The First Holy Saturday

My family in Christ, shalom.

Today I would like to talk to you about my beliefs regarding the part of Christ’s mission that He carried out between His death and resurrection. I know that there is a certain amount of debate about this subject, with a number of Christians preferring not to speculate on activities within the spiritual ‘dimension’, but rather focus on the disciples whose earthly lives we are more able to imagine.

So let’s just very briefly sum up the disciples’ situation on that sabbath day. This band, who were for the most part 12 in number, had spent 3 years travelling around Israel with Yeshua. [1] They had listened to their Master’s wise teachings, watched Him move seamlessly between social classes, healing the sick and even raising the dead. Though Yeshua had prophesied His own death a number of times, it is hard to believe that there wasn’t the tiniest feeling among His followers that their Master was invincible. [2] To finally see Yeshua crucified (made possible by the betrayal of one of their own number!), and have angry mobs screaming for their blood would have doubtlessly instilled in them disillusionment, disbelief, dispair, fear and dread. The day would soon come when they would have to account for their wayward lives, and repent for following Someone Who dared to challenge Israel’s religious authorities. How their hearts must have fallen while they tried to observe that sabbath without the One they once knew as Saviour!

And while all that was taking place on Earth, something wonderful was happening in Heaven. The so-called Good (or Penitent) Thief [3] had gone to be with Christ in “Paradise” (Luke 23:43). How marvelous and delightful it must have been for this once earthly criminal to now stand before the throne of God! As we know, Christ’s stay in Heaven was only temporary, for He would soon rise to life on Earth. But first a trip to another spiritual realm was in order. Let us pause just for a moment to see what needed to be done.

In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) we are presented with a typical yet appalling scene of fallen humanity. A poor man (Lazarus) stands at the gate longing to partake of just a single piece of that luxurious spread which the rich has before him. But he is never invited to come, and instead dogs come to lick Lazarus’s sores. After their souls have departed from this world we find that the rich man is in hell, suffering the torments reserved for Satan’s followers. Lazarus on the other hand is in Heaven with the Jewish Patriarch, Abraham. When the rich man asks for Lazarus to come over to sooth his burning tongue, Abraham replies that it is impossible for anyone to cross from one realm to the other as there is “a great chasm” between the two (v. 26 NIV). I think that this parable is immensely significant for understanding Christ’s actions on that sabbath day because it was He – the Saviour who destroys “all dominion, authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:24) – Who builds a bridge between the two.

It is possible that my vision of what could have happened has more to do with Stephen Seal’s novel than my own biblical readings. But now I can imagine Him marching into the underworld with all the authority of every creature’s Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer; preaching to and freeing captives along the way (1 Peter 3:19). Some people can conceive of hell as being divided, with a place on the outskirts for people who, not having committed grievous sin and ‘deserving’ an afterlife within the flames, haven’t obtained entrance into Heaven. Whether there is any truth in this or not (or whether there are a number of different parts as in Dante’s Inferno) I cannot say. All I can think is that my Saviour, Who worked wonders on Earth (and continues to do so), would not have stopped just because 8 souls had been set free (v. 20). He and His army would have marched on unhindered (Job 38:17; Matthew 16:18 [5]) until finally reaching Satan (the source of all evil). I wonder what would have passed between them at this point? Whatever it may have been Satan was left with no doubt that his usurped reign is coming to an end. And the proof then given: the miracle of Resurrection Sunday which no one had the power to stop (cf. Acts 2:31)!

This post is basically an updated version of my first blog, What Did Christ Do Between His Death on the Cross and His Resurrection? (16 August 2018). In that I included the music video ‘Hallelujah for the Cross’ by the Newsboys. As you may know, I am now a big fan of contemporary Christian music, God only leading me to this style of music about a year ago, And this song was one of the first that I heard. Even now this song helps me to focus my mind on Christ’s crucifixion (although now it has to compete for my attention with many other great songs). I think that the imagery it uses is very apt, with such things as:

  • The final perfect Lamb” being slain (cf. Hebrews 9:11-15);
  • Christ fighting a war in which His love conquers death, and
  • Christ’s sacrifice bringing the saving grace that no one else’s can.

I also find the last verse to be very profound. That is, that by placing our hope in Christ death loses its sting. All things die, and when death finally bars us from this earthly existence we will go on to walk in that realm which, by the ministry and mission of Christ, is now open to those who truly believe and even offers a path to freedom for death’s captives.

Maybe you have found this to be spiritually nourishing; maybe you totally disagree with everything. Whatever the case may be I hope that, knowing what happens tomorrow, you can look forward with hope and not be downcast. And look to you fellow disciples: do not let hopelessness reign in their lives. Tomorrow will Christ return with news of victory and of great joy! Hallelujah!!! 

Shalom and God bless you.

Endnotes

[1] My own very short journey thus far in reading the Bible from cover-to-cover has led me to pause and ponder on Genesis 5. This is the first of the Bible’s many many genealogies. My own recent research suggests that in order to gain any sort of wisdom from these we need to understand the Hebrew (and Aramaic!) meanings of the names therein. This is actually very enlightening, and it definitely makes reading these genealogies much more interesting! In this regard, I think that I would like to start using the name Yeshua (‘salvation’) more – although completely transferring to it seems a bit problematic. Even blasphemers know to Whom the name of Jesus refers, whereas I would worry that by using the name Yeshua an unbeliever may overlook an evangelical article which would otherwise have helped them.

[2] For example, on a number of occasions the Bible claims that Jesus managed to slip away from marauding crowds (e.g. Luke 4:30).

[3] Traditionally named Dismas, the thief is called Nathan in Stephen Seal’s 2006 novel The Harrowing of Hell. For me this was very confusing. This person is one of the novel’s main characters, and I had to constantly remind myself that no, this is not the Old Testament prophet! However, even with the story’s added distraction of its timey-wimey setting (see Psalm 90:4), I would wholeheartedly recommend reading this inspirational adventure!

[4] The Orthodox Study Bible gives a useful explanation of Matt.16:18’s use of the phrase ‘the gates of Hades’: “In the OT, gates suggest a fortified city (Gn. 22:17; 24:60; Is. 14:31). By shattering its gates, Christ opens the stronghold of death to set free the souls of the righteous.” (p. 1299n.).

3 thoughts on “The First Holy Saturday

  1. Interesting post! It is intriguing to speculate whether Jesus went to hell before rising from the grave. Early Christians thought so, and “Jesus descended into hell” is part of the original Apostle’s Creed. Happy Easter!

    Liked by 1 person

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