By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)
Quotation For Contemplation
“”Wherefore the Lord preached the Gospel to those in Hades, as well as to all in earth, in order that all might believe and be saved, wherever they were. If. then, the Lord descended to Hades for no other end but to preach the Gospel, as He did descend, it was either to preach the Gospel to all, or to the Hebrews only. If accordingly to all, then all who believe shall be saved, although they may be of the Gentiles, on making their profession there; since God’s punishments are saving and disciplinary, leading to conversion, and choosing rather the repentance than the death of a sinner; and especially since souls, although darkened by passions, when released from their bodies are able to perceive more clearly, when no longer obstructed by the paltry flesh.”. (Clement Of Alexandria)
In our last lesson, we learned the following in our study of Ephesians 4:8-10:
While In Sheol, Jesus’ work definitely involved proclaiming His victory over Satan and taking the power of death from him.
His mission to Hades involved preaching to saved humanity (in proclaiming that one Day-at the Second Coming-they would be granted full access to Heaven as a result of what He had accomplished at Calvary).
It also involved preaching to the dammed (both unsaved humans and fallen angels-especially the fallen angels who were bound in Tartarus as a result of their sins recorded in Genesis 6:1-4).
Jesus may have extended the news that one day, forgiveness may be granted to the repentant (although this is unclear, as is whether or not they would actually repent if given the chance).
The work of Christ in His Descent culminated in His Ascension.
At that time, His forces were able (by virtue of what He accomplished at Calvary) to force the powers of darkness out of the heavenly realm.
By His Ascent into Heaven (following His victory at Calvary and Descent into Hades), Jesus was able to destroy the devil (i.e., render him powerless).
In our final study of Ephesians 4:8-10, we will carefully examine two more very important questions regarding the Descent of Christ Into Sheol.
QUESTION ELEVEN: WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN THE TEXT SAYS THAT “HE MIGHT FILL ALL THINGS?”
ANSWER: THE LANGUAGE OF CHRIST FILLING ALL THINGS REFERS TO THE ETERNAL PURPOSE OF GOD IN RECONCILING ALL THINGS BACK TO A RIGHT RELATIONSHIP WITH THE GODHEAD.
The subject of Christ “filling” is a prominent theme in the Book of Ephesians. Notice several examples:
Ephesians 1:10-that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.
Ephesians 1:23-which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
Ephesians 3:19-to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 4:10-He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)
Ephesians 4:13-till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;
Ephesians 5:18-And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit,
All of these passages speak of the “fullness” of different things (time, the indwelling of the church, etc.).
What do these things mean?
It is very interesting to notice that Paul is continually referencing the Old Testament Scriptures throughout the Book of Ephesians.
With that background in mind, Arnold provides the following insights:
“It is more likely in this context, however, that the term expresses “fullness” in the sense of “that which is full of something.” 63 Ancient writers frequently used the word in this sense, such as in describing a manned and loaded ship. 64 Paul’s other uses of this term appear to denote a passive sense—a filled receptacle versus a filling substance or entity. This is clear in his statements about (lit.) “the fullness of time” (Gal 4: 4; Eph 1: 10), where a complement interpretation simply would not fit the context. More decisive is the OT background of fullness language that Paul appears to be drawing from….Paul has drawn on the manner in which OT writers expressed the divine presence and manifestation of God in the temple. 65 As such, the term is coextensive with the concept of God’s glory filling the temple, that is, the essence, power, and presence of God. Although the precise noun of this context () never appears in the LXX in this sense related to God, the cognate verb ( or ) and adjective () frequently appear with this idea. Note the following translated LXX passages: “When Solomon finished praying … the glory of the LORD filled () the temple” (2 Chr 7: 1). The prophet Ezekiel exclaims, “Behold, the temple of the LORD is full () of his glory” (Ezek 44: 4). “Behold, the temple of the LORD was full () of his glory” (Ezek 43: 5). In his vision of the throne, Uzziah relates, “I saw the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up and the temple was full () of his glory” (Isa 6: 1). The language of “filling” and “fullness” is appropriate to the new covenant temple, which is a holy habitation for God and a place he now dwells by his Spirit (see 2: 20—22). Paul can then urge the readers of this letter to “be filled () with the Spirit” (5: 18). As the place that God now fills with his Holy Spirit, the church can then be viewed as a “filled receptacle,” that is, the “fullness” (). This term, then, becomes coextensive with the presence of God and may even be seen as a “striking paraphrase for the Holy Spirit.” 66 This understanding is consistent with the testimony of the gospels. Jesus spoke of his body as the temple of God (John 2: 19), and at his baptism the Spirit came upon him in the form of a dove (Luke 3: 22). Jesus told his disciples that the temple of his body would be destroyed, but that he would build another in three days (Mark 14: 58). The resurrected Christ, who has incorporated all believers into his body and has indwelled them by His Spirit, now forms the new temple. (3) “Totally” or “all things in all places”? The interpretation of the phrase (). Interpreters who take the participle () as passive are bound to take the final phrase adverbially, “totally” or “completely,” since there would be no grammatical need for a direct object. In this case, Jesus is the one who is being filled, not the world or the church. If we are correct, however, in interpreting the participle as active and the noun as passive (“ fullness”), the accusative expression “all things” then serves as the direct object of the filling, i.e., Jesus fills all things. Based on the use of “all things” () in both clauses of the previous verse (1: 22), the reference is universal in scope, encompassing both heaven and earth. The overall sense of the clause is then that the church is filled by Christ and is thus the “fullness” of Christ; as head of Spirit-filled church, Christ is engaging in a mission “to fill all things, things on earth and things in heaven.” How the church participates in this is twofold: (1) one of the crucial ways the church fills the earth is through the proclamation of the gospel67 and manifesting the kingdom of God; (2) the church also fills “heaven” (the spiritual realm) through the prophetic message its very existence imparts to the angelic powers (3: 10). In essence, by manifesting the power of God in bringing redemption and deliverance to people, the church extends the reign of Christ. The news of this effective redemptive mission fills the heavens as both good and evil angels observe the events unfolding on earth. This ties in well with the apocalyptic vision of Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel, which has come to partial fulfillment in the Lord Jesus Christ. After the rock hewn out of stone strikes the statue representing the empires of the world, the rock itself (representing the kingdom of God) “became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth” ( Theod. Dan 2: 35 Th). The prophet Habakkuk views the eschatological time of fulfillment as an era in which “the earth will be filled () with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2: 14; see also 3: 3). Paul’s thoughts are also very much in line with the psalmist who prays, “Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory” ( Ps 72: 19 [71: 19 LXX]). The present tense of the participle may be progressive, indicating that Christ’s activity in filling the world through the church is a dynamic process that is ongoing. This will continue until the final day when God brings “all things” under the headship of Jesus Christ (1: 10).” (Clinton E. Arnold, Ephesians: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary On The New Testament, 2835-2882 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)
Therefore, the idea of “filling” throughout the Book of Ephesians seems to deal primarily with the desire of God for His church to be in fullness of relationship with Him.
Specifically in the Old Testament, God expressed in these contexts of filling the Temple His desire to dwell with His people:
Exodus 25:8-And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.
Exodus 29:45-I will dwell among the children of Israel and will be their God.
Leviticus 25:12-I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people.
Psalm 68:18-You have ascended on high, You have led captivity captive; You have received gifts among men, Even from the rebellious, That the LORD God might dwell there.
Ezekiel 37:26-28-26 Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore.
27 My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
28 The nations also will know that I, the LORD, sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.” ‘ ”
Ezekiel 43:7-And He said to me, “Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever. No more shall the house of Israel defile My holy name, they nor their kings, by their harlotry or with the carcasses of their kings on their high places.
Ezekiel 43:9-Now let them put their harlotry and the carcasses of their kings far away from Me, and I will dwell in their midst forever.
Zechariah 2:10-“Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,” says the LORD.
2 Corinthians 6:16-And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM. I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.”
In all of these passages, God expresses His desire to dwell with His people.
In the contexts described above, He dwells with them by “filling” the object under consideration (the Tabernacle, the Temple, and finally, His church).
All of these “fillings” express the ideas of fellowship and reconciliation with God.
Does this mean that God created because of a lack of fellowship that He already enjoyed, as if He needed humanity?
Of course not.
God needs nothing from mankind (Psalm 50:10-12; Acts 17:25). He already enjoys full fellowship and joy within the Trinity (John 17:4, 24). Creation itself is the result of grace (Psalm 136).
How The Trinity Helps Us Understand The Purpose Of Creation
“God’s first gracious act toward humanity was not the Exodus nor the Cross, it was Creation. When God created, he acted freely and without compulsion. Humanity did not deserve to be created. It had no inherent right to exist. Neither was God compelled by some inner necessity. Creation was an an act of unmerited love which arose freely out of his will (Revelation 4:110…But this still seems to leave us questioning. If God created out of his love, what does this mean? How are we to understand this divine act? Was his love some kind of compulsion that forced him to create? Was it deficient until he created us? Why did God create the cosmos, or more specifically, why did he create us? This question has often perplexed theologians as well as children who begin to wonder about it in their first Bible classes. It is tempting to answer. that there was something lacking in God, that God had some need to fulfill or some inner desire to satisfy. But then God’s act of creation would not be generous, but self-interested. God created, according to this scenario, because God was selfish or ego-centered, or somehow deficient in his own being. An inner necessity compelled God to supply something lacking in his own life. That would be tantamount to saying that God created us because he was incomplete. God then, would have created out of necessity rather than grace. We would exist because God needs us. this puts God in our debt instead of we in his…If we are to grasp why God created, we must understand what he created, and how this is reflected in God’s other gracious acts in history (such as the creation of Israel and the church). What did God create? He created a community-a male and a female who would fill the earth with their descendants, and consequently fill the earth with God’s glory (Genesis 1:28; 9:1). When God created Israel, he chose Abraham and Sarah whose descendants would be a people which would glorify God among the nations. When God created the church, he chose Christ who would be the author of salvation for the brothers and sisters he would bring to glory (Hebrews 2:10). God has always intended a people for himself. Whether in the original act of creation or in the redemptive act of recreation, God gathers a people for himself. God intends to share his love with a community…But why does God seek a communion of love with a people of his own creation? is God a solitary figure whose loneliness drives him to create in order to have fellowship with others? Does God need company?…While the doctrine of “Trinity” (however that would may be defined) seems remote, speculative, and cumbersome to some, it is helpful in understanding God’s purpose in creating the cosmos. It does not take an astute theologian to recognize the impact that Trinitarian theology can have in one’s understanding of God’s creative act. Indeed, Scripture reveals that creation itself was a triune act. God the Father is the fountainhead of creation; he is the source of origin of everything that exists. Everything in the universe originated with him; it was “out of” or “from” him (Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 8:5). Yet the Son is the instrument of creation. He is the means by which the Father created John 1:1-3; 1 Corinthians 8:6). The Father created nothing without the agency of the Son. The Spirit, as the breath of life, is God’s dynamic presence which gives and energizes life in the world (Job 26:13; 33:4; Psalm 33:6; 104:30). The Spirit was present at creation, and was the power by which life invaded what was lifeless (Genesis 1;2; 2:7)…The doctrine of the Trinity teaches that the divine reality is a community of loving fellowship between the Father, Son, and Spirit. It is a community of holy love which existed before the cosmos did. jesus prayed that his disciples might see the glory that the Father had given him, and the Father gave him this glory because he loved him “before the foundation of the world” (literally, before the foundation of cosmos; John 17:24). This text provides a glimpse into the common life of the Father and Son before the act of creation. Before the cosmos existed, there existed a community of love (agape) which the Father and the Son shared…The intent of redemption is to bring the fallen world into the orbit of God’s agape fellowship where, just as the Father dwells in the Son and the Son in the Father, God’s people may dwell in them and they in God (John 17:21). God intends for us to share the fellowship of the Father and the Son (1 John 1:3)…God did not create this fellowship out of loneliness…God did not create. because he needed fellowship since he already enjoyed fellowship through the triune communion of the Father, Son, and Spirit. This fellowship was not created by God as though at some point in time God became a fellowship;. Rater, it is who God is. God is a community of love because God is love. God is agape (John 4:8). Consequently, God did not need to turn to anything outside of himself in order to experience loving community. this was present through the mutual indwelling of God’s triune fellowship.” (John Mark Hicks, Yet Will I Trust Him: understanding God In A Suffering World, 53-57; Joplin, MO; College Press Publishing Company).
“For Young’s Papa, if God were alone and solitary from eternity, then being other-centered would be out of the question, for there would be no other to be centered upon. Relationship itself and fellowship, even being open, personal, and approachable, would be quite foreign to the very nature of such a solitary God. “Love,” C. S. Lewis says, “is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love.” 2 According to Saint Victor, “No one is properly said to have charity on the basis of his own private love of himself. And so it is necessary for love to be directed toward another for it to be charity. Therefore, where a plurality of persons is lacking, charity cannot exist.” 3 Young, Lewis, and Saint Victor raise a great issue. If there is no relationship within God’s eternal being, then there is no real basis in God’s nature for caring about something other than himself, no basis for altruistic devotion to others or for loving a thing for its own sake. The love of a single-personed God would be inherently self-centered, narcissistic, and ultimately about God, not others. A solitary God could love others for their benefit only by shutting off, as it were, the fountain of his deeper and true nature. That would mean Papa would have only been pretending when she embraced Mackenzie on the porch. Hiding her real nature—self-interest, or private love—she put on the mask of acceptance, all the while waiting to see if her desires would be fulfilled. Her embrace (in this scenario) would be not for Mack’s sake, but ultimately for her own, and thus would have been conditional upon a proper response at some point. This, it seems to me, is a huge point. Are we loved for what we can potentially bring to God’s table, or are we loved for our own sake? Does the love of the Father, Son, and Spirit come with strings attached? Is our existence about relationship, or is it about performance? Is the universe the product of divine self-interest, or need, or perhaps boredom? Are we here to do something for God, for God’s benefit? “What’s important is this: If I were simply One God and only One Person, then you would find yourself in this Creation without something wonderful, without something essential even. And I would be utterly other than I am.” “And we would be without…?” Mack didn’t even know how to finish the question. “Love and relationship.” (103) If God is alone and solitary, then in one way or another we were created for God’s benefit, not ours. 4 But given that God is Father, Son, and Spirit, and given that relationship and love form the core of the trinitarian being, then we were “created to be loved” (99), and to live loved, and to love others without agenda (181f.). As Lewis says, “God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them.” 5”. (C. Baxter Kruger, Ph.D., The Shack Revisited: There Is More Going On Here Than you Ever Dared To Dream, 117-119 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN; FaithWords)
Thus, by His time on Earth, death at Calvary, Descent to Sheol and Ascension into Heaven, Jesus is bringing to fruition the eternal purpose of God: the reconciliation of all things (in Heaven and on Earth) to God.
QUESTION TWELVE: HOW DID THE EARLY CHRISTIANS UNDERSTAND THIS PASSAGE OF SCRIPTURE IN REGARDS TO THE DESCENT OD CHRIST INTO HADES?
ANSWER: THEY GENERALLY BELIEVED THAT WHEN JESUS DIED HE WENT IN SPIRIT TO SHEOL AND PREACHED TO ANGELKIND AND HUMANKIND.
It is often wise to consider the opinions of others.
I would like to share some quotations with you from the writings of the early church fathers.
These are not cited as authoritative or inspired, but merely as historical commentary on how these disciples understood the teachings of the New Testament.
Church historian David Bercot provides excellent reasons why such studies are valuable to our investigation of the Word of God:
“Let’s review the things we can learn from the early Christians: 1. That the information is (in, M.T.) commentaries and Bible dictionaries is often inaccurate and false. 2. That originally Christians took the New Testament commandments very seriously and very literally. 3. The early Christian writings can open our eyes to our own preconceptions. 4. We must take the totality of what the New Testament says on any subject, instead of pulling proof texts from here and there. 5. That the whole approach of modern churches to the New Testament is wrong. They emphasize theology over discipleship. They lift Paul’s writings above Jesus’ teachings. And they totally miss the Kingdom, the theme of Jesus’ preaching. 6. That we can come to a much more accurate understanding of New Testament Greek by looking at how the early Christians understood this Greek. None of these things have anything to do with adding to Scripture, or taking away from it. They only help us obtain a better grasp of what the New Testament teaches.” (David Bercot, What We Could Learn From The Early Christians But Don’t, 421-439 (Kindle Edition); Amberson, PA; Scroll Publishing)
It is also important to point out that when the early Christians wrote about the Descent of Christ, they would reference several passages (both Old and New Testament).
This will help us in our study to realize that there were many passages which they believed referenced the Descent.
(All of the following quotations will be from David Bercot, A Dictionary Of Early Christian Beliefs: A Reference Guide To More Than 700 Topics Discussed By The Early Church Fathers (Peabody, Massachusetts; Hendrickson Publishers))
“For their benefit, “He also descended into the lower parts of the earth,” to behold with His eyes the state of those who were resting from their labors. . . . For Christ did not come merely for those who believed on Him in the time of Tiberius Caesar. Nor did the Father exercise His providence only for the men who are presently alive. Rather, He exercised it for all men altogether, who from the beginning . . . have both feared and loved God.” (Irenaeus (c. 180, E/ W), 1.494.)
“It was for this reason, too, that the Lord descended into the regions beneath the earth, preaching His advent there also. And He [declared] the remission of sins received by those who believe in Him.” (Irenaeus (c. 180, E/ W), 1.499).
“He gathered from the ends of the earth into His Father’s fold the children who were scattered abroad. And He remembered His own dead ones, who had previously fallen asleep. He came down to them so that He might deliver them.” (Irenaeus (c. 180, E/ W), 1.506.)
“For three days He dwelt in the place where the dead were, as the prophet said concerning Him. “And the Lord remembered His dead saints who slept formerly in the land of the dead. And He descended to them to rescue and save them.” The Lord Himself said, “As Jonah remained three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so will the Son of man be in the heart of the earth.” (Irenaeus (c. 180, E/ W), 1.560.).
“The Lord preached the Gospel to those in Hades. . . . Do not [the Scriptures] show that the Lord preached the Gospel to those who perished in the flood, or rather had been chained, as to those kept in ward and guard? And it has been shown also . . . that the apostles, following the Lord, preached the Gospel to those in Hades. . . . If, then, the Lord descended to Hades for no other reason but to preach the Gospel (as He did descend), it was either to preach the Gospel to all, or else to the Hebrews only. If, accordingly, He preached to all, then all who believe will be saved on making their profession there—even though they may be Gentiles. For God’s punishments are saving and disciplinary, leading to conversion. He desires the repentance, rather than the death, of a sinner. This is especially so since souls, although darkened by passions, when released from their bodies, are able to perceive more clearly. For they are no longer obstructed by the paltry flesh. . . . Did not the same dispensation obtain in Hades? For even there, all the souls, on hearing the proclamation, could either exhibit repentance, or confess that their punishment was just, because they did not believe. And it was not arbitrary that they could obtain either salvation or punishment. For those who had departed before the coming of the Lord had not had the Gospel preached to them. So they had been given no opportunity to either believe or not believe.” (Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.490, 491)
“He preached the Gospel to those in the flesh so that they would not be condemned unjustly. So how is it conceivable that He did not for the same reason preach the Gospel to those who had departed this life before His coming?” (Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.492.)
“However, [He saves] with dignity of honor others who voluntarily follow. This is so “that every knee should bow to Him, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth”—that is, angels, men, and souls who had departed from this temporal life before His coming.” (Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.575).
“[Christ is Lord of] things under the earth, because He was also reckoned among the dead. For He preached the Gospel to the souls of the saints. Through death, He overcame death.” (Hippolytus (c. 200, W), 5.209.)
“[John the Baptist] also first preached to those in Hades, becoming a forerunner there when he was put to death by Herod. So even there, too, John revealed that the Savior would descend to ransom the souls of the saints from the hand of death.” ( Hippolytus (c. 200, W), 5.213).
“Christ delivered the first man of earth from the lowest Hades, when he was lost and bound by the chains of death. . . . This is He who was to become the preacher of the gospel to the dead.” (Hippolytus (c. 205, W), 5.170.”)
“Hades is not supposed by us to be a bare cavity, nor some subterranean sewer of the world. Rather it is a vast deep space in the interior of the earth. . . . For we read that Christ in His death spent three days in the heart of the earth. . . . He did not ascend into the heights of heaven before descending into the lower parts of the earth. This was so that He might there [in Hades] make the patriarchs and prophets partakers of Himself.” (Tertullian (c. 210, W 3.231)
“When Christ became a soul, without the covering of the body, He dwelled among those souls who were also without bodily covering. And He converted those of them who were willing. “. (Origen (c. 248, E), 4.448)
“Meanwhile, Hades was resplendent with light. For the Star had descended to there. Actually, the Lord did not descend into Hades in His body, but in His spirit. In short, He is working every where. For while He raised the dead by His body, by His spirit He was liberating souls. . . . For the Lord had conquered Hades, had trodden down death.” (Alexander of Alexandria.” (c. 324, E), 6.301; see also 1.510.)
The writings of the second century Christians (and the writings of Christians later then the second century) show us several interesting things about the Descent Of Christ.
First, the Descent Of Christ into Hades was widely known and accepted as a teaching of the early church.
“Harrowing of Hell Medieval English term for Christ’s descent into Hades understood as the moment of his victory over Satan and conquest of the powers of death and evil (the episode is included, for example, in several English mystery-play cycles). In early Christianity, Christ’s descent was widely, perhaps universally, affirmed as a point of belief. Its meaning, however, was interpreted in a variety of ways; and no one view appears to have become dominant or to have excluded the others. Christ’s descent, in the three-day interval (the triduum ) between his death and resurrection, seems to be stated or implied in several New Testament texts (e.g., Matt. 12:40; Acts 2:24, 27, 31; Rom. 10:7; Eph. 4:9; Col. 1:18 [the well-known 1 Peter 3:18 and 4:6 are more ambiguous cases; cf. Augustine, Ep. 164]); and it appears to have echoes in certain writings of the apostolic fathers (Ignatius, Magn. 9.2 [and Philad. 9.1?]; Polycarp, Ep. 1.2; and perhaps Hermas, Sim. 9.16). By the end of the second century, it was apparently known to at least some pagans as a Christian belief (Origen, Cels . 2.43). In the fourth century, it began to acquire creedal status, first perhaps in Syriac Christianity, although no known examples survive (but cf. Eusebius, H.E. 1.13.20), and then, in the Greek arena, in the fourth formula of Sirmium (the “Dated Creed” of 359) and the conciliar creed produced at Constantinople in 360 (these had an Arian tinge, however, and none passed into general use). In the Latin west, the descent appeared first in the baptismal creed of the Italian see of Aquileia (Rufinus, Symb. 18; 28) and then in the widely circulated Apostles’ and Athanasian Creeds. For Augustine, despite his own uncertainties about its meaning, it was a traditional and undeniable article of belief ( Ep. 164.3, 14).” (William S. Babcock, “Harrowing Of Hell,” in Everett Ferguson (Editir), Encyclopedia Of Early Christianity: Second Edition, 21096-21108 (Kindle Edition); New York, NY; Routledge Taylor & Francis Group)
Second, the Descent of Christ was understood to involve preaching to angels and humans (both saved and unsaved).
Third, the content of the preaching was said to involve both a proclamation of Christ’s victory over Satan and (according to some church fathers) an offer of forgiveness to the repentant.
Finally, several of the early church fathers saw a clear connection between the Descent of Christ as mentioned in Ephesians 4:8-10 and passages such as 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 1 Peter 4:6.
As I was preparing these lessons, I received an interesting message on social media from a friend who is studying ancient cultures in graduate school.
He mentioned to me that several pagan religions before the time of Christ (and after) had a variation of this teaching.
In some cases, a pagan god or goddess descended into the underworld to battle and defeat the king of the Haden realm and claim victory.
At least four things stand out about this.
First, the Bible reveals that in the star constellations, God has revealed from the creation of the world what He would accomplish in the Gospel (Genesis 1:14; Psalm 19:1-5; Romans 10:14-17).
“Long before there were any written Scriptures that we know about, men, of course, needed to know about God and their relation to Him, especially His plans for their salvation. There had been prophets of God in the antediluvian world (e.g., Abel, Enoch, Lamech), as well as in the post-diluvian world before Moses (e.g., Melchizedek, Abraham, Joseph). As noted in chapter 4, the various divisions of the book of Genesis give evidence of having been written by the early patriarchs and then edited by Moses later….The most important of these primordial truths seem actually to have been impressed upon the very stars themselves. It almost seems as though certain antediluvian prophets, in view of the impending destruction of the earth and its civilizations in the coming Flood, desired to preserve these revelations by engraving them upon the only indestructible systems they knew about —namely, the starry heavens. The heavens were filled with distinctive groupings of stars that had become familiar to all who looked at the night skies. These constellations proceeded month-by-month across the heavens, returning again in the same order the following year. Accordingly, the idea presented itself to someone that these star groups and movements could be utilized to record the great cosmic narrative. Since the stars would be permanent, so would the great saga, and so, hopefully, the primeval revelations and promises would be preserved for all time to come….With appropriate reservations, therefore, a narrative such as the following might be inferred from the 12 main signs and their respective decans. Virgo. “A Deliverer will come into the human family someday, born as a man, yet supernaturally conceived of a virgin, seed of the woman, yet Son of God.” Libra. “Since man is a sinner and under the curse, an adequate price must be paid to redeem him and balance the scales of divine justice.” Scorpio. “The price of redemption must be the death of the Deliverer, since man is under the condemnation of death, and yet, in dying, He must also destroy the Serpent who led man into sin.” Sagittarius. “To prevent the coming of the Deliverer in the human family, the great dragon will seek to corrupt mankind into a race of demon-possessed monsters and murderers.” Capricornus. “Man will finally become so sinful as to leave no remedy but complete inundation in his entire world.” Aquarius. “The floodgates of heaven will pour forth waters to cleanse an evil world, but representatives of the land animals will survive to fill the earth again.” Pisces. “From the waters will emerge the true people of God, as God retains His kingly throne despite all the attacks of Satan.” Aries. “In the fullness of time, the seed of the woman will come, ready to die as the sacrifice for man’s sins, paying the great price to redeem His bride and destroy the works of the dragon.” Taurus. “Having paid the price, the slain Ram will rise as the mighty Bull, to execute judgment on all ungodliness and to rule supreme.” Gemini. “As both Son of God and Son of Man, the second Adam will claim His bride as did the first Adam, taking her to himself forever.” Cancer. “All the redeemed will come to Him from all times and places, secure eternally in His presence, enjoying His love and fellowship.” Leo. “As eternal King and Lord of lords, He will utterly vanquish and destroy the serpent and all his followers, reigning forever and ever.” (Henry M. Morris with Henry M. Morris III, Many Infallible Proofs: Evidences For The Christian Faith, 6455-6617 (Kindle Edition); Green Forest, AR; Master Books)
Several ancient writings regarding the constellations reveal knowledge that one day, the Deliverer would descend into Hades itself and defeat the powers of darkness:
“A PICTURE OF CHRIST. Stripped of its foul heathenisms and admixtures, we can easily trace throughout the myth all the outlines of the astronomic picture, and that picture anticipating the sublime work of the Virgin’s Son, as depicted by the prophets and recorded in the Gospel, even the battering and vanquishing of Satan and all the powers of darkness. Christ is the God-begotten man. He it is that comes against the roaring satanic “lion” who “goeth about seeking whom he may devour.” He it is that came into the world to strike off the heads of the great Serpent, lurking in the bogs to ravage and destroy. He it is who comes forth to free the world of all its monsters and hellish pests, and purge it of its vast uncleanness. He it is who had it laid upon Him to fight and slay the Dragon, and thus recover access to the fruits of the Tree of Life, though having to bear the whole weight of a guilty world in making the grand achievement. And He it is who “descended into hell,” before whom the spirits of the under-world cowered; to whose power the king of perdition yielded; and who grasped the struggling triple-headed dragon-dog in charge of the infernal gates, and bore him off, “leading captivity captive.” Wounded He was in the dreadful encounter—wounded in His heel, wounded unto death, yet living still; suffering also from the poisoned garment of others’ sins, mounting the funeral-pyre to die of His own accord amid fires undue to Him, and thence ascending amid the clouds to immortal honor in heaven, with his foot forever on the head of the foe. The heathen in their blindness could not understand the story, and knew not what to make of the foreshowing; but in the light of God’s fuller revelation, and of the facts attested by the Gospel, we read the origin and meaning of it all, and see how God has been all these ages proclaiming from the starry sky the glories, labors, sufferings, and triumphs of His only-begotten Son, our Saviour.” (Joseph A. Swiss (Annotated and edited by Gary Lee Roper, D.D.,) The Gospel In The Stars Or Primeval Astronomy, Annotated And Illustrated,1367-1382 (Kindle Edition); Philadelphia; E Claxton & Company)
Second, it is possible that God revealed to the people during the Patriarchal Age some revelation that His Son would descend into the realm of Sheol and defeat Satan one day (Hebrews 1:1-2).
Is it possible that this original revelation survived in its prime form through the ages and ended up being inserted into pagan belief and religion over the eons of time before Jesus was born?
Third, several of the Old Testament Scriptures mentioned the descent of Christ into Sheol, and the Jews had been preaching these things to the nations long before the first century.
Therefore it is very likely that the Jewish Scriptures influenced these pagan religions so that they also began to teach about the Descent of Christ Into Hades (in the wording of their respective culture and religion).
“The influence of ancient Judaism is evident throughout different cultures.85 Monotheism and the prophecies of a Savior, born of a virgin, sacrificed for sins, and resurrected can be found throughout the Old Testament documents. The first book of the Old Testament, Genesis, was recorded approximately 1446 BC (oral tradition likely preserving it for countless years prior to that date), and the entire Old Testament was translated into Greek around 250 BC, making it available in the common language of the Hellenistic empire that extended to the ends of the known world. Since the Old Testament prophesied of the virgin-born Messiah, it is not surprising that the story spread before Christ’s first advent. An Egyptian papyrus dated to 340 BC reveals, “Who is the author of Re-birth? The Son of God, the One Man, by God’s Will.”86 And from another source, dated to approximately the same time, “The Lord and maker of all . . . from himself made the second God, the Visible . . . whom he loved as his Son.” Although not in agreement with Christian doctrine as to the nature of the Son, these two writings predate Christianity and point to what can be considered a common knowledge. Old Testament history (both oral and written) provides a basis for the existence of mutual knowledge, since the cultural and religious practices of neighboring and distant nations is referenced several times by different authors. In light of these historical facts, the Savior myth can be seen as a common belief emerging from the similar nature of human beings, a diffusion of knowledge from a central base—the Middle East, and the direct result of the distortion of biblical prophecy. Common knowledge produced generally similar stories whose details were invariably different.” (Walter Martin, Jill Martin, Rische Kurt, Van Gorden, Handbook Of The Occult, 112-113 (Kindle Edition); Nashville,, Tn; Thomas Nelson)
Finally, it is possible that the teaching of the New Testament also influenced some of these religions and doctrines (in the ones that date to a time after the New Testament Scriptures).
Everything which Jesus did on Earth, and His Descent into Hades and Ascent into Heaven, revolved around fulfilling the purpose in reconciling all things to back into fellowship with the Godhead.
By virtue of what Jesus accomplished at Calvary, He has made it possible for this reconciliation to take place:
Colossians 1:16-20 (ERV)-16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.
17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.
18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.
19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell,
20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.
The understanding of the early Christians was that at the time of Jesus death, He descended into Sheol and His work there involved the proclamation of His victory over Satan and the announcement that all of the saved dead would one day be granted into Heaven; and may also have included an offer to the unsaved dead of possible future forgiveness.
Some of the early Christians also saw a connection between what Ephesians 4:8-10 and 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 4:6 in regards to the Descent of Christ Into Hades.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
It has been noted that some of the pagan religions had teachings regarding their gods descending to Hades and defeating the powers of darkness. What are some ways that the pagans could have learned that God would one day accomplish this? _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
What are some Old Testament passages which speak of God “filling” the Temple with His Presence? ________________________________________________________________________________
What are some Old Testament passages which teach that God’s ultimate desire in creating the universe was being in fellowship with His people? ____________________________________________________________________________________
Fill In The Blanks:
“[Christ is Lord of] things ________________________, because He was also reckoned among the dead. For He preached the ________________________________________________of the ____________. Through death, He overcame death.” (Hippolytus (c. 200, W), 5.209.)
“He preached the Gospel to those in the flesh so that they would not be condemned unjustly. So how is it conceivable that He did not for the same reason preach the Gospel to ______________________________before His coming?” (Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.492.)
How does the doctrine of the Trinity help us to better understand why we were created? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
What are some good reasons to study the writings of the early Christians? _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
For Prayer Partners:
1. Consider and discuss Colossians 1:16-20. What does this teach us about the work of Jesus at Calvary? How may this passage apply to fallen angels and powers of darkness?
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