“He Descended into Hell”

posted by R. Fowler White

It’s an understatement to say that the last phrase of Article 4 of the Apostles’ Creed—He descended into hell—has generated a lot of controversy. Because its appearance in the Creed came later than its other articles and because its meaning is open to question, some advocate for removing it from the Creed’s publication or, at the very least, for excluding it from the Creed’s public recitation. Those opinions deserve our attention, but they are not conclusive. For our purposes here we’ll take our point of departure from J. A. MacCulloch’s work, The Harrowing of Hell (1930). He provides a fair and reasonable basis for the article’s acceptance for the church’s continued consideration and recitation as follows: “Although the confessional use of the Descent doctrine was only sporadic and occasional before the eighth century, on the other hand the doctrine itself was mentioned repeatedly by the Fathers and in the religious literature of the early centuries.” So it remains appropriate for us to look more closely at the interpretation of the Creed’s words He descended into hell.

Even with repeated mention of the Descent, there remains no consensus on its interpretation. Early on, the received text of the Creed’s Descent clause was typically taken as a simple declaration that Christ, having humbled Himself to be crucified, dead, and buried, had also been consigned to the common ignominious place of the dead, namely, the grave (as distinguished from the place of suffering-beyond-the-grave, namely, hell). As time moved on, however, various other views of the Descent arose. Some believed that after His death Christ’s disembodied soul went to hell in order to complete what was lacking in His suffering on the cross. Others affirmed that His soul went to the place of waiting for disembodied souls (aka limbus patrum) in order to facilitate the transport of the souls of pre-Christ saints to heaven. Still others believed that Christ’s soul went to hell in order to achieve and announce His victory over it.

Strikingly, despite their variety, common to these views is the belief that between His death and His resurrection Christ’s disembodied soul relocated to a place other than and in addition to the heavenly paradise of God to which He referred on the cross (Luke 23:43, 46; cf. Matt 27:50). Furthermore, as we look into the attempts to justify this belief, we realize that basically they involve imposing dubious interpretations of Eph 4:8-10 and 1 Pet 3:18-20 onto the supposed chronology and theology of events related to Christ’s soul between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Suffice it to say here that neither Eph 4:8-10 nor 1 Pet 3:18-20 refers to a relocation of Christ’s soul to hell. To the contrary, the Ephesians text affirms His descent from heaven to earth for His incarnation, while the First Peter passage contemplates His ascension (not His descent), in which was proclaimed His victories over sin, death, and all the fallen angelic host. In short, Scripture provides no witness to the relocation of Christ’s soul after His death to any place other than the paradise of God in heaven. In fact, the Creed itself seems to point the way to a better understanding of its Descent clause. That clue appears when we notice the likeness between the second article and the words dealing with Christ’s suffering. Even as the second article presents distinguishable perspectives on Christ’s person in the two phrases His only Son and our Lord, so the words about His suffering present distinguishable perspectives in the two phrases was crucified, dead, and buried and He descended into hell. We can elaborate briefly by looking first to Scripture and then to the Westminster and Heidelberg catechisms.

Turning to the Prophets and Apostles, we find that they vividly narrate the incarnate Son’s suffering in both soul and body from Gethsemane to the grave. For example, Isaiah, cited by Peter (1 Pet 2:22-25), prophesied expressly about the anguish of soul and body that would arise in the Lord’s Servant as He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows (Isa 53:4), was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities (53:5), endured our chastisement (53:5), and bore the iniquities and sin of many (53:11-12). Isaiah saw that, despite His innocence, the Servant would be stricken for the transgression of the Lord’s people, enduring even the degradation of being cut off from the land of the living (53:8) and swallowed up into the belly of the grave (53:9). Indeed, the Prophet discerned that deepest misery would be His because it was the will of the Lord to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and because the Lord imputed to Him the iniquity of us all (53:6). Isaiah thus envisioned the Lord’s righteous Servant voluntarily subjecting Himself to be for His many seed their guilt offering, their sin-bearing substitute, their surety (53:10-12). Fittingly, we find Matthew reporting Jesus’ words to His disciples in Gethsemane: “My soul is very sorrowful even to death.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Climactically, Matthew records Jesus’ dying words as those from David’s prophetic psalm about God’s royal Son who had put Himself in harm’s way for His people: About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46; Ps 22:1; cf. Heb 5:7).

Reading such words, we have to ask ourselves: what is Jesus’ lament if not the incarnate Son’s disclosure of the otherwise indiscernible truth that, on the tree (Deut 21:23), He had become a curse for us (Gal 3:13), that for our sake God had made Him to be sin who knew no sin (2 Cor 5:21)? Is His lament something other than His testimony to the gravest torment of a soul subjected to divine judgment, a torment compounding the sheer agony in a body brutalized by human hands? Are those words anything but His witness to the hellish suffering that He underwent in accord with divine foreordination and prophecy, while drinking the cup of God’s holy wrath against us sinners (Matt 26:39, 42) and bearing and feeling the crushing weight of God’s just anger against our iniquities imputed to Him? Reading this sampling of what the Prophets and Apostles tell us about Christ’s suffering, we realize that it is not the case that between His death and His resurrection His soul relocated to hell. Rather it is the case that, in God’s reckoning, when He laid our iniquities on His incarnate Son, He effectively relocated hell onto Christ Himself such that from Gethsemane to the grave His humiliation for sinners reached its nadir in both soul and body.

Compelled by Scripture texts like those above, we appreciate the help offered for our understanding of the Descent clause in the Reformed catechisms of Heidelberg and Westminster. Heidelberg instructs us why the Creed adds the clause He descended into hell in these words: “To assure me during attacks of deepest dread and temptation that Christ my Lord, by suffering unspeakable anguish, pain, and terror of soul, on the cross but also earlier, has delivered me from hellish anguish and torment” (Q & A 44). In a complementary fashion, Westminster takes us back to the earliest interpretation of the Creed’s most contested clause. After expounding Christ’s humiliation in His death in the Larger Catechism Q & A 49, we read in Q & A 50 that His “humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day; which hath been otherwise expressed in these words, He descended into hell.” Taken together, these catechisms assist us to see in the Descent clause what Ursinus suggested in his Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism (p. 232): “the descent into hell in the Creed follows the burial of Christ, not because it was accomplished after his burial; but because it is an explanation of what precedes concerning his passion, death, and burial, lest something should be detracted from these.” In that light, many will find good reason to include and recite the words of the Descent clause. In them we confess that the benefits of Christ’s suffering for us sinners extend from the visible to the invisible, even from the least extreme to the most extreme torments, pains, anguish, and ignominy of both soul and body. Certainly, we recognize too with Olevianus (see his A Firm Foundation, p. 71) that “the further Christ humbled Himself for us in all His anguish, and the more dearly He paid for our salvation, the more firm our trust in the love of God and in the satisfaction of Jesus Christ becomes.”

We reflect on Article 5 of the Creed here.

“Crucified, Dead, and Buried”

Posted by R. Fowler White

Continuing our reflection on article four of the Apostles’ Creed, we examine what it means to confess faith in Jesus Christ crucified, dead, and buried.

In the ancient world crucifixion was believed to be an effective way to maintain law and order. The Romans reserved it for dangerous criminals, slaves, and the populations of foreign provinces. In the province of Judea, for example, it proved to be generally effective against resistance to Roman occupation. Applied as a form of execution, it was so frequent, and its details such common knowledge, that people in the first century were all too familiar with crucifixion. Despite its frequency—or maybe because of it—written descriptions of the act of crucifixion are rare. The more refined writers were hesitant to dwell long on an act so horrifying, brutal, and shameful. Reading the NT Gospel accounts, we realize that none of them goes beyond the barest minimum when they describe it. All that they say is they crucified Him. It is hard to describe a more cruel and unusual form of capital punishment, but we will have to try.

Imagine the shape of the cross: X, T, and were the most common. Imagine the height of the cross: ordinarily the victim’s feet were no more than two feet above the ground—to give wild beasts and scavenger dogs easy access to the dead body. Imagine the nails of the cross, the spikes used to impale the victim. Imagine the small wooden peg or block, often placed midway up the vertical post to prolong the victim’s agony by preventing his premature collapse.

Once impaled on the cross, the victim endured a seemingly endless cycle of pulling, pushing, and collapsing—pulling with his arms, pushing with his legs to keep his chest cavity open for breathing, then collapsing in exhaustion until the body’s need for oxygen demanded more pulling and pushing. The combination of flogging, blood loss, and shock from pain, all produced agony that could go on for days. The end ordinarily came from suffocation, or cardiac arrest, or blood loss. When there was reason to speed up death, the executioners would smash the victim’s legs. Death followed almost immediately, either from shock or from collapse that cut off breathing.

The shame of crucifixion compounded its pain. In fact, so intense was the combination of shame and pain that it was expressly prohibited that a Roman citizen be executed in this manner. Crucifixion was always public, at an intersection, in the theatre, or elsewhere on high ground. Victims were usually crucified naked to intensify the experience of humiliation, though Jewish sensitivities would have demanded that the victim wear a loincloth. More than nakedness, however, the act of raising the victim up off the ground on a cross was meant to make manifest the level of criminality and heinousness of his transgression. The cross itself was thus a visible symbol and physical embodiment of all that was morally shameful and aesthetically offensive, and crucifixion was referred to as “that most cruel and disgusting penalty.” As such, it is understatement to say that the crucifixion of the innocent, sinless Jesus was the most monstrously obscene act ever committed.

Here, we have to note that it was significant that Jesus was crucified instead of dying some other way. Death on a cross was cursed not only by human standards but also by God’s standard. Already by the first-century AD, victims of crucifixion were viewed in terms of Deut 21:22-23: he who is hanged on a tree is accursed by God. The form of Jesus’ death tells us that it was for lawbreakers that He endured the curse of God. His crucifixion was neither by chance, by accident, nor by the sole decision of Romans and Jews, but by God’s special providence and counsel (Acts 2:23). Christ had to be crucified to bear our curse and to share His blessing with us, to satisfy God’s justice and to free us from the curse. He had to be crucified to make peace for us with our offended, estranged Creator, to rescue sinners from bondage and misery by the payment of the price. Consequently, we must confess that Jesus Christ was crucified.

Confessing Jesus Christ crucified, we also confess Him dead, redundant to say so though it seems. Joseph of Arimathea, attended by Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, took His dead body down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb. He had died in the sight of men—and also in the sight of God. He did not die of natural causes; nor did He die for His own sins, since He was without sin. The death He died was for our sins. He laid down His life as an offering for sin, as the sinless Substitute, putting Himself in harm’s way for His people, for His sheep, for His bride. He took the punishment to which God had sentenced sinners, and, as a result, He satisfied God’s displeasure against them. The death He died was according to the Scriptures. We confess, therefore, Jesus Christ dead.

We also confess Jesus Christ buried. His body was placed in a tomb, a grave. And again we wonder, as perfunctory as it sounds, why would Scripture and the Creed give such prominence to His burial? Because, if satisfaction for our sins came in no other way than by the death of the Son of God, we must have proof of His death. It was burial of His body, together with the women’s determination to anoint His buried body with spices and ointments, that proved the death of His body. Thus, the incarnate Son of God really and truly died, and His burial was the certificate of His death.

In the words of the Creed, then, we confess Jesus Christ crucified, dead, and buried: three stark words bearing witness to the horror, brutality, and debasement of His humiliation.

We consider the last phrase of Article 4 in the Creed here.

“Suffered under Pontius Pilate”

Posted by R. Fowler White

We turn here to article four of the Apostles’ Creed, in which we confess our faith in Jesus Christ, who suffered under Pontius Pilate. Three times Pilate pronounced Jesus innocent of all charges against Him, yet Pilate had the authority to release an innocent man or to have him crucified. He was the one human being who had the most to do with Jesus’ crucifixion. He chose the latter to preserve his political career. In the Gospel of Matthew (ch. 27) the Evangelist gives a terse but vivid portrayal of Jesus as He suffered under Pilate and the soldiers in his charge. The details of our Lord’s suffering before He suffered on the cross are expressed in eight brief, heartbreaking statements. They provide a disturbing picture of unspeakable atrocity and unbearably sadistic torture. For they show us that under Pilate the King of Glory was in the hands of angry sinners. 

Despite Governor Pilate’s threefold finding of innocence, the official process of Jesus’ execution by crucifixion began. Now, for the first time, the Roman military had Jesus, the royal wannabe (as they saw Him), in their hands. They will proceed to act out a mock ceremony of coronation, mixing brutality with sarcastic barracks humor. Since Jesus was on His way to execution, nothing will curb their enjoyment of this opportunity to humiliate this King of the Jews, this ludicrous example of a Jew who, as they saw it, had dared to challenge the world’s super power. Like no one else, they would see to it that this one suffered under Pontius Pilate. Merciless soldiers were never more cruel or crude than they were with the King of Glory. 

Faced with the outcry of the unruly crowd in Jerusalem, Pilate caved in and decided to punish Jesus by having Him flogged in anticipation of crucifixion. So, first, they tore off the outer garments and undergarments of Jesus. Stripped of clothing, He endured the shame of public nakedness that Jewish persons in antiquity earnestly sought to avoid. Naked, He was most likely tied to a post or pillar with His hands secured tightly above Him; if not in that position, thrown to the ground would have worked too. Next, the military guards took their positions standing on either side of Him, brandishing the whip(s) made from cords of leather, with pieces of metal and bone braided into the leather strands. Then they flogged Him, repeatedly lashing his back, his chest, or both, likely leaving strips of flesh hanging from His wounds, perhaps exposing even bones or organs. While the Jews only allowed thirty-nine lashes, the Romans had no such limit. This gruesome assault was designed, if not to kill Jesus, at least to weaken His overall constitution before He was nailed to the cross, shortening the time it would take Him to die there.

The flogging left Jesus a pathetic sight: His appearance severely altered, His form marred beyond easy recognition, barely able to stand or walk, and certainly humanly powerless to resist. Putting His garments back on Him, the soldiers took Jesus into Pilate’s official residence and the military barracks housed there, and they gathered the whole battalion before Him. There stood a company of the 600 men normally stationed in Jerusalem at the fortress on the Temple Mount, reinforced by troops who accompanied Pilate to the Passover feast in case they were needed for riot control. They had Jesus to themselves inside their barracks, and it was time for a little macabre theater. Their mocking coronation play began, each new action a parody of a king’s regalia.

After they again stripped His garments off, leaving Him naked, the staring, chuckling battalion put a loose robe (a reddish-purple outer garment worn by soldiers and travelers) on Him, pretending He was a royal warrior. Arrayed in knockoff royal regalia, He needed a crown. After all, those who held national office wore crowns as a sign of their exalted status. The Roman victor’s crown was a bent twig or perhaps two twigs tied together. Often a single wreath of grass or one made of flowers and leaves was used to adorn the brow of the wearer. So, continuing their little coronation charade, the soldiers crowned Him with a crown all right. In their contemptuous, sadistic ridicule, they designed a crown of thorns to puncture and scrape His forehead and scalp. This was no sign of exalted standing. It was a derisive imitation of the crown worn by Rome’s rulers, a sign of utter disdain.

But their parody was not done yet. What else did a king need but a scepter, a monarch’s symbol of his authority and power? So, they placed a scepter in His right hand: in fact, an imitation of a scepter, a bamboo cane often used in military floggings. And still the ceremony for their cartoon king was not complete. It remained for them to show Him what homage they owed Him. They knelt before Him and mocked Him, pretending to recognize Jesus’ royal majesty and throwing in His face that sneering taunt, King of the Jews. Kneeling before Him was not enough, however: they spat on Him. Nothing of the expected kiss of homage (e.g., Ps 2:12) for this king, these soldiers repeated the insult that Jewish leaders had inflicted on Him earlier. And still the abuse continued as they ripped the fake scepter from His hand and beat Him about the head with it, every blow driving the thorns of His crown more deeply, more painfully into His forehead and scalp. Having shown Him what homage they owed Him, the torture of their coronation play was over. They stripped Him of His royal regalia, dressed Him again in His own garments, and led Him away to be crucified.

Ordinarily, as the person condemned to execution by crucifixion, Jesus would Himself have had to carry the thirty- to forty-pound horizontal beam of the cross on which He was to be nailed out to the site where the upright stake stood. But it was physically impossible for Him to do so. So, to carry the beam, the soldiers pressed into service Simon from Cyrene (roughly modern Libya), probably a Jewish pilgrim who had travelled to Jerusalem for Passover. Onward they would walk, until they arrived at the site on Calvary where the upright stake stood.

Thus do we confess Jesus Christ … suffered under Pontius Pilate.

We take up the second phrase of Article 4 in the Creed here.

“Conceived by the Holy Spirit and Born of the Virgin Mary”

Posted by R. Fowler White

Having focused in the second article of the Apostles’ Creed on Christ’s relation as God the Son to God the Father and on His relation as Lord to believing sinners, we turn next to the third article and the events that resulted in His incarnation. What was required of the eternal Son of glory whom the Father sent from heaven to earth? The Creed affirms that, for our sakes, He was required to humble Himself in incarnation through conception and birth. That being the case, we learn that His nativity began His earthly humiliation, and the Creed summarizes that nativity in two phrases.

Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit. The Son was pleased to humble Himself in incarnation through conception. Though from all eternity God the Son had been in the presence of God the Father and God the Spirit, He emptied Himself, poured Himself out, made Himself of no reputation, condescending to be made in human likeness and fashioned as a man. Pleased to take on human flesh, He did so when the fullness of time had come, when all the events of history that had to occur for His arrival on earth had occurred, just as the OT prophets had predicted. In fact, before His mother and His adoptive father would come together in marital union, it would become obvious that she was with child. Yet, because Mary and Joseph were chaste before their marriage, it would be revealed that His conception as to His human nature was not just ordinary conception, but conception that could not have been other than by the power of God the Holy Spirit, such power as preserved Him from sin’s defilement throughout His gestation in His mother’s womb. For this reason, we Christians confess Him to be the holy Child, the Son of God, in the unique sense of the incarnate Son.

In due course, the Child conceived by the Holy Spirit became the Child born of the virgin Mary. We can only marvel at the truth condensed here in the Creed’s brief phrasing. Though He was the glorious eternal Son, He was born of a young virgin woman, thus taking part in all human properties, except sin, through His mother. Just as His conception was anything but ordinary, so we know that His birth was also: born of a virgin, born without a man. The commissioned Son, in taking on human flesh, was not only made and formed in woman; He was of her, of her flesh and blood.

Knowing as the Apostles did that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, they proclaimed Him to us as the Word of Life who was from the beginning with the Father (1 John 1:1-2; John 1:1-2), the eternally preexistent Son of the Father, now one Person with two natures. The facts of His nativity are among the reasons they could document for us and preach to us the audible words of His that they had witnessed with their own ears; the visible deeds of His that they had witnessed and had looked upon with their own eyes; the tangible flesh-and-blood physicality of His body, before and after His death and resurrection, that they had witnessed with our own hands. The Apostles’ references to their ears hearing, their eyes seeing, and their hands touching can hardly be explained as anything other than first-hand, empirical, sensory experiences. As such, their confession stands in stark contrast with that of the world, ancient and modern. The world, then and now, either denies that knowing God is possible or claims to know God through objects made with hands or concepts fabricated in our imaginations (as in “God is a concept by which we measure our pain” [John Lennon]). By contrast, the Apostles saw and heard and touched the Source of true knowledge of God, and they proclaimed that revealed knowledge as morally binding on all who read or hear them.

With the Creed, therefore, we confess that Jesus Christ was God with God, God the Word, God the Son who has permanently taken to Himself sinless human nature with all its properties, and will remain forevermore one Person with two natures, the God-man, fully God and fully man. Let’s be careful not to underestimate these affirmations concerning Christ’s conception and birth. To deny that Jesus of Bethlehem is God who became man is not merely to reject the Creed. It is to reject the Christ of the authentic gospel of Scripture; it is to exchange the truth for a lie.

We consider the first clause of Article 4 of the Creed here.

“Jesus Christ, His only [begotten] Son, our Lord”

Posted by R. Fowler White

Who is Jesus Christ? There are many voices with many answers to that question. Some pretend not to care about the answer at all. Even in the “evangelical” world there are voices leading folks away from the historic confession of Christ. They deny the necessity of His role in salvation, or His death as a substitute, or His obedience in both life and death. Not only do challenges come from among professing Christians, there are also challenges from the spread of Islam, the collapsing morality of Western culture, and the rise of those who have no religious affiliation at all. Our post-Christian era is a time of confusion and pluralism. These realities push us to make sure we’re equipped with clarity and conviction regarding who Jesus Christ is. With that in mind, we turn for help to the Apostles’ Creed, article two, where we confess our faith in Jesus Christ. Who, then, is Jesus Christ?

Following Scripture, the first part of the Creed’s answer is, of course, that He is Jesus. Heaven itself mandated that name for the eternal Son of God who became man. Messengers from heaven’s court told His mother Mary and His adoptive father Joseph to name Him Jesus. When we read that name, we do well to think Yeshua, or even better Joshua, meaning “Yahweh saves.” We remember that after Moses died God appointed Joshua to bring Israel into the Promised Land and to enforce God’s law in Canaan. Despite partial victories in Canaan, Joshua secured neither the nation’s obedience to God nor their rest in the Land because he was powerless to save them from their sins. Yet when the eternal Son became man, the Angel Gabriel proclaimed that Jesus, this new Joshua, would succeed where the old Joshua had failed: He will save His people from their sins (Matt 1:21). Conceived by the Spirit, filled with the Spirit, equipped with the full armor of God, Jesus went into spiritual combat for our souls against the devil, the powers of this dark world, and the spiritual forces of evil. As He delivers people from disease and even death, we learn that He is able to save from sin’s penalty, power, and presence. By His obedience in life and in death, Jesus did what Joshua could not do: He satisfied the demands of God’s law and saved His people from their sins. This new Joshua is the Savior who showed Himself to be God-with-us who alone redeems His people from all their iniquities (Ps 130:8).

We confess that this Jesus is also Christ, the Anointed One, the one and only Mediator, fulfilling all three of the Mediator’s offices. He is Prophet: because we’re ignorant by nature, by His word and Spirit, Christ as Prophet reveals to us God’s will for our salvation (see. e.g., Heb 1:1-2). He is Priest: because we’re guilty of breaking God’s law, Christ as Priest offered Himself up, once and for all, to pay the debt we owe for our sin (Heb 9:14) and to reconcile us sinners to God (Col 1:20). And He now always lives to pray for us (Heb 7:25). He is King: because we’re powerless against our enemies, Christ gathers us to Himself (Acts 15:14-16), rules and defends us (Ps 110:3), and restrains and conquers all enemies, His and ours (1 Cor 15:25).

We also confess that Jesus Christ is His only [begotten] Son. His Son: whose Son? The Son of the Father. The Son, before He was sent, born, or given the name Jesus, was a Person in the Godhead, indeed a Person distinct from the Father (and the Spirit). Yet there was (is) harmony between Them. God the Father determined to send God the Son, and the Son agreed to be sent by the Father to fulfill the Greatest Commission of all. Once incarnate, the Son declared, I have come down from heaven … And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given me, but raise it up on the last day (John 6:38-40). Thus we confess Jesus Christ, His only [begotten] Son. These simple words take us into the background of the Son’s coming from eternity into history. Whether our translations of the Creed include or exclude the word begotten, the point of the Creed’s original terms is that the Son is without beginning, is not a creature, is not made, shaped, fashioned, formed, or adopted. He is unmade, unbegun, uncreated. The Son simply has been from eternity. He was in the beginning, as the Father was and as the Spirit was in the beginning.

Moreover, we confess that Jesus Christ is our Lord. This confession we make only by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3b). In the ancient world, to confess someone as Lord was to acclaim that one’s majesty and to swear absolute allegiance to that one as our royal Deity, as our Savior and Judge. Among God’s covenant people, the one called Lord was the God of the patriarchs, Yahweh, I AM. To confess “Jesus is Lord,” then, is to confess “Jesus the Crucified is, by His resurrection and enthronement, Lord of all from whom, through whom, and to whom are all things.” In the NT world, this confession was shocking, for Jesus had endured capital punishment at the behest of Jewish and Roman authorities. Nonetheless, our confession, worked in us by the Spirit, is nothing less than a triumphant acclamation of Jesus Christ’s exaltation over a hostile world.

Further, we confess that He is our Lord. Confession of Jesus’ lordship is a two-sided coin. It’s a declaration not only of who Jesus is, but also of who we are. All who confess with their mouths and believe in their hearts that Jesus Christ is our Lord belong to Him as slaves whom He redeemed from bondage with His blood. That being the case, Jesus takes responsibility for us believers as our Lord, and He is the authority to whom we believers answer and from whom we believers learn what to believe and how to behave. To confess Jesus is Lord is, as one commentator has put it, a declaration … of personal devotion and commitment that is part and parcel of a Christ-centered worship and lifestyle. Therefore, to confess that Jesus is our Lord is to set ourselves apart from all others.

In our post-Christian era of confusion and pluralism, the Apostles’ Creed has us Christians confessing the truth that the Holy Spirit speaks in Scripture: Jesus Christ is His only [begotten] Son, our Lord. To confess these truths is to declare that we’re under the care of Him who is our Lord and our God, the One to whom we answer, the One on whom the Father bestowed the name that is above every name (Phil 2:10).

Our reflection turns to Article 3 of the Creed here.