You’ve probably heard that phrase related to Easter, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s comin’.” We don’t know who first coined it, but it says the right things (if it were Friday), but since it’s Saturday, well, it changes it a bit.
We have been saying for weeks in our preaching through Hebrews that EVERYTHING Christ did in birth, life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension secured salvation for the redeemed. Invariably, this means that the day between, also had to do with our salvation.
First of all, where did Christ go after death? I grew up on Contemporary Christian Music, youth camps, and youth evangelism conferences. It was mostly fine and shielding, but it also afforded some pretty poor theology. See, my understanding throughout my youth was that Jesus died, went to hell to do some spiritual warfare there, and then burst out of the grave in victory over Satan. That was coupled with some pretty bad CCM music and pretty dumb poems and posters about Jesus playing basketball with the devil and beating Him.
Where do we get this idea? Well, there is a curious passage in 1 Peter 3:18-22…
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
It does sound a bit odd, right? It sounds like Jesus went to hell to preach to those who died in the flood. But is that consistent with Scripture? Is there post-mortem opportunities to be saved? Are they even saved, or is Jesus just mocking them with a celestial “nah, nah, nah, nah, naaaah”?
The focus of this text is on the purpose of Christ’s sufferings to help the believing audience to endure persecution. Peter simply says that Christ died to bring us to God and was put to death in the flesh, but made spiritually alive. In that spirit, Christ proclaimed the gospel through Noah, before the flood, to those who (now) are in prison because of their disobedience. Peter is saying for them to endure for the sake of righteousness (read vv.8-17), remaining faithful to the gospel, because God will judge the righteous and unrighteous alike, as exemplified in the destruction of those in Noah’s day.
From there, Peter speaks of the symbol of baptism showing their attachment to Christ’s resurrection and hope-filled trust that He is powerful to save and rules the authorities, even those persecuting the body of Christ.
Consider 1 John 3:2-3…
2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
In Christ’s full humanity, He is like us in every way, in life, death, and, yes, resurrection. This means that even when Christ (fully God, fully man) actually died, His humanity did not cease to exist. His perfect divine embodiment went into the very real spiritual presence of God, just as we will upon our physical death. But one day, when Jesus returns, and if we are dead, the dead in Christ will rise first and all (the living and the dead) will received glorified bodies to worship Him perfectly forever.
Jesus actually, physically rose from the dead. In doing so, He secures forever that we will be in His likeness (not same-ness) one day and have no fear of death, because it cannot hold us. This means that Jesus died, went in the presence of the Father, returned early Sunday morning (Spirit meeting up with His flesh) and rose out of the grave in a more glorified state, yet fully human, fully God.
The fact that when Christ died, and ascended to the Father (not hell), speaks of the security of our salvation and the nature of the atonement. Jesus did not ransom us from the devil! He ransomed us from God! It is against God we have sinned. It was God’s wrath we feared. In fact, that’s the very point Peter makes in His passage in 1 Peter, saying that God judged the people, but that only after the gospel had been proclaimed at the time through Noah, who was delivered by God’s grace.
Satan is satan. He is not God, not in any way. He is an angel, a created being. God, the uncreated One, is the just and the justifier. Don’t diminish what Christ did on Saturday after His death. Living, suffering, bleeding, and dying was a sufficient sacrifice. He did not have to descend to hell also. His death was enough because He is enough.
When you consider, then, the despair and fear of the disciples on that Saturday, the sweetness of that in-between day starts to come out. Just like Israel in days of despair before the incarnation, and just like creation groaning now longing for a return, Christ would graciously come back on the scene to secure and validate His saving work, conquering the grave itself, ransoming His own for God.
Knowing that He’ll return and we will be delivered (for He promised this), we can live like Peter wanted the church to live and like the author of Hebrews encouraged the church to live…
12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.