He descended into Hell….
– Nicene Creed (451 A.D.)
+ Jesus Christ Really, Really Did Descend into Hell +
There came a man, whose appearance was that of a thief, carrying a cross upon his shoulder, shouting from the outside of the door of Hell, saying: ‘Open up so that I may come in.’ And Satan, opening up to him a little, brought the man inside into his dwelling, and again shut the door behind him. And all the Saints saw him most clearly and said to him: ‘Your appearance is that of a robber. Tell us what it is that you carry on your back.’ The answered with humility: ‘Truly I was a thief in all ways; but the Jews hung me up on a cross, along with my Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father most high. I have now come proclaiming Him. He indeed is coming right behind me.’
– Gospel of Nicodemus
Near the end of every Sunday Mass, Roman Catholics join together to recite the exact words of what’s been called either the Nicene Creed, or the extremely similar Apostles’ Creed. They have been during this for nearly 1,700 years. Many other Christian sects do the same. One of the more frightening verses concerning Jesus in this age-old Creed states quite bluntly: ‘He descended into Hell.’ Over the centuries, many believers have probably wondered what exactly does this really mean. Did Jesus Christ really descend into Hell? What happened when He was down there? How did He manage to escape? Why did He even need to go to such a terrible place?
The answers to all these questions can be found in the oft-neglected Christian doctrine known as the Harrowing of Hell. As the basic story-line goes, the LORD Jesus Christ died on the Cross only to find Himself leading an entire army of Angels down the treacherous slopes of Hell. After travelling further and further down into the darkness of this wicked kingdom, both He and his Angelic forces finally came to the heavily-guarded fortress where the self-appointed ruler of the dead, a Pagan god called Hades, resided. While Jesus laid seige to this foul fortress, the ancient serpent known as Satan, the Devil found himself trying to reassure the Pagan ruler of this dark kingdom that there was nothing to fear.
Shortly after their initial assault, the Divine expedition led by Christ finally manages to tear down and smash the Gates of Hell into a thousand pieces. The LORD Jesus then charges through the wreckage in order to capture and subdue two of the most evil beings ever known, namely the Pagan god of the dead Hades and his diabolical side-kick Satan. Here are the essential details of this epic battle which immediately followed the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross:
+ The Shattering of the Gates of Hell: And, behold, suddenly Hades trembled, and the gates of Heall and its bolts were shattered. The iron bars were broken and fell to the ground, and everything was laid open. And Satan remained in the midst, and stood confounded and downcast, bound with fetters on his feet. (Gospel of Nicodemus 8)
+ The Defeat of Satan: The Lord Jesus Christ…carrying a chain in His hand, bound Satan by the neck, tying his hands behind him. He then cast Satan into Hell, and placed His holy foot on his throat, saying: ‘Through all ages you have done many evils; you have not rested. Today I condemn you to everlasting fire.’ (Gospel of Nicodemus 8)
+ The Damnation of Hades: The Hades was suddenly summoned and Jesus commanded him saying: ‘Take this most wicked and impious one, and keep him even unto that day in which I shall command you.’ And so Hades, as soon as he received Satan, was plunged under the feet of the Lord…into the depth of the abyss. (Gospel of Nicodemus 8)
+ The Conquest of the Underworld: Then the Savior, inquiring thoroughly about all, seized the underground kingdom of Hades, immediately threw some down into Hell, and led some with Him to Heaven…And the Lord set His cross in the midst of Hades, which is the sign of victory, and which will remain unto eternity. (Gospel of Nicodemus 9-10)
+ The Ascent into Heaven: Then we all went forth to Heaven along with the Lord, leaving Satan and Hades in Hell. (Gospel of Nicodemus 10)
After eventually coming face to face with Hell’s somewhat surprised and frightened ruler godKing Hades, Jesus Christ presses on to attack His traditional age-old foe the Devil named Satan. When they finally meet, Jesus quickly binds the adversary with a chain He had benn carrying with Him, then tosses His ancient enemy down onto the ground on his back. Having been subdued beneath the mighty feet of Christ, Satan ends up being cast even further down into the burning depths of Tartarus. This particular abode also happens to be the lowest level of Hell set aside for its most dangerous inhabitants- a fitting end for Satan. After having thoroughly defeating Satan, Jesus summons King Hades to appear before Him once again. He then orders this so-called Greco-Roman deity to take charge over his evil companion Satan as they are both officially banished into eternal exile- on a journey down into a bottomless pit of eternal damnation.
Finally, Jesus Christ proceeds to cast judgment upon all the countless number of Hell’s deceased inhabitants, condemning some and redeeming many others until a perfect and eternal justice has been achieved. Whether this took a day, or a thousand years, is a question mere mortals have yet to answer. Making sure to gather together all of His fellow Saints and Angels, the only Son of God finally decides to leave a Sign of the Cross behind as both a monument to His Divine love and mercy, and as a warning to any stray forces of darkness, still haunting the depths of the Underworld. Jesus Christ then leaves this dark, foreboding world of the dead and ascends upwards into Heaven where He has been destined to rule for all eternity.
Herein lies the story of what really happened to Jesus the very moment after giving up the ghost during His crucifixion at Golgotha, just outside of Jerusalem. Indeed, it must be stated loudly and clearly that Jesus Christ really did die and really did descend into Hell nearly 2,000 years ago, thus achieving the eternal salvation of all mankind, One can sympathize with the fact this ancient Christian tale may leave some readers wishing, hoping, waiting for more or expecting it to contain additional drama and excitement. Suffice it to say that, even though the story of Christ’s descent into Hell may seem too simple, like a child’s fairy tale or nursery rhyme, for God-fearing Christians it remains the truest story ever told.