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.