God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

From an ancient homily for Holy Saturday

Every year on Holy Saturday, I wake up thinking about these powerful words from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday:

Something strange is happening – 
there is a great silence on earth today, 
a great silence and stillness. 
The whole earth keeps silence 
because the King is asleep. 
The earth trembled and is still 
because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and 
He has raised up all who have slept 
ever since the world began. 
God has died in the flesh and 
hell trembles with fear.

These words never fail to quietly inspire me. “God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.” Hell, and all that would keep us from the love of God, trembles with fear today. As they should.

The belief that Jesus descended into hell during his three days in the tomb is based on several scripture passages, especially this one:

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison.

1 Peter 3:18-19

We don’t know with complete certainty what happened during those three days in the tomb. Nor do we need to, because the point is not what really happened that first Holy Saturday, but that there is no place Jesus won’t go for us. He suffered, he died, he felt the abandonment of God, all for us. So of course he would go to hell itself for us.

Holy Saturday is a strange day, to be sure. I always feel the silence of this day, even if it is a busy day. Easter is coming, and I can’t wait. But today, I remember how God died in the flesh, for me and for us all. Death, hell, evil, and all that would keep us from the love of God now tremble with fear. They know what this death means for them, and they know what is coming tomorrow. The hushed silence of this day is eagerly waiting to burst into song and exultation tomorrow. Easter is coming, and there is nothing that can stop the stone from being rolled away, and nothing that can stop our Savior from rising in glory. Thanks be to God.

12 thoughts on “Hell Trembles with Fear

    1. Good question. We don’t really know what happened during those three days. As I said in my post, it is enough for me to know that Jesus would go anywhere to be with us. But here is the official explanation from our Lutheran confessional writings on Christ’s descent into hell:

      Formula of Concord on Christ’s Descent into Hell:

      “And since even in the ancient Christian teachers of the Church, as well as in some among our teachers, dissimilar explanations of the article concerning the descent of Christ to hell are found, we abide in like manner by the simplicity of our Christian faith [comprised in the Creed], to which Dr. Luther in his sermon, which was delivered in the castle at Torgau in the year 1533, concerning the descent of Christ to hell, has pointed us, where we confess: I believe in the Lord Christ, God’s Son, our Lord, dead, buried, and descended into hell. For in this [Confession] the burial and descent of Christ to hell are distinguished as different articles; and we simply believe that the entire person, God and man, after the burial descended into hell, conquered the devil, destroyed the power of hell, and took from the devil all his might.

      We should not, however, trouble ourselves with high and acute thoughts as to how this occurred; for with our reason and our five senses this article can be comprehended as little as the preceding one, how Christ is placed at the right hand of the almighty power and majesty of God; but we are simply to believe it and adhere to the Word [in such mysteries of faith]. Thus we retain the substance [sound doctrine] and [true] consolation that neither hell nor the devil can take captive or injure us and all who believe in Christ.
      (https://bookofconcord.org/formula-of-concord-solid-declaration/article-ix/)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s fascinating to think that Jesus went down into hell — he’d be the only one in creation to have witnessed the inside of hell. But I’m pretty sure that when he was down there, he didn’t “conquer the devil,” as Luther suggested, because I’m damn certain the devil is still among us here on earth.

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      2. Yes, I can see why you would believe this. The devil does seem to be alive and well in our world. But despite all evidence to the contrary, I believe that he has been defeated, by Jesus’ death on the cross. The war is over, but there are still battles to be fought. That is what I believe, but I recognize that it is a statement of faith. I tried to share a little more of what I believe about the devil here: https://mypastoralponderings.com/2021/03/23/what-does-it-mean-to-pray-deliver-us-from-evil/

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  1. Oh yes Holy Saturday is a mystery. Clearly something remarkable happened when Jesus preached to those spirits in prison that scripture tells us about But what we know is He really died so that on Sunday we can celebrate that He really rose! Love that phrase hell trembles.. Have a blessed Easter.

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  2. Pastor Laurence this has been something I’ve study for sometime. In order for Christ to get the keys to Death and Hades—He didn’t just lay in that tomb he descended into the very depths of Hell. Acts 2:27 reads: Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Acts 2:31 reads: He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. Revelations 1:17-18 reads And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death. And is that what the Psalmist(Psalm 24:7-10) is eluding to when he writes: Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah. Great Post! Happy Resurrection Sunday! Blessings and Peace.

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