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Table of Contents


Part I
Chapter  1
Chapter  2
Chapter  3
Chapter  4
Chapter  5

Part II
Chapter  6
Chapter  7
Chapter  8
Chapter  9

Part III
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13


Journey Out of Time

Appendix I

(See Chapters 11 and 12)


Some Particularly Problematic Passages


Section A    1 Peter 3:18-20:   "The spirits in prison. . . ."

     For Christ died for your sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to
God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the spirit, through whom also he
went and preached to
the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited
patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. [NIV]


Section B     Ephesians 4:8-10:  "He led captivity captive. . . ."

     Therefore he said, when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts
unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower
parts of the earth? He that descended is the same that ascended up far above the heavens,
that he might fill all things).

     pg.1 of 17    

      In connection with these two passages a number of other verses of Scripture are relevant to the
discussion. These have been set forth below, not in their biblical order but in the order of reference in the
text. The phrases which are specially important in the present context have been emphasized.
The passages important to Section A are as follows:

Genesis 6:1-4
     And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters
were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair;
and they took wives of all which they chose. . . .
     There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God
came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children of them, the same became
mighty men which were of old, men of renown.

Jude 6
     And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath
reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.

 2 Peter 2:4,5
     God spared not the angels that sinned but cast them down to Tartarus [so the Greek, not
Hades or Gehenna] and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto

Revelation 20:2,7,8,13,14
     And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent which is the Devil and Satan, and bound him
a thousand years. . . . And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out
of his prison and shall go out to deceive the nations. . .and death and hell gave up the dead
which were in them and were cast into the lake of fire.

1 Peter 3:19, 20 (already quoted as lead text, but here given a possible alternative rendering: see comment in text below)
      By which [spirit] Enoch also went and made an announcement unto the spirits in prison:
which were sometime disobedient when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of
Noah while the ark was preparing. . . .  

     pg.2 of 17    

     The passages important to Section B are as follows:

Matthew 27:51-53
     And behold the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth
did quake and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened: and many bodies of the saints
which slept arose, and came out of the graves after the resurrection, and went into the holy
city, and appeared unto many.

Philippians 2:10
     . . .that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth,
and things under the earth. . . .

Matthew 12:29
     How can one enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the
strong man? And then he will spoil his house.

Matthew 16:18
     And I say also unto you, That you are Peter and upon this rock will I build my church; and the
gates of hell
shall not prevail against it.

Revelation 1:18
     I am he who lives and was dead; and behold I am alive for evermore. Amen; and have the
keys of hell and death.

     pg.3 of 17    



     It is exceedingly difficult to disentangle the complex web of traditional lore that has been woven around
these passages from the very earliest days of the Christian Church. This lore has significantly coloured our
understanding of what happens to the dead while they await resurrection. And this colouring can be
observed in both the Roman Catholic and Protestant branches of the Church. In spite of a very
considerable literature, the meaning of these passages is still far from clear.


"SPIRITS IN PRISON" (1 Peter 3:18-20).
     In the Book of Enoch (Chap. XII. 4; XV. 6-9,12) we have a supposed report of Enoch, the seventh from Adam, in which he describes how he was sent to pronounce judgment upon the Fallen Angels (the Nephilim,
from the Hebrew word Napal, to fall) who had cohabited with the daughters of men in Noah's day
(Genesis 6:1-4) and were removed from the earth and bound in chains in a subterranean region called
Tartarus (2 Peter 2:4). They were spirit beings, he says, and consequently not subject to physical death as
man is and could not, therefore, be put out of action by death. They were accordingly removed by divine
intervention; and it seems reasonable to suppose that it was the Lord Himself who undertook to see that it
was done.
     These angels appear to have been appointed originally as overseers or "Watchmen"
(1) (so they are called
in the apocryphal literature) over human affairs, a duty which led to the unnatural temptation to become
sexually involved with the daughters of men. Enoch XII. 4 records this circumstance:

1. A not unlikely appointment in view of Hebrews 1:4 ("Being made so much better than the angels, as he [Christ] has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they") where the (elect?) angels are described as being sent to become ministering spirits to those who shall be heirs of salvation, i.e., the elect among men.

     pg.4 of 17    

     Enoch, thou scribe of righteousness, go, declare to the Watchers of the heavens who have left
the high heaven, the holy eternal place, and have defiled themselves with women and have
done as the children of earth do, and have taken unto themselves wives.

     Further details are given in Enoch XV. 6-9 and 12, which is now addressed to the angels.

     But you were formerly spiritual, living the eternal life, and immortal for all generations of the
world. And therefore I have not appointed wives for you; for as for the spiritual ones of the
heavens, in heaven is their dwelling. And now, the giants who are produced from the spirit
and flesh, shall be called evil spirits upon the earth, and on the earth shall be their dwelling.
     Evil spirits have proceeded from their bodies; because they are born from men, and from the
holy Watchers is their begetting and primal origin; they shall be evil spirits on earth, and evil
spirits shall they be called. . . .   And these spirits shall rise up against the children of men and
against the women, because they have proceeded from them.

     There is nothing in all this that actually conflicts with anything in Scripture. Genesis 6:1-4 seems to be the
Old Testament background of the event, and Jude 6 a New Testament reflection. The Jews themselves
originally understood the phrase in Genesis 6:2 "the sons of God" as angels. It is only later that these
sons of God came to be interpreted as saints who forsook the call of separation and formed the kind of
unholy alliance that Paul forbids in 2 Corinthians 6:14
(2), though not overtly with any reference to Genesis
6:2. Philo of Alexandria (c. B. C. 20—42 A. D.) appears to have been one of the first to suggest that the sons of
God were 'virtuous' men and that the daughters of men were 'wicked and corrupted' women.
(3) Philo was a
wealthy Jewish philosopher and somewhat of a free-thinker, but his views probably reflect contemporary
Jewish thought in many ways.

2. "Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness? And what
communion has light with darkness?" 2 Corinthians 6:14.
3. Philo, Judaeus: Questions and Anwers on Genesis, translated by Ralph Marcus, London, Heineman, 1961, Supplement, Book I, section 92.

     pg.5 of 17    

     In his work The Legends of the Jews, Louis Ginzberg(4) has summary statements of Enoch VI - VIII:

     The depravity of mankind which began to show itself in the time of Enosh [biblical Enos, the
third from Adam?], had increased monstrously in the time of his grandson Jared by reason of
the fallen angels. When the angels saw the beautiful and attractive daughters of men they
lusted after them and said, "We will choose wives for ourselves only from among the
daughters of men and beget children with them."
     Under the leadership of twenty captains they defiled themselves with the daughters of men
unto whom they taught charms [magic?] . . . . The issue from these mixed marriages was a
race of giants three hundred ells [an ell in Old English equaled four feet three inches!] tall,
who consumed the possessions of men. . . . Then the earth complained about the impious evil
doers. But the fallen angels continued to corrupt mankind.

     Later, Ginzberg has a further statement as follows:

      Chiefly, the fallen angels and their giant posterity caused the depravity of mankind. . . .
Raphael was told to put the fallen angel Azazel into chains, cast him into a pit of sharp and
pointed stones in the desert called Dudael, and cover him with darkness, and so he was to
remain until the great day of judgment, when he would be thrown into the fiery pit of hell.

     Was Azazel another name for Satan, or even the name of one of Satan's chief lieutenants, an individual
who re-appears in some of the apocryphal literature of the Christian era? The Old Testament could
conceivably be referring to this same spirit being in connection with the scapegoat of Leviticus 16:8.
(5) This
verse refers to one of the goats as being marked "for Azazel," which could therefore signify "for Satan."
The significance of this marking might then be that whereas the one goat was to be slain by man, the
other was to be slain by Satan who has the power of death and the destruction of the body (Hebrews 2:14

4. Ginzberg, Louis, The Legends of the Jews, Philadelphia, Jewish Publications Society of America, 1954, vol.1, p.124, 125, 148.
5. "And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats: one lot for the Lord, and the other for the scapegoat ." Leviticus 16:8. The transliteration of the Hebrew word for "scapegoat" into English is rendered "Azazel".

     pg.6 of 17    

and 1 Corinthians 5:4,5(6)). That Azazel could refer to Satan was first proposed by Origen (Contra Celium,
6.43) and adopted by a number of modern writers, Keil
(7) among them.
     At any rate, the words of Jude 6 (which form part of inspired Scripture) seem to show that there is a kernel of truth in these Jewish traditions. Jude refers to "the angels which kept not their first estate but left their
own appointed housing" whom God has "reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the
great day." The allusion is unmistakable. And 2 Peter 2:4 seems clearly to be a reference to the
destiny of these angels who are reserved in Tartarus, presumably a special form of prison, until that Day.
     Genesis 6:4 also indicates that other angels were similarly tempted to intrude into the human life-stream
after the Flood, and giant offspring again resulted. These giants were perhaps chiefly limited to Canaan.
One by one they were slain — five of them by David himself, including the well-known Goliath. They must
have terrified their contemporaries, and if the giant cities of Bashan, of which J. L. Porter wrote so
eloquently in 1866,
(8) are any indication, they must have grown into a substantial population of wholly evil
beings of extraordinary stature and vigour.
     The Book of Jubilees (IV. 15) re-affirms this Jewish belief that it was in the days of Jared that "the angels
of the Lord descended upon the earth, those that are called Watchmen, in order that they might teach the
children of men to do judgment and right over the earth." In due time these angels forsook the right path
(v.23) and "commenced to mix with the daughters of the earth so that they were defiled; and Enoch
testified against them all." And (v.25) "on this account God brought the deluge over the whole land of Eden."
     Then in Jubilees V.1 the recurrence of this invasion is affirmed and it is noted that the sons they bore
became giants.
      In another apocryphal work entitled The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, and under the Testament

6. "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." Hebrews 2:14.      ". . . in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you [the Corinthian believers] are gathered together, and with my [Paul] spirit, and with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such a [disobedient] one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." 1 Corinthians 5:4, 5.
7. Keil, C. F. and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Books of Samuel, translated from the German by J. Martin, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1950, p.259-265.
8. Porter, J. L., The Giant Cities of Bashan and Syria's Holy Places, London, T. Nelson & Sons, 1866, 371 pp.

     pg.7 of 17    

of Reuben (section 5), the same circumstances are recounted, elaborated slightly by the observation
that "they changed themselves into the shape of men, and appeared to them in their congress with their
husbands, and the women having in their minds desire towards these who thus appeared to them, gave
birth to giants."
     This, then, is the pre-Christian reservoir of Jewish lore regarding the eruption of fallen angelic beings into
the stream of human history: and of what happened to them. They themselves suffered imprisonment in
darkness; and their evil offspring suffered slaughter and disembodiment. This led to an unending search
for re-embodiment by these wandering beings which the New Testament refers to as evil spirits.
     The question is, How much of the New Testament relates to this episode? presumably Jude 6 does, and also
2 Peter 2:4. The events of Revelation 20:2, 7 and 8 certainly indicate that a supernatural spirit being is
capable of "imprisonment." Whether 1 Peter 3:19 and 20 relates to the same issue is not clear, although
these verses certainly refer back to those who were disobedient in the time of Noah. Are these
"disobedient spirits in prison" men or angels?
     It has been suggested by some commentators that we might take 1 Peter 3:19 as a slightly corrupted text
which should be read "in which Enoch also went and preached to the spirits in prison" instead of the
present reading "in which also he went and preached." The passage might then be taken to indicate that
while the spirit of Christ in Noah sought to warn and evangelize disobedient men, Enoch who had
already been translated was sent to the spirits (the fallen angels) who were in prison, not to evangelize
them but to announce their condemnation. Could this be why he was translated bodily? His "mission"
required that he retain all his faculties for the task assigned. In verse 19 the word "preached" is a
translation of the Greek word kerusso which means "to announce" or "proclaim" — not necessarily to
evangelize. It is a kind of neutral word and can signify good news or bad news. The Greek word
euangelidzo (which means specifically "to preach the gospel") is not employed here. However, kerusso
is often used as a synonym for the latter, so that one could not prove too much by any appeal to the terms
of the commission. Besides, it involves both an emendation of the text which is of uncertain validity, as well as employing a select meaning to a word which is quite capable of an alternative rendering.  Altogether this interpretation seems somewhat contrived.
     Dr. E. W. Bullinger in his Companion Bible
(9) suggests that the word spirits here must be interpreted as

9. Bullinger, E. W., The Companion Bible, Henry Frowde, Oxford University Press, no date, vol.4, appendix 194, p.213.

     pg.8 of 17    

"angels" since men are not referred to as spirits even in heaven: he rejects Hebrews 12:23(10) as having
any relevance. In this view the spirits in prison are therefore angels, not men. The "visitor" was Christ.
     W. G. T. Shedd, in his Dogmatic Theology, considers that Christ's descent into the nether region, Hades, has
no warrant in Scripture. His view, widely shared, is that the Hades of Acts 2:31 simply means "the
(11) The Apostles' Creed merely committed the Church to a belief that the Lord Jesus really died and
was indeed buried -- although some of those who helped to fashion this creed may well have privately
interpreted the word hell (in Acts 2:31
(12)) as something more than just the grave. Shedd observed that
Augustine, Bede, Aquinas, Beza, and most of the Reformed theologians, have explained 1 Peter 3:18-20 as
meaning only that Christ preached to men who were disobedient in Noah's time, his spirit being in Noah
who spoke in his name in somewhat the same sense as in 1 Peter 1:11.
     Charles Hodge, in his Systematic Theology, favours Shedd's interpretation by observing that it is not
appropriate to present the Gospel to those who have departed this life for it is a way of salvation only to
the living. He assumed that the words "in prison" merely signify "in the grave."
     We therefore seem to have only four passages which specifically bear upon the events of Genesis 6:1-4,
namely, 1 Peter 3:19, 20; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6, and Revelation 20:7 and 8. In a sense it is not necessary for us to
know such things at all, except that the effects of this angelic intrusion have left a tragic impress upon
human history, for these evil demons are still Satan's most active agents in the world today and are still
bent upon our hurt and on hindering God's purposes.
     The subject is relevant to the thesis of this volume, however, since the manifest consciousness of these
fallen and imprisoned spirits might seem to indicate that disembodied man also has consciousness. But
that such angelic beings should have consciousness without embodiment is not surprising in view of the
fact that angels were created this way. They are by constitution conscious without bodies. These four
passages of Scripture therefore do not seriously challenge the thesis of this volume.

10. "But you have come . . .to the city of the living God . . .and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn . . .and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect . . .and to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant. . . ." Hebrews 12:22-24.
11. Shedd, W. G. T., Dogmatic Theology, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, reprint of 1888, vol.2, p. 605.
12. "He [David] . . . spoke of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither did his flesh see corruption." Acts 2:31.
13. ". . .the prophets have inquired and searched diligently . . .searching what or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify. . . ." 1 Peter 1:10-11.
14. Hodge, Charles, Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1973 (reprint of 1872), vol.2, p.620.

     pg.9 of 17    


     To the extent that all the dead have seemed to be in Satan's possession, liberating the bodies of those
who belong to the Lord
is tantamount in the symbolic sense to releasing them from Satan's prison. This
could be the general sense of Ephesians 4:8-10; Matthew 12:29 and 16:18, and Revelation 1:18. It is easy to
see how such an event could be re-cast in the form of a drama in which the dead are represented as
crying out for release, the Messiah is represented as forcibly breaking down the door of the prison, and
Satan is represented as being vanquished in his own house. The apocryphal literature, both pre-Christian
and Christian, deals with these events. Of particular importance is The Gospel of Nicodemus. Let us
examine this literature briefly and a number of other traditions that seem to bear upon the matter, and
then attempt to sort out the sequence of events in the six passages referred to above as important to this


     The idea that the grave is not so much a resting place for the body as a prison from which the dead are to
be rescued by the living, is very ancient indeed. It was generally cast in the form of a rescue of a
particular loved one by some single individual, rather than the rescue of all the dead by some great world
redeemer. It goes back to the earliest times of written and oral record and is found in similar form in
many areas of the Old World. The most ancient record that we have at present of such a theme comes from
the Sumerians.
     In this account the heroic Queen of heaven, Inanna by name, descends to the Nether World to rescue her
beloved husband (?) named Dumuzi. She adorns herself impressively with jewelry since her sister
happens to be Queen of this Nether World and is also her bitter enemy. Her sister's name is Ereshkigal. It
appears that the idea of adornment is to display her own wealth and power. She gives instructions to her

     pg.10 of 17    

attendant, a male figure named Ninshubur, that if she does not return after three days he is to set up a hue
and cry in heaven and to appeal particularly to the god Enlil not to let her be put to death. Failing this, he is
to try and get help from the moon god, Nanna; and if this mission also fails, he is to go to the "god of
wisdom" whom she believes will surely come to her rescue.
     Inanna arrives at the seven gates and is admitted, but at each gate she is robbed of some of her jewelry.
Finally, stark-naked, she is brought kneeling before Ereshkigal, her evil sister. She is condemned by the
Nether World court, somehow put to death, and then hung from a stake.
     Three days and three nights pass. On the fourth day her attendant, Ninshubur, proceeds upon his mission
of rescue. His mission is a failure.
     He then fashions two sexless creatures, kurgarru and kalaturri, entrusts them with "the food of life" and
"water of life," and instructs them to proceed to the Nether World and sprinkle the corpse of Inanna. This
they do, and Inanna revives. When she leaves the Nether World, the dead hasten to go with her. Thereafter
surrounded by this ghostly throng, she wanders from city to city in Sumer. What happens in the end is not
known since unfortunately some of the tablets are missing.
     This story, pieced together from some thirteen fragments, is dated approximately 2000 B.C., but it is
assumed that the story is considerably older.
      Why her beloved husband needed rescuing from the nether regions is not known since the tablets
containing the opening of the story are probably missing also. But it is rather remarkable in that it reflects
faintly a kind of prophetic forecast of the death of the Lord by crucifixion, his burial for three days and
three nights, and, even more strongly, the resurrection with Him of a certain number of the dead who then
visit a city (Jerusalem). It might also be noted that Inanna is slain before she is hung, a circumstance
which is reflected in the wording of Acts 5:30.
(16) The resuscitation of Inanna was accomplished by the food
(bread?) and water of life.
      The next account in chronological order tells of the descent of the Queen of heaven (now under the name

15. Pritchard, James B., Ancient Near Eastern Texts, Princeton University Press, 1969, p.52, 57.
16. "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you slew and hanged on a tree." Acts 5:30.

     pg.11 of 17    

of Ishtar) into the Nether World.(17) It is believed this is essentially the same story, though it is by no
means merely a translation from Sumerian into Babylonian. It has not yet been established how much
later it is, but probably several centuries.
     The plot is basically similar, and the casting very little different. The heroine has the same status, but her
reasons for visiting the Nether World are not specifically stated. There are a few new details. Instead of a
main gate, there is now a door with a bolt, a bolt in place for so long that it is covered with dust. She
arrives at the door, much adorned like her predecessor, and demands entrance. When refused, she
threatens to "smash the door" and "shatter the bolt." She explains her purpose: "I will raise up the
dead. . .so that the dead will outnumber the living." The doorkeeper asks her to stop her violence, saying,
"I will go to announce your name to Queen Ereshkigal." It then turns out that Ishtar is sister to Ereshkigal,
as her predecessor had also been.
     She is allowed in and, like her predecessor, is gradually stripped of all her jewelry until she is quite naked.
A similar fate awaits her. But it appears that she is rescued by being sprinkled with the water of life, and
this rescue seems to have been helped in some way by the fact that during her absence the world above
had been rendered infertile to a dangerous point. As she passes back through each of the seven gates,
she recovers one by one all her pieces of jewelry and her clothing. Towards the end of the tablet, it turns
out that what she really went to do was to rescue her lover Tammuz, who had recently died. She succeeds
in her mission and Tammuz is revived. Having previously promised that if Tammuz is recovered from the
dead, all the rest of the dead would also rise, we presume that they do; unfortunately the remainder of the
tablet is missing.
     Various forms of this story are known over a wide area, being reflected in the Greek legends of Dionysus
who rescues Semele, and Heracles who rescues Alcestis. The tragic story of Orpheus and Euridice is in the
same genre, though in this instance the ending is very sad. Orpheus is promised success provided that he
does not look back to see if his love is following him until he is back in the world above. At the last moment
when he is about to step out of the Nether World, he cannot resist the temptation to assure himself that
she is still following: and looking back, he loses Euridice for ever. In India a similar legend appears
involving Buddha who is himself the liberator. This is told in his biography, Lalita Vistara. It is, however,
considered by some authorities on Indian literature that this legend is a borrowed embellishment from

17. Pritchard, James B., Ancient Near Eastern Texts, Princeton University Press, 1969, p. 106—109.

     pg.12 of 17    

poorly remembered early missionary teaching regarding events connected with the resurrection of
     Such a story as this may have been passed from one traveling storyteller to another or it may merely
reflect a very common human situation in which two lovers are separated by the death of one, whom the
other is then determined to bring back to life or perish in the attempt. But it is curious how many suggestive parallelisms there are with the circumstances surrounding the Lord's death and resurrection,
as though the Lord in Old Testament times had revealed (very early in human history) some truths
regarding the plan of salvation, details which have not been preserved in Scripture itself.

      It seems likely that the substance of some of these stories were known to the early Church Fathers, for
many of them seem to have interpreted certain passages of Scripture in their light, and considered the
doctrine of the Lord's descent into Hades to rescue the Old Testament saints as an important aspect of his
saving work. It was not, however, formally written into the Church's statement of Faith until the Fourth
Synod of Sirmium in 359 A.D. Such passages as Ephesians 4:9-10 and 1 Peter 4:6 were believed to be best
accounted for on such a supposition. That the Lord's soul was not left in hell (Acts 2:27
(18)) was thought to
be evidence of just such a successful "rescue mission to bring up the dead from their prison."
     In the earlier centuries of the Christian era, a number of apocryphal writings appeared which, while they
were not considered to be canonical, seem to have greatly influenced the thinking of the more
imaginative writers of the Church. One of these apocryphal books is the so-called Gospel of Nicodemus. It
claims to represent the events of the trial, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ as Nicodemus saw it. It
also purports to tell us some of the things which accompanied the rising from the dead of many of the
saints which slept, as recorded in Matthew 27:51—53.
      Chapter XII of the Gospel of Nicodemus relates the experience of two individuals named Charinus and
Lenthius who are said to have been raised from their graves at this time. Matthew 27:51 and 52 records
that "the veil of the temple was rent in twain from top to bottom; and the earth did quake; and the rocks
rent; and the graves were opened." We are then told that "many bodies of the saints that slept arose," but
according to verse 53 they did not actually come out of the graves until after the resurrection of the Lord.

18. "Thou [God] will not leave my soul in hell." Acts 2:27.

     pg.13 of 17    

Perhaps we are to understand that the earthquake which occurred when the Lord died resulted in the
opening up of many graves but that those who were buried therein did not actually come forth until three
days later when the Lord Himself had risen.
     According to Nicodemus, among those who arose and visited Jerusalem were these two brothers,
allegedly the sons of Simeon who had blessed Jesus in the Temple (as recorded in Luke 2:25—35). The brothers told the story (in chap.XII. 15 f.) of how they had died and descended into Hades, and felt their
experience was so important that they insisted on being provided with paper to write it all down. Chapter
XIII is their account. It is an interesting record.
     All the Old Testament saints were in this prison "under the earth" (Philippians 2:10), including such
worthies as Adam, Seth, David, Isaiah, their father Simeon, a little man named John the Baptist, and even
Lazarus briefly (whom, Satan complained, was taken away from him by force — chap. XV.18).
     Shortly after finding themselves in this dismal underworld, the two brothers notice that suddenly the dark
prison seems to be growing lighter, and as everyone wonders at it, Adam "the father of all mankind" says:
"That light is the everlasting Light who has promised to translate us to everlasting life." This causes great
excitement and Satan, becoming anxious, determines to secure the doors more strongly. As the light
increases, the saints cry out, "Lift up your gates, 0 ye princes; and be ye lift up, O everlasting gates, and the
King of Glory shall come in" (Psalm 24:7). Satan then demands, "Who is this King of Glory?" (Psalm 24:8). And
David at once replies, "The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle." Isaiah then adds his own
prophetic exultation: "Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and
sing, ye that dwell in the dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out her dead"
(Isaiah 26:19). Meanwhile, very appropriately, David quotes Psalm 107:13—16: "Then they cried unto the Lord
in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses. He brought them out of darkness and the
shadow of death, and brake their bands in sunder. Oh, that men would praise the Lord for his goodness,
and for his wonderful works to the children of men! For he hath broken the gates of brass and cut the bars
of iron in sunder."
      The appearance of passages such as these quoted in this context would seem so appropriate to a reader
who was predisposed to such a reconstruction of the events as to greatly strengthen the impression that

     pg.14 of 17    

the Gospel of Nicodemus, though not itself canonical, was nevertheless essentially true and much
credence seems to have been placed in it by common people.
     Meanwhile, the Lord suddenly appears in the form of a man, "visiting them that sit in darkness and in the
shadow of death" (Luke 1:79). The saints in exultation cry out: "This is the Lord who was once slain upon the
cross" (XVII.5). Then the King of Glory, trampling upon death, seizes the prince of hell, deprives him of all
his power, and takes Adam and all the other saints with Him to glory (XVII.13).
     This part of the story seems to be an elaboration of Matthew 12:29 in which the strong man is first bound
and then his goods are "spoiled." To this may perhaps be added Matthew 16:18 with a slight shift in
emphasis: "the gates of hell shall not prevail against him." We therefore have an imaginative
interpretation of Revelation 1:18, "I am he who lives and was dead; and behold I am alive for ever more.
Amen; and have the keys of hell and death."
     Now it is certain that Scripture owes nothing to such imaginative reconstructions, but biblical passages
like these might very well form the basis of apocryphal creations in the first place. Once the
reconstruction had become current (and no doubt the Gospel of Nicodemus was only one version of it),
the early Church Fathers sometimes appealed to what was probably a very widely accepted belief
regarding the fate and rescue of the dead. Their appeal to this common tradition, intended only to
reinforce the validity and acceptableness of their own teaching, in due time made Scripture seem
increasingly to support just such a vivid picture of the interim period between the death and resurruction
of the Old Testament saints. In time it became the widely accepted orthodox interpretation. It was
naturally extended subsequently to cover all who had died in the present age as well, all who are
awaiting the resurrection which is to accompany the Lord's return. The Roman Catholic Church made it a
very practical doctrine and one which turned out to be to their benefit economically.
      It is easy to see how death could be considered, by even the most conservative of commentators in the
early Church, a form of imprisonment; and how, in view of the fact that Satan was given the power of death
over men (Hebrews 2:14 and 1 Corinthians 5:4, 5
(19)), the Lord's victory over Satan might be viewed as a

19. "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." Hebrews 2:14.   "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. . .. deliver such a one [a disobedient Christian] unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." 1 Corinthians 5:4, 5.

     pg.15 of 17    

sundering of the bars of the prison which kept them in darkness. Ephesians 4:8—10 could logically be taken to describe just such a victory achieved by the Lord in his death and burial in the grave, this descent into
the grave then being referred to as a descent into a place called hell or the nether world, which was
peopled by saint and sinner alike. The resurrection in which a number of saints clearly took part as a kind
of firstfruits of the harvest sheaf would be taken as the harbinger of a much larger resurrection which is
later to mark his personal return to the world of the living. Figurative interpretations of sober factual
statements of Scripture have on many occasions been embroidered in similar ways — to the detriment of
the truth. Whatever is the correct explanation of these difficult passages, it does not seem that it is really
to be sought in these pagan myths and apocryphal accounts.

     If this is how these stories found their way into Christian tradition, if this is how it has come about that an
interim period has been crystallized to such an extent as to become part and parcel of the evangelical
faith, it may be time to rethink the whole issue through again. There may, in fact, be no grounds whatever
for the common supposition that there is a period of suspense in a kind of half-fulfilled state of bliss which
seems to be chiefly occupied in waiting for the resurrection of the body.
    Certainly, conservative evangelicals have entirely eliminated from the more ancient reconstruction the
absurd details which left the departing saints in a very uncomfortable situation, and certainly the whole
concept of purgatory is seen as entirely contrary to the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone.
Nevertheless there remain certain almost insoluble problems so long as we hold to the idea of a
conscious period of waiting in an "unclothed" state for the resurrection of the body.
     I believe all the verses which have been referred to in Section B have to be re-examined — in so far as
they really do apply to man and not to evil spirits or fallen angels. Some different way of interpreting them
is needed which does not fall into the error of confusing what is said of the Lord's ministry of making men
spiritually "alive from the dead" with some kind of physical visitation to an underworld. Men are dead,
even while they live, and even more dead than ever once they have been buried "under the earth": yet
both kinds of dead men will rise to his praise. In the final analysis, it is not the body itself which is the
prison of the spirit, but death which imprisons the body, and which thus effectively "captures" the person.
And this captivity applies so long as the "person" is in a state of disembodied unconsciousness.

     pg.16 of 17    

     If my thesis is correct, it is of no importance to the saints who were left behind that only a few were raised when the Lord Jesus arose from the dead. In our time-frame there appears to have been a selective
separation, but in the experience of the dead themselves no such selective separation or special
privilege need exist. All the Old Testament saints, both those who came out of their graves when Christ
arose as well as those who were left behind, and we who are still alive — as well as those who have died
in the Lord since that time — are all raised together with our glorified bodies to meet the Lord as He
returns at the same instant. From our point of view there seem to have been a few privileged ones, but
from their point of view they need not be aware of having anticipated anyone else. "Anticipation" is a
word-trap, in a time-less world.


     pg.17 of 17    

Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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