Hebrews 9:11 "But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation".
Introduction: Briefly Defining Holy Saturday
"In most churches, there is no Holy Saturday service. When there is, it is generally in the morning and consists of Scripture readings and prayers."
Weber then later writes:
"Saturday is a day of rest and preparation for the great service of resurrection. It is a day to keep silence, to fast, to pray, to identify with Jesus in the tomb, and to prepare for the great resurrection feast."
Weber's recounting of the basic elements of Holy Saturday connects us to traditions that attempt to set our hearts and minds on Jesus and His accomplished work. Just as the time between crucifixion and resurrection was a time of waiting, Christ-followers are keenly aware of the necessity of waiting on God. We look for Him to perhaps answer a long-standing prayer request or more broadly speaking, we wait and pray for the hastening of Jesus' second coming. Holy Saturday is a day that points us to the fact that in Jesus, there is more to look forward to and that we, having confidence in His finished work, look to Him. This day also considers what all Jesus may had done between His death and resurrection.
Thinking on what Jesus may have done between His crucifixion and resurrection
Bible-believing churches are right to emphasize the work Jesus accomplished on the cross. Moreover, when it comes to what will be tomorrow's emphasis - Christ's resurrection, the remainder of the New Testament in some 300 passages connects all the various aspects of justification in salvation, growth in sanctification and the promises of heaven in glorification to Christ's resurrection. Much work was done!
But what about between Christ's death and resurrection? What did Jesus do that makes His overall accomplishments even more glorious (if that's possible)? Today's post will attempt to answer this question as we reflect on what Jesus did between death and resurrection on this Holy Saturday.
What happened to Jesus between His Death and Resurrection? A Possible Sequence Of Events
As you read the various accounts in the New Testament regarding Christ's death, burial and resurrection - burial of Jesus' body is included in the preaching of the Gospel. Ancient and modern-day Christians in many churches throughout the world recite what is called "The Apostle's Creed". Among the lines repeated in the creed, we find the following words:
"He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. He descended into Hell. On the Third Day He rose from the dead."
The reference to Jesus "descent into Hell" speaks to the topic of our focus with which we can re-phrase as a two-fold question: when Jesus died, where did He go and what did He do between that time? furthermore, if He did anything, what bearing did it have in the relationship between His crucifixion, resurrection and the lives of Christians today? Below is a sketching out of what possibly may had occurred when Jesus died.
1. When Jesus died, His human soul went into the presence of God the Father whilst His physical body was lain in Joseph's of Arimathea's Tomb
Hebrews 9:11 indicates that Jesus' first stop following His death consisted of appearing before the Father in Heaven. The Person of the Son, touching His Divine nature, was ever in union with the Father, whereas in terms of His human nature, the Person of the Son would appear by way of His departed human soul. This last statement seems certified by what we read in the remainder of the text in terms of how He appeared before the Father "with His own blood". At the end of Hebrews 12 we read that this blood bears witness before the Father's throne of the innocence of all those whom He calls and convicts to believe.
To once again repeat Hebrews 9:14 -
"how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" Thus Jesus, in His human soul, through the Holy Spirit, offered Himself. When He cried out "into thy hands I commit my spirit", the answer to that prayer was given when he breathed his last.
Jesus activity of presenting His once and for all sacrifice to the Father paved the way for every Christian who dies to have the promise of immediate entrance into the presence of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:1-6; 2 Peter 1:11-2) The Lord accomplished much not only on the cross, and not only in His resurrection but also in the time in between. However there is more....
2. Jesus went from heaven into the paradise part of Sheol (Hades or the realm of the dead) to release the Old Testament righteous to the third heaven
In Luke 16:19-31 we read the most detailed account of what post-mortem (after-death) existence was like prior to Christ's resurrection. The righteous saints of God who trusted in God by grace through faith alone went to what was called "Paradise". The term "Paradise" is a Greek loanword from the Persian language meaning: "delightful garden".
In the Old Testament, the realm of the dead was situated into two-compartments: Paradise, and then Sheol (New Testament calls it "Hades" or the realm of darkness, Abbadon and other names). Hades or Sheol proper was a place of torments, where the Rich Man (called in the KJV "Dives") went and became tormented in flames. Hades (also called "Hell" in the KJV) represents a holding place (like a county-jail of sorts) for all unbelievers who rejected the Gospel and await the final judgment (see Revelation 20:11-20).
When Jesus died, He had promised the thief on the cross that "Today you will be with me in Paradise", meaning that the thief would accompany Jesus in Paradise (see Luke 23:43). Evidently Jesus' post-mortem journeying between death and resurrection included His first stop in Heaven to present His once and for all sacrifice, followed-up by His release of the Old Testament saints to be taken into the third-Heaven where God abides (see Ephesians 4:7-10). Consequently, right after Jesus' death, there appeared what were likely many of these released Old Testament saints in Matthew 27:52 - "The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised."
3. Jesus in between His death went to proclaim His victorious death to the regions of Hell
So far, we have proposed what may had happened to Jesus once His human soul departed from His body between His death and resurrection. First, He went into Heaven to present His once and for sacrifice. Second, He descended down into the Paradise part of hell or Sheol (also called Hades) to release the Old Testament Saints to go into the third heaven with God where followers of Jesus go now following death (see 2 Corinthians 5:1-6; Hebrews 12:22-24).
So what did Jesus do next? 1 Peter 3:18-19 states - 18 "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison." When Jesus presented His once for all sacrifice to the Father in Heaven and set free the righteous from Paradise, He journeyed to the regions of the Kingdom of Darkness, to Hades itself, (sometimes translated Hell) to proclaim His victory.
It is suggested that in proclaiming His victory to those darkest regions, He may had grabbed the keys of death and Hell. Jesus in no way suffered in Hell, as claimed by some false teachers today. The wrath of God and experience of Hell was a finished work in the courss of His crucifixion. Instead, Jesus' post-mortem journey into the darkest regions was a victory march of sorts. Revelation 1:18 clues us in on this journey of Jesus between His death and resurrection - "and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades." When Christ was on the cross, He suffered the wrath of God in the place sinners. His journey into the regions of Hell was to proclaim victory. As He said-so on the cross: "It is finished!" (see John 19:30).
Jesus' earlier statements of the "gates of Hell" not prevailing against the church in Matthew 16 could be held as true and firm. The King went behind those gates to announce to Hell and its powers of the Death that He had conquered them- and that His soon resurrection was going to seal the deal.
4. Jesus' affected things in the Heavenly realms to secure the church's mission here on earth
No doubt about it, Jesus was still working, even though His body lain in the grave for three days. He journeyed into the presence of His Father to present His blood, set free the Old Testament saints and then he journeyed into Hell to proclaim victory. His work on the cross was not just an event here in history, it was a cosmic victory. So what were the results?
Ephesians 4:7-9 connects His work done in His death, burial and resurrection to the ongoing work of the church: "But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8Therefore it says,“WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.”(Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)"
Christ's work prepared for what would be done here on earth by the church. All that remained was for Jesus to rise from the dead and then, 40 days after His resurrection, ascend into Heaven. In Christ's ascension, He would send His Holy Spirit and He would transition everything from the Old Testament way of things to the New Testament way of things.
The work of redemption was secured at the cross. The groundwork for the mission of the church was prepared between His death and resurrection. The power of redemption for such a mission was supplied from His resurrection. The guarantee that His church will accomplish her mission comes from His ascension as Lord over His church. Today, on this Holy Saturday, praise the Lord Jesus Christ for all He has done in His death, burial and resurrection!