Christians focus on the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday: the death and resurrection of Jesus. But where was Jesus between those two events? The easy answer is the grave.
However, when people ask this question, they are thinking more of his spirit/soul than his physical body. His body was in the tomb, but where was the rest of him?
The Apostle’s Creed says: “Was crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell; The third day he rose again from the dead.” (Listen to this episode on the Apostle’s Creed)
But Jesus said to the thief on the cross: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
So was Jesus in heaven or hell?
This question has bothered me for some time but I believe I have come to a satisfying conclusion.
Heaven or hell? I would suggest he was somewhere else than what we popularly mean by those terms. I would say instead that he was in what the Old Testament describes as Sheol. Sheol means grave (not hell as the KJV translates). It doesn’t just mean the physical grave but the shadowy underworld where all the dead, righteous and wicked, go.
The closest to this in the New Testament is hades. Hades is sometimes translated as hell, although it is not the same place of punishment as found in the word Gehenna. It is the place where everyone went at death.
Before Jesus, we shouldn’t be thinking of even good people going to heaven when they die (with the possible exceptions of Enoch and Elijah and they didn’t die). They all went to Sheol or hades.
I believe at Jesus’ death, he went where all the human dead were and that he stayed there until his resurrection. It was this event that opened the way for the righteous dead to go into God’s presence until the time of the resurrection at Jesus’ return.
At this point I will say that I am hesitant to go the whole way of a detailed belief in the “harrowing of hell.”
But what about paradise? Was Jesus lying when he made this promise to the thief? Not at all. The thief was in paradise (Jesus didn’t say heaven) because he was with Jesus that day in death. That is what paradise is for us as we wait for the resurrection, being in the presence of Jesus.
That is my best attempt at answering the question. What do you think?