Our previous number was a story, and gave a vivid account of the sufferings of Jesus our Lord from the time of His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane to His death on the Roman cross at Calvary. Soon we shall be remembering this yet again, as Good Friday approaches. But our present purpose is to expand this theme, and see what the Scriptures have to say about the days immediately following the Saviour’s death. And in order to do so worthily, we ask God our Father to help us by the ministry of the Holy Spirit, whose purpose is always to glorify the Son. Wherever one hears of people calling upon the Holy Spirit for purely personal reasons and pleasure, to obtain a “religious feeling” in a meeting, we say “Beware!” The New Testament declares vocally that the Holy Spirit of God is sent to glorify the Saviour. And what better way of doing this than to present once again the details of our Lord’s sufferings on behalf of mankind.
“God commends His love to us in that whilst we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” That is the gospel message. It is “Good News” indeed, for we are ALL sinners. Peter was preaching to the crowds on the Day of Pentecost, and had occasion to mention David’s prophetic words from the Psalms, “You will not abandon my soul in Hades, nor suffer your Holy One to see corruption.” He said that David foresaw the resurrection of Christ, “that His soul was not abandoned in Hades, nor that His flesh saw corruption.” In other words, after Jesus died, “He descended into hell,” as the Anglican creed puts it. But some might question this, even though Peter’s exposition clearly declares it. They might say that our Lord said to the thief on the cross, “TODAY you will be with me in Paradise.” Now there is quite a lot of difference between Hades and Paradise, as I am sure everyone will agree. But the thief’s words were such as to ask the Lord to remember him WHEN He came into His Kingdom. But the Lord wanted to give the man a greater assurance than that. There was to be no waiting for the answer. “I tell you TODAY, that you will be with Me in Paradise.” It was a manner of speaking quite common to the Hebrew language, and found many times in Deuteronomy.
The Lord never entered Paradise that day. He “descended into Hades.” What is Hades, the Sheol of the Old Testament? To the ancient mind, it represented “the nether world”, the place of departed spirits. One expositor has translated it “gravedom.” This would be quite correct. As far as the living are concerned, they are “dead and gone.” But as far as their spirits are concerned, they enter Hades and await a new body in resurrection. In that far distant future, when Satan would be cast down to the earth as a human being, and then finally killed, Isaiah spoke about the occasion. “Hell (Sheol) from beneath is moved for you to meet you at your coming – – it raises up from their thrones all the kings of the nations. They speak and say, ‘Are YOU also become as weak as us? How is your pomp brought down to the grave.'” (See Isaiah 14:9-15, the passage that describes the character and history of Lucifer.)
But the Nether World was envisaged as being in three sections, namely Death (the grave), the Abyss, and Tartaros (the lake of fire.) It was, so to speak, a counterpart of the three heavens that Paul spoke about. The ancient Greeks said that “Tartaros is as deep below Hades as the Earth is below Heaven.” Tartaros is mentioned but once in the N.T., but lost in translation in 2 Peter 2:4. (More in a moment.) Where did our Lord go after His death? We have already seen that He descended into Hades. But did He descend further? Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:9-10 that the Lord “descended into the lower parts of the earth,” which being plural, suggests that He also went to those lower regions. But in Romans 10:7 he says rhetorically, “Who shall descend into the Abyss, to bring Christ up from the dead?” Hence we can be sure that He descended into the middle section of Hades, known as the Abyss. But in 1 Peter 3:18-19 Peter tells us that “Christ was put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the spirit, in which He went and preached to the spirits in prison,” the ones who were disobedient in Noah’s day.
These imprisoned spirits were the fallen angels who “kept not their first estate”, and were consigned to “pits of gloom”. (See 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6) Yes, they were held fast in Tartaros, (Greek of 2 Peter 2:4) the lowest region. And so our Lord descended into the VERY LOWEST REGION OF HADES. And there he preached to the imprisoned spirits. All this was prior to His resurrection. What did our Lord tell the imprisoned spirits? Some expositors tell us that the Greek word “preach” is not the usual one, but KERUSSO, meaning rather “to proclaim” than to “preach.” They say that He proclaimed His victory. But this does not hold water. KERUSSO is used many times for preaching the gospel, quite interchangeably with the word to evangelise. And furthermore, it is inconceivable that our Lord would “gloat” over those spirits. His message must have been one of hope. But as yet we do not see how such a hope can be realised. But God has many secrets for the future which do not concern us right now. Let us be content with the fact that our Lord, after dying, plummeted right down to the lowest region of Hades, and brought the light of hope to them. These excursions into the “nether world” have not received more than just the briefest of mentions by the N.T. writers, and we cannot know what the experience was like for our Lord in His disembodied state.
However, Satan must have thought that he had the Lord imprisoned in the lower regions, because in Ephesians 1:19-20 we read about “the working of God’s mighty power which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.”Such words convey the truth to the human mind, but what it entailed in practice we may never know in this life. But certainly they speak of a great struggle, a great and mighty power. Now we come to the exciting and positive part. Our Lord was raised from the dead, and then before many days He ascended to be with His Father. Now there is more to learn. Paul spoke about three heavens. Into which did our Lord ascend? In Hebrews 4:14 we read, “We have a great High Priest who passed through the heavens.” Just as He plumbed the depths of Hades, so now He rises majestically through the heavens. To what position? “He who descended is the same also who ascended up FAR ABOVE ALL HEAVENS, that He might fill all things.” (Ephesians 4:10) Does He not then dwell in the heavens? Oh yes. But we must remember that the heavens are part of His creation, and just as a man who builds his house may decide to dwell in it, or go elsewhere, at his pleasure, so also the Lord may dwell within the heavens of His making, or go elsewhere at His pleasure.
So great is our God that “neither the heavens nor the heavens of the heavens can contain Him,” as Solomon declared at the dedication of the Temple. (1 Kings 8:27) Furthermore, the Nether Regions have been plundered, because the Lord Jesus “has the keys of Death and Hell.” (Rev.1:18) Jesus was the perfect Lamb of God, taking away the sins of the world. His Father saw His sufferings, and raised Him from the dead, thereafter to vindicate Him before the angelic host, and in days to come the whole of this lower creation will likewise acknowledge the greatness of His work of redemption. “God has highly exalted Him, and given Him the name which is above every name.” (Phil.2:9) “Sit at My right hand until I make your enemies the footstool of your feet.” (Heb.1:13 quoted from Psalm 110:1) “You have crowned Him with glory and honour.” (Heb.2:7 quoted from Psalm 8:4-6) “It has pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell.” (Col.1:19)“In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” (Col.2:9) “All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Him.” (Col.2:3) “God seated Him at His own right hand, far above all rule and authority, power and lordship, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come.” (Eph.1:20-21)“Angels, authorities and powers are made subject to Him.” (1 Peter 3:22) “That He might have the pre-eminence in all things.” (Col.1:18)
What more can we say? Here is the exaltation of Christ. He is the One to whom God the Father is directing our spiritual eyes and minds. He is the One to whom we should be singing praise. And whenever we break bread together, and drink the wine of the New Covenant, it is the Saviour’s sufferings and death that we remember with deep thankfulness. Brethren, we hear so much these days about the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and since the coming of the Toronto phenomenon, the Spirit has taken an even higher place in the minds of God’s people. But I must confess to a feeling of displeasure whenever I hear people talking about the Holy Spirit in this way. As I said before, the coming of the Holy Spirit is to glorify the Lord Jesus, and in this short paper I have shown just why. It is not a new teaching. It is as old as the hills. Like we used to sing in days gone by, “Tell me the old, old story, of Jesus and His love.” If anyone goes to a meeting and finds a display of power, and yet there is no apparent desire to focus attention on the Lord Jesus, there is a danger that the “spirit” is not “holy”, and comes not from the presence of God.
It is Babylon who makes people drink of her cup until they are drunk. “As for me and my house”, we desire to worship the Lord Jesus in accordance with His Father’s wishes. We tremble at anything else knowing that we are living in days of great deception and darkness. We believe that in worshipping the Lord Jesus, and singing praises to Him, the Father sends His Holy Spirit to assist us at such times. Enough has already been said in The Prophetic Telegraphs about recent excesses, without labouring the point. Our present purpose is to bring our Lord’s exaltation to mind, and to realise once again the price that has been paid for our salvation. “Oh what a Saviour!” There are hymns and choruses a-plenty from the earlier days, which capture the spirit of praise that existed in the churches before the Charismatic era began. In some ways it’s a shame that these old favourites are not heard as frequently these days. But there are also some amongst the newer compositions which bear the same message. Finally, I’ll print out the words of two (one old and one new) which admirably exemplify the theme of Christ’s exaltation.
At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess Him King of Glory now;
‘Tis the Father’s pleasure we should call Him Lord,
Who from the beginning was the Mighty Word.
Humbled for a season to receive a name
From the lips of sinners unto whom He came,
Faithfully He bore it spotless to the last,
Brought it back victorious when from death He passed.
Bore it up triumphant with its human light,
Through all ranks of creatures to the central height,
To the throne of Godhead, to the Father’s breast,
Filled it with the glory of that perfect rest.
Brothers, this Lord Jesus shall return again,
With His Father’s glory, with His Angel train,
For all wreaths of empire meet upon His brow,
And our hearts confess Him King of Glory now.
[Words by Caroline M. Noel, 1817 – 1877]
Jesus shall take the highest honour,
Jesus shall take the highest praise
Let all earth join heaven in exalting the Name which is above all other names;
Let’s bow the knee in humble adoration
For at His name every knee must bow,
Let every tongue confess He is Christ, God’s only Son.
Sovereign Lord, we give You glory now,
For all honour and blessing and power belongs to You, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God.
[Chris A. Bowater, 1985]