Did Jesus Spend a Weekend in Hell?
(Photo by Jacob Meyer on Unsplash)
When Jesus therefore had received the
sour wine, He said, "It is finished!"
There is a doctrine out there that says when Jesus died, he went to hell for the three days he was dead. This doctrine has been around for a long time, and is even stated in the Apostles Creed that "He descended into hell." Today it is taught mainly by Word of Faith preachers but is making its way into mainstream Christianity. What it meant in the past and what it means today are different. Many biblical scholars and commentators argue there is no biblical basis for Jesus ever descending into hell. This is the stance I am taking.
It's not clear where this teaching first originated, but it is seen in various creeds and doctrinal statements.  In the past it is believed to have meant that Jesus went to hell to proclaim His victory to the righteous dead or as others say, to preach to the spirits who were disobedient in the days of Noah as is suggested by Peter and which we will look at in a moment. But neither of these teachings undermine essential doctrine. 
The "Weekend in Hell" doctrine originated with faith healer E.W. Kenyon, the father of the "Faith Movement," and has been carried on by prominent teachers such as Kenneth Copeland,  and Joyce Meyer. It carries the idea that Jesus went to hell to defeat sin and the devil; that it was not yet finished as Jesus declared on the cross before He breathed His last breath.
Kenneth Copeland says the following in Believer's Voice of Victory, Vol. 19, No. 9, Sept. 1991:
For three days He suffered everything there is to suffer. Some people don’t want to believe that. They want to believe that after His death, Jesus just stayed in that upper region of Sheol that the Bible calls paradise, but they’re mistaken! If He had simply stayed there, there would have been no price paid for sin. 
According to Copeland, Jesus did not pay for our sins on the cross but first had to suffer in hell. I wonder what he does with verses like Eph. 1:7 which says, "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace." It says plainly that the blood is what redeemed us and paid the price for our sin.
Joyce Meyer, in her book, The Most Important Decision You Will Ever Make: A Complete and Thorough Understanding of What it Means to be Born Again, makes these statements:
Jesus paid for our sins on the cross and went to hell in our place. Then, as God had promised, on the third day Jesus rose from the dead . . . When Jesus hung on the cross, He took our sin upon Himself. God cannot stay in the presence of sin. As Jesus took our sin, He was separated from the presence of the Father . . . He committed His Spirit to the Father and died. So they put Him— that is, His body— in a grave, and His spirit went to hell because that is where we deserved to go . . . There is no hope of anyone going to heaven unless they believe this truth . . . Jesus went to hell for you. He died for you (Kindle locations 249-250).
Jesus paid on the cross and went to hell in my place. Then as God had promised, on the third day Jesus rose from the dead. The scene in the spirit realm went something like this: God rose up from his throne and said to demon powers tormenting the sinless son of God, "let him go." Then the resurrection power of Almighty God went through hell and filled Jesus. On earth his grave where they had buried him was filled with light as the power of God filled his body. He was resurrected from the dead--the first born again man (second printing, May 1993, page 36). 
Joyce says that Jesus did pay for our sins on the cross but still had to go to hell to defeat the enemy in "grand fashion" when the Father told the demon powers to let Jesus go and filled him with resurrection power (because Jesus had no supernatural power). She makes additional statements about Jesus being the first born again man and there being no hope of us going to heaven unless we believe what she is saying.
My favorite part of the whole thing is … we talk about the death on the cross and we talk about the resurrection, but that time in between was when Jesus was in hell rendering hell. And ransacking hell. And defeating the enemy – taking those keys to death and hell and the grave to be victorious over that when he rose from the dead.
Jesus was in hell rendering hell, and ransacking hell, and defeating the enemy. Kari further says that Jesus used the keys to conquer death and hell and the grave. Rev. 1:8 says, "I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades." But nowhere does it claim that Jesus used these keys in hell to defeat Hades and death.
VERSES USED TO TEACH THAT JESUS WENT TO HELL
1 Peter 3:18-20
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it, only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water,
Verse 19 is difficult to understand and has been interpreted in several ways. One interpretation claims that in between Jesus' death and resurrection, He went to Hades and offered those who lived before Noah a second chance for salvation, but the verse doesn't say that. Others understand this verse to say that Jesus went to Hades to announce His victory but didn't offer a second chance to be saved. "Most likely this is a reference to the preincarnate Christ preaching through Noah to those who, because they rejected the message, are now spirits in prison."  In other words, this verse is saying that Jesus, back in the days of Noah, spoke through the preaching of Noah and not that He went to hell while He was in the grave.
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. this is why it says: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men." (What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe).
When I read this verse, it seems clear that Paul is talking about Jesus' earthly reign, His incarnation and has nothing to do with descending into hell. But proponents of the "weekend in hell" doctrine believe this to say Jesus did descend to hell and further, when the verse says, "he led captives in his train," that Jesus loosed all the OT saints from hell while He was there.  But when you read the verse, it says he descended to the "lower, earthly regions" (NIV), the "lower parts of the earth" (NASB), and "our lowly world" (NLT).
DOES THIS DOCTRINE CONSTITUTE HERESY?
If you say Jesus did not pay for our sins on the cross, I believe this is heretical. It goes against who Jesus is and what He was accomplished on the cross. If you think Christ had to defeat Satan and death in hell or He had to suffer first before He was victorious, this also says the cross wasn't enough. If you claim that Jesus was the first to be born again, you are essentially saying at some point, He was less than God. Where does the Bible teach this? It doesn't. This too, I believe is heresy.
In the past, the idea that Jesus' spirit went to hell while He was in the tomb, had to do with proclaiming victory or preaching to those who were disobedient in the times of Noah. They used 1 Peter 3:18-20 and Ephesians 4:7-10 to support their doctrine. Today, when teachers talk of Jesus' spirit descending into hell, they are referring to Jesus needing to suffer and defeat the enemy in hell so that He could claim victory over death and hell and some even say sin. I don't know what verses they use to support their teaching. In addition, some claim that Jesus was the first to be born again. It's hard to understand what they think the Cross accomplished because they seem to be saying the victory all happened while Jesus was in hell.
There is another teaching out there that says that Jesus gave up His deity while on earth and lived completely as a man. Therefore, when He went to the cross, he was only a man who had never sinned. He was the perfect example for us as believers; that we also can accomplish what He accomplished and live a life free from sin; we too, have the ability, as Jesus did, to be perfect. This is part of the "manifest sons of god" doctrine taught by some New Apostolic Reformation leaders. This doctrine fits well with the teaching we have just been discussing. If Jesus was just a man when He went to the cross, and not God, He was not able to pay for our sins (as Kenneth Copeland says). And it wasn't until he defeated Satan in hell and God gave Him resurrection power to come back to life, that He was victorious. He was then the first to be born again and a true example for us as believers. The problem is, nowhere do I see Scripture supporting any of this.
What do you think? Did Jesus go to hell while He was in the grave? Was it finished on the cross or in hell?
 Ryrie Study Bible note on 1 Peter 3:19, the New American Standard Bible. Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.