When we look at the question of what happened in the time period between Jesus’ crucifixion on Friday and his resurrection on Sunday, here is what we know: Jesus died about 3 p.m. on Friday. Each Jewish day starts at sunrise, or 6:00 AM and in Matthew 27:45,46, we can read that he was crucified at the sixth hour of the day (noon) and died at the ninth hour (3:00 PM). Sometime just after dawn on the first day of the week (Sunday) Jesus was resurrected from the dead (Matthew 28:1). What did he do in between Friday, 3:00 PM and Sunday, 6:00 AM? (By the way, each moment of a day equals a full day in both Jewish and Canadian thinking, thus Jesus died on the Friday, was dead all day Saturday, and raised on Sunday, in other words, “on the third day”, just as he predicted many times).
So, there’s a gap of about 39 hours between 3:00 PM on Friday and 6:00 AM on Sunday where Jesus’ spiritual location is unknown. There are those that believe Jesus was in Heaven during that time. The Scriptural basis for that is in Luke 23:43 when Jesus is quoted telling a thief who was crucified next to Him: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
But there’s a passage in 1 Peter 3 that suggests otherwise. After explaining that Christ died once for the sins of everyone and was raised to life in 1 Peter 3:18, the following two verses say, “in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.”
Martin Luther, who started the Protestant Reformation and was knowledgeable of Scripture, said in his own commentaries this is the most difficult passage in the New Testament to understand because it’s not very clear what Peter is trying to say.
Based on the wording in 1 Peter, there’s an argument that Jesus spent at least some of the time period between his death and resurrection by going to hell and preaching to the souls who were already there, giving them a chance at the forgiveness available through His sacrifice not previously available before His death. I don’t think that is what he was doing, because there is no “second chance” factor for the dead who had rejected God before Jesus came.
However, there is a truth, I believe, expressed in Hebrews 11 and in some of the apostle Paul’s writings, as well as in Matthew 27:52,53 that many “holy ones” from the time before Jesus had an experience of a “better place” (heaven) that existed and was now available to those who were “declared righteous” by God. Just as we were saved through the shed blood of Jesus (and, look back at the cross for that), the Old Testament “holy ones”, the ones “declared righteous” by God, were saved also by Jesus’ shed blood on the cross and they looked forward to it in faith.
So, I think that Jesus preached this good news message to those souls who were waiting for heaven’s doors to open. They were in a waiting place called “Sheol” (or, “Hades”) and Jesus went to them and told them, in effect, that they were about to be rewarded for having faith in him even before he had come to earth to die for human sin. Revelation 20:14 speaks about “death and Hades” are thrown into the eternal “lake of fire” along with those who refused to believe in Jesus. The timing of that event could be in the future or could be an ongoing thing from the time of the death of Jesus on the cross (a point of view I subscribe to).
In any case, this entire topic is one that will elicit ongoing discussion. In the meantime, here’s the important thing: Jesus died to take away the effects of human sin, to redeem us and free us, and to grant us eternal life.