The Nicene Creed was adopted by the first ecumenical council, convened in Nicea under the Emperor Constantine. It is also called the Apostle’s Creed by the Vatican, and is the basic statement of faith of the Roman Catholic Church.
According to the Apostles’ Creed, (the way I learned it fifty years ago), Jesus spent Easter Saturday in hell.
“And He descended into hell, and rose again on the third day, according to the Scriptures.”
Did He really? Or is that just Catholic tradition? More recent revisions of the Apostles’ Creed simply say He “descended to the dead.”
True enough, but that doesn’t mean much. He was dead for three days. He was buried. He “descended to the dead” could be said of every person who ever died, (including my late Uncle Eddie).
Did He descend to “the dead” or did He spend the weekend in hell? Yesterday we discussed the Wednesday vs. Friday interpretation of the day of Crucifixion.
If the Crucifixion was on Friday and the Resurrection took place on Sunday, then Jesus rose on the third day.
If the Crucifixion occurred on Wednesday, then even allowing for the most liberal stretching of the fabric of time, if the Resurrection was on Sunday, Jesus rose very late on the fourth day or very early into the fifth day.
The interpretation that requires the fewest textual gymnastics to fit the time frame is that of reckoning Friday, Saturday and Sunday with Sunday being the third day.
I can’t fit Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday into three days unless I don’t count Wednesday and Sunday and even then, the Resurrection would have to fall on the Sabbath. Otherwise, Sunday would count – as the fourth day.
I submit that Friday to Sunday makes Sunday the third day. Did He then descend into hell on Friday afternoon and stay there until Sunday morning?
First off, why is that important?
Every year at Easter, Jon Meacham (formerly of Newsweek, now with TIME) takes his best shot at Christianity.
This year, Meacham wrote TIME’s cover story about Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins under the headline, “Pastor Rob Bell: What if Hell Doesn’t Exist?”
For starters, if hell doesn’t exist, where did Jesus spend Easter weekend? He couldn’t have been in Heaven.
On Resurrection Sunday, Mary Magdalene was weeping at the Lord’s grave when He called her name. She would have rushed to embrace Him, but He stopped her, saying:
“Jesus saith unto her, Touch Me not; for I am not yet ascended to My Father: but go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God.” (John 20:17)
If He had not yet ascended to the Father – and had to do so before He could meet with His brethren, and there is no hell, then where was He? Like I said, it is an important question.
Even Jon Meacham understands the importance of the question to basic Christianity. He notes in this year’s Easter hit piece:
“The traditionalist reaction is understandable, for Bell’s arguments about heaven and hell raise doubts about the core of the Evangelical worldview, changing the common understanding of salvation so much that Christianity becomes more of an ethical habit of mind than a faith based on divine revelation.”
Of course. Salvation is an ethical habit of mind! Not a faith based on Divine revelation.
“I have long wondered if there is a massive shift coming in what it means to be a Christian,” Bell says. “Something new is in the air.”
Actually, it isn’t new. Jesus outlined Bell’s new Christianity in Revelation 3:14-18. Solomon outlined the root principle that attracted Jon Meacham to Bell’s book (and why he chose to highlight it at Easter) in Psalms 14:1 and 53:1.
If hell isn’t real, then the Easter story can’t be. Can it?
“And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into Thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43)
Where is ‘paradise’? It isn’t Heaven – Heaven is the place of God’s abode and Jesus had not yet ascended to the Father by early Resurrection morning.
Did He go to the place of the dead? Of course. The place of the dead was hell. That’s where Paradise was. Jesus had spoken of it previously when He told the story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-30).
It wasn’t a parable or He would have said as much in His preface. Instead, He spoke in very definite terms, “there was a certain rich man”.
Jesus said there was also a righteous beggar named Lazarus. Then the Lord provides us with a word picture description of what happens when we die.
“And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried.”
The Lord of glory confirms by this story, an important, eternal truth. When we die, our consciousness continues into either heaven or hell. Hell is depicted as being buried alive in hot coals.
“And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.”
What follows is a picture of hell as it was when Jesus spent Easter weekend there.
“And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.”
Jesus descended into hell, the place of the dead, which was divided according to ultimate destination.
Abraham’s Bosom, or Paradise, was the abode of the righteous dead, like Abraham. The blood of bulls and rams was not enough to wash away the sins of the righteous, but it was enough to cover their sins until death and hell were conquered at the Cross.
Until then, those that believed God were imputed righteous, and awaited their redemption.
When Jesus descended into hell, He went to paradise where the Good Thief was. And Abraham. And Lazarus. And everybody else who trusted in the Lord for their eternal salvation until then.
“Wherefore He saith, When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things.)” (Ephesians 4:8-10)
He “led captivity captive”. Jesus descended into hell where He gathered the righteous dead from their captivity and then ascended unto His Father with His prize on Resurrection Sunday.
Hell was then given over to the rich man and the rest of the lost in the abode of the dead.
How important is this? It answers the question, “What happens when we die?” and it answers it from the perspective of the One Who knows best.
If the Bible is true and Jesus can be believed, then when a saved person closes his eyes in this life, he awakes fully conscious in the next – where he is whisked by the angels into heaven, since Paradise is now closed.
When a lost person dies, he awakes full conscious in hell, alone, nameless, and buried in hot coals where he awaits judgment at the Great White Throne and then eternity in the Lake of Fire, since hell itself is closed.
TIME’s Jon Meacham and guys like Rob Bell would like for there to be no hell for two reasons that are more-or-less universal. The first is because they fear that’s where they are headed. And the second is that they can’t believe a loving God would send them there.
My guess is that they are right on both counts. And God isn’t the one that sends people to hell. Jesus literally went to hell and back to procure for us a choice. The offer of pardon is extended to “whosoever will”.
Hell is not dead. It is very much in operation and growing larger by the day. But God doesn’t send people to hell – they choose that for themselves.
It isn’t complicated.
“For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.” (Ezekiel 18:32)
There is a choice. But it is admittedly limited. One can repent and trust Jesus or one can face God clothed in one’s own righteousness and see how things work out.
The choice, “hell does not exist” is not on the menu.