the Harrowing of Hell
Jesus preached the gospel in hell


Another controversial concept among the various christian group is the interpretation of the time spent by Jesus during his three days soon after the cross. Evidently he died, he was buried and he was resurrected on the third day. Bible gives some indication on what happened to Jesus after death.

It is clearly stated in the scripture that Jesus on his death on the cross, descended into the Hell (Greek Hades) and continued his good news to those who were there and took those who were captive their and took them with him into liberation. This follows his mission statement:


Luke 4: He found the place where it was written: 18The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lords favor.

Philippians 2:8-11 that Christ died and rose again not only for the people on earth, but also for those in Hades:


"He (Jesus) humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."


If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)


Evidently those under the earth simply are those who are dead. Everyone there also will confess that Jesus is Lord. And we know that confession is part of process process believe - confess - be saved. Will the dead confess according to this passage? Will they be saved?


Jesus himself proclaims

"I (Christ) tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come
when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live...
a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice." (John 5:25, 28)


Do we need any further confirmation that those who are dead is also included among those who will hear the voice and can and will respond.


Many Bible commentaries and evangelists try to avoid this possibility by interpreting "the dead" as spiritually dead people, or sinners. It surely means that, but not only that, since it is qualified with "all who are in their graves" shows that "the dead" here really means physically dead people. Otherwise we can use allegory circumvent any statement to our desire. They are now in Hades and they "will hear the voice of Christ," and those who hear will "live," (Matthew 4:4, 22:32, Romans 1:17, 1 Peter 4:6)

Peter resoundingly states this:

1 Peter 3:1920: (Jesus) "went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spiritsto those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water...."


Ephesians 4:7-10 NIV: "But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it [or God] says, 'When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.'[Psalm 68:18] (What does 'he ascended' mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?[or the depths of the earth] He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe."


Romans 14:9 "Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living."

Some of the Old Testament saints even appeared to people after this event.


Matthew 27:52-53, "The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people."


Zechariah 9:11 refers to prisoners in a waterless pit. "As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit."


Isaiah 24:21-22 also refers to spirits in prison, reminiscent of Peter's account of a visitation to spirits in prison: "And it shall come to pass in that day, that the LORD shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth. And they shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited."


The Gospel of Nicodemus gives an elaborate description and action of Jesus on this victory over death and hell by Jesus The Gospel of Nicodemus, also known as the Acts of Pilate (Latin: Acta Pilati; Greek: Πράξεις Πιλάτου), is an apocryphal gospel claimed to have been derived from an original Hebrew work written by Nicodemus, who appears in the Gospel of John as an associate of Jesus. The title "Gospel of Nicodemus" is medieval in origin. The dates are uncertain, but according to the 1907 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia scholars agree in assigning the resulting work to the middle of the fourth century AD.


It includes a tour of Hell by Christ after his death. In the Hell (called infernus in the original Latin, just as found in the Vulgate), Christ gathered Adam and other the patriarchs taking them to paradise and delivering them to the care of the archangel Michael. John the Baptist had heralded Jesus arrival on earth, after his death, he heralded Jesus eventual arrival to deliver those in the Hell. The Harrowing of Hell episode depicts St Dismas accompanying Christ in Hell, and describes the deliverance of the righteous Old Testament patriarchs. .


Ruth 2:20: "'The LORD bless him!' Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. 'He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.'"


It is wrong to think that God is not merciful to the dead in Hades. Human being is the object of God's love, so are the people in Hades.


In Christian theology, the Harrowing of Hell (Latin: Descensus Christi ad Inferos, "the descent of Christ into hell") is the triumphant descent of Christ into Hell (or Hades) between the time of his Crucifixion and his Resurrection when he brought salvation to all of the righteous who had died since the beginning of the world. After his death, the soul of Jesus was supposed to have descended into the realm of the dead.


Gospel of Nicodemus explain how John the Baptist had actually been teaching the hell settlers the coming of Jesus to Hell to save them just as he was doing on earth. Thus Jesus did go there took those who were righteous and preached the good news of salvation to the Hell residence as he did on the earth surface residence.


Evidently the Hell is of concern to God as much as those on the surface of earth. The good news of salvation is same. Those who believe in Jesus, the Son of God will be saved.

The Harrowing of Hell is referred to in the Apostles' Creed and the Athanasian Creed. which state that Jesus Christ "descended into Hell".

Throughout the Middle Ages it was generally believed that the Apostles, on the day of Pentecost, while still under the direct inspiration of the Holy Ghost, composed our present Creed between them, each of the Apostles contributing one of the twelve articles. Earliest referrence is c. 390 in the letter addressed to Pope Siricius by the Council of Milan (Migne, P.L., XVI, 1213) as Symbolum Apostolorum ("Creed of the Apostles") in these striking words: "If you credit not the teachings of the priests . . . let credit at least be given to the Symbol of the Apostles which the Roman Church always preserves and maintains inviolate."

(AD 296- 373) was the 20th bishop of Alexandria. His episcopate lasted 45 years (c. 8 June 328 2 May 373), of which over 17 were spent in five exiles ordered by four different Roman emperors. He is considered to be a renowned Christian theologian, a Church Father, the chief defender of Trinitarianism against Arianism. All three branches of Christendom- Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestants - revere Athanasius


The creed is long essentially defending Trinity apart from the basic faith of Christian Church.

Athanasian Creed

And the Catholic faith is this:

That we worship one God in Trinity ..

He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.

Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation: that he also believe faithfully the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. .

For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man; so God and Man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation; descended into hell; rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into heaven, he sitteth on the right hand of the God the Father Almighty, from whence he will come to judge the living and the dead. At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies; And shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.

This is the Catholic faith; which except a man believe truly and firmly, he cannot be saved.

Christ having descended to the underworld is alluded to in the New Testament in 1 Peter 3:1920, which speaks of Jesus preaching to "the imprisoned spirits". (The Catholic Catechism

Nicodemus in the section called the Acts of Pilate, which also appears separately at earlier dates within the Acts of Peter and Paul. It is subsequently repeated in Eynsham's homilies of c. 1000 AD,

The Harrowing of Hell was taught by theologians of the early church:


St Melito of Sardis (died c. 180) in his Homily on the Passover and more explicitly in his Homily for Holy Saturday;

Hippolytus (Treatise on Christ and Anti-Christ) Origen (Against Celsus, 2:43), and, later,
St Ambrose (died 397) all wrote of the Harrowing of Hell.

The early heretic Marcion and his followers also discussed the Harrowing of Hell, as mentioned by Tertullian, Irenaeus, and Epiphanius.

The 6th-century Christolytes, as recorded by John of Damascus, believed that Jesus left his soul and body in hell, and only rose with his divinity to heaven.
Some others believed that Jesus not only died on the cross, but also went to hell and suffered torture and pain as payment of the sin for all mankind.Tertullian (A Treatise on the Soul, 55), Interprets Ephesians 4:9, which states that "[Christ] descended into the lower parts of the earth", as also supporting this interpretation.)


In recent years
Sadhu Sundar Singh believed that Jesus did go down to the Hell (Hades) and preached the Good News of Salvation to all who believe in Him.


William Barclay, a professor at University of Glasgow and a well-known Scottish theologian who reads the New Testament in original Greek, comments on these Bible verses that Apostle Peter clearly states Christ descended to Hades and preached his Good News there (commentary on I Peter).


Yoshinobu Kumazawa, the president of Tokyo Union Theological Seminary, interprets these verses as Christs preaching of the Good News in Hades.


Joel B. Green, a leading professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, states, the dead of I Peter 4:6 are dead members of the human family given postmortem opportunity to hear the Good News.(commentary on I Peter)


The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "By the expression 'He descended into Hell', the Apostles' Creed confesses that Jesus did really die and through his death for us conquered death and the devil 'who has the power of death' (Hebrews 2:14). In his human soul united to his divine person, the dead Christ went down to the realm of the dead. He opened Heaven's gates for the just who had gone before him."


As the Catechism says, the word "Hell"from the Norse, Hel; in Latin, infernus, infernum, inferi; in Greek, Hades; in Hebrew, Sheolis used in Scripture and the Apostles' Creed to refer to the abode of all the dead, whether righteous or evil, unless or until they are admitted to Heaven (CCC 633). This abode of the dead is the "Hell" into which the Creed says Christ descended. His death freed from exclusion from Heaven the just who had gone before him: "It is precisely these holy souls who awaited their Savior in Abraham's bosom whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into Hell", the Catechism states (CCC 633), echoing the words of the Roman Catechism, 1,6,3. His death was of no avail to the damned.


Was it a judgement based on the knowledge of the coming of the Mesiah. Were all those whom Jesus released from the Hell, just those of the Jews who heard and put their trust in the Mesiah. What about those who never heard it? What do you think Jesus proclaim to the rest of the dead who were not Jews? "You did not believe in me so remain in hell eternally"?


"The gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does" (1 Peter 4:6).

Jesus taking Adam and Eve out of Hades
Christ stretching his saving arms to the people in Hades
(Greek Orthodox Icon, Turkey)


The above Orthodox icon depicts Jesus, vested in white and gold to symbolize his divine majesty, standing on the brazen gates of Hades (also called the "Doors of Death"), which are broken and have fallen in the form of a cross, illustrating the belief that by his death on the cross, Jesus "trampled down death by death" . He is holding Adam and Eve and pulling them up out of Hades. Traditionally, he is not shown holding them by the hands, by their wrists, to illustrate the theological teaching that mankind could not pull himself out of his original or ancestral sin, but that it could come about only by the work (energia) of God. Jesus is surrounded by various righteous figures from the Old Testament (Abraham, David, etc.); the bottom of the icon depicts Hades as a chasm of darkness, often with various pieces of broken locks and chains strewn about. Quite frequently, one or two figures are shown in the darkness, bound in chains, who are generally identified as personifications of Death or the Devil.

But the harrowing of hell remains a central tenet of Eastern Orthodox Christians, who place an icon depicting the descent at the front of their churches as Saturday night becomes Easter Sunday. It remains there, venerated and often kissed, for 40 days.

"The icon that represents Easter for us is not the empty cross or tomb," said Peter Bouteneff, a theology professor at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, N.Y. "It's Christ's descent into Hades."

The doctrine on the descent of Christ into Hades is an integral part of Orthodox soteriology. Its soteriological implications, however, depend in many ways on the way in which we understanding the preaching of Christ in hell and its salutory impact on people. If the preaching was addressed only to the Old Testament righteous, then the soteriological implications of the doctrine is minimal, but if it was addressed to all those in hell, and all those who will be there in the future - as it is on the earth - its significance is considerably increased. Greek Orthodox theologian, I. Karmiris, asserts that according to the teaching of almost all the Eastern Fathers, the preaching of the Saviour was extended to all without exception and salvation was offered to all the souls who passed away from the beginning of time, whether Jews or Greek, righteous or unrighteous. At the same time, the preaching of Christ in hell was good and joyful news of deliverance and salvation, not only for the righteous but also the unrighteous. It was not the preaching to condemn for unbelief and wickedness, as it seemed to Thomas Aquinas. The entire text of the First Letter of St. Peter relating to the preaching of Christ in hell speaks against its understanding in terms of accusation and damnation.


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