Saturday, April 7, 2012

BIG SATURDAY QUESTION: "But, where was Jesus?"

The question comes most naturally after considering what everyone else was doing on Saturday between crucifixion and resurrection.  We know His body was in the tomb, but where was His spirit?

Many versions of the Apostles' Creed say "He descended into Hell."  This is not in the earliest forms of the Creed, and reflects a later understanding.  Some point to 1 Peter 3:19 as saying Christ went to the spirits in prison (Hell) and preached to them.  But the previous verse refers to His spirit preaching, and verse 20 says it was once in the days of Noah.  Thus it is better to take this as a reference to Christ speaking through Noah's preaching back then to spirits now in prison, who died in the Flood.  Technically, Hell is no person's destination until death and Hades are cast into the lake of Fire in Revelation 20.  Hades, a place of torment while souls are awaiting judgment, is the destination of those who die under the condemnation of their sins.

It would also be wrong to say that Jesus completed His suffering by going to Hell, for he suffered the pains of Hell on the cross, and then announced "It is finished."  He then commended His spirit into the Father's keeping, which would not be Hell.

Actually Jesus told us where He would be.  He told the thief on the cross who believed, "Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43).  Paradise, also called Abraham's bosom (Luke 16:22), corresponds to Hades in that it was a temporary place, but a place of rest and refreshment awaiting final redemption and renewal.  Most Christians teach that all who were in Paradise have been led by Jesus into the Father's presence to await with Him the final resurrection.

So, we don't use the phrase "He descended into Hell" when we recite the Apostles' Creed; instead, we follow the most ancient versions that leave it out.  And we don't have to wonder if Jesus went to Hell after the cross.  He experienced Hell on the cross so we would not have to, and then went to join the righteous dead in Paradise.