"A wise man attacks the city of the mighty, and pulls down the strongholds in which they trust."
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
What Happened On Saturday?
As we look forward to celebrating Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, the question naturally comes up, “What happened on Saturday?”
Did Jesus just lay there in the tomb and rest for a day? Did He ascend into heaven and talk with His Father and the angels? Did He preach the gospel in the realm of the dead?
According to a controversial phrase in the Apostles’ Creed – after Christ was crucified, dead and buried . . . and before He rose again from the dead on the third day –
He descended into Hell.
That phrase and what it means has been debated throughout the centuries.
All of the early church fathers mention it, although they differ in their interpretations. The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms it and explains that Jesus did really die and through his death for us conquered death and the devil ‘who has the power of death.’
John Calvin thought it contained a useful and not-to-be-despised mystery of a most important matter,and thought it should remain in the Creed.
John Piper sees no Scriptural basis for the phrase, and thinks it should be left out when the Creed is recited in church.
Still others believe it accounts for the problem of God’s justice by providing an opportunity for all mankind – in eternity as well as in time – to hear the message of redemption from the Word Himself.
Regardless of how it’s interpreted, the phrase does bring up an important question.
For someone in hell, is faith even possible?
What Is Faith?
Scripture is clear that salvation is by grace through faith. In fact, without faith it’s impossible to please God.
But what really constitutes faith? Could faith be exercised in hell? After all, faith is a clear necessity when someone is in doubt about God’s existence or the truthfulness of the Bible. But after someone has gone through death and judgment – and appeared before God face-to-face – all doubt is removed. So what is necessary for faith to be real?
Interestingly, the writer of Hebrews tells us:
. . . he who comes to God must believe that He exists, and that He rewards those who seek Him.
I see three things in that statement. First, faith requires that a person desires to come to God. And that probably means in humility.
There are a lot of people who don't want to come to God. Often it's because they want their own way instead of His. Sometimes it's because they misunderstand who He really is, and they reject the caricature they have misunderstood Him to be. At other times people actually go to Him, but for the wrong reason – they're afraid of Him. They think He'll hurt them if they don't go, so they follow Him out of fear . . . not love.
Second, in order to come to God, a person must believe that He exists. And that undoubtedly refers to a belief that the Creator God of the Bible exists.
Many people believe in "gods" that are limited in scope. Or they choose to believe in a god who lets them do whatever it is that they want to do. Even believing in the true God, however, is not enough. Adam & Eve believed in the true God – they conversed with Him daily. The children of Israel in the wilderness believed in the true God – they had seen and experienced firsthand His miracles in Egypt. Even Saul of Tarsus believed in the God of the Bible – he was a "Hebrew of the Hebrews."
Third, a necessary requirement for true faith is a belief that God rewards those who seek Him. He doesn't ignore them. He doesn't push them away. And He doesn't punish those who seek Him. It’s really a belief in God's character – He is good to those who seek Him.
That was the problem with Adam & Eve – they thought God was keeping something back that was really good for them. Same problem with the children of Israel in the wilderness – they asked if God had led them there just to kill them with hunger or thirst. They knew He existed, but questioned His goodness. Saul of Tarsus didn't think God was good enough to personally come as mankind's Savior – and he probably didn't think God could possibly love the Gentiles.
What About Those in Hell?
With regard to those in hell, they will certainly learn that God exists. If they ultimately understand that the consequences of their choices have led to their ruin . . . and they desire to come to Him . . . will He turn them away?
It’s a question worth pondering.
Visit George W. Sarris on Facebook, YouTube, or his Website. Watch for his upcoming book, The Doors To Heaven . . . Wider Than You Ever Believed! Coming soon.