Annotations to the Heidelberg Catechism - Lord's Day 16
Lord's Day 16
Why was it necessary for Christ
to humble Himself even unto death?
Because of the justice and truth of God
satisfaction for our sins
could be made in no other way
than by the death of the Son of God.
Why was he buried?
His burial testified
that He had really died.
Since Christ has died for us,
why do we still have to die?
Our death is not a payment for our sins,
but it puts an end to sin
and is an entrance into eternal life.
What further benefit do we receive
from Christ's sacrifice and death on the cross?
Through Christ's death
our old nature is crucified,
put to death,
and buried with Him,
so that the evil desires of the flesh
may no longer reign in us,
but that we may offer ourselves to Him
as a sacrifice of thankfulness.
Why is there added:
He descended into hell?
In my greatest sorrows and temptations
I may be assured and comforted
that my Lord Jesus Christ,
by His unspeakable anguish, pain, terror, and agony,
which He endured throughout all His sufferings
but especially on the cross, has delivered me
from the anguish and torment of hell.
Q. & A. 39, 40, 42, 43 Crucified
- In Israel, capital punishment took place by stoning. The Israelites did not exclude the possibility that the person who was stoned might have repented while dying and have been received in grace. But with abominable offenders they nevertheless, after the stoning, hung the soulless body on a tree outside the city. Thereby they indicated: “Lord we did what we could to this offender, but we could not completely mete out the punishment which he deserved. We lack the power to do so. We can only kill the body, but Thou canst also kill the soul. That is why we deliver him up to Thee.” That is why Gal 3:13 says: "Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree."
And this is what happened to Christ. He became a curse for us when, in his suffering outside the gate, he hung on the cross.
- Christ suffered death fully. He suffered the temporal death. He suffered the spiritual death, for God withdrew his grace from him (but this did not make him powerless for good). And he suffered the eternal death (Mt 27:46). This was necessary because of the righteousness and truth of God. The Notes to LD 5, Q&A 12 explain why God's justice required it. But God's truth also demanded it. For God had stated that the sinner would die! And is God's Word not the truth? The Notes to LD 5, Q&A 13 further explain that only the death Of the Son of God could Pay for sin.
- It is important that the Catechism ask Q. 42. The law of Christ as our surety does not seem to make sense. For, if Christ died for us, why do we still have to die? But the law of Suretyship is correct here too. For our death is quite different from Christ's death. In 1 Thess 4:14 it is said of Jesus that he died, but of those who are his that they have fallen asleep. Our death is, therefore, a passage (not an entrance; it rests in faith!) into eternal life. This is a benefit whereby we are completely delivered from sin.
It is a wise ordinance of the Lord that we must die. Otherwise we should have to fight against sin until the last day, or else it would be apparent of All on this side of the grave who will go to heaven and who are excluded from heaven!
- The death of Christ does not just bear fruit for us when we die. Already in this life we have peace with God by faith, because of his death. And he puts to death our old nature, i.e., our old way of existence, full of sin, by the power whereby, until his death, he rejected sin. This does not mean that the evil desires are removed completely from those who are his, but they no longer reign in them (Ans. 43; CD V, 3).
- Death by crucifixion was humiliating and painful. The Romans used it, but only for non-Romans. A Latin writer stated: “A Roman not only does not die on the cross; it never even crosses his mind.”
- Why, exactly, did Jesus die on the cross?
- What does it mean that God's justice demanded that Christ die?
- What does it mean that God's truth required his death?
- Why is our death insufficient and the death of the Son of God alone sufficient to pay for sin?
- What is the fruit of Christ's death in connection with our death, our status before God, and our life?
Q. & A. 41 Buried
- Christ's burial must be accepted for what it was, as this Answer does. Hence, one must also have regard to Jn 19:31-38. If Jesus had just been in a state of suspended animation, there would have been no reconciliation for our sins.
- But the burial is more than just evidence of his death. It is also an aspect of his humiliation, one to which the sinner, who is told: “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19), is directed. Our Surety had to suffer also this galling humiliation.
- Christ was consciously in the grave. Also there his divine nature was not separated from his human nature (BC, art. 19).
- Why was Jesus buried?
- What else did his burial encompass?
Q. & A. 44 Descended into Hell
- When it mentions the descent into hell, the Apostles' Creed does not treat this as a fifth step in the humiliation which supposedly came about after Christ's death. Rather, it characterizes all of Christ's suffering when it says that he descended into hell.
- Jesus did not go to hell after his death. The words on the cross to the murderer and that whereby he commended his spirit to the Father clearly prove it.
- The Roman Catholics say that Jesus went to hell after his death to redeem the souls of the OT saints from limbo. The Lutherans believe that he went to hell to preach his triumph to the devils. Further, by an erroneous appeal to 1 Pet 3:19-20, it has been asserted that Christ went to hell after his death to preach the gospel to the damned.
- Christ was never in hell. But he did undergo the suffering which the inhabitants of hell undergo and which make that place “hell.” Throughout his time on earth he experienced the wrath of God, for it was directed against him, and on the cross he said himself that God had forsaken him. Christ had to undergo this hellish agony before his death, in order that he could experience it in his body. Thus, he suffered inexpressible sorrows. While it is possible for us to understand another person's suffering in part (to understand it fully one has to have undergone the suffering oneself), Christ's suffering is a mystery. We know it only through the revelation of the Word, but even when we accept this revelation in faith, there remain unfathomed depths in that suffering for us.
- Christ was forsaken by God in all his suffering, so that we might nevermore be forsaken by him and might be assured in our severest temptations that he has delivered us from all hellish agony and pain.
- Older Bible translations, such as the KJV, often use the word, “hell,” in the sense of “Sheol,” or “realm of the dead.” Thus, e.g., Ps 16:10 (KJV) says: “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell.”
- What does the clause “He descended into hell” in the Apostles' Creed signify?
- Where did Jesus go when he died?
- Who maintain that he was in hell after his death?
- When and how did he, then, descend into hell? Why did this have to occur before his death?
- Can we understand the suffering of Christ? How do we know it?
- How does his descent into hell benefit us?