Is your life hell? WWJD?

Below is the second post in a mini-series unpacking my talk above.


Before I get to how Jesus’ journey through Hades encourages, inspires hope, and guides us when we suffer, I’ll share a few more possible parallels to the account in 1 Peter. First, Jesus pointed back to Jonah:

From the belly of the underworld [literally Hades in the Greek] I cried out for help… You had cast me into the depths in the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounds me… I have sunk down to the underworld; its bars held me with no end in sight.
But you brought me out of the pit.

Jonah 2:2b,3,6b, CEB

Here we have a descent to Hades intertwined with the image of a flood, similar to 1 Peter. There’s also the parallel of the “bars” and being imprisoned, and that both Jonah and Jesus were in Hades for 3 days before being raised (Von Balthasar and Parry suggest Lamentations is another OT parallel 1).

But there’s more, while Jesus was going through Hades he preached the good news so that the dead prisoners could be saved (v6b “live with God”):
Diagram showing continuity between Jesus preaching the good news on earth & in Hades for the salvation of sinnersI think that’s reinforced by Ephesians 4:8 (above), John 12:32, and Philippians 2:8-11 (see table below for all the similarities).

“When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me.”

John 12:32, CEB

1 Peter 3:18-4:11 Philippians 2:8-11
Christ died (v18) Christ died (v8)
Jesus proclaimed the Good News (v6) At the name of Jesus [Good News of Jesus proclaimed?] (v10)
prison (19); the dead (v6) under the earth [common way to describe Hades] (v10)
their spirits will live with God (v6) every tongue shall confess 2 (v11)
Jesus at the right hand of God in heaven (v22) God highly exalted Jesus & gave him the name that is above every name (v9)
angels, authorities, & powers subject to Jesus (v22) every knee will bow to Jesus—in heaven & on earth & under the earth (v10)
that God may be glorified (v11) to the glory of God (v11)

And maybe these two verses are also alluding to the idea:

And they [the kings of the earth] shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited [episkopḗ: “oversight that naturally goes on to provide the care and attention appropriate to the “personal visitation.””].
Isaiah 24:22, KJV

As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
Zechariah 9:11, ESV

Implications

First, most people see death as a very significant problem that humans face. Therefore, believing God has defeated death should inspire hope. I think this was particularly the case for Peter’s audience in their non-Christian society. Think about it, whenever someone became a Christian, surely one of the questions would be:

What about most of my friends and relatives who don’t believe—especially all those who have died without even hearing the Good News?

Well, I think Peter’s answer is, “Jesus has told them the Good News so they could turn to Him for salvation.”

Second, “since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too.” (v1) Jesus proclaimed the Good News so we proclaim the Good News. Jesus did good so we try to do good. Some people will think we’re strange and will slander us—or worse. Depending on how severely they do that, it can certainly feel like hell, especially if it involves being betrayed by someone you love.

Diagram showing how we should imitate Christ's approach when we descend to

How do we respond to the suffering? We, “Honor Christ and let him be the Lord of our life.” (v15a) That involves continuing to do what Jesus did: Even in the depths of hell, He proclaimed the Good News so we should try to proclaim the Good News wherever we are. Jesus did good even when He physically suffered for it, so we try to continue to do good—particularly to those who are trapped in the hellish existence with us.

I think it’s worth noting that Jesus didn’t just pretend He wasn’t suffering, He acknowledged it and chose to persevere through it (the night before He was betrayed comes to mind). Likewise, we should acknowledge the suffering and try to imitate Jesus’ brave attitude. And God may even use this to rescue and draw others to Him. Regardless, we are guaranteed to be lifted up again—if not in this life, in the next.

So, “can anyone really harm you for being eager to do good deeds?” (v13) The answer is no, they can’t permanently harm you. “Even if you have to suffer for doing good things, God will bless you.” (v14a) He promises to heal everything in the long run. “So stop being afraid and don’t worry about what people might do.” (v14b) No matter what hell someone drags you into, Jesus will rescue you from it in due course.


1. “[M]y work on Lamentations started me thinking more about “the descent into hell.” I argued that Lamentations was Israel’s Holy Saturday literature, located midway between the death and resurrection of Jerusalem. It was Israel’s theological equivalent of Christ in the tomb. Thus I was led to connect Lamentations to the issue of hell and universalism and, via Von Balthasar, to the descent to the dead (Parry, Lamentations, 197–201).” Robin Parry, The Evangelical Universalist, 219
2. A common objection is that some people will only confess under duress, however, there are lots of reasons for thinking that’s not the case:

God went through hell so we can too

I did a sermon on 1 Peter 3:13-4:11—a passage that containing these puzzling verses:

Christ then preached to the spirits that were being kept in prison.

The good news has even been preached to the dead, so that after they have been judged for what they have done in this life, their spirits will live with God.

1 Peter 3:19, 4:6, CEV

I think we need to keep 2 key themes of the letter in mind:

  1. Peter is trying to encourage Christians. He does this by showing them how they fit into God’s big story—from Creation, Abraham, Israel, and ultimately in Jesus. He reminds them that they have a new hope, a new identity, and a new family.
  2. Peter is giving his readers some guidance on how to respond to the inevitable suffering they’ll face because of their faith.
Excerpt from The Bible Project's summary of 1 Peter showing Jesus telling the non-Jewish Christians that they have a new hope, identity, and family.
Excerpt from The Bible Project’s 1 Peter summary

How does Jesus preaching to the spirits and the dead encourage and inspire hope? What guidance does it give when you’re suffering?

Between the cross and the ascension

To attempt to answer these questions, I’m going to walk through Peter’s account, starting at verse 20, where he talks about the days of Noah.

Disobedient people in the days of Noah being spiritually imprisoned in Hades, while Noah is rescued

Most people had disobeyed God while Noah built the ark and they spiraled out of control and received the colossal, chaotic consequences. In Genesis, their story ended in them drowning but in 1 Peter we discover the story continued… they were spiritually imprisoned. Often that’s referred to as hell, although Hades, Sheol, or the underworld are probably better ways to describe it.

So far, in this story countless people have died, worse, they’ve been imprisoned below, which I don’t find encouraging or hope inspiring! However, even in Genesis, God gives us a glimmer of hope because “eight people went into [Noah’s] boat and were brought safely through the flood.” That would’ve been a relief for Noah but it still leaves us wondering about everyone else… and I think this is what Jesus revealed to Peter.

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So zooming forward from Noah to Jesus. Again, the world was evil but this time God had a different approach. God entered our world as a human. Jesus preached the good news and did good deeds. A few people listened and followed Him but most objected and so He was crucified. He descended to the dead in Hades, including, we are told, those who had died in the days of Noah.

Again, so far, this is tragic—particularly as Jesus was meant to be the Messiah saving the whole world! However, Jesus was God and remained God, even in Hades—He is the eternal Life. Like someone turning on a light in a darkroom, death didn’t stand a chance! This was the turning point of history! He defeated death and, on the third day, he rose again.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.

1 Peter 3:22, ESV

Now Christ has gone to heaven. He is seated in the place of honor next to God, and all the angels and authorities and powers accept his authority.

1 Peter 3:18, ESV

It’s reassuring to know that ultimately Jesus always has the last word.

Some Christians see the descent as metaphorical but it’s worth remembering that the lines “He descended to the dead (or hell)”; “On the third day he rose again“; and “He ascended into heaven“, were all included in the Apostles’ Creed, which is the oldest and most widely accepted Church creed. The descent to Hades is also mentioned in other passages, for example:

But what does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower parts of the earth?

Ephesians 4:9, CSB

[Christians don’t need to ask] “Who will go down into the abyss?” that is, to bring Christ up from the dead.

Romans 10:7, CSB

Throughout Church history, Christ’s actions in Hades have been seen as very significant:

[B]elief in Christ’s descent into Hades and his preaching to the dead is not a theologoumenon [personal opinion], but belongs to the realm of general church doctrine. … It was shared by all members of the ancient church as reflected in the New Testament, the works of the early Christian apologists, fathers, and teachers of the church, ancient and later writers of both East and West, as well as in the baptismal creeds, eucharistic services, and liturgical texts.

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, Christ the Conqueror of Hell, 208, 203

Here are two examples, of many, of how it was interpreted:

[Christ says,] I am the one who destroyed death, and triumphed over the enemy, and trampled Hades under foot, and bound the strong one, and carried off man to the heights of heaven.

St Melito of Sardis (AD 170), Homily on the Passion

[I shall] remove [them] from punishment and I shall grant them a beautiful baptism of salvation.

Apocalypse of Peter (Ramelli’s translation of the 3rd century Rainer fragment)

Scholar Brad Jersak explains that before Calvin:
Brad Jersak, explains that one of the big questions is “Why did Jesus need to die?”. Before Calvin the answer had always been: “to enter, defeat and destroy death.” This was Christian dogma and no mere atonement theory—we know by its inclusion in the Apostles’ Creed that it was regarded as essential to the gospel, part of the Western baptismal confession (and celebrated all the more so in every aspect of the Eastern liturgy).
Rowan Williams also reflected on the defeat of Hades (source: Experimental Theology):

Jesus is standing on the broken gates of Hades and rescuing the first sinners, Adam and Eve. Image from Brad Jersak & Shari-Anne Vis' book
Jesus is standing on the broken gates of Hades and rescuing the first sinners, Adam and Eve. Image from Brad Jersak & Shari-Anne Vis’ book “Jesus Showed Us!”

Because Jesus went “fully into the depths of human agony”, no matter when we rebelled or how far we’ve fallen, “Christ has been there, to implant the possibility, never destroyed, of another turning, another future…” I find that encouraging.


The above is the first post in a mini-series unpacking my talk below. In addition to looking at how Jesus’ journey through Hades encourages, inspires hope, and guides us when we suffer, it will look at how should we respond to slander, defend our hope, and treat each other. The second post is Is your life hell? WWJD?

The Value of Teaching—Paul’s 3rd Missionary Journey

A couple of times each year I preach at my church. This time I look at Paul’s 3rd Missionary Journey in Acts, focusing on how teaching and learning enabled the disciples to spread the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth.

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My overview of Acts is based on The Bible Project’s summary videos that take you through this slide:

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It’s too much to digest all at once so I’ll zoom in and highlight some key points…

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This book is the sequel to the Gospel of Luke and probably should be called, The Acts of Jesus & the Spirit—as they appear throughout the narrative.

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In chapter 1, Jesus says to His disciples, “You’ll be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea & Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And this is basically how the book of Acts unfolds.

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Chapters 2-7 shows this being fulfilled in Jerusalem.

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The disciples receive the Holy Spirit and become the New Temple

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—the place where people could encounter God’s generosity and healing presence.

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Sadly the establishment didn’t like this and so started killing them and driving them out of the city. However, this didn’t stop God’s plans. Indeed it allowed the Gospel to go into Judea & Samaria, and beyond.

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Chapters 8-12 shows how the mostly Jewish, Jerusalem-based, Jesus community became a multi-ethnic, international movement.

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Along the way, we have Jesus appearing on the road to Damascus and miraculously converting Paul from being the greatest opponent of Christianity to its greatest advocate.

Slide12.pngWe then have God giving Peter a vision showing him that no food is unclean, this is paralleled with the Holy Spirit coming to the nations showing that no person is unclean—that even non-Jewish people like you and I, can become Christians.

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And we have God establishing the church in Antioch—the launching point for Paul’s three missionary journeys.

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Paul’s first missionary journey—about 10 years after Jesus’ resurrection—is to Asia Minor (now called Turkey).

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There’s a brief pause, for the groundbreaking Jerusalem Council, that clarified that being part of Jesus’ community isn’t based on ethnicity or obeying the OT Law but simply on trusting and following Jesus.

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Paul then goes on a second missionary journey, this time to Asia Minor and Greece.

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And finally a third missionary journey, again to Asia Minor and Greece. It’s this third journey that I’ll be focusing on today.

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So that’s where the journey fits in the book of Acts. Now I’ll look at when and where the journey took place historically. Paul’s 3rd missionary journey took place over 5 years, between AD 54 and AD 58, which is now about 20 years after Jesus’ resurrection.

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Source: Interactive Map of Paul’s Third Missionary Journey

Hopefully you recognise most of the places on this map—around the Mediterranean we have Europe, north Africa, and the Middle East. The orange dots in the middle are the places Paul visited on his third missionary journey. Zooming in…

Map of the Apostle Paul's third missionary journey
Source: The Bible Study Site

Paul started at Antioch (near modern day Aleppo, which we’ve been hearing about in the news). He then travels to Tarsus, Iconium, and Ephesus. He stays there for around three years before a full-on riot occurs and he needs to escape north, to Macedonia. He then travels down through Greece—probably stopping at Athens and visiting early Christian communities we might recognise, such as the Philippians, the Thessalonians, and the Corinthians. Paul then starts to head back, visiting Troas and Miletus (where he catches up with the Ephesian church elders), before he sails across the Mediterranean to Tyre. He finishes up in Jerusalem.

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So that’s when and where the journey took place historically. But you may be asking, as I was when I was preparing this talk, how on earth is this journey relevant to me today?? So I sat down and made a list of themes in the 3 chapters…

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These are important themes and I’d encourage you to read through the chapters and think about them but I’m actually not going to talk about any of them because another theme really stuck out: learning and teaching about Jesus accurately is important. So I’ll look at examples of that and how they responded to opposition it generated, then I’ll look at what was taught about Jesus, and how can we learn about Jesus today.

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So, the theme of learning & teaching about Jesus accurately appears throughout the journey but I’ll just look at 3 examples of good teaching and 3 examples of bad teaching. The first example is of Apollos, Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus.

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There’s quite a few things we can learn here. First, even if we’re talented and educated, we must always be willing to listen and learn more. This allows us to cooperate, which benefits us and those around us. In this passage we see it allowed Priscilla and Aquila to privately and gently teach Apollos one-on-one. However, it also shows that there’s a time and place for Christians to debate publicly. God willing, there will be a great example of that next month when Samuel Green does a public debate with an Islamic scholar.

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The next example of the importance of teaching and learning is Paul in Ephesus.

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The last example of how enthusiastic they were about teaching, is Paul in Troas. (Admittedly not every teacher is like Paul but I think it should cause us to pause before we complain about sermons going for more than 10 minutes). These examples also show how teaching and encouragement are closely tied together. And as I learnt last night watching The Bible Project’s Word Study: Shema – “Listen”, when we truly listen and learn, we will put what we learn into action.

So those were 3 examples of prioritising good teaching but now I’ll look at 3 examples of bad or false teaching and ignorance.

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The first is of a group of Jewish exorcists who obviously didn’t properly comprehend the significance of Jesus but nonetheless were trying to invoke his name for their business. Unfortunately for the group, the demons weren’t fooled and they were humiliated. Not only does it show the danger of ignorance, I think there’s a lesson here about not treating Jesus as a genie to do our bidding. That instead, we should be respecting Him as both a person and our King—that our priority should be doing His will.

Our 2nd example of bad teaching is linked to the first.

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There are some falsehoods, such as sorcery, that shouldn’t be taught.

The last example is where Paul warns the Ephesians about false teachers.

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We need to test teaching, especially when there’s any money or self-promotion involved.

So when we go around teaching people about Jesus, encouraging believers, and generally promoting Jesus, sometimes we will be opposed, particularly if someone feels their power or wealth is being threatened. We see an example of this in Acts 19: 23-41.

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Demetrius the silversmith and his mates were making lots of money making idols but Paul had persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t really gods at all so they incited a riot and dragged Paul’s travelling companions into the amphitheater.

As an aside, I’ve been reading through the OT and last night I read Habakkuk and noticed this interesting link: idols can’t teach us, whereas God has been teaching humanity from the very beginning, especially through Jesus who was a Rabbi (a Jewish teacher), and the Holy Spirit is also described as a teacher.

Anyway, back to the riot. I came across a fascinating study a few months back:

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Because the Christian movement was non-violent, it was really hard to pin anything on them, and that helped it spread much further than the many futile armed rebellions. Throughout Church history, and continuing today, the non-violent approach has assisted Christian communities to grow despite persecution. So both morally and pragmatically, if someone opposes you, I recommend a non-violent response.

Now, a significant part of the way the early church taught and learnt was through literature. They read the OT scrolls and the letters that the Apostles wrote. They also reproduced and shared them so the message could go viral. Coincidently, The Bible Project podcast discussed the book, Destroyer of the gods.

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Their passion for literature allowed them to witness much further than any individual could physically travel—to the ends of the earth—all the way to us today!

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Eternity 80 – Is God Dead? The Case for Christ

So far the entire Bible has been translated into 648 languages, the NT into another 1432 languages, and portions of it into another 1145 languages—all up, it’s about 5 times more translations than any other book ever. If we keep up the momentum, every language on the planet will have some Scripture by 2033! The other exciting thing is that the advent of the Internet and smartphones means even more people can get access to the Bible in their language.

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Paul’s teaching about Jesus can be summed up as follows:

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I realise we’re all at different ages and stages of life, so what “valuing teaching and learning” looks like will vary. However, most of us have access to either a computer, tablet, or smartphone so we can easily check out:

The Bible Project logo
The Bible Project

They’re a non-profit organisation that produces high quality, short, free animated videos of the books of the Bible as well as the themes within it. Follow them on:

They also produce free reading plans, study notes, and posters.

I’ve watched almost every video they’ve done and listened to their podcasts for hours. It’s been really helpful for understanding the Bible better. I can’t recommend it enough!