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Did Jesus Descend into Hell?: Part 2 - Geography

Updated: Apr 7, 2021

The Underworld- Clarence Larkin
The Underworld - Clarence Larkin

In Part 1 we briefly looked at the subject of The Harrowing (Latin: Descensus Christi ad Inferos, "the descent of Christ into Hell") of Hell in context disregarding the controversial Apostles Creed statement. The word Hell has consistently been misapplied/misinterpreted which concerns a lot of people when Hades is the more correct term. As the thinking goes at some point after Christ died on the cross (between the time of his Crucifixion and his Resurrection) He spiritually descended to "The Place of the Dead" not Hell as Hell has not been created yet, where he brought salvation to all of the righteous who had died since the beginning of the world. This is referred to in the Apostles' Creed and the Athanasian Creed (Quicumque vult), which state that Jesus Christ "descended into the underworld" (descendit ad inferos), although neither mention that he liberated the dead. His descent to the underworld is inferred to in the New Testament in 1 Peter 4:6, which states that the "good tidings were proclaimed to the dead", so we must ask who proclaimed them, Christ? The Catholic Catechism interprets Ephesians 4:9, as "Christ descended into the lower parts of the earth", also supporting this interpretation. These passages in the Christian Bible have given rise to many differing interpretations and opinions. It seems based on what I have heard that many theologians/Bible Scholars are not well educated in this aspect of scripture, although I do not know that for certain. Perhaps they have carefully read the bible scriptures and decided Christ did not descended into the Place of the dead.

The differing of opinions is seen primarily in mainline denominations. This is not anything that can be resolved it seems but I believe we should consider it as a possibility and not ignore it. The objection of the word Hell is strictly a semantic one.

The Harrowing of Hell is taught by Lutheran, Catholic, Reformed, and Orthodox traditions, yet many Christians reject the doctrine of the "harrowing of hell", claiming that "there is little scriptural evidence for it, and that Jesus's own words contradict it". Pastor John Piper says "there is no textual [ Biblical] basis for believing that Christ descended into hell", and, therefore, Piper does not recite the "he descended into hell" phrase when saying the Apostles' Creed. Theologian Wayne Grudem also skips the phrase when reciting the Creed; he says that the "single argument in ... favor [of the "harrowing of hell" clause in the Creed] seems to be that it has been around so long. ...But an old mistake is still a mistake". Adrian Warnock In his book Raised with Christ agrees with Grudem, commenting, "Despite some translations of an ancient creed [i.e. the Apostles' Creed], which suggest that Jesus ... 'descended into hell', there is no biblical evidence to suggest that he actually did so."

Augustine (354–430) argued that 1 Peter 3:19–20, the chief passage used to support the doctrine of the "harrowing of hell", is "more allegory than history".

The application of the descent (if we accept it as fact) would be that Christ like us went to the grave while his human soul went to the place of the righteous dead. Remembering that death is an effect of the Fall and is not natural for humans as God designed (Gen 3:17-19, Romans 6:23). Christ remained dead for three days just as we will remain dead and separated from our bodies until our resurrection. Christ has experienced the fullness of our humanity and gone through every aspect of our reality. He has experienced death and defeated it so it is no longer an obstacle to our eternity with God. We will not remain dead just as Christ did not remain dead.

As we all contemplate the death of loved ones and friends and our death we know that our Great High Priest who experienced death and who is now at the right hand of the Father as our advocate is bringing us with him to the last day.

"Christ descended into Hades so that you and I would not have to. Christ descended to Hades so that we might ascend to heaven. Christ entered the realm of death, the realm of the strong enemy, and came away with his keys. The keys of Death and Hades are now in our Savior’s hands. And God his Father has exalted him to his right hand, and given him another key, the key of David, the key to the heavenly Jerusalem. He opens and no one will shut, he shuts and no one will open (Rev. 3.7). And praise to him, as the hymn says, “For he hath op’ed the heavenly door, and man is blessed forever more.”

“He Descended into Hell” Charles E. Hill (link)

The illustration above of the Underworld was done by Clarence Larkin (1850–1924) an American Baptist pastor and author who wrote extensively on Dispensationalism. His intricate charts provided readers with a visual understanding of seeing God's action in history and for interpreting complex biblical prophecies and scripture. Note the incorrect use of the word "Hell" for the Place of the Dead.

A Look at the Geography of Hades

We find in the NT names for Hades that include: Hades, Death, Paradise, Abraham's Bosom, the Abyss, Tartarus, Gehenna, and Lake of Fire. Of theses only Tartarus, Abraham's Bosom and Gehenna do not appear in Revelation. Abraham's Bosom appears to be a synonym for Paradise as Tartarus appears to be a synonym for the Abyss, Gehenna for the Lake of Fire. If we look at Isaiah 26:19-20 we find in verse 19 "the earth will give birth to the departed spirts or shades." meaning the dead will depart the underworld.

I go forward believing that Paradise is a place as our Lord spoke of on the Cross. If we just look at this whole idea in spatial terms we can deduce that the down to part is a dimensional location and not actually a cave etc. within the earth. As we are all spiritual beings without our bodies and so are Angelic creatures there would be no need for a material location. The Bible speaks of a place called the Abyss, or the pit. In the New Testament, it can refer to the abode of demons, or the place of the unbelieving dead. It is geographically located in the lowest parts of the earth.

Abode Of Demons - The Gospel of Luke refers to the abyss as the abode of demons.

They [the demons] begged Him (Jesus) not to order them to go back into the abyss (Luke 8:31). By ordering them back would imply they were there before.

Place Of The Dead - Romans refers to the abyss as the place of the dead.

Who will descend into the deep? [abyss] (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead) (Romans 10:7) Under The Earth - The Abyss is said to be an area under the earth. It has a shaft that connects it to the surface. Smoke comes out of the shaft like a furnace. Is this literal? Perhaps it was a one time?

The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. . . . The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon (Revelation 9:1,2,11).

The abyss, or pit, is a place that is located geographically in the heart of the earth. It is said to be connected to the earth's surface by a shaft?? Many claim theses are symbolic and not real yet go on to claim "The Abyss" is also the place where the beast, or antichrist, arises. It is where Satan will be bound for a thousand years after Christ returns. Eventually he will be released from the Abyss and sent to the Lake of Fire. This cannot be symbolic and real at the same time.

I have given you a snapshot of the debate. Hopefully this will edify you and inspire you to do more reading and prayer. Refer back to Part 1 for more references.

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