Monday, November 23, 2009
He Descended into Hades...
(1 Peter 3:18-20) For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
Every week in our worship service we sing the Apostle’s Creed. And doing so we affirm that the Lord Jesus Christ “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. He descended into hell, the third day he rose again…” But what do we mean by “He descended into hell”? Do we mean the place of fiery judgment? Actually, no, it would be more proper to say that Jesus descended into “Hades.”
In the Old Testament, everyone, good, bad and in-between expected to die and go to Sheol (the netherworld of departed spirits.) Recall how when the witch of Endor called “up” the spirit of Samuel, the spirit of godly Samuel told the ungodly (and still living) Saul, that he (Saul) would soon join be joining Samuel “down” where he (Samuel) was.
In the NT, God’s people referred to Sheol as Hades. Recall Jesus story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16. In Jesus’ parable, both men died and went to the netherworld (which Jesus called Hades.) But it is important to note that within Hades there were two distinct districts. The rich man was in a place of extreme torment, and Lazarus was in a place of extreme bliss (which Jesus’ termed Abraham’s Bosom.) But both were in the realm called Hades.
Before Jesus’ death he prophesied that he would spend three days and nights in the heart of the earth (i.e. “down”.) But he also promised the repentant thief that on the day of Jesus’ death that the thief would be with him in Paradise. Hmmm…
So taking all things together, it appears that Jesus, after his death, descended to Paradise, taking the thief with him, where he then preached to the spirits (as Peter noted.) And then in Christ’s glorious resurrection, took Paradise with him into heaven above. So that when Paul later visited Paradise, instead of going "down" to it, he was caught "up" into Paradise (2 Cor. 12:2).
This also helps us understand the account of departed saints who appeared to their loved ones after Jesus’ resurrection and before his ascension. It seems that in that 40 day period between Christ’s resurrection and his ascension, a few of them dropped in to say “hey” to some of their family and friends.
In Jesus’ death he conquered death and the Lord of death (Satan.) In his descent into Hades he rescued the souls who by faith had known him and longed for his appearing. In his resurrection he took himself and the subterranean Paradise into heaven, temporarily re-zoning the cosmos until his final return when all the faithful who died before that return are brought back to an earth, transformed, renewed and glorified via the prayers of God’s people, the preaching of the Gospel, the administration of the Sacraments and deeds of love and mercy.
This is what we confess every week as together we sing the Apostles’ Creed. What glory! Alleluia, what a Savior!