Saturday, 3 March 2012

The anguish of hell and The coming of God’s Kingdom.

There is something in the Apostle’s Creed that has long caused me consternation.  The Catholic Church, Lutherans and Church of England each use the same phraseology, “[Christ]…suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead…”  It’s the sequencing I have a problem with, not the theology.  Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  My interpretation of Scripture would have it read, “…was crucified, descended into hell, died and was buried…”  Some might argue that I’m splitting hairs but I believe it is an important distinction as it also brings into question the timing of the coming of God’s Kingdom.  It all happened on Good Thursday
Jesus made a very specific statement to his disciples at the Last Supper which is recorded in three of the four gospels (all from Young’s Literal Translation):
Matthew 26:29 “…and I say to you, that I may not drink henceforth on this produce of the vine, till that day when I may drink it with you new in the reign of my Father.
Mark 14:25 “…verily I say to you, that no more may I drink of the produce of the vine till that day when I may drink it new in the reign of God.”
Luke 22:18 “…for I say to you that I may not drink of the produce of the vine till the reign of God may come.”
The key here is that Jesus specifically says he will not drink of the fruit of the vine [wine] “…until the kingdom of God comes.” Luke 22:18 (NIV).  This leads to the obvious question; when, exactly, did Jesus next drink from the fruit of the vine?
In Matthew 23:34, in the moments before his crucifixion it says, ‘There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it.’  Obviously, this was not the time Jesus was referring to. 
But, in one of the most emotionally charged passages in all of Scripture we read, ‘Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.  When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.’ John 19:28-30.  He received the drink!  The powers of hell had been defeated – God’s Kingdom had come!  Alleluia!
Jesus' [physical] death was a literal event, not some temporary state of unconsciousness. Hence, on the cross and in his resurrection, Christ did indeed conquer death—both in its spiritual and physical forms.
So, what about the hell-question? When did Christ ‘descend into hell’?  I believe on the cross.
Jesus describes hell as a place of “…darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  All three conditions apply to Christ’s time on the cross. 
Darkness:  Luke 23:44-45a ‘It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land [‘all the earth’ KJV] until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining.’  This darkness is not just an eclipse (the totality of a solar eclipse can never last more than 7-minutes and 31-seconds); this was utter darkness for the sun stopped shining!  No reflected sunlight from the moon.  Worldwide – total blackness for three hours while God poured out his holy wrath on his Son. As was prophecide in Amos 8:9 “In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord,“I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight."

Weeping:  In Luke 23:27-28 we read, ‘A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.’ 
Gnashing of teeth:  Prophetically we read in Psalm 35:15b-16, “They slandered me without ceasing.  Like the ungodly they maliciously mocked; they gnashed their teeth at me.”, and finds fulfillment in Mark 15:29-32 ‘Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.’
So there we have it; darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Total separation from God.  Hell on the cross.
Scripture is not clear on the specific meaning of paradise that Jesus promised to the penitent thief. There are certain things that Scripture does tell us however; paradise is a place that the thief would be with [the Spirit of] Jesus that very day, the curtain of the temple was rent in two [signifying our direct access to God], the place where godly people had been asleep was opened up ‘and the tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who have fallen asleep, arose…’ Matthew 27:52 YLT.  Whether in paradise or heaven - I'm looking forward to it!