A friend of mine asked me a question about Jesus, him being God and his death on the cross and how all this fits into the whole idea of an eternal and immutable God dying. His question specifically was: Can God die? Well, I am going to attempt this question here.
First and foremost, we have to understand that we are like non-living cups (manufactured) trying to discuss a living human being with a conscience as our manufacturer. For that matter then, I would like you and I to understand our natural limitations and at the same time the intentional progressive revelation of this very God who is interested in us knowing him more and more and better and better.
So in case you do not understand this presentation, please record and replay and listen again and again or read again and again. I am sure as you listen and read, the Holy Spirit will be at work to make sure you understand both the said and the unsaid.
The question of whether an eternal God really died on the cross is a Historical and Theological one. So I will be technical and I will select my words specifically to suit the time I have and perhaps my unknown audience out there. The question of whether God died on the cross is not a question about the cross as it is about who God is. Who we know or think God to be, has a lot to contribute to our belief of what happened to him and what could possibly happen to him.
Now we all know that God is eternal and immutable. In fact, the opening verse of the Bible says: In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. I want you to note that not even space was before God. God was before anything. From this, we know that God never began but rather he is the beginning of everything. He was never caused but he is the cause of every positivity. So if he created all things, then we can conclude that the whole universe is not beyond or outside God. Everything is founded on God. If God dies, everything dies with Him. Obviously, then, God could not have perished on the cross.
We have to come to grips with this truth that the image of God we have in mind is an experiential one and not necessarily who God is. In other words, what am trying to tell you is that God cannot fit into our narrow perspectives and neither can we completely grasp who he is naturally and substantially just as manufactured cups cannot essentially and substantively understand who human beings are.
Throughout history, since man was created in the image of God (which means man has the ability to think about his thoughts and reflect on issues and then reproduce all that through language), he has struggled with the mystery of who his creator is and all we have today are revelatory particles of what man has discovered about this creator. I call them revelatory particles because ever since the inception of man, man has never fully and completely established who God is essentially and substantively.
The Apostle Paul put it better when he said: Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1Corinthians 13:12 NIV). What we know about God and who he is, is limited to his initiatives through his phenomenological acts in the events that have shaped our history and present. What the sensible majority of this universe knows is that there is a God and that God is the creator of everything. The second thing that the sensible majority agrees on is that the ultimate problem of man which is Death. On how to solve this ultimate problem of man, many worldviews have emerged.
As a Christian theologian, my worldview looks at Death as the ultimate problem and God, as the ultimate solution. According to the Bible, for God to solve the problem (Death) of man, he (God) had to die. And if he overcame death then he would be the savior of man from his ultimate problem. But for God to die, he had to become vulnerable to death and for him to die he had to become man.
As you can see, to save man you need to be man, share their experience and persuade them. So no beast can represent man, and no supernatural being (even God himself in his substantial celestial nature) could qualify to save man. So God had to qualify to be our savior by becoming one of us. This is what the Bible wants us to understand when the scriptures in Philippians 2:5-8 say: Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!
Jesus was God who had become like one of us. He was he who was in the very nature of God but who took on the nature of man. He is the God who stooped very low to reach man. The Bible continues to say in John 1:1, 14 that: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. It is this very God of all the beginning that became flesh and dwelt among us. So the man we know as Jesus Christ was 100% God and 100% man.
The Bible says in Colossians 2:9 that: For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. How this could be, the Bible says it is a mystery of godliness, as it is in 1Timothy 3:16: Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body. The theological technical term for this process is known as Incarnation.
What sets God’s incarnation from all other reincarnations – of other small gods of cults and religions – is that our God never began. He was God from the beginning but again a real man, born and raised with real life experiences and limitations like all other men, not some sort of spirit or ghost or other reincarnations that appear in beasts like cows, elephants, etc. or in specific places and events like the Hindus and other Eastern religions believe.
The incarnation of God is the qualification of him as the savior representative of man. So we were not just represented by another fellow man but by the very God who created us. For no man could save fellow men, but only God incarnate. That is why the Bible says in Hebrews 2:14-15 that: Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil–and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
We must understand as the Old Testament puts it in various scriptures (Numbers 23:19, 1Samuel 15:29, Hosea 11:1-9) that God is not man, and alternatively in all texts the O.T uses either ADAMAH or ISH in all verses. However, it does not say that God can never become man or never appeared in the form of man purposely (Deuteronomy 4:9-20, Numbers 12:5-8, 17:13-15, Exodus 24:1-2, 9-18, Genesis 18:1-33, Genesis 19:1-5, Ezekiel 1:26-28, 2:1-5, Genesis 32:24-30, Exodus 15:3, Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14, Isaiah 9:1-2, 6-7).
However, we have to understand that while the Bible establishes that God is not man, it does not say anywhere that he cannot purposely become man. So the New Testament tells us that this God who is not man essentially man became man in order to qualify as a solution to man’s problem. Now I have to mention that, the incarnation of God has in past attracted many heresies but I will briefly discuss three of them that I know:
- Apollinarianism: This view holds that in one person, Christ (the Incarnate God) had the human but with a divine mind and Spirit. This view is not true because Christ could not qualify to be the second Adam if he was not fully man. In fact, the Bible says: Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17 RSV). So God incarnate was not a half human and half God.
- Nestorianism: This heresy about the incarnation of God argues that there were two separate persons in Christ. This is to say in Jesus was two split persons and personalities, two natures (Human nature and Divine Nature) utilizing the same space. This is not true because Christ was a unit person who acted in wholeness. Jesus was not a superman or a bionic man, he was a man that God had become. Look at this discussion in John 10:30-33: I and the Father are one.” Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” Jesus was not two in one, but rather two that shrunk and became one in substance. This is why we see Jesus suffering human limitations, we all know no God could.
- Monophysitism (Eutychianism): this view held that Christ’s separate Human nature and his separate Divine nature combined and developed a New Nature made up one nature which was divine. So Christ was fundamentally divine. This heresy should be rejected because it denies both the humanity and divinity of Christ Jesus. It directly says he was neither truly God nor absolutely man. The Bible warns us against whoever denies this God in the flesh in these words: This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. (1John 4:2-3 NIV). All we can see is that Jesus was God in flesh.
In fact, in the early centuries of the church, out of the heresy of Monophysitism (Eutychianism) arose two other heresies in the attempt of answering the question of whether God died on the cross and these were Patripassianism and Theopassianism. Since Patripassianism was a Trinitarian, it insisted that God the father representatively suffered through the suffering of his son. a pain more than that a parent would go through while their children hurt, for this, the Patripassianism argued that it was more than an emotional pain, but God the Father went through exactly what the son suffered physically.
Because this was a sect that maintained that Christ had only one nature which was the divine, Theopassianism taught that God Himself and not God incarnate suffered death on the cross. This is sect was heretic because it denied the full-fledged incarnation of God. They argued that God in his absolute celestial divine nature (as we can imagine it), suffered (theos paraskien) at the crucifixion.
According to the Dictionary of Sects, Heresies, Ecclesiastical Parties, and Schools of Religious Thought, page. 594. This heresy was first maintained in its extreme form by Peter Fullo the monophysite patriarch of Antioch. Theopassianism was condemned and rejected by a church council held at Rome in A.D 862 for two reasons: first, they directly or implicitly denied the incarnation of God and secondly, they separated natures in the passion at the crucifixion.
Sometimes people will say that Jesus can’t be God because Jesus died and God cannot die. What they fail to know however is that: the incarnation is the miracle of the eternal creator becoming fully a creature and bringing all the fullness of God into the human body. The infinite, omnipotent, eternal God became man and joined himself to a human nature so that the infinite God became one person with finite man. Theologians call this the hypostatic union.
It is important that we understand that our salvation procedurally required of any savior candidate to be man. The savior of man had to be man. The Adam race could not be ransomed by any other being not of its kind. For that matter, if God who was and is not mankind wanted to save mankind, he had to become man so as to qualify to be man’s vicarious representative. That is what the Bible means when it says that: the word who is God became flesh and dwelt among us. And Apostle Paul also confirms this by saying in 2Corinthians 5:18 that: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself”.
For to save mankind you had to be one of them, and share their experiences. Why? Because of two reasons: first, man is a supra-conscience being and secondly, it was because only man in the entire creation was guilty. This is what necessitated the miracle of the incarnation. It is a miracle because a virgin conceived: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14 NIV). Because no equally guilty man could save another culprit yet it had to be a man to represent another man, God became man. If you say that someone is the incarnation of a particular quality, you mean that they represent that quality or are typical of it in an extreme form. God, therefore, was a typical man.
So it is at this point that I answer the question: DID GOD DIE ON THE CROSS? My answer is an emphatic YES. God died in flesh. “He cried out “it is finished.” He cried out once more to His Father saying, “Into Your hands I commit My Spirit” and then breathed His last and died. He determined the exact time to dismiss His own Spirit (no ordinary man can make this happen). No mere man can have control of His Spirit and determine the time of His own death by speaking. Only God has this ability.
In John 10:18: Jesus said “no one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of myself.” About his body, he challenged his killers by these words: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:19-22 NIV)
He remained assured of his future when he made good on His promise to the believing thief on the cross, that they were both going to be in paradise (Luke 23:43). Revelation.1:18 says of Jesus “I am He who lives and was dead, and behold I Am alive forever more.” The same is mentioned in Revela.4:8-9 “who was and is and is to come.” God became man and died, the very God that the Bible says: “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Risked and died for his people.
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?” my answer to this is that YES, God died. Unless we argue that God was not incarnate even at the cross. But if he was incarnate, then he died at the cross and our salvation is made complete by the miracle of the resurrection. God died and vanished to nothingness in pursuit of his lost and loved one known as man. And for one and a half days, the universe was without God. There was tension in heaven as Revelation 5 reports and celebration on earth and in hell. This is what Good Friday is all about. The power of Christianity is in the resurrection Sunday because when he resurrected he said: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Mathew 28:18 RSV).
On earth and in death, he had not all authority until he resurrected. Philippians 2:10 crowns this by saying that: at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth. The significance is not merely on the fact that the man called Jesus Christ of Nazareth came back to life, but rather on the truth that Jesus Christ of Nazareth was God incarnate. This God died, the world became hopeless and this very God resurrected, came back to life and took charge forever and ever more. Amen.
Friend, the Bible says: if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. (1Corinthians 15:14 KJV) Paul wanted us to know, that if God did not die, but it was the body that died, then he did not resurrect but he resuscitated just as Lazarus did and others (1Kings 17:22, 2Kings 4:32-35, 2Kings 13:20,21, John 11:41-44, Luke 8:52-55, Luke 7:14,15, Acts 9:40,41, Acts 20:9-11).
God Bless you; I invoke Truth, Wisdom and Faith
Am Pr. I.T.WHITE
The Gospel Hawker