So what does this mean? Death is something that can be destroyed, and the Kingdom of Heaven was not open before. Where did people go when they died prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection? Was Moses in Heaven? What gives?
Sometimes you hear the answer that they were in “heaven” already because they believed that the Messiah would come eventually. They had faith in the future Messiah, so they were saved and in heaven. This is probably the most common answer I hear.
But that is not how Scripture talks. In the Old Testament all people went to Sheol, the realm of the dead. David, Job, the Patriarchs, all entered Sheol. In the New Testament the Greek word used for Sheol is Hades. Still the realm of the dead.
This is exactly what Jesus is talking about in the story of the Rich man and Good Lazarus. The rich man enters Hades…and Lazarus is at Abraham’s side or bosom. But this is still Hades. There is a gulf between the place of the righteous and the place of the unrighteous in Hades, but it is still death, Sheol, prison, Hades.
When Christ died, He descended into hades and preached to the spirits in prison/sheol/hades. This is the power he broke, this is the place He emptied. Sheol/Hades has no power over the human race anymore. So with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, He has opened the prison gates of hades and welcomes all into His eternal presence. We do not die any more. We do not descend to death(hades/sheol) any more.
In the time to come, Christ will return and raise all. Those who lack repentance and reject the grace and mercy of God will be cast away from Him. Those who receive His mercy and grace in repentance will spend eternity with God.
Let’s reclaim this biblical, patristic, faithful understanding of Death and Christ’s victory over it.