Saturday, April 23, 2011

Holy Saturday: The Day Christ Spent in Hell

In the Apostles' Creed, we Christians confess that after dying on the cross, Jesus "descended into hell." This, of course, is the logical conclusion of Jesus' self-sacrifice. He was paying the full price for human sin, bearing in Himself the full punishment our sins deserve in spite of His complete sinlessness. This necessarily meant that after Jesus died, He had to go to hell.

When people die naked in their sin, without the protective armor of God's grace given to all with faith in Christ, hell, separation from God, is their destination. Jesus warned of this when He told Nicodemus, "Those who believe in [Jesus] are not condemned; but those who do not believe in Him are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God" (John 3:18).

Jesus made His atoning sacrifice complete by sharing not only in death, but also in the experience of hell itself. 1 Peter 3:18-20 says:
For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 
(Peter goes on, by the way, to speak of baptism as the means by which the old self is drowned and God's Holy Spirit brings new life in Christ.)

We remember Maundy Thursday as the day on which Jesus, with His face set toward dying for us, instituted the Sacrament of His Body and Blood (Holy Communion, The Lord's Supper, The Eucharist) and gave a new command to His Church: that believers love one another as Christ loved us, sacrificially.

We remember Good Friday as the day on which sinless God-enfleshed died in our places on the cross, so that all who believe in Him will find their sins covered by His life-giving blood and grace, His undeserved favor.

We remember Easter Sunday, of course, as the day when Jesus rose from the dead, claiming eternal life with God for all who believe in (that is, entrust their lives to) Jesus Christ.

We should also remember Holy Saturday, the day on which Jesus bore the full punishment our sins merit, descending into hell, but at the same time, proclaiming that God's plan had been fulfilled; the perfect sacrifice had been offered; the powers of the devil, evil, and hell had been crushed for all eternity. The devil, evil, and hell still wreak havoc in this world. They will until the day when Christ returns to fully establish His kingdom. But they are in their death throes. Christ has conquered!


Vicky said...

It is very true that we do not give much thought to Holy Saturday. In fact, I haven't really thought about it all until I read your post. Thanks for posting it!

I am finishing up the book by Jerry Sittser you mentioned during one of your posts on goal setting. I agree with the person who wrote the forward: when I'm done I'll put it down for about 5 minutes then start all over again. Great perspective on God's will.

Mark Daniels said...

I'm glad that you're enjoying the Sittser book. You're right that it's one of those you have to go back into in order to absorb everything. For someone of Sittser's background in the Calvinist tradition, it's also a courageous book. Even if a person doesn't buy into everything he says, the book is still very worth reading.

Thanks for your comments.

I hope that you had a wonderful Easter day.

God bless!