Journey to the Centre of the Earth...
Why this story matters
(What was Jesus doing between his death and resurrection?)
(Page 4 of 8)
Where is hades located?
Today most Christians would scoff at the idea of a realm of the dead located below the earth, or in the interior of the earth. Some might argue that no one ever really believed this. But this is probably imputing too much of our modern scientific mindset to groups of superstitious people who were comparatively ignorant of the structure and content of the universe. If we take a look at what the ancients believed and what early Christian leaders wrote, the picture becomes quite clear.
For the Greeks, hades was certainly located below the earth. In The Iliad, Homer wrote, “So these two talked to one another, as they stood in the house of Hades, deep beneath the earth” (Book X, translation by Ian Johnston, Richer Resources Publications, 2006). The Hebrews also thought the abode of the dead was beneath the earth. In a story from the book of Numbers, a group led by a man named Korah challenges Moses’ leadership. Moses tells the people that, if a crack opens in the ground and swallows the rebels up, they will know that God, himself, chose Moses to lead them. Then, the following happened:
"As he finished speaking all these words, the ground that was under them split open; and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah with their possessions. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive to Sheol and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly” (Numbers 16:31-33 NASB).
Drawing on the best of modern scholarship, the Westminster Theological Wordbook of the Bible summed up the belief of Hebrew writers when it stated, “The dead descend to sheol, which was thought to be located somewhere beneath the earth” (John Knox Press, 2003, Edited by Donald E. Gowan, p. 188).
So much for the Greek and early Jewish writers, but what about the New Testament and the Christian era? Was this a Christian belief as well? We can easily find out by looking at what the early leaders of the church wrote. In the book History of the Christian Religion to the Year Two Hundred, Charles B. Waite noted, “According to the opinion of many in the first century the soul or spirit of Jesus had gone below to a place understood as hades under or beneath the earth” (Kessinger, 2003, p.374-375) Here’s an abbreviated list of early Christian leaders in their own words, which are about as explicit and specific as one could imagine.
From Tertullian, one of the first great apologists and Latin Father, from his famous work Treatise on the Soul:
“By ourselves the lower regions (of Hades) are not supposed to be a bare cavity, nor some subterranean sewer of the world, but a vast deep space in the interior of the earth, and a concealed recess in its very bowels; inasmuch as we read that Christ in His death spent three days in the heart of the earth, Matthew 12:40 that is, in the secret inner recess which is hidden in the earth, and enclosed by the earth, and superimposed on the abysmal depths which lie still lower down” (chapter 55).
From Hippolytus of Rome, a prolific church scholar:
“Hades is a place in the created system, rude, a locality beneath the earth, in which the light of the world does not shine; and as the sun does not shine in this locality, there must necessarily be perpetual darkness there.” - Against Plato, On the Cause of the Universe
From St. Jerome, considered one of the most learned of the church fathers:
“by the heart of the sea hell is signified for which we read in the gospel, the heart of the earth, for, as the heart of an animal is in the midst thereof so hell is supposed to be in the middle of the earth.” - qtd. In History of the Apostles Creed, by Lord Peter King, John Woods Publishing, first American edition, 1804, p.193
From Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, one of the most important defenders of the full divinity of Christ in the fourth century, and one of the four great doctors of the Eastern church:
“We know that He, the Only-begotten Son of God, at the Father's bidding came from the heavens for the abolishment of sin…and was crucified, and died and descended into the parts beneath the earth, and regulated the things there…” – De Sydonis 1.8
And even as late as the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas, someone well acquainted with Christian thought and writings up till then, demonstrated that this belief was still popular. In his supplement to Summa Theologica, he discussed some important questions of the time, one of which was entitled, “Whether the fire of hell is beneath the earth?” (Question 97, Article 7). He noted a rather morbid objection which claimed the interior of the earth would not be able to contain the large number of people destined for hell. Aquinas countered that God has sufficient power to create a “hollow” large enough “within the bowels of the earth."
So, while today’s believer may think the notion of hell being below the earth is quaint, if not childish and na´ve, this is no doubt due to the influence of science on our modern culture. It is not in alignment with the teachings of the formative minds of Christian doctrine. Moreover, even today, there are intelligent, respected Christians who believe hell is below the earth. The Catholic Encyclopedia, under the entry “Hell”, states, “However, no cogent reason has been advanced for accepting a metaphorical interpretation in preference to the most natural meaning of the words of Scripture. Hence theologians generally accept the opinion that hell is really within the earth.” And the popular evangelical writer, Henry Morris was certain of this. Morris authored over 45 books, many of which are still widely read by evangelicals today. In his book, The Revelation Record he wrote, “The word ‘abyss’ comes from the roots meaning ‘without depth’ and so is properly translated ‘bottomless’. It is apparently at the very center of the earth and so in truth has no bottom” (Tyndale House, 1983, p. 157).
Some years ago, a story started circulating through Christian media that miners in Russia had discovered the actual hell. Details of the legend vary, but one of the most vivid accounts appeared in the Weekly World News, from May 12 1998. According to this account, miners in the Chersky Mountains of Siberia, working in a three mile deep shaft, using powerful new drilling technology, had breached the walls of hell. Terrified miners claimed to have heard the screams of the damned and experienced a foul sulfurous odor. The parliament of Boris Yeltsin became embroiled in a heated debate over whether or not to shut down the mine. With the year 2000 approaching, the Russian Orthodox Church feared unleashing evil upon the earth. Meanwhile, Russian scientists thought this to be a great opportunity for scientific study. It was even claimed that a microphone had been let down and the screams recorded (page 39). The recording was circulated on the Internet, where it can still be found today. Interestingly, Henry Morris had previously claimed that, “[Revelation 9:2] indicates there must be somewhere on the earth an opening leading to a great shaft, leading down from the earth’s surface, through the crust, the mantle and the core all the way to Hades itself.” (The Revelation Record, p.157). Dr. Morris’ books, including The Revelation Record, are available at your local Christian book store
Recently, two popular evangelical writers actually got to experience Hell first hand and they both confirmed that it's in the centre of the earth. Bob Wiese, author of 23 Minutes in Hell, and Mary K. Baxter, author of A Divine Revelation of Hell, have spoken in churches all across America about their time in Hell.
So now that we’re familiar with the belief that Jesus was in the abode of the dead between his death and resurrection and the belief that it is located somewhere in the interior of the earth, it’s time to ask, what was Jesus was doing there?