Did Jesus Really "Descend Into Hell?"
"...even after the unimaginable suffering He endured on the Cross...Christ did not immediately rush back to heaven, He did not shrink back from entering the place of ultimate spiritual desolation and isolation to personally rescue those who had died before His crucifixion."From the 2013 article by Stephen Beale. I've often wondered about this, and no priest ever really talked about it, in all my years of listening to their homilies in church. The article is about as good a discussion as I've encountered:
In the ancient world, [hell] had the generic meaning of underworld, not hell specifically... Two Greek words [used in Scripture] are especially important here: hades and gehenna. Hades, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew sheol, is the biblical term for where righteous Israelites went who died before Christ. Gehenna, on the other hand, is the destination of the damned. It is to hades—better known to Catholics as the Limbo of the Fathers—that Christ descended, Church tradition says. But, significantly, the power of His presence was nonetheless was felt in the farthest reaches of hell, according to Aquinas.Why does it matter? Who cares whether He "went to hell and back," or not?
"...even when we find ourselves in the depths of sin and despair, the truth of the descent into hell insists that we nonetheless hold to a firm hope in Christ. Aquinas put it best: “No matter how much one is afflicted, one ought always hope in the assistance of God and have trust in Him. There is nothing so serious as to be in the underworld. If, therefore, Christ delivered those who were in the underworld, what great confidence ought every friend of God have that he will be delivered from all his troubles!"