The mountain tops of Good Friday and Easter typically cause us to overlook the significance of the Saturday between them. It usually passes without a lot of thought. Yet it deserves just as much attention as it is a vital part of Christ's mediation.
We confess in our Creed that Christ "descended into Hell." These words may be taken in the metaphorical sense, referring to the excruciating pain Christ suffered in body and soul on the cross. However, the phrase is more appropriately applied to Christ's time in the tomb. After all, this does fit the logical progression of the Creed:
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended into hell.
The third day he rose again, etc.
The Creed points us to how necessary it was for Christ, at least for a limited time, to remain under the power of death. The wages of sin is death. Therefore, Christ not only had to go through the act of dying to redeem his people, he needed to be dead. Were he not, we would have an incomplete salvation. Our souls would live, but our bodies would be left to the ashes.
Christ came to save us though, in both body and soul. He redeems all of that which he created.
We may also note that in laying in the tomb he continued to fulfill all righteousness. That Saturday was the last of the Old Testament Sabbaths. Jesus rested from his work, and he did so in the fullest way possible.
The fourth commandment requires two things: that we rest our bodies from our labors and that we refresh our souls in the worship of the Lord. This is what it means to "keep the Sabbath day holy," and this is exactly what Jesus did. His body rested from its labors while it lay in the tomb. At the same time the soul of Christ was lifted into heaven where it was refreshed by the adulation of the great throng of saints and angels.
We remember that Christ, as to his human nature, was a complete human. When he came to earth he took to himself both a human body and a reasonable soul in order to save us in body and soul. And on that Saturday his soul did not sleep or simply remain comatose. Neither did it descend into the literal place of hell or limbo to set free the former saints awaiting him. His soul, along with the soul of the repentant thief who was hung next to him, ascended into glory immediately upon taking his last breath.
In keeping perfectly this last OT Sabbath, he redeems us from all our NT Sabbath breaking (yes, there is a NT Sabbath to be had. See the last point here.).
What's more is that this gives us assurance that our souls shall be with Christ in heaven upon death. We may know that heaven will be instantly ours upon death. When we last close our eyes in this world, we will open them again to see our Savior's face and the arrayed beauty of Paradise.
Though many will pass this day with few thoughts of its significance, you can see why it is important to pause to meditate upon it. Though there may have seemed to be little activity on Christ's part, the day was filled with redemptive power.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.