Thursday, 30 August 2012

After His death: Revd Paolo Castellina

English translation of today's meditation in Italian by Rev Paolo Castellina

Question : Wherein consisted Christ's humiliation after his death?

Answer: Christ's humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day; which has been otherwise expressed in these words, he descended into hell. (Westminster Larger Catechism).

Comment: If anyone thinks that finally, with his terrible death on the Cross, Jesus' humiliation was over : they are wrong. All this is still added to the humiliation of being buried and remaining for some time under the power of death. The pitiful testimony of Jesus' body in a decent grave and His funeral was surely the least his friends (Joseph of Arimathea, John and Marys etc) could have done to him and, as such, it is a praiseworthy act. His further humiliation, however, was not so much in this, as in the sense of His being "dead and buried".  

When you say something is "dead and buried" or "fallen by the wayside", is this not this a humiliation, a declaration of defeat?  

Consider what is happening around His burial. It was with a sigh of relief that the enemies of Jesus had cried out: "We finally got rid of that nuisance. Now, finally, it's back to normal....."  

Similarly His disciples, disappointed and embittered, fleeing in turn were saying:
"We were deluded. We were wrong. Lets go back to our former activities. There will be more than just the memory of the good old days with He and the anguish of His suffering and death." 

Remember the two disciples on the road to Emmaus that disappointed and embittered are returning home? Along the way, explaining to a stranger facts that had occurred in Jerusalem, they exclaim: "We had hoped that he which should have redeemed Israel, however, with all this, is the third day since these things happened" (Luke 24 : 31).

Undoubtedly, these are still the traits of the further humiliation of Jesus and His cause. That the body of Christ was buried, and remained under the power of death for three days is undoubtedly part of the abasement of Christ. "... For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).  

Christ was "the Holy One of God": there was no sin in Him so death could not have had any power over Him, if not for the fact that our sins had been placed upon him. He died and was buried as our substitute (vicar) who carried our sin. Since His being buried was part of the wages of sin, it is an element of humiliation of Christ. 

Even in this case, however, Jesus still operates. Jesus continues to operate, in fact, through His humiliation. What happens in between His death and His Resurrection? Things happen that we can hardly describe, and perhaps even to understand. We lack adequate words and concepts that we express are inaccurate. 

In what condition is Jesus in His death and at His resurrection? We use the categories of Bible metaphysics. At death, the bodily component of the human person is separated from the spiritual component (the soul). The first (the body) returns to the earth, the second (the soul) returns with God. 

This separation, however, in the mind of God, will not be permanent. The integrity of the human person will be restored, the soul will return to rejoin the body of a different type, glorified in the "new creation." All that we see in Jesus Christ the first fruits of the new creation. In fact: "... each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then those who are Christ's at his coming" (1 Corinthians 15:23).  


1. Jesus's soul (human spirit) while His body was in the tomb, must be "in Heaven," in a dimension that we call "paradise" in communion with God. Is it not true that Jesus, the repentant thief and a believer, the Cross, promises, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). "Today," not in three days or the end of time! 

2. Jesus' body is buried and remains the power of death for three days. The death could have power over His body for three days, only is the wages, the penalty for sin had been paid in full and had cancelled the guilt of sin. If the body of Christ had remained permanently under the power of sin, this would indicate that the penalty for sin was paid in full. This is part of the proclamation of the Gospel of hope. "Only three days" for the work of redemption indicates perfect fulfilment. Death no longer has any right on Him, as we no longer need to "add" anything to it. His death is "perfect". 

3. In those three days, Jesus "descended into hell." This expression occurs in the ancient Creed or the Apostles' Creed. What does that mean? During Christian history, it has been interpreted in different ways.

a) Some argue that Christ was literally finished in the underworld, meaning "the abode of the dead", not the Earth, but "the underworld" Hades, not to be confused with hell (permanent place of punishment of the fallen angels and the wicked). According to this interpretation, it would be a sort of "waiting room" of the dead, waiting for the Day of Judgment, where they will be called and sent to the place where God has destined them. According to this interpretation, between the time of his death and that of His Resurrection, Christ was going to preach to those spirits who had not yet heard of Him and His work of salvation, to open for them the way to heaven. This interpretation, supported by Roman Catholicism, and some others, does not stand up to careful scrutiny of biblical revelation. It, in fact, is based on an incorrect reading of 1 Peter 3:18-20. 

b) Some evangelical Christians claim that the words "descended into hell" refer to Christ's suffering on the Cross, that is to say, not that He descended into hell as a place, but in a condition of extreme suffering. Although this idea is doctrinally better than the last, it does not hold because the word rendered as "hell" in the Apostles' Creed is not the same as "Gehenna" (the place of punishment), but Hades (Hades). 

c) Our catechism teaches instead (and it is the interpretation that we believe best), the words "descended into hell" refer simply to being buried and continuing under the power of death for a time. The intention is that Hades is not a place (the "waiting room"), but the condition of the departed in the power of death. The much-debated question of where Jesus was during those three days, and what He was doing, it is not treated explicitly in the Scriptures. It is considered, by the authors of the Catechism, as entirely speculative and is therefore ignored.

In this reading, the humiliation or humility of Jesus ends with His burial, and his short stay under the power of death.  The "last act" of His humiliation is a prelude to His Rising, what we will discuss in the following reflections.

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