WELCOME TO THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

 

THE GOD OF JESUS: PART TEN

 Did God Die?

 

          Trinitarian Christians believe Jesus was God incarnate.  It is believed God, as the Son distinction in the Trinitarian Godhead, became fully human while remaining fully God. The Scriptures reveal God is intrinsically immortal. God has always existed.  God has no beginning and no end. God is innately immortal and eternal.  Therefore, God cannot die. Jesus died.  Did only the human Jesus die while the “Divine” Jesus did not die?  If only the human Jesus died, then God didn’t die.  Yet most Christians believe God did die and that God had to die in order for our sins to be forgiven.  This issue has plagued Christian theologians for centuries.

       In the early second century A.D. there existed a form of Christianity known as Gnosticism.  Gnostic's held to the belief Jesus was only human but an eternal “Divine Spark” (the Christ) entered Jesus at His baptism.  Before the crucifixion, this “Divine Spark” (the Christ) departed from the physical Jesus and returned to God, leaving the purely physical and mortal Jesus to die.  Gnostic’s believed Christ and Jesus were separate entities.  The early fifth century archbishop of Constantinople, a theologian named Nestorius, proposed that the Son was actually two persons, one temporal and the other eternal, and it was the temporal Son who died.  This teaching gained a respectable following resulting in a number of Nestorian churches being formed.  Nestorius was condemned as a heretic at the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D.  However, his teachings survive to this very day as Nestorian churches still exist in the Orient. 

       In Trinitarian theology, God is seen as having been present on earth in the person of the Son who was Christ Jesus, the anointed savior.  It is believed the distinction of the one God known as the Son became the human Jesus to facilitate reconciliation with the distinction of the one God known as the Father.  In doing so, the Son never became disassociated from the “Triune God” but simply became an embodied (incarnated) manifestation of the distinction in the Trinity known as the Son.  The Son is seen as adding full humanity to His Deity while also maintaining full Deity.  This position is summed up in a statement about Christ made by Gregory Naziansen, Bishop of Constantinople, in the late fourth century.  In speaking of the Son, Gregory said the following: "Remaining what he was, he assumed what he was not."  

       This perspective became the basis for the doctrine of incarnation where it came to be believed God entered human flesh with its attributes of suffering and mortality while all the while retaining Divine attributes of immortality and impassibility (inability to suffer).  Although God, as to His Divine attributes, is seen as being unable to suffer, He is seen as suffering on the cross in the person of Christ.  In an apparent effort to maintain the view that God is impassible, fifth century Bishop Cyril of Alexandria said the Word (Christ) suffers impassibly.  He is said to suffer impassibly because as God He remained what He was, which included being impassible, while at the same time assuming what He was not, which included the human ability to suffer.

       This, however, is virtually embracing the Nestorian notion that Jesus was two individuals in a single body.  The one individual could not suffer while the other individual could suffer.  If God is impassible (unable to suffer) and Jesus is God, then Jesus as God did not suffer.  In a further effort to maintain the impassibility of God, Trinitarian theology teaches that only the Son became incarnate and was able to suffer.  Since the Father and the Spirit did not become incarnate, they could not suffer.  However, if Jesus is God in the flesh, He still is God and as God could not suffer anymore than the Father and the Spirit.   Furthermore, Trinitarianism teaches the Father, Son, and Spirit indwell each other and equally experience all things.  How then can it be said that only the Son experienced suffering?  If it is to be maintained that God cannot suffer, then Jesus could only have suffered and died as a human and not as God.   

       Trinitarians see the human experience of the Son as one of functionality.  While Jesus is seen as a human manifestation of the Son distinction in God and therefore fully God, He is seen as functionally subordinant to God the Father during His human sojourn while remaining ontologically one with the Father as the eternal Son.  All Scriptural passages that show Jesus to be subordinant to the Father are believed to reflect His functional role as the human Jesus.

        This perspective is problematical because most of the Scriptural statements that show Jesus as subordinate to the Father are statements made after Jesus was resurrected and ascended to the Father to receive great authority, power and glory (1 Corinthians 11:3, 15:27-28 and many more).  It is in this glorified state that Jesus continues to be identified as subject to the Father who is consistently seen in Scripture as the God of Jesus.       

       The Scriptures clearly teach Jesus died.  Trinitarian theology teaches Jesus is God incarnate.  He is seen as totally God and totally human.  As totally God, Jesus would be totally immortal as the Scriptures show God to be intrinsically immortal having neither beginning nor end.  As totally human, Jesus would have had to have been totally mortal and subject to death as that is the human condition.  The recorded death of Jesus is witness to His mortality.  For Jesus to have been totally God and totally human he would have had to be totally immortal and totally mortal.  Since immortality is exclusive of mortality and mortality is exclusive of immortality, incarnational theology presents an obvious oxymoron.

       Furthermore, the Scriptures clearly teach Jesus was made like us humans in every way.  We humans are totally mortal.  If Jesus was made like us in every way, He could not be totally mortal and totally immortal.  We humans can only become immortal by being granted immortality by God the Father.  God the Father granted immortality to Jesus by resurrecting Him from the dead.  Jesus became the first human to be granted immortality and thus allow for our transition to immortality as well.  The Scriptures clearly show Jesus died and is alive because He was raised from the dead, not because He was eternally alive as God.       

       Hebrews 2:17-18: For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.  Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

       Colossians 1:18: And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

       1 Corinthians 15:20: But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

       Revelation 1:18:  I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

       Was Jesus God in the flesh?  Did God die?  Did a distinction of God called the Son die?  If God is a single immortal entity of single essence, then God would have had to die if the Son is a dimension of the immortal God.  Postulating, however, that a self-existent Being can die is an oxymoron.  Nowhere do the Scriptures teach God died.  The death of God is a human construct based on the belief Jesus is God.  It is widely believed Jesus had to be God to be the sinless sacrifice for the salvation of mankind.  It is argued that if Jesus was only human, He would be tinged by the sin of Adam.  If Jesus was only human, it is believed He would have been born a sinner and unable to be the sinless sacrifice for the sins of mankind.  I will address this issue in detail later in this Chapter.

       The Scriptures do not teach God had to die in order for the penalty for sin to be paid. The Scriptures teach that a sinless human sacrifice was required to atone for sin.  The Old Covenant required unblemished sacrificial animals be presented before God as a sin offering.  Scripture reveals that animal sacrifices could not permanently do away with human sin. God ordained this be accomplished by an unblemished (sinless) human sacrifice. Jesus was this sinless human sacrifice.  Jesus had a human ancestry through His mother Mary whose pregnancy was facilitated by the Spirit of God.  Jesus was empowered by God to live a sinless life as prefigured by the unblemished sacrificial lambs under the Old Covenant.  It is “with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19) that our sin is forgiven. The immortal God didn’t die.  The totally mortal human Son of God died.  God resurrected His dead Son to eternal life, making it possible for all humans to be resurrected to eternal life.

        Acts 13:22-23: After removing Saul, he made David their king. He testified concerning him: `I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.' "From this man's descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. 

       Romans 1:1-3: Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God-- the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David.  (seed of David according to the flesh: KJV).

       2 Timothy 2:8: Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David (seed of David, KJV).  This is my gospel.

       Paul writes of Jesus having a human ancestry in being a descendant of David.  The word “human” and “descendant” in the NIV rendering of the above passages is from the Greek sperma which, when used in relation to humans, pertains to human reproduction.  The Greek word translated “nature” in the NIV is sarx which means flesh and is so rendered in most English translations.

       It is clear Jesus was born a human which equates with having human attributes. Such attributes include being able to suffer, being able to be tempted, being able to sin and being able to die. Such attributes include the passions and desires common to all humans.  As will be shown, Jesus was tempted but never surrendered to temptation. Therefore, Jesus never sinned and the death He died was for our sins, not His.  As Apostle Paul writes:

       2 Corinthians 5:21: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  

      Even though you will not find the phrase "God the Son" anywhere in Scripture, it is widely believed God the Father facilitated the begettal of “God the Son” in the womb of Mary.  As “God the Son,” Jesus is seen as having the perceived Divine attributes of immortality, omnipotence (being all powerful), omnipresence (being everywhere present) and omniscience (being all knowing).  It is believed the Son did not exercise the fullness of these attributes as the human Jesus but simply submitted Himself to His Father's will and demonstrated His Godly power to the extent the Father allowed.  

      Did Jesus demonstrate Godly power because He was God in the flesh or because the one and only true God provided Him with the power to do what He did?  Jesus plainly said He could do nothing of himself (John 5:19, 30, 8:28).  Jesus attributed what He did to the Father being in Him.  Does the Father being in Jesus equate with Jesus being God?  Paul wrote that all the fullness of the Deity resided in Jesus.  Does this mean Jesus is God?

       Colossians 2:9-10: For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity (Greek theotees: = State of being God) lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.

       Some see this passage as proof Jesus is God as it is argued the fullness of Deity can’t live in someone and that someone not be Deity.  However, Paul tells the Colossian Christians that they have been given fullness in Christ and he tells the Ephesian Christians they may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

       Ephesians 3:19b: that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

       If all the fullness of Deity dwelling in the body of Jesus makes Jesus God, then it should follow that the fullness of Christ given to us and dwelling in our bodies makes us God if Christ is God.  Furthermore, being filled “to the measure of all the fullness of God” should mean we are God if it is true that such fullness of God makes one to be Deity.  Since this is obviously not the case, there is no reason to believe Jesus is God when it is said He was given the fullness of the Deity.  It is much more Scriptural to conclude that to have the fullness of God equates with having the Spirit of God and having the Spirit of God produces within us attributes of the Divine nature.

       Scripture shows humans can participate in the Divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) and express Divine attributes.  Does participating in the Divine nature equate with being Divine and therefore being God?  The phrase “divine nature” is found twice in the NIV translation of the NT.  In Romans 1:20, God the Father is shown to have Divine nature.  

       Romans 1:20: For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. 

       We know Paul is talking about God the Father as this is what the context of this chapter clearly shows.  The Greek word translated “divine nature” in this passage is Thiotees.  It appears just this once in the NT and it is taken from the Greek Theos and simply means God nature.  Paul is simply saying God (Theos) has God nature.  The KJV translates Thiotees as “Godhead.”  Of six English translations I reviewed, only the KJV and NKJV version translate Thiotees as “Godhead.”  Other translations render Thiotees as “divine nature” or “deity” which appears to be the natural meaning found in Greek usage. The other occurrence of the phrase “divine nature” is found in 2 Peter 1:4 where Peter writes that we can participate in the divine nature.  

       2 Peter 1:4: Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate (partake in KJV) in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

       In this passage, two separate Greek words are used to say “divine nature.”   The Greek Thios is translated “divine” and phusis is translated “nature.”  Phusis, as used in relation to the divine, means “natural characteristics or disposition” (See Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich Greek Lexicon).  The Greek Thios has the same meaning as Thiotees.  It means Divine nature.  Peter is virtually saying we can participate in the Divine characteristics and disposition of God, the God nature.  This, however, does not make us God. 

       God's Spirit dwelling within us enables us to express the Divine nature and live righteously provided we choose to allow the Divine nature to express itself in our behavior.  The frequency with which we make righteous choices is the critical dynamic as to how consistently we express the Divine nature.  Paul instructed us to fan into flame the Spirit of God and not quench it (2 Timothy 1:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:19). 

       There should be no question Jesus fully and consistently participated in the Divine nature when He walked on this earth as a human Being.  Participating in the Divine nature involves having the Spirit of God.  Scripture shows Jesus had the Spirit of God His Father in full measure from birth.  John 3:34 indicates God gave the Spirit to Jesus without measure.  When did Jesus receive the Spirit of God?  Luke writes that Jesus, as a child, waxed strong in spirit and was filled with wisdom.

       Luke 2:40: And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him (KJV).

       This is the same language Luke uses in speaking about John the Baptist.  In Luke 1:15 the writer states John the Baptist would be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth and he goes on to write that "the child (John) grew and became strong in spirit" (Luke 1:80). While there is no direct statement in Scripture about Christ having the Holy Spirit from birth, it appears inconceivable that Jesus, for whom John felt unworthy to untie his shoes (John 1:27), would not have had the Holy Spirit from birth and have it so abundantly that it allowed for Jesus to live a sinless life.

       When Mary is told she will give birth to Jesus, she is told that the one to be born through her will be the holy Son of God (Luke 1:35).  This newborn is seen as the holy Son of God at the time of His birth.  For Jesus to be seen as the holy Son of God at birth provides strong evidence He had the Spirit of His Father from birth.  Psalm 22 is believed by most expositors to be about Christ.  Look at what is written in Psalm 22.

       Psalm 22:9-10: Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother's breast.  From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother's womb you have been my God.   

       The whole of Psalm 22 appears to be about Christ relating to God His Father.  Christ is seen as saying God has made Him to trust in God from birth and God has been His God. This statement presupposes the Spirit of God dwelling in Jesus from birth.  The very fact Jesus lived a sinless life shows He had power from young on to avoid sin by not surrendering to temptation.  This Scripture is also instructive in that it shows Christ as seeing God as His God with no hint of Christ also being God.

       Paul wrote that we cannot please God if controlled by the sinful nature. We must be controlled by the Spirit nature.      

       Romans 8:5-9: Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.      

       Jesus lived His entire life completely controlled by the Spirit of God.  Jesus fully participated in the Divine nature from birth.  The mind of Jesus was always responsive to what the Spirit of God desires.  Jesus never expressed sinful nature.  He always expressed divine nature.  As will be seen as we proceed with this discussion, humans are born with human nature having a variety of God created human attributes.  These attributes are not sinful in and of themselves but can become sinful if expressed contrary to God's will.  Jesus never expressed His human attributes contrary to God's will.  Therefore, Jesus never developed or expressed sinful nature.  All humans, except Jesus, have expressed sinful nature to one degree or another.  Only Jesus, out of all humans who have been born, was given the level of power necessary to never express sinful nature but always behave according to the Spirit.

       Because Paul speaks of having the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ in the same sentence, some conclude this proves Christ is God.  It must be understood, however, that Jesus had a full measure of the Spirit of His Father dwelling in Him from birth and continues to have that Spirit in His glorified state. The Spirit proceeds from God the Father into the Son and from the Son into us. Therefore, it is perfectly appropriate to equate having the Spirit of God with having the Spirit of Christ.  Having the Spirit of God, however, does not equate with being the one God, either for Christ or for us.      

       For Jesus, having God’s fullness meant fully participating in the Divine nature from birth.  This is what enabled Jesus to accomplish what He accomplished.  Having Divine nature, however, does not equate with being the eternal God.  Jesus had Divine nature in the same manner we can have Divine nature.  Jesus had it from birth.  We acquire it through conversion and transformation.  To the extent we express Divine nature in our lives is the extent to which we live righteously.  Jesus always expressed the Divine nature and consequently lived a totally righteous life.  Jesus never expressed sinful nature.  He never had His mind set on what that nature desires.  He always lived in accordance with the Spirit and always had His mind set on what the Spirit desires.  Jesus was never controlled by the sinful nature.  He was always controlled by the Spirit of God because Jesus had a full measure of the Spirit of God from birth.

       Being human, Jesus had the same power of choice all humans have.  Jesus always chose righteousness over unrighteousness.  Having the fullness of God's Spirit provided Him with the wherewithal to never sin.  Jesus completely submitted to the control of the Spirit of God in His life.  Therefore, Jesus never sinned. Jesus never sinned not because he couldn't but because He wouldn't.  Jesus was not a robot.  He had the same free will we all have.  He had the ability to choose between right and wrong just as we do. Having free will and the ability to choose presupposes having the ability to make unrighteous choices and sin.  Because Jesus allowed His behavior to be fully controlled by the Spirit of God, He always chose righteousness.  While Jesus had the human ability to sin, He never exercised that ability because God gave Him the power to resist any temptation to sin. 

PART ELEVEN