Friday, April 16, 2010

Did Christ Descend Into Hell? Conclusion

Part 1: Ephesians 4:7-10,
Part 2: 1 Peter 3:18-22,
Part 3: 1 Peter 4:4-6
Part 4: Romans 10:7 & Acts 2:24-28
Part 5: Theological Conclusion

Certainly the doctrine of a descent into hell is well founded in church history. Yet I think that part of this develops out of a misunderstanding of what Hades is.

This doctrine in a large part develops in a misunderstanding particularly out of 1 Peter 3. If we are right, then this passage refers more to the ascent and the proclamation that it makes over spiritual forces rather than a descent.

It is possible that Christ’s spirit does not go into Paradise as the third heaven but Scripture does not give any other location for Paradise. Indeed, Paradise is never associated with Sheol and the underworld.

I think it is best to understand Sheol as both a place and a reigning realm. So that the unrighteous who die succumbing to its reign go down into the depths as a real place. The righteous have their life destroyed by its reign and so enter the state of death—their body goes down but even Old Testament saints most likely go to glory. In this glory they are not in the glorified state. They await (1) the full work of Christ that both secures their position and wins the kingdom and (2) they await, along with us, their future resurrection.

It is difficult to be hard and dogmatic on these issues especially since Sheol is a complicated theme. We must allow (a) for progressive revelation and (b) for the poetry and usage. Sometimes OT authors convey fears and express pleas making appeals to God in a manner that expresses what they are going through without giving us an OT systematic theology about what happened beyond death. Nevertheless I have sought to carefully put together the puzzle pieces as clues that we have. No doubt, other interpreters might arrange them slightly differently.

Synthesis: What happened to Christ when He died? When and what was His ascension?

(1) Christ dies and His body succumbs to the grave. It is a real death as the agony of death takes His body. His life is gone. Death does conqueror Him.

(2) Christ’s body is in the grave for three days. His body is in the heart of earth. He is under the state of death—thus we can rightly refer to him as ‘in the heart of the earth.’ Disembodied existence, even in heaven, is not the hope of ‘life’ the Bible ultimately offers.

(3) Christ clearly goes into Paradise and entrusts His Spirit to God.

Luke 23:43 And He said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise."

Luke 23:46 And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, "Father, INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT." Having said this, He breathed His last.
Without a clear description of movement in the location and place of Paradise, and given that the Old Testament saints do seem to enter God’s glory and a place of rest and peace—I would cautiously maintain that Christ’s human spirit goes into God’s presence.

This is not the ascension. This is not a state of exaltation.

(4) On the cross, Christ finishes His redemptive suffering and therefore undergoes no further torment.
Luke 23:46 And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, "Father, INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT." Having said this, He breathed His last.
This is a confession entrusts Himself to God. Taking this with John, it seems clear that suffering for the curse of sin is over.
John 19:30 Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.
(5) The Ascension does not occur until after the Resurrection when the human body and human soul/spirit of Christ is united in an indestructible body of the New Creation.

It is clear that Jesus does not ascend to heaven until after the resurrection.
John 20:17 Jesus said to her, "Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, 'I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'"
Christ must ascend bodily into heaven to complete His act of ministry and mediation. It is in the ascension that He is enthroned as the Second Adam. The resurrection and ascension are a crowning with glory and honor. Here Christ is raised up and given all authority over angels, demons, and principalities.

The ascension is a triumphant victory. From His ascended state Christ pours out the Holy Spirit.

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