I wrote last week about the line in the Apostles’ Creed: ‘Descended to the dead’ (or hell). I’ve since read an article on The Gospel Coalition site by Matt Emerson about the debate. Like I did, Emerson also refers to Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology book. I’m not sure that I agree with all that he has said – for instance, I’m still musing upon whether the ‘Paradise’ of Luke 23:43 is to be equated with the ‘third heaven’ in 2 Corinthians 12:2. But, that might be more of a quibble over our knowledge of the intermediate state; overall it’s a stimulating and helpful article on the subject. I did like these final paragraphs in his conclusion:
“A third reason the descent is pastorally important is because it is connected to baptism. The early church viewed Jesus’s descent to the dead as the third and final of three descents in the mission of the Son: the first was the descent into the waters of Mary’s womb, the second was his descent into the waters of the Jordan at his baptism, and the third and final descent is his descent into the waters of Sheol, the place of the dead. In these descents, and ultimately through the whole work of Christ, the enemy is defeated. Because chaos waters are so often associated with God’s enemies in the Bible, these aquatically-portrayed descents are important pictures for the victory Christ achieves through his life and work, and particularly his death and resurrection. When new believers enter into the waters of baptism, they are proclaiming that they have renounced Satan and his works and participate in the victory Christ has won for them through union with him by the power of his Holy Spirit.
A final pastoral implication is that, even while death and destruction still wreak havoc in our world, they no longer have the keys to their kingdoms. Jesus holds the keys to Death and Hades. One day, they will be no more as they are thrown into the Lake of Fire along with the rest of Christ’s enemies. Jesus’s descent, and ultimately his resurrection and ascension, bring the victory bought at the cross to reality in all three realms of creation. We therefore have nothing to fear, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation” (Romans 8:38-39).