Heidelberg Catechism Lesson 16

Q. 40. Why was it necessary for Christ to humble Himself even unto death?

Because with respect to the justice and truth of God,[1] satisfaction for our sins could be made no otherwise, than by the death of the Son of God.[2]

[1] Genesis 2:17;  [2] Hebrews 2:9–10; Philippians 2:8.

Q. 41. Why was He also “buried”?
Thereby to prove that He was really dead.[1]

[1] Acts 13:29; Mark 15:43, 46.

Q. 42.
Since then Christ died for us, why must we also die?
Our death is not a satisfaction for our sin, but only an abolishing of sin, and a passage into eternal life.[1]

[1] John 5:24; Philippians 1:23.

Q. 43. What further benefit do we receive from the sacrifice and death of Christ on the cross?
That by virtue thereof, our old man is crucified, dead and buried with Him;[1] that so the corrupt inclinations of the flesh may no more reign in us;[2] but that we may offer ourselves unto Him a sacrifice of thanksgiving.[3]

[1] Romans 6:6–7, &c;  [2] Romans 6:12;  [3] Romans 12:1.

Q. 44. Why is there added, “he descended into hell”?
That in my greatest temptations, I may be assured, and wholly comfort myself in this, that my Lord Jesus Christ, by His inexpressible anguish, pains, terrors, and hellish agonies, in which He was plunged during all His sufferings, but especially on the cross, hath delivered me from the anguish and torments of hell.[1]

[1] Isaiah 53:10; Matthew 27:46.


We are continuing with our study on the Humiliation of Christ. We saw last Lord’s Day that Christ’s humiliation begun the minute He was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary, but His sufferings intensified as He headed to the cross where He would die for His sheep. He had to die because the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23)—physical and spiritual. In order to pay for the penalty due to our sin, to satisfy the justice of God, and to propitiate God’s holy wrath against us, Christ had to die. If this is so, it may be asked why must the elect still die, seeing that our Substitute has already been punished. The answer is that death for the saints is not punitive. It is a means by which God puts to death completely our corrupt nature, and an entrance to our eternal home.

In the meantime, the death of Christ has purchased many privileges for His saints. Since they are no more under God’s wrath and curse on account of what Christ did, God the Holy Spirit indwells them and works grace within them so that they die unto sin and are more and more renewed in their minds and transformed in their lives.

An additional question is asked concerning the phrase “He descended into Hell,” which is found in the apostolic Creed as it was received in those days and today as well. This phrase, which did not appear in the earliest versions of the Creed, is variously interpreted by Reformed commentators. In the Westminster Larger Catechism (Q. 50), it is noted that the phrase refers to Christ’s “continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death, till the third day.” Here, in the Heidelberg Catechism, it is taken to refer to the intense suffering of Christ on the cross. Many Presbyterian ministers prefer this view, but as the phrase is not a biblical one, it does not really matter which view is adopted as long as we do not think that Christ literally descended into Hell.