Category Archives: God

If Jesus was God Incarnate, Did God Die on the Cross?

A basic doctrinal truth held by all orthodox Christians—including Catholics and evangelicals—is that in Jesus Christ God became incarnate in human flesh (Matthew 1:16-25; John 1:14; John 20:26-29; Romans 8:3; Philippians 2:4-8; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 10:5).

Even though Scripture clearly describes the passion of Jesus Christ, many Christians are unwilling to acknowledge that the divine Son of God suffered and died for our sins. While they affirm that Jesus Christ was truly one human/divine person, they say it was only Christ’s human nature—not His divine nature—that suffered and died.

But if God was truly incarnate in Jesus Christ, how could only Jesus’ human nature suffer the agony, separation, and death described in the Gospels? If only Christ’s human nature experienced suffering, agony, spiritual and physical death, how can we speak of a true incarnation; and how can we be assured of the infinite value of His suffering and death on our behalf?

The Bible makes it clear that we could not be saved if Christ Himself hadn’t borne our sins on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; Hebrews 9:28). In AD 325, the Council of Nicaea strongly affirmed the deity of Jesus Christ, realizing that our salvation depends upon the incarnation. If Jesus Christ were not both truly God and truly man, His death couldn’t atone for our sin. Only God would be capable of the infinite sacrifice necessary to the sins of the world. (See the ATQ articles, Is it necessary to have a clear understanding of Jesus Christ’s deity in order to be saved? and How can it be morally right for Jesus Christ to die for our sins?)

One of the most fearful truths taught in Scripture is that physical death is not the greatest evil. The greatest evil is “the second death” (Rev. 21:8). Spiritual death is the second death. It is separation from God.

What Jesus dreaded when He said “Let this cup pass from Me” (Matthew 26:39) could not have been merely death by crucifixion. Other martyrs have faced equally horrible deaths with composure. Nor could it be a premature death in Gethsemane at the hands of the devil. Our Lord said that this cup came from God—“Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?” (John 18:11). Moreover, Jesus expressly declared that He wouldn’t die until He voluntarily laid down His life. He said, “I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:17-18).

Scripture makes it clear that the Son of God suffered most when He was experiencing separation from the Father. This “cup” is the agony of hell Jesus had to endure on the cross. It was the experience of God’s wrath, as in Psalm 75:8, “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is fully mixed, and He pours it out; surely its dregs shall all the wicked of the earth drain and drink down.” On the cross, God made His Son “who knew no sin to be sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21). He poured upon Jesus Christ His wrath against all sin, causing Him to endure the desolation of hell. This sense of abandonment began to sweep over Jesus in Gethsemane. On the cross, it finally caused Him to cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46). The cup that Jesus dreaded, therefore, was the abandonment by God, which makes hell, hell.

Although most classical theologians taught that Jesus Christ suffered only in His human nature, a distinguished minority, including Ignatius of Antioch, Tertullian, Martin Luther, A. H. Strong, Jurgen Moltmann, and D. A. Carson, disagree. Charles Wesley wrote:

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

’Tis mystery all: th’ Immortal dies!
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;
Let angel minds inquire no more.

He left His Father’s throne above,
So free, so infinite His grace!
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!

Scripture itself speaks of God’s capacity to suffer (e.g., Judg. 10:16; Jer. 31:20; Hos. 11:8). Isn’t it presumptuous to assume that the Creator knows less of suffering and emotion than His creatures.

Perhaps the assumption that Jesus Christ’s divine nature couldn’t experience suffering and death is based on faulty reasoning rather than Scripture and reality. Any argument used against Jesus Christ’s divine nature experiencing death can be applied against the incarnation itself. How could the eternal God be incarnate in a time-bound, finite man? How could the eternal God set aside His omnipotence and omniscience? We don’t doubt these things, so why should we doubt that in some sense the second person of the Trinity suffered and died on the cross of Calvary?

While we raise these questions, we acknowledge the need for humility No one should assume they have an absolute answer to this question any more than they can pretend to understand the Trinity or the incarnation.

 

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Where Was Jesus Before His Resurrection?

Jesus’ clear statement to the believing thief on the cross implies that He was in heaven between the time of His death and His bodily resurrection:

And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:38-43).

Nineteenth-century Scottish Presbyterian pastor David Brown paraphrased our Lord’s reply this way:

Thou art prepared for a long delay before I come into My kingdom, but not a day’s delay shall there be for thee, thou shalt not be parted from Me even for a moment, but together we shall go, and with Me, ere this day expire, should thou be in paradise.

The term paradise as used in Luke 23:43 can designate a garden (Genesis 2:8-10), a forest (Ezekiel 31:7-9), or (as in 2 Corinthians 12:4 and Revelation 2:7) the place of peace and blissful consciousness that exists for the redeemed in the presence of God.

Just before dying, Jesus said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46). This implies that when He died He went immediately into the presence of the Father. Both He and the repentant thief were in heaven that day.

On the third day, Jesus was resurrected with a glorified body. But He had not yet ascended to the Father in His glorified body when He encountered Mary Magdalene (John 20:17). Jesus appeared and disappeared during the next 40 days, leaving heaven and appearing on earth in His glorified body, so His ascension wasn’t the first time He had been in heaven since His death. It was merely a deed done publicly to strengthen the faith of His disciples and to clearly demonstrate that His ministry on earth would now be replaced by that of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7).

When Jesus told Mary not to cling to Him because He hadn’t yet ascended to the Father, He wasn’t implying that He hadn’t yet seen heaven. He was saying that there would be a time in heaven when Mary would once again be able to embrace Him. Now, however, she must not cling to Him, for His earthly work was done.

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Does James 2:10 imply that God doesn’t consider some sins more serious than others?

James 2:10 states: “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble at one point, he is guilty of all” (nkjv).

Some people have mistakenly thought that this verse means that all sins are equal in God’s view, that no sins are worse than others.

In the Old Testament, there were sacrifices to atone for sins done in ignorance or through weakness. But deliberate, premeditated transgressions were a more serious category of sin for which the law couldn’t atone (Hebrews 10). People who committed such sins (Leviticus 6:1-2; 10:1-2; 20:1-27; Numbers 15:32-35; 16:26-32) either had to make restitution (as in the cases of theft or lying) or be put to death (as in the cases of adultery, violating the Sabbath, cursing one’s parents). When David premeditatedly committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed, he wrote, “You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; . . . The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart” (Psalm 51:16-17 nkjv). David knew that no sacrifice could atone for what he did, and that he could only, like other Old Testament believers who committed such sins, cast himself on God’s mercy. The law provided no forgiveness. He needed grace.

Paul’s declaration in Romans 2 that God will judge “according to works,” “light,” and “opportunity” implies that there are degrees of guilt, as did Jesus’ declaration that rejecting Him and His gospel was a more serious sin than the sin of Sodom (Matthew 10:15; 11:23-24). If there are no degrees of sin, then it would be pointless to struggle to seek the lesser of two evils in the kinds of situations we all sometimes face.

What James is confronting in this verse is the self-righteous attitude that we don’t depend as much on God’s grace as someone who has committed more obvious and heinous kinds of sin. This kind of thinking is self-deceiving and encourages complacency. Any violation of the law is enough to keep us from being justified by the law’s standards. A person who doesn’t murder or commit adultery but shows partiality to the rich should not feel self-righteous. He is a lawbreaker too. The function of the law is not to justify but to bring awareness of sin (Romans 4:14-16; 5:19-21; 1 Corinthians 15:56). We should be humbled and conscience-stricken by the many sins we do commit, and not feel superior to those who sin in ways we don’t.

 

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What did Paul Mean When He Wrote that God Loved Jacob and Hated Esau?

In Romans 9:13, we read that God loved Jacob but hated Esau. Some people think this means that God actively chose Jacob to go to heaven and Esau to go to hell.

The word hated didn’t have the same meaning to the biblical writer as it does to us. To the biblical writer, you “hated” someone when you chose another person for a position of more favor or honor. For example, in Genesis 29:31, we are told that God saw that Leah was hated by Jacob, so He opened her womb. Yet we have every indication that Jacob was fond of Leah. He loved Rachel more, but he treated Leah with kindness. (Before Jacob died he asked to be buried with Leah.) Luke 14:26 gives another example of the biblical use of the term hated. Jesus said that we should “hate” our parents for His sake. He certainly wasn’t telling us to dislike them or to wish them evil. He only asked that we regard them as less important than Him, which is completely reasonable given who He is.

When the apostle Paul declared that God “loved” Jacob but hated Esau, he was affirming that the Lord had chosen Jacob, not Esau, to be the channel through whom He would carry out His covenant promises to Abraham (Genesis 12:3). God’s choosing had nothing to do with election to heaven or hell.

The election of Esau and Jacob as described in Romans 9:13 had to do with privilege and covenant blessing, not with individual salvation. The door of salvation was open for both of these men and to all of their descendants. God offers salvation to all.

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Can Someone Be Forgiven if They Commit the Same Sin Again After Confessing and Repenting it?

No one who asks God for forgiveness can be confident that they won’t commit the same sin again. In fact, our natures are so contaminated by sin that we often do. When Peter asked Jesus whether we are obligated to forgive a person who sins against us seven times (Peter’s “seven times” more than doubled the rabbinic prescription), Jesus said: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22 NKJV).

Jesus made it clear that God’s primary concern is not mere outward behavior, but the condition of the heart Matthew 23:25-26; Mark 7:5-9; Luke 11:42-44; Luke 11:42-44. Therefore the sincerity of the confession is what counts.

Unfortunately, we can be sincere in our repentance and confession and still fall into sin again. Because believers continue to be influenced by the “flesh”—the fallen aspect of their personalities—in this world they are incapable of perfect sincerity. At times they are more vulnerable to temptation than at other times. With the passage of time, the strong awareness of evil and the ugliness of sin that brought us to repentence often fades.

Sincere confession of sin is a heartfelt acknowledgment that our sin is wrong, that we don’t want to continue in it, and that we are ready to exert ourselves—under the guidance of the Holy Spirit—to resist it. God doesn’t expect perfection, because none of us are capable of achieving it, but He does expect sincerity.

Sin is highly addictive, and when we’re not on our guard we can easily succumb to the false sense of relief we experience when we surrender to our compulsions. We need to be aware of sin’s addictive nature. Like someone who is attempting to quit smoking or drinking, the worst thing we can do is to give up on our desire to change or believe we can never change, even though we relapse in moments of weakness.

As we experience increasing freedom from sin, we will experience an increasing awareness of evil and understand more deeply how sin carries its own penalty. Each time genuine believers relapse into sin, they will experience more conviction and a more painful awareness of sin’s destructiveness. Each time they repent and confess their sins, they will be purer, stronger, and less likely to relapse.

Of course, some sins are so serious that even sincere repentance can’t erase their earthly consequences. Sins like murder and adultery can be forgiven by God in the ultimate sense and by fellow Christians in the sense of hoping for a sinner’s restoration, but the damage such sins inflict usually cannot be undone in this life, and consequences such as imprisonment or divorce may be unavoidable.

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