Jim Denison on Did Jesus ‘Descend Into Hell’?

“Descent to Hell” by Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255–1319), between 1308 and 1311. | Public Domain

On a trip to England, I attended an Evensong service at Christ Church, Oxford. The worship was deeply moving, and the liturgy was beautiful.

At one point we recited the Apostles’ Creed, which says that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell: the third day he rose again from the dead.”

Why does the Creed state that Jesus “descended into hell”?

Why does the issue matter?

Dealing with a tough text 

Our conversation centers on the following sentences from 1 Peter, among the most difficult to interpret in all of Scripture: “It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. 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 3:17-20).

What does Peter mean by what he says?

How does his paragraph apply to us today?

A clear example

Our text begins: “It is better, if it is God’s will to suffer for doing good than for doing evil” (v. 17).

We’re going to suffer for something–why not make it something worthwhile?

The receiver in football is going to get hit, so he may as well catch the ball. Jesus was realistic: “In this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). The word for “tribulation” means a weight that crushes the grain into flour or meal. This is the way of our fallen world.

Successful people choose their problems. Why not choose to suffer for Jesus, if you’re going to suffer anyway? He alone can reward your suffering eternally, and make your faith worth whatever it cost you.

“If it is God’s will” is an “optative of the fourth class” in Greek, showing that it is not always the will of God that we follow him at the cost of suffering. But when it is, we are to do so.

Now Peter constructs an example of such faithful sacrifice: “Because indeed Christ died once concerning sins, a righteous man on behalf of unrighteous ones, in order that he might bring you to God” (v. 18a, my literal translation from the Greek).

No leader should ask us to go where he or she has not been. Jesus has suffered more for us than we will ever suffer for him. We are each “unrighteous,” deserving punishment for our own sins. He was “righteous,” his suffering innocent in the extreme.

But his death was not final: “being put to death on one hand in the flesh, brought to life on the other in the Spirit” (v. 18b, my translation).

He died in the body, but was raised again by the Spirit of God–the same Spirit who indwells us and will one day raise us to victory in paradise. Paul agreed: “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (Romans 8:11).

Now things get tricky.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Jim Denison