Saturday, April 11, 2009

Thinking about the Second Day

Where was Jesus the day after Good Friday? Some controversy here.
Gleason L. Archer, Jr., approaches the question in Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties by noting that Jesus told the repentant thief that "today you will be with Me in paradise." But, Archer asks, was it not only after Jesus arose that He ascended to heaven? Archer goes on as follows:

The answer lies in the location of 'paradise'.

Apparently paradise was not exalted to heaven until Easter Day. Jesus apparently refers to it in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus as "Abraham's Bosom," to which the godly beggar Lazarus was carried by the angels after his decease (Luke 16:19-31). Thus "Abraham's Bosom" referred to the place where the souls of the redeemed waited till the day of Christ's resurrection. Presumably this was the same place as paradise. It was not yet lifted up to heaven but it may well have been a section of hades [reference to the Hebrew word for Hades omitted], reserved for believers who died in the faith but who would not be admitted into the glorious presence of God in heaven until the price of redemption had been actually paid on Calvary.

Doubtless is was to the infernal paradise that the souls of Jesus and the repentant thief repaired after they each died on Friday afternoon. But then on Easter Sunday, after the risen Christ had first appeared to Mary Magdalene (John 20:17) and her two companions (Matt. 28:9), presumably he took up with Him to glory all the inhabitants of infernal paradise (including Abraham, Lazarus, and the repentant thief). We read in Ephesians 4:8 concerning Christ: "Ascending on high, He led captivity captive: He gave gifts unto men." Verse 9 continues: "But what does 'He ascended' mean but that He also descended to the lowers parts of the earth?"-i.e., to hades. Verse 10 adds: "He who descended is the same as He who ascended above all the heavens." Presumably He led the whole band of liberated captives from hades (i.e., the whole population of preresurrection paradise) up to the glory of the highest heaven, the abode of the Triune God.

Archer has allies in the Eastern Church. The following is from the The Longer Catechism of the Orthodox, Catholic, Eastern Church (Moscow, 1839, as quoted in Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, V. II):

"213. What should we think of the state in which Jesus Christ was after his death, and before his resurrection?

"This is described in the following hymn of the Church: In the grave as to the flesh, in hades with thy soul, as God, in paradise with the thief, and on the throne were thou, O Christ, together with the Father and the Spirit, filling all things, thyself uncircumscribed.

"214. What is hades or hell?

"Hades is a Greek word, and means a place "void of light." In divinity, by this name is understood a spiritual prison, that is, the state of those spirits which are separated by sin from the sight of God's countenance, and from the light and blessedness which it confers.

"215. Wherefore did Jesus Christ descend into hell?

"To the end that he might there also preach his victory over death, and deliver the souls which with faith awaited his coming.

"216. Does holy Scripture speak of this?

"It is referred to in the following passage: "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he may bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quikened in the spirit; in which also he want and preached uto the spirits in prison." 1 Pet. iii 18, 19."

But what of the Reformers? John Calvin, at least, would disagree with Archer, the Eastern Church, and others. In his Institutes, the following in Book 2, Chapter 16:

"8. Here we must not omit the descent to hell, which was of no little importance to the accomplishment of redemption. For although it is apparent from the writings of the ancient Fathers, that the clause which now stands in the Creed was not formerly so much used in the churches, still, in giving a summary of doctrine, a place must be assigned to it, as containing a matter of great importance which ought not by any means to be disregarded. Indeed, some of the ancient Fathers do not omit it, and hence we may conjecture, that having been inserted in the Creed after a considerable lapse of time, it came into use in the Church not immediately but by degrees. This much is uncontroverted, that it was in accordance with the general sentiment of all believers, since there is none of the Fathers who does not mention Christ's descent into hell, though they have various modes of explaining it. But it is of little consequence by whom and at what time it was introduced. The chief thing to be attended to in the Creed is, that it furnishes us with a full and every way complete summary of faith, containing nothing but what has been derived from the infallible word of God. But should any still scruple to give it admission into the Creed, it will shortly be made plain, that the place which it holds in a summary of our redemption is so important, that the omission of it greatly detracts from the benefit of Christ's death. There are some again who think that the article contains nothing new, but is merely a repetition in different words of what was previously said respecting burial, the word Hell (Infernis) being often used in Scripture for sepulchre. I admit the truth of what they allege with regard to the not infrequent use of the term infernos for sepulchre; but I cannot adopt their opinion, for two obvious reasons. First, What folly would it have been, after explaining a matter attended with no difficulty in clear and unambiguous terms, afterwards to involve rather than illustrate it by clothing it in obscure phraseology? When two expressions having the same meaning are placed together, the latter ought to be explanatory of the former. But what kind of explanation would it be to say, the expression, "Christ was buried", means, that "he descended into hell"? My second reason is the improbability that a superfluous tautology of this description should have crept into this compendium, in which the principal articles of faith are set down summarily in the fewest possible number of words. I have no doubt that all who weigh the matter with some degree of care will here agree with me.

"9. Others interpret differently, viz., That Christ descended to the souls of the Patriarchs who died under the law, to announce his accomplished redemption, and bring them out of the prison in which they were confined. To this effect they wrest the passage in the Psalms "He has broken the gates of brass, and cut the bars of iron in sunder." (Ps. 107: 16;) and also the passage in Zechariah, "I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water," (Zech. 9: 11.) But since the psalm foretells the deliverance of those who were held captive in distant lands, and Zechariah comparing the Babylonish disaster into which the people had been plunged to a deep dry well or abyss, at the same time declares, that the salvation of the whole Church was an escape from a profound pit, I know not how it comes to pass, that posterity imagined it to be a subterraneous cavern, to which they gave the name of Limbus. Though this fable has the countenance of great authors, and is now also seriously defended by many as truth, it is nothing but a fable. To conclude from it that the souls of the dead are in prison is childish. And what occasion was there that the soul of Christ should go down thither to set them at liberty? I readily admit that Christ illumined them by the power of his Spirit, enabling them to perceive that the grace of which they had only had a foretaste was then manifested to the world. And to this not improbably the passage of Peter may be applied, wherein he says, that Christ "went and preached to the spirits that were in prison," (or rather "a watch-tower,") (I Pet. 3: 19.) The purport of the context is, that believers who had died before that time were partakers of the same grace with ourselves: for he celebrates the power of Christ's death, in that he penetrated even to the dead, pious souls obtaining an immediate view of that visitation for which they had anxiously waited; while, on the other hand, the reprobate were more clearly convinced that they were completely excluded from salvation. Although the passage in Peter is not perfectly definite, we must not interpret as if he made no distinction between the righteous and the wicked: he only means to intimate, that the death of Christ was made known to both.

"10. But, apart from the Creed, we must seek for a surer exposition of Christ's descent to hell: and the word of God furnishes us with one not only pious and holy, but replete with excellent consolation. Nothing had been done if Christ had only endured corporeal death. In order to interpose between us and God's anger, and satisfy his righteous judgement, it was necessary that he should feel the weight of divine vengeance. Whence also it was necessary that he should engage, as it were, at close quarters with the powers of hell and the horrors of eternal death. We lately quoted from the Prophet, that the "chastisement of our peace was laid upon him" that he "was bruised for our iniquities" that he "bore our infirmities;" expressions which intimate, that, like a sponsor and surety for the guilty, and, as it were, subjected to condemnation, he undertook and paid all the penalties which must have been exacted from them, the only exception being, that the pains of death could not hold him. Hence there is nothing strange in its being said that he descended to hell, seeing he endured the death which is inflicted on the wicked by an angry God. It is frivolous and ridiculous to object that in this way the order is perverted, it being absurd that an event which preceded burial should be placed after it. But after explaining what Christ endured in the sight of man, the Creed appropriately adds the invisible and incomprehensible judgement which he endured before God, to teach us that not only was the body of Christ given up as the price of redemption, but that there was a greater and more excellent price - that he bore in his soul the tortures of condemned and ruined man." [Boldface added]

My opinion, for whatever little it is worth, is that Calvin has the better argument, much the better argument.

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