Sunday Notes: The Descent, Part 1

I taught on Sunday on the question of Christ's descending after the crucifixion, based on chapters 5-7 of The Darkness and the Glory by Greg Harris (listen to Dr. MacArthur's endorsement of the book).

I wanted to post the notes this week for two reasons.  First, it concerns a passage that is very controversial that will end up blessing your soul.  Second, I had already spent some time on the controversy of Genesis 6:1-4 (have I posted that controversy here before?), so this week I taught on the larger aspect of Genesis 6-8: the flood.  Many people said that was helpful for their perception of the world.

Because of the amount of information I'm posting today, I'm breaking the lesson into parts.

n the study guide to the TDATG, Dr. Harris relates his love for this book in the study guide, noting that it is one of his “life time study books” (49).

He also notes his study on a very controversial passage, 1 Peter 3:17–20, calling it a “sublime, unmatchable love story” (50).

That passage reads:
For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.
What...?!  That's the passage Dr. Harris believes to be a sublime love story?  And yet, he's totally correct.  We'll get to that in just a minute.

Now, in previous chs. of TDATG, Harris explores Satan's goal to keep Christ from the cross.  At some point, Satan calls an audible, inspires Judas, and practically nails Christ there.  The game change was part of the devil's wager -- put the Son of God in the most pain possible, including a possible demonic onslaught, tempting Him to throw in the towel (or cup, as it were).

Satan's plan failed.  Even when the darkness descended upon the cross, and it pleased the Father to smite Him, Christ finished His cup.  He won, Satan lost.

Yet, there is something strange about the biblical account at this point.
Considering how much the Bible reveals about Satan’s hour and the power of darkness before Jesus’ death, one would think that at least some explanatory statement would be included—but the Gospels present none (Harris, 110).
Why is nothing said?  What was Satan's reaction to it all?
Satan had witnessed all the events of the Cross. What did he do when Jesus died? Did Satan cry out in triumph, or did he stand by in abjectly perplexed silence? Did he flee the cross in fear or rage as God the Father approached, or after Jesus’ shout of victory? Did Satan comprehend the significance of what had happened? Did he think he had won by default, or did he conclude that he had utterly lost? Did Satan anticipate the resurrection, and if so, did he attempt to keep Jesus in the grave? Scripture does not give information into most of these matters, so while dwelling on them may spark interest, they will not lead to fruitful study. Human speculation never equates with “thus saith the Lord” (Harris, 111).
So, Scripture makes us shift our focus.

On a timeline of events covered in TDATG, then, we have the time leading to the cross, the cross, and now the descent from the cross.  What happened to Christ for those three days between the crucifixion and His ascension?

This is where 1 Peter 3:17-20 comes to fill the gap.  The passage occurs in a letter that is written to despairing believers looking for hope, and everything about the passage is confusing.

  • Made alive in the spirit?  What does that mean about His previous state?
  • Proclaimed to the spirits in prison?  Who are these “spirits?” What was His message?  
  • God’s patience against sin in a passage about persecution?  Persecuted believers would want to know that help is coming, not that God is patient in allowing sin.
  • Finally, what’s flood got to do with it?  (And isn't that a song?)

One of the things these people accepted was that the Word of God is true, and that meant that they had a true enemy.  They saw his affects in the world around them, in the pain they felt, and in the temptations they faced. That makes sense, Peter.  Lay some on us:
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world (1 Pet 5:8-9).
Peter seems to rejoin logic here, later in the letter.  Satan is deceptive.  How deceptive?
Anyone doubting the extent of Satan’s power to tempt should consider this: holy angels in God’s holy presence, surrounded by the majesty and glory of the Godhead and their dwelling place, still were deceived by the empty promises and enticements from the evil one (Harris, 116).
There are a lot of people on religious broadcasts who play games with Satan.  Ignorant of his true power, they proclaim their own message of victory over him, dancing and laughing him under their feet.  They are playing with fire, and the sad reality is that they don't realize that they have already been burned.  They have lost their Gospel-centric focus and have begun to glory in their own great power they believe they have because of Christ.  They try to laugh the enemy to scorn, but the demons are the ones who sometimes laugh at us. Is this unlike the beginning of Genesis?

This is why Paul says, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Eph 6:12).  The key to our spiritual armor?  Prayer.

Dr. Harris enumerates (p. 117) some of the things God allows Satan to do:
  • wrestle saints into spiritual weariness, temptation, and despondency.”
  • blinding the masses” through demonic doctrine (1 Tim 4:1)
  • This includes “idolatry and false religions, which are the actually foundational bases for demons to operate" (1 Cor 10:20–21).
  • This is why prayer is so essential when witnessing to others."
  • Other sins include murder, lying, and inciting the nations to war (124).
Of course, let us not forget Satan's role in the blinding of unbelievers.  “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:3–4).

So, let's think back to that controversial passage, 1 Peter 5:17-21.  Why does God have some spirits in prison, but He allows all of that to go on in the world.  What did they do?  And, how is all of this comforting?

Consider now 2 Pet 2:4: "For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment."  This is talking about the same incident again.  The difference is that this time, in this second epistle, Peter will be martyred in a few days.  This account is so important to him that he spends is final days reminding his readers about it.

This group of angels are the same group mentioned in Genesis 6.  Second Peter 2 logically connects the accounts of the angels sinning and that of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Jude does the same thing in verses 6–7, saying the angels behaved “just as” those engaging in sexual immorality.  In fact, Jude goes as far as to say they went after “other” (heteros) flesh - human, female, flesh.  They were polluting the gene pool, ruining any chance that the promised seed would come.

Since we already spent a significant portion of a previous lesson on this, we are not going to rehash that.  However, as I said, the only way Peter's readers would receive comfort from his letter is if they believed the Old Testament stories.  If they were mere metaphors, allegories, or some other mystical accounts with little basis in reality, Peter could hardly use them to comfort a mother who is about to lose a son to the Roman authorities, or a husband whose wife was just slain before his eyes for professing Christ.  They faced reality, and they needed a firm hope, not fantasy.  

Peter turns to Genesis 6-8 to give it to them.  Let's consider what they considered, then.  Let's consider the Flood of Noah.

To be continued.  

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