I Believe Jesus Descended, Rose & Ascended – Part 1
As most of you know, I’ve been preaching a series of doctrinal messages based on The Apostles’ Creed. In the this creed we discover what our spiritual forefathers believed to be the non-negotiable biblical truths that every Christian must believe if they are to truly to be called a believer.
Now, some of you astute listeners – especially some of you like myself who grew up in a different denomination that regularly repeated the Apostles’ Creed – know that this particular video left out a phrase. That phrase is: He descended into hell, and in most versions of the creed it follows, suffered under Pointius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. Thus the creed, as historically read, says:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.
This morning I want to preach on this middle section of the Creed: Jesus Descended, Jesus Arose, and Jesus Ascended. The text I’ve chosen this morning refers to all three events.
I. JESUS DESCENDED
- the Apostles’ Creed declares that Jesus descended into Hell
- Whoa – now what is this all about?
- for many, if not most of you, this may be something you’ve never heard of before
- this part of the Creed is included because of how the Church Fathers interpreted 1 Peter 3:18-19 and several other passages in both the Old and New Testaments
- they must have thought it significant or they would not have included it in the fundamental doctrines they thought were important for Christians to believe
A. A CONTROVERSIAL STATEMENT
- the very moment we say the words, He descended into hell a host of questions arise:
- what does the phrase mean?
- why is it in the Creed?
- is it biblical?
- do we really believe it?
- He descended into hell is the strangest and most controversial part of the Apostles’ Creed
- some denominations that regularly repeat the Creed each Sunday in their worship have left out the phrase completely – as the video rendition did this morning
- some have rewritten the phrase to read, He descended into Hades
- this is a more literal rendition of the Greek word that the Early Church Fathers used
- Hades translates the Hebrew word Sheol and simply referred to the place of the dead
- in Old Testament thought everyone – good or bad, righteous or unrighteous, believer or unbeliever, Jew or Gentile – went to Sheol where they awaited the final judgement of God
- it was at this final judgement that God would reward the righteous and punish the unrighteous
- some have modified the phrase even further to read, He descended to the grave
- the word Hades is also frequently translated as grave in the Old Testament, an example being the 16th Psalm which is a Messianic Psalm
- "Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay." (Psalm 16:9-10)
- over the centuries four major interpretations of the passage have been advanced by theologians
- I do not intend to bore you with a treatise on those four views
- suffice it to say that we cannot and should not be dogmatic about it’s meaning
B. A COMPLETE DEATH
- let me tell you what I believe is the principle meaning of the phrase He descended into hell
- I believe that the grave is the best of the three renditions of this part of the Apostles’ Creed
- to that end, I believe the phrase means that Jesus’ death was complete to the point of the separation of His body and His spirit just as ours will be when we die
- when you look at the context of the Apostles’ Creed this makes perfect sense
- we believe and confess that Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried
- descending to the habitation of the dead is the logical next step
- Jesus died and returned to His Father in Heaven
- "Jesus said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I go to the one who sent me." (John 7:33)
- some of you may say, “Well, what’s the big deal, doesn’t everyone believe that?”
- um ... have you ever read the DaVinci Code?
- ILLUS. A lot of you – especially our young people – have seen a move called The Princess Bride. There is a scene in the movie where the handsome prince has apparently died. But then he is taken to Mad Max, a local magician who assures his friends that the hero is not really dead. He’s only “mostly dead.” That was good news for the hero because there is a huge difference between “mostly dead” and “totally dead.”
- ILLUS. Nineteen hundred years ago, the church had to deal with false stories and rumors that Jesus did not really die on the cross – that He just fainted away from loss of blood, and in the coolness of the tomb He revived, escaped the tomb, and claimed a resurrection had taken place. That false story has never died which is why the Apostles’ Creed is relevant for us to study.
C. A CONQUERING PROCLAMATION
- the question naturally arises, what happened to Jesus’ spirit between his death at 3:00 pm on Friday and His resurrection shortly after sunrise on Sunday morning?
- I believe three events took place
- First, Jesus ushered the dying thief into Paradise
- "One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)
- virtually everywhere the word Paradise is used in the New Testament, it refers to Heaven
- Paradise is where the righteous dead go after death
- I can’t think of a better word to describe Heaven!
- ILLUS. One commentator, writing on Jesus’ response to the thief says: You will be with Me—Wow, what company! You will be with me today—Wow, what speed! You will be with Me in Paradise—Wow, what happiness!
- "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." (John 14:1-3)
- we do not know very much about this place, but we know that provision is being made for every child of God
- it will be a prepared place for a prepared people!
- Christ prepares the place in heaven for His own, and the Holy Spirit prepares the redeemed on earth for their place in heaven
- how did Jesus prepare Heaven for the saved?
- by taking His rightful place of authority next to God the Father
- "At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. “If you are the Christ,” they said, “tell us.” Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.” (Luke 22:66-69)
- "And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:8-11)
- "You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.” In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him." (Hebrews 2:7-8)
- “ ... He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built ... “ (1 Peter 3:18-22)
- at some pont between His death and His resurrection, Jesus goes to Hell
- He does not go there to suffer for sin since that’s what the Cross was all about
- He goes to Hell to proclaim His victory to the enemy by announcing His triumph over sin, hell, death, demons, and Satan
- the word spirits in this passage is used in every instance but one to refer to evil spirits
- these spirits are in prison for their disobedience to God
- ever since the fall of Satan and his demons, there has been an ongoing cosmic conflict between the angelic forces of good and evil
- after the devil’s apparent victory in inducing Adam and Eve to fall into sin God promised Satan eventual destruction by Messiah, who would triumph with a crushing victory over him
- ever since, Satan has sought to prevent this defeat through a number of measures
- First, he sought to prevent this by the genocide of the Jews
- this is the story in the Book of Esther
- next, he sought the destruction of the Messianic line by destroying the lineage of King David
- this is the story of Joash in 2 Chronicles, chapter 22
- when all that failed, he attempted to kill the infant Messiah (Matt. 2:16-18)
- thwarted at that, he tried to tempt Christ Himself to abandon His mission (Matt. 4:1-11)
- in the end, Satan incited the Jewish leaders and their followers to mob action that resulted in the Lord’s crucifixion (Mark 15:6?15)
- the demons may have been celebrating their seeming victory in the wake of Christ’s death and burial, but only too soon be profoundly and permanently disappointed when the living Christ Himself arrived
- ILLUS. W.A. Criswell, that great Baptist preacher and long-time pastor of the 1st Baptist Church of Dallas, said this: When they nailed his feet to the tree, and when they nailed his hads to the wood, and when he entered into the dark gloom of the grave, there did he trample down forever the kingdom of death. And when he arose triumphant from it, he carried death as a captive chained to his chariot wheels.
II. LESSONS FROM ‘HE DESCENDED INTO HELL’
A. DEATH IN INEVITABLE
- we are living in an era where medical science is advancing by such leaps and bounds that the average physician is hard pressed to keep up with the technology
- today, it seems that much of the human body can either be replaced, repaired, regenerated, or transplanted
- most of our joints can now be replaced or rebuilt with steel and plastic
- laboratories can now take a few cells of skin from a burn patient, place them in a special nutrient solution and laterally grow, in a few short days, large patches of skin that can them be grafted back onto the patient
- some of you here this morning see clearly through the corneas of others
- limbs can be reattached
- hearts, lungs, kidneys, and livers can all be replaced
- yet, with all our advances, man is powerless to prevent that which fills his heart with dread
- we can repair the body
- we can prolong life
- but no matter how hard we try, we cannot cheat death and we cannot prolong it forever
- James 4:14 “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” NIV
- it comes for the righteous and the wicked
- it comes for the good and the bad
- it comes for the spiritually clean and the spiritually unclean
- it comes for those who offer sacrifices to God and for those who do not
- it comes for those of advanced years and it sometimes comes for the young
- but even though our bodies will die, that does not mean that our spirits die
- they live on
- God created men to be immortal and His greatest desire is that you spend eternity with Him in His Heaven
B. HELL IS REAL
- ILLUS. Years ago a the rock band Blood, Sweat and Tears sang a song entitled: “And When I Die.” The lyrics of that song define where a lot of people in our culture are in regard to spiritual realities. In the second stanza they sing:
Now troubles are many
deep as a well
I can swear there ain't no Heaven
but I pray there ain't no hell
Swear there ain't no Heaven
and I'll pray there ain't no hell
but I'll never know by livin'
only my dyin' will tell, yes only my
dyin' will tell, oh yeah,
Only my dyin' will tell
- the trouble with that philosophy is that after ‘your dyin’ there’s no opportunity to repent and believe after you find out that Heaven is real
- hell is a real place where real sinners go who don’t have a real relationship with Jesus
C. JESUS TRIUMPHED OVER BOTH BY THE CROSS TO GIVE US ETERNAL LIFE
- let me come back to a portion of our passage in 1 Peter 3: – it’s the first half of vs. 18
- "For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God ... “ (1 Peter 3:18a)
- the Apostle Paul, in writing to the believers at Corinth said ...
- "Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures," (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
- the cross is there in the shadows of the Old Testament
- it explodes to the fore in the New Testament, dominating the landscape of the Gospel narratives
- and from the very first sermon preached by Peter on the Day of Pentecost it has become the hallmark of authentic church ministry
- in an age when crucifixion was still commonplace, and the very shape of the cross was enough to send a chill down anyone’s spine, the church opted, not for a dove, or a fish, or an image of the empty tomb; the for the cross to be its corporate logo
- for the Jews, who were so familiar with their sacrificial system, this was a new idea
- to atone for sin, they had slaughtered millions of animals over the centuries
- during the annual Passover celebration, as many as a quarter million sheep would be sacrificed
- but Jesus’ one sacrificial death ended the insufficient parade of animals to the altar
- His death fully satisfied God’s righteous judgment against repentant sinners
It’s a controversial part of the Creed, yet when understood teaches us some important truths about spiritual realities. "having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." (Colossians 2:12-15)