Meditation and Reflection

Holy Saturday: marginalisation, persecution, martyrdom


Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid.
There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand
(Jn 19:41f).

The Messiah, the Lamb of God, the Lion of Judah, the hope of Israel, the long-promised Saviour is dead. He lies lifeless in a tomb. For most Christians, after the intensity of the Last Supper and the Passion, this is usually a low-key day of quiet expectation and preparation for tomorrow.

Holy Saturday is a much misunderstood day, seemingly of no great spiritual significance. Jesus is buried: we are left wondering and waiting. But for the Lord, it was the day he descended to Hades and conquered eternal death.

Most of the Church has forgotten the Harrowing of Hell. Those who remember tend to half apologise for it. Certainly, ‘hell’ is not a helpful translation: Jesus was in Hades (ᾍδης) or Sheol (שאול) – a place of peace for some and torment for others. Following the trauma of the crucifixion, Mary was distraught, the disciples were weeping, Judas was hanging, and the Romans, Pharisees and Sadducees were rejoicing. But Jesus was descending to the place of departed spirits to preach the Good News and liberate the captives.

The Apostles’ Creed says so (‘He descended into hell’ [BCP]); Aquinas affirms this in the Summa (IIIa, q52). The idea is found in some of the earliest writings of the Church Fathers: Irenaeus, in his tract Contra Haereses (5,31,2), says the Lord “tarried until the third day ‘in the lower parts of the earth’ (Eph 4:9)… where the souls of the dead were…”. And Tertullian, in A Treatise on the Soul (60), wrote: “With the same law of His being He fully complied, by remaining in Hades in the form and condition of a dead man; nor did He ascend into the heights of heaven before descending into the lower parts of the earth, that He might there make the patriarchs and prophets partakers of Himself.”

The event is referred or alluded to numerous times in Scripture (Acts 2:31; Eph 4:8-10; 1Pt 3:18-20), and many consider the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31) relevant, and also Jesus’ statement to the thief on the cross – ‘Today shalt thou be with me in paradise’ (Lk 23:42f). There are naturally diverse interpretations of these scriptures and conflicting expositions: it is not news that Christians disagree, not least on the soteriological implications of a ‘second chance’ of repentance after death. Whether or not this was the point of salvation for Adam and Eve, Noah, David… cannot be known this side of Glory. What we do know is that the Lord wants all to be saved (1Tim 2:4): He wants all to see His image, repent of their sin, take on His likeness; be pure, holy, perfect. He wants everyone to know Him and to love more.

On this Holy Saturday, the final day of Lent, let our faith be made stronger; let us be more assured that sin and death are conquered; let us know a little more of the light through the sometimes impenetrable shadows. Whether the Harrowing of Hell is literal or figurative, corporeal or spiritual, it has a message for all of us today: the highest response to evil is to free people from it. Let us rejoice that our Redeemer lives.

And let us also remember that while we may occasionally feel marginalised and outcast in the UK,  there are Christians in other countries – our brothers and sisters – who are being harassed, persecuted, tortured and murdered for their faith. Jesus never promised us a rose garden:

If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me (John 15:18-21).

Jesus went to hell and back. Christians are being raped, beheaded or crucified across Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Surely we can put up with a bit of ‘marginalisation’.

  • Anton

    The church will not be a force again in this land until it has lost all political power; indeed, until it has negative political power.

    O Lord, persecute me, but not yet.

  • len

    The Shepherd had been struck down, the sheep had scattered, a time of panic a time of persecution a time of fear. It appeared that Satan had won and that the Messiah had been killed and Gods Plan for the redemption of humanity had failed.
    This was apparently the time of Satan’s greatest triumph for throughout history Satan had tried to stop Gods plan for the redemption of Humanity by killing Jews through which he knew the Messiah would come right from the first murder the killing of Abel by Cain.’Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While
    they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.’ (Genesis 4;8)

    But Gods Plan would come through the worst that Satan could conceive and if Satan had foreknowledge of that Plan then he would have done everything in his power to stop Christ going to that Cross.

    Even now Gods Plan for humanity is being put into effect despite all that is happening as the forces of darkness attempt to destroy the Followers of Christ.

  • Philip___

    “Surely we can put up with a bit of ‘marginalisation’.” Surely an inappropriate question when one thinks of the need for the gospel of repentance and faith in Christ alone for eternal salvation to be heard in all spheres, including the ‘public square’, in parliament, courts, schools, media, arts, and employment. And it is inappropriate when one remembers the command to pray for those in authority so that all may hear the Gospel and so that we may live quiet Godly lives (1 Tim 2:1-4), which are hindered when Christians are arrested when preaching the Gospel, or are disciplined, sacked, or hauled before the courts or driven out of business for expressing, and applying their Christian beliefs to their work.

    • Martin


      Of course, it could be said that Christians gain publicity when arrested, etc., for preaching the gospel.

    • James60498 .

      I really do not understand the point at all.

      Of course we are able to put up with a “little bit of marginalisation”.

      But we shouldn’t. We should be allowed to proclaim our Christianity and encourage others to join us.

      How many people have been lost due to marginalisation? How many have accepted the BBC line that there is no God, except perhaps Allah?

      It’s like saying we should accept being a little bit ill. Don’t take a paracetamol if you just have a headache. After all some people have cancer and they are far worse off.

      Should we help our fellow Christians who are worse off than we are? Of course we should. Absolutely. But we should “take our paracetamol too”.

  • The Lord’s descent into Hell

    “What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.

    Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son.

    The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.

    ‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.

    ‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.

    ‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.

    ‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.

    ‘See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.

    `I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.

    ‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.

    ‘The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.’ ”

  • chrisH

    But-as Jesus also said, let the dead bury their own, it`s not for us to judge and nobody knows the destiny of those who seemed to scorrn the gospel.
    I paraphrase of course…but on a day yesterday when there was NO solemnity, NO dignity, NO reflection in the public space about the death of Jesus and its meaning today…then we need maybe to steer away from “soteriology”.
    Unsure if that word translates into Arabic, but they have the sword and we have the letter opener.
    What I would do is dedicate this Easter Saturday to those who continue to be Masters of The Revels…yes, and Rebels too!
    I would tell all Christians to walk out on their jobs and voluntary deeds for this one Saturday-no shop security, no gladhanding at the hospice and definitely no presence in public sector jobs for that one day.
    My reason?…because, this-in my mind-was the only day in history where Jesus was absent from the world as we live in it today.
    Let the Godless taste a little of what life was like without Jesus, even give ourselves over to a national day of prayer if you like.
    But sod the state, let the liberals see what life without Christians would be like.
    Because it is clearly what they`re trying to create….and if they got a whiff of Satyricon or life under Islam or liberal effete marxism by way of “self-regulation”-then all to the good, and maybe the world would at least give us a few minutes on Good Friday to reflect on how Jesus was treated and overcame all evils thrown at Him…yet we who claim the franchise simply wash the feet of the evildoers, and refuse to study that little book of ours that far better people died for.
    And just so we might one day be able to read it.

    • sarky

      ‘Let the godless taste a little of what life was like without jesus’

      Errrrrmm we do that EVERYDAY.

      • carl jacobs

        Do you really? Most everything you believe about right and wrong is a parasitical derivation of Christianity, and you are incapable of establishing any of it in the absence of the Christian religion. The human rights movement is essentially a secular “religious movement” which tries to bootstrap Christian universals into secular universals by force of will. Except they fail. Why? Because they have no universal authority.

        You my be an Atheist, sarky. But you are a Christian Atheist.

        • sarky

          Right and wrong existed long before Christianity, you don’t have a monopoly on it.

          • carl jacobs


            In the absence of God, right and wrong cannot exist because there is no authority to invest action with moral content. Actions simply are. Each human observer arbitrarily assigns whatever moral content he wishes. And since each man has the same authority (I.e. none) each assignment has equal validity. The terminal location of that logic is that nothing exists but power.

            You have simply cribbed a bunch of ideas from your Christian heritage and arbitrarily privileged them because they seem right in your eyes. There is nothing more to it than that.

          • sarky

            That’s rubbish and you know it. There are plenty of non Christian societies that, dare I say it, have a better morality than the Christian ones. How do you explain that?
            Morality doesn’t come from god, it has evolved as a byproduct of communities of people living together, it doesnt need supernatural authority to work.

          • chrisH

            I`m unclear about which societies come to mind for you sarky.
            I associate the refusal to accommodate a God-and here I speak of the Judeo-Christian concept, not the Satanic tribute act of one with fervent atheistic societies.
            North Korea, Hitlers Germany, Stalins Russia-and indeed the complete roll call of Communist and Socialist states that were set up to create a utopia without a God…and end up confirming to the rest of the world what life without God ends up as…from Cambodia to Cuba and all shades of Totalitarian Fascism inbetween.
            You are, of course, right in saying that we live without Jesus in our everyday lives…which is why we`ve got this brand of Third Way Islamosocialism on the march-with absolutely no clue on how to prevent it, seeing as we have long lost the language to debate it…only crave submission and a chance to sing Lennon songs, for old times sake.

          • Anton

            Islamosocialism is a brilliant word; thank you.

          • Phil R

            Better morality? Do tell us…

          • Pubcrawler

            And by what objective measure?

          • sarky

            You’ll find everything you need here.


          • Phil R

            Your webpage just supports Carl’s points not yours.

            Someone has looked at the data available, then decided the criteria to make some assertions on morality…..

            What a surprise…………?

            Not really, if you control the data and the criteria, the outcome is never in doubt.

          • sarky

            Isn’t that what you do?

          • Phil R

            There is a word for attacking the person rather than responding to the argument………..

          • sarky

            You as in Christians? ??

          • carl jacobs

            A “better morality”? According to what – besides your arbitrary preferences, I mean. Don’t you understand that “better” implies some knowable frame of reference by which the two things may be compared? What is that frame of reference? By what Authority is it established? You can’t even argue with me without tacitly proving my point.

            And if you think morality has evolved, I suggest you observe what happens to all these moral precepts you take for granted as Western power declines. You mistake Western dominance for evolution – on the assumption I suppose that the West represented some advancement of human evolution. Before the end of the natural lifespan of your grandchildren, the Europe you know will have ceased to exist. And moral evolution will look quite different.

          • chiefofsinners

            You are a patient man, Carl. I’d have done something immoral to him by now.

  • IanCad

    We have had Good Friday. Tomorrow will be Easter Sunday; but the crowning act of Creation week – The Holy Sabbath Day is now being discounted to “Holy Saturday”
    Amazing!! Our Saviour suffered the penalty for sins of the world. He died and went to the grave – not Hell. His separation from the Father was complete. He died and was dead and buried.To suggest that He went to a nether world where souls are writhing in torment is to deny the clarity of scripture, and to embrace the vilest invention of the Pagan and Greek philosophies.

    • chiefofsinners

      No, you’re wrong, Ian. Cranmer explains well the orthodoxy which has served the church for 2000 years. Scripture and church tradition are supportive of this understanding.

      • IanCad

        Orthodoxy does not confer credibility. Neither, also, can tradition become truth if it is based on error.

        • chiefofsinners

          No, scripture confers credibility. Cranmer clearly identifies the scriptures which support the orthodox view but your unorthodox post contains none, just a non-sequitur about those brought back to life.

          • IanCad

            Well; Great! We agree on something. Given the times this subject has been mooted about – I’m not referring just to our disputations on this blog – but the two thousand years of controversy.

            I won’t belabor the issue, but I do note where He Himself did acknowledge (Note: I didn’t say admit) there were diverse interpretations and conflicting expositions of his cited texts. I hardly need to point out that the early Church Fathers were imbued, up to their gunnels, with Hellenistic and Roman superstitions.
            As to the charge of derailment; my mention of those brought back to life is hardly peripheral to a subject related to the IOTS.
            I plead innocent.

          • chiefofsinners

            How do you understand Psalm 16 verse 10 “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.”?

          • IanCad

            You are quoting from one of the six “Golden” or precious psalms.
            Not only that but it is also one of the great messianic psalms.
            It is David’s plea for resurrection, that same prophecied for Christ in that same verse. It cannot be cited in support for the IOTS, although it often is.
            Peter quotes from the same psalm in Acts 2:24-28. Then note particularly verse 29 as well.

          • chiefofsinners

            “It cannot be cited in support for the IOTS, although it often is.”
            Why not?
            It clearly states that Christ’s soul was in hell / sheol / the abode of the dead – which you denied above.
            It is also of course another nail in the coffin of your belief that the soul ceases to exist at death.

          • IanCad

            Yes Chief.
            The grave. Dead in the grave. That is their abode. As King David in my above post. Awaiting the Resurrection – to life or to death.
            We do not die and go to purgatory or another mythical place so beloved of the Pagans.
            The word “Sheol” means “Pit or Grave” not an abode of the dead which, in itself, is an oxymoron.

    • Uncle Brian

      To suggest that He went to a nether world where souls are writhing in torment is to deny the clarity of scripture,

      Ian, leaving aside for a moment the “writhing in torment”, there are nevertheless three passages, at least, in the NT that need explaining here:

      “He preached to the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19)

      “He descended into the lower regions of the earth” (Eph. 4:9)

      “In heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil. 2:10)

      As a matter of interest, do SDAs give any form of recognition to the Apostles’ Creed?

      • IanCad

        Uncle Brian,
        First passage, same book: 1:10-11 indicates that the prophets through Christ in the form of the Holy Spirit preached the word of His glory and suffering. So also in your cited text He did through Noah to those of that evil time.
        Ephesians 4:9, refers to His Descent to the grave and His resurrection; and further would, through the Holy Spirit, make teachers, prophets and evangelists. (Acts 20:28)
        Phil. 2:10. The word “Things” is supplied. 3x. Makes more sense, and easier for me, to read as original. All Heaven, Earth, and those in the grave bow to the King. The dead after they awake to the trump of His voice.
        As to the Apostle’s Creed (reformed version) Apart from a little jiggling with “The communion of saints” Only the most straitened of our church could possibly object.

        • Uncle Brian

          In the reformed version of the Creed, what comes after “was crucified, dead, and buried”?

          • IanCad


            In the traditional reform version it is followed by: “He descended into hell.”
            In the contemporary version: “He descended to the dead.”
            I have no trouble with either version given the quite acceptable translation of hell as grave. Even less with the dead which is where the dead go unless they don’t really die.

          • Uncle Brian

            given the quite acceptable translation of hell as grave.

            Well, Ian, as you have probably already guessed, I would dispute that. Will you go along with arguments based on OT Hebrew? – In particular, Ezekiel, dating to quite a long time before the intertestamentary period. Please take a look at these three Hebrew nouns (links to the Bible Hub concordance below).

            The normal Hebrew word for “grave” is bor (באר), as at 1 K 14:13, And all Israel shall mourn for him, and bury him: for he only of Jeroboam shall come to the grave.

            Kaver (קבר) is a pit of any kind, including a trap (pitfall), a well, a cistern, or a dungeon. When the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait, (for the people were distressed,) then the people did hide themselves in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in high places, and in pits. (1 Sam 13:6)

            Sheol ( שאול) is often translated as “grave” but – as Cranmer has pointed out in this post – it usually appears as the name given to the abode of the dead. In the OT it is evidently not seen exclusively as a place of punishment for the wicked, since those who have lived good lives end up there as well, as in Ezek. 31:15–17: Thus saith the Lord God; In the day when he went down to the grave [Sheol] I caused a mourning: I covered the deep for him, and I restrained the floods thereof, and the great waters were stayed: and I caused Lebanon to mourn for him, and all the trees of the field fainted for him. I made the nations to shake at the sound of his fall, when I cast him down to hell [Sheol] with them that descend into the pit [bor]: and all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that drink water, shall be comforted in the nether parts of the earth. They also went down into hell [Sheol] with him unto them that be slain with the sword; and they that were his arm, that dwelt under his shadow in the midst of the heathen.




          • IanCad

            True, there are several meanings other than grave, but all have the same purpose. It is the place the dead go when they die, if indeed there is someone to bury them or cover them up.
            I don’t see any evidence in your citations suggesting that those dead are alive in the abode of the dead. If there is and abode of the dead who aren’t really dead then they must be alive in that merry region. Only Christ returned glorified from the dead. All who were brought back to life; Lazurus, Jarius’ daughter,Tabitha, the son of the Shunammite woman and plenty of others had to die again.
            I generally agree with HG but on this matter I believe him to be dead wrong – or should I say alive wrong?

        • Anton

          Is it not clear from 1 Peter 3:18-20 that Christ the second person of the Trinity (specifically) preached to (specifically) the antediluvian generation in a place of waiting prior to judgement?

          • IanCad

            Agreed Anton. It is not as clear as I would like but to me it seems about the best explanation.
            While I’ve got you – I was somewhat reluctant to follow your Pawson link to the Seven Churches series. The reason being that a couple of years ago I saw a vid of his on the Sabbath. About twenty minutes long and only a couple a biblical texts. I thought it rather weak.
            Well, as I told you a few weeks ago, I enjoyed them immensely, they were a great blessing, so much so that
            I am now on the seventh episode of his series on the book of James. A wonderful presentation – so far – of a subject that is neglected by so many preachers.
            He’s getting up there. May The Lord grant him many more years.

          • Anton

            He must be in his mid-80s and I’m not sure that he still speaks regularly; pray for him! I noticed that James seemed to be absent from his 1960s/70s line-by-line-through-the-NT audiosermons; which are these, please?

          • IanCad

            Here you go Anton:

            This links to part seven which I will watch when time permits. You can click through to the others from there. He does seem a little more mature than when he did the Seven Churches series and in some ways almost more measured.
            Quite a guy!

          • Anton

            Thank you!

        • Pubcrawler

          “Makes more sense, and easier for me, to read as original.”

          As the Greek? How do you explain the genitive. x3

          • IanCad


            Easier for me in the KJV without “Things”
            katachthonion does not necessarily mean infernal or underworld. It can mean under the earth.
            The influence of the Hellenists during the intertestamental period must not be underestimated. Jewish culture and thought was thoroughly corrupted by it. In the early Christian days writers and scholar were saturated in its influence. It is from this source that the IOTS doctrine hails.
            I should point out that other scholars – G. Walter Hansen, William G. Wirth – dispute Lidell & Scott.

            BTW. What does s.v. stand for? I’ve spent ages digging and all I can come up with is Sorores Vitae (Sisters of Life!)
            And they’re Oxford scholars!? Say it isn’t so.

          • Pubcrawler

            I’ll concede the possibility of a more literal, mundane meaning if there are unambiguous examples of that usage. L&S don’t include any, which suggests that it is unusual, and one should avoid leaping to it without good reason.

            But even so, the tricolon and the indentical grammatical form across all thee in this verse argue strongly, in my opinion, that they are all meant to be taken as of the same type: actual, inhabited realms of spiritual existence. If Paul wanted to distinguish the third from the others in some way, he was perfectly capable of doing so. In fact he did the opposite. This is my reading of the words he wrote.

            s.v. = sub verbo. Sorry, bit of editorial shorthand. Echo of a past life.

            Does this thorough corruption and saturation of Jewish culture and thought apply also to Paul?

          • IanCad

            All I know is that Paul was a Pharisee and thus less enamoured with things Greek than the Temple leading Sadducees.
            Given that the latter did not believe in the resurrection of the dead it would seem to me that they were the less likely to embrace Hellenism; however, there it is.

    • Before Jesus’ time God had not clearly revealed too much about hell. Even so, some Jews believed in an eternal afterlife which was good for some and bad for others. The Hebrew word Sheol and the Greek word Hades were often used by the Jews to refer in general to “the abode of the dead.” These words are sometimes loosely translated into English as “hell”, however, in these instances, the word may refer to either the abode of the damned or the abode of the just, or it may broadly refer to both. The Gates of Heaven were closed until Christ opened them.

      Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) gives us an insight into the afterlife. The parable teaches that all who died prior to Jesus’ Resurrection went to “hell” (Hades) i.e. “the abode of the dead. However, the just went to a particular part of hell referred to as “Abraham’s bosom” where they would be comforted until the gates of heaven were opened while the damned went to a place of torment. A great chasm separated these two parts of hell and no one in either part was in heaven.

      • IanCad

        Well certainly there was not much about Hell in the scriptures, the notion of such, as I understood by most Christians and atheists today is nowhere taught in Holy writ.
        The word “Hell” should be written as “grave” or “pit”
        The parable of Dives and Lazarus is just that. An illustration of mans’ selfishness.
        The concept of Hell is man-made, as your first sentence indicates.
        From earliest times Satan has sought to corrupt the pure word of God and has been most successful in the promotion in the doctrines of the immortality of the soul and the changing of The Sabbath Day.
        Incidentally, as I have said before, it would seem to me the RC’s are far less culpable in this regard than we Protestants. For, we claim to cleave to the inerrant words of scripture, yet have few scruples in adapting them at will to a particular purpose. You on the other hand, make no such pretence and boldly affirm that tradition and Papal teaching trump all.

        • “You on the other hand, make no such pretence and boldly affirm that tradition and Papal teaching trump all.”
          Not quite, Ian. The Apostles taught before the New Testament was written and scripture needs interpretation as our understanding of God’s revelation deepens.
          Have a joyous Easter.