Key Scripture: Matthew 27:62-66; Luke 23:56
Written by: Dr. Charlie Self
This Sabbath Day is a hush, a pause to catch our breath…and a critical moment of verifying that Jesus was not, “only mostly dead.” Jesus died on Good Friday and was hastily wrapped and placed in a borrowed tomb before the sundown on Friday. Political and religious leaders sealed the tomb and posted a guard, lest the body be stolen.
Why does this day matter? Theologically, we know that Jesus’ work for our salvation was completed on the Cross (“It is finished”). In one sense, the Resurrection could have happened a millisecond after Jesus’ death. But in the plan of God, it was vital that Jesus’ death and sealed tomb be certified by witnesses so that the full power of his eventual triumph over death can be seen in all its glory.
It is important that we not add to God’s Word about our salvation. Some well-meaning Christians believe that after Jesus died, there was some kind of spiritual battle in Hades and Satan had to be defeated and “the keys” snatched from his hand. These speculations arose in the early Medieval times with an addition to the Apostles’ Creed that says, “he descended into hell [hades, the place of the dead].” This is not in the New Testament or any other creed. Ephesians 4:1-11 reminds us the Lord who triumphed over the grave is the same one who descended all the way…in his incarnation in Mary’s womb (see Psalm 139 for the meaning of “depths of the earth”). In I Peter 3, Jesus did not go and preach to the dead – rather, Peter is illustrating how Noah’s pleas with evil people anticipated the gospel.
When Jesus died on Good Friday, his spirit was immediately in Paradise and his body was physically in the tomb. The same is true when a believer dies today. She or he is in God’s presence, while awaiting the final resurrection when Jesus returns in glory (2 Corinthians 5; I Thessalonians 4-5).
As we reflect on this moment of waiting, we are challenged to trust the Lord for his timing in our lives. We are called to cease from our own efforts and enter his rest of faith (Hebrews 2-4). In our busy world, waiting is a particularly challenging discipline.