Sermon – Good Friday, April 2, 2021

Revelation 1:18 – Jesus Descended to the Dead (mp3)

Christians do many weird things. Today, we proclaim the day that the Lord of glory, the one in whom we hope for eternal life, dying at the hands of wicked and sinful men, is a day best described as “good.” Of course, we have good reason to do so. By his blood, he has redeemed us from our sin and given us hope. Yet, there are some things that even we Christians find odd. What does the Apostles’ Creed mean by saying that Jesus “descended to the dead”? Let us consider Jesus’ victory over the dead, in his death.

First, the book of Revelation begins with a vision of the incomparable Jesus, who is linked closely with God Almighty (cf. v. 8 “I am the alpha and the omega” and v. 17 “I am the first and the last”). Jesus was God incarnate, who is the living one, the I AM who is pure being and not subject to death. Yet, he became flesh, and further became dead, and in doing so took the keys of Death and Hades. That is, his human body was laid in a tomb, and his human soul went where all dead souls go – Hades. But there, he showed himself victorious over the keeper of the dead, taking the keys and giving his people freedom.

We have a wonderful picture of this in the Exodus itself. The Patriarchs are warned repeatedly about “going down” or “descending” to Egypt, which they do in times of death. The land itself turns into death, as a new Pharaoh persecutes the people of God and tries to destroy the firstborn, keeping God’s people in slavery. Yet, God himself descends to Egypt to help them.

In Isaiah, as the future hope of Israel through the exile is being prophesied, a question that lingers in the text is precisely what this redemption would look like. Isaiah, in chapter 51, reminds the people of God of the resurrection of their beginning. That the birth of Isaac was not just a miraculous birth, but a bringing of life from the dead. And the work that God would do for the land would be the same (from a desert to a Edenic garden). To effect this, Isaiah pleads with God to do what he has done previously in leading his people out of Egypt. In other words, Isaiah sees in God descending to Egypt a picture of the future resurrection from the dead that the people of Israel will get. This picture is fulfilled in Jesus, who as God and man, descends to the dead. In doing this, he shows himself the Lord of the dead, and destroys the hold that the abode of the dead had on the redeemed. He has led captives in his wake!

In the descent, he shows himself the Lord of the dead. In the resurrection, he shows himself the Lord of the living. In his ascension, he shows himself the Lord of all creation. Praise be to our Lord!