Where was Jesus for the 30-35 hours between His death on Friday, and His Resurrection on Sunday? The answer unlocks the mystery of death and gives us a glimpse of God’s Great Plan of Happiness for all of His children. Elder Spencer J. Condie of the Quorum of the Seventy stated:
“…the significance of what He [The Savior] did during those hours provides the doctrinal foundation for building [Latter-day Saint] temples across the earth. Furthermore, a testimony of what He did can greatly console those who mourn the death of a loved one.”
In His final moments on the cross, Jesus spoke “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). At that moment, His immortal spirit left His mortal body. His lifeless flesh was laid in a sepulchre, and a stone sealed its entrance. However, His spirit was alive and well and would reinhabit his flesh made perfect in just a few hours.
Latter-day Saints join all Christians in believing that Jesus went to visit the spirits of the dead. In many Christian faiths, this is often referred to as Jesus’ “Decent Into Hell”. At the outset of this post I included a dramatic painting by 15th Century artist Fra. Angelico fully entitled “Christ’s Journey Into Hell and release of Old Testament Persons beginning Adam” depicting the trimphant Jesus bursting through the door of hell [note Satan smashed under the door, and a few of his minions cowering in the corner] and then Christ leading the Old Testament prophets and other righteous people out of their spiritual prison – appropriately reaching out to Adam first [an obvious reference to 1 Corinthians 15: 22 "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" ].
The Savior Himself greatly anticipated His visit to the obedient in the spirit world:
“The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live” (John 5:25).
Fr. Stephen’s recent blog post “Where Was Jesus On Holy Saturday?” gives a great scriptural overview of Jesus’ plan to preach to the dead, and shares the Catholic doctrine of Jesus’ decent to the spirit world by quoting from the Catechism:
“The frequent New Testament affirmations that Jesus was “raised from the dead” presuppose that the crucified one sojourned in the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection. This was the first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ’s descent into hell: that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead. But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there”…[Catechism paragraph 632 - emphasis added]
We have established that on Saturday, Jesus went and preached His Gospel to the Dead in “Hell” [Spirit World / Spirit Prison]. But, Why?
To understand why Jesus visited the spirit world after His death, we must return to a night following His first cleansing of the temple at Jerusalem. Nicodemus, because of his prominence as “a ruler of the Jews,” came to the Savior to discuss matters of great concern. Nicodemus acknowledged the Master as “a teacher come from God.” Jesus then taught him, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:1–2, 5). – Elder Spencer J. Condie
According to Jesus, a person is required to be baptized to receive admittance into God’s kingdom. Even Jesus Christ, the one and only sinless man to walk this earth, set the example and followed the requirement of baptism by John (see Matthew 3:13-17 and 2 Ne. 31:5–7).
Why would Jesus preach to the spirits of the dead if there was no way for them to be baptized and enter into His kingdom? How can God be merciful or just if He requires every accountable individual to accept the Gospel of Christ and be baptized, when billions of his children have lived and died without the opportunity to hear the gospel and choose baptism?
Mercy and justice require that those who have died without an opportunity to hear the gospel in mortality receive that opportunity after death in the spirit world, and that those who have rejected the gospel in this life receive an opportunity to hear it again.
President Joseph F. Smith , 6th prophet of the LDS Church, wondered how the Savior could have preached to all the people in the spirit world in the short time between His death and Resurrection. It was revealed that “from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers … [to] proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel. Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets” (D&C 138:20, 30–32).
The work of preaching the gospel to the unbaptized dead continues to this day. For when the faithful “depart from mortal life, [they] continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel of repentance and redemption, through the sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son of God, among those who are in darkness and under the bondage of sin in the great world of the spirits of the dead” (D&C 138:57).
Mercy and justice also require that there be a way provided for all souls who hear and accept the Gospel of Christ to be baptized. This dilemma is solved through the ordinance of “baptism for the dead“, which is performed only in sacred temples by proper priesthood authority. All worthy Latter-day Saints may go to a temple and there perform the essential ordinance of baptism on behalf of individuals who have died without the chance.
Baptism for the dead was practiced among the early Saints in the days of Peter and Paul. In teaching the Corinthians about Jesus Christ and the Resurrection of the dead, the Apostle Paul asked,
“Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” (1 Cor. 15:29).
Baptism for the dead and other sacred ordinances performed for the dead were restored to earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith. These sacred ordinances are now performed in more than 130 temples and growing throughout the earth. The holy temples are an outward manifestation of our testimony of the reality of the work that goes on for the dead both here and in the spirit world, a work initiated by the Savior’s visit to the righteous dead on Holy [Easter] Saturday.