Today we will continue looking at the Apostles’ Creed:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
This phrase, “he descended to the dead,” is a phrase that is not found in the most commonly used version of the Creed, which is in our United Methodist Hymnal on page 881. This is the Traditional version of the Creed, which has been used for the longest time. There is another version, the version we have been reading from in this study, that is called the “Ecumenical” version, meaning it is accepted by all the churches, and the difference is this phase “descended to the dead” or in some places “descended into hell.” This is not part of the oldest traditional version of the creed because the Creed’s purpose is to simply explain the essentials of the Christian faith, and this phrase is one that we struggle to understand.
But this concept is a belief that is found best laid out for us in 1 Peter 4:6 – “For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.” This concept is one that is called “the harrowing of hell.” CS Lewis, as he is for most things, gives a good understanding of what this means:
I believe in something like this,” Lewis explains to Mrs. Sutherland. We understand that Jesus did go to hell to preach to those who came before the cross. We understand that he saved some of them and brought them to heaven with him.
“The medieval authors,” says Lewis, “delighted to picture what they called ‘the harrowing of hell’, Christ descending and knocking on those eternal doors and bringing out those who He chose…. That would explain how what Christ did can save those who lived long before the Incarnation.”
Christ goes to all who are His and saves them, and all who are saved are saved in and through Christ, even before Christ died upon the cross. As Hebrews 11 tells us, those who died before Christ were serving Christ. Because salvation always, always, always comes through Christ. That is how salvation comes.
In this descent to the dead, Christ shows He is Lord of all, even hell. As David says in Psalm 139: – “if I make my bed in Sheol (hell), you are there.” This passage shows us the lengths that Jesus will go to show that He will save His people. And there is nothing in all of creation where He is not Lord. He even goes to the dead, to hell, and saves those who are in Him.
In short, Jesus is Lord.
I know this is a harder concept to understand. I hope this is helpful. Let me know if you have any questions.
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Andy, Thank you so much for explaining the Creed. Because I learned it as a preschooler, I have never even wondered why He went to hell or what that meant. Now I know & it illuminates parts of the Bible. Can’t wait for the other lines explanation