I'm almost done with my Christology book and I'm dealing with the "descent into hell" right now. I was contrasting the Lutheran understanding with medieval/patristic/RCC position. They advocate a view which is a bit cartoonish in my understanding.
Their idea is that before Jesus showed up, no one could go to heaven. This is obviously untrue in light of Genesis 15 and Romans 4, as well as Peter and Revelation's description of Jesus as "the lamb slain from the foundation of the world." Obviously God's foreknowledge, as well as heaven and hell are outside of time and space, so why would Jesus have to die in historical time before we reap the benefits?
Anyways, because no one could go to heaven, Adam, Noah, and Abraham had to be held in a place called "Limbo of the Fathers"- which until the 1930s or so, they believed was literally at the center of the earth. While Jesus was dead on holy Saturday, he descended to them, and broke down the door and then took them all to heaven. This is referred to as the "Harrowing of Hell."
Again, the 1 Peter 3:18-22 is quite clear that it was the damned who Jesus preached to- namely all those nasty people who got killed during the flood (among others). There's nothing about Jesus helping the righteous of the OT get to heaven.
To validate this view I discovered that the RCC catechism totally misuses 1 Peter 4:6 "the gospel has been preached to the dead"- in other words, the dead of the OT heard the good news of the gospel and then got to go to heaven. But read the context! It's referring to the spiritually dead. The passage is very, very clearly talking about the Church practice of preaching to all people, even the spiritually dead. It doesn't even mention Jesus once or his descent to hell. It's really unbelievable that they would be this brazen.
Another interesting surprise: I was looking around elsewhere and when they discuss purgatory and practice of saying Masses for the dead, guess what Biblical verses they use to justify the practice? 2 Maccabees. Who also used this exegetical argument? Eck during the Leipzig debate against Luther!
Ah, the more things change, the more they stay the same!