Thursday, March 25, 2010

Jesus' Descent into Hell

My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about Jesus' descending into hell:

Q: In church, I heard it said in the Apostles’ Creed that Jesus “descended into hell.” Is this true, and if so, why did Jesus go to hell?

In describing Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Apostles’ Creed says that Jesus, “was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead.”

The statement that Jesus “descended into hell” is based on the Apostle Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3:18-20. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey.” (1 Peter 3:18-20 ESV)

Ancient documents like the Creeds have been handed down to us from other languages, such as Latin, Hebrew, and Greek. The English word “hell” in this sentence of the Creed can be a bit confusing, because it can be used in reference to several different words from these ancient languages. Typically, when English speakers hear this word, we think of the fiery pit described in the book of Revelation where Satan and the demons are destined to be punished for eternity. In this case, “hell” is used as a translation of the Latin word inferna, which literally means “the lower world,” and in the verses mentioned earlier, Peter uses the phrase “in prison” to describe the location of the spirits to whom Jesus proclaimed His message. The place to which Peter and the Creed refer is not the fiery pit spoken of in Revelation, but the place where condemned souls go to await the eternal punishment they will receive on judgment day.

Because the Bible’s coverage of Jesus descending into hell is not extremely broad, there remains a certain layer of mystery surrounding this topic. However, based on other teachings from the Bible, we can draw several conclusions about Jesus descending into hell.

First, Jesus did not spend the entire time between His death and resurrection in hell. As He was being crucified, Jesus told the thief who was being crucified next to Him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23:43 ESV) According to Jesus words, His spirit, along with that of the thief, were in paradise, not hell following their deaths.

Second, Jesus did not descend into hell to be punished. As Jesus was dying, He declared “It is finished,” indicating that at the moment of His death, the penalty for sin had been fully paid, and required no more suffering on His part. When Jesus was abandoned by God the Father on the cross and died, He had already completely suffered the punishment for the world’s sin. Additionally, in speaking about evil forces, Paul says that Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them. (Col. 2:15 ESV)

Third, in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16), Jesus teaches that after death, souls are irreversibly divided into two places, one for the saved, and one for the condemned. The place to which Jesus descended was a place where condemned souls resided and not the saved. We know this because peter refers to them as being “in prison,” and later says that they are there because “they did not obey.”

Lastly, Jesus did not go and preach to the spirits “in prison” in order to give them a second chance at salvation. At death, a person’s eternal status is permanently decided based on whether they trusted Jesus to save them. This is clearly explained in Jesus teaching in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, as well as the statement in the book of Hebrews that, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27 ESV)

Based on these things, we can conclude that Jesus died Friday afternoon, and His spirit was in paradise with God the Father. His body was buried, and on Sunday morning, He was raised to life, at which time He preached to the spirits in prison and then was seen alive by His disciples.

The purpose for which Jesus descended into hell was not to be punished or to give condemned souls a second chance, but instead to proclaim His victory. Like an ancient king would travel through conquered territory to proclaim His victory to His new subjects or a driver takes a victory lap after a race, Jesus descends into hell to proclaim His victory by the cross over Satan, sin, and death.

Readers may submit questions to or to P.O. Box 195; Burt, IA 50522.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Killing and Murder

My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about murder:

Q:  What is meant by “You shall not kill.” in the fifth commandment?  Is there ever a time when it is acceptable to kill?

This commandment from Exodus 20:13 is sometimes translated as “You shall not kill,” most notably by the King James Version and the New American Bible.  Although it is more commonly translated as “You shall not Murder.”  The difference between killing in general and the more specific act of murder is that murder is a killing that is unlawful. 

In order for a killing to be considered murder in the biblical sense, there are three requirements:  First, the killing must be intentional; second, it must be a human that is killed; and third, the killing must be unlawful or unjust. 

For example, if the fifth commandment forbade all killing, Christians and Jews would be required to live life as vegetarians.  If taken to its extreme, a prohibition against killing in general would ultimately forbid Christians from farming, driving, and many other everyday activities which have the potential to cause the death of one creature or another. 

When we look to the rest of the Bible, we see that God gave permission to Noah that he could kill animals in order to eat them.  Elsewhere, we see God specifying that certain animals are to be sacrificed as part of the Old Testament law.  In the Old Testament law, the killing of an animal that belongs to another person is forbidden, but it is treated as a property crime rather than a murder. 

There are a limited number of situations in which the Bible considers even the killing of another human not to be a sin.  The first of these is the case of capital punishment.  In several portions of the Old Testament law, God specifically commands that the leaders of Israel put people to death for certain crimes, such as murder or treason.  We still see this law in use today by our federal government and by many states of our nation. 

The second of these cases is that of a true accident, where the murder did not occur intentionally, but was the result of a mistake on the part of the killer and was not intended to cause death.  This is also reflected in our modern laws where the accidental nature of a killing can reduce or eliminate punishment for the killer.

The third case is that of self-defense.  The Bible never condemns a person for killing another as a result of defending himself or his family from a robber, intruder, or another who is seeking to harm them. 

The last circumstance in which killing is not considered murder by the Bible is the case of a soldier killing in war.  On numerous occasions in the Old Testament, God commands the army of Israel to kill the enemy who is attacking them. 

St. Augustine and Martin Luther both wrote at length concerning the righteousness or unrighteousness of a Christian serving as a soldier and taking part in killing as part of that vocation.  The general consensus arrived at was that it is acceptable for a government to make war for the purpose of defending the people of their nation and that it is even a noble vocation for a Christian to serve as a soldier for the purpose of defending his neighbors, even though that may involve killing soldiers of the enemy army. 

Under these limited circumstances, a killing would not be considered murder from a moral perspective, but otherwise, the Bible considers all instances of one human directly causing the death of another to be murder.  In fact, the Bible even considered the person who desires to murder another person to be guilty of murder in God’s eyes.  (1 John 3:15)