Friday, March 7, 2008

Christ preached to the dead

This semester I'm doing two subjects - Christology and Public Communications. Happily most of the assessment is presentations and reading summaries, I only have to write one essay and that's not due for another forteen weeks! SOOOO I have decided to take full advantage of the opportunity by picking the trickiest essay topic off the list, something that I'll actually have to think about, something I can get my teeth into!!

Consequently, I've picked the topic about Christ's descent to the dead. I've started reading and MAN is a literal interpretation of this AWESOME. There's this odd bit in 1 Peter 3, verses 18-21:
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ

Preaching to the dead??? Weird! So far what I have read suggests the following:
  • That Christ's descent to the dead is comforting, because this is part of the human experience, and so there is nothing and no where where Christ hasn't been "one of us" - so upholds incarnational theology as He did the whole lot, conception, birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and death; so He shared in the common experience of life. Of course after all this came the resurrection, which we will all share in when His kingdom comes.

  • That Christ's entering into death is life entering into death. Death is utterly conquerered because the Lifegiver has entered into it.

  • That God's grace is bigger than we can imagine. We think that He can't save those who were dead, but even death cannot stop God's grace.

  • It upholds Christ as the ONLY way to salvation, by giving those born before Christ the same opportunity to believe/not believe, rather than allowing that some could be saved by following the law. Eschatologically I don't think this presents many problems, presumably as long as the souls in question made their response to Christ before being resurrected and judged at the end then it would "still count"? I also do not think that this means that all the souls preached to WERE saved. If you like Arminian thinking then not all of them would necessarily have believed what they heard, why would deception necessarily end at death? It says these souls were "in prison" not that they were in the presence of God. If you like Calvinist thinking then there is no guarantee that God had predestined all of them. Further if you are a Calvinist then it shouldn't bother you so much that they were dead when they were saved -- how and when God saves is up to Him.
I got really really excited when I was reading about this the other day. It is so disappointing that this idea of Christ's descent and preaching to the dead has not been understood literally. Generally I really believe that there is NO way that we can add anything to the idea of God's grace (other than by going universalist - but then universalism isn't grace it's unjust permissiveness) the human inclination would always be to try and limit grace or make it dependent on works to make it fit the way we see life. So although I haven't finished reading or forming my thoughts on this, I would say that it probably be better to err on the side of believing that God is a loving and compassionate God who loves everyone! Those who have died as much as those who are living (and given His position sitting outside of time in eternity, wouldn't we all appear to be alive at the same time, and dead at the same time?) and wants just as much to save them as He does us?

I am also wondering whether there is a relationship between the above passage from 1 Pt 3 and the following from Mt 27:51-53:
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

Another weird passage. Although the timing implied in the verse is a bit weird... Did those who were raised, raise when the curtain in the temple was torn in two? And then hang around at the cemetery (or first century equivalent) until the Sunday morning, when they then went into Jerusalem? Or did they raise when Jesus rose? If so were they the souls of the dead that Jesus preached to when he descended to the dead?

This is a bit of a mess, clearly I have lots left to investigate!! But already I'm loving this new angle I'm seeing on God's grace. I find it SO easy to underestimate His grace - it's just seems too amazingly good to be true! The more I come to know Him, the MORE gracious, MORE loving I see that He is.

Jesus is amazing! :-)

God bless,

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