A longstanding Christian tradition holds that when Jesus was in the tomb his soul/spirit went down into hell where he preached to the Old Testament saints so that they might believe and be saved. That teaching is based on Ephesians 4: 9-10, (Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) The Apostles Creed includes the statement that Jesus “descended into hell.” As for me, I think the Biblical text is a simple reference to the entombment of our crucified Lord with a backdrop of the incarnation itself as a descent into earth.
The body of Christ was in the tomb for three days. There is some disagreement as to how long that was. Tradition has established the three days began on Friday before sunset and ended Sunday at sunrise. In other words, Jesus was in the tomb for portions of three days. Some have argued he was crucified on Thursday. It really doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that he was dead, completely dead, beyond resuscitation. I don’t understand what transpired while the body of Christ rested in the tomb. I simply know the one human who was also God died; He experienced the full curse of sin. He was cut off from the living and I believe from the Father and the Spirit.
This was not his first visit to a tomb. He had no doubt been to burial places many times in his life on earth. We know he went to the tomb of Lazarus and he cast demons out of the Gadarene who lived in the tombs. It strikes me He began His incarnation with nine months in a mobile tomb. We think of the womb as warm and cozy, a place of comfort and nurture. It is in fact a dark and muffled environment. I am personally convinced the unborn respond to their emotional environment. I also believe the psychological building blocks for communication are formed in prenatal experiences. He who is the Word of God, the exact representation of the Almighty Creator of all, began His incarnation as we all begin life, isolated and dependant.
From one tomb to the next Jesus fulfilled all that it means to be human. He swam in amniotic fluid, He gasped for His first breath of air (the spirit of life), He nursed at His mother’s breast, He pooped and puked, and went through all of the stages of human development. He was tempted in every way like each of us. And He did it all without sin. Whatever happened in the tomb, it was consistent with His divinity and His humanity. It represented His final temptation (reference to movie not planned) and He overcame. Not even death and the tomb could tempt Him out of the will of the Father. And so He remained dead for three days, until the fullness of time as appointed by the Father.
I am thankful for the tomb, the ultimate witness to the humanity and divinity of my Savior.
April 3, 2010