The Apostles’ Creed is one of the signature statements of the Christian faith. At church services around the world, believers recite it without reservation. But there’s one part of the creed that’s apt to generate confusion and suspicion. Sandwiched between its rendering of the events of Good Friday (“He was crucified, died, and was buried”) and Easter Sunday (“The third day he rose again from the dead”) is a perplexing affirmation: that Christ “descended to hell.” Because of their discomfort with this language, evangelicals have often neglected the importance of what Christ accomplished on Holy Saturday.
Matthew Emerson, a biblical theologian teaching at Oklahoma Baptist University, wants to refocus our attention on the time frame between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. In his book, “He Descended to the Dead”: An Evangelical Theology of Holy Saturday, he gives a multifaceted defense of the doctrine of Christ’s descent and answers some common objections. Brad East, a theology professor at Abilene Christian University, spoke with Emerson about what did (and didn’t) happen on Holy Saturday—and what it all means for our faith.
How would you sum up what happened to Christ, and what he accomplished, during his descent on Holy Saturday?
In the book, I argue that Christ dies a human death, as all humans do. His body is buried, and his soul departs to the place of the dead. So he experiences death just like any human being does. But because he is not only a human being but God in the flesh, his descent to the place of the dead is victorious. While he is there, he proclaims his victory over the powers of death. Then, in his resurrection, he achieves ...1
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