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We’re so glad you found our website. Whether you’re visiting us from another part of the world, or from right here in the Huntersville, North Carolina area — welcome!

Pastor Paul's Blog

In Between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection: "He descended into hell"

In Between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection:

“He descended into hell”

 

As we continue this summer’s sermon series on the Apostles’ Creed, we come to the part of the statement of faith that lies at the core of our faith.  This Sunday we will consider the words of the creed that say, “he was crucified, dead and buried.  The third day he rose from the dead. . .”

 

Nothing is more at the heart of followers of Jesus than to contemplate Jesus on the cross, and then to celebrate his being raised from the dead so that we might be raised to new life with him.

 

However, there is a part of the Apostles’ Creed that is not used in most recitations of the statement in our church today, but has long been a part of the historic confession.  It is Jesus “descended to the dead”, or other translations say “he descended into hell”.  In our United Methodist Hymnal, we have two versions of the creed, one that omits the phrase and one that includes it.  This Sunday, as part of the sermon on the death and resurrection of Jesus, I’d like to also address this statement and how it might shape our understanding of God’s work in Jesus.

 

There are two scriptural references that spark this phrase, “he descended to the dead”, to be included in the creed.  The first is from Ephesians 4:7-10 (NRSV),

 

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.”(When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended[a]into the lower parts of the earth?10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)

 

Here is a reference we believe to a reality in between the crucifixion and the resurrection, Jesus entered into the abode of the dead and/or “descended into hell”.  Another passage that seems to echo this belief is from I Peter 3:18-20 (NRSV),

 

18 For Christ also suffered[d] for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you[e] to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.”

 

This Sunday we will try to connect our creedal statements together and grapple with the meaning for us today as we confess the death and resurrection of Jesus with what happened in the period in between.  I invite you to come and decide for yourself.  Did Jesus’s death and resurrection mean salvation even for those who had died before he was born, without knowledge of God’s work in him?  Come Sunday and bring an open mind to think about what it is you really believe as you say the Apostles’ Creed.