Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Holy Spirit's Descent into Hell

This time of year we naturally focus on the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, and rightly so.  As we contemplate such a brutal, horrifying moment questions confront us.  Why did Jesus die?  Why such a horrible death?  Why the cross?  How do we interpret the meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion?  These are critical questions, yet rarely, as Jurgen Moltmann notes, does anyone focus upon the Holy Spirit in this context. What was the Holy Spirit doing when Jesus was ridiculed, unjustly condemned, beaten and tortured, and then crucified on the cross?  Jesus was conceived in the Spirit, lived his entire life in the Spirit, and offered himself up on the cross in the Spirit.  So how do we understand the Holy Spirit in relation to those horrible hours of Good Friday?

In our Western, legalistic framework we are led to think of the Father as rejecting his own Son as the sin of the world was placed upon Jesus.  Some, in this framework, go further and argue that on the cross the Father actually poured out his wrath—due to fall upon us—upon Jesus, and then abandoned him in utter rejection.  In the context of such disastrous notions it is striking to ask about the Holy Spirit. What did the Holy Spirit do when the Father rejected his Son?  What happened in the Holy Spirit’s heart, if we may so speak, when the Father forsook his Son and poured out his wrath upon Jesus?  If we accept this model of the Father rejecting and damning his Son on the cross then we are left with the Holy Spirit simply and profoundly torn between the two!  Did the Holy Spirit have to choose a side?  Which one?  Or perhaps the Holy Spirit is like a mother caught between an angry husband and her only son.  Perhaps here we see the reason there is so little discussion of the Holy Spirit in the context of Jesus’ death. But if we sit at the feet of Athanasius and his insistence on the equality and utter oneness of the Father, Son and Spirit we find ourselves in a different world.  Here a different answer to the question of the Holy Spirit’s relationship with Jesus in his death emerges—and a different answer as to what the Father was doing when his Son was being murdered by the human race. 

Let me back up for a moment.  First, I believe that Athanasius and the early Church were right in their development of their vision of the Trinity.  The relationship of the Father, Son, and Spirit that we see lived out on the pages of the New Testament is not something that came into being 2000 years ago.  This is an eternal relationship.  There was never a time, as Athanasius argued, when the Father was alone and simply God, without his Son and Spirit. 

Second, according to John 1:1-4; Colossians 1:16-17; and Hebrews 1:1-3, Jesus Christ is directly involved in the creation and sustaining of all things.  Among other things this means that the Father’s eternal Son had a relationship with the human race and all creation prior to Christmas.  Before he became a human being the Father’s eternal Son, who is face to face with the Father in the Holy Spirit, not only created all things, but also constantly upholds and sustains them. 

Third, when this Son became a human being he was not creating a relationship with the human race and all creation; he was establishing his existing relationship inside our humanity.

Fourth, when the eternal Son became human he did not leave the Holy Spirit or his Father behind in heaven.  At Christmas it was the Son who became flesh, but precisely as the Son and as the one anointed in the Holy Spirit.  The incarnation does not mean that Jesus abandoned his Father and the Holy Spirit, but that the Son in his relationship with his Father, and in his anointing in the Holy Spirit became human.  This means that in Jesus Christ—the incarnate Son—the Father, the Holy Spirit, the human race, and all creation are together in relationship.  Jesus is the relationship, the place of meeting.  In fact, the relationship that the Father, Son and Spirit had with humanity and creation prior to Christmas is here in the incarnate Son being established inside his humanity.

Fifth, now we are ready to see something even more astonishing that our legalism prevents us from ever seeing.  The death of Jesus on the cross was not about a rejection of the Son by his Father, and the Holy Spirit trying to hold things together.  The death of Jesus on the cross is about the Triune God entering into the deepest, darkest pit of our broken, sinful humanity.  What happens on the cross is that the relationship that the Father, Son and Spirit had with creation prior to Christmas, which is then established inside Jesus’ humanity in his incarnation—this relationship —is now being established inside our sin and iniquity, bondage to evil and death.

The cross is not about the Father’s rejection of Jesus, but ours.  The wrath poured out on Calvary’s hill did not originate in the Father’s heart, but in ours (see Matt. 20:18-19; 16:21; Mark 10:33-34; Luke 24:7; and Heb. 12:3).  It was not the Father or the Holy Spirit who beat Jesus, detested him, cursed him, and abandoned him; it was the human race.  We mocked him.  We cursed him.  We crucified him.  As Jesus himself suffered our rejection, as he endured our betrayal, and submitted himself to bear our scorn and hostility, he was personally entering into our iniquity—and he was not alone.  The Father and the Holy Spirit were with him.  “God was in Christ” as Paul teaches (2Cor. 5:19).  Neither the Holy Spirit nor the Father were spectators to Jesus’ suffering. 

What does this mean? It means that in Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit, and the Father have descended into our hell, and used our betrayal of Jesus as the way to get there. It means that the Father, Son and Spirit have taken our rejection of Jesus and turned it into our adoption, and new birth, and the recreation of all things in Jesus.  For as Jesus accepted our rejection, as he experienced personally our bizarre, blind disdain, he was establishing his relationship with us not simply in our humanity, but inside our broken humanity at our very worst—and he brought his Father and the Holy Spirit with him.  Thus the death of Jesus is the entering of the trinitarian life of God into the blackest darkness of our hell.

As we focus on the Father’s inclusion in Jesus’ suffering, or on the fact that far from rejecting Jesus and abandoning him at the crucial hour, the Father was in Jesus all the while, we are given eyes to see the deep inner meaning of our adoption in Christ.  Adoption is not a doctrine; it is reality.  In Jesus, as he accepts our beatings, the Father is finding us, the broken, rebellious, betraying, sinful us, and embracing us, and including us in his own life.  Jesus is himself the way or place, as always, where the Father meets us, and now as the result of our crucifying Jesus the Father has met us in chaos of the great darkness.  What redemptive genius is at work here!  Our contribution to our inclusion in the life of the Trinity was to reject and murder the Father’s eternal son. 

As we focus on the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s inclusion in Jesus’ suffering, or on the fact that as Jesus was rejected, betrayed and murdered by the human race, the Holy Spirit was not merely holding a carton of tissues and watching from a distance, but in Jesus, we are given eyes to see the deep, inner meaning of new birth.  As the Creed says, the Holy Spirit is “the Lord and giver of life.”  The way the Holy Spirit gives life, or rebirths, or recreates all things is not by external command, but by descending—in Jesus—into the dark world of sin and evil.  Resurrection is not something that the Father externally confers upon Jesus as a sign of his acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice, or upon us as a sign of his acceptance of us in Jesus. Resurrection is the direct, personal, and inevitable fruit of the Holy Spirit’s entrance—in Jesus—into the hell of human sin and darkness and death. In Jesus, as the result of his shocking submission to our bitter contempt, the Holy Spirit has made his or her way inside our death, and done so not as a watered down spirit, but as the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life.  What can death do to the Holy Spirit? 

In Jesus Christ, by virtue of his relationship with us, and by virtue of his anointing with the Holy Spirit, and through his submission to our treachery to the point of death, we and our dying and death have been ushered into the world of the Holy Spirit and anointed with the life of the blessed Trinity.

The Holy Spirit’s descent—in Jesus—into our hell means that death has been transformed into the way of recreation and resurrection life. 

Thank you Holy Spirit. We will have more please.  


Jonathan Puddle said...

Thank you brother, may the Lord open more hearts to see just how much He loves us!

Chris said...

Baxter thank you. This morning I'm going to preach an adaptation I've made of your Good Friday sermon on Hebrews 1: 1-3 posted on your website. My expectation and hope is that it will change and shape our people's view of who God really is. Have a blessed Easter. Chris Saayman

The Nefilibata said...

Bro, does it mean that 'God died' when Jesus died at cross? How can you explain that trinitarian God dies at cross?

Unknown said...

If they were together, how do you understand the meaning of this verse?
Mark 15:34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

C. Baxter Kruger, Ph.D. said...

Abshalom, no one knows how to talk about God dying on the cross. What we do know is that if Jesus' death did not penetrate the divine being, then we have no real union with God. And if God died, we have no salvation. So we push the pause button there and pray in wonder.

James, Mark/Jesus is quoting Psalm 22:1. Have a read of the whole Psalm, particularly verse 24, "For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither has He hidden His face from him; but when he cried to Him for help. He heard." For more on this see the last chapter of my book Jesus and the Undoing of Adam.

Thanks guys.

Florian Berndt said...

Love it! Great Easter post...

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how this blog doesn't get more comments... Beautiful life changing stuff right here. -Dallas

breazeweaze said...

"The wrath poured out on Calvary’s hill did not originate in the Father’s heart, but in ours (see Matt. 20:18-19; 16:21; Mark 10:33-34; Luke 24:7; and Heb. 12:3)"

I disagree. Wrath is the requirement of the nature of a righteous God.

God is a righteous judge, a God who displays his wrath every day. (Psalm 7:11 NIV)

His wrath afflicts people and brings his praise.

Because of your wrath there is no health in my body; there is no soundness in my bones because of my sin. (Psalm 38:3 NIV)

Surely your wrath against mankind brings you praise, and the survivors of your wrath are restrained. (Psalm 76:10 NIV)

It is to be feared.

If only we knew the power of your anger! Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due. (Psalm 90:11 NIV)

He withholds his wrath for his namesake.

For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath; for the sake of my praise I hold it back from you, so as not to destroy you completely. (Isaiah 48:9 NIV)

Jesus was destined for the cross by the righteous and just Father. With the agreement of the Son and the Holt Spirit.

Yet it was the Lord ’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:10 NIV)

No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:18 NIV)

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7 NIV)

Where in scripture do you see the wrath of people being used to thwart the will and desires of God?

You say that people's wrath was the cause of the cross. In some ways that is true. Because our unjust sinful wrath required a sacrifice for a loving and merciful God to send a unblemished sacrifice, because he must not deny his characters of justice and righteousness. Therefore, Christ atones for us on the Cross not because of our wrath but because of Gods goodness.

Jesus was the Lamb of God, his metaphorical position as a sacrifice carries the same weight as Old Testament sacrifices except he did it perfectly.

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:11-15 NIV)

Legalism does not equal truth, but be careful that you don't declare legalistic that which the spirit intends for us to call truth.

You are looking at the actions of humans as they relate to the physical nature of the cross. Yes, people put Jesus on the cross, but ask yourself. Could they have done otherwise? And if they could have, then we live in a world where Gods plans for redemption through Christ could have been thwarted. And if that's true, then we are very lucky that the wrath of people put Christ on the cross. See how backwards that sounds?

Anonymous said...


At WHAT was the wrath of God being directed on the cross?


breazeweaze said...

Our sin, which Jesus bore on himself accepting the full punishment, so as to intercede for those who he chooses.

Our sin was the reason for the wrath, Jesus was the object who received it. And He has be given authority to administer Gods wrath at the judgement. Gods wrath has been fully 'transferred' in a manner of speaking to Christ.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:12 NIV)

Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords. (Revelation 19:15, 16 NIV)

Anonymous said...

James Alvi asked about Jesus quoting from Psalm 22. I think he was not just quoting verse 1, but the whole psalm. Psalm 22 finished with 'it is finished', which were Jesus' final words. So, as he bore our sin Jesus cried out in the agony of feeling alone, abandoned and bereft. But as the Psalm reminds us, God never abandons those he loves, and just as the psalmist prayerfully endured the pain and could end up seeing that God was with him all along, so Jesus endures, knowing that God has not forsaken him no matter what it looks and feels like at the time.
Therefore, to breazeaweaze I simply say that nothing you've quoted tells me that God's wrath was poured on Jesus. God's wrath towards sin, yes, but the Father and the Son and the Spirit were united in bearing that pain for us, not divided.

Neil Siemens said...

I would definitely have to agree with you breazeweaze. There is just to much Scripture that has to be ignored or tweaked in order to find a gentler God, who saved us from our own hell