In our studies of the Apostles’ Creed, we have reached the statement “[He] Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell: The third day he rose again from the dead…”

The Apostles’ Creed tells us nothing about Christ’s childhood and adolescence. It leaps straight from the miraculous conception and birth of Christ to this statement, and in that respect, it echoes the Gospel writers, who give us similarly very little information about Jesus’s younger days (see Luke 2 for what information we do have.) That may frustrate our curiosity, but the Gospel writers were far more interested in the ministry of Jesus and even more than that, they were interested in the final weeks of His life. They knew, without a shadow of a doubt, what is important in this great story and what is important are these key elements highlighted in the Creed.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate
Pontius Pilate is not, in many ways, a key figure in the Gospels. We know very little about him from these accounts, though he is mentioned in all 4 Gospels: in Matthew 27, in Mark 15, in Luke 3 and in Luke 23 and in John 18 and 19. Apart from the Gospels, he is mentioned briefly by the historians Tacitus and Josephus, and there is an inscription known as the ‘Pilate Stone’ which confirms his title as that of a ‘prefect’ (or governor.) Luke tells us in Luke 3 that the ministry of John the Baptist and ultimately that of Jesus started “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas” (Luke 3:1-2). It seems Pilate became governor or prefect in about AD 26 and was in authority for about 10 years. A governor had four main tasks, being responsible for the taxes and acting as the Roman Emperor’s personal finance agent; being an accountant who had to deal with local building projects; being in charge of the army in that area and acting as the province’s senior judge. He features in the Gospels because of his role in the trial of Jesus, which was connected with his role as judge.

Pilate’s authority is invoked because the Jews are following their own agenda and they want the authority to kill this man. Pilate does not seem to want to execute Jesus, recognising that he has done nothing worthy of death. He tries to negotiate with the chief priests and scribes to have Jesus released (Mark 15:9-15), but ultimately he ignores his own conscience which tells him this man has done nothing wrong (John 19:6), his wife’s pleas to have nothing to do with this innocent man (Matt 27:19) and despite his attempts to absolve himself of blame (Matt 27:24), he wants to please the people more than he wants to do the right thing. As such, he is remembered for his part in the death of Christ, giving us a fixed point in history for Christ’s death, showing us that Christ did indeed live on earth, suffer and die under his authority.

He was crucified, dead and buried
In six short words, the Apostles’ Creed sums up how the plan of salvation was worked out. It tells us the method of Jesus’s death: that barbaric death used by Romans at this time, usually to punish slaves, pirates and enemies of the state. Crucifixion was considered a most shameful and disgraceful way to die, and for Jews it was especially horrific for they remembered Deut 21:23 which said “anyone who is hung on a pole [tree] is under God’s curse”. Crucifixion was a painful and terrible way to day, but this is the method of death which our Lord suffered for our sakes. Paul reminds us of the reason behind the Crucifixion in Gal 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” Paul has come to see that even the method of Christ’s death is significant. No one could get to God through their own righteousness and therefore every single one of us was condemned, because the righteous law said “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” (Gal 3:10, quoting Deut 27:26). Yet as Christ hung on the tree, He was taking the punishment that should have been ours, becoming a curse for us so that we might not be cursed. Paul goes on to say “He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Gal 3:14).

Jesus really did die. He did not just swoon or faint on the cross, but was fully dead when taken down – the Romans didn’t bungle the death penalty, because they were likely to suffer it themselves if they did! Not only did He die, but He was buried (see John 19:38-42, Matt 27:59-66). Naturally speaking, there was no way out of the tomb!

He descended into hell
This phrase is probably the most controversial in the Apostles’ Creed, mainly because there are different interpretations as to what is meant by ‘hell’. One writer says, “To some, the descent into hell represents the physical agony of death upon the Cross. It was hellish in its pain. To others, the word hell means Hades or Sheol, the collective abode of the dead, divided into Paradise or Abraham’s Bosom–the state of God-fearing souls–and Gehenna, the state of ungodly souls. Thus the descent into hell may suggest that the Son of God carried the sins of the world to hell; or the Son of God carried Good News of deliverance to the godly dead such as Lazarus the beggar and the repentant thief. A third-century Syrian Creed speaks of Jesus, “who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and departed in peace, in order to preach to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the saints concerning the end of the world and the resurrection of the dead. Others believe that the descent into hell accounts for the problem of God’s justice by providing an opportunity for all mankind–in eternity as well as in time–to hear the message of redemption from the Word Himself. ” ( These are the range of beliefs commonly held about this phrase in the Creed, derived from passages such as Matt 12:39-40, 1 Pet 3:18-20 and Ephesians 4:9-10.

Jesus is Lord of all and His proclamation to imprisoned spirits indicates the triumph of the Cross. (Col 2:15)

On the third day he rose again from the dead
Peter told the crowd on the day of Pentecost:
“This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Acts 2:23-24)
The resurrection of Christ was a real, bodily, physical resurrection. Christ appeared to His disciples on many occasions and as Paul expounds in 1 Corinthians 15, without the resurrection of Christ our faith is in vain. The resurrection shows us that Christ’s sacrifice for sin was acceptable to God and gives us hope that death does not have the final word. Christ the Lord is risen today!

“Love’s redeeming work is done, hallelujah
Fought the fight, the battle won, hallelujah
Death in vain forbid Him rise. hallelujah
Christ has opened Paradise” (Aaron Shust, ‘Risen Today’)