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The Harrowing of Hell

I recently wrote a 70-page script, “The Harrowing of Hell,” the unlikely title of a proposed new video about postmillennial eschatology.

Here is an experimental bumper that might be used in the video:

Here is an excerpt from my script:

The term “Harrowing of Hell” refers to idea that Christ descended into Hell, as stated in the Apostles’ Creed. It is further thought (by many) to mean that He made warfare against Hell releasing its captives, particularly the righteous men and women of Old Testament times.

The Greek wording in the Apostles’ Creed is katelthonta eis ta katôtata … and in Latin descendit ad inferos.

The Greek ta katôtata means “the lowest” and the Latin inferos means “those below.” This is where we get the Italian word inferno (the word Dante used for “hell” in The Divine Comedy.) Inferos may also be translated as “the underworld,” “the netherworld,” or “hell.” So this phrase is usually translated in most English versions of the Apostles Creed as “descended into hell.”

The English word “harrow” is a form of “harry,” a military term meaning “to make predatory raids or incursions” against an enemy in warfare.

We get the term “harrowing of hell” from numerous Old and Middle English sermons on the triumphant descent of Christ into hell between the time of His crucifixion and His resurrection, when He brought salvation to souls held captive there.

In support of this view, Acts 2:27 and 2:31 declare in effect that Hades (the “place of the dead” or “hell”) could not hold the crucified Christ.

1 Peter 3:19-20 says that Jesus “went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah.”

1 Peter 4:6 says, “For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead.”

2 Corinthians 2:14 may also be interpreted to speak of the harrowing of hell.

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place (2 Corinthians 2:14).

We should point out that this doctrine is controversial. Not all theologians agree that these scriptures mean that Jesus visited hell in person after He died on the cross. Some rightly argue that Christ did not need to make warfare over an already defeated foe. But it is clear from the plain meaning of scripture that Jesus certainly triumphed over hell. At the cross, He defeated sin and death once and for all defeating Satan and all his works.

Central to this credo is a statement made by Jesus: “But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you” (Matthew 12:28). This casting out of demons or the “harrowing of hell” was the preeminent sign that the kingdom had come on earth as it is in heaven.

Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is already here, but it has not yet grown to its fullness. The kingdom is likened to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field until it grew into a great tree (Matthew 13:31). It is also likened to leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, until the whole was leavened (Matthew 13:33). The kingdom of God is already here, but it is always progressing and growing until it spreads into the whole world.

The role of the Church during history is to bring all things into captivity to Christ. Satan and the forces of hell have already been defeated – and yet still greater victory lies ahead.

Now if we are going to work for the kingdom of God with an eye toward winning, we must have an eschatology of victory. If we are to bring everything into captivity to Christ, we must have a theology that tells us it is impossible to lose. Ideas have consequences. We must believe that we are the people of victory and Christ is going to triumph in history. Only when all things are put under His feet will the last enemy, death, be destroyed.

As 1 Corinthians 15:25,26 tells us:

For he must reign, till he has put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:25,26).

Now this is a remarkable truth. And yet few people have taken it this at face value and have considered its plain meaning. According to this passage, Christ is reigning now from heaven. He will do so until all enemies of the Gospel are put under His feet. Through the conversion of the nations of the world, God’s enemies will be destroyed. The last enemy, death, is destroyed only at the Second Coming. Until that time, we can look forward to great victories. We are told that “the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ” (Revelation 11:15).

And the exciting part of this promise is that we Christians are to be used of God to put His enemies into submission. The idea that the Lord has entrusted the stewardship of the world to His people is found in the parable of the talents in Luke 19. Here the Lord says to His servants, “Occupy till I come” (Luke 19:13). The Lord is gone for a long time, while His most faithful servants work to increase the wealth of their Master’s kingdom.

When the Master returns, He rewards those who have done the best job with the wealth entrusted to them in advancing the kingdom in their Lord’s absence. Those who work for the advance of the kingdom receive rulership over entire cities. But the enemies of God who would not work to increase the wealth of their master are slain with the sword (Luke 19:27).

So ideas do have consequences. If we believe that Satan is already bound according to Revelation 20:2 and Christ is seated on the throne of heaven, then what type of stewards should we be? Should we tirelessly work for the increase of the kingdom of God in history? – Or should we act like the unfruitful servants hide our talents in hope that we won’t lose the little that God has given us?

Jesus further elaborated on this promise: “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house” (Matthew 12:28-29).

The New Testament speaks of the binding of Satan in various places. Satan falls from heaven (Luke 10:18); he is cast out of heaven (John 12:31); he was crushed under our feet (Romans 16:20); he was disarmed (Colossians 2:15); he was rendered powerless (Hebrews 2:14); his works were destroyed (1 John 3:8).

Are we, the people of God, to live in the shadow of fear of the devil and a world system bent on evil and destruction content to be rescued only at the Second Coming of Jesus? Or are we to be active participants, soldiers in the war against hell, following in the train of Christ to plunder the strong man’s house?

While much is made in recent years of different and competing theories on the end times, we are going to confine our discussion to one central issue.

And that is this: Does the defeat of Satan’s kingdom and the great increase of the kingdom of God occur before or after Jesus returns?

If we look at God’s promises to Israel in the Old Testament of a Golden Age of great peace and prosperity in the “last days,” does this promise extend to the Church within our present history – or is it confined to a future thousand-year reign of Christ on earth after His return? While all Christians should believe in the victory of Jesus Christ and the rule of God’s people during the millennium, this only begs the questions:

And that is what this presentation is about.

In short, we want to provoke and challenge your thinking here to consider the question:

How powerful is the Gospel?

Comments

Your comments are welcome!

I can't wait to read more, Jay! Fascinating and a subject that I admit being confused about.

Posted by Paula on 10/01/2014 02:17 PM #

The Harrowing of Hell is an interesting concept;however, as you know, the Methodist Church deleted that statement in the late eighteenth century. Some theologians believe that such a teaching is not in Scripture. They use Luke 23,43 to support this claim. Paul said that Paradise was in the Third Heaven(II Corinthians 12:1-12).

Posted by Charles E. Miller, Jr. AB in German Studies,MA in Religion on 02/07/2013 08:39 PM #

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The Abortion Matrix: Defeating Child Sacrifice and the Culture of Death (DVD)

Download the free Study Guide!

Is there a connection between pagan religion and the abortion industry?

This powerful presentation traces the biblical roots of child sacrifice and then delves into the social, political and cultural fall-out that this sin against God and crime against humanity has produced in our beleaguered society.

Conceived as a sequel and update to the 1988 classic, The Massacre of Innocence, the new title, The Abortion Matrix, is entirely fitting. It not only references abortion’s specific target – the sacred matrix where human beings are formed in the womb in the very image of God, but it also implies the existence of a conspiracy, a matrix of seemingly disparate forces that are driving this holocaust.

The occult activity surrounding the abortion industry is exposed with numerous examples. But are these just aberrations, bizarre yet anomalous examples of abortionists who just happen to have ties to modern day witchcraft? Or is this representative of something deeper, more sinister and even endemic to the entire abortion movement?

As the allusion to the film of over a decade ago suggests, the viewer may learn that things are not always as they appear to be. The Abortion Matrix reveals the reality of child-killing and strikes the proper moral chord to move hearts to fulfill the biblical responsibility to rescue those unjustly sentenced to death and to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 24:11,12; 31:8,9).

Speakers include: George Grant, Peter Hammond, RC Sproul Jr., Paul Jehle, Lou Engle, Rusty Thomas, Flip Benham, Janet Porter and many more.

Ten parts, over three hours of instruction!

Running Time: 195 minutes

$19.95 — ORDER NOW!

(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)

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Massacre of Innocence (DVD)

Exposing The Occult Roots of Abortion

This presentation looks at the spiritual roots of abortion and exposes the myths surrounding child killing. Little known historical facts about abortion and how they relate to modern feminism are presented logically and accurately. Has been effective in converting many to a pro-life position.

Massacre of Innocence goes where no pro-life presentation has gone before in “tearing the lid off abortion” to reveal the spiritual realities we must battle if we will bring an end to this crime. The presentation is absorbing, fast-paced, informative and incredibly devastating to any attempt to justify abortion.

“… an extraordinary statement … a powerfully articulate presentation about what abortion really means, and why a great and moral nation like the United States must not allow the slaughter to continue.”
— Congressman Robert K. Dornan

Running time: 85 minutes

$19.95 — ORDER NOW!

(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)

Click here for more information


A Revival Account: Asbury 1970 (DVD)

What is true Revival and Spiritual Awakening?

Discover the answer in this eyewitness account by Dennis Kinlaw, President of Asbury College, Wilmore, Kentucky, who recounts the story of a visitation of the Holy Spirit in 1970. This is the presentation that has continued to spark the flames of Revival in the hearts of people around the world. Contains eyewitness footage from the Revival at Asbury College in 1970 in Wilmore, Kentucky.

Certain to challenge you to greater holiness and a deeper commitment to full-scale revival. Original news and private footage has been included. If you are a student who longs to see a spiritual awakening at your school, you must see this video!

“This simple video does a wonderful job of conveying something of God’s heart and power, Everyone we have ever shown this to has received an immediate impartation of faith for revival and the power of prayer.”
— Bob and Rose Weiner, Weiner Ministries Int’l

Running Time: 40 minutes

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Go Stand Speak (DVD)

With “preaching to the lost” being such a basic foundation of Christianity, why do many in the church seem to be apathetic on this issue of preaching in highways and byways of towns and cities?

Is it biblical to stand in the public places of the world and proclaim the gospel, regardless if people want to hear it or not?

Does the Bible really call church pastors, leaders and evangelists to proclaim the gospel in the public square as part of obedience to the Great Commission, or is public preaching something that is outdated and not applicable for our day and age?

These any many other questions are answered in this documentary.

$19.95 — ORDER NOW!

(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)

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The Beast of Revelation IdentifiedThe Beast of Revelation: Identified (DVD)

Who is the dreaded beast of Revelation?

Now at last, a plausible candidate for this personification of evil incarnate has been identified (or re-identified). Ken Gentry’s insightful analysis of scripture and history is likely to revolutionize your understanding of the book of Revelation — and even more importantly — amplify and energize your entire Christian worldview!

Historical footage and other graphics are used to illustrate the lecture Dr. Gentry presented at the 1999 Ligonier Conference in Orlando, Florida. It is followed by a one-hour question and answer session addressing the key concerns and objections typically raised in response to his position. This presentation also features an introduction that touches on not only the confusion and controversy surrounding this issue — but just why it may well be one of the most significant issues facing the Church today.

Ideal for group meetings, personal Bible study — for anyone who wants to understand the historical context of John’s famous letter “… to the seven churches which are in Asia.” (Revelation 1:4)

Running Time: 145 minutes

$17.95 — ORDER NOW!

(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)

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The Abortion Matrix DVD: Update

The Abortion Matrix:
Defeating Child Sacrifice and the Culture of Death

is a 195-minute presentation that traces the biblical roots of child sacrifice and then delves into the social, political and cultural fall-out that this sin against God has produced. You can order this series on DVD, read the complete script and view clips on-line...
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