Article 3 - On the going down of Christ into Hell Sunday 6th October 2019 9:45 and 11:30am
By porthkerryandrhoose, Oct 7 2019 03:50PM
I'm going to begin by asking you a question. What was Jesus doing the day after Good Friday? Where was he? It is a perplexing question, and one which Christians have pondered over the centuries. As Anglicans, we benefit from the results of these discussions in our third Article of Religion. It answers the question we began with: where did Jesus go between his death and resurrection? It reads 'As Christ died for us and was buried, so it is to be believed, that he went down into hell.'. We also get this answer in another of our foundational documents too, the Apostles' Creed, which we say at morning and evening prayer. It reads:
' And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried:
He descended into hell;
The third day he rose again from the dead;'
So our answer's there: Jesus went down into hell. Yet I expect that answer raises even more questions in your minds. Does hell even exist? If it does, what evidence is there that Jesus went there? And does it actually make any difference?
We're going to look at those 3 questions in turn. Let's start with 'does hell exist?' because if it doesn't, there's no point moving on to the other 2. This was a question we looked at 3 years ago when we did our Big Questions series. This is what we discovered:
If you do a quick search of the Bible, you will find the word 'hell' mentioned 13 times. Anyone know who speaks about it the most? It's Jesus, 11 of the 13 times. The other two times it's James and Peter. There is an equivalent word: Hades, and that is mentioned 8 times, all by who, do you think? Jesus, either in the Gospels or in the book of Revelation. This fact alone should cause us to sit up and think. The one who tells us the most about hell is the most loving person who ever lived, Jesus.
What does he say? Mark 9:43-48 is a key example " If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where
‘“the worms that eat them do not die,
and the fire is not quenched.”
The word Jesus uses for 'hell' is Gehenna, which was a valley in which piles of rubbish were burned daily as well as the corpses of those who didn't have families who could bury them. In v48 Jesus speaks of a person going to "hell [gehenna], where 'their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.' " Jesus is referring to the maggots that live in the corpses on the rubbish heap. When all the flesh is consumed, the maggots die. Jesus is saying that the spiritual decomposition of hell never ends, so 'the worms that eat them do not die.' It is a terrifying picture. But it's one we need to take seriously because of the one who tells us about it. If we trust his words about salvation, then we need to trust his words about hell too. It is real.
In our gospel reading for today Jesus uses the word Hades, but it's the same place. Though it's a parable, he uses the same idea of hell being a place of torment. The rich man in the parable dies and then v23 (of Luke 16) "In Hades where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him "Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire." So as far as Jesus is concerned, hell is most certainly real. So if we say we are people who believe in Jesus and his teaching, then we need to believe hell is real too because there's no distinction between his teaching on that and on loving one another, for example. The only difference is how we feel about it, and that says more about us than the truthfulness of the text.
So, we've established that hell is real, but did Jesus actually go there? Now there is no one Bible passage which tells us categorically that he did, but there are many that hint at it. Our Old Testament passage was from a very famous section of Isaiah, understood by most Christians down the ages to be prophesying Jesus. It says in 53:9 "He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, although he had done no violence nor was any deceit in his mouth." This 'grave with the wicked' usually means more than the simple place of burial. It has with it the overtones of judgement and punishment. Or you could go to Acts 2:24-27 where Peter quotes Psalm 16:10 "But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him "I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices my body will also rest in hope, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay." Or if you want the words of Jesus himself, you could go to Matthew 12:40 "For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth". There are other passages you could go to. On the one hand you could say that they are not clear so we can't really know, but on the other hand, when we look at what the Bible says about where we go when we die, there are only two options: eternity with God or eternity in hell. There isn't anywhere else (as we'll see when we look at the article about purgatory). And since Jesus died to take the punishment for our sins, it stands to reason that he took the full punishment, including hell. If he was taking a mini break back to heaven, it would hardly be drinking the full cup of God's wrath as he said he was doing.
And this brings us on to why this is so important. It goes to the heart of our hope and our assurance in Jesus. Often people, whose sin weighs heavily on them, say to me 'How can I know God has forgiven me? I can't forgive myself, how can I know God has forgiven me?'. We know because Jesus took that sin, and all the others, and bore the full punishment of God for them. He died the death we should have, and he experienced the hell that is our due, not his. And he did it all. This is how much he loves us. It's not a superficial or a shallow love, only going so far. "In the weakness and humiliation of the cross the sovereign God triumphed over it all and has left no aspect of it intact. God is completely and utterly our saviour." (p32 'Foundations of Faith'). This brings us amazing assurance and comfort, especially when we feel our sin and failings so strongly. "There is no aspect of what faces us that [Jesus] has not experienced and emptied of power. Those who belong to Jesus have absolutely nothing to fear. Jesus has the keys to death and Hades."
So, a fairly obscure point of doctrine at first glance, holds in it wonderful truth and hope for the Christian. Jesus loves us so much that he was willing to go to hell for us, and in doing so he broke its power over us. Every single man, woman or child who comes to Jesus in faith and trust has their sins forgiven. Every last one. And as he went down to hell for us, so we will rise to eternity with him, as God's precious sons and daughters.