At this time of year, farmers harrow their fields to smooth out, warm, and aerate the soil for planting. The word “harrowing” also refers to a painful or distressing event.
A third, older, meaning is about the harrying of an enemy, attacking or raiding them. This is the meaning associated with the term “the harrowing of hell” which the Lord carried out after His crucifixion. According to Wiktionary, this refers to “Christ's ravaging or hostile incursion of Hell, conducted between His crucifixion and resurrection, in which He liberated the souls of the righteous held captive by Satan.”
Although the biblical references to this event are slight and disputed, it has been a part of Christian traditional beliefs from the very beginning, included in the oldest creeds. The Lutheran “Formula of Concord” has the clearest description: "We believe simply that the entire person, God, and human being, descended to Hell after His burial, conquered the devil, destroyed the power of Hell, and took from the devil all his power." (Solid Declaration, Art. IX)
Interestingly, the Writings not only confirm this tradition but describe it in detail in many passages.
“At the time of the Lord's First Coming the hells had risen so high that they filled the entire world of spirits that is midway between heaven and hell. They not only wrecked the heaven called the lowest heaven, they also attacked the middle heaven and harassed it in a thousand ways. If the Lord had not preserved it, it would have been destroyed.
“[2] The reason why the hells had risen so high was that by the time the Lord came into the world the whole planet had completely alienated itself from God by worshiping idols and practicing sorcery. After death, they arrived in the world of spirits. Over time they grew in numbers there to such an extent that they could not have been driven out thereafter if God Himself had not come down and used the power of His divine arm to deal with them. The Lord in fact did so, as I have described in Last Judgment, a little work published in London in 1758. While the Lord was in the world, He accomplished their overthrow.
The Lord is again doing something similar today since, as I said, today is His Second Coming.
“A difference is that during His First Coming the hells were swollen with idol worshipers, sorcerers, and falsifiers of the Word. During this Second Coming the hells are swollen with so-called Christians - some who are steeped in materialist philosophy, and others who have falsified the Word by using it to sanction their made-up faith about three divine persons from eternity and about the Lord's suffering as the true redemption. The dragon and his two beasts in Revelation 12 and 13 mean the so-called Christians just mentioned.” (True Christianity 121)
In a sense, this harrowing continues today. It is interesting to consider the changes in human misconceptions, and the evils associated with them, between the first and second comings, and what the case might be among us today. Happily, a third coming is not needed because the Heavenly Doctrine sheds light in a way that will not diminish over time – if we can understand and apply it.