Category Archives: History and the history of Christianity

Jesus’ descent into hell and Satan’s conversation with Hades (NT Apocrypha 3)

The notion that Jesus, after his death, descended into the realm of the dead in order to achieve some aim has a somewhat long and complicated history, of which I will only touch on some points. By the time 1 Peter is written (late first century), the author can refer to the fleshly death and spiritual resurrection of Jesus and to the fact that “he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah” (1Peter 3:18-20). The Gospel of Peter (perhaps 2nd century but maybe later) makes brief reference to a descent at the point of Jesus’ emergence from the tomb in having a voice from heaven ask Jesus, his two angelic escorts, and the walking cross, “Have you preached to them that sleep?” (10:41). The cross answers in the affirmative. The Apostles Creed of later centuries includes the descent into hell, without further clarification, among Jesus’ deeds.

Somewhat different than this preaching to the sinful people of Noah’s generation or to the sinful in hell is the very important story preserved in The Gospel of Nicodemus (aka Acts of Pilate) which reflects more detailed thinking and elaboration about this descent (available online here). In The Gospel of Nicodemus, three (Symeon and his two sons) of those who were raised from the grave (Sheol = Hades) testify to the Jewish council about what they witnessed.

According to this story, it is all of those who went to the grave (all of the dead, both good and bad) that were imprisoned under the rulership of Hades, god of the underworld. Jesus’ action in descending is what allows the righteous, including Adam, Seth, Abraham, David, Isaiah, John the Baptist, and others to make their way out of these chains and into paradise. In other words, without Jesus’ resurrection, the righteous would have remained in Hades (Sheol). In fact, when Jesus breaks through the gates of Hades, “all the dead who were bound were loosed from their chains” (21:3). In essence, the tree of knowledge brought death (through Adam), and the tree of the cross brought life (through Christ; 23-24).

Also fascinating in this gospel is the portrayal of the grave personified, namely Hades, and Satan as separate figures who debate what to do about this Jesus figure. Satan is nearly begging Hades to do something and take action against this Jesus, the “common enemy”. Hades is a bit concerned about about losing his sustenance of dead bodies, and remembers that “a certain dead man named Lazarus. . . [was] snatched . . . up forcibly from my entrails” (20:3). But, despite the stomache ache, in the end Hades turns out to be a little more realistic and rational about the (im)possibilities: “And if [Jesus] is of such power, are you able to withstand him? It seems to me that no one will be able to withstand such as he is” (20.2).

In an interesting convergence of my teaching preparations, John Calvin gave considerable attention to assessing what he thought was valuable or true in notions of Christ’s descent to hell. He clearly steers away from ideas that are also reflected in the Gospel of Nicodemus, but nonetheless sees Christ’s descent as an essential part of the story of salvation in “God’s Word” (it’s in 1 Peter and the Apostles’ Creed, after all). You can read this in section 8 of his Institutes of the Christian Religion online here.

For a couple of artistic depictions of Christ’s descent into hell, go here and here (and click on the images to enlarge).

Aliens, Fallen Angels, and Heaven’s Gate

A week or so ago, Jim Davila discussed a recent novel which combines stories of the fallen angels and giants (Nephilim) with UFOlogy and fundamentalist Christian apocalypticism (also discussed on the new blog CafĂ© Apocalypsis). The combination of an imminent expectation of the end with the role of alien races as either the saviours or the villains is not new, of course. In the 1990s, the Heaven’s Gate group combined Christian apocalyptic expectation of the final intervention of God (in this case aliens) with the notion of good and bad alien races (the group clearly believed in their views as they ended their lives in expectation of the end and the move to the “level above human”). The malevolent space races, the “Luciferians,” likely included the notion of fallen angels, whose activity was outlined in some detail by the Heaven’s Gate:

The term “TRUE” Kingdom of God is used repeatedly because there are many space alien races that through the centuries of this civilization (and in civilizations prior) have represented themselves to humans as “Gods.” We refer to them collectively as “space alien races in opposition to the Next Level,” what historically have been referred to as “Luciferians,” for their ancestors fell into disfavor with the Kingdom Level Above Human many thousands of years ago. They are not genderless – they still need to reproduce. They have become nothing more than technically advanced humans (clinging to human behavior) who retained some of what they learned while in the early training of Members of the Level Above Human, e.g., having limited: space-time travel, telepathic communication, advanced travel hardware (spacecrafts, etc.), increased longevity, advanced genetic engineering, and such skills as suspending holograms (as used in some so-called “religious miracles”). The Next Level – the true Kingdom of God – has the only truly advanced space-time travel vehicles, or spacecrafts, and is not interested in creating phenomena (signs) or impressive trickery.

These malevolent space races are the humans’ GREATEST ENEMY. They hold humans in unknown slavery only to fulfill their own desires. They cannot “create,” though they develop races and biological containers through genetic manipulation and hybridization. They even try to “make deals” with human governments to permit them (the space aliens) to engage in biological experimentation (through abductions) in exchange for such things as technically advanced modes of travel – though they seldom follow through, for they don’t want the humans of this civilization to become another element of competition. They war among themselves over the spoils of this planet and use religion and increased sexual behavior to keep humans “drugged” and ignorant (in darkness) while thinking they are in “God’s” keeping. They use the discarnate (spirit) world to keep humans preoccupied with their addictions. These negative space races see to it, through the human “social norm” (the largest Luciferian “cult” there is), that man continues to not avail himself of the possibility of advancing beyond human.

Heaven’s Gate, “Crew from the Evolutionary Level Above Human Offers — Last Chance to Advance Beyond Human,” 1996 (Copy at: http://www.wave.net/upg/gate/lastchnc.htm).

One could say that the beginnings of plugging aliens into an apocalyptic worldview began with science fiction films such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, which has the alien (and his sidekick robot) clearly in the role of the alien saviour figure and destroyer of evil (evil associated with the military activity of humans–the nuclear bomb and the Korean war were in mind). The alien saviour figure is, in this case, clearly in the role of a Jesus-figure (he dies and raises from the dead).

For the script of the movie, go here. For a brief and rough overview of the plot and its religious themes, go here. For further discussion of apocalypticism and apocalyptic groups throughout western history (including Heaven’s Gate), go to the PBS site Apocalypse!.