Chicken-28When criticising Kari Jobe for her lyrics, chookwatcher regurgitates an article from another site that is either very clumsily written, or appears to deny that Jesus went into hell.

The writer calls this theology – that Jesus went into hell – ‘an old heresy’. So chookwatcher is basically agreeing that the doctrine of Jesus’ descent into hell is heresy, but there are many orthodox theologians who would disagree with this.

In fact, the Apostles’ Creed holds to the theology that Jesus descended into hell.

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

As you can see that this creed, which has previously been defended, amongst other creeds, on chookwatcher sites, includes the phrase ‘he descended to hell’. Are the chookwatchers going to call this heresy, or do they still agree with this creed?

Hell or Hades?

The use of the word ‘hell’ in this creed is almost certainly the old translation of ‘Hades’, which is referred to in the Old Testament as Sheol, or the grave – the place of the departed dead under the Old Testament.

Regardless of the translation, one can see that the use of the term ‘descended into hell’ is used in generally accepted theological circles, although, in this form, it is merely representative of another era of translation, which you can also see in the King James Version, or Authorised Version (AV). Words are important, but their meanings can change with time.

There are 54 references to hell in the AV. What is called ‘hell’ in the AV is represented by three words – Hades, or the grave, where the souls of the dead reside awaiting the judgment, Gehenna, the place of torment for those who reject God, and Tartarus, the place where fallen angels are held until the end of time.

All are translated ‘hell’ in the AV, so, in the same way, albeit earlier, this was the word used in the translation of the Apostles’ Creed.

It would not be wrong, then, for a songwriter like Kari Job to refer to hell as a place that Jesus descended to on our behalf in her songs.

There is also a degree of poetic license which could be availed to the theology of Christ’s descent by which there could be variations in understanding, but would not detract from the general purpose of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, and the role they played in our redemption and new birth.

Christ was buried

The writer of the piece quoted by chookwatcher is of the understanding that the work of the cross was sufficient for all sin to be removed.

However, whilst this has an element of truth, it neglects to point out the significance of Christ’s burial and, of course, of the resurrection. Without the cross there could not have been the resurrection, but without the resurrection there was no significance to the cross. They go hand in hand.

And in between was the burial. Christ was dead, we are told, for three days. What took place over the course of these three days is the subject of theological discussion, because there is not  a whole lot of conclusive scripture on it. There are dots, but we have to build the picture.

Scripture tells us that Jesus was indeed in the grave. He took our place in the grave which is the place of the dead. He died on the cross for our sin, He was buried, and He rose again for our redemption.

His burial was in a tomb that belonged to a wealthy member of the Sanhedrin Council, Nicodemus. What happened in that tomb is what concerns the doctrine being discussed here.

Was there a descent?

Chookwatcher’s article claims that the doctrine of Jesus’ descent into hell, or Hades, ‘flies in the face of the work of the cross’, at which Jesus paid for our sin.

Yet scripture tells us that He did descend, and that He did go into Hades, which, as I have said, is called ‘hell’ in the AV.

Ephesians 4:9-10 (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)

Jesus not only paid for our sin at the cross, He also defeated death and the grave. He paid the full price, which was death.

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

To pay the price of sin, Jesus was beaten, scourged, whipped, nailed to a tree, and died. He gave up the Ghost. Death is characterised in scripture as a place, also called the grave. It is not enough to say that the cross was the last place Jesus went for payment of our sin. He also went to the grave.

Lower parts of the earth

Scripture tells us He was buried. Jesus is said to have descended into the lower parts of the earth, which is generally accepted as another way of saying the underworld, or place of the dead.

Philippians 2:10 tells us that ‘at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth’, mentioning those who are ‘under the earth’, signifying, again, an underworld.

Matthew 11:23 has Jesus saying, “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades”, which is a warning that their rejection of Christ would send them to judgment and to the lower parts of the earth. The AV has ‘hell’ for ‘Hades’, incidentally.

He completes this warning to Capernaum by adding, in verses 23 & 24, “For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you”, which gives the context of their descent and the severity of their position.

The mighty works of Jesus would have had a positive effect in the inhabitants of Sodom, and they would have repented, and their region would not have been destroyed in fire and brimstone, as an example, but, because the people of Capernaum rejected the works, they would descend into Hades, or, as the AV has it, hell.

The context and significance of this is devastating for those who reject Christ.

Being brought down to Hades, according to Jesus, isn’t all a bed of roses.

Acts 2:27-28, quoting Psalms 16:10, and referring to Jesus, says, ‘For You will not leave my soul in Hades, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.’ This clearly indicates Jesus’ descent into Hades, or, as the Old Testament has it, Sheol. Again, the AV has ‘hell’ for ‘Hades’.

Note that he says ‘you will not leave my soul in Hades’. The ESV renders it, ‘you will not abandon my soul to Hades’, which gives it a completely different meaning, not expressed in any other translation. We have to be careful which versions we read, and compare them to others.

The Greek gives us the former rendition. Green’s literal translation gives us, ‘You will not leave My soul in Hades’. To not leave someone in a place implies that he has been there. This is important because it clearly indicates that Christ was in Hades, but the Father neither left Him there, nor allowed His soul to see corruption.

David, in Psalm 63, says, “those who seek my life, to destroy it, shall go into the lower parts of the earth.” What could he be talking about but Sheol, the place of the dead, and he is referencing those who sought to destroy him, so he is speaking of the sinful, those who planned murder.

Preaching to the spirits

Peter says some remarkable things when he revealed that Jesus went into the prison to preach to the spirits.

1 Peter 3:18-20 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.

Ephesians 4 tells us that, when He ascended from having descended, Christ led captivity captive. He went to the grave – the prison of the souls, called here spirits, and disobedient. He was active in the grave. He preached to the spirits in prison. He led captivity captive. 1 Peter 4:5-6 continues the conversation, and gives us more astonishment.

They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.

So is he talking about those who are dead in sins, yet alive in the flesh, or of those who are already dead? The context comes from the previous verse, surely – those who will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

Well, here Peter contrasts the living and the dead, so then it must be those who are dead and in the grave – the spirits to whom Jesus preached. So consider Isaiah 61:1, “the Spirit of the Lord God hath sent me to proclaim the opening of the prison to them that are bound.”

The enemy defeated

And we know that the enemy of Christ and the Church was judged at the cross and defeated.

Colossians 2:13-15 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us.

And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.

How did He disarm the principalities and powers? By nailing the Law to the cross, the very articles by which the enemy of Christ accused the brethren. He took away their power by fulfilling the Law at once at the cross. He disarmed them. Then, we are told, He made an open show of them, triumphing over them in it.

Jesus could not have died spiritually in the grave. With that I must agree. He bore our sins. He became sin. But He had not sinned, therefore death could not hold Him.

He yielded His Spirit to the Father at the cross, saying, “It is finished!” – the work of the cross and the fulfilment of the Law, that is. He was spiritually empowered to overcome death and the grave. He was raised by the Spirit of God. His is the Spirit of God. His soul was, for a time, in Hades, though.

Incidentally, Jesus said to the thief on the other cross next to Him that he would be with Him in Paradise that day. Paradise, at this time, was in the grave, as indicated by the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 6:19-31), which gives an excellent picture of the gulf between the grave and torment – Hades and Gehenna.

This entire Paradise, the place of the righteous dead and those within, then, was taken captive and carried into heaven when Christ ascended.

And it is indicated that He also preached to the spirits in prison. We do know in part, but not exactly what happened in the period of Christ’s burial. We see into the glass dimly. We cannot make a doctrine of things we cannot be certain about, nor can we cry ‘heresy’ to theology that takes it further than we are prepared to go.

Disarmament

The disarming and parading of the enemies of Christ mimics the triumphal procession by conquering armies in ancient times – like the Roman army after defeating enemies. This is the picture, here, then, so little wonder there are those that say that Jesus descended into hell and there was a great battle which was won by Christ.

Although I do not agree with it, I think it’s wrong to completely oppose this thought. Theologians have long wrestled with the theology of what happened during the burial of Christ.

I do not read the scripture to say that there was a raging battle, but I believe Christ did, in some way, parade the enemies before the spirit world to show they were defeated, and that death and the grave were conquered, and He lead captive souls to liberty, but the victory was His death and resurrection.

He stripped and despoiled those enemies, who were then paraded. The idea is of a court-martial. Is this a figurative picture of a spiritual triumph, or literal description of a stripping of the authority of the god of this world? Either way, it is a battle won at the cross and resurrection.

I believe the victory was the cross, and it was ratified through the resurrection, but there is also the reality of the burial. Things took place there that were significant.

Jesus, we know took the keys of Death and Hades.

Revelation 1:18 I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.

He speaks of His death and resurrection and the acquisition of the keys. The AV says ‘the keys of hell and of death’. As late as 1899 the Douay-Rheims American Edition translation was giving us ‘the keys of death and of hell’.

How can you seriously fault those who poetically claim that there was a battle in hell? We use emotive terms to illustrate prose. There is plenty to suggest they can argue this, at least. Calling their theology ‘dangerous’ is a serious overreach.

The accomplishment of the cross

Like many, I would not agree with their position because I believe the work of the cross and Jesus’ resurrection were enough to complete the task, but the Word of God does speak in terms that suggest a warfare in the spirit. How it was accomplished is a matter for continued discussion.

However we express it, the adversary was defeated when the Law was fulfilled and Jesus overcame sin and death through cross which culminated in the resurrection.

Hebrews, too, shows us that through death, Christ destroyed the one who had the power of death, naming the adversary – the devil himself.

Hebrews 2:14-15 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

These scriptures certainly suggest a proactive involvement in the defeat of the enemy of Christ. And He delivered those who would otherwise have been subject to lifelong slavery to sin.

He destroyed the one who has power over death. The Greek word, katargeo, means to render entirely idle, useless, or ineffective. This definitely speaks of an action. And consider 1 John 3:8.

For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.

To destroy, here, is to loose, to untie, those who were bound by the devil through sin.

The victory

And, of course, consider the victory of the resurrection where Christ parades before all heaven His captive prize as He releases the souls from Hades.

Ephesians 4:8 “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”

These captives could only be the prisoners now released form Hades. What a victory over death this was, and is.

1 Corinthians 15:56-57 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

There is so much more to be said about this subject, but you can see that there can be more than one way to look at this area of scripture, as with many subjects.

Did Jesus go into hell? Yes, if you consider that Hades was translated ‘hell’ in older versions of English translations.

It is clear that the chookwatchers are failing in their doctrine. They are also failing in their duty to check what is being said by those they quote before publishing. They are not thinking things through before they post articles that condemn women, worship and doctrine.

Be very careful what you read on those sites. Be Berean. Check everything against scripture.

Better still, avoid them altogether.

 

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Revised 29/05/16

 

 

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