I've recently been reading Vintage Jesus by Mark Driscoll and Gary Breshears. I agree with many things in the book, but there was one stance with which I am concerned. On page 122-123 Breshears discusses whether Jesus went to Hell. He makes reference that much of this doctrine is a misunderstanding of the Apostles' Creed. But then he uses Luke 16:19-31 to say Jesus believed there were
"two places (divided by a great chasm) where people would go when they died. These were holding places until Heaven and Hell were opened for eternal occupancy. One was a place of joy for believers called 'Abraham's side, ' also called 'paradise' by Jesus on the cross. The other holding place was hades or the place of torment for unbelievers. Ephesians 4:8-10 says that after his death, Jesus went into that place of holding for believers called paradise for three days and then upon his ascension into Heaven he took Christians with him. Today, paradise is in Heaven and when we die we go to Heaven, for as Paul says, 'to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.'"
The theological problems with this assessment are astounding. Not only is he in error about what Jesus did after dying, the way he comes to his conclusion is questionable exegesis to say the least.
1. Improper Interpretation of a Parable.
The first thing to grab my attention was the passage Breshears uses to base his idea off of is a parable. Lets take a look at the text:
"There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels t o Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried,23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.24 And he called out , 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.'25 But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in ord er that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.'27 And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.'29 But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.'30 And he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'31 He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'"
It has been shown exegetically that this idea of the “lower parts of the earth” is not Hell, but rather an appositional genitive referring to the earth as the “lower parts” in relationship to heaven. The NIV translates this as "the lower, earthly regions." This translation refers to Jesus' coming to the earth as a baby, the incarnation. Grudem states "This NIV rendering is again preferable in this context because Paul is saying that the Christ who went up to heaven (in his ascension) is the same one who earlier came down from heaven (v.10). That "descent" from heaven occurred when Christ came to be born as a man. So the verse speaks of the incarnation, not of a descent into Hell." John Piper also states "This probably means that he descended to the earth, which is the lower parts. The 'of' there doesn't mean that he is going under the earth. So I don't think that text warrants the interpretation that he descended into hell."
There was never any need for holding cells. All people that are saved, do so through the blood of Christ. Old Testament Jews were saved by faith in the coming Messiah, much like we are save by faith in the messiah who has come. There is no Biblical evidence to view paradise as something other than Heaven. Piper says "In fact, he said to the thief on the cross,
"'Today you will be with me in paradise.' That's the only clue we have as to what Jesus was doing between death and resurrection. He said, 'Today—this Friday afternoon, after we're both dead—you and I will be in paradise together.' I don't think the thief went to hell and that hell is called paradise. I think he went to heaven and that Jesus was there with him."