Does the Bible Tell Us the Age of the Earth?
Plus: Our Protestant Bible scholar answers questions about the Second Coming, the Book of Mormon, and the thorn in Paul's flesh.
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In this column, Ben Witherington answers Beliefnet members' questions about:
Did Jesus really go down to Hades--Hell--and preach to the saints before his Ascension? --G. Victor W.
The idea that Jesus went down to Hades and preached to the dead is based on a misunderstanding of 1 Peter 3.19. This text is actually about Jesus proclaiming his triumph to disobedient angels who are incarcerated. The angels in question are those referred to in Genesis 6; they came down to earth and sinned, precipitating the Flood (compare 2 Peter 2.4-5; Jude verse 6).
Many people have certainly interpreted the prophecy you are referring to--one about the rise of a prophet like Moses--in a Messianic way. Of course in the broad sense Jesus was a Jew, and so was of the same lineage as Moses. But it is important to bear in mind that the prophecy in Deuteronomy is not specific; it is more of a character description. The prophet the author has in mind will have certain attributes that Moses also had. Certainly, Jesus had some of these attributes. For example, the feeding of the 5,000 is viewed in the Gospels as an event like the miracle of manna in the wilderness during Moses' day. Or again, many would see the presentation of Jesus' teaching during the Sermon on the Mount as similar to Moses giving the law on Mount Sinai.
We have very few of the prayers of Jesus mentioned in the New Testament, and so silence on this matter does not necessarily mean Jesus would not approve. Much depends on what one would pray about in regard to animals. There surely can be nothing wrong with thanking God for the blessing of animals, or praying for their well-being. What we must keep in mind is that animals, like lower life forms, are not created in the image of God. They do not have the same capacity for relationship with God as humans or angels do.
Nevertheless, some Jewish writers of the Old Testament envisioned that when the Messianic kingdom comes on earth at the end of history, animals would have a place in that realm, with the "lion lying down with the lamb".