Jesus died and rose again as the God-man savior of the entire world. That’s what people need to hear and know. But Jesus’ descent comforts those who have not yet experienced the resurrection.
Dean of Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry and Floyd K. Clark Chair of Christian Leadership Professor of Religion Master of Arts Director, Dr. Matthew Y. Emerson shares the importance of Jesus’ descent to the dead through his book, “He Descended to the Dead:An Evangelical Theology of Holy Saturday.”
Emerson’s initial reasoning for the beginning of his studies involves the neglect of the doctrine.
“I started reading some books on another doctrine and how modern-day evangelicals don’t believe in certain credal lines, or question certain lines in the creed, the Nicene creed, particularly. I realized that another line that people question a lot is ‘He descended to the dead’ or ‘He descended into hell.’ A lot of churches don’t even put it in the creed or even if they recite a creed at all at church. I wanted to know why that is today and why it was important to the early church…” Emerson said.
Emerson’s study on Jesus’ descent involves a historical and theological outlook of what the early church,doctrine and scripture affirm about Jesus’ descent.
“It’s important to listen to what the early Church has said… to the extent that they are being faithful to scripture, so scripture is the ultimate authority, as protestants… [Scripture] has supreme authority over all other authorities. But there are other kinds of authority that exist under the authority of scripture. For instance, your pastor preaches a sermon on Sunday that is faithful to the text, then it’s authoritative over the church and our lives. Not in the way that it is on par with scripture, but that it is from scripture. The same is true of the [early Church] creeds,” he said.
Emerson further expounds upon the importance of listening and taking heed of the early Church.
“We don’t operate as isolated individuals who master the bible and then can judge everybody else based on our own mastery. We actually exist in [and as] a community with one another in the Church. In so far as billions of Christians throughout history agree with the credal statements as correct, [I think] maybe I should listen,” he said..
Based on these convictions and studies, Emerson notes that it applies on a more personal level.
“Because [Christ’s descent] is biblical, its importance helps us answer the philosophical question about human beings. So, are we bodies and souls? Or are we just bodies? Many philosophers and scholars deny that we have a soul; that we are just a body. Christ’s descent to the dead says, ‘No, we have to be body and soul because Christ had to be body and soul in order to descend to the place of the dead between His death and resurrection.’”
He continues, “It matters to us pastorally because it says that Christ has gone before us into the valley of the shadow of death, conquered it, knocked the gates down and came out the other side. So, when we face death, whether it’s our own or that of a loved one, we know that Christ has been through and is present with those who die in faith. It’s comforting. [Leading us to] our comfort in the resurrection, not the intermediate state.”
If there were any doubt about Emerson’s personal and reasonable conclusion about the descent, he affirms and encourages.
“Yes, [It happened.]”
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