Is the cross of Christ (i.e. what he gave up and experienced) diminished by affirming that God the Son died as a human being but his divine nature did not die?
That’s what my response to an email is about.
Yesterday I preached on the Incarnation of Christ: One Person, Two Natures ( see audio 11-25-07 at http://www.agccsouthbay.org/listen.html). I must say what a joy it is to have people so engrossed in a Sunday morning sermon that deals with the toughest of all theological topics. After a two-hour discussion with Peter, where he was trying to work through but not yet buying my statement that “the divine nature of Jesus did not die on the cross,” he sent me the following link and asked me “how I would respond” to it. So read the short statement of John MacArthur here http://www.biblebb.com/files/macqa/1301-T-12.htm: then read my response down below.
Your comments or criticisms are a welcome reply.
The following “Question” was asked by a member of the congregation at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, and “Answered” by their pastor, John MacArthur Jr. It was transcribed by Anjela Paje of Spokane, WA, from the tape, GC 1301-T, titled “Bible Questions and Answers Part 22.” A copy of the tape can be obtained by writing, Word of Grace, P.O. Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412 or by dialing toll free 1-800-55-GRACE. ©1982. All Rights Reserved.
Did God die on the cross, or just the humanness of Christ die, and if no, then what was the purpose of the incarnation?
Did God die on the cross? For a moment, we have to say yes. Because Jesus died on the cross and Jesus was God. And, death, basically, means what? Separation from God. Was Jesus separated from God? ‘My God, My God, why hast thou what? Forsaken me?’ He was separated from God. He died. And, the Bible says He died, over and over, and over, and over, and over, doesn’t it? He died. He died. He died, and He was Jesus Christ. You cannot separate Jesus Christ’s humanness from His deity. You cannot cut Him up. He was Jesus Christ, the God-man and He died. So, yes, God died on the cross.
Now, how you separate one member of the trinity from the rest, I don’t know, but I do not really worry about it because if God expected me to know it, He would have told me, or given me the ability to think it through, and I haven’t. All I know is, He did die on the cross. He was separated from the Father, and, yet, one with the Father, and I don’t understand that, and I am not going to be worried about not understanding it. It is not God’s problem. It is mine. I just do not have what it takes.
But, it is important to know that God did die on the cross, right?
Well, of course. Otherwise, all you’ve got is a human sacrifice, a human martyr up there. The weight of sin of all the sins, of all the world killed Jesus Christ.
So, the death of just the humanness of Christ would not have atoned for all the sins of the world?
There is nothing about Jesus that you can separate out and talk only of His humanness. He is a whole person.
I just want to get that clarified because a lot of people said that He did die just in His humanness and I said, “No.”
No. But, you see, His spirit isn’t dead because when His body is dead on the cross, as we saw earlier, His spirit descends and proclaims a victory over the demons, and so, yes, He died, but remember now, this is not our definition necessarily, or our perception. But, surely, He died. It says He died, and He was separated from the Father.
Joe’s Response: I find what I read of MacArthur’s answer to be shallow. The answer lacks such theological precision that his answer is open to real non-sense concerning the nature of the God-Head. And the answer seems to not want to interact at all with the Chalcedonian creed of 451…..and that’s problematic.
I know what it is to “Know” that I am a monotheist. Yet there are many non-christian people in general and Jews and Muslems in particular that would say to me that because I believe that God (the One true God) is “One in essence” and “Three in person” (the Essence is One and the Persons are distinct from each other) that it is nonsense and I am not a monotheist. What do I do? I know that if they intellectually and spiritually understood what I meant and what I see when I talk like that, then they would say “ah ha.” But I will continue to fear (especially as a preaching pastor) to deny the truth that God is a Trinity from all eternity.
Anyone who would say that I contend that it was someone less than God himself who died on the cross would be either deliberately mis-representing me or showing (like non-trinitarians) they have not yet “Come to Terms” (“How to Read a Book” by Mortimer J. Adler, pp.96-113) with what I and Orthodox christianity are saying.
Over serious topics, I hate ambiguity. And I found the transcript of the questions and John M. answers to be filled with ambiguity. In other words, I wonder if what Mac. and the questioner think that what they are trying to protect against is the heretical teaching from the 4th and 5th centuries that would teach there was a Divine Jesus and a Human Jesus and the person who died was the human Jesus and not the divine Jesus. If that is what they mean, then I I fully agree that we should come against such unbiblical teaching.
One reason God the Son had to become human was because God (i.e. the nature of Godness) can’t die. So how is it that God the son could become the savior through a sacrificial death? Answer “He” (there is only one “He”) had to become human. So on the cross that one “He” (God the Son) Died. Joe, are you saying that God himself did not die and bear the wrath of God? NO!!!!!!!! I’m saying that God Himself did bear the wrath of God and did suffer our punishment and died. But the essence of God, i.e. the “nature” of God did not die because that’s an impossibility. That’s why God became “Man”….took to His one Person “true Humanity”. So that the eternal second “Person” of the Trinity could become the second “Adam” “Man” and thus be our representitive as the first “Adam” was. One of the main things He did was to make propitiation for our sins…i.e., as the sinless substitute, He bore (received, experienced) the wrath of God against sinners. Who experienced this unimaginable separation from the father because of our sin? Answer: God the Son did! The second person of the Holy Trinity did! No one less than He. How was he able to do that? Answer by becoming human.
So we can say that in his human nature, God the Son Died. But with respect to his Divine Nature, that nature did not die……..because it was impossible for the divine nature to die.
So the one eternal second person of the Trinity really, actually, experienced separation from the Father (“my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”; me who? The one who has eternally enjoyed delightful communion with the Father). Besides the spiritual separation, this one divine person in his human nature experienced a death that is like the one we as believers experience. And it is not correct to say that Jesus’ divine nature died, or could die if by “die” we mean a cessation of activity, consciousness working through a human brain.
In my sermon on Sunday I said very deliberately and purposefully that what is true or experienced by one or the other of Jesus’ two distinct natures is to be affirmed about the one person. So I’m not willing to say that the essence of the God head died (Three persons, One essence; that one essence didn’t die). Yet, because of the union with His human nature (i.e. a union united in the One Person) His divine nature somehow tasted the horrific impact of the wrath of God and human suffering and death…….without God, who is One, ceasing to exist or becoming anything less than God…who by definition is Trinity. I’m willing to live with mystery with out becoming nonsensical by saying that the divine nature died. I’m willing to go as far as Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology: “Therefore, even though Jesus’ divine nature did not actually die, Jesus went through the experience of death as a whole person [there is only one], and both human and divine natures somehow shared in that experience.” What is true of the experience of the one person in his human nature is to be affirmed of the one person who also has a full divine nature…and what is true of the experience of the one person in his divine nature is to be affirmed of the one person who also (now) has a full human nature.
© 2007, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.