The descent of Jesus (part 8)
In the events from cross to resurrection, Jesus opened up the prison of Sheol. Jesus traversed the lost lands of the realm that follows dying. Jesus hazarded this sojourn in order to blaze a road to life in the trackless desert. He plumbed the inky abyss of separation from God in order to shine in the place where once no light could penetrate. Jesus made hell unnecessary and no longer inevitable. Now he is the experienced guide as he takes us into everlasting life. (p. 103)
1. Deliverance from soul-emptiness
each heart is a tomb. Each soul is dead and therefore every person is the very terrain of death. Each person in Adam is bound and captive... In His own person [Christ] enters into two quarters, into the depth of hell, and into a deep gulf of the heart, where the soul with its thoughts is held fast by death, and brings up out of the darksome hole the Adam that lay dead. (p. 105)
|Pentecost by Restout (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)|
2. Deliverance from the loneliness of dying
Having been abandoned on the cross, [Jesus] experienced an aloneness so total that he was a soul without even a microscopic scrap of love. Yes, he still existed... but his every awareness in Sheol spoke not of connection but rejection. He knew the despair of utter failure; the end of this is only aloneness. That, paradoxically, is why our existential loneliness may be assuaged. For now we cannot go where Jesus has not gone. We cannot die more forsaken then he did. We cannot fall into a deeper hell then he experienced. (p. 108)
Because of what Jesus experienced on our behalf in death, hell is overcome -- or, more precisely death (which previously was hell) is no longer, because now love dwells there. Because of Jesus, death's grip on humanity is broken, "Christ has shattered the cell doors of Hades" and, therefore "we don't have to stay in the lonely, personal hell of our sin" (p. 108).
3. Deliverance from the sorrow of life
1. What happens to those who lived before the incarnation?
The doctrine of Christ's descending into Hell and preaching to the dead: that would be outside time and include those who died before He was born as Man. I don't think we know the details: we must just stick to the view that (a) All justice and mercy will be done, (b) But that nevertheless it is our duty to do all we can to convert unbelievers. (p. 114)
2. How does all this impact the mission of the church?
[As followers of Jesus] we are to follow the lines of his great transit of mercy toward the world. That is the only way to experience vibrantly the spiritual ascension of being joined to his rising. Paradoxically, the way up to Jesus now ascended follows the way down to the least and the lost. (p. 116)
Our mission as the church is thus to "descend" with Jesus into the darkness being experienced by people who do not yet know who they truly are in Christ -- people still experiencing a personal "living hell" -- a condition of abject loneliness, emptiness and bondage to sin.
The final word
Let no one fear death, for Death of our SaviorHas set us free.He has destroyed it by enduring it.He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.Isaiah foretold this when he said,"You, O Hell, have been troubledBy encountering Him below."Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with,It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.Hell took a body, and discovered God.It took earth, and encountered Heaven.It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.O Death, where it thy sting?O Hell, where is thy victory?Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated!Christ is Risen, and evil ones are cast down!Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;for Christ having risen from the dead,is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!