Commentary by Jack Kelley
“I believe in God the Father Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth and in Jesus Christ, his Son, our Lord; Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty”
—Excerpt from the Apostle’s Creed
Recently a woman wrote with the following question. She said, “I have just discovered that some of my friends believe when Jesus became sin He took on the nature of Satan and went to hell where Satan and his demons tormented him until God called from heaven and said ‘enough’ and then the Holy Spirit entered Him again and Jesus became the 1st born-again man. I don’t believe this is true and have been looking for Biblical answers for them can you help?”
I’ve heard this teaching several times, and I’m convinced there are several problems with it. The verse her friends were referring to is 2 Cor. 5:21, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus bore the penalty for every sin humanity ever had or ever would commit as if He Himself was guilty of them all. This took place on the cross during the last three hours of His suffering that ended with His death. Becoming sin for us is what made God turn away from Him, taking the light from the world, and it’s what caused Him to say, My God, My God why have you forsaken me? (Matt. 27:45-46).
Taking on the sin of the world caused a separation between the Father and the Son that had never occurred before, and while Jesus had steeled Himself against the physical abuse He was suffering, He was not prepared for that. It’s the only part of the whole ordeal He couldn’t bear in silence.
At the end of that time, knowing that all was completed and so the Scripture would be fulfilled, He asked for a drink. Then He said, “It is finished,” and died (John 19:28-30). This was the end of His suffering. He had done what He came to do, and that’s to die for the sins of the world (John 1:29). There would be no more suffering on our account. This is confirmed in the Greek word John used in the Lord’s statement. It’s tetelestai, a form of the Greek verb teleo, which means to accomplish or complete. It also means to discharge a debt, and in the Lord’s day, it was an accounting term that meant nothing further was owing. The debt we owed to God was paid in full. There would have been no reason for the Lord to endure further torment.
Here’s Another Problem
The Gospel of Luke refers to a brief conversation Jesus had with one of the two men being crucified with Him that gives rise to another problem. While one of the men hurled insults at Him, the other one declared the Lord’s innocence and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth; today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:39-43)
Jesus said He was going to Paradise, and yet the Apostle’s Creed I quoted from above said He descended into Hell. Which was it? For the answer, let’s go to the Bible’s most detailed description of the afterlife experience as it was before the cross. It’s the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, and it’s found in Luke 16:19-31.
Tell Us A Story
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Some call this story a parable, but I think it was the account of something that really happened. The Lord’s parables generally weren’t about actual people but were hypothetical in nature. In this story, we see real people in a real situation. It’s almost as if He expected His audience to know who He was talking about.
I think the Lord was pointing to His own future by saying that God gave us His word as a guide for life and death, but if people don’t believe it, they won’t be persuaded even if someone (Himself for instance) comes back from the dead. Because of this, I’m skeptical of the popular stories about people who claim to have been to heaven or hell and have been allowed to return and tell us about what it’s like. If God refused to let Lazarus come back to warn the rich man’s five brothers, why would He suddenly let all kinds of people come back to warn people now?
Back To Our Subject
But our topic here is what Jesus did after He died and the story of the rich man and Lazarus can help us understand that as well.
The spiritual condition of these two men is not revealed in so many words. But by their destinations, we can tell what it was. Upon his death, angels carried Lazarus to Abraham’s side. This term was the Jewish expression for a place of comfort in Sheol, the abode of the dead, that was also called Paradise. It’s the place Jesus said He was going to in Luke 23:43. It was where all believers from the time before the cross went until the resurrection took them to heaven. In the early church, some believed that Paradise was the actual Garden of Eden and was neither in Heaven nor on Earth. Being taken there indicates Lazarus had died believing in a coming redeemer who would pay the penalty for His sins and qualify him for the resurrection to eternal life.
When the rich man died, he was taken to hell. The Greek word for hell is Hades. It’s equivalent to the Hebrew word Sheol which, as I said, is the abode of the dead. That means it’s the same place where Lazarus went, but while Lazarus enjoyed a place of comfort, the rich man’s lot was agony in the fire. This tells us he was not a believer. He could see Lazarus, but he couldn’t join him. The time for choosing his eternal destiny ended at his death, just like it does for us. Hebrews 9:27 tells us humans are destined to die but once and after that to face judgment.
Paradise was only a temporary place for believers, who could not enter heaven until Jesus sprinkled His blood on the altar there (Hebrews 9:11-12). Since then, all believers who die go directly to Heaven (Phil 1:21-23, 2 Cor. 5:6-8).
The part of Hades where the rich man went is also a temporary place. Rev. 20:13 tells us that at the Great White throne judgment, Hades will give up the dead that are in it and each person will face their final judgment before being cast into the lake of fire.
So although it wasn’t this way at the beginning, somewhere along the way Hades, or hell as we call it, came to be known as the place where unbelievers spend eternity in suffering and torment. I think this misunderstanding is at least partially responsible for the false teaching that Jesus was tormented by Satan there.
When Jesus went into Hades, He went as a conqueror, not as a victim. In the Bible, there are only two references to the time between His death and His resurrection and both support this position. As we saw in Luke 23:43, He said He was going to Paradise immediately after He died and He was taking one of the men dying next to him along. And in 1 Peter 3:18-20 we’re told that by the power of the Holy Spirit He preached to the disobedient spirits imprisoned there, so He must have visited the other side of Hades as well. But it was not for suffering. It was to remind them that their punishment was just and well deserved.
But Wait, There’s More
Finally, our writer mentioned that her friends believe Jesus became the first born-again man after God put a stop to His suffering and the Holy Spirit entered Him again. But as we’ve just seen, the Holy Spirit was with the Lord when He preached to the disobedient spirits. More importantly, being born again is the result of accepting the Lord’s death as payment for all our sins. Jesus never sinned, and He didn’t have a sin nature. True, He became sin for us, but He did not need to be born again. On the contrary, He’s the one who made it possible for us to be born again.
In summary, there’s no Biblical support for the belief that the Lord’s suffering on our behalf continued after His death. Selah 09-01-12