33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.
In The Apostles’ Creed we say of Christ that “He descended into hell.” What do we mean when we say this? Well, quite literally we mean simply that Jesus did die and go to the place of the dead (Gk., Hades). This term is general and does not speak specifically of the eternal place where God’s wrath is poured out on sinners. Rather it speaks of the realm where all the dead do go, both the righteous and the unrighteous. The Hell (Gk., gehenna) that we so often envision when we say these words is not literally in view in the Apostles’ Creed. Still we may ask, did Jesus descend to that place as well? Did he suffer God’s wrath and judgment? If so, when did He go to that Hell?
The answer is the cross atop the Hill of the Skull (Golgatha, or Calvary). Upon the cross Jesus endured the eternal suffering that was due to us. We see this symbolized in the three hours of darkness during the middle of the day. The sun’s light failed. Why? Because Hell had come to the Son upon that cross and the darkness of judgment came with it. Perhaps also the darkness was to veil those present from seeing the full wrath of God that was before them. As such the darkness was the grace of God for all others that day, even while it brought pain and suffering for the Christ.
One commentator says it this way, “Hell came to Calvary that day and the Son of God descended into it. He endured Hell at its height with all of its ferocity! And he did it to purchase the souls of sinners!” Ponder that for a bit. Do not just dismiss it as something that you have heard over and over in your life to the point that it has no meaning. Consider this truth, the sovereign God of the universe, who created you, and against whom you previously lived a life of rebellion, loved you so much that His Only Son endured the agony of God’s wrath and judgment for you.
You have eternal life because Hell came to that hilltop and the Savior willingly stood within its boundaries so that you and I might escape that realm of torment. There is no other reason to call that day Good. It was a horrible day. An innocent Man died. A sinless Man was punished for crimes He did not commit. There is nothing Good about that. Except, of course, that many were saved by His sacrifice. Except, as well, that He was glorified, together with His Father in heaven, by His death and resurrection.