To the Greeks, Tartarus was a spiritual prison in the underworld where the Titans were locked up. In the Bible it was the place where God locked up the angels that created the giants of the Old Testament (like Goliath). Genesis called these angels the “sons of God” and Jewish literature said that their judgment for their sin was final.
When Jesus was dead, he went to visit these angels in their prison and remind them that their judgment was still final. Perhaps they thought they had won. After all, the sons of God and the realm of the underworld had brought “thee” Son of God down into the underworld with them. He was dead. They had killed him.
But little did they know that for Jesus, death was simply his Trojan horse to enter into the underworld and overthrow it. Humanity was turned over to death because of sin, but Jesus was a human who hadn’t sinned and therefore wasn’t subject to the curse of death. How did he avoid sin? By being God with flesh on. Satan had overstepped his bounds by entering into Judas to set up the crucifixion and by using the religious folk and the political authorities to crucify him, for you can’t kill a sinless man. And had Satan known what he was doing when he killed Jesus, he would have never done it.
And so, God enters the domain of Satan, tells those in prison that their judgment is still in place, steals the keys of death right from Satan, and does something no human in the underworld has ever done before: He walks right out—which is, in my opinion, one of the most BA parts of the whole Bible.
In my allegorical fiction, I repaint the crucifixion as my Jesus character being eaten by my Satan character, which was a dragon. This actually works pretty well, since the “big fish” that ate Jonah is pictured by the Bible to almost be a monster of sorts that represents the underworld. Jonah was thrown into the sea to his death, was consumed by the underworld, but was then spit out for another chance to do what God called him to do. That’s all the more reason that Jesus said, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
I then repaint the resurrection of Jesus as my Jesus character punching through the dragon’s stomach with a new resurrected, immortal body, ripping the keys of death off the necklace around the dragon’s neck, and ascending into Heaven. That’s kind of what happened during the Holy Weekend. Yes, Satan is still around and now more upset than ever before, causing him to lash out with a vengeance—but at the same time he’s already lost and been beaten up. What power he did have has been stripped from him and so his kingdom will end. He and the underworld have lost and are judged. But Jesus and those of the new Heaven and the new earth and the resurrection live on.
And as always, the invitation for you to join Jesus in his new world in new immortal resurrected bodies is always on the table, even now. And it’s for reasons like all of these that we call the story of Jesus, “Good News.”