1 Peter 3:18-20 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, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.
I was once asked a rather interesting question: "What Jesus did between the time He died until He raised from the dead?" This post aims to answer that question. The question concerning what Jesus did between His crucifixion and resurrection is relevant to what is historically known in the Christian Church as "Holy Saturday". Central to this post is the notion that Jesus proclaimed victory over the powers of Hell. Furthermore, once Jesus declared His triumph, He then presented His once and for all sacrifice for sin to the Father between His death and resurrection.
The significance of the Saturday the falls between "Good Friday" and "Easter Sunday"
Today is the Saturday that lies between "Good Friday" and "Easter Sunday". This day, simply called "Holy Saturday", considers what all was potentially taking place during the interment of Jesus' body in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. In the book "Preaching through the Christian Year", an ancient practice of the early church is recounted:
"In the ancient church, the tradition of the Easter Vigil played an important role. Catechumens (young converts to the Christian faith), after remaining awake and watchful throughout Saturday night, were baptized early on Easter morning and then joined the Christian community in Holy communion." 1
I'm sure some readers, for instance, can recall "Easter Sunrise Services" and other Christian traditions that urge the church to recall her central identity in Jesus' death, burial and resurrection. As a boy, whenever our family would attend such sunrise services, the anticipation, the excitement, hung in the air. The great thing about Holy Saturday is the expectation that builds-up in the Christ-follower's heart as the look forward to Easter Sunday.
A reminder about the mystery of Christ's incarnation.
Over 2,000 years ago, Christ's physical body laid at "rest" in the tomb while He, in His immaterial soul, presented His accomplishment to the Father and proclaimed victory. The mystery of the incarnation reminds us that the Eternal Person of the Son came to take unto Himself true humanity (see Matthew 1:21-23; John 1:14; Colossians 2:9; Hebrews 10:5-7). As He ever remained truly "God with us", He came to be also "man for us" (see Matthew 1:21-23; John 1:14; Romans 1:1-3; 9:4-5; Titus 2:11-13). As truly God, the Person of the Son retained eternal perfections such as omnipresence, omniscience, and the inability to die. As truly man, the Person of the Son experienced the limitations that come with being man, including being in one place at a time (locality, Luke 2:49; Philippians 2:5-7), finite knowledge (Matthew 24:36), and the ability to die (mortality, Mark 10:45; John 10:11). In this post, the focus rests upon all Jesus would experience as "man for our sakes", reminding the reader that whenever we speak about Him, we distinguish between who He remained to be as "God with us" and "man for us".
"He was crucified, dead and buried. He descended into hell, on the third day He raised from the dead."
Robert Webber in his book: "Ancient Future Time", comments on Holy Saturday in regards to the theme of "rest":
"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."2
So with the twin themes of "rest" and "victory", Holy Saturday gets the Christian ready for the glory of the resurrection that is central to Easter Sunday. What follows from here is an attempt to draw together the New Testament testimony of what Jesus did.
Stitching together the New Testament passages that reference Christ's proclamation of victory between that first Good Friday and Easter Sunday
The four Gospels detail the events of Christ's death, burial and resurrection. The remainder of the New Testament (Acts, 21 Epistles and Revelation) unfold the meaning what He achieved. The Apostle Peter in his first epistle aims to show how we as Christians ought to stand firm in God's grace (1 Peter 5:12). Peter's letter ties in our ability to stand in such grace to what Jesus Christ accomplished. 1 Peter 3:18-20 will act as our telescope to view the New Testament passages that reference the events of "Holy Saturday. To do this, we will consider the following two main thoughts about Christ's accomplished work:
B. The Proclamation of Christ's Accomplished Work - Victory. 1 Peter 3:19-20
A. Purpose of Christ’s Victorious Work – Reconciliation 3:18
i. What did He do? He died
He died for sins. As Dr. Danny Akin of South Western Baptist Theological Seminary once noted: "He lived the life I couldn't live and He died the death I should have died."
Romans 5:6-8 states - "For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
Jesus' death on behalf of sinners accomplished two necessary effects required for reconciliation with God. The first necessary effect was expiation, that is, the removal of the cause of God's wrath upon us - our sin (Romans 5:10). The second effect had to do with propitiation, that is, the satisfaction of God's wrath (1 John 2:2). Below in the next thought (point "iii"), we see why expiation (taking away of sin) and propitiation (satisfying wrath) are necessary for reconciliation.
Dr. Michael Horton notes:
"The result of God's wrath being satisfied is reconciliation. Just as we are first of all passive subjects of God's wrath when God propitiates, we are passive subjects of God's reconciliation at the cross. We do not reconcile ourselves to God; God reconciles Himself to us and us to Him."3
Christ's death, burial and resurrection are at the heart of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). The New Testament mostly focuses upon Christ's death and resurrection. However, what went on during the three days He was buried is not explained in near as much detail as the two book-ends of the Gospel: namely Christ's death and resurrection.
Death and Resurrection serve to explain how Christ accomplished what he achieved. What He did in His burial (down below) reveals some of the behind (and under) the scenes work He did in insuring our ability to walk as believers in His Victorious work.
B. Proclamation of Christ’s Victorious Work – Victory 3:19-20
i. What did He do between His death & resurrection? Proclaimed victory 3:19
John MacArthur has perhaps explained this text better than just about everyone I've read or heard:
"He was announcing, proclaiming (and) heralding a triumph. About what? It must be pretty obvious, about His triumph over sin, about His triumph over death, about His triumph over hell, about His triumph over demons, about His triumph over Satan." 4
If we were to attempt to offer a faint outline of what Jesus did between His death and resurrection, we could maybe understand why He went to proclaim His victory to the demonic realm. Much activity was done by Christ in this short-span of time.
First He went immediately into the presence of His Father by way of the Holy Spirit in his human spirit to present His once and for all sacrifice (Hebrew 9:15).
Thirdly, Christ would had released the Old Testament saints from the righteous realm of the dead (i.e. paradise) to lead the captives out to where they could come with Him to where the saints go in this age (Ephesians 4:8-11). Some have connected this particular event to when the saints came out of their tombs in Matthew 27:52-53.
He did this to pave the way for what would be His ascension into Heaven 40 days after His resurrection from the dead (Ephesians 4:7-10).
Revelation 1:4-5 states -
As we draw this post to a close, let's remember our two main thoughts for today's post:
1. The Purpose of Christ's Accomplished Work - reconciliation. 1 Peter 3:18
2. The Proclamation of Christ's Accomplished Work - Victory. 1 Peter 3:19-20
2. Robert Webber. Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality Through The Christian Year." Baker Books. 2004.
2. Michael Horton. The Christian Faith - A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way. Zondervan. 2011. Page 500