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He descended into hell

Rev’d Elijah White

Did you ever wonder why Jesus who was totally good went to Hell between his death on the Cross on Good Friday and His Resurrection on Easter morning? ‘So that all the world might be saved by Him,’ John 3:17.

These words in the Apostles’ Creed confuse us because today we think of “hell” as a place of torment where only bad people go, sinners who are not sorry for their sins, cling to them, and reject the goodness of God. Obviously this did not apply to Jesus, who was all good.

When the New Testament was written 2,000 years ago people understood “hell” differently. Jesus’ first followers were Hebrews who thought of the souls of everyone who had died as being in sheol, a Hebrew word correctly translated on Prayer Book pages 15 and 29 as “the place of departed spirits” – all the departed. It was neither suffering nor paradise, just a dull pointless place.

Most of the early Christians spoke Greek so the New Testament was written in that language, using not the Hebrew sheol but the Greek hades. Both words refer to a place where every soul went – including Jesus.

The Apostles’ Creed follows St. Peter’s teaching in his first letter that Jesus “went and preached to the souls in prison” (sheol, hades) so that those who died before He was born had the chance to hear and believe in Him. This continued His loving ministry that every soul might hear the Gospel Good News of God’s love offered to us.

The Church of Our Saviour at Oatlands, October 22, A.D.2014