How Could a Loving God Harden Pharaoh’s Heart?

poferamsesSometimes grace finds you in roundabout ways.

Recently, I was discussing the Exodus story with a couple of Ekklesia staff members, and one of them brought up a common question about Pharaoh. In Exodus, God says of Pharaoh, “I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go” (4:21). What is that all about? How could a loving God harden someone’s heart to keep them from belief? Why couldn’t God just let him be?

It’s easy to freak out when we read about the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. But if you think about it, this sentiment assumes if God hadn’t hardened Pharaoh’s heart then he would’ve had a heart of gold. In the end we’re all reasonably good people, right? Shouldn’t God at least give Pharaoh a chance?

But later we read that Pharaoh also hardened his heart (8:32). Now we have God and Pharaoh hardening the same heart. How do we reconcile the two? Maybe you don’t need to.

We’re all hardened people like Pharaoh. If given the chance, we would choose to harden our hearts too. What’s surprising is not that God hardens some hearts but that he doesn’t harden all of them. That’s the crazy thing about grace. God chooses to soften a heart that wants to be hard.

“And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.”
—Ezekiel 11:19

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Is It OK For A Christian to Doubt?

doubtI am hearing more and more Christians say, “I am struggling with doubts. Is that sin? Is it OK for me to doubt?”

My answer is always, “It depends.”

They ask because it’s a common thing to hear in the church that doubt is forbidden. They’ve heard that the second doubt about God or the Bible pops in your head you need to crush it like a pre-teen boy hunting Whack-a-Moles. In some ways, I understand why this was taught. It’s a lot easier to tell someone to just believe than to actually have to grapple with their thoughts. Or maybe they were afraid the doubt would transform into a foaming-at-the-mouth atheism. Better to squash it now. But the problem is when a genuine question about God comes along (Why would a loving God command killing all the Canaanites in the Old Testament? If Jesus was God, how could He die on the cross? What’s a holy kiss and where can I get one?), it is construed as rebellion against the faith. Why can’t you just believe?

Forbidding doubt will kill questions. Killing questions births a faith that doesn’t know why it exists. They “just” believe. But when an intellectual argument against their faith comes, they are left in the street naked without answers. Or when a horrific tragedy strikes their lives, they have no anchor to keep them from drifting. They always just believed. Now they see their faith for what it was—hollow. This is why so many Christians go off to college, get hit with every ideology under the sun, and walk away from their faith.

We need a new way to think about doubt and questions; one that acknowledges the dangers doubt can pose but also the benefits doubt can give.

DOUBT CAN BE BENEFICIAL

Doubt that’s beneficial is one that looks for answers—looks for truth. You know an answer is out there. You’re not trying to undermine two thousand years worth of prayer, scholarship, and theology. You just want to know.

This doubt is extremely beneficial because Christians aren’t supposed to “just” believe. The Christian faith is one that’s grounded in evidence—in facts. The Gospel is not just a collection of truths but it’s a description of a historical event. Real people in real places. There’s an abundance of evidence to support our faith. We shouldn’t be horrified of doubts, as if every time a young believer asks a question on hell an angel loses its wings. Instead, we should confidently answer their questions and help them through their doubts.

If you don’t know the answers, figure them out yourself. If you’re having doubts, answer the doubts with Scripture. We should know why we believe not just that we believe. “Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter. 3:15). If someone asks you why you believe what you believe, would you be able to answer them?

Doubt can be helpful but only if you desire the truth. Don’t doubt for doubt’s sake. Wrestle with your doubt so you can know God. Doubt can be the seed of faith. If we truly want the truth, our faith will be stronger for it.

DOUBT CAN BE HARMFUL

Doubt that’s harmful is one that looks for anything but the answer. The truth was given to you but you’re unwilling to accept it. So you go looking for something else or believe there is no answer at all.

If we’re truly seeking for truth, then we should be willing to accept the answer even if we don’t like it. But we humans are fickle beings. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:3). They didn’t like the truth because it didn’t hit their sweet spot, so they went searching for cheap substitutes.

You don’t like the idea that people who reject Christ go to hell? We’ll work something out.

You don’t like the idea that homosexuality (or any sexual expression outside traditional marriage) is a sin? I have just the thing for you.

You don’t like the idea that being a disciple of Christ means you have to die to yourself and your desires? You can have your best life now.

This kind of doubt isn’t a wrestling for truth. It’s unbelief. A refusal to believe the truth you see before you. This kind of doubt doesn’t strengthen faith—it undermines faith.

I do believe doubt and questions should have a place in the church. I love hearing people work through the Bible and wrestle with what it says. That means our brains are working. That means we’re trying to figure out what it means to love the Lord with all our mind. But in the middle of our doubting, remember Christ is standing there waiting for us to touch the holes in His hands. We just have to be willing to see Him.

How Can a Good God Allow Evil?

Many Christians wrestle with this question and many doubters tout this as the trump card to all lofty theistic arguments.

Normally the flow of thought goes like this:

  • The God of the Bible appears to be good and all-powerful.
  • We know that evil exists and it is everywhere.
  • If the God of the Bible exists (being good and all-powerful) how can evil also exist? Wouldn’t the mere presence of evil negate the existence of either God’s goodness or almighty power?
  • If that is so, the God of the Bible must not exist.

Pretty sound logic, right? Or so it may seem.

The actual reason why this argument is a stumbling block for many Christians and seen as a fool-proof gambit by others is that they are looking at evil and suffering through an imperfect lens.

Consider Mitch Stokes’ explanation of the problem of evil and why it is actually not a problem at all. The quote is long but well worthy of a careful read through:

This is where it is particularly useful to look more closely at the Christian story of redemption. God created humans to bless them, to allow them to enter a deep, fulfilling relationship with him…

But it is entirely different for us; to put oneself above the most perfect being is morally wrong. Yet this, apparently, is what we desired. We wanted things that only God could have. And in trying to take them, we marred our very natures, so that—although we still retain something of God’s image—it is badly misshapen. And now, of course, we’re suffering for it.

But God suffered more. Infinitely more, in fact…

When God’s Son was crucified some two thousand years ago by the Roman government, the eternal relationship between the Father and Son was severed. This is why the cross is so horrific. To be sure, the physical suffering was genuine suffering, but that suffering was negligible compared to the pain of losing this infinitely close relationship. Anyone who has felt the pain of a lost relationship—especially a close one—knows that this suffering can be devastating. Separation from someone you love is nearly unbearable. And in Jesus’ case, the pain would be infinite.

God, then, suffered an excruciating evil, and on our behalf. This is no small thing, and it may be of some comfort. Realizing that God himself suffered far greater pain to save creatures who—at the time of their rescue—hated him, might offer some perspective…

And so, “perhaps that invitation [of salvation] can be issued only to creatures who have fallen, suffered, and been redeemed. If so, the condition of humankind is vastly better than it would have been, had there been no sin and no suffering. O Felix Culpa, indeed!” O Felix Culpa: “O Happy Fall!” Ironic, paradoxical, yet a story with a wildly happy ending. But like all riveting stories, the journey is at times unbearable.

The problem of evil, while still a problem for the believer, isn’t one that makes belief in God irrational. And so despite the problem’s centrality in the atheist’s arsenal, it is surprisingly weak, from an intellectual standpoint. But there is more to say about evil, this time about its implications for the atheist or, more accurately, naturalism’s implication for morality in general. And the conclusion is simplicity itself: if there is no God, there is no evil.

Nor is there any good.

(A Shot of Faith (to the Head): Be a Confident Believer in an Age of Cranky Atheists, p. 198-200, emphasis mine)

Is It a Sin to Get a Tattoo?

I had a conversation about this with a few people yesterday and it got me thinking more deeply about the topic. I almost wrote my findings down but then I found Matthew Lee Anderson’s article about tattoos on Relevant Magazine’s website. Matthew is a super-blogger and author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith, which sports a chapter dedicated to the issue of tattoos.

His article far exceeded anything I could have written on the subject so I am going to give you his highlights.

THE TATTOO TABOO

First, Matthew briefly addresses the traditional biblical concerns people have about tattoos.

It’s nearly impossible to draw a straight line from the Bible’s teachings on tattoos to today, as the meaning of tattoos has drastically shifted. The Bible knows nothing of tattoos for purely aesthetic purposes or as artistic self-expression. Instead, tattoos in the ancient Near East were punitive, expressions of fidelity to the local deity, or marks of ownership over slaves.

The debates over Leviticus 19:28 are officially worn out, and most everyone knows the exegetical troubles that come with trying to interpret and apply the Old Testament law.

The exegetical troubles mentioned are found when a Christian chooses certain Levitical laws to adhere to but ignores others, such as eating meat with blood still in it (sorry steak lovers, Lev. 19:26), eating fruit from trees that are younger than five years old (Lev. 19:25), and mixing kinds of cattle, seed, or cloth (that polyester blend you are wearing, Lev. 19:19).

The idea behind all of the commandments in the context of Leviticus 19:28 is not that these practices are sinful in themselves, but these were practices that the pagans were identified with and used for pagan worship. The people of Israel were not to engage in such acts because they were called to be different. Set apart.

Romans 14 shows that such ceremonial laws do not necessarily bind us any longer because our set-apartness is based upon our standing in Christ now. Our personal conscience now drives what we abstain from or indulge in—granted it is not illegal, outright sin, or causes another to stumble.

While the Old Testament may seem to have a negative outlook towards tattoos, Matthew finds a contrasting viewpoint in Isaiah:

The more interesting Old Testament passages are in Isaiah, where the Lord suggests that some Israelites will one day write on their hands, “Belonging to the Lord” (44:5) and that the Lord has written their names on His hands (49:16). In the former, the marking seems to be tied to the Israelites’ perfection as the people of God. Isaiah points to a day when the people of God will be so faithful that some will mark the name of the Lord on their bodies. The tattoo, or tattoo-like mark, signifies a permanent status—a physical expression of human faithfulness and God’s ownership.

Matthew’s conclusion on the Bible’s take on tattoos is this:

The record from Scripture is mixed. There aren’t necessarily any explicit prohibitions of aesthetic tattooing, but it’s not exactly endorsed, either. Instead of focusing on the diversity of self-expression through the body, Scripture repeatedly turns its attention toward the pattern for self-expression: the person of Christ and the means He established to bring believers into conformity with Him. The Christian identity is given in union with Christ and by a life within Christian community, as the book of Ephesians repeatedly emphasizes—not in tattoos or the histories written on a body. The primary concern of the New Testament is not aesthetics or fashion but faith working through love.

IT’S ABOUT THE HEART, NOT THE SKIN

While such a conclusion may cause people to quickly run out the door, rip off their shirts, and go under the needle, Matthew still issues a caution about Christians getting tattoos:

Yet in this, there may be reasons for caution. When self-expression takes a religious form through tattooing crosses or other iconography, there is the risk of obscuring how the Bible enjoins believers to express faith through their bodies. The faith, hope and charity that set Christians apart in the world are not aesthetic markings per se, but rather expressive behaviors that reshape a Christian’s muscles and organs (including the skin). Holiness, in other words, can’t be tattooed on—it can only be cultivated through the practices of the Christian life.

Whether any particular Christian should get a tattoo is, then, an open question. But Christians should think about them differently than they have. In short, the question of whether to get a tattoo should be a question of Christian discipleship, rather than purely individualistic forms of self-expression. (emphasis mine)

I think Matthew’s conclusion is spot on. In the end, it’s still all about the heart. Just because you have a Hebrew word on your arm does not make you anymore of a Christian than the puritanical old woman who thinks ear piercings are from Satan is more of a Christian. A Christianized tattoo is no substitute for picking up your cross and living a life for Christ.

Where is your heart at when you decide to get a tattoo?

Is it in line with 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and 10:30—seeing your body as not your own but Christ’s, purchased with His priceless blood and dedicated in every action and adornment for His glory?

Or is it more in line with the fashion whims of the world—trying to construct your own persona, making Jesus a piece of your identity instead of the entirety of who you are?

In his book, Earthen Vessels, Matthew ends his chapter on tattoos with this admonition:

Here and now, tattoos function as aesthetic expressions of meaning-making, as we attempt to navigate the hollow emptiness of the world in which we have been raised. The danger with our tattoo preferences is that in a consumerist culture where we are brands we consume, tattoos can function as a sort of polytheistic expression of devotion to our local deities—as it might have for the poor chap who covered his back with a Twilight tattoo. As Christians, we need to ensure that we do not place Jesus within the pantheon of gods and make him one option among many, but bear witness to his lordship as Christians always have—through sacrificial love, hope in suffering, acts of mercy, and the proclamation of the gospel. (120)

Is getting a tattoo a sin? It depends. Where is your heart?

You can read the rest of Matthew Lee Anderson’s article here. You can check out his book here. He blogs at Mere Orthodoxy.

Is the Church Today in the Worst State It’s Ever Been in?

No.

Contrary to popular belief, the church is not sinking like the Titanic.

Why do people say such things? Maybe it’s because of things like Barna’s slightly skewed statistics that say people are fleeing the church as if it were a mutant-possum. Maybe they are alarmed at the rampant hypocrisy of many clergymen or are perturbed at the wishy-washiness of many pulpits. Or maybe they see the state of America today and assume that’s how the church is doing too—since, you know, everyone in America is a Christian, right?

The critics believe the reason why the church is so messed up is because we have drifted away from the New Testament church model. They say—the first Christians had less of this and more of that.

  • They met in homes.
  • They didn’t care about money.
  • They were more missional.
  • They wrote less books.
  • They did more social justice.
  • They didn’t focus on doctrine.
  • They gave all their possessions away.
  • They didn’t really have pastors.
  • They spoke in tongues more.
  • They loved people more.
  • They preached less.
  • They drank more.
  • They were more like Jesus.

YOU MAY KISS THE BRIDE

The doomsayers do have one thing correct: the church is full of sin. But you know what?—it always has been. Even, (gasp!) during the New Testament and the first century church.

The church has always be made up of humans, and humans are sinful. Therefore, as long as the church is full of sinners it is going to be full of sin. It doesn’t justify the sin, but it will be a reality.

Yes, the church is the bride of Christ, but she can be very ugly at times.

NEW TESTAMENT REMIX

The problem is that we forget the sin nature of the first Christians and end up idolizing the NT church. The reality is that the NT church was not as full of baby angels and bejeweled bunnies. Almost every epistle was written to address a problem or conflict in the New Testament church.

Romans– written to address racial and theological tensions between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.

1 Corinthians– written to address a church that was more full of sin than a Las Vegas casino and to quiet those who were trying to rebel against Paul’s God-given apostolic authority.

2 Corinthians– written to address more turmoil in the churches at Corinth and once again reassert Paul’s God-given authority (slow learners those Corinthians).

Galatians– written to stop a rising cult, named the Judaizers, who were ravaging the churches in Galatia.

Colossians– written to correct certain heresies that were infiltrating the church and causing many to engage in ascetic practices—thinking that would earn favor with God.

1 Thessalonians– written to correct an incorrect mindset of the after-life and Christ’s Second Coming that caused depression and hopeless grieving in the church.

2 Thessalonians– written to correct another incorrect understanding of Christ’s Second Coming. This time they thought Jesus had already come back.

1 Timothy– written to encourage Timothy, pastor of the church in Ephesus, to confront the false teachers who had infiltrated his church.

Titus– written to encourage Titus, pastor of the church in Crete, to confront the false teachers who had infiltrated his church.

James– written to Jewish Christians who had fallen into living a worldly lifestyle, resorted to infighting, and split into many factions.

2 Peter– written to combat false teachers who were teaching that sexual sin was a legitimate Christian lifestyle.

1 John– written to respond to an early form of Gnosticism, another early church heresy.

Jude– written to defend the truth against false teachers who taught a false gospel and gave license to debauchery.

So the early church was no more holy than any other period of church history. Does this mean we throw out all the epistles say about the church? By no means!

We must use what the early church did wrong as an example of what not to do. Use the good things they did as examples to follow. Obey the commands given by God through the apostles. Where the Bible is silent (example: style of worship music), do not create your own commands to fill in the blanks.

And always remember that it is Christ who will build His church, not us. As one pastor said, Jesus has been hitting straight licks with crooked sticks for a long time. We just need to be faithful to sow the seed.

Was the Resurrection Cheating?

In light of Easter, an old college memory came to my mind the other day.

During my freshman year of college at the University of Oregon, the college group I was part of put on an event where we could ask the pastors and leaders any question about Jesus and the Bible. Of course, this brought in scores of visitors wanting to see the learned scholars stumped, including a few unbelievers. One non-christian girl asked our pastor a question about Christ that I had never even considered before:

Was the resurrection cheating?

Her rationale was, if Jesus’ great love for us is demonstrated for us in His horrible, agonizing death, doesn’t the resurrection negate all that? After all, He’s no longer dead! It would have been a much greater sacrifice if He had stayed dead. What’s the point?

Set aside the metaphysical hypotheticals of “the fabric of the universe would unravel if the second person of the Trinity was dead for all eternity, duh.” This is actually a really good question for Christians to ask themselves!

Was the resurrection more than an elaborate punking of Satan, who thought he had won when the Son of God died? A celestial gotcha?

Paul tells the Corinthians that the resurrection is so much more than that. In fact, Paul says, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). That sounds fairly important.

But why? Why is, at risk of sounding blasphemous, the cross not enough? Because the cross was never the whole plan.

The cross paid our sins in full—Amen and amen! But eternal life was made possible through the resurrection. Unfortunately, Christians forget to emphasize this important part of the Gospel, acting like the resurrection is just a footnote to the cross.

But the resurrection is extremely important and necessary because it ensures two main aspects of eternal life: qualitative and quantitative.

Qualitative—Christ’s resurrection ensures our regeneration, our “new birth.”

Before Christ, we were dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1-3). Heart beating, lungs pumping, but spiritually dead. The Walking Dead. Our desires, our values, and our minds were focused on anything but God.

But because of the resurrection, if we have faith in Him, God has given us life like He gave Jesus life (Ephesians 2:5-6). It is a quality of life like we have never imagined because we are no longer slaves to sin—wallowing in the mud of guild and shame. We are born again (John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:3-4). We are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). We have new desires, new values, and new minds.

Quantitative—Christ’s resurrection ensures our resurrection.

Humans die; it’s probably the one thing we are best at besides sinning. We are batting .1000 at the deathbed.

Christ came to change all of that.

Paul informs us of the ultimate gift of the resurrection when he tells the Corinthians, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:51-53).

Just as Christ was raised, so we will be raised. Just as Christ received a glorified body that will never decay, so we will too.

No more disease. No more allergies. No more warts. No more broken or disabled limbs. No more blindness. No more sin. No more suffering. No more tears.

This is all because of the resurrection. It definitely matters that the tomb is empty.

Dead is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:54-56

For further reading, check out the Gospel Coalition’s explanation on why the resurrection shouldn’t be neglected.

Post adapted from the School of Bible Christology class. Image credit: “Jesus’s Tomb” by upyernoz on Flickr under CC by 3.0

Does The Use of Medicine Show a Lack of Faith?

Another question came my way recently asking about particular denominations that believe receiving medical attention proves a lack of faith in God’s healing power. Along with that belief is the one that says sickness is a form of judgement from God. Think Job’s really amazing friends who encouraged him through his trials by telling him he brought them all on himself.

I’ve been hearing about this belief ever since I was growing up in Portland. There is a church in Oregon City that has been in The Oregonian multiple times because several members—mostly children—had died from illnesses that were easily treatable if medical attention were an option. Some of these incidents went to court and recently one was convicted of manslaughter. There is also a church of similar belief in the outskirts of the Eugene area.

They say that medicine is just a practice and is no guarantee to heal. True. But they also say that taking your health into your own hands is sinful; only God should have that right. Additionally, they believe healing and victory are offered to us through Christ’s atonement on the cross; like salvation, it can only be accessed through faith.

But what does the Bible actually say?

Here are some snippets of Scripture showing God’s attitude towards medicine and the like:

DOCTORS

For one, Luke (author of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts) was a doctor! Nowhere do we read of Luke declaring his life of medicine as detrimental and renouncing it for a true life of dedicated faith (much like the tax collectors). Instead, the Holy Spirit actually uses Luke’s skills in medicine and anatomy to bring to life the descriptions of Jesus’ miracles.

Jesus spoke of doctors in a positive way when he compared himself to one in Mark 2:17.

SICKNESS

Being sick or plagued with disease does not mean you are lacking in faith or are enslaved to sin. Paul talked about a “bodily illness” he had (Galatians 4:13-15) and he also suffered a “thorn in the flesh” which God allowed him to retain (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). God doesn’t take away Paul’s ailment but uses it as an object lesson of God’s sustaining grace in the midst of human weakness.

God certainly allowed Job to go through a time of physical suffering even though Job was a great man of faith (Job 1-2).

It is noteworthy that on one occasion Jesus indicated that even some sickness occurs for the glory of God (John 11:4).

MEDICINE

In 1 Timothy 5:23, Paul instructs Timothy to drink a little wine for medicinal purposes. Paul did not suggest that Timothy was sick because of his lack of faith. Paul just proposed a practical way to treat his illness.

Interestingly, James prescribes a combination of faith and medicine for the sick in James 5:14-16, by anointing the sick with oil and praying for them. The oil here is not special, made holy through prayer. If that were the case, could I cook my bacon in said holy oil and avoid clogged arteries? Instead, John MacArthur states that the oil here was used for medicinal purposes, especially for skin diseases. This offers a picture of trusting God to make the medicine effective.

HEALING

Neither Paul or any of the others acted as if they thought their healing was guaranteed in the atonement.

Paul couldn’t heal Timothy’s stomach problem (1 Timothy 5:23) nor could he heal Trophimus at Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20) or Epaphroditus (Philippians 3:25-27). They accepted their situations and trusted in God’s grace to carry them through.

CONCLUSION

The idea that it is wrong to use doctors and medicine for health and healing is unbiblical and can be harmful. Using such means for health does not mean you lack faith in God and his power to heal. God heals your asthma attack by giving you the means to obtain an inhaler. God takes away your flu through antibiotics. We just have to take hold of the means God has placed right in front of us.

This is not a faith issue, it is whether or not we are willing to accept His gifts.

Can God answer prayers through miraculous healings? Absolutely. He has done it on more than one occasion.

But sometimes we are the answer to our own prayers.

Did Jesus Descend Into Hell While He Was In The Grave?

A while back I was sent an email asking, “Did Jesus descend into hell while He was in the grave?” The sender of the email had a friend who tried to convince her that this doctrine was true. It was something she had never heard before and she was confused.

Did Jesus go to hell?

Must have missed that one in Sunday school.

Imagine the felt boards for that lesson.

This belief comes from the Apostle’s Creed—an early church statement of belief that does not appear in the Bible, therefore it is not Scripture—which states, “He [Jesus] descended into hell.” While the creed does state this it should be noted that a literal interpretation of the original Greek of the AC could be “He descended to the dead.”  The Apostle’s Creed is a staple of liturgy for many denominations and also the Catholic Church so this is a significant issue.

The Apostle’s Creed is nice but I do believe that according to Scripture, this one point it preaches does not hold water.

Where the Apostle’s Creed and many believers are getting such an interpretation (ultimately a misinterpretation in my opinion) is most likely from Ephesians 4:9 (“he descended into the lower regions”) and 1 Peter 3:18-19 (“in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison”).

THE EVIDENCE

Ephesians 4:9 is not talking about Jesus going to hell because the “lower regions” mentioned are just an expression to show Christ’s humility in stepping down from the throne of heaven to become a lowly man, be beaten, killed on a cross, and buried. This is contrasted with Christ’s exaltation back into heaven as the King of kings. The context shows the contrast.

1 Peter 3:18-19 in some translations uses the word “preached” instead of “proclaimed” which can make this a confusing passage. Just looking at it logically, it would not make sense for Christ to preach the Gospel to those in hell because they cannot be saved (Hebrews 9:27).  If Christ was preaching the Gospel, the passage would have used the Greek word, “euangelion” which is where we get the term evangelize and Gospel. But instead the passage uses the term “kerusso” which means  “to proclaim.” Specifically in this context it means “proclaim victory.” Jesus in his glorious passage to heaven declared His victory to the demons opposing him (context shows they were demons and not humans suffering in hell, v. 20).

The dialogue probably went something like this:

Jesus: YOU LOSE! Set yo clock for Sunday, son!

Demons: Whatever…

WHAT ABOUT THE CROSS

The idea that Jesus went to hell while his body was in the tomb contradicts three statements Jesus made on the cross. Jesus said in John 19:30, “it is finished.” The only reason Jesus would need to go to hell would be to continue to pay the penalty for sins. But that penalty was being poured out while He was on the cross, hell on earth, as Jesus cried out in Matthew 27:46, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The price was paid in full; His work, finished.

In my opinion, to say Jesus’ work on the cross was not finished is to diminish the horror and significance of the cross, something none of the New Testament epistles ever do (see 1 Corinthians 1:23; 2:2).

Finally, Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). It would not make sense for Jesus to actually be saying that only after he descended to hell, three days later raised from the dead, then he would be in paradise. Jesus meant what he said that day. He didn’t ask the thief to save Him a spot next to Abraham while Jesus tended to unfinished business.

Through my study of the Scriptures and with the help of scholars far smarter than I, I confidently believe Jesus was in paradise, not hell.

Check it out for yourself.

For further reading, see this short article by John Piper.