Jesus continues his admonitions about readiness for the future. The key is to watch out for the telling signs.
Harrowing of Hades, fresco in the parecclesion of the Chora Church, Istanbul, c. 1315, raising Adam and Eve is depicted as part of the Resurrection icon, as it always is in the East.
Friday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading 1 RV 20:1-4, 11—21:2
holding in his hand the key to the abyss and a heavy chain.
He seized the dragon, the ancient serpent,
which is the Devil or Satan,
and tied it up for a thousand years and threw it into the abyss,
which he locked over it and sealed,
so that it could no longer lead the nations astray
until the thousand years are completed.
After this, it is to be released for a short time.
I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded
for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God,
and who had not worshiped the beast or its image
nor had accepted its mark on their foreheads or hands.
They came to life and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years.Next I saw a large white throne and the one who was sitting on it.
The earth and the sky fled from his presence
and there was no place for them.
I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne,
and scrolls were opened.
Then another scroll was opened, the book of life.
The dead were judged according to their deeds,
by what was written in the scrolls.
The sea gave up its dead;
then Death and Hades gave up their dead.
All the dead were judged according to their deeds.
(This pool of fire is the second death.)
Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life
was thrown into the pool of fire.Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.
The former heaven and the former earth had passed away,
and the sea was no more.
I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Responsorial Psalm PS 84:3, 4, 5-6A AND 8A
My soul yearns and pines
for the courts of the LORD.
My heart and my flesh
cry out for the living God.
R. Here God lives among his people.
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest
in which she puts her young–
Your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my king and my God!
R. Here God lives among his people.
Blessed they who dwell in your house!
continually they praise you.
Blessed the men whose strength you are!
They go from strength to strength.
R. Here God lives among his people.
Alleluia LK 21:28
Stand erect and raise your heads
because your redemption is at hand.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel LK 21:29-33
Jesus told his disciples a parable.
“Consider the fig tree and all the other trees.
When their buds burst open,
you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near;
in the same way, when you see these things happening,
know that the Kingdom of God is near.
Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away
until all these things have taken place.
Heaven and earth will pass away,
but my words will not pass away.”
Commentary on Luke 21:29-33 From Living Space
Jesus continues his admonitions about readiness for the future. The key is to watch out for the telling signs.
Just as with the fig tree or any tree, the emerging buds of green indicate that summer is on the way. When the things Jesus has been mentioning are seen to happen, terrible as some of them seem to be, they are in fact the sign of summer. “The Kingdom of God is near.” On other occasions, Jesus had said that the Kingdom was already present but the Kingdom can be seen in different ways. The Kingdom is present wherever the values of the Gospel are being lived but it will not be fully realised until the very end when all are gathered in Him.
“This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” When Jesus says that “this present generation” will not have passed away until all this takes place, it is not to say that Jesus’ final coming will happen in the lifetime of his hearers, as some imagined but rather that, with his own suffering and death, the new and eternal dispensation which he inaugurates with the Kingdom will be under way.
Ironically, the fulfilment of Jesus’ prophecy is inaugurated by the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the Temple. It inaugurates a new presence of God in the world, a presence in “spirit and in truth”.
However, Jesus’ words could also mean that the Jewish people as a race (here referred to as “this generation”) will continue to exist till the end of time, to the final coming of Jesus.
Lastly, the world in which we live will one day disappear, but the words of Jesus, words of Truth and Life will be forever valid, because they represent a vision of life and those timeless values which we understand as emanating from God and to which every single human being is innately called.
As we come to the end of the Church year it is a time for us to make our decision whether we want to belong to the kingdom that Jesus is inaugurating and not only to belong but also to make its spread our life’s work. Then, no matter when he comes to call us, we are ready.
Why do we want to become Christians? Isn’t it true that it is because we want to find happiness? Obviously, it is not wrong to desire happiness! We are created for happiness. But what is the happiness of a Christian? Certainly it cannot be because we want to have a comfortable life, or because we are blessed with riches or good health and all earthly blessings. Nay, even if we have all these, and even fulfilled our psychological or physical needs, we will still not be truly happy. At the end of the day, even if we were the most successful people, living the most comfortable life, yet deep within us, we may remain empty and unfulfilled.
On the contrary, we are called to participate more and more fully in the paschal mystery which we celebrate each day in the Eucharist. We are called to die to our ego and physical needs. Although we might not suffer persecution like the early Christians in John’s time, yet, dying to self each day is a most trying thing. But is Christian life simply a long burdensome process of slow martyrdom and dying? If that were so, it would seem that Christian life is a pessimistic way of living as there can be no joy in this kind of life. Are we therefore doomed to misery? Where then can we find joy in Christian living?
Today, the Book of Revelation tells us that our hope for lasting happiness can only be found in a New Heaven and a New Earth. But what is this New Heaven and New Earth all about? How do we conceive of this destiny of ours? In the New Heaven, good will triumph over evil; life over death; a bridal relationship with God over an adulterous relationship with false gods. In other words, the happiness of the Christian lies in seeing that goodness, truth and love prevail in humankind. Indeed, John in his vision saw the disappearance of the first heaven and the first earth followed by “the holy city, and the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, as beautiful as a bride all dressed for her husband.”
Heaven is described as intimacy and love with the Lord. To be in heaven is to live in the presence of God, in the House of the Lord. God lives in heaven and on earth then, in the Temple of Jerusalem. Whilst it is true that God lives in a special way now in our churches, especially in the Eucharist, in the New Covenant, the dwelling place of God is in the hearts of those who are receptive to His love. The response in the responsorial psalm says, “Here God lives among his people.” Therefore whoever makes himself pure and holy before the Lord becomes the dwelling place of God. Hence, like the psalmist we are assured that those who yearn and pine for the Lord and cry out to Him, He will come to make His home in them. Everyone, even the sparrow, will find a home in the heart of God. And the good news is that whoever allows God to live in them, they will find strength in Him. “They go from strength to strength.”
In speaking of the new life in the New Heaven and New Earth, it also means that all our good works will somehow follow us to the next life. Yet, it would not be the works in themselves, as human plans and projects remain transient and temporary. What will continue in heaven are our goodness, love, kindness, compassion and generosity. Indeed, St Paul in Romans 14:17-19 describes the Kingdom of God as righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit and not as he said, food and drink. This explains why in the final judgment, as the vision of John has it, “the book of life was opened, and other books opened which were the record of what they had done in their lives, by which the dead were judged.” So what follows us after death is our goodness and not so much the works themselves. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” So those who live His life of love and peace will carry that life beyond this earth and heaven.
But until that day comes, we need not postpone our happiness and joy in life. Already, Jesus tells us that the joy of the Kingdom can be ours. In the parable of the fig tree, he said, “As soon as you see them bud, you know that summer is now near. So when you see these things happening: know that the kingdom of God is near. I tell you solemnly; before this generation has passed away all will have taken place.” Clearly, the joy of the kingdom is experienced the moment we give ourselves in love and service in humility and selflessness.
Consequently, the joy of Christian life must be found in living a life of love and peace. This comes from giving ourselves generously to the service of God and man. It is a joy that comes from freedom from attachment to this worldly life, in total trust and surrender to the Lord as we build the community of love. This is the kind of joy that will last and not the transient happiness of success in earthly achievements or even the material and emotional benefits we derive from such blessings. In this way, we will find Christian life meaningful and at the same time, an anticipation of the eternal kingdom that is to come.
Most of all, the true joy of a Christian is to find peace and security in the House of God. Sharing in His intimate love for us, like a bridegroom for His bride, is such a wonderful experience and true fulfillment in the hearts of every man. No one can find real happiness unless he rests in the Lord, feels loved by Him and who loves Him in return. He is, as the vision of St John describes, “I saw the holy city, and the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, as beautiful as a bride all dressed for her husband.”
The concept of “fire” is used multiple times in the New Testament to refer to a place of final judgment. To list just a few of them:
Matt 5:22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire.
Matt 13:40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age.
Matt 25:41 Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Likewise, the term Hades (other translations use the word Hell) is a word that is also used multiple times in the NT to refer to a place of judgment and torment. Examples:
Matt 11:23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
Luke 10:15 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.
Luke 16:23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.
Acts 2:27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.
Acts 2:31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.
With those scriptures in mind, the Revelation passage throws me for a loop. What causes confusion, for me, is that I’ve always considered Hades and the lake of fire to be the same thing. And if Hades and the lake of fire is the same thing, how can Hades be cast into itself? What’s more confusing to me is, if the “lake of fire” is a physical place that those who are not written in the “Book of Life” will be sent for all eternity, how is it possible to send Death and Hades to that same place?
Harrowing Of Hell: Circle 1, Inferno 4
This event is the supposed descent of Christ–following his crucifixion– into Limbo, when he rescued and brought to heaven (“harrowing” implies a sort of violent abduction) his “ancestors” from the Hebrew Bible. Virgil supplies an eye-witness account, from his partially informed perspective, in Inferno 4.52-63. Since, according to Dante’s reckoning, Christ’s earthly life spanned thirty-four years, the harrowing can be dated to 34 C.E. Only suggested in the Bible, the story of Christ’s post-mortem journey to hell appears in apocrypha–books related to but not included in the Bible–such as the Gospel of Nicodemus. So prominent was this story in the popular and theological imaginations that it was proclaimed as church dogma in 1215 and 1274. Dante’s version of the harrowing, as we see from repeated allusions to the event during the protagonist’s journey, emphasizes the power–in both physical and psychological terms–of Christ’s raid on hell.
Jesus’s Harrowing of Hell in the Christian Apocryphal Tradition
Posted by Laura Gibbs • Jul 1st, 2009
The story of Jesus traveling to the underworld is one of many stories better known through its visual representations throughout the churches in Europe than in any written narrative form.
As I explained in a previous article about Saint Sylvester and the Dragon, much medieval and Renaissance European religion art is based on Christian legends which are not found in the Bible. These include stories of the saints, and also stories taken from books of the Bible which are non-canonical, or which are labeled as “apocryphal” and not printed in most Protestant Bibles, although they might be found in Catholic or Orthodox Bibles. In this article, I would like to consider the “Harrowing of Hell” in which Jesus travels into the underworld to rescue the souls imprisoned there in order to lead them to paradise. This is an example of a story which is better known in its many visual representations throughout the medieval churches of Europe than in any written narrative form.
The Biblical basis for the story is scanty indeed. The descent of Jesus into the underworld forms part of the ancient Apostles’ Creed, where Jesus is said to have “gone down to those beneath” (Latin, descendit ad ínferos). There is a Biblical echo of this statement in Ephesians 4:9: “he descended into the lower parts of the earth” (Latin Vulgate, descendit in inferiores partes terrae). The Latin adjective inferus simply means “lower, below, underneath,” as you can see in the English word “inferior.” Yet in ancient Roman culture, the “underneath world” was already regarded as the abode of the dead, so that the plural form of the adjective, inferi, often stood simply for “the dead.” In English, this same Latin root even gives us the word “inferno,” which has lost its sense of “below,” and instead now refers to any kind of terrible “fire,” not limited to the fires of hell.
The fullest written account of the “Harrowing of Hell” is not found in the Bible, however, but in the non-canonical Gospel of Nicodemus, a text which probably dates back in some form to around the 3rd century or even earlier. Here we read how Jesus, after his crucifixion, descended into hell and brought salvation to the souls of the dead who were prisoners there. The story begins with a dialogue between Hades and Satan, who have heard word that Jesus is coming, which prompts a debate about the power of Jesus. Hades is afraid, because he has heard of the miracles Jesus has performed on earth. Satan, on the other hand, has heard that Jesus was crucified as a common criminal; he is certain that they will be able to bind and subdue Jesus when he arrives in their realm.
When Jesus arrives, Hades bids his servants to bolt and lock the doors, but to no avail; Jesus shatters the gates and enters. He seizes Satan and binds him in iron chains, then consigning him into Hades’s keeping until the second coming. Jesus next turns his attention to the patriarchs. He raises up Adam, along with all the prophets and the saints. Together, they all depart up out of Hades, and ascend into Paradise. (You can read a full account in the Gospel of Nicodemus online.) The “Harrowing of Hell” portion of that Gospel was widely circulated in other compilations of religious literature, most notably in the Golden Legend of the lives of the saints, compiled by Jacob of Voragine in the 13th century.
The literary versions of the “Harrowing of Hell” in turn gave rise to many works of art, including the “mystery play” tradition of medieval religious drama. Most commonly, however, people would learn about Jesus’s descent into the underworld from the artwork which decorated the churches and cathedrals of Europe. In the remainder of this article, I would like to look at ten different visual depictions of the story, to see what details we can observe in each artist’s rendering of the scene.
Let’s start with a modern Orthodox icon. In this very simple depiction, Jesus has broken through the doors to hell which he tramples underfoot (notice the locks all broken asunder), and he rescues Adam and Eve. As often, Adam is shown as an old man, while Eve is young. The traditional name for this scene in the Orthodox tradition is the “Anastasis,” the “Raising Up” as you can see written in the icon itself:
While Adam and Eve are clothed in this icon, they are often shown in the nude, as in this 15th-century wood carving, late 15th century by Veit Stoss from the Mariacki Altarpiece in Cracow, Poland. Notice also here the presence of demons, who are tormenting the dead:
To emphasize that he has only lately been crucified, some depictions emphasize Christ’s wounded hands and feet, as in this 16th-century painting now housed in the Museum of Lille:
While Jesus is often shown trampling the doors to hell underfoot, sometimes he is trampling a demon underfoot, as in this early 14th-century sculpture. Notice also how the scene is paired with the entombment of Christ to the left:
Some depictions combine both the door underfoot and the demon, as in this marvelous piece of 15th-century stained glass in the Church of St. Ethelbert, Hessett, Suffolk. Notice the flames licking out from under the door!
In addition to the demons you might see trampled underfoot or harassing the dead souls, you can also find demons standing off to the side, observing the events, as here in Andrea da Firenze’s famous 14th-century fresco from Santa Maria Novella in Florence, Italy. Here you can see Jesus rescuing a whole crowd of souls from the underworld:
Here is a detailed view of those demons as they watch the proceedings:
Another character who often figures in representations of the harrowing of hell is the “good thief,” Saint Dismas, who was crucified with Jesus. Jesus promises Dismas that “today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Not surprisingly, then, Dismas is also seen journeying with Jesus down into the underworld on their way to paradise. For example, you can see Dismas standing behind Jesus in this woodcut from 1510 by Albrecht Durer:
If you look carefully behind Adam and Eve, you can see Dismas bearing the cross in this mosaic from the Church of San Marco in Venice:
Sometimes Jesus is also accompanied by angels who battle the demons as he leads the soul out from their captivity, as in this painting by Tintoretto from 1568:
As you can see from the quite attractive nude depiction of Eve in Tintoretto’s painting, the story of the Harrowing of Hell provided Renaissance artists a rare opportunity to paint female nudes in a work of religious art. This is carried to extremes, as you can see, in Bronzino’s elaborate crowd scene, painted in 1552 and found in the Refectory of Santa Croce in Florence:
You will observe a remarkable contrast if you compare Bronzino’s R-rated scene to the extremely modest Orthodox icon with which we began this survey, an admittedly brief survey which only begins to hint at the wide range of iconographic styles in which this story has been depicted. As Jesus makes this underworld journey in the imaginations of these many artists over the centuries, he joins the ranks of heroes such as Orpheus and Heracles who also journeyed into the realms of the dead, breaking down the doors between that world and this one in order to rescue the souls who have been imprisoned on the other side. Although this is a not a story about Jesus that you will read about in the Bible, it is nevertheless a very famous one, as told both in words and, even more importantly, in images.
Above: Harrowing of Hell, Art, English, 1190 – 1490
Art: Dante’s Inferno, Circle 8
Tags: Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the pool of fire., “the kingdom of God is near”, Book of Life, Consider the fig tree and all the other trees, Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away, Here God lives among his people, I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded, LK 21:28, Lk 21:29-33, November 25 2016, Prayer and Meditation, Psalm 84, RV 20:1-4 11—21:2, the Holy One see corruption, Then Death and Hades were thrown into the pool of fire, Word Of God