30 March 2013

He Descended into Hell...

Our Lord Christ did descend into hell, battered hell open, overcame the devil, and delivered those who were held captive by the devil. (Blessed Martin Luther: House Postil I:480)

Christ has crushed hell, opened up heaven, bound and taken captive the devil, and delivered the prisoners. (Blessed Martin Luther: House Postil I:480)

The soul, having obtained union with the Word; descended into hell; but using its divine power and efficacy, it said to the ones in bondage, "Go forth!" (St. Cyril of Alexandria, as cited in Catalog of Testimonies VI)

Jesus has come as the mighty Redeemer.
See now the threatening strong one disarmed.
Jesus breaks down all the walls of death's fortress,
Brings forth the prisoners triumphant, unharmed.
Satan, you wicked one, own now your master!
Jesus has come, He the mighty redeemer! LSB 533:3


Robert Catherwood said...

Maybe the Old Protestant (a distant cousin of the Old Adam) is rearing his ugly head, but how do we understand this? Who were "those held captive" in hell that Christ released? Were these the pre-Christ saints? I thought that if they were, this was somehow a form of dispensationalism. Am I missing something here? I don't want to misunderstand. Where do I begin to understand this? Thank you in advance.

William Weedon said...

The ancient understanding runs more with Sheol than "hell" (as we understand it today). Think more: the place of the dead, as in the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man. And in that place, the comfort of "Abraham's bosom" for those who depart in faith and the flames (as for the rich man) for those who await without faith. But at the coming of Christ into death, the faithful are delivered from death's clutches (hence, at his death, some of the dead are raised and appear in the holy city after His resurrection!). As I shared with a friend, think of it in light of: "No one has ascended into heaven, except the Son of Man (who is in heaven)." Jn 3 "All these died without having received what was promised since they should not be perfected without us." Heb. 11 The Lord Jesus brings at His descent the prisoners of DEATH with Him into His reopened paradise. It's a lot of picture language because we just don't have words adequate to describe it, but that's the point of Luther's sermon: Christ's descent rescues the prisoners of death and delivers from him who had the power of death. In other words: the death, descent, and resurrection really changed things! As one old Easter hymn put it (a great text set by Aufdemberge that CPH published some years ago): "Who conquered death and harrowed hell and led the souls that loved Him well all in the light of light to dwell, alleluia!"