The Spirit World: Ch. 7 (The Migration of Paradise)

This entry is part 9 of 23 in the series The Spirit World

The Migration of Paradise

(This is a continuation of The Spirit World book series. This post assumes the prerequisite reading of earlier posts in the series.)

As has been demonstrated thus far, the righteous are appointed to leave Sheol/Hades at some point in time.  The hope of a future release from Sheol for the righteous is a demonstrated characteristic of their existence there.  Hannah notes in her prayer,

1 Samuel 2:6 (NIV)
6 “The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave (Sheol) and raises up.

The priestly sons of Korah note,

Psalm 49:15 (NIV)
15 But God will redeem my life from the grave (Sheol); he will surely take me to himself. Selah

And, the great promise to Israel, even amid her deep sin which is being catalogued in Hosea, is that God will redeem her at a future date.

Hosea 13:14 (NIV)
14 “I will ransom them from the power of the grave (Sheol); I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave (Sheol), is your destruction?….

While it has been demonstrated that Hades will be cast into the lake of fire at the end of history, still the promises to the righteous endure for a future home in God’s presence.  Thus, Hades must be emptied of the righteous so that they will not partake in the future destruction of Hades/Sheol in the lake of fire.

The answer to this need is the answer to any redemptive purpose for man.  The non-technical answer is simply, “Jesus.”

Scripture notes that sin exists for all men.  The penalty of that sin is to be cut off from God and to be relegated to the confines of the wicked; in Abaddon and ultimately in the lake of fire.  The answer for sin is the substitutionary atonement of Jesus, the Christ.  Isaiah 53 gives a good picture of the situation.

Isaiah 53:4-6 (NIV)
4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Mankind, being wholly guilty of sin are destined to punishment.  Verse 6 notes, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.”  Also noting the solution, it continues, “and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross is the path of redemption from sin for all who will serve him as their King.  He paid the penalty of sin on the cross, becoming a sin offering on behalf of mankind.  As Hebrews notes,

Hebrews 9:14 (NIV)
14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

A problem of this salvation exists, however, for those who came before Christ.  The Old Testament saints are at the time of Christ relegated to a chamber of Sheol/Hades.  They are promised a future release, but scripture teaches that it is only through Christ that man can be redeemed and his separation from God be eliminated.  Hebrews teaches that while the Old Testament Law of Moses served to cover man’s sin, it could not remove man’s sin.  Hebrews 10 explains this dynamic.

Hebrews 10:1-4 (NIV)
1 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming–not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, 4 because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

From the time of Christ’s resurrection, believers have had the promise of an immediate ascension to Heaven upon their deaths.  After Jesus’ resurrection, he embarked on a short earthly ministry to his disciples, demonstrating to them that the news of his resurrection was true.  In Acts 1 Jesus is demonstrated to teach the disciples about the kingdom of God, after which point, he ascended into Heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand.  At this time,

Acts 1:10-11 (NIV)
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

Paul states later his own hope.  It is not the hope of descending into Hades/Sheol to be rescued at some future time, but rather the hope of immediately being with Christ.

Philippians 1:21-24 (NIV)
21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

Paul’s clear understanding is that he will be with Christ upon his death.  Such is the promise throughout the apostolic period and all of history from that point in time.  But, what of the Old Testament saints relegated to Hades/Sheol?  How can it be that they can have the same salvation in Christ which the apostles had when they never lived to see the fruition of the coming Messiah?  They had no  opportunity to bow their knee to their King.  Or had they?

To answer this dilemma of the Old Testament saints’ rescue from Hades, one must return to a truth which has already been established.  Jesus, upon his death on the cross, descended into Hades/Sheol, just as other men did when they died.

James notes,

James 2:26 (NIV)
26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

James’ clear assertion is that the body cannot live without the spirit.  The spirit can live without the body, but not the other way around.  When one’s body dies, one’s spirit continues to live.  Scripture does not teach that Jesus fainted on the cross or that he had a three-day “out of body” existence in some mystical way.  It teaches that he died.  Upon his death, as Peter noted in Acts, Jesus went to Hades/Sheol, as was the destiny of the spirit to do upon death. 

Earlier was observed Peter’s quote from the Psalms,

Acts 2:27 (NIV)
27 because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.

After this quote, Peter explains,

Acts 2:31 (NIV)
31 Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave (Hades), nor did his body see decay.

According to Peter, when Jesus’ body went to the grave, his spirit went to Hades/Sheol.  And, indeed, “nor did his body see decay.”  While his body waited for three days in a physical grave, his spirit remained in Hades until his resurrection, at which time the two were reunited as Christ walked out of his tomb onto the earth again.  Understanding this is the key to understanding the migration of Hades/Sheol to its future home.  Something happened in conjunction with Jesus’ stay in Hades that enabled the saints stationed there to experience their promised release from that abode.  Peter, in his first letter to the scattered Jewish disciples, explains what exactly happened in Hades which enabled the release of the saints to their future homes in Heaven.

Simply put, Peter describes Jesus’ descent into Hades and subsequent preaching of the gospel in Hades, to those who are there.  His first reference to this Hades gospel crusade is in chapter 3.

1 Peter 3:18-20 (NIV)
18 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, 19 through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20 who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.

This text references the time frame of its theology:  “He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.”  Christ’s bodily death was like that of any other man.  He was “put to death in the body” yet made alive by the Spirit “through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison.”  In this text, Peter specifically notes Jesus’ preaching of the gospel to have been heard by the unrighteous who dwelt in Abaddon.  He also asserts in chapter 4 that Jesus preached to the righteous as well.  That text will be observed momentarily.  While some may attempt to object to the idea of Jesus preaching in Hades, Peter states his case and then moves on.  He finds nothing exceptional or difficult about his teaching.  Jesus was put to death and then he preached to the spirits in prison.  There is only one conclusion to who these “spirits in prison” could be.  Since Jesus had just died, they would be the spirits located in the location where Jesus would be.  Psalm 16 informs us that this location is Sheol/Hades.  Furthermore, there is no other location noted in scripture which could be called a “prison” for spirits of the dead.  A prison, by definition, is a place where one is detained in sentence.  The righteous and the unrighteous alike were contained in Sheol/Hades for their sentence of sin.  Although the righteous were granted a place of peace and comfort in Hades, still their sins, according to Hebrews 10 were unpaid for until Christ could offer his substitutionary atonement.  As such, while they could be granted a place of peace and comfort for their lives of faith, they could not be allowed into God’s presence until their sins were utterly removed by Christ. 

Peter reaffirms this principle in chapter 4, stating,

1 Peter 4:5-6 (NIV)
5 But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

Speaking of the same circumstance, Peter notes once again that the gospel was preached to the dead.  The “dead” in the context is referring not to some who were alive when Christ preached on earth, but to the dead of the immediately former contrast; that Christ is ready to judge “the living and the dead.”

The idea of the gospel being preached to the dead sounds a bit strange on the surface.  Surely one does not have an opportunity to be saved after one’s life on earth ends!  For Hebrews states,

Hebrews 9:27-28 (NIV)
27 Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Indeed, the future destiny of the men in Sheol/Hades was established in advance, during their lives upon the earth.  It was for this reason they were relegated to either a “righteous” or an “unrighteous” compartment in that place.  Yet, those who were righteous were deemed so, according to Hebrews 11, by their faith.  The final object of that faith had not yet come to fruition in the person of Christ.  Yet Hebrews 11 states, concerning the faith of great and godly men,

Hebrews 11:13 (NIV)
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.

The “things promised” which these Old Testament men of faith had not received is the object of Abraham’s promise from God: Christ, by whom the whole earth would be blessed.[1]  They lived by faith and were judged by God as righteous, though were not yet justified by the atonement of Christ.  Until they were made perfect, they would be unable to exist in God’s presence.  Hebrews 11 ends the discourse on these men of faith in this way:

Hebrews 11:39-40 (NIV)
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

The author of Hebrews states that “God had planned that only together with us would they be made perfect.”  Make no mistake about it:  Jesus is THE ONLY path for salvation, even for the Old Testament saints.  Jesus stated,

John 14:6 (NIV)
6 … “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

No one comes to the Father outside of the atoning work of Jesus Christ.  Not Abraham, Moses, David nor the prophets.  They believed God, and it was credited to them as righteousness, yet the fruition of their being “made perfect” came “with us” through the gospel of Christ.  Those who lived not to see the object of their faith were able to encounter Him face to face in Hades and hear the fruition of his gospel message.  Their faith having already been exhibited, they were now able to act upon it by receiving the work of Christ’s atonement for themselves.

To that end, Ephesians paints the rest of the picture which Peter had begun.  Jesus preached the gospel to those in Hades/Sheol during the time he was there.  Then, three days later Jesus rose, taking with him the hostages of the righteous side of Hades/Sheol, or paradise, who now saw the object of their faith and were made perfect by the receiving of the gospel he preached.  Paul writes,

Ephesians 4:7-10 (NIV)
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” 9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)

Verse 8 states that Christ brought “captives” with him when he rose from the dead, or “when he ascended on high” from the grave.  These captives must be understood as those who resided in the place which Jesus rose from for him to have brought them with himself as he rose.  Indeed, verse 9 indicates that this rising is speaking specifically of the spirit of Christ.  It asks, “9 What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?”  The “lower earthly regions” or KJV “lower parts of the earth” is translated from the Greek phrase, katoteros meros ge, or “the lowest regions of earth.”  Only one scriptural interpretation is possible for what the “lower earthly regions” refers to in light of Jesus’ resurrection: Sheol/Hades, the place of the dead.

In conclusion, when Christ was crucified he followed the same course that other men did.  His body went to the grave and his spirit went to Hades.  While other righteous men entered Hades because their sin prevented them from entering God’s presence, Jesus entered because “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”  In Hades, he preached the gospel to those who were captive there, who waited for the fulfillment of the faith they had lived during their lives.  When he rose from Hades, he “brought captives in his train.”  Those men of faith were released from the righteous side of Hades and Paradise was thereby elevated to its new and permanent location:  Heaven.

To that end, scriptural references to Paradise are understood in relation to the position of Christ.  Before Christ was raised, Paradise was with him in Hades; a mere three day period.  After Christ was raised, Paradise ascended to Heaven, where Paul, Jesus and John later stated its existence.

From that moment in history, Hades has been consigned to only the unrighteous (those in Abaddon), as the compartment for the righteous (Abraham’s bosom/Paradise) was promoted to Heaven; the full penalty for the sins of the righteous having been paid.  This explains why 2 Corinthians 12 and Revelation 2 refer to Paradise, after Christ’s resurrection, as being located in “the third Heaven” (2 Corinthians 12) or “the New Jerusalem” (Revelation 2).  It also explains why the entirety of Hades will be cast into the lake of fire at the end of time.  Today, there remains no one in Hades except those who dwell in Abaddon; the unrighteous compartment.  From the time of the resurrection of Christ, the firstborn from among the dead,[2] the saints of God now proceed immediately to Jesus’ side upon their passing from this earth.  The righteous side of Sheol/Hades is now permanently out of service.

[1] Genesis 12:3, Genesis 22:18

[2] Colossians 1:18

image The Spirit World series will continue weekly until the entire book is published online. If, however, you enjoy this series and do not wish to wait, you can purchase the paperback version of The Spirit World here.

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