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Holman Bible Dictionary
A phrase taken from the Apostles' Creed describing the work of the resurrected Christ. The idea of descent to Hades was a theme of many ancient religions to describe the work of a religious hero. 1 Peter 3:19
says Christ “went and preached unto the spirits in prison.” Many interpretations have been given for this. The time may be seen as the days of Noah ( 1 Peter 3:20
) and thus describe the work of the preexistent Christ or the work of Christ's spirit through Noah. It may be seen as immediately following Christ's resurrection. The content of His preaching may have been judgment; it may have been affirmation of His victory over “angels, authorities, and powers” (1 Peter 3:22
); it may have been release from Sheol or Hades for saints who preceded Him. The spirits may have been the “sons of God” of Genesis 6:2
, the people of Noah's day, the Old Testament sinners, Old Testament people who were true to God, fallen angels, the evil spirits or demonic powers whom Jesus contested in His earthly ministry. The prison may have been Sheol or Hades according to Old Testament thinking, a special place of captivity for sinners, a place of punishment for fallen angels, a place of security for such angels where they thought they could escape Christ's power, or a place on the way to heaven where the faithful of old waited to hear the message of Christ's final atoning victory. Whatever the detailed explanation of each of the phrases, the ultimate purpose is to glorify Christ for His completed work of salvation through His death, resurrection, and ascension, showing He has control of all places and powers.
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Descent to Hades'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/d/descent-to-hades.html. 1991.