May 16, 2022

Descended to Hell

Isaiah 53:1-12

By oppression and judgment he was taken away. . . . He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.

—  Isaiah 53:8

The Bible teaches about a place called “hell” that is reserved for God’s enemies. The New Testament mentions hell 162 times, and Jesus himself mentions it over 70 times.

People have found it puzzling, though, that the Apostles’ Creed says Jesus “descended to hell.” Appearing in some versions of the creed from the fourth century, this phrase may be based partly on some statements by the apostle Peter, who wrote that Jesus “went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits” (1 Peter 3:19-20; 4:6). Some people have taken this to mean that after he died, Jesus descended to hell to free ancient sinners. Others have said that “descended to hell” refers to the depths of Christ’s anguished suffering throughout his life, crucifixion, death, and burial for our sake.

Whatever the full meaning is, this phrase should not distract from the bedrock teachings about Jesus and the Christian faith. At the very least, the phrase captures in a condensed way Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering servant—our Savior, Jesus, who suffered and died for us. This teaching assures us in our own moments of fear and temptation that Jesus, through his sacrifice for us, suffered in a way that we, by grace, will never have to suffer.

Because of your suffering and death, Lord Jesus, hell has no power over us. Thank you for making sure that nothing can separate us from you. Amen.

About the author — Kurt Selles

Kurt Selles is the director of ReFrame Ministries and serves as the Executive Editor of Today. He is a graduate of Calvin College and Seminary, and received his PhD from Vanderbilt University. Before coming to ReFrame, he served 19 years in Taiwan and China with CRC World Missions. Kurt later taught missions at Beeson Divinity School, where he also acted as the director of the school’s Global Center. Kurt and his wife, Vicki, reside in Grand Rapids and have three adult children.

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