The Apostles Creed
The Apostles Creed is one of the first early Christian creeds and contains and interesting and important line of theology: he descended into hell.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s 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; he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to
judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic and apostolic Church, the
communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
Definition of terms
Before we begin though, let’s define our terms clearly because as I discussed in an earlier article: (a hellish confusion) the biblical words Sheol, Hades and Gehenna are all confusingly translated Hell in some translations!
In this article, when we speak of Hell we are speaking of the temporary abode of the dead – in other words Hades/Sheol.
What do we know?
What do we know about Hell? The scriptures confirm the Apostles Creed, in that they tell us that when Jesus died – He descended into Hell. This seems to be a subterranean region in the centre of the earth?
Acts 2:31 “He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.”
Ephesians 4:9 “Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?”
Victory over death
Therefore, the victory of Christ’s resurrection is a victory over death and Hell. Jesus won the battle and now possess the keys to the prison! He now has complete access to every prison cell!
Revelation 1:18 “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.”
Therefore, He is not only the Lord (master) of the living – but of the dead also!
Romans 14:9 “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.”
1 Corinthians 15:5 “O death, where is thy sting? O grave (Hades/Hell), where is thy victory?”
Hell is not forever
One day then, Hell will cease to exist because it will be emptied completely.
Revelation 20:13 “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.”
Indeed, even at His resurrection and prison break He even seems to have let a few people out early!
Matthew 27:52 “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.”
What did Jesus do in Hell?
Consequently, Jesus not only broke in, he plundered Hell on his exit! So, even though he was there only for a short while, He spent his time preaching to the dead (which proves that the dead are aware!) Specifically, he preached those who rebelled and were destroyed in the flood of Noah.
This is a mind boggling concept. I mean, how would you like to go and preach to the dead in Hell for three days – a pretty tough assignment I would imagine – they probably don’t get many visiting speakers!
1 Peter 3:19 “By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.”
1 Peter 4:6 “For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.”
Of course, some commentators would say: that in 1 Peter 3:19 the word preach: ‘karusso’, is used in the sense of proclaiming or boasting. However, if you look at how the word is used elsewhere – that argument is very weak:
Matthew 4:17 “From that time Jesus began to preach (karusso) and to say, repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
In 1 Peter 4:6 the argument for preach in the normal sense is even stronger as the word used is the one we know as evangelise. It clearly says that he preached or evangelised the dead so that they might live according to the spirit – surely suggesting that even perhaps in the lowest depths of Hell, God’s mercy and grace reach out? Maybe God did give them a chance to repent?
Psalm 139:8 “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.”
Another of the lower regions or compartments of Hell is called Tartarus. This is the prison of some of the fallen angels or ‘hells angels’ awaiting their punishment:
2 Peter 2:4 “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell (Tartarus), and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;”
Jude 1:6 “And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.
Hell is not just a prison though. No, indeed it has a first class accommodation block called paradise (a garden) or Abraham’s bosom: the Jews believed that this is where the pious and God-fearing were kept. Indeed, this is the destination that Jesus promised the penitent thief on the cross:
Luke 23:41 “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
It was also the place of comfort that Lazarus is carried to by the angels in Luke 16 after death.
Luke 16:22 “And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;”
Similarly, the rich man of the story ends up in Hell but apparently in the basement somewhere! Unfortunately, there is no air conditioning and the temperature is over a 100 degrees!
Luke 16:23 “And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.”
Of course, the man doesn’t seem to be repentant at all, he just seems interested in lessening his pain. Thus, he doesn’t seem to have learnt anything in the time he has spent there so far; I mean he seems to think Lazarus should be commanded to help him when in his life-time he never even lifted a finger to help Lazarus!
A second chance?
What if, in this life, unregenerate men and women build the kind of holding cell that they will spend their time in after death till judgement day? Does this mean they are beyond God’s mercy and grace?
As we have seen, Jesus preached the Gospel to those in Hell but there are a few other hints that of God’s mercy:
Jonah 2:2 “And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.”
Psalm 86:13 “For great is thy mercy toward me: and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell.”
Hope for the broken
I hope so, because what about the millions of people that never heard the Gospel before and after the birth of Christ and died in their sins? What about those whose lives are a living hell right now, the abused and the suffering and victims of genocide?
We do know two things about God: He is a righteous judge; he is absolutely fair.
Hebrews 9:27 “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:”
Everything he does is redemptive and flows out of his love:
Romans 2:4 “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
Anyway, in conclusion, please note that these thoughts are not intended to be a definitive statement on the subject – so don’t burn me at the stake as a heretic! I welcome your comments and thoughts.
Lecture on hell – Edward Fudge (Video)
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