What happened to Yeshua’s soul after he died on the cross?

Yet it pleased YHVH to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of YHVH shall prosper in His hand. (Isaiah 53:10)

The debate has raged within Christian circles for several hundred years as to what specifically happened to Yeshua the Messiah from the point he died on the cross to the time of his resurrection. All agree that his body stayed in the grave, but what happened to the rest of him; namely, his soul and spirit? 

It is generally accepted among believers that man is a three-part being: body, soul and spirit. Many ­scriptural references could be given, but, unless one doubts the Apostle Paul, one biblical example should suffice: that is 1 Thessalonians 5:23, where Paul states that man is comprised of a body, soul and spirit. Furthermore, it is a generally accepted that the body is the physical body of man, that the soul is the rational part of him composed of his intellect or natural understanding, emotions and will or volition, and the spirit is that divine spark or essence YHVH puts in man at the time of inception without which the body and soul cannot live. The spirit separates man from the animal kingdom (Ecc. 3:21) and is the part of man that can connect with the Spirit of YHVH. Therefore, it is through the spirit that man can have a relationship with YHVH (John 4:23-24; Eph. 3:16; Job 32:8; Rom. 8:16; 1 Cor:12:11; 1 John 2:20; Prov. 20:27).

The Bible says very little about the origin or fate of man’s spirit. Several scriptures shed a little light on this subject however. For example, the spirit of man goes up when he dies (Ecc 3:21), and returns to YHVH who gave it (Ecc. 12:7). Likewise, we see that upon Yeshua’s death on the cross he committed his spirit into the hands of the Father in Heaven (Luke 12:6).

With regard to the physical body of a man when he dies, is there any question as to what happens to that? It goes into the grave where it stays to await the resurrection. This is so basic and so widely accepted among Believers that we will not take the time or space here to give scriptural proof of this fact. We know that when Yeshua died, his body was laid in the tomb where it stayed until his resurrection three days and nights later.

Now what about the soul? That is the big question. In the Old Testament we find many scriptures that teach that upon death man’s soul goes into sheol or hell (the grave) waiting for YHVH to raise it up:

Psalm 16:10, “For You [YHVH] will not leave my soul in sheol, nor allow Your Holy One to see corruption.” (See also Acts 2:27.)

Psalm 49:15, “But YHVH will redeem my soul from the power of the grave [sheol], for he shall receive me.”

Psalm 49:8: “For the redemption of their souls [from the power of sheol] is costly.”

Hosea 13:14: “I [YHVH speaking] will ransom them from the power of the grave [sheol]; I will redeem them from death.”

Psalm 86:13: “And You [YHVH] have delivered my soul from the depths of sheol.”

Here we see that in Tanakh (Old Testament) times man’s soul would descend into sheol (the abode of the dead) at the time of his death where it would stay until YHVH would ransom these souls (later through the death of Yeshua the Messiah).

Now let us see how Yeshua’s soul had to pay the price for sin by having to die and go to sheol. To see this we must look at Isaiah 53:10 where it says the Redeemer’s (i.e.Yeshua’s) soul was made an offering for sin. In verse 11 we read that Yeshua’s soul suffered or labored and YHVH was satisfied and many were justified by it as Yeshua bore their iniquities. All the major Bible translations (KJV, NKJV, NIV and NASV) bear this rendering out. Verse 12 says that Yeshua poured His soul out unto death and that he was numbered with the transgressors and bore the sins of many and made intercession for the transgressors.

Why do we see such an emphasis on the soul part of Yeshua dying, suffering, bearing man’s iniquities, justifying many, and satisfying YHVH’s justice? The soul (mind, will and emotions) is the part of man that sins. We cannot rightly say that the spirit part of man or the body sin, although the body does act out the sin, which is conceived in the heart and mind of man. Furthermore, the Scriptures make it very clear that it is the soul that is guilty of sinning and thence must die (Num 15:28, Ezek 18:4; 18:20). Yeshua laid the blame for sin against the heart or soul part of man as well when he said that from it proceed all sorts of evil things such as murders, adulteries, thefts, lying, blasphemies and so on (Matt 15:19). In Matthew 12:33–34, Yeshua shows the connection between the heart and one of the parts of the body, namely the mouth, when he said that “out of the abundance of the mouth thes heart speaks.” Here we see, again, that the body is servant to the soul part of man.

We not only see that Yeshua descended into sheol, but the Scripture makes mention in several places about him descending into the lowest part of hell or sheol. (Ps 88:6, 3, 5, 7, 9, 15, 16. Could Ephesians 4:9 be a description of this as well?)

In the Tanakh, there is a distinction between sheol-hell and the lower part of sheol or the lowest hell (Deut 32:22; Ps 86:13 and Prov. 9:18). Are these the two compartments of hell that exist based on Yeshua’s parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16 as many in the church teach? One compartment is for the unregenerate sinner who, though dead, awaits the judgement seat of YHVH (or the Great White Throne Judgement, Rev 20:11–15) after which he will be cast into the, as yet nonexistent, Lake of Fire, while the other compartment is for the righteous dead and is called Abraham’s Bosom in Hebraic poetic and euphemistic fashion?

Another interesting text is 1 Peter 3:18, which says Messiah suffered for sins being put to death in the flesh (but he did not die in the spirit, for it returned to YHVH!), and the Spirit of Elohim made him alive (even as the same Spirit that had impregnated him into Mary, descended upon him as a dove, led him to the wilderness, and finally raised him up).

The question naturally would arise, what would Yeshua be doing in sheol in either or both “compartments”? The Scriptures say very little about this, so where the Scriptures speak we are able to speak, but where they are silent it is wise for men to be silent as well, and not run the risk of adding to YHVH’s Word. Several scriptures do give us a little glimpse into this time period however. One is Revelation 1:18, which says that Yeshua has the keys of hades (the grave or sheol) and death. Perhaps he obtained those “keys” while his soul was there during his body’s three days and nights in the tomb. First Peter 3:18–20 talks about Yeshua suffering “once [and] for [all for] sins, the just for the just, that he might bring us to YHVH, being put to death in the flesh, but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient …”

To be sure, 1 Peter 3:18–20 is one of the more enigmatic passages in the Scriptures. We, like those before us, can only guess as to its meaning. Is this passage, coupled with Ephesians 4:8–9, a description of Messiah leading the righteous of old from “Abraham’s Bosom” to an early first of the first fruits resurrection, which is pictured by the early spring barely harvest? Elsewhere we have seen that the scriptural evidence points to the fact that Yeshua resurrected early on the first day (our Saturday evening), and that when he arose he became “the first fruits of them that slept” (1 Cor 15:20). Then Ephesians 4:8–9 says, “When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men. (Now this, ‘he descended’—what does it mean but that he also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?)” Who were these captives that Yeshua led out of the graves to be first fruits along with him? In this regard, Matthew in his Gospel records something strange happening at Yeshua’s resurrection:

And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. (Matt 27:52–53)

What happened to these saints after Yeshua’s resurrection? Did they die again and return to the graves, or did they go to heaven to await Yeshua’s second coming? This is a huge question. Yeshua said that no man had ascended to heaven (John 3:13), but he made this statement before his resurrection. So what happened to these saints then? Did they go to heaven, or did they return to the graves? Stephen under the inspiration of the Spirit of Elohim stated that “the patriarch David… is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day.… For David is not ascended into the heavens … (Acts 2:29 and 34). This was certainly true of David, but not necessarily of those saints who resurrected at the time of Yeshua’s resurrection. Revelation 19:1 speaks of “people [literal crowds of people according to the TDNT’] in heaven” who will return with Yeshua at his second coming. Perhaps these people are a reference to those righteous saints who will be resurrected at the sound of the last or seventh trumpet (shofar) (1 Cor 15:51–53; cp. Rev 11:15–18). The Bible doesn’t tell us what became of the saints that arose at the time of Yeshua’s resurrection, but one thing is certain: they were part of the first fruits that followed Yeshua who was the first of the first fruits of the resurrection—and all this happened on First Fruits Day—the day of Yeshua’s resurrection and ascension to heaven.


2 thoughts on “What happened to Yeshua’s soul after he died on the cross?

  1. I recently gave a presentation on the same subject to several groups. I like the way that you present the questions–but leave open-ended some answers because Scripture just does not specifically and concretely answer the questions either. (It does leave us wondering).

  2. I love how you stated in the 9th (?) paragraph that it is the soul of man that sins and that is why He “poured out His soul.’ As to the resurrected saints at His resurrection, it has been speculated that it is not until after this that we hear about the 24 elders before the throne. On another note, after 3 days the body starts to “corrupt” or decompose, that is why Yeshua was only 3 days and nights in the grave, whereas Lazarus was in the grave 4 and by then “he stinketh.” How amazing is His grace! (no question or question mark needed here)

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