PROLOGUE: It is always interesting when the “Christian” zealots start getting on my case about “perpetuating the satanic ritual of Easter”, because I called these writings “Easter Meditations”. So many who call themselves “Christians” these days are constantly on the lookout for the slightest thing for which they can condemn a brother or sister (not so great at examining themselves though 😉). Naturally, any mention of anything connected with what have come to be so-called ‘Christian holidays’ is high on their radar, like a red rag to a bull. Just so you know, I have no qualms whatsoever about writing a series of ‘Easter Meditations’ and using that word. I know very well where the word Easter comes from and that it is connected with a pagan ‘goddess’ of Spring and fertility. But I am not some stupid ingénu advocating goddess worship! I have written a great deal exposing Wicca and feminist witchcraft. Anyone who knows me knows that. But I cannot ignore the fact that the world recognizes a yearly holiday called “Easter”. The people of the world know that it has something to do with Christ’s death. My job at this time, therefore, is to explain what Christ’s death was/is really all about. The fact that a whole bunch of folks eat chocolate eggs and talk about rabbits and other facets of fertility is irrelevant to what I want to communicate. I will use any situation to speak about Christ. That is the focus of my writings. For any so-called ‘Christians’ to tell me I am a heretic because I write Easter sermons shows extreme ignorance and an astonishing lack of grace and they need to do some work on themselves. Too many claiming to be “born again” have some unpleasant psychological and emotional issues which seem to militate against that claim. Being “born again” (or “born from above”, as the Greek text really says) should result in psychological and emotional transformation as well as spiritual (Letter to the Romans, chapter 12, verse 2). Next, I will be getting complaints that I have called these writings “Meditations”. They will say, “Meditation isn’t biblical, it’s Hindu/New Age”! 🙄🤣
Some have said that anyone calling themselves “Christian” should not even use the word ‘Easter’ — never let it come from their mouths because it is unclean. That is so ridiculous! They had better stop using the words for the days of the week then because they are all dedicated to various pagan ‘gods’!!! Sunday (the Sun, Roman god), Monday (the Moon, Roman goddess), Tuesday (Tiw, Norse god), Wednesday (Woden, Norse god), Thursday (Thor, Norse god), Friday (Frigga, Norse god), Saturday (Saturn, Roman god). I could cite a whole lot more of this kind of thing. As far as I am concerned, it is all about intent. What is one’s intention? My intention in writing Easter Meditations (thought-provoking CyberSermons about the death of Christ) is not to get people to worship idols or to eat chocolate eggs or to dress up as the Easter Bunny. My intention is to use this worldly occasion to proclaim the truth about the death of Christ. After all, the reason He was born was in order to die, and His death is the axis on which the whole creation hangs. “In Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Letter to the Colossians, chapter 1, verses 16-17). It is this that I want to communicate to people. Now, let’s get on with the real business at hand, instead of having to deal with these ignorant Stasi-style apparatchiks who have set themselves up as the New Inquisition/Secret Christian Police!
First Reading: Book of Acts, chapter 2, verses 22-32
Second Reading: Book of Psalms, 16, verses 1-11
Focus Text: Gospel of Luke, chapter 23, verses 42-43
“Then [the criminal on the cross] said, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in Paradise’”.
Once that utter condemnation of the pure Christ had been poured out on Him, as we have seen in the previous two ‘Easter Meditations’, there had to come a point when it was all over, for it could ‘hold no water’ over Him. The payoff or wages of impenitent moral failure (sin) in this world is death. That is stated as a bald fact, in some well-known words in the sacred texts by the apostle Paul (Letter to the Romans, chapter 6, verse 23). But Christ was guilty of nothing and thus Satan had no claim on Him whatsoever, as He said Himself, “I will not speak with you much longer, for the ruler of this world is coming [i.e. Satan], and he has no claim on Me” (Gospel of John, chapter 14, verse 30), and because of that reality, death could therefore also have no hold on Him. This is fact and logic.
The Release of Prisoners
Thus, there came a point when Christ could cry out on the cross, “It is finished!” (Gospel of John, chapter 19, verse 30) or, as the Greek has it, “It has been accomplished!” For death and darkness can have no hold over a human who is without any stain of moral failure, and there has only ever been one such human, the Man, Christ Jesus. In fact, it is very clearly stated that “God raised Him from the dead, releasing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for Him to be held in death’s clutches” (Book of Acts, chapter 2, verse 24). That is why Satan’s blasting of Christ with all the power of the forces of darkness which had been permitted by God could never gain any permanent traction. Again, as Christ had said, “the ruler of this world is coming, and he has no claim on Me”. When people die who are not bonded with Christ and restored into relationship with God, having deliberately rejected Him, Satan has a whole lot of claims ‘on them’ and they are only deserving of “the second death”, which they will have brought entirely upon themselves. Thus, it was in this way that Christ overcame Satan and released people from their sins “through His blood”, through His sacrifice.
But there is so much more to say about all this…
John wrote that Christ “released us from our sins by His blood” (Book of Revelation, chapter 1, verse 5). Being released is what happens to prisoners. In this life, all people are incarcerated in a prison constructed of the compulsion to sin, to commit moral failure, and being subject to death — having body and soul torn asunder at the end of their lives. Christ came to release us from that prison. Therefore, after His death on the cross, Christ literally went to the abode of the dead in another dimension, known in Hebrew as Sheol and in Greek as Hades, and proclaimed that release. The Apostle Paul, first quoting Psalm 68, verse 18, deliberately links Christ’s ascension with this ‘descension’ of His into Sheol/Hades:
“’When He ascended on high, He led captives away, and gave gifts to men’. What does ‘He ascended’ mean, except that He also first descended to the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the very One who ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things”.Letter to the Ephesians, chapter 4, verses 8-10
The first part of that text about leading captives away I will deal with further below. But the second part of that text is surely what was intended to be encapsulated in the words of the “Apostles’ Creed” (5th-7th century) in the section about Christ, which says, “He descended into Hell; on the third day He arose from the dead” — though it should not really be the word “hell” being used there but “Sheol” or “Hades”. I believe that the Anglican Church has now changed it officially to, “He descended to the dead”, which is preferable.
The Chasm in Sheol/Hades
Sheol/Hades, the place of the dead, was divided into two distinct zones, between which there was an unbridgeable chasm — one for the faithful of the one true God and disciples of Christ and the other for those who have rejected God and Christ. That is graphically shown in the parable about the heartless rich man and the unfortunate beggar Lazarus, where we read that at his death Lazarus went to the comforting side of Sheol/Hades, symbolized as “Abraham’s bosom”, while the rich man who had ignored Lazarus during his life went to the other part of Sheol/Hades where he was said to be “in torment” — literally “on the rack of torture”, as the Greek signifies (Gospel of Luke, chapter 16, verses 19-31). The side of Hades for the saints was actually referred to as “paradise” by Christ when He promised the thief on the cross next to Him that He would that day be in paradise with Him (Gospel of Luke, chapter 23, verse 43). Christ had not yet ascended to heaven and would not do so until forty days after His resurrection. So the “Paradise” to which He was referring on the cross (because it would be on the same day) must have been the comfort side of Sheol/Hades.
After Christ’s sufferings on the cross were over — summed up by Him exclaiming, “It is finished”, or more literally, “It has been accomplished!” (that wonderful Greek word, Τετέλεσται, tetelestai), a reference to the completion of His necessary sufferings — He gave up His life to death and straightaway went to Sheol/Hades, while His body went to the tomb. This was not at all in the same manner as any of the other inhabitants but, rather, as the One who could announce: “I hold the keys of Death and of Hades” (Book of Revelation, chapter 1, verse 18).
Christ’s Post-Death Announcement in Sheol/Hades
The apostle Peter makes the extraordinary statement that Christ heralded an announcement “to the spirits in prison”, a sure reference to the inmates of Sheol/Hades (First Letter of Peter, chapter 3, verse 19). What could that announcement have been about? Surely, it must have involved the fact that, as the Victor over Satan through the cross, it was He, the Christ, who now held ‘the keys of death and Hades’ and not Satan. That Peter mentions this in the context of Christ’s resurrection and ascension shows that he was referring to what happened after His death. Peter refers elsewhere in that same letter to Christ “proclaiming to the dead” (First Letter of Peter, chapter 4, verse 6). What effect that had on those in the torment section of Sheol/Hades is not known. Neither do we know in full what that aspect of His proclamation consisted of. It is another mystery, but one we can live with. One can surely safely assume, though, that Christ proclaimed His victory and that it was He who was now the “keeper” of the keys of death and Hades.
Old Testament Saints Foresaw the Resurrection to Come
The Old Testament saints had already foreseen that there would come a time when they would be released, liberated, from Sheol, as David announced in his psalms: “God will redeem my life from Sheol, for He will surely take me to Himself” (Book of Psalms, 49, verse 15), and “Great is Your loving devotion to me; You have delivered me from the depths of Sheol” (Book of Psalms, 86, verse 13). After the ascension of Christ, at the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Church, Peter made special reference to King David’s Psalm 16 by declaring, “You will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor will You let Your Holy One see decay”, a clear reference to Christ as well as to himself (Book of Acts, chapter 2, verse 27; Book of Psalms, 16, verse 10). When Peter gave that quote from Psalm 16, he said as a commentary that David
“was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that He would place one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did His body see decay”.Book of Acts, chapter 2, verses 30-31
So, it was clear that David foresaw that his soul would not remain in the place of the dead, Sheol/Hades, and that the physical body of Christ (the “Holy One”) would not remain in a state of decay but would therefore obviously be resurrected. Thus, we can say that David foresaw the resurrection of Christ and of the saints.
The Victory Parade of the Saints
Up till that time, Sheol/Hades contained both the faithful and unfaithful, although divided by a vast (probably dimensional) chasm. Forty days after His resurrection, at His ascension, Christ apparently moved the dead faithful saints from the paradise side of Sheol/Hades to heaven to be with Him, awaiting the time of their resurrection when Christ returns to earth. Paul confirms this change of scene for the saints when he equates ‘paradise’ with ‘heaven’ in his Second Letter to the Corinthians (Second Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12, verses 1-4). That movement of those saints from Sheol/ Hades to heaven is pictured as a victory parade by Paul (as shown above) when, quoting Psalm 68, verse 18, he writes:
“This is why it says, ‘When He ascended on high, He led captives away, and gave gifts to men’. What does ‘He ascended’ mean, except that He also descended to the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the very One who ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things”.Letter to the Ephesians, chapter 4, verses 8-10
This is where all the saints go who subsequently die, thus being in some way “with Christ” while they await full resurrection, as Paul stated to the disciples at Philippi: “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Letter to the Philippians, chapter 1, verse 23), and to the disciples at Corinth:
“Therefore we are always confident, although we know that while we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, then, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord”.Second Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 5, verses 6-8
At the time of His resurrection, as a visible token on earth of His victory over death and having the keys to Hades, many dead saints in Jerusalem emerged from their graves as a kind of “first-fruits” testimony of the resurrection, then presumably were taken with Him to heaven in the ‘victory train’ (Gospel of Matthew, chapter 27, verses 51-53).
So what Christ accomplished on the cross through His vicarious sufferings is a releasing of prisoners on so many levels. Releasing them from slavery to sin (moral failure). Releasing them from the cords of death. Releasing them from having to undergo the ‘second death’. It is all about release and all because Christ was the forerunner who overcame death and paved the way to Paradise for all those who follow Him. However, if we want to partake in such release, we have to want that release with all our heart. The wanting of it — yearning for it ardently with every fibre of our being, and rueing the folly of our past — will make it happen with certainty.
So now we know what Jesus was doing between His death on the cross and appearance in His resurrected body. He was busy contributing towards what His overall purpose has always been: The creation of a new cosmos and the preparing of a place for His people in it.
[Coming tomorrow: EASTER MEDITATION #4: “Risen – The Message and Power of the Resurrection”]
© 2021, Alan Morrison / The Diakrisis Project. All Rights Reserved. [The copyright on my works is merely to protect them from any wanton plagiarism which could result in undesirable changes (as has actually happened!). Readers are free to reproduce my work, so long as it is in the same format and with the exact same content and its origin is acknowledged]
Interesting! I learnt many details that I’d not considered before.
Living implicitly in faith is the solution to all problems on earth.
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