His critics thought it was all over. The show had closed, the curtain (though torn in two somehow) had fallen, and the reviews were in: Jesus was a fraud, but fortunately He had been taken care of the day before and was no longer going to be around to raise hell.
Oddly enough, however, that’s precisely what Jesus may have been doing on the Saturday that followed Good Friday. For though none of the gospel accounts tell us just what happened on this otherwise quiet day, passages elsewhere in the scriptures give us hints of a rather extraordinary journey which took place in between the crucifixion and the resurrection.
Ephesians 4.9 suggests that Jesus descended into the depths of the earth to bring back the imprisoned souls who were there. Similarly, the psalmist also foresaw that God would one day take the captives on high (Psalm 68.18), just as Acts 2.30 consequently assures us that David was not abandoned to the realm of the dead either, despite having lived centuries before Jesus ever came onto the scene.
It is Peter, however, who specifically tells us that the Lord was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit, “through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who disobeyed long ago” (1 Peter 3.19-20). And so accordingly, we proclaim it in the Apostles’ Creed: “He was crucified, dead and buried…He descended into Hell… the third day He rose again from the dead.”
Oh, some still find that singular clause in the creed to be troublesome, I understand. And to be sure, whenever we try to nail down a particular time sequence with the Timeless One, there’s bound to be some issues. For in truth, our linear understandings of time—yesterday, today, and forever—are not binding at all upon the God who created the whole idea itself.
Still, I can’t help but sense that there is something very right about the notion of Jesus busting into Hell and setting all kind of captives free. For it tells me that Jesus really did come for all, even those who never knew Him on this earth, and that if not even His borrowed grave could hold back the power of God, our graves may not be able to do so either.
All of which is perhaps why over the centuries Holy Saturday has traditionally been a time in the church for baptisms and for the final stages of instruction for all new believers who will profess their faith publicly on Easter Sunday.
Maybe it’s a good time therefore for those of us who were long ago baptized to likewise renounce the devil and all his pomp. For if we can but decide to resist the devil, we’ve been assured that he will flee from us.
After all, Holy Saturday reminds us that not even the “gates of the deepest darkness” (Job 38.17) can hold back the Son of God when He’s ready to set you free.