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?