Tag Archives: Apostles' Creed

He descended into Hell

There is a universal acceptance of the above statement as part of the Apostles’ Creed. Interpretation of what it means that the crucified Christ descended into hell is far from universally understood. There are many people who can’t comprehend that Christ descended into hell.

The first part of the confusion is our understanding of hell. The word hell today is almost exclusively understood as the place of eternal judgment. This is not at all biblical. The Greek word that was used in the Creed is katōtatos. In Latin it is inferna. Both words come from Ephesians 4.

Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?

Ephesians 4:8–9, ESV

The translation “lower regions” captures the thought well. A corresponding word in the New Testament is Hades. This is not a place of judgment or punishment. It is the place, in Jewish thought of the time, where those who died went to await whatever comes next. For Paul, Jesus was crucified and was truly dead. For him, this was demonstrated by the fact that he, like all others, descended into Hades.

But the descent of Christ is not the crucial point. He had to descend in order to “ascend on high.” Furthermore, the ascent of Christ was the time that “he led a host of captives,” those who had died and gone to Hades but had lived by faith and were thus declared righteous. Why could they not have ascended on their own? Because Christ Jesus had not yet paid the penalty for their sin. In Romans 5, Paul makes very clear that we are justified not only by Christ’s blood (his death) but also by his life (his resurrection).

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Romans 5:6–10, ESV

The conclusion I draw, then, is that those who die in Christ now join those who were led forth from Hades awaiting the final resurrection. That is the resurrection from corruptible to incorruptible (1 Corinthians 15). The gospel hymn by J. Wilbur Chapman puts it altogether in the chorus:

"Living, He loved me; 
Dying, He saved me; 
Buried, He carried my sins far away;
Rising, He justified freely forever;
One day He's coming - O glorious day!

Thus, as Paul says in Ephesians, Jesus’ descent into Hades is a significant event for anyone who would believe. Descending to Hades links the death of Christ with his resurrection, a link that is not made any other way. It is a link from forgiveness to reconciliation, both of which are parts of our salvation in Christ.

Just to add a personal thought. I have attended many schools in training for the ministry. My journey has covered many decades. Upon reflection, having taken many courses on evangelism, none of them have taught the gospel message that is the “power of God unto salvation,” (Romans 1:18). There has been a lot of methodology, philosophy, analyzation, but I guess it was just assumed that we all knew what salvation was about. In the old days, we were given method books, such as Evangelism Explosion, or tracts like “The Roman Road.” Later it became church transformation to become “seeker sensitive,” and getting to know “Unchurched Harry or Mary.” Then there came the attempt to help people find their purpose.

However, though many of these systems brought people into the church, they really did nothing to “make disciples, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded,” (Matthew 28). Looking back on my years in ministry, I know there have been lives touched, comforted, encouraged, both believer and unbeliever. Though I cannot see it now, I cannot say that I have led anyone into a deeper desire to study God’s Word and to make obedience to it the integral part of their life. I think that the Western Church has descended into the lower parts of the faith and gotten quite comfortable there.

I have been told after a service, “Good sermon, Pastor.” I don’t know in what way it was judged to be good. Church on Sunday morning has become just one of many things to do, but probably not as important as youth soccer of professional football. Please don’t misunderstand me. For me, to miss church on Sunday morning is like fasting for a week. I experience emptiness an a longing for fellowship with Christ that can only be found in the gathering of his body. On-line church doesn’t cut it either. It is just another way to fit church into our schedule which by definition makes church a secondary value.

This month I am retiring from pastoring. I can’t say that I am retiring from ministry. God help me, that shall never end. But I leave longing for a place where the music instructs, challenges, chastises, and laments. I love “rock” music. But church music has become what I used to call elevator music. It is bland, unoffensive, and many times theologically misleading if not heretical. Church is often designed to be entertaining, though if that word is used to describe it one might well find themselves outside the church rather than in it.

I long for a richer understanding of the sacraments, one that restores their sacred nature and redeems them from the realm of that which is optional. I am not claiming any particular theological position, though I would love that discussion. I am saying that they have lost their role as the centerpiece of worship. I know that there are traditions that continue to take the Supper weekly, but I believe they are significantly out numbered by those that think once a month is good enough, or those that do it occasionally or not at all. What is more central to the gospel than the Eucharist?

In short, our world is in serious trouble. I believe it is because we have replaced the presence of God, the washing of the Word, and the power of the Spirit with our own desires and pleasures. I have seen individuals and families that have gotten bored of the same old programs, who cannot understand why their young men and women can’t stand hanging around a service that is meaningless to them because they have always had their own place to go during that time instead of sitting with mom and dad in those padded seats that have replaced old fashioned pews.

And example of that which I am speaking is the ease with which church after church closed their doors on the word of a non-elected bully of a doctor who helped create the disease that has us all doing unnatural things for a long time now. “But I get a lot out of our on-line worship and the messages.” Exactly! You get but you do not give and the very definition of worship is gathering as Christ’s body giving all glory to God in the highest.

My rant began with the failure of knowing, teaching, focusing, and living the gospel of Jesus Christ. Never was I ever told that the gospel is faithfully laid out for us and summarized in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. But there it is. And in the end, it has been no one’s fault but my own, for I became happy reading those books that confirmed what I believed, the books that made me feel warm and fuzzy, the books that made no challenging expectations on my time or mental effort. God forgive me for being the kind of Christian I so hate, a lazy Christian. I hate the lazy Christian not because I hate any individual person, except the laziest of all, me.

Thank God that he descended into hell in order to lift me up. Lord, can’t you lift me a bit more quickly?

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…was crucified, dead and buried…

    I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth
    And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord
    Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary
    Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried; He descended into hell
    The third day he rose again from the dead
    He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty
    From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead
    I believe in the Holy Ghost
    I believe a holy catholic church; the communion of saints
    The forgiveness of sins
    The resurrection of the body
    And the life everlasting. Amen. [1]

The facts of Christ’s crucifixion are essential to Christian belief. “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried…” (1 Corinthians 15:1–4, ESV) I am not aware of any dispute regarding Jesus’ crucifixion. Even those who deny that Jesus was God, who claim that he was historically only a man, and maybe a Rabbi, generally will accept that he was crucified.

Most scholars in the third quest for the historical Jesus consider the crucifixion indisputable, as do Bart Ehrman, John Dominic Crossan and James Dunn. Although scholars agree on the historicity of the crucifixion, they differ on the reason and context for it, e.g. both E. P. Sanders and Paula Fredriksen support the historicity of the crucifixion, but contend that Jesus did not foretell his own crucifixion, and that his prediction of the crucifixion is a Christian story. Géza Vermes also views the crucifixion as a historical event but believes this was due to Jesus’ challenging of Roman authority. On the other hand, Maurice Casey and John P. Meier state that Jesus did predict his death, and this actually strengthened his followers’ belief in his Resurrection.

https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Historical_Jesus

As the above quote would indicate, the dispute about the crucifixion surrounds the historical context and, more importantly, the supernatural aspect of Jesus predicting it. Yet Paul states clearly that the death of Christ was “according to the Scriptures.” The Biblical test is the only one that really matters, unless we want to deny the inspiration of Scripture. (That is one of the amazing supernatural aspects to the Word of God. All Scripture is in harmony and few things are stated that are not repeated throughout.)

Peter is one who clearly states that Christ Jesus predicted his death and that the prophets knew of it by the Holy Spirit. “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.” (1 Peter 1:10–12, ESV)

Most would agree that the predictions of the death (and resurrection) of Christ throughout the Old Testament are plentiful. Isaiah 53 is a good example.

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:3–6, ESV

The death of the Savior was predicted even within the curse from the original fall of Adam and Eve.

The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Genesis 3:14–15, ESV

If you rule out the opinions of those who “search for the Historical Jesus,” I am unaware of any Biblical scholar who denies that Jesus was innocent yet crucified, that his crucifixion was the payment required by God’s justice for the forgiveness of sins, and that this is a real act in history with eternal and historical significance.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation [2] by his blood, to be received by faith.

Romans 3:21–25, ESV

Why does the creed include he was dead and buried to crucified? I can suggest two reasons. First, over time, there have developed theories that Jesus did not die, but merely fainted or lost consciousness. Such theories are explanations for the resurrection which being a supernatural event cannot be historical as well.

Thus grew and thus died the theory of the rupture of the heart of Jesus. It is only an evidence that there is no proof in
the hands of the Christians that Jesus died on the cross, and like the drowning man they catch at every straw. But the proof is now complete that Jesus did not die upon the cross, and the tomb at Khan Yar is a living witness of this fact, the truth of which would soon be seen by the world.

The ‘Rupture of the Heart’ Theory of the Death of Jesus, The Review of Religions, May 1905, p. 191.

If you are interested, there are more recent articles that are similar here, here, and here. All of these articles come from the same source. However, they are representative of the overall theory that Jesus did not die on the cross. Yet, each one uses science as a credible proof of their point and they are still speculative at best. The creed takes into account the nature of human sin and it does not allow for theory. Jesus died according to all four gospels and all remaining New Testament writings.

Second, the strongest evidence for the death of Jesus is that he was buried. Mark wrote about the event this way, “And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.” (Mark 15:42–47, ESV)

Even before people thought to argue that Jesus did not die, Mark answers their objection. “Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died.” Those who were crucified with Jesus had their legs broken to hasten the process. As long as someone on the cross still lived, the Roman guards had to stay so that no one could come and save them. Instead of breaking Jesus legs, they thrust a spear in his side. This too was to speed up his death. Speculation that following all of the physical suffering Jesus experienced before the cross did not significantly effect his death, and that the spear thrust itself did not hasten it is foolishness. If he did not die, then there is no Christianity, and I can’t help but wonder if this is the motivation for the argument.

We must note that the creed is not interested in speculation. It is doctrine, the teaching of the Christian Church from the beginning. It is a concise statement telling us what we must believe to be accounted members of the Way. It is truth physiologically and historically with enough evidence to verify it. Paul makes sure that we know there were many witnesses to the resurrected Jesus, and we are told that the disciple Thomas had his doubts answered by touching his wounds. The problem is not evidence, though. It is interpretation, and interpretation of something always begins with what the interpreter brings of his or her self.

The beginning of any belief system is one’s world view. Modern science is rooted in materialism. Modern education is a matter of indoctrination. All of the ideas of mankind begin either with God or no god. One is truth and the other is not. There are no options in-between, no compromises to be made. I believe…

[1] Historic Creeds and Confessions, electronic ed., (Oak Harbor: Lexham Press, 1997).

[2] PROPITIATION, n. propisia´shon. [Fr.; from propitiate.] The act of appeasing wrath and conciliating the favor of an offended person; the act of making propitious. In theology, the atonement or atoning sacrifice offered to God to assuage his wrath and render him propitious to sinners. Christ is the propitiation for the sins of men. Rom. 3. 1 John 2. Noah Webster, Noah Webster’s first edition of An American dictionary of the English language., 2006.

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He Suffered Under Pontius Pilate

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Luke 3:1–3, ESV

Luke, in his gospel, makes the first mention of Pontius Pilate in all of the four gospels. Luke was detail-oriented in all of his writings. All of the gospels place Jesus within historical contexts, but Luke gives us specificity that is easy for us to overlook. I cannot deny that I have read the above passage many times and almost glossed over the names written. However, if we take all of Scripture seriously if all of it is inspired, then to overlook the details is a mistake. This is not to say that every verse in the Bible presents some deep doctrinal significance. The popular use of proof-texting is an example of such a mistake.

Another example is the failure of those who do not study the whole Word of God. Again, I admit that I have avoided whole books, especially in preaching, that are considered either boring or inappropriate. Leviticus and the Song of Solomon come to mind. The mindset is to focus on the “important” books, like Romans, Ephesians, or in the past few decades, the Revelation of Jesus Christ. It takes a deliberate effort to seek the truth on every page of the Scriptures.

So, I found this mention of Pilate and others at the beginning of John’s ministry preparing the way of Christ. Yes, it gives us a good indication of the time John began preaching repentance for sins. However, it also presents the main players in the life, ministry, trial, and death of Jesus. I also find it intriguing that this group of Roman rulers is listed in the context of John proclaiming repentance. There are probably no better examples of sinners in need of the humility of penitence and forgiveness than these. And, they include Jew and Gentile alike.

Luke points to one of these men later in the gospel displaying the depravity of sin.

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’”

Luke 13:1–5, ESV

Joel McDurmon writes of this passage, “

The people then immediately prove that they have eyes but see not, and ears but hear not. They do this by pretending they have indeed discerned the times: “There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices” (Luke 13:1). These people were up on current events. They knew the times! They knew that the evil Roman Empire was murdering innocent Jews—and defiling their religious rituals, too! (McDurmon, Joel. Jesus v. Jerusalem: A Commentary on Luke 9:51–20:26, Jesus’ Lawsuit Against Israel. Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2011, p. 38.)

What he does with this passage is first and foremost to place it within the previous context when Jesus tells of his coming in the final judgment (the ending of the Old Covenant making way for the new. This was accomplished in 70 A.D.). Jesus is not simply replying to the desecration of the Jews and their religious rites. What he does is to compare those around him to the Galilean sinners. Jesus focuses on the need for all to repent, or they too will perish. In the end, we know Pilate as a man without a conscience.

We can begin to see why the Creed mentions Christ’s suffering under Pontius Pilate instead of his torment by the Jewish leaders. All of the gospel writers make clear that the crucifixion lies at the Jew’s feet. But they could not kill Jesus. They needed the support of the Roman governor. In addition, Pilate finds no guilt in Jesus worthy of death. What kind of leader is Pilate to condemn Christ to beatings, torture, mockery, and crucifixion despite his innocence? He was the man at the right place in the right time.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law…”

Galatians 4:4, ESV

Such is the work of God. He uses whatever means he chooses to accomplish his purpose. He also prepares those through whom he uses to produce his design. Like many others before him and even more after him, Pontius Pilate is a key link in the chain that fulfills God’s salvation of his people. That does not mitigate Pilate’s general depravity or his particular sins. Throughout Scripture, when God utilizes sinners to bring judgment, they are also judged by God. With one interesting exception. God used the zeal of Saul to disperse those in the church at Jerusalem into the world. However, he then calls Paul to salvation and has him take the gospel to the Gentiles. God can curse, and God can bless. Everyone deserves God’s judgment for their sin. But some are called from their bondage to sin to be freed and cleansed by the one who died on the cross.

The gospel is precisely this good news. How can we keep silent?

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I Believe…

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Romans 10:8–9, ESV

The earliest creed of the Church were the words of Christ in Matthew 28, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This is the core of the faith. Faith, as 

Paul says is confession and belief. I would say that without belief, there is no possibility of confession. And, without confession, there is no assurance of belief. This is why I believe that it is unlikely a person can claim belief in their salvation apart from their membership and attendance in a church. In the first place, all people believe false things. Belief must be founded upon something, and there is no other foundation than the Word of God. Yes, Jesus is the Word. But he does not walk the earth today as he did in the years from his birth to his death and in his resurrection. So, not willing to leave his Church without his physical presence, he gave us the gift of his authoritative Word in the Scriptures, and nowhere else.

How do we know these things? Because he says so in the Bible: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17, ESV) Returning to Paul’s testimony in Romans 10, how can a person believe if he does not hear. Thus, secondly, our understanding of what the Church is and does comes down to hearing and believing. “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded.” (Matthew 28:20, ESV) I conclude that one cannot believe what they do not know, and the way God has provided for this necessity is the preaching and teaching of the Word. Such is done in the Church and not alone. We give heed to the Holy Spirit as giving us understanding, but, this work is not done in a vacuum.

Third, confession is made by the mouth, i.e., speaking. This must be done in a public setting, for there is no profit in confessing to yourself. In the Church, we have been given a fantastic compilation of creeds and confessions that allow us to profess our faith. While it is true that various confessions are not equally helpful, they are, nonetheless, a systematic compendium of the things we are to observe. Being the creation of men, they are not infallible, and they may be altered if necessary. The key, though, is that creeds and confessions are not the work of one person but many. They have origin in the life and history of the church.

One such creed is the Apostles’ Creed. The evidence tells us that this creed was not authored by the Apostles. It is to me highly improbable that the Apostles wrote the creed and never recorded this in all of the New Testament writings. Certainly Luke would have included such an important event in The Acts of the Apostles. Nothing in that book even suggests such an event. Yet, over time, the Apostles’ Creed has been accepted as a brief statement of Apostolic teaching. Going back to Matthew 28, the first act of faith is baptism.

Christ requires baptism. Nowhere in Scripture is the sacrament of baptism with water defined as to how baptism is to be done, so all the disputes over this matter are frivolous wastes of time. Virtually all Christendom recognizes the symbolism of washing away our sins in baptism. And Christ said that baptism is a public profession of faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I would say, though the symbolism may be an assurance for the one being baptized, it is definitely a testimony to the Church that Christ washes away our sin. Every Christian needs this reminder often. Traditionally, prior to the baptism, confession is made of the faith. The most lasting confession for this has been the Apostles’ Creed.

The Creed is a confession that we believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Church is trinitarian at the core. Failure to believe the Trinity is a failure of faith. Included in our faith are statements identifying each member of the Trinity and their work in salvation.

I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

And (I believe) in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the virgin Mary;

suffered under Pontius Pilate;

was crucified, dead, and buried;

He descended into hell;

the third day He rose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,

and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit;

I believe a holy catholic Church,

the communion of saints;

the forgiveness of sins;

the resurrection of the body;

and the life everlasting. Amen.

Daniel R. Hyde, Welcome to a Reformed Church: A Guide for Pilgrims, (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2010), 4.

I have not found a better account that includes the essentials of faith. The creed can be a starting place for the study of the Scriptures. There is a plethora of Biblical information teaching us each point. 

In my next blog, I will begin to address the theology encapsulated in the Apostles’ Creed. However, I encourage every one to become a member in a Christian Church and participate in worship that includes, at least some times, the Confession of the Apostles’ Creed. It reminds us of our faith. It teaches our children about faith. And in the process, we will be transformed into more substantial, wiser Christians.

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