I'm no theologian, haven't been to seminary, but I can read and have lots of books smart people have written about the Bible. My Dad told me to "Let the Bible say what it says." One book I couldn't do without is Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. It lists every word in the Bible and tells what the original word used meant. Volumes have been written about the title of this article. I heard the answer of a well-respected pastor the other day and I thought his response inadequate.
First, I need to define this place called hell. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word is showl (pronounced, sheh-ole') (we usually say SHE-ole). It is the abode of the dead, and was understood to be the underground cavern to which all dead people go. In the New Testament three Greek words are used for this place. Hades (hah-dace), the place of departed souls and geenna (gheh'-en-nah), the name of a valley SW of Jerusalem where child sacrifices were made at the high places of the Canaanite gods Baal & Molech. It was also the city garbage dump where fires burned continually. This word was used figurative for the place of everlasting punishment. One time, 2 Pet. 2:4, the word used is tartaroo (tar-tar-o'-o), the deepest abyss of hades.
The most complete description of hell in the Bible was given by Jesus when He told about the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. According to Jesus, hades had two compartments with a "great gulf," chasma (khas'-mah) between them. Great gulf means an impassable "gape" between the compartments. My Dad assumed this chasm was tartaroo; "the pit" Ezekiel wrote of (28:8); and also the "bottomless pit" John wrote about in Rev. 9:2, 11; 11:7; 17:8; & 20:1, 3. Jesus described the compartment on one side of the great gulf as a place of torments and the one on the other side as a place of comfort He called Abraham's bosom. The question this article addresses stems from the fact that when Jesus was dying on the cross He didn't tell the repentant thief that He would see him in Heaven or in hades, or in Abraham's bosom; He said He would see him in Paradise, paradeisos (par-ad'-i-sos).
Where is Paradise? Both Paul and John tell us. Paul says in 2 Cor. 12 that he had been "caught up to the third heaven" (God's abode), into Paradise. In Rev. 2:7, in Jesus' message to the church at Ephesus, John tells about the Tree of Life (which was originally in the Garden of Eden) being in the "Paradise of God" [in the third heaven]. So it seems clear that Paradise is now in Heaven, but it hasn't always been there.
The key to all this is found in Eph. 4:8-10 where Paul told the Ephesians that when Christ died he descended into the lower parts of the earth, then ascended up far above all heavens, and led captivity captive. Peter tells us in 1 Pet. 3:18-22 that "He went and preached unto the spirits in prison," mentioning as an example, those spirits of Old Testament saints like Noah.
"Letting the Bible say what it says," here's what I think it is saying. Prior to the atonement for man's sin by Christ on the cross everyone who died went to showl. Those people determined to be right with God (the requirements varied depending on what dispensation they lived under) went to the comfort compartment, Abraham's bosom/Paradise; those not right with God went to the torment compartment. Once the atonement was made (I'll do a follow-up article on what Jesus was doing during the 3 days and nights before His resurrection), believers could go directly to God when they died. There was now no longer a need for Abraham's bosom. Also, though having been declared righteous when they died, none of these people had accepted Christ as their personal savior. God solved that problem. Peter tells us Christ went there to "preach to them," [giving them the opportunity to accept Him], and Paul says He then ascended to Heaven [with those who did]. He obviously took the entire Abraham's bosom/Paradise compartment to Heaven with Him since John saw it there. Paul tells us in 2 Cor. 5:8 that now when the believer dies he/she is immediately present with The Lord (in Heaven).
In Peter's sermon, recorded in Acts 2:14-36, he plainly says, in Acts 2:27, "thou [God] wilt not leave my soul in hell", [he's quoting David (Psalm 16:10)], and "that His [Christ's] soul was not left in hell" (Acts 2:31). So yes, Jesus went to Abraham's bosom in showl (hell) when He died on the cross.