The Silent Sabbath: the day Jesus descended into Sheol

Some traditions call this day “Holy Saturday,” the time between Jesus’ crucifixion and His resurrection. To be frank, until today, I didn’t give much thought to this day. I focused on Good Friday as the somber event, and Easter Sunday the celebration of new life in Christ!

However, spending time on Twitter this morning, “Holy Saturday” was trending. I was intrigued. This question came up: why didn’t the Father raise Jesus from the dead right away? Why is there a day between?

The answer is shocking…

Not only can Jesus relate to us as humans, since God became incarnate, but He can relate to those in Sheol, a place in the Hebrew Old Testament that refers to the grave or the abode of the dead (Psalms 88:3; Psalms 88:5.) Through much of the Old Testament period, it was believed that all went to one place. (Sheol is also called “hades” in Greek.)

Artists rendering of Sheol

Apparently, that’s where Jesus went on Holy Saturday – to preach to those in prison (or Sheol). Check these verses out:

1 Peter 3:18-20—“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water…

1 Peter 4:5-6— “For the gospel has for this purpose been preached 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.”

In the first passage, we have who Jesus preached to and where He preached to them; and in the second we are given the reason that He preached.

Was salvation really offered?

This was not a “second chance” after death, but a clear ‘first’ chance. Since these people had died before the manifestation of the Son of God, before the great work of atonement wrought by his death, apparently, atonement was retrospective.

It’s important to note that the dead must face the Judge of all, living and dead; they will be punished for the way they have lived. That is why the Good News was preached even to those killed by the flood, so that although their bodies were punished with death, they could still live in their spirits, as God lives.

Heb. 9:27: “It is appointed for a man once to die and then the judgment.”

No one is judged until the lake of fire. This is not a second chance but a clear first chance to hear the gospel before they are judged.

This makes me wonder about the fate of the un-evangelized. I mean, if the people in the Old Testament were somehow able to hear from Christ on Holy Saturday, what about those who’ve never heard the Gospel today?

The Fate of the un-evangelized

There are four evangelical views on the destiny of those who have never heard the saving name of Jesus Christ.

a. Restrictivist View: that salvation is restricted to those who have heard gospel and have made a conscious decision to accept it.

b. Universal Opportunity View: that God does all He can do (being omnipotent) to give a person the opportunity to accept Christ as Lord.
• God uses a missionary, an angel, a dream or a deathbed vision (that He doesn’t always need people to get the job done)

c. Postmortem Evangelism View: that there is hope beyond the grave based on the verses in 1 Peter 3 and 4, when Christ preached to those in Sheol.   

d. Inclusivist View: that people are judged based on their innermost heart to the witness that God brings (Acts 14:17). This view argues that salvation is inclusive for all who have a heart that is open to Christ, whether or not they know Him by name.

All views believe that Jesus is the only Savior, the one mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim. 2:5-6). They believe there is no other name given to us by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). They agree that no one can go to the Father except through Jesus Christ (John 14:6). And they all agree that the pluralist position, which holds that all religious roads lead to God, is both unbiblical and incoherent.

But they disagree on how a person must know and believe in Jesus.

And here I must concede that we simply cannot know all the “secret things” of God (Deut. 29.29.) The bottom line is that we know God is good and that He will judge justly.

So, on this “silent Sabbath,” before the world found hope in the Resurrection for eternal life, take some time to contemplate Jesus descending to Sheol; how He offered, even to those desperate souls, a chance to respond to Him and to hear what He did for the salvation of the world. May that take your breath away in awe and wonder…


  1. Melissa Henderson April 13, 2020
  2. Emily | To Unearth April 14, 2020
  3. Yvonne Morgan April 16, 2020
  4. Marcie Cramsey April 16, 2020
  5. Karen Friday April 17, 2020