Sunday, December 20, 2009

Why Did Jesus Descend to Hell?

Some skeptics claim that the death of Jesus is not sufficient to pay the enormous price of the sins of all of humanity. After all he was only dead three days and then came back to life. What kind of punishment is that? It's pretty small in a sense. Doesn't that simply grant someone else a three day reprieve from death?

The apologist will respond and say that the three days is not the issue. It was the act of dying that redeemed mankind.

I could buy off on that as an evangelical, but then why would Jesus go to Sheol for a few days? Why not just rise and be done with it? Well apparently he had to go preach to those that had already died. Seems kind of odd. God can do whatever he wants, right? It's not like he has to play games to get himself into Sheol and communicate with the dead right? Yet it sort of seems like God can't get through to Sheol without dying like a human in kind of a Trojan Horse move.

God has his ways I guess. If that's the way he wants to do it then what can you say?

On the other hand let's consider this through a different paradigm. Let's just suppose that C.S. Lewis kind of has the right idea in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. God is sort of stuck with these weird rules and he has to trick his opponents into making mistakes. Here's a way to look at it. And I'm not arguing for it. I'm just saying consider this paradigm and see how it illuminates early Christian texts.

Let's suppose that the goal is to defeat death. Death resides in hell. But who goes to hell? Only dead people. So how can God make his way into hell? He has to take the Christ and give him a human form and likeness. The Christ is not human. He only has a human likeness. But if God can trick the demons into thinking that the Christ is human maybe they'll kill him, which will translate him into hell where he can basically plunder hell and crush death. How do some early Christian texts look in light of this paradigm?

Who does Paul think is responsible for the death of Jesus. Is it the Romans? When did Jesus die for Paul? Was it a few years back in Palestine? Or was it before the creation of the world? Was Jesus fleshly or is flesh inherently sinful and corruptible? I'll look at these in subsequent posts, but for now consider how the above paradigm makes sense of the following texts. Two are from The Ascension of Isaiah, which is an early Christian text, and one is from I Corinthians.

Chapter 9

13The Lord will indeed descend into the world in the last days, (he) who is to be called Christ after he has descended and become like you in form, and they will think that he is flesh and a man. 14And the god of that world will stretch out [his hand against the Son], and they will lay their hands upon him and hang him upon a tree, not knowing who he is. 15And thus his descent, as you will see, will be concealed even from the heavens so that it will not be known who he is. 16And when he has plundered the angel of death, he will rise on the third day and will remain in that world for five hundred and forty-five days. 17And then many of the righteous will ascend with him, whose spirits do not receive (their) robes until the Lord Christ ascends and they ascend with him.

Chapter 10

8"Go out and descend through all the heavens. You shall descend through the firmament and through that world as far as the angel who (is) in Sheol, but you shall not go as far as Perdition. 9And you shall make your likeness like that of all who (are) in the five heavens, 10and you shall take care to make your form like that of the angels of the firmament and also (like that) of the angels who (are) in Sheol. 11And none of the angels of that world shall know that you (are) Lord with me of the seven heavens and of their angels. And they shall not know that you (are) with me

I Corinthians 2

6We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.


Anonymous said...

When you say "Some skeptics claim that the death of Jesus is not sufficient to pay the enormous price of the sins of all of humanity."

What do you mean by "skeptic"? Are you referring to atheist/agnostics or some other type of skeptic? I ask because as an atheist I find the idea of sin entirely rubbish. Which makes the question not a valid one to begin with.

Also I don't quite understand the C.S. Lewis analogy. I haven't read the book, I have seen the movie. assuming the movie is close enough - what I got from it is that the lion has rules by that he is restricted by- not sure who set the rules but it didn't seem like it would have come solely from the lion.

Anyway - I don't see why God would have any rules that restrict his abilities (outside those of logic). He creates/defines what the rules are. Ignoring that hell only "exists" because he allows it to exist.

I think I am digressing from whatever point I was trying to make. For me as one tries to begin justifying this stuff it becomes ever more ad-hoc and non-sensical. Even if logically it may be valid.


Jon said...

Hey Paul,

What I was talking about "some" skeptics I was actually thinking of one that I had read but couldn't quite remember where. I tried to find it but wasn't able to. But I'm pretty sure it was at in their response to McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Verdict. The rebuttal from the Christian was by J.P. Holding. I thought that's where I had read this back and forth, but couldn't find it, so I was vague and said "some" skeptics.

I think what the skeptic was saying is that if we grant the Christian their assumption about sin and that the wages of sin is death, shouldn't it be the case that the sacrifice of one will redeem only one? Why would it redeem everyone, especially when the punishment ended after a mere three days?

I agree with you that God shouldn't be restricted by these rules, but what I'm saying is the more primitive conception of God (like what Paul might have held to) was probably different, and I think The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe reflects that. In that book you have a chapter that is called "Deep magic from the dawn of time." This chapter covers the slaying of Aslan that for some reason is required due to these rules. The next chapter is something like "Deeper magic from BEFORE the dawn of time" and in the chapter due to these other more obscure rules that the White Witch wasn't aware of the table on which Aslan was slain cracked and somehow the Witch had played into Aslan's hands. Now her powers are broken. According to my description here of the purpose of Jesus' descent into hell and how it was accomplished it would sort of be like the C.S. Lewis way. Jesus was disguised as if he were a man, though he wasn't really. This prompts the powers and principalities to slay him, which transports him to hell where he can plunder death.

Of course on the modern Christian view of this all powerful God that can do whatever he wants there's no need for this, but I think Paul's view is different.