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Apostle's Creed 9: Descent into Hell

By Pastor Phillip Howle

web posted July 24, 2013

RELIGION – You go to hell!!! At some point in our lives we either have said this, had this said to us, or have heard it said. As an expression of derision it is deeply theological. It presupposes that there is a God, that God is a judge, that God can reward with heaven or that God can damn to hell. In using that expression, one is denoting their belief in God and their desire for that God to send a certain individual to hell. It is not a nice thing to say.
But did Jesus go to hell? The next part of the Apostles’ Creed seems to assert that. It reads: “He Descended into Hell.” Now without going into a huge boring debate, the phrase “He descended into hell” did not appear in the creed until the 4th century and is therefore not used by some churches, but what it says is of very great importance.
First off, we have to understand that the English word “hell” has changed its meaning since the English form of the Creed was translated. Originally “hell” meant the place of the departed, it was similar to the words used in Scripture in the Greek Hades and the Hebrew Sheol. But since the seventeenth century “hell” has been used to signify only the state of final retribution for the godless, for which the New Testament name is Gehenna.

So we are not affirming that Jesus went to hell. What the Creed means, however, is that Jesus really died, and that it was from a genuine death, not a simulated one, and that He rose. Furthermore, Jesus told the thief on the cross that “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Not, you are coming to hell with me.
Also, we know that His last words on the cross were, "It is finished." He had already suffered hell—separation from his Father—while hanging on the cross. His work was over and so was the torment of being under the Father's wrath and alienation. Then just before dying, He said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit," indicating that He expected the Father to receive Him when he died.
What makes Jesus’ death and resurrection so important apart from the assurance of our salvation, is the fact that now we can face death, knowing that when it comes we shall not find ourselves alone. He has been there before us, and he will see us through. Having endured death himself, he can support us while we face it and go through it, and carry us through the great change to share the life beyond death into which He himself has passed. J.I. Packer writes “Death without Christ is “the king of terrors,” but death with Christ loses the “sting,” the power to hurt, that it otherwise would have.”
An old Puritan Pastor John Preston, was asked as he lay dying, if he feared death, now that it was so close. “No,” whispered Preston; “I shall change my place, but I shall not change my company.” As if to say: I shall leave my friends, but not my Friend, for he will never leave me.

This is victory—victory over death and the fear it brings. Please know that 4,000 people die every hour, 96,000 each day, 35 million every year.  It affects all people, poor and rich, saint and sinner. Funerals remind us that death is very near to us all. As David wrote so long ago: 1 Samuel 20:3 Yet as surely as the LORD lives and as you live, there is only a step between me and death." It is a step that all must take. James 4:14 tells us that “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”
When your day comes and you vanish away, where will you go? Will you face it with fear or will you face it with assurance of your welcome by your Savior who has gone before you into death and so now can welcome you to your final home? God will give you what you want. If you want no more part of Jesus here on earth, then you will not be forced to know and love Him in heaven. You will go to Hell. Not trying to rude, just trying to help fulfill the work of Jesus and see to it that you don’t go there!
Pastor Phillip

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