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Did God Die on the Cross?

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  • Did God Die on the Cross?

    R.C. Sproul

    The famous hymn of the church “And Can it Be?” contains a line that asks a very poignant question : “How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?” Is it accurate to say that God died on the cross?

    This kind of expression is popular in hymnody and in grassroots conversation. So although I have this scruple about the hymn and it bothers me that the expression is there, I think I understand it, and there’s a way to give an indulgence for it.

    We believe that Jesus Christ was God incarnate. We also believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross. If we say that God died on the cross, and if by that we mean that the divine nature perished, we have stepped over the edge into serious heresy. In fact, two such heresies related to this problem arose in the early centuries of the church: theopassianism and patripassianism. The first of these, theopassianism, teaches that God Himself suffered death on the cross. Patripassianism indicates that the Father suffered vicariously through the suffering of His Son. Both of these heresies were roundly rejected by the church for the very reason that they categorically deny the very character and nature of God, including His immutability. There is no change in the substantive nature or character of God at any time.

    God not only created the universe, He sustains it by the very power of His being. As Paul said, “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). If the being of God ceased for one second, the universe would disappear. It would pass out of existence, because nothing can exist apart from the sustaining power of God. If God dies, everything dies with Him. Obviously, then, God could not have perished on the cross.

    Some say, “It was the second person of the Trinity Who died.” That would be a mutation within the very being of God, because when we look at the Trinity we say that the three are one in essence, and that though there are personal distinctions among the persons of the Godhead, those distinctions are not essential in the sense that they are differences in being. Death is something that would involve a change in one’s being.

    We should shrink in horror from the idea that God actually died on the cross. The atonement was made by the human nature of Christ. Somehow people tend to think that this lessens the dignity or the value of the substitutionary act, as if we were somehow implicitly denying the deity of Christ. God forbid. It’s the God-man Who dies, but death is something that is experienced only by the human nature, because the divine nature isn’t capable of experiencing death.

  • #2
    Did God Die on the Cross?

    The simple answer is yes and is explained as follows:

    Jesus is God.
    Jesus died on the Cross.
    therefore:
    God died on the Cross.

    A full response needs to start with an understanding of death and an understanding of Jesus, and therefore an understanding of how our definition of death applies to Jesus .

    Firstly what do we mean by death. There are two ways of looking at this and since they occur at the same time we can end up with two different understandings of death.

    Death can be understood medically as the body ceasing to function. In recent years (because of medical advances in keeping some functions operative) this has come to mean that all brain function ceases. This understanding focuses solely on the body.

    Historically, in Christianity death is the separation of body and soul. The body becomes corrupt but the soul lives on.

    On the cross therefore Jesus died because his human body and human soul separated. The person, Jesus, was God (second person of the Trinity) and therefore it is correct to say that God died on the cross.

    However his divine person remained united to his human body as well as his human soul. So perhaps we can say that God (the Son) in his divinity did not die, but God (the Son) in his humanity did experience death. However as we cannot separate Jesus’ divinity and his humanity it is correct to say that God died on the cross.
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    • #3
      If God died on the cross, the universe would cease to exist. The human form died on the cross, and briefly, Jesus was separated from the Father (Why hast thou forsaken me?) when He became sin, but the Father and Holy spirit did not die. The Son rose on the third day and lives today. Jesus is part of the eternal Godhead, which is a mystery. Jesus defeated death on the cross in our place.
      Comment>

      • #4
        Perhaps it’s a matter of the words we use.

        If we think of death as ceasing to exist then God cannot cease to exist.

        If we define death as separation of body and soul then I believe that I do not cease to exist when I die. My soul continues to live when my body ceased to function. In the same way when Jesus died he suffered the separation of his human body from his human soul. He therefore died just as we die. And Jesus is God

        Of course that does not mean that God the Father died or that God the Holy Spirit died, or that the Second Person (Jesus) ceased to exist.

        “But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.” (Acts 3:14-15).

        The ‘Author of life’ that was killed was Jesus who is God.

        We cannot separate Jesus as a person into a human person and a divine person. That was the heresy of Nestorianism
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        • #5
          God's higher workings (example: Ruling over His Providence) during His rest on the Sabbath went on. Likewise, during the physical death of Jesus Christ His divine nature continued. I think, R.C. Sproul clarified a lot of misconception, and both Strat and Bede have contributed to the discussion and opened it for further dialogue.

          The Hypostatic-Union can help us understand Jesus' divine and human nature. The Second Person of the Trinity or Logos took upon the flesh. He was born or begotten before all the creation, before any creature was made; which is the Scripture way of representing eternity, and by which the eternity of God is represented to us. All things being created by Him, were created for him; being made by his power, they were made according to his pleasure, and for his praise and glory. He not only created them all at first, but it is by the word of his power that they are upheld - Link.17" class="rtBibleRef">Colossians 1:17. If we ask can the Logos/Word die we must acknowledge Scripture such as - Link.3" class="rtBibleRef">John 1:3. That's our God in Link.1" class="rtBibleRef">John 1:1 through Link.14" class="rtBibleRef">John 1:14 that died, but I believe me saying that God died would be a misconception.

          What did Jesus mean when He said, "Father, why hast thou forsaken me?" Well, lemme begin by saying that at no time had the Trinity ceased to be. When Jesus was forsaken He was placed on the seat of Judgment of God. Not in the same way where He was seated at the Right Hand, but to feel the full wrath of God, for Christ undertook the office of Mediator on the condition of suffering our condemnation. The Divine nature gave way to the weakness of the flesh. I think it important to note that Jesus' faith remained uninjured, so that, while He complained of being forsaken, He still relied on the aid of God at hand. Again, the Hypostatic-Union (Jesus' Two Nature - divine and human) are at work.

          We must also remember that Jesus did not have a Sin Nature, but a Divine Nature. Jesus was not tempted as we are, but this is not meant to detract from His temptation. He was tempted beyond what we are tempted. Satan himself in raw form appeared to Him numerous times and He was tempted by ways only God could be subjected through His dominion. Ultimately, I believe Jesus having died on the cross is a mystery, but Jesus having died in the Hypostatic-Union sense is not meant to detract from Jesus' death, I acknowledge nothing less than a mystery was on the cross and two natures of the Second Person simultaneously at work in the Trinity.
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