Why did Jesus go to hell?

Tonight we’ll continue our exploration of the Apostle’s Creed. We’ll be exploring the idea of Jesus Christ, God’s only son and our Lord. This week kids will have an opportunity to experiment with the definition of hell what that says about God. As we begin to look at the stories of God experiencing the deepest darkest parts of being human, we ask ourselves a difficult question:

Why did Jesus go to hell?

Surely the most vexing line in the Apostle’s Creed is, “He descended into hell.” Some churches (like ours) have changed it to, “He descended to the dead,” and others have excised it altogether.

The Hebrew Scriptures do not have a developed doctrine of the afterlife, much less one for heaven and hell. Instead, it was believed that all persons go to Sheol (Hades in Greek), which is the place of the dead. This particular line in the Creed is based on a passage from 1 Peter, in which it is written that Jesus descended to the place of the dead and preached the good news to the people gathered there.

Theologically, the importance is twofold. First, that God and Jesus really experienced the totality of human death – not just the crucifixion, but also the descent to Sheol. And second, that even the place that seems most removed from God is, in fact, not beyond the good news of Jesus Christ. Sometimes hell is experienced on earth, and Jesus shows up there, too.

We started this weeks lesson by brainstorming a list of words we might use to describe hell. Then we described the worst things to happen to us in our lives and noticed the similarities in the two lists. Then we turned to scripture to see what Christ did that helped him to experience humanity and how that helps him to find us when we feel lost. As a small group we decorated paper dolls as ourselves and explored what it might feel like to find ourselves when we’re lost.

This weeks Take Home Activity asks kids to find an article about the worst situation they can find and print or cut it out. Then they’ll be asked to read Psalm 139:7-12. Then they’ll cross out the worst thing in the article and circle any sentences or pictures that suggest God might be present in their terrible situation.

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