The following is a scenario that is anticipated to arise in a Bible class discussion of Jesus of Nazareth’s death.
Andy: (Referring to the following verses on a class handout: John 3:16-17, 1 Tim 2:5-6, Romans 5:18, 2 Cor. 5:14-15, Hebrews 2:9, 1 John 2:2, John 12:32, 2 Peter 2:1) Scripture teaches that on the cross, the Son of God died as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. This is in opposition to the Calvinist teaching that Jesus only died for those that will be with Christ for all eternity.
Bill: Andy, I agree that Scripture teaches universal or general atonement, but I have a question about your statement that the Son of God died. Technically, the Son of God only died according to his human nature. Isn’t that right?
Andy: That’s a good question. I’ve heard this question before from someone who sent me an email after reading my book. He questioned a line that I wrote in which I said, “In Christ, the divine nature was put to death with his human nature.” Let me get a gauge here with where everyone is at on this concept, how would you respond to that statement? “In Christ, the divine was put to death with his human nature.” True or false?
Nancy: I would think like Bill… that Jesus only died as a human, not as God.
Jack: Yea, it was only as a human that Jesus suffered and died, not as God.
Andy: Why would you say that, Jack?
Jack: Because God can’t be tempted, God can’t get tired, God can’t get hungry, God can’t bleed, God can’t die. And so that’s why Jesus had to become human, so that he could do these things to be our savior.
Andy: Is that what you are thinking too Nancy and Bill?
Nancy and Bill: Yeah.
Andy: Does anyone want to answer true?
Megan: I think the answer is true, because Jesus is one person with two natures. He’s fully God and fully man. That’s why I’ve heard him called the God-Man. It seems that what happens to Jesus happens to both natures.
Andy: What Megan has stated does express how the historic church has understood the union of the two natures of Jesus. Jack was right when he said that it is impossible for God to be tired, hungry, thirsty, tempted, and killed. So Bill and Nancy, you too are correct on these points, except in Jesus, the divine has assumed a human nature, and according to that human nature, God can experience what would be impossible according to his divine attributes.
Bill: So because of the union of the divine nature and human nature, is it safe to say that God was entirely dead?
Andy: Yes. But only in the person of Jesus of Nazareth (the 2nd person of the Trinity) did God die. The divine nature did not die in the Father or the Holy Spirit, when Jesus died. From the moment of the Incarnation, when the 2nd person of the Trinity assumed a human nature, the divine and human natures became united so as to not be separated from his personhood – ever. If the humanity of Christ is put to physical death, then so too is his divinity. Since Jesus is fully God, we can say God was tired, hungry, thirsty, tempted, and killed in the person of Christ (the 2nd person of the Trinity). These feelings and experiences were experienced by Jesus in accordance to his human nature, yet due to the union of the natures the divine nature experienced them too.
Bill: So since Jesus’s divine nature could die when he took on a human nature, does that mean his divine nature was in some way reduced?
Andy: We might think that could be the case, but that’s not what Scripture teaches. The attributes of humanity that Christ experienced of which the Father and the Holy Spirit cannot partake occurred because Jesus allowed them to occur, because he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but instead he humbled himself and chose not to make use of his divine attributes or retain the glory due to him because of his divinity. In other words, the divine nature did not receive human attributes with the union of the two natures in the person of Christ. That would be a reduction of Jesus’ divinity, which we know did not occur. If his divinity is reduced, he could not be our savior. Does this answer your questions?
Bill: Well, I guess I have one more question. Another reason why I thought that Jesus’s divine nature did not die is because Scripture to teach that Jesus holds all things together. That’s what Colossians 1:17 says, and Hebrews 1:3 states that Jesus upholds all things by the power of his word. If Jesus died as you are saying, and it makes sense that he died with the way you have explained that death occurring to the person, would his death interrupt his ability to hold all things together by His powerful word?
Andy: That is a very good question, and it is one that I have considered. There were certainly signs that the universe was falling apart as the Lord of Glory was dying on the cross, such as the darkening of the sky and the earthquake at his death, so there appears to be some indication that his death did impact his role of holding all things together. However, we know that the Father and the Holy Spirit did not die. They could have held everything together. I also know that before his resurrection, Jesus descended into the prison to proclaim victory. He wasn’t there suffering. He could have been holding things together then.
I also know that when we speak of salvation, we speak of Jesus being our savior, because Scripture speaks like this, but we also know that the Father and the Holy Spirit work in our salvation. The Father sent the Son. The Father accepts his sacrifice. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, gives us faith, and preserves us in that faith, and sanctifies us. We typically speak of the Father as the Creator, yet we know that Jesus worked in creation, as did the Holy Spirit. My point here is that just as we typically credit one person of the Trinity with a particular work, as Scripture does at times, we also can see that the other persons are also at work in that way in some capacity. Therefore, the Father and Holy Spirit could be at work in holding creation together, not just Jesus. Examples I can think of are that Scripture speaks of God (the Father) giving rain and sunshine to both the righteous and the wicked and giving every good gift in life to us (is that not part of holding creation together)? Also, Scripture speaks of the Holy Spirit as giving us life (physical and spiritual). That physical life is an aspect of holding creation together.
That’s the best I can do to address the question about who was holding creation together as Christ was dying in respect to both his divinity and humanity being put to death for our salvation. And that’s the best I can do to answer that question based on what the Lord has revealed to us in Scripture.
Bill: That all makes sense. Thanks for answering my question.
Andy: I’m glad you asked it. It seems that others had similar thoughts and it is good to work through these questions, because the union of the divine and human natures in Christ are vital to him being our savior.
Megan: And why is that?
Andy: As the God-Man, Jesus alone was able to redeem mankind from its sinfulness. Being fully divine, he was able to fulfill God’s standard of righteousness. Being fully man, he was able to be tempted and die in our place, suffering hell eternally on the cross. Now that may not make sense, but since Jesus is fully God, he could suffer hell eternally in a short time span; God after all can do all things. And since Jesus is fully God, he was able to die as a replacement for all of mankind. In Christ, the divine nature was put to death with his human nature. The death of God is valuable enough to serve as a vicarious atonement for all of mankind, past, present, and future. No other religion can claim such divine redemption, because no other religion was founded by God incarnate.
Megan: That makes sense. Thanks.
Andy: Any more questions on the person and natures of Christ? If not, we’ll go back to our study of Christ’s atoning death for all of mankind.
In the above discussion I drew upon three kinds of communication between the two natures and the person of Christ and his saving work. They are the genus idiomaticum (the kind of communication that pertains to the attributes of the natures to the person), genus maiestaticum (the kind of communication that pertains to the majesty of Jesus’ divine nature to his human nature), and genus apotelesmaticum (the kind of communication that pertains to the natures to the work of the person).
In the genus idiomaticum, the attributes of the divine nature and the attributes of the human nature are both communicated to the person of Christ. This communication is what I was drawing upon when I spoke of the person of Jesus having attributes that come from both attributes.
In the genus maiestaticum, the attributes of the divine nature communicate to the human nature so that the human nature may receive divine attributes. This communication is one way; the divine nature does not receive attributes from the human nature, otherwise, Jesus would not be divine. This communication is what I was drawing upon when answering Bill’s question of if Jesus being able to die meant there was a reduction of his divinity.
In the genus apotelesmaticum, both natures are always at work in whatever the person of Christ does – or in the question at hand, in whatever is done to the person of Christ, both natures are involved – even when dying.