Friday, May 31, 2024

Apostles Creed

Jesus Descended Into Hell? 

Bodie Hodge, M.Sc., B.Sc., PEI 

Biblical Authority Ministries, May 30, 2024 

The Apostles Creed, from the second century AD, makes a couple of statement that cause some Christians today to be a little uneasy. And yet, this creed is a time-honored statement universally held by the early church, through the reformation, into modern times. 

I’ve been to two different (denominational) churches in recent times that both read the Apostle’s Creed aloud. I’ve also been to hosts of different churches in the past of various denominations who have as well. The popularity of this creed abounds—even the world famous Christian band Petra has a song called Creed that plays off the Apostles’ Creed. 

Briefly, read the Apostle’s Creed and I highlighted the two instances that often grab attention: 

I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; 

He descended into hell; on the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there He will come to judge the living and the dead. 

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.  Amen. 

 Let’s deal with these two. 

Jesus Descended Into Hell? 

For unrepentant sinners, the punishment of Hell is eternal, so having Christ descend into Hell causes some minds to spin. Christ is without sin after all. Therefore, some Christians reckon this with “grave” instead of Hell because they don’t want to see Christ in Hell. And that is one way to look at it—Christ indeed went to the grave. 

However, our punishment is more than just a physical death and a grave. For 2000 years, people have still died physically and go to their grave. And for all of us today, we will also die physically and go to our grave (unless Christ returns first). 

Due to our sin against a perfect, infinitely powerful, and holy God, it is the sting of death or the second death that we all deserve for the finality of our sinful punishment. 

 “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28, NKJV) 

Our punishment is more than our physical death and the grave. Jesus took our whole punishment upon Himself because Jesus took our sin upon Himself. The Bible states it as: 

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21, NKJV) 

Theologically, Hell (i.e., the second death) is the punishment we deserve for our sins—not just the physical death and the grave—the infinite wrath of God on us. This punishment should last for all eternity by the very nature of who God is. God is infinite and God is eternal and we are made in the image of an eternal God—our souls go on forever—though we are not infinite, omnipresent, or omnipotent and Hell would be everlasting for each sinful, created being who has no power next to God.

 When Christ died, He suffered that punishment (wrath) of God as our substitute (e.g., Isaiah 53:10-12), yet He is not being punished in Hell today. The reason is simple. We need to understand that Christ is above the eternality of Hell because Christ is God and thus, He is all-powerful and upholds the very existence of Hell. A moment in Hell for Christ is an eternity for us by His very nature. And upon His resurrection, Christ proved that death and Hell could not hold Him.   

Jesus took the sting of death on our behalf as our substitute (i.e., our substitutionary atonement). Upon His physical death, the infinite Christ endured the infinite punishment (wrath) from the infinite Father, which is what Hell is and is the finality of what we deserve for sin.  

For sinful man, Satan, and demons who have rebelled, Hell is indeed eternal. We are created beings confined to time. Jesus, who is from everlasting to everlasting is beyond time, as the Creator of time itself—He took this infinite and eternal punishment in a moment, because of His omnipresence. Christ, being God (e.g., John 1, Hebrews 1, Colossians 1), is not like us and He could not be bound to Hell like we would.    


So, while 3 days passed physically for the body of Christ, His moment of Hell (taking our deserved infinite wrath and punishment from God the Father in the second death) is equivalent to an eternity in Hell for all of us—Christ is omnipotent (all-powerful) after all and can take that punishment from an omnipotent (all-powerful) Father—the two equate which satisfied God’s wrath. 

Bear in mind that when Christ gave up His spirit in death the full grasp of His omnipresence is again realized—Jesus was no longer limited to the original physical body to which He humbled Himself even to His death on the cross. His omnipresence permits Him to be in paradise (with the thief on the cross who was repentant, Luke 23:43), offered His own blood in the Temple in Heaven (Hebrews 9:12), and preach to spirits in prison verifying they now have an eternity in Hell apart from Him for their lack of faith and sin against God (1 Peter 3:19).

Even Christ’s resurrected body now entertains His omnipresence. This is not a problem for an ever-present and ever-potent God who took on flesh and resurrected His dead body into new life. He then took that resurrected body to sit on the throne of God. So having Christ descend into Hell is technically not a theological problem but a necessity to truly take the punishment we deserve for our sin from a Holy God. 

Catholic?

The other instance is the word catholic. Some protestants (or even Orthodox or Oriental Christians) immediately think this means the Roman Catholic Church, but this is not the case. When it says “catholic” it means the church as a whole—that is, believers in Jesus Christ universally.

So catholic has little to do with Roman Catholic Church. As long as you have placed your faith in the Jesus Christ of Scripture and believe in His death, burial, and resurrection, then you are counted as “catholic” (usually denoted in lower case).

Furthermore, this is what the Apostle’s Creed is really about—outlining those basic beliefs for what determines if you are part of the universal church.

My hope is that this helps clarify any misconceptions about the Apostle’s Creed. 


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