In this 8th Grade lesson, we examine the Creed on Jesus' Death and Descent to the Dead. We will learn about the Jewish beliefs about the afterlife which precluded their belief in Jesus' mission and compare them to the Catholic Church's teachings on eternal life.
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In the Gospel of John we find the story of Jesus driving the money changers out of the Temple courtyard. Facing an incredulous crowd, we read the following exchange (2:18-21):
The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body.
The Hebrews had difficulty understanding Jesus’ meaning for a number of reasons. One of the primary reasons is that their concept of the afterlife was different from what we have come to profess.
The Hebrews didn’t believe in Hell. Biblical Jews believed in a shadowed place where the dead dwelt called Sheol, but they did not associate reward or punishment with it. Later Jewish scholarship decided that there was more to the afterlife: upon death, a person could have one of three things happen to him. If the person had been righteous, he would enter Gan Eden, or a heavenly “Garden of Eden.” If the person had been purely evil, then he would violently cease to exist. For the person who was in between, there was Gehinnom. This was the place of purification. Generally believed to last up to 12 months, the soul would be purified of any unaddressed sins in life and then moved up to Gan Eden (also known as Olam Ha-Ba). If for some reason the soul can’t be purified in Gehinnom, it is then destroyed as the purely evil are.
By Jesus’ bodily death, His descent into Hell, and His rising three days later, we are taught that the afterlife is quite different.
Death does not end Existence
After Jesus died on the Cross His body was laid in the tomb, but His soul was still active. This means that Jesus was not truly dead. We profess this because Jesus was God, Who is eternal, but also because man is created for eternal life. It is one of the ways that we are made in His image and likeness. No soul is destroyed, which means that there must be places where people spend their eternal existence after physical death.
Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell
Both the Hebrews and the followers of Christ believe in an afterlife. Both also agree that there is a place where people are eternally rewarded. For the Hebrews, it is Olam Ha-Ba, or Gan Eden. It is, in a sense, the restoration of the Eden that Adam and Eve enjoyed before th... Please purchase this lesson to continue learning.
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