22 March 2008

Low in the grave He lay

by Dan Phillips

Between the dark shame and misery of Good Friday, and the joy of Resurrection Day ("Easter"), lies a sabbath, a Saturday. Of that day, only one Gospel makes a direct comment: "On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment" (Luke 23:56b). The other Gospels only speak of the Sabbath prospectively ("since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath," Mark 15:42), or retrospectively ("Now after the Sabbath," Matthew 28:1).

Luke's ἡσύχασαν ("they rested) does not mean that the disciples rested in the sense of having a nice, enjoyable, relaxing day. It simply means they were quiet, inactive, as required by Moses' Law. Presumably this is why the Dutch call it Silent Saturday, while other calendars call it Holy Saturday. They make have been silent, they may have been inactive; but I doubt there was anything restful about the day.

That the Gospels pass over that day in near-silence (no pun intended) points up the fact that they are really about Jesus, not about the disciples. But it is not difficult to imagine the horror of that day.

Friday was simply stunning and shattering on every level. Clearly the disciples' hopes and dreams had featured no Cross — in spite of Jesus' repeated predictions (Matthew 16:21, etc.). Yet the Cross had come, filling the day with numbing horror.

But Saturday must have been worse. While Jesus had life, they could have had hope. He might have pulled off a stunning reversal, this Jesus, who walked on water, threw demons out like they were scrap-paper, told the very elements to "shut up" — and the wind and storm obeyed!

But now He was dead and gone. There had been no display of power, but rather of apparent weakness. A mockery of a trial, brutal beatings, and the most shameful death the Romans could dream up. The body of the Messiah lay in the tomb, and with it, all their aspirations and expectations lay cold and dead. In fact, their lives were buried when His body was entombed. With Jesus dead, they had nothing to preach, they must have thought. All their hopes were pinned on Him, and He had died.

Beyond that, they loved Him, and He had suffered unimaginably.

And beyond that, they had failed Him, every one of them. The shame and guilt and self-reproach of that must have burned like fire in their hearts.

This day marks that day. "Dark Saturday" would seem a fitting name for it. That must have been a dark day indeed for the original believers, since not a one of them was taking comfort in faith. That is, Jesus had foretold the events of Friday, and they happened just as He said; but that is not all He foretold. Just as clearly and insistently, Jesus had said from the start that He would rise on the third day (Matthew 16:21; 17:23; 20:19, etc.).

But we see no sign that even one of them believed nor took comfort in His words. Even the women, who in some ways outshine the men, went to the tomb expecting to find His corpse (Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1-3; John 20:1-2) .

As we reflect on the events of our Lord's death, burial, and resurrection, let us reflect also on this: the world looks entirely different, depending on whether we do, or do not, take God at His Word. Events are what they are. What they mean, and what they mean to us, is another matter.

It is widely understood that Jesus lived, and that He died. But the significance of His life, and of His death, and of the aftermath, are understood only by the light of the Word of God.

Let us not repeat the mistake of the sad mourners on that Saturday long ago.

Dan Phillips's signature


Anonymous said...

Thanks Dan. The events of Good Friday are only good in light of the events of Resurrection Sunday.

He is risen. He is risen indeed!

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

DJP, in the Apostles Creed, it says that Jesus descended into Hell after the crucifixion. John Piper disagrees with that clause in the Apostle Creed.

Do you have a theological opinion about whether Jesus descended into Hell after being crucifies?

Strong Tower said...

Happy Anastasis!

Nice djp- Let the context always be He is risen. He is risen indeed!

donsands said...

Those are some good thoughts on this day in-between. I was contemplating this same verse [Luke 23:56b] today.

Thanks for sharing your heart.

May the Lord's joy, and love, fill your heart and home this Sunday of all Sunday's!

Sharon said...

I have been thinking a lot today about what the disciples must have felt on Saturday, after the gruesome death of their Messiah, but before His Resurrection. The most extreme sorrow turning into the most ecstatic joy within 3 days!

He is not here, for He is risen! Go . . . tell!

A Musician by Grace

DJP said...

Well, TUAD, our Lord cried, "Into Your hands I commit my spirit," after telling the thief he'd be with Him that day in Paradise. I tend to think that's where He went upon His death. I take "of the earth" in Ephesians 4:9 as appositional to "deeper parts," as in ESV: "the lower regions, the earth."

Affy said...


Nice post. It was most encouraging to read this. Do continue to write more.

James Joyce said...

Thanks Dan

According to my wife, it's called "Black Saturday" in the Philippines.

He is risen!

Strong Tower said...

eej- That is interesting. It might be called the longest day, too.

J♥Yce Burrows said...

Perspective matters ~ Amen!

...[It is] Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God...Romans 8:34

J♥Yce Burrows said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J♥Yce Burrows said...

truth unites ~ maybe these messages by John MacArthur will be helpful concerning your question(a blessing to me this morning, btw)...




Stefan Ewing said...

Whether we believe Jesus Christ was resurrected in history would seem to be related to whether He is alive in our own hearts.

If we don't believe in the resurrection—if we think He was just an enlightened man, or a failed rabble-rouser—we are stone cold dead, and as without hope as His disciples were on that lonely, frightening Sabbath day.

But He was no mere man, but the Son of the living God, and God Himself! He was resurrected on the third day, risen, and ascended into Heaven, and through Him we are born again! Hallelujah!

NoLongerBlind said...


1 Peter 3:18-19 would seem to indicate that, in the Spirit, "He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison,".

Colossians 2:15 can also be understood to support this interpretation.

HE is risen!.......

Anonymous said...


Grudem has a pretty thorough discussion of that in his systematic theology, pages 588ff. That section's available on Google Books if you don't have a copy. I find his case very compelling, especially regarding 1 Peter 3 - the "Jesus went to hell" theories, whether to preach condemnation to the lost souls and/or demons, or to give a second chance, or to bring OT saints from hell to heaven, all lead to incredible difficulties or outright contradictions.

Dizma said...

Thank you Dan. Well done. :)

Rick Frueh said...

Most do not dispute the crucifixion since there was no outward mainfestation of the divine to the carnal retina. Even the agnostic surrenders the truth of his death, but the resurrection, well therin lies the battle ground. Not just because it is in and of itself a miracle, but because if He indeed rose from the dead it sheds a divine light on the cross as well.

If Jesus had resurrected after a natural death perhaps most of mankind would embrace him with a desire to be identified with that powerful event. But if embracing the resurrection is tethered to embracing the cross than most will reject Him, as they do.

The resurrection is exciting and victorious while the cross is repulsive and unappealing and exudes weakness to the fleshly need for pride. And just so no one would forget, Christ comes forth with the nostalgic wounds of that redemptive suffering that He would ultimately bring with Him forever.

The cross came forth from Joseph's tomb as well. Halleluiah...

An edifying post.

Johnny Broom said...

I think the whole discussion about Christ's descent into Hell might be a bit outside the scope of this thread, but I do find it fascinating, and certainly worthy of its own post at some point in Pyroland.

I am curious, though, what's at stake from either side of the debate? Is it necessary that Jesus have descended into Hell? Would belief in the descent impinge on some other tenet of faith?

(For the moment, leave arguments like, "It is/isn't biblical" out of it... this seems to be an issue that tends to interpret the same primary texts different ways depending on various presuppositions. I'm just wondering why it is or isn't important to believe He descended into Hell.)

--Blessings in our Risen Lord!

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Thanks everyone for the resources! I'm not sure if the matter is adiaphora or not... given that I've recently read Oden's article on Paleo-Orthodoxy and St. Vincent Lerins "Once believed, everywhere believed, by everyone" (or something like that). Something like first 5 creeds, first 7 councils, etc....

So given that this clause is in the Apostles Creed, and a certain segment of Protestantism departs from it, then in intellectual honesty and moral integrity, it seems right to declare that this segment of Protestantism is not paleo-orthodox.

How would Oden respond to that?

Chris L said...


I would also point out that that particular Sabbath was also the Feast of Unleavened Bread:

Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day. (Exodus 12:17-18)

So, the disciples would have been with the rest of the religious Jews in the Temple (500,000 - 3,000,000 of them, depending on whether you accept Josephus' numbers), praying the prayer of unleavened bread:

Baruch attah Adonai, Eloheynu Melech Haoolom, hamotzee lechem min ha-oretz.

“Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.”

So, whether they knew it or not, they were praying for God to bring bread out of the earth - which He did that night, when be brought forth the Bread of Life out of the earth...

More on this here.