Where Did Jesus’ Spirit Go When He Died?


To begin with, I think it would be useful to look at what the Bible says about heaven first.

‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’. Genesis 1:1

The Bible tells us there are three heavens.

Speaking about himself, the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:2

‘I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago, was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows.’

So, we have here three ‘heavens’.

1. The heaven which is God’s spiritual eternal home. This isn’t physical and isn’t created.

2. The heaven where the stars and planets are. This is physical and is created.

3. The heaven surrounding the earth where the atmosphere is and the birds fly. This is physical and is created.

The word ‘heavens’ is used in different ways in the Bible.

1. It’s used of the two heavens that God created.

2. It’s also used of the third heaven. This is the uncreated heaven where God has always been from eternity.

God is everywhere

‘God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ Acts 17:27-28

He is present in all ‘three heavens’

‘Why do the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’ Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.’ Psalm 115:2-3

We cannot get away from God

‘You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.’ Psalm 139:1-16

The two heavens God created

‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth’. Genesis 1:1.

So He existed before the heavens and the earth. These aren’t the heavens He has always lived in, these are the heaven where the atmosphere is and the birds fly and the heaven where the stars are.

The third heaven

The heaven where God has always lived isn’t physical, it hasn’t been created.

‘God is spirit.’ John 4:24

He doesn’t need a physical place to live in. He doesn’t need pictures or images or temples or mosques or churches or shrines to live in.

‘The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.’ Acts 17:24+25

Where did Jesus’ spirit go when He died?

Some suggest He went to preach to the souls in hell!

‘After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits—to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.’ 1 Peter 3:19-20

A proper understanding of what Peter means will help clarify what Peter means and that’s simply that Christ in His spirit didn’t go anywhere to save those who were righteous before the flood because there were none, just Noah and His family.

‘And the Lord saw that the sin of man was great on the earth, and that all the thoughts of his heart were evil. And the Lord had sorrow because he had made man on the earth, and grief was in his heart. And the Lord said, I will take away man, whom I have made, from the face of the earth, even man and beast and that which goes on the earth and every bird of the air; for I have sorrow for having made them. But Noah had grace in the eyes of God. These are the generations of Noah. Noah was an upright man and without sin in his generation: he went in the ways of God. And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And the earth was evil in God’s eyes and full of violent ways. And God, looking on the earth, saw that it was evil: for the way of all flesh had become evil on the earth. And God said to Noah, the end of all flesh has come; the earth is full of their violent doings, and now I will put an end to them with the earth’. Genesis 6:5-13

Does Peter mean that the Gospel was preached to those who were already dead?

No, what he means is that they were dead whilst Peter wrote this letter but they were very much alive whilst the Gospel was being preached to them. What he’s saying in is that the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit spoke through Noah to the people when they were alive. He’s not talking about what happened when Jesus was in the grave and we shouldn’t make a text mean something it doesn’t say.


Paradise is a Persian for ‘an area enclosed by a wall’ or ‘garden.’

‘And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?’ And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests.’ Nehemiah 2:8

‘I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.’ Ecclesiastes 2:5

‘Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates with choice fruits, with henna and nard’. Song of Solomon 4:13

The Greek word, ‘paradeisos’ is used for the garden in Eden in Genesis.

‘Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden’ Genesis 2:8-16

‘The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD.’ Isaiah 51:3

‘You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: carnelian, chrysotile and emerald, topaz, onyx and jasper, lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared.’ Ezekiel 28:13

The New Testament understands paradise in terms of its Jewish heritage.

In Luke 23:43 Jesus promises the penitent thief,

‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’

The intermediate state was transformed by Jesus’ emphasis on being with him ‘today.’ There’s no denying where Jesus was going, He was going to ‘paradise’.

Wait a minute, didn’t Jesus say to Mary,

‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.’ John 20:17

Yes, He did, so if we’re saying He went to heaven when He died, how do we understand what He said to Mary?

Jesus is telling Mary not to crutch on to Him because there is work, to be done, she needs to tell others what has happened and so there’s a sense of urgency. She wanted to hold on and not let go but Jesus wouldn’t allow her.

Remember later Thomas was invited to touch Jesus.

‘Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ John 20:27

Could it be possible, that when He’s speaking to Mary, He’s speaking in terms of His new glorified body?

He hasn’t ascending to the Father in His new everlasting body.

Isn’t that what the resurrection is about?

‘But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’ How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendour of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendour of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendour, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendour. So, will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.’ 1 Corinthians 15:35-44

‘Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ 1 Corinthians 15:51-54

‘We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.’ Romans 8:23

‘But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.’ Philippians 3:20-21

We know from these verses that we will be reconciled with our bodies at the resurrection, but they will be new, in terms of glorious. If we know this, then surely, it’s possible that is what Jesus meant when He spoke to Mary.

No longer is paradise just an anticipatory condition awaiting the messianic presence at the end of the age. Those who die in faith will

‘be with Christ.’ Philippians 1:23

The dead in Christ will not experience life diminished, but life enhanced, as Jesus’ words to Martha in John 11 imply.

‘Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’ John 11:23-26

Let’s now read the beginning of the story of the Rich man and Lazarus.

‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. ‘The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.’ Luke 16:19-22

Note the term, ‘Abraham’s side’, this is a Hebraism which the Jews understood to mean,

‘the paradise of God’.

So, clearly once again the Bible teaches us that Lazarus was in ‘paradise’. It’s a figurative phrase that appears to have been drawn from a popular belief that the righteous would rest by Abraham’s side in the world to come, an opinion described in Jewish literature at the time of Christ.

The word ‘bosom’ or ‘side’ is ‘kolpos’ and literally refers to the side or lap of a person. Figuratively, as in this case, it refers to a place of honour reserved for a special guest, similar to its usage in John 13:23

‘One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him.’

In the case of Lazarus, the reserved place is special because it’s beside Abraham, the father of all the righteous. The phrase may be synonymous to the paradise promised to the thief on the cross, Luke 23:43. Together these passages support the conviction that a believer enjoys immediate bliss at the moment of physical death.

When writing to the church in Ephesus, Jesus says in Revelation 2:7

‘Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’

According to Revelation 2:7, the overcoming church will eat from the tree of life in the eschatological garden. Sin and death through redemption are now cast out of human experience. The way is open for the faithful to return to the garden of God. Paradise is the Christian’s final home.

Let’s go ahead and read 2 Corinthians 12:1-4

‘I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man— whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.’

Notice that Paul says he was caught up to the ‘third heaven’, whilst in the same setting says, caught up to ‘paradise’. Surely, the phrases ‘caught up to the third heaven’ and ‘caught up to paradise’ mean the same thing! Surely, the ‘third heaven’ and ‘paradise’ are one in the same place!

So where did Jesus’ spirit go when He died?

The ‘third heaven’, or ‘paradise’ is God’s spiritual eternal home, which isn’t physical and isn’t created, this is the place where not only Paul found himself, but the place where Lazarus found himself when he died, the place where Jesus and the thief on the cross went to that day.

‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’ Luke 23:43

And the place where God was before the other heavens were created and where He resides now and forever and the Christians final home.



"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Jeremiah 29:11