He descended into hell. We recite these words in the Apostles Creed. But, what do they mean? When did Christ descend into hell? Why did he do it? What does it mean for us?
Three days after Christ “was crucified, died and was buried,” he “rose again from the dead” (The Apostles’ Creed). Scripture provides little commentary about Jesus’ being between his burial and resurrection. His lifeless body lay in the grave. However, he earlier prophesied that he would use his “authority to take [his life] up again” (John 10:18). Doing this, he “rose again from the dead” and “he descended into hell.”
It is perhaps Peter who provides the most information on Christ’s descent. He writes, “After being made alive, [Christ] went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits – to those who were disobedient long ago” (1 Peter 3:19-20). Jesus clearly testified to those in hell who earlier heard his message and rejected it. He preached judgment, not repentance and forgiveness. There was no second opportunity. Christ showed himself alive to those lost souls so they would know and understand that their judgment was just and right.
Christ’s descent into hell has great meaning for us. It begins his exaltation. He defeated sin, death, and Satan. His descent into hell is a victory parade in front of those who denied him. This act helps us know and trust that our Victor-Savior has “authority to take [his life] up again” and will one day raise our glorified bodies to live with him forever in heaven.
“He descended into hell.” These words express an important truth of the Christian faith. They point to the risen Christ.
God bless your victorious Easter celebration!
Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again! (CW 406)
Jim Grasby is principal of Lakeside Lutheran High.
Reach him at 920.648.2321 or firstname.lastname@example.org