Descent into the Realm of the Dead
by Andrew Charles
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Yes, it is true that the statement that Jesus descended into hell in the Apostles Creed was added after the creed was originally written. Did Jesus descend into hell? The following is the part of the Apostles Creed that I would like to discuss.
‘Suffered under Pontius Pilate.
Was crucified, dead, and buried.
He descended into hell
The third day he arose again from the dead:
He ascended into heaven.’
To be specific at that time Jesus descended into the realm of the dead. I will refer it as the realm of the dead. Actually it was better known at that time as Sheol. It wasn’t as we know today that people go to heaven or hell. Today we know people either go to heaven or hell.
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus gives a detailed explanation of the realm of the dead before the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This parable is found in Luke 16:19-31. A beggar had died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s bosom or the saved side. The rich man then died and went to Hades the lost side. In between these two sides was a great chasm. The chasm was so great that those of neither side could cross from one side to the other.
What was the purpose of Sheol and why when someone followed the Law would they not go directly to heaven? First of all in Hebrews 9:22 it states, ”Indeed under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Didn't those who followed the Law and sacrificed the blood of bulls and goats go directly to heaven? We can see in Hebrews 10:4, “For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.” The blood of the bulls and goats only covered the sins awaiting the shed blood of the One sacrificed to forgive sins. Finally, in 1 John 1:7 we read that "the blood of Jesus…cleanses us from all sin." Finally, in the Revelation to John we read that the elect at the end of time "have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." The purpose of the saved side of Sheol was only a temporary home for the saved until Jesus came to rescue them and take them to their permanent home.
I would first refer to Ephesians 4:7-10 where Paul states, “But grace was given to us each according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, “When he (Jesus) ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men. (In saying, “He ascended what does it mean but that he also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is he who also ascended far above the all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)
This is also foretold in the Book of Psalms 68:18-22, “When you ascended on high, you took many captives; you received gifts from people, even from the rebellious— that you, LORD God, might dwell there. Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign LORD comes escape from death.” Here you can see that Jesus would have descended because he released many captives from Abraham’s bosom and even some of the rebellious from the lost side. This is exactly what is told in Ephesians 4:7-10 in the above paragraph. It was a fulfilled prophecy.
We can now look at Matthew 12:40-41 which states, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a whale, so will the Son of man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Here Jesus says he will descend into the realm of the dead. Please note it doesn’t say three complete days and three complete nights. That’s why he arose on the third day. From the time Jesus died until he arose He was in was in the realm of the dead. Why then did Jesus tell the fellow prisoner on the cross that he would be with him in paradise today? There have many misinterpretations of this verse. Some say it shows Jesus didn't spend the entire three days in the realm of the dead. At that time the saved side of Sheol was also known as paradise as well as Abraham’s bosom. Jesus spent the entire time in the realm of the dead.
Those saved were still trapped in Sheol even though they were in the better part of Sheol. Let’s remember when Jesus went into the desert and fasted for forty days and forty nights. After this the devil came to Jesus to tempt Him in which Jesus said, “You shall not tempt the Lord, Your God.” Finally, the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. The devil then offered all the kingdoms of the earth to Jesus if he would fall down and worship him. It’s important to point out that Sheol was one of those kingdoms. If Jesus would have bowed down to worship Satan those souls could have been released from Sheol and Jesus would not have had to be brutally crucified.
As was mentioned in a prior paragraph in Psalms Chapter 18 Jesus even released some of the rebellious on the lost side of Hades. We can that see this happened in 1 Peter 4:6, “For this is why the gospel was preached even to the dead, that though judged in the flesh like men, they might live in the spirit like God.” This is also referred to in 1 Peter 3:18-20, “For Christ also died for sins once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when god’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.” With these verses you can clearly see that Jesus himself preached the gospel to the rebellious and led as many who accepted him out of Hades, not just to those in Abraham’s bosom.
I would like to mention several items concerning Jesus preaching to the dead that waited in the days of Noah. Like the legal system you should always take the most clear meaning. I have seem some illogical explanation denying this. I also want to mention that it is said those who waited in the days of Noah. We can't say everyone will get a second chance after that time. Their were others on the side of Hades besides the ones from the time of Noah. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus does n ot include the rich man in this statement. He was after Noah. It doesn't mean either than if someone hasn't heard the gospel and dies Jesus will not give him a chance to read the gospel. The only fact here is Jesus only preached the gospel to the dead at the time of Noah.
I believe the evidence is there straight from the Word of God and the opinion of great godly men that Jesus descended into the realm of the dead to release the captives in Abraham’s bosom and even preach the gospel to the rebellious on the other side of the great chasm and released those who accepted him.
Yes, we do have opinions from great church leaders. John Calvin made a statement that best describes any debate on this statement being put in the Apostles Creed. Calvin said, “This much is certain: that is reflected the common belief of all the godly; for there is no one of the fathers who does not mention in his writings. It has been derived from the pure word of God.” I agree entirely with this statement and I can’t reason why someone would have a question if this were true.
A statement by another church leader was Martin Luther. In his sermon at Torgau in 1533 Luther said, “graphically describes the descent as a triumphant march of our victorious Savior into the stronghold of the dismayed infernal hosts.” It clearly shows Jesus gained our salvation on the cross and not a battle with Satan in the realm of the dead. I mention this because a new cult has arisen Jesus had to fight Satan and his fellow evil one after his descent.
The Catholic Catechism states in the language of the early Church, this meant that Jesus went into the realm of the dead, from which he called out all the just people who lived before him to enter with him into the glory from Heaven.
The Apostles’ Creed is the one common belief among all Christian churches.
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Andrew, Wow, these verses, especially Eph. 4:7-10 always confused me. I'm sure others have the same confusion I did about these verses, whihc is why I don't understand why it's not discussed more often in church, especially considering the fact that it is in the Apostle's Creed and some churches say it every Sunday. It's a very positive message, too. Thanks for clearing up my confusion. Stephanie Pilecki