Christ went down into Hades?

A friend asked today: “When Jesus descended into hell and broke the gates of hell — where can I find that in the Bible?”

The earliest recorded sermons on the Passion and Resurrection of Christ testify that he went down into Hades [the Greek word for the place where the dead live until the Resurrection of all], announced the good news, and led the righteous out of prison. Early Christian preachers refer to scriptural passages like these:

“But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why he says, ‘When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.’” (Psalm 68:18)

“What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended to the depths of the earth? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.” (Eph 4:7-10)

“[Christ] went and made the announcement 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… For the gospel has for this purpose been proclaimed even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.” (1 Peter 3:19–20; 4:6)

“And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth. And they shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited.” (Isaiah 24:21-22)

“But the righteousness which is of faith speaks in this way: Say not in your heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what does it say? The word is near you, even in your mouth, and in your heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach.” (Romans 10:6-8)

“God exalted Him and gave to Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, of those in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth” (Phil 2:9-10)

“And by the blood of your covenant, you freed your prisoners from the waterless pit.” (Zechariah 9:11)

“I will deliver them out of the hand of Hades, and will redeem them from death. Where is your penalty, O death? O Hades, where is your sting?” (Hosea 13:14 LXX)

Lift up your gates, O ye princes; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting gates, and the King of Glory shall enter in. Who is this King of Glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in war.” (Psalm 23:7-8 LXX).

“And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” (Matthew 27:50-53)

Here’s how they preached it back in the second century: The Harrowing of Hades. The icon of the raising of Adam and Eve from Hades. In the apse of the cathedral at Chora, Istanbul. “It is not without significance that the icon of the Resurrection in our Church is the Descent of Christ into Hades, the place of the dead. This icon depicts a victorious Christ, reigning in glory, trampling upon death, and seizing Adam and Eve in His hands, plucking them from the abyss of hades. This icon expresses vividly the truths resulting from Christ’s defeat of death by His death and resurrection.” — Alkiviades Calivas, Great Week and Pascha