I’ve written previously about Jesus’s bravery since he knew the brutal, torturous death that awaited him, yet he strengthened his resolve and set his face toward Jerusalem anyway. I am still amazed by and thankful for this.
But this week, I read Timothy Keller’s excellent book, Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions. In it, he provided fascinating speculation regarding Jesus’s desperate prayer in the garden of Gethsemane the night his terrible ordeal began, as recounted in Matthew 26:36-46. Keller wondered if maybe the reason Jesus’s prayer time was stressful to the point of sweating blood was that he was being given a glimpse into hell, a foretaste of the separation from God that would become the worst part of his crucifixion.
This got me thinking. God is above and outside of time, so every moment that ever was or ever will be are present before God at the same time. Since Jesus has always been part of the triune God, this would apply to him as well, except during the time that he had stepped down from his glorious throne to live among us. During that time, he was subject to the normal space-time continuum we all live within.
So, on the cross, Jesus took on all of our sins, which caused him to be separated from God. I assume this is why the Apostles’ Creed declares that “he descended into hell”–because he was separated from God. I started wondering, what if during this time, Jesus returned to his state of being outside of time? In one sense, then, during his 2.5 days in hell, he could see everyone who would ever go there show up on the doorstep.
Then the thought occurred to me that maybe we will all begin our journey into eternity at the gates of hell, instead of this notion of the “pearly gates” of heaven, since hell is where we all belong, were it not for Jesus’s redeeming work for us on the cross. So, then, what if we start at the gates of hell, with Satan’s greasy grasp trying to drag us in? But since Jesus is there at the moment of our arrival, he is able to grab hold of us and escort us into heaven where we belong, but only because we have accepted him as our Lord and Savior and therefore have received his sacrifice on our behalf.
I recognize that my musing may have some theological holes, not the least of which is that it seems to imply that Jesus is in hell for all of eternity, which of course is not true. But hey, it was just my imagination churning on the idea that Jesus was getting a glimpse into hell.
In any case, in my view, this whole speculation–Keller’s and mine–further adds to the mystique of Jesus’s heroism. Not only did he know the horrible death that awaited him, but he also got a taste of how utterly lonely and desperately bleak it would be to be separated from God for his first time ever.
Maybe Jesus saw all of this as he was praying for this cup to be taken from him. He was pleading for another way.
When no other option was offered, he did what he knew he needed to do. For you and for me. He glimpsed into hell and saw us there, about to enter into an eternity of agony. And he said, “Take me instead.”
If that’s not a hero, I don’t know what is.