Scriptures

Where Did Jesus’ Spirit Go When He Died?

Introduction

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, Acts 17:27-28. He is present in all ‘three heavens’, Psalm 115:2-3. We cannot get away from God, 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, 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, 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 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

Paradise is a Persian for ‘an area enclosed by a wall’ or ‘garden.’ Nehemiah 2:8 / Ecclesiastes 2:5 / Song of Solomon 4:13.

The Greek word, ‘paradeisos’ is used for the garden in Eden in Genesis, Genesis 2:8-16 / Isaiah 51:3 / 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, 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 ascended to the Father in His new everlasting body. Isn’t that what the resurrection is about? 1 Corinthians 15:35-44 / 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 / Romans 8:23 / 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 this 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. 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 with 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 the 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.

 

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