I am writing this on the day after Resurrection Sunday. I don’t like to call it Easter Sunday – why should we give the pagan goddess Ishtar any credit. Friday embodies the glorious truth that Jesus settled the penalty clause of the violated covenant between God and humanity. I guess that is why some call it ‘good’ Friday. Sunday represents the equally awesome truth that through Jesus we can be born-again of the Spirit. On the cross of Calvary Jesus Christ brought to an end the line of Adam’s sin. As He walked out of the tomb, He started a new spiritual lineage for all who will believe. ‘So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.’ (1 Corinthians 15:45)
The message of Friday is clear. The truth that Sunday conveys is equally obvious. What, though, is the significance of Saturday?
According to the Apostles Creed, as we now have it, after dying on the cross Jesus ‘descended into hell’. However, the earliest versions of that creed do not contain this clause. When Rufinus introduced it in 390AD it seems that he understood the word ‘hell’ simply to mean ‘grave’. Notwithstanding this, some theologians have developed a complex doctrine of Christ’s decent into the devil’s abode. The primary texts they use are Acts 2:27, Romans 10:6-7, Ephesians 4:8-9, 1 Peter 3:18-20, and 1 Peter 4:6. Wayne Grudem has an excellent section on this topic in his ‘Systematic Theology’ (pages 586 – 594). His concluding sentence reads, ‘concerning the doctrinal question of whether Christ did descend into hell after he died, the answer from several passages of Scripture seems clearly to be no.’
From the descent into Hell doctrine has come the teaching that Jesus had to die both physically on the cross and spiritually in Hell. Saturday, for those who believe this, stands for Jesus’ torment in Hades and his eventual victory, as He was ‘born again’ from the devil’s dungeon. There are plenty of problems with this view. Was Jesus then less than ’God’ that He could be tortured by the devil? Was His death on the cross less than adequate for our salvation? (See 1 Corinthians 1:17)
Colossians 2:13(b)-15 contains a more satisfactory explanation of what Passover Saturday represents. ‘He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.’ The language used in this passage evokes the scene of a military court-martial. They bring the offending officer to stand before his troops. The supreme commander then strips him of the symbols of his authority and expels him. Jesus settled the death penalty of the ancient covenant and proceeded to the heavenly throne room of God the Father. There Satan stood in shame before all the angels of heaven. Jesus stripped him of his authority and expelled him from heaven. The accuser of the brethren no longer has access to the presence of God. Hallelujah! This is what the Saturday between Crucifixion Friday and Resurrection Sunday stands for.
So, instead of descending into Hell, Jesus ascended into Heaven! Instead of the devil tormenting Him, He expelled the devil! How could some get it so wrong? Part of the answer lies in how we interpret the Bible. I deal with this in the second half of my latest book ‘Truth is the Word – restoring a lost focus’.