, we have a beginning and conditioned reality, again, according to His Will. So, just as we may need purgation for a ‘time’, the souls in Sheol may have been in similar way. Remember, Heaven was ‘closed’ for a ‘time’ 🙂 It is enough for me to contemplate the Mysteries, I do not expect full knowledge of God which is beyond comprehension. God bless

      1. In case of misunderstand, “everything” is the key word in that sentence. Sorry.

  9. Enjoyed your comments……..although no longer a Roman Catholic but believing in the Unity of the Faith of all believers.

    1. So you don’t believe Jesus’ words?:

      “Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, YOU SHALL NOT HAVE LIFE IN YOU. [55] He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day.” – John 6:54-55

      Man can transmit life-saving power through creation (for example, medicine). So God can’t do the same?

      “Behold I am the Lord the God of all flesh: shall any thing be hard for me?” – Jeremiah 32:27

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