Yep. You read that title correctly. At one point in time, many people believe it was after Christ died on the crucifix but before He was resurrected and ascended into Heaven, that Jesus Christ, the son of God, waltzed right into Hell and took those there that He felt worthy with Him, and brought them right up to Heaven – right in front of Satan and his highest ranking minions.
Did that catch your attention? I hope so, because I’ve been thinking about it non-stop ever since I started reading about it over a week ago. As a matter of fact, I spent a lot of money to obtain a book which deals with the works that mention this. And unfortunately, these works are obscure. As in, they are so obscure that the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t even acknowledge them as holy works. To make that statement even better, when they were petitioned – yes, petitioned – to be brought into the fold and regarded as scripture, they were denied. This is the definition of the word apocrypha.
noun ( often used with a singular verb )
1. ( initial capital letter ) a group of 14 books, not considered canonical, included in the Septuagint and the Vulgate as part of the Old Testament, but usually omitted from Protestant editions of the Bible.
2. various religious writings of uncertain origin regarded by some as inspired, but rejected by most authorities.
3. writings, statements, etc., of doubtful authorship or authenticity. Compare canon1 (defs. 6, 7, 9)
So, to clarify, this article will be about the “Descensus Christ! ad Inferos” – Christ’s Descent into Hell.
The alleged time that this happened, during the period of Christ’s descent to Hades, was between Good Friday and Easter Day. This would fall in the period of time, the three days, in which Christ was dead and then had risen, as stated above. This document, officially called The Gospel of Nicodemus, was written, it is guesstimated, between the 4th and the 5th century, by people going by the names of Leucius and Karinus, and/or Leucius Karinus (Charinus). It was part of a larger document, called the Acts of Pilate. These authors have also been given credit for writing other apocryphal Acts, such as the Acts of John, Paul, Peter, Andrew and Thomas. Once again, being that these works are non-canonical, their authenticity is questioned and scrutinized, but I am not here to tell you if this was fact that should be taken literally or not. In fact, it is very possible that the entire work may be nothing more than a hyperbole, but one way or the other, I am not qualified to offer any type of definitive answer in either the affirmative or the negative. We simply just don’t know, as with many topics in regards to faith.
I want to be clear and say, I had a major bitch of a time tracking down a properly translated (into English, as the original was in Greek and translated into Hebrew as well) and scholarly account of these documents. In fact, it was damned near impossible to find a proper, comprehensive version online, so as I do with most of the articles I am researching, I had to go out and buy a book, and this particular book cost me within three-digits, so I hope that you, the reader, finds this article as interesting as I did. I’m not looking for “credit” for doing this. Nothing like that at all, but since this is not a commonly recognized work, I figured it was worth going the extra mile for, so that I could spread the information.
The book I am referring to is The Apocryphal New Testament: A Collection of Apocryphal Christian Literature in an English Translation by J.K. Elliott, ISBN 0-19-826182-9. And in specific, the passages that deal with Christ’s Descent are in quotes below. Unless I state otherwise, the quotes provided below are from the above-mentioned book:
2(18). i. O Lord Jesus Christ, the resurrection and the life of the world, give us grace that we may tell of your resurrection and of your miracles which you performed in Hades. We, then, were in Hades with all who have died since the beginning of the world. And at the hour of midnight there rose upon the darkness there something like the light of the sun, and it shone and lit us all, and we saw one another. And immediately our father Abraham, together with the patriarchs and the prophets, was filled with joy, and they said to one another, ‘This light comes from a great illumination.’ The prophet Isaiah, who was present there, said, ‘This light comes from the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. This I prophesied when I was still living, “The land of Zabulon and the land of Nephthalim, the people that sit in darkness saw a great light.” 44
Further, this passage goes on to illustrate the fact that so many pious and righteous beings, many of whom were incredibly famous throughout history, such as Adam, the first man, were literally condemned to Hell, and were waiting for redemption and/or mercy to be shown from God. This passage represents the type of people who were quite literally trapped in Hell:
3(19). i. Now when John was thus teaching those who were in Hades, the first-created, the first father Adam, heard and said to his son Seth, ‘My son, I wish you to tell to the forefathers of the race of men and to the prophets where I sent you when I was about to die.’ And Seth said, ‘Prophets and patriarchs, listen. My father Adam, the first-created, when he fell into mortal sickness, sent me close to the gate of paradise to pray to God that he might lead me by an angel to the tree of mercy, that I might take oil and anoint my father, so that he might arise from his sickness. This I did. And after my prayer an angel of the Lord came and asked me, “What do you desire, Seth? Because of the sickness of your father do you desire the oil that raises up the sick, or the tree from which flows such oil? This cannot be found now. Therefore go and tell your father that after the completion of 5,500 years from the creation of the world, the only-begotten Son of God shall then become man and shall descend upon the earth. And he shall anoint him with that oil. And he shall arise and wash him and his descendants with water and the Holy Spirit. And then he shall be healed of every disease. But this is impossible now.”‘ When the patriarchs and prophets heard this, they rejoiced greatly.
This next passage is what I find amusing. I have quite a few explanations for this, as well as interpretations. In this situation, we quite dominantly see the pride and boisterousness of Satan, and his cocky little attitude:
4(20). i. And while they were all so joyful, Satan the heir of darkness came and said to Hades, ‘All devouring and insatiable one, listen to my words. There is one of the race of the Jews, Jesus by name, who calls himself the Son of God. But he is a man, and at our instigation the Jews crucified him. And now that he is dead, be prepared that we may secure him here. For I know that he is a man, and I heard him saying, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.”47 He caused me much trouble in the world above while he lived among mortals. For wherever he found my servants, he cast them out, and all those whom I had made to be crippled or blind or lame, leprous and the like, he healed with only a word, and many whom I had made ready for burial he also made alive again with only a word.’ 2. Hades said, ‘Is he so powerful that he does such things with only a word? And if he is of such power, are you able to withstand him? It seems to me that no one will be able to withstand such as he is. But if you say that you heard how he feared death, he said this to mock and laugh at you, wishing to seize you with a strong hand. And woe, woe to you for all eternity.’ Satan answered, ‘O all-devouring and insatiable Hades, did you fear so greatly when you heard about our common foe? I did not fear him, but worked upon the Jews, and they crucified him and gave him gall and vinegar to drink. Therefore prepare yourself to get him firmly into your power when he comes.’
In the above paragraph, it has been often assumed that Satan was talking to “Hades”, but throughout various translations throughout history, especially in regards to interpretation of this passage, it was believed that Satan was in fact the demon Beelzebub, and that Hades was just assigned as a generic title that would represent the whole of Hell. After a few more passages, I will offer another citation that expresses this, and further elaborates on this exchange, but for now, I will keep on going with the story:
3. Hades answered, ‘O heir of darkness, son of perdition, devil, you have just told me that many whom you made ready for burial he made alive again with only a word. If then he freed others from the grave, how and with what power will he be held by us? A short time ago I devoured a certain dead man called Lazarus, and soon afterwards one of the living drew him up forcibly from my entrails with only a word. And I think it is the one of whom you speak. If, therefore, we receive him here, I fear lest we run the risk of losing the others also. For, behold, I see that all those whom I have devoured from the beginning of the world are disquieted. My belly is in pain. Lazarus who was snatched from me before seems to me no good sign. For not like a dead man, but like an eagle he flew away from me, so quickly did the earth cast him out. Therefore I adjure you by your gifts and mine, do not bring him here. For I believe that he comes here to raise all the dead. And I tell you this: By the darkness which surrounds us, if you bring him here, none of the dead will be left for me.’
Obviously, you see Hades is quite intimidated, and does not want Christ in Hell for any reason whatsoever. He seems to be quite literally quivering in fear. Hades is actually pleading with Satan to see the voice of reason. Hades predicts that the Christ is on His way into Hell to remove all of the souls that the demonic have worked hard to secure since the dawn of time. However, in his pride, Satan does not see it this way, and continues to move forward on his plan to trap Jesus in Hell.
5(21). i. While Satan and Hades were speaking thus to one another, a loud voice like thunder sounded, ‘Lift up your gates, O rulers, and be lifted up, O everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in.’48 When Hades heard this, he said to Satan, ‘Go out, if you can, and withstand him.’ So Satan went out. Then Hades said to his demons, ‘Secure strongly and firmly the gates of brass and the bars of iron, and hold my bolts, and stand upright and keep watch on everything. For if he comes in, woe will seize us. 2. When the forefathers heard that, they all began to mock him, saying, ‘O all-devouring and insatiable one, open, that the King of Glory may come in.’ The prophet David said, ‘Do you not know, blind one, that when I lived in the world, I prophesied that word: “Lift up your gates, O rulers”?’49 Isaiah said, ‘I foresaw this by the Holy Spirit and wrote, “The dead shall arise, and those who are in the tombs shall be raised up, and those who are under the earth shall rejoice.50 O death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?”’51 3. Again the voice sounded, ‘Lift up the gates.’ When Hades heard the voice the second time, he answered as if he did not know it and said, ‘Who is this King of Glory?’ The angels of the Lord said, ‘The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.’52 And immediately at this answer the gates of brass were broken in pieces and the bars of iron were crushed and all the dead who were bound were loosed from their chains, and we with them. And the King of Glory entered as a man, and all the dark places of Hades were illuminated.
So with only more than a word and the power and glory of God, Christ literally broke open the gates of Hell, and freed the souls who were confined there. He was obviously accompanied by the angels of the Lord, though it does not specifically say which angels were chosen to enter Hell with Him. After the foreboding that Hades had felt, and after the tremendous voice of God had addressed him, in walks this man. I doubt that we as human beings could comprehend the surprise that these demonic entities and rulers must have been experiencing, to see this kingdom of their, built over multiple millennia, come crashing down after only barely coming to the knowledge that He was on His way.
6(22). i. Hades at once cried out, ‘We are defeated, woe to us. But who are you, who have such authority and power? And who are you, who without sin have come here, you who appear small and can do great things, who are humble and exalted, slave and master, soldier and king, and have authority over both the dead and the living? You were nailed to the cross, and laid in the sepulchre, and now you have become free and have destroyed all our power. Are you Jesus, of whom the chief ruler Satan said to us that through the cross and death you would inherit the whole world?’ 2. Then the King of Glory seized the chief ruler Satan by the head and handed him over to the angels, saying, ‘Bind with irons his hands and his feet and his neck and his mouth.’ Then he gave him to Hades and said, ‘Take him and hold him fast until my second coming.’
7(23). i. And Hades took Satan and said to him, ‘O Beelzebub, heir of fire and torment, enemy of the saints, through what necessity did you contrive that the King of Glory should be crucified, so that he should come here and strip us naked? Turn and see that not one dead man is left in me, but all that you gained through the tree of knowledge you have lost through the tree of the cross. All your joy is changed into sorrow. You wished to kill the King of Glory, but have killed yourself. For since I have received you to hold you fast, you shall learn by experience what evils I shall do to you. O arch-devil, the beginning of death, the root of sin, the end of all evil, what evil did you find in Jesus to procure his destruction? How did you dare to commit such great wickedness? How did you study to bring down such a man into this darkness, through whom you have been deprived of all who have died since the beginning?’
It was at this point that Satan got bitched. In front of his whole kingdom, Christ basically took him by the back of his neck, and told Hades to begin punishing him for the rest of time, until Christ’s return. This was a big deal back then, because at the time, Satan had been bragging that he was going to detain Christ within the eternal prison of Hell to avenge all of the problems that Jesus had caused him while He was alive. Obviously, thing’s didn’t work out that way.
8(24). i. While Hades was thus speaking with Satan, the King of Glory stretched out his right hand, and took hold of our forefather Adam and raised him up. Then he turned to the rest and said, ‘Come with me, all you who have died through the tree which this man touched. For behold, I raise you all up again through the tree of the cross.’ With that he sent them all out. And our forefather Adam was seen to be full of joy, and said, ‘I give thanks to your majesty, O Lord, because you have brought me up from the lowest Hades.’ Likewise all the prophets and the saints said, ‘We give you thanks, O Christ, Saviour of the world, because you have brought up our life from destruction’.
2. When they had said this, the Saviour blessed Adam with the sign of the cross on his forehead. And he did this also to the patriarchs and prophets and martyrs and forefathers, and he took them and sprang up out of Hades. And as he went the holy fathers sang praises, following him and saying, ‘Blessed be he who comes in the name of the Lord.53 Alleluia. To him be the glory of all the saints.’
While the children were arguing, the Father basically took everyone who had been condemned to Hell from the time of Adam and Eve, particularly the saints as well as the other prophets, and evicted them from Hell in favor of welcoming them into Heaven. And He did this in front of all of the minions of Hell, so that they could see how powerless both themselves and their current master were. This was a big deal, as it obviously dictates that from that point on, Hell would be under new management.
9(25). i. Thus he went into paradise holding our forefather Adam by the hand, and he handed him and all the righteous to Michael the archangel. And as they were entering the gate of paradise, two old men met them. The holy fathers asked them, ‘Who are you, who have not seen death nor gone down into Hades, but dwell in paradise with your bodies and souls?’ One of them answered, ‘I am Enoch, who pleased God and was removed here by him. And this is Elijah the Tishbite. We are to live until the end of the world. But then we are to be sent by God to withstand Antichrist and to be killed by him. And after three days we shall rise again and be caught up in clouds to meet the Lord.’
Please, pardon my language, but this is one of those “WHAT THE FUCK?!?” moments in history. Enoch was the “seventh from Adam,” (Jude 1:14) and was the Great, Great, Great, Great Grandson of Adam and Eve. But that’s not all. Enoch was also a man on Earth who was granted permission by God to act as an Emissary between Him and the fallen angels who presided over earth, otherwise known as “The Watchers”, also known as the “Grigori” angels. These were some bad-ass angels. Basically, a long story made short, when the War in Heaven was raging on, there were three classes of angels: those who sided with Lucifer, those who sided with God, and those who simply did not pick a side. The latter were banished from Heaven, but not condemned to Hell: they were forever bound to the earth to watch over mankind. And further than that, they decided that they wanted to have sex with human women. They were lead by Azazel, the father of possession, and Semyaza. When these human women gave birth to their children, they were hybrids – half man, and half angel – and they were creatures of terrible size, power, and demeanor. Basically, they almost eradicated mankind, and God had to reach a point where he said “Enough!”. The whole “great flood” of the time of Noah? Yeah, that all happened because of the Nephilim. God used the flood to cleanse the earth from them. Translated: God killed them all (almost) by drowning the earth. They were quite literally giants, known by the Greeks and Romans as Titans. And yes, Goliath, of the David & Goliath story was a great descendant of the Nephilim. This is a whole other article, so keep your eyes peeled. Anyway, Enoch was the man who went back and forth between the fallen Grigori angels and God, trying to plead their case. As a man, he was allowed to visit Heaven and speak with God and His angels. So yeah, this was a pretty big deal.
Now, since it seemed to be the best suited to the story, I should mention that there are three major translations of this text. In the book mentioned above, you will find all three of them There is Greek, Latin (A), and Latin (B). The translation I had quoted above, and all citations were originally translated from the original Greek.
Even better, while reading through some of my “quick reference” books, I came across this story in extreme shorthand, so I will be citing and quoting those books as well. Let’s start with The Encyclopedia of Demons & Demonology, by Rosemary Ellen Guiley, ISBN-13: 978-0-8160-7314-6, page 25, where the author delivers a small passage relating to Beelzebub ruling Hell:
The apochryphal text Gospel of Nicodemusdescribes how Beelzebub came to rule in HELL over SATAN. After the crucifixion of JESUS, Satan bragged to Beelzebub that he was going to take Jesus to hell in revenge for all the times he had thwarted Satan. Beelzebub begged him not to do so, for Jesus was too powerful and would upset hell.Jesus arrived, and Beelzebub pushed Satan from the mouth of hell and barricaded the gate, calling upon all the demons to help him. They could not keep Jesus out. Jesus trampled over Satan and snapped the chains of the imprisoned souls with a single word. He released all the trapped saints, who went immediately to heaven. Beelzebub was powerless against him.
As he left, Satan told Beelzebub, “Satan the Prince shall be subject to thy dominion forever, in the place of Adam and his righteous sons, who are Mine.”
Now, in the above passage, you can see that Beelzebub and Satan are both mentioned, but in the original works I quoted and cited above, they mainly refer to Satan and Hades. It may be a question of who was who. In the original quotes translated from Greek at the top of the article, Satan was equated to be Beelzebub, but for the immediate citation above and below this paragraph, the authors seem to have taken the role of “Hades” to be that of Beelzebub. As I stated before, there has been some debate as to who Satan and Hades really were, but that has a lot to do with the fact that “Satan” is nothing more than a title, and not an actual name. I know that some of you are scratching your head on that one, but keep your eyes peeled, there will be an upcoming article on that as well. In A Dictionary of Angels by Gustav Davidson, Library of Congress Number 66-19757, page 72, the author also made a similar claim in his entry for Beelzebub:
In the Gospel of Nicodemus, Christ, during his 3 days in Hell, gives Beelzebub dominion over the underworld in gratitude for permitting him (Christ), over Satan’s objections, to take Adam and the other “saints in prison” to Heaven.
And further, according to The Dictionary of Demons – Names of the Damned, by Michelle Belanger, ISBN 978-0-7387-2306-8, page 66 (ironically enough), she goes on to state something similar, also in the entry for Beelzebub, although it does not mention the source this was found in
In an 1821 work by Frenchman Charles Berbiguier, Beelzebub supplants Satan as the ruler of Hell. He is given the very colorful title of Supreme Chief of the Infernal Empire and the Founder of the Order of the Fly.
So yeah, ultimately, there was some type of mutiny going on. The entity currently holding the title of Satan at the time that Christ came to Hell was instantly dethroned, and the title of Satan was then bestowed upon Beelzebub, apparently, making him the ruler of Hell.This would also give reason for the claims that Beelzebub has to calling himself the “Chief of the Demons”.
Ultimately, Christ waltzed right into Hell, took who he wanted, smacked the devil around, and then condemned him to thousands of years of unimaginable torture and torment, even further than what he was already experiencing. As you may have gathered above, it is not clear as to which demonic entity had currently held the title of Satan at the time that Christ delivereth the smackdown upon him, but it was definitely a spectacle, both for Heaven, which was finally able to welcome its inhabitants, and for Hell, who lost everything in an instant and witnessed a shift in leadership.