Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Jesus went through Hell for us

I have been teaching through the Apostle's Creed on Sunday nights. There has long been debate about why the Creed says Christ "descended into hell". There have been several attempts to answer this question. Some say it refers to Jesus' pronouncing victory over the "spirits" who were in chains (1 Peter 3:18-20), others say "hell" really means "grave" or realm of the dead. Some think the phrase is confusing and should be left out. John Calvin says the statement refers to Christ's experience of hell while on the cross. Whatever you think of the phrase "he descended into hell", Calvin's comments on Christ's going through Hell for us are moving and accurate-

"If Christ had died only a bodily death, it would have been ineffectual. No — it was expedient at the same time for him to undergo the severity of God’s vengeance, to appease his wrath and satisfy his just judgment. For this reason, he must also grapple hand to hand with the armies of hell and the dread of everlasting death. A little while ago we referred to the prophet’s statement that "the chastisement of our peace was laid upon him," "he was wounded for our transgressions" by the Father, "he was bruised for our infirmities" [Isaiah 53:5]. By these words he means that Christ was put in place of evildoers as surety and pledge — submitting himself even as the accused — to bear and suffer all the punishments that they ought to have sustained. All — with this one exception: "He could not be held by the pangs of death" [Acts 2:24]. No wonder, then, if he is said to have descended into hell, for he suffered the death that, God in his wrath had inflicted upon the wicked!"

The Heidelberg Catechism takes it's cue from Calvin when addressing this phrase from the Apostle's Creed-

Question 44. Why is there added, "he descended into hell"?

Answer. That in my greatest temptations, I may be assured, and wholly comfort myself in this, that my Lord Jesus Christ, by his inexpressible anguish, pains, terrors, and hellish agonies, in which he was plunged during all his sufferings, but especially on the cross, hath delivered me from the anguish and torments of hell.

No matter your opinion about the phrase in the creed, Jesus did in fact endure hell for us. Praise be to God.


Woody Woodward said...

I too have always been bothered, and have severely questioned why that confusing phrase would be placed in the Apostle’s Creed? I have to confess, when we say the creed in unison, I leave it out of my confession.
Interpreting this to mean as some doctrines claim, that after dying on the cross, He literally descended and spent time in the depths of Hell fighting evil, on my behalf, makes me shutter. But as you rightly pontificated, from His physical suffering and pain, from knowing His Father had to turn His back upon the cumulative sins of all mankind, “Jesus WENT through Hell” for me! This I grasp, this I can understand, this I confess, “He went through Hell just for me!”

Jeff said...

Talk about Providential timing...

I've actually been wondering about this over the past few days. I've often wondered about the "He descended into Hell" in the Creed in comparison to Jesus, on the cross, telling the repentant thief, "Today you will be with me in glory".

Thanks for posting this!!

Rick Calohan said...

I have never had an issue with the phrase because He descended into hell so that God's elect would not. I think we minimize that by saying that could not happen but then look at these verses

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (Isaiah 53:10, Romans 8:32, 2 Corinthians 5:21)

If that is not hell I don't know what is.