In Acts 2 we find the words, “thou wilt not leave my soul in hell” (v.27) and the words, “his soul was not left in hell” (v.31).
Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:14-36 to his fellow Israelites is the context in which these words were spoken. The question I would like to present here is this: Was Peter communicating to his fellow Israelites that Jesus had suffered in Hell? If so, the surrounding context ought to support this conclusion.
The context to which these words belong is the death, burial, resurrection, & exaltation of Jesus Christ.
First, consider that Peter is citing Psalm 16:8-11 to convince his Jewish brethren that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.
I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. ~ Psalm 16:8-11
The words “thou wilt not leave my soul in hell” are found in verse 10, where the Hebrew word “sheol” is translated as hell.
Throughout the Old Testament, sheol is translated in three ways: 1. the grave, 2. hell, and 3. pit. Both the wicked and the righteous go to sheol (the grave) when they die. Jacob said, “For I will go down into sheol (the grave) unto my son in mourning.” ~ Genesis 37:35
In the New Testament hell is translated from three Greek words.
1. Tartaroo, (translated once) the place of the wicked dead, the place of outer darkness.
2. Gehenna, (translated 12 times) the place of future torment, the lake of fire, i.e. hell fire.
3. Hades, (translated 10 times) the grave, or the abode of the dead, the place of departed souls.
In his first epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul uses the word “hades” in reference to the grave: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave (hades) where is thy victory?” ~ 1 Corinthians 15:22
In Acts 2:27 & 31 the same Greek word, hades, is used as a reference to the grave and not a reference to suffering torment in the regions of the damned.
Consider the following:
1. There is no mention of suffering in hell (i.e., in the place of torment) in Psalm 16 or Acts 2.
2. The sentence structure infers hope and victory:
- Therefore did My heart rejoice ~ Acts 2:26
- My tongue was glad ~ Acts 2:26
- Moreover also My flesh shall rest in hope ~ Acts 2:26
- Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, ~ Acts 2:27
- Neither wilt thou suffer (allow) thine holy one to see corruption ~ Acts 2:27
- Thou hast made known to me The ways of life ~ Acts 2:28
- Thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance ~ Acts 2:28
The sentence structure infers victory over death by means of the resurrection. Jesus was dead and his soul was not left in the abode of the dead, because God raised him up again. Literally, the scripture is saying, “My flesh shall rest in hope, because you will not leave (abandon) my soul in hell (to the power of the grave).”
In Peter’s sermon, his emphasis is that the body of Jesus did not decay because God raised him from the dead. This is why Peter makes it clear that when David said these words he wasn’t referring to himself but to Jesus.
Notice the following carefully:
Men and brethren let me speak freely unto you of the patriarch David that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulcher is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption… For David is not ascended into the heavens, but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made this same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. ~ Acts 2:29-36
Notice that Peter interprets the words regarding the soul of Christ not being left in hell as victory over the grave, rather than torture in the regions of the damned.
Peter tells the people that these words were not referring to David, but to Jesus instead. Now think about it: Do you think that those who were acquainted with this prophecy of scripture and thought it referred to David viewed David as suffering in the torments of Hell? Certainly not!
Why then, should we think this of Christ?
Peter interprets the phrase “thou wilt not leave my soul in hell” as the fulfillment of God’s promise to David that from among his descendants, according to the flesh, God would raise up Christ (the Messiah) to set on his throne forever.
In Paul’s sermon in Acts 13, we find similar language.
And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David. Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption: But he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption . ~ Acts 13:34-36
The phrase “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell” belongs to the promise that the Messiah’s body would not decay in the grave. This is the sure mercies which God promised to David concerning Christ, whom he raised from the dead. It was not God’s promise that Jesus would need to suffer the torments of eternal damnation to redeem us.
Those who teach that Jesus suffered in hell will sometimes teach that Jesus died two deaths; a physical death and a spiritual death. Yet the Bible teaches no such doctrine.
If Jesus would have died in his spirit and suffered in hell, as some teach, the New Testament writers would have laid it out in plain view for all to see, and there would be no need piecemeal a couple of random scriptures together to prove such theories.
The New Testament gives indisputable evidence of the physical sufferings of Christ on the cross and the redemption by his blood.
The physical sufferings of Christ on the Cross, and the purpose for his shed blood are clearly stated throughout the New Testament.
His Body was broken for us:
1 Peter 2:24; John 6:51-57; Ephesians 2:13-18; Colossians 1:20-22; Luke 24:36-40; Romans 8:3; Hebrews 2:9-17; Hebrews 10:5-10, 18-22; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 Peter 4:1; Matthew 26:7-13; 14:8; Luke 22:19-20; John 2:19-22; 1 Corinthians 10:16, 11:23-27.
His Blood was shed for us:
Eph 1:7; Col 1:14; 1 Pet 1:19; Col 1:20; Hebrews 9:22; 10:18-22; Romans 5:9.
Jesus died on the cross for our sins! He did not suffer the torments of hell for our sins.