Have you ever wondered what happened while Jesus was in the tomb? We know what happened in Jerusalem immediately following the death of Jesus thanks to Matthew’s account:
Then Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and gave up his spirit. Just then the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks were split apart. And tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had died were raised. (They came out of the tombs after his resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.) Now when the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and what took place, they were extremely terrified and said, “Truly this one was God’s Son!” (Matthew 27:50-54 NET)
Incredible things took place, no doubt. But what was happening behind the scenes? Early Christian writings along with some Biblical texts might offer some revelation.
The Odes of Solomon is a collection of Christian hymns from the end of the first century. The following is a climactic celebration of the corporate resurrection of Jesus and the holy ones of Israel. This is what the first century church believed happened when Jesus descended into hell, as harmonized with Matthew 27.
I was not rejected although I was considered to be so, and I did not perish although they thought it of me.
Hell saw me and was shattered, and Death ejected me and many with me.
I have been vinegar and bitterness to it, and I went down with it as far as the depth.
Then the feet and the head it released, because it was not able to endure my face.
And I made a congregation of living among his dead; and I spoke with them by living lips, in order that my word may not fail.
And those who had died ran toward me; and they cried out and said, “Son of God, have pity on us.
And deal with us according to your kindness, and bring us out from the chains of darkness.
And open for us the door by which we may go forth to you, for we perceive that our death does not approach you.
May we also be saved with you, because you are our Savior.”
Then I heard their voice, and placed their faith in my heart.
And I placed my name upon their head, because they are free and they are mine. (Odes of Solomon 42:10-20)
Peter appears to have had this same understanding of the events that happened between the death and resurrection of Jesus. “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison,” (I Peter 3:18-19). Later in the same letter Peter says, “the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, thought they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does,” (I Peter 4:6).
These thoughts bring new illumination to the words of Paul in his letter to the Colossians where he says, “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Col 1:18).
It also further explains what John meant in Revelation chapter 1 verses 4-6:
Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
Jesus died and descended into hell. But, since He is the Son of God, hell could not hold Him. Instead He shattered the locks, bolts, bars and doors of the prison cells, liberating the righteous from the holds of Death and of Hell. As the head of all principalities and powers, He emerged, the supremely Righteous One, leading those that had been captured and confined, and delivering them from their graves to the gates of Heaven.
Jesus Christ has beaten Satan, Death, Hell and the grave, as was prophesied in the garden. They have been dealt a terminal blow to the head (Gen 3:15), and they will ultimately be completely defeated and destroyed as foretold in Revelation 20:13-14, “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.”
And all of this was accomplished on a Saturday. Which brings to mind . What are you doing today?
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Thanks for reading.