In my studies I find that Greek mythology is often a productive starting point for my thinking. For example, Demeter was the gentle goddess of agriculture, a fertility goddess. She was without a husband of her own and became pregnant, the story goes, by Zeus the king of the gods. When her time was due, she gave birth to her daughter Core, later known as Persephone, and also Iacchus/Bacchus/Dionysus. It is unclear to me whether these were twin siblings, or whether they represented different aspects of some wider process. In time Core, then in the form of the more mature Persephone, descended [by capture] into the underworld of Hades, to return again after three months.
That is the story of Demeter and Persephone in a nutshell. However, the development of the fertility myth and its relationship to Christian mythology, is not the prime focus of this post. Nevertheless, to add a little meat to the bones of the story [if a nutshell can be imagined to have bones] I must point out that Demeter as the goddess of agriculture is associated with the growth of spelt wheat, the stuff of 'the bread of life'. Furthermore, there are a number of points of convergence with the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The latter also was without a husband of her own when she became pregnant by some mysterious, divine force. In time she gave birth to Jesus who grew to maturity, was executed or cut down, before descending into Hell only to return on the third day thereafter. Jesus is often associated not only with bread ["...take, eat, this is my body...] but also with wine, as was Dionysus of course.
It seems to me that peoples of olden times committed what was most important in their thinking and culture to forms that we now see as mythology and legend. These are not just idle stories made up by ignorant peoples, but accounts of their wisdom put into words that could be read and, hopefully, understood by lay people. The stories were not required to be historically accurate, but did need to carry meanings that reflected truth. The biblical Jesus employed a similar technique by the use of parables for his listeners. His disciples, however, were expected to read beyond the parable, and understand the meanings behind the stories. I think it is almost impossible to overstate the importance that those ancient peoples attached to their mythologies, and in particular to the fertility myth that spoke of their fundamental means of survival. That being the case, the stories surrounding the life of Jesus of Nazareth, having been written in mythological/legendary form, must also have been considered as vitally important.
And what meaning can be learned from this particular legend of the Nazarene? Firstly, I would suggest that Jesus did not die and, after descending into Hell, return on the third day. It was not he but the Christ [not an alternative name for Jesus or indeed his surname], that which lived its life through Jesus, that made the descent and return. Secondly, it was not a journey that happened only once at some far off moment in history. It is a journey which can continually be experienced through the Higher, Christic Self. The very essence of growth of the spirit is a journey of descent and return, and that journey needs to be experienced again and again. But as St. Augustine could possibly have said, "What does it avail me if this journey is always happening, if it does not happen in me?"