“It is finished.”
And he was gone.
Most people don’t think much of Holy Saturday. I read countless commentaries, reflections and devotions in preparation for writing and unfortunately, most feel the need to glaze over it by telling people, “Yes. He’s gone. But don’t worry! We know the story. He comes back. TOMORROW.”
While I do love the promise of Easter morning, I can’t help but feel that it would be a disservice to God to dismiss something that he had allowed into His Grand Redemptive Story. That is, if God deemed it important to leave a day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, then it must be significant. It must serve some kind of purpose – revealing something about Himself that will cause us to worship him even more.
Here are the facts: Jesus died just like everyone else and just like everyone (at the time), he went down to Sheol.
For people not in the know, Sheol [ also known as Hades ] is known as “a place of the dead”. To be clear, Sheol is not hell – they are two separate places (Rev. 20:11–15). We get bits and pieces of descriptions regarding this place in the Gospels but a bit more vividly in Luke 16.
What we know about Sheol is that it has two parts which is separated by a “great chasm” (Luke 16:26). One is for the righteous and saved – a place for blessing that they call “Abraham’s bosom/side” (Luke 16:22) or “Paradise” as Jesus called it (Luke 23:43). The other, is a place of judgment and torment for the wicked and unsaved (Luke 16:23).
[Sheol ]… is under the earth (Num 16:30–33), and it is like a city with gates (Isa 38:10) and bars (Job 17:16). It is a land of darkness — a place where shades, the shadowy souls of men, dwell (Isa 14:9; 26:14). It is the land of forgetfulness (Psa 88:12), where no work is done and no wisdom exists (Ecc 9:10). Most significantly, Sheol is a place where no one praises God (Psalm 6:5; 88:10–11; 115:17; Isa 38:18). (Joe Rigney)
Scripture tells us definitively that Jesus went to Sheol (Acts 2:27–31, Eph. 4:8–10, 1 Pet. 3:18–20) just like everyone else but unlike everyone else Acts 2:31 tells us that he was not abandoned there, nor did his flesh see corruption (Psa 16:10) and he did not go to the place of “torment”. The penalty for sin was satisfied on the Cross – there was no need for Christ to suffer (1 Peter 3:18-19). Jesus went to “Paradise”.
What did he do there and why should this give us hope?
Following his death for sin, then, Jesus journeys to Hades, to the City of Death, and rips its gates off the hinges. He liberates Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, John the Baptist, and the rest of the Old Testament faithful, ransoming them from the power of Sheol (Psalm 49:15; 86:13; 89:48). They had waited there for so long, not having received what was promised, so that their spirits would be made perfect along with the saints of the new covenant (Hebrews 11:39–40; 12:23). (Joe Rigney)
Because Jesus has defeated the power of death and Sheol through his resurrection, we under the new covenant will never see Sheol. We will never go to that place of forgetfulness where there is no praising God. When we die, Jesus will receive our spirit just like Stephen (Acts 7:55,56, 59), we will be with Christ (Phil. 1:23) and at home with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6–8) just as Paul had yearned to be and we will rest (Rev. 14:13) until Christ returns.
1 Thessalonians 4:16
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God.
And the dead in Christ will rise first.
Playlist: Beneath the Waters (Hillsong)