by Augustine Sokolovski
Belief in the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead is the key, fundamental dogma of Christianity. Faith in the Resurrection of Christ is made up of consistent saving truths. One such truth is the belief of the Ancient Church that the Lord Jesus descended into Hell.
Ancient Creeds, among which the Symbol of the Holy Apostles, profess faith "in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and our Lord, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried, and descended into Hell." The descent into hell of the Lord Jesus is a mandatory component of the New Testament understanding of the Resurrection.
To understand the essence of the descent of Christ into Hell, one must know the teaching of the Ancient Church, know patristic theology, understand dogmatics, and be faithful to the letter and spirit of Holy Scripture. “To trust God, to believe in God, to go with God”, - as saint Augustine says.
The Epistle of Peter says: “Christ, in order to bring us to God, suffered for our sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, having been put to death according to the flesh, by the spirit He descended and preached to the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3; 18-19). “Spirit to the spirits in prison” – this phrase is extremely important. In the ability of the Lord Jesus, after His bodily death, to preach to the spirits lies the necessary consequence of the authenticity of the humanity of Christ, and, at the same time, the sign of the beginning victory over destruction and death.
Hell is the ultimate degree of human dehumanization. Hell does not involve communication, hell is a place where there is no communion, no interaction, and, in modern terms, there is simply no communication. Christ, being visibly defeated and annihilated by death in his humanity and his messiahship, according to the Apostle Peter, not only was crucified on the Cross, but also truly communed in this dehumanization, but also overcame it. For he preached to those in hell, preached the gospel to the spirits of dead people plunged into silence.
It turns out that the Lord's rest of death on Great Saturday was not the abolition of all life, but the time of His within the framework of the economy of salvation action. “We proclaim Your death, O Lord, and confess Your resurrection,” is proclaimed in the ancient Eucharistic prayers of the Church after the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Thus, the symbolic and realistic languages of the liturgy agree that in the descent into Hell of the Lord Jesus there was a kind of “biblical touch” between the accomplished death of the Lord and the beginning of His resurrection from the dead.
Further, the conviction of the saving significance of the Descent is inextricably linked Faith in the Resurrection of the Lord on the Third Day. Jesus said in the Gospel that he would rise on the third day, The Gospel testifies to him, the Ancient Symbols speak of it. The third day, according to the Bible, is the day when all human hope is dead. This is the day when, contrary to all expectation, the Lord Himself begins to act. In this sense, time becomes the biblical distance between man and God.
To this theological understanding of time corresponds the anthropological one. In the Gospel of John, Martha, the sister of the deceased Lazarus, says this about her brother: “Lord! already stinks; for four days he was in the tomb” (John 11:39). In accordance with the symbolic counting of time, in the time of the Lord Jesus, there was an experiential conviction among the people of the Bible that the deceased, if the first and second days after death had already passed, was finally and irrevocably dead. So, the third day is the topos of the dehumanization of human being.
It is important to remember that in the biblical sense, death is both a category of knowledge and a category of experience. Only the deceased could be considered to have lived a human life completely, truly, finally, and irrevocably, to prove by his very death that he lived. “Death needs the living,” said the greatest Russian theologian of the 20th century, Andrei Platonov (1899-1951). According to the Book of Revelation, two great ancient prophets, in whom tradition sees Enoch and Elijah, had to return to earth to endure death, be killed, become dead (Rev. 11:12).
If the life of the Lord Jesus ended on the Cross, it would be the greatest victory for the forces of evil in history. The slandered, crucified, and murdered Messiah would be the greatest defeat of God and His Covenant with the People. Therefore, God and the Father prepared His own, and what is very important, unexpected, paradoxical, unaccountable, that is, - literally, in the language of the original Greek Orthodox theological terms, “anarchic” and, at the same time, sovereign response. The name of this answer is Resurrection. Third day… It is very important that the Lord Jesus' rest in death was not long.
The appearances of the Lord Jesus after the Resurrection were evidence of the Majesty of the Messiah, of the Kingdom that came. They were the revelation of that divine answer, which was His raising from the dead. The Heavenly Father clothed His Messiah with visible divine glory. According to the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, the Lord Jesus ascended into Heaven on a cloud (Acts 1,9).
The resurrection is not a return, and therefore the corporeality of the Lord Jesus acquired all those perfections that the divine nature possesses. The Lord Jesus could pass through closed doors, could appear sovereignly when He Himself desired it. The repeated suddenness of His Paschal appearances became the moment of interaction of the Paschal Presence and the beginning of the Second Final and Irrevocable Coming of the Lord.
One more thing. Resurrection Faith of the Lord Jesus gives Christianity a saving incompleteness, makes it eagerly striving for the future. After all, the belief in the Resurrection of Christ from the dead is closely connected with the expectation of a general resurrection of the dead at the end of history. ‘I believe in the resurrection of the flesh,’ says the Apostolic Symbol. So, what God accomplished in the Resurrection of Christ the Messiah hastens to become the heritage of everyone, to fill the bones sleeping in the earth with human life and the divine Holy Spirit (Ezek. 37:3), to become the heritage of all.