Christ's Glory in His Sufferings and Descension into Hell
Of all the experiences of Jesus Christ relating to His redemption, perhaps none is so vivid as His suffering and descent into hell. When we hear the words “Jesus,” “suffering,” and “hell” in one sentence, images of pain and anguish flood our minds and grip our hearts. Maybe a politically correct society not wanting to offend the weak of heart would rather quickly gloss over the extreme suffering of Christ – a suffering which found its extremity in His hellish anguish on the cross. Maybe a more sterilized version of Christ’s redemption would be palatable to the masses. Perhaps it would be more appealing to many, but it would not be beneficial. Even though His suffering was not attractive in terms of external beauty, yet it was glorious suffering. How?
Christ’s suffering was glorious because it was substitutionary. When we consider any aspect of Christ’s work, we must recall why He did it. Aside from the ultimate reason of God’s glory, remember that Jesus Christ came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). So as He suffered during His short life and experienced pangs of hell on the cross, He was suffering on behalf of His church. The separation of God’s favor in both His body and soul – this was part of our redemption! He suffered all the time He lived on the earth, but especially at the end of His life so that His church could have our earthly suffering sanctified and ultimately be exempt from eternal suffering in hell. One of the most gloriously comforting answers in the Heidelberg Catechism relates to the descending of Christ into hell – the extremity of His suffering. When asked why Christ descended into hell (Q. 44), the answer given is this:
That in my greatest temptations, I may be assured, and wholly comfort myself in this, that my Lord Jesus Christ, by His inexpressible anguish, pains, terrors and hellish agonies, in which He was plunged during all His sufferings, but especially on the cross, hath delivered me from the anguish and torments of hell.
Jesus’ suffering was also in willing obedience to His Father’s will. As Jesus prays to His Father in John 17 with His redemptive suffering almost over, He refers repeatedly to God’s glory interwoven with expressions of His own willing obedience in saving His people. In other words, the Father did not have to “twist the arm” of Christ in order for Him to suffer; it was Jesus’ delight to do His Father’s will. The joy of Christ is obedient children, and the glorious delight of the Christian is found in reflecting on the willing, obedient nature of our glorious suffering Savior.
Finally, there is glory in that Christ’s suffering is complete. In the Old Testament, the sufferings of Christ were prophesied (cf. Isa. 53:3-11). In the New Testament, those prophecies were fulfilled. But now His sufferings are completed, never to be repeated, nor needing to be augmented by our contribution. There is nothing that we can contribute to our salvation, nor is there anything to supplement the sufferings of Christ to make it more effectual. When He cried out on the cross, “It is finished,” He meant that in the fullest degree of its expression. His sufferings are complete. We have nothing to add!
I pray we would truthfully echo Hebrews 2:9, 10: “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour ... For it became (was fitting for) Him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect (complete) through sufferings.”