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,19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 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. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
The first time I attended a Lutheran Church service I really appreciated the Apostle’s Creed. I believe in God the Father, creator of heaven and earth… “Yes! I believe that!” That was my thought. And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontus Pilate…He descended into h…. “No. I don’t believe that.” The creed says, “He descended into hell.” But I had not been introduced to this passage from Peter. I now say it with confidence, He descended into hell. The third day he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. Yes. This I believe.
Imagine a late night poker game in the bowels of hell on a certain Saturday night. Satan and his evil angels are sitting around congratulating themselves on the coup: They had killed the Son of God! Glad hands all around. They are elated. Suddenly there is a sound at the door. It’s Jesus – the Son of God – and he’s alive! He has come into the depths of hell to proclaim his victory over Satan to Satan and all the evil angels and all those who were in his evil vice.
We don’t know what Jesus said, and we won’t venture a guess. Even the Lutheran Confessions refuse to say much more than the fact that that Jesus didn’t go there to suffer, nor did he go there to give them a second chance. Then comes this conclusion:
For it is sufficient that we know that Christ descended into hell, destroyed hell for all believers, and delivered them from the power of death and of the devil, from eternal condemnation and the jaws of hell. But how this occurred we should [not curiously investigate, but] reserve until the other world, where not only this point [mystery], but also still others will be revealed, which we here simply believe, and cannot comprehend with our blind reason.
Nor had I ever encountered the words of 1 Peter 3:21, …Baptism…now saves you…” That is for another day, and we will consider that tomorrow. For today we will rejoice in what Jesus has done, and his complete victory over Satan and his victory parade into the depths of Satan’s domain.