Did God Die on the Cross at Calvary?
Exploring the Crucial Question from a Doctrinal Perspective.
“Let Christ himself be your example as to what your attitude should be. For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal. That is why God has now lifted him so high, and has given him the name beyond all names, so that at the name of Jesus “every knee shall bow,” whether in Heaven or earth or under the earth. And that is why, in the end, “every tongue shall confess” that Jesus Christ” is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – “Philippians 2:6-11” – J.B. Phillips
During a recent conversation with a good, well-respected friend, the topic arose, “Did God Die on the Cross at Calvary?” It created a strong desire in me to investigate the subject. I honestly have to state that it has never occurred to me before since I always thought the answer was a wonderfully straightforward that being “Of course not.” However, that basic response requires some unpacking.
However, while the topic is important and thought-provoking, I need to provide an answer for myself because it has lingered on my mind incessantly since – especially since when I have questioned others, they have responded with a loud “Of course not.” The Bible says – “…Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” – “Romans 14:5b” KJV. Thus, I believe the question must be considered by others as well, which is why this study was prepared.
In this study, which I hope you will find interesting, I’m embarking on a journey to explore a profound and pivotal question: “Did God die on the cross at Calvary?” The events that transpired on Calvary Hill over two thousand years ago are key to understanding this significant and far-reaching aspect of Christian doctrine.
I hope to shed light on this subject by using biblical references and verses. I recognise that it is difficult and that there will be opposing viewpoints, but I hope it is presented in an easy, informal, and evangelical style.
Certain questions transcend time, culture, and individual beliefs and have done so throughout history. They encourage us to investigate revelation, reason, and faith. Whether “God experienced death on the cross at Calvary” is one of these questions. This thought-provoking query challenges us to go beyond platitudes, music, and surface-level theology and explore the depths of Christian doctrine.
This study is a call to consider, search for, and struggle with the timeless truths contained in a single question. May our souls be receptive to the Holy Spirit’s guiding light, our wits tuned to the Word, and our hearts open to the mystery as we travel together.
Through research, reflection, and revelation, may we get closer to a knowledge that goes beyond what we can understand. In doing so, may we get closer to the heart of the God who is always present, whether we are alive or dead.
This study of “Christ’s Hypostatic Union” challenges us to go into the depths of faith, reason, and revelation by looking backwards in human history and posing certain questions that cut beyond time, society, and personal belief systems.
One such dilemma is whether “God truly underwent death on the cross at Calvary,” which carries significant ramifications. This intriguing question invites us to delve into the core of Christian belief go beyond the surface of theology and touch upon such subjects as Christology.
Christology (from the Greek Χριστός, Khristós and -λογία, -logia), literally ‘the understanding of Christ’, is the study of the nature (person) and work (role in salvation) of Jesus Christ and Soteriology (Soteriology, is a branch of theology that focuses on the study of salvation.)
For a brief moment, allow yourself to visualise yourself at the intersection of events that occurred two millennia ago, as decreed by God. This is an environment of cosmic significance, where the eternal and temporal converge and the divine script is being revealed in ways that defy human understanding.
The centre of it all is a rugged crucifixion that bears the hopes, fears, and sins of all people as well as the suffering of a lone man named Jesus. He, Jesus represents before God all people’s hopes, concerns, and sins.
The question we are asking echoes through history, resonating with believers and sceptics alike. It is a question that peers into:
- The heart of Christian identity, touching upon the nature of God.
- The essence of Christ.
- The purpose of the cross.
Unfortunately, a great deal of the Church no longer receives foundational, Biblical, and systematic formal doctrinal instruction. I’m not claiming to be a great theologian in this study, but I’m attempting to give a fair evaluation that balances the profundity of the topic with the clarity of communication. This is more than just a theoretical exercise; it is a journey that challenges us to experience the living God via the pages of Scripture and the lens of Christian tradition.
With a commitment to simplicity, a spirit of informality, and an evangelical zeal, I’m attempting to negotiate the boundaries of this topic, acknowledging that, while it may appear to be a theologically complex subject, its response has the power to explain the core of our faith. Why? Because we live in a world that is rife with many interpretations, theological arguments, and points of view, that are both Christian and non-Christian and affect us all.
So, let’s lay a foundation for the topic in question – “Christ’s Hypostatic Union.”
Christ’s Hypostatic Union.
Christ’s Hypostatic Union? What on earth is that some might say?
The concept of hypostatic union, despite its seemingly complex terminology, is very straightforward to comprehend. However, within the realm of theology, it holds tremendous significance comparable to other intricate theological concepts.
This may be a novel idea, concept, or word for many people, which is understandable. Especially, as in many settings today, as previously mentioned, profound and precise theological and systematic doctrinal teaching has all but evaporated. Thus, this particular concept may not have found its way into one’s contemplations, reflections, and words unless one is actively passionate about delving into a deeper grasp of God’s teachings. It is, nevertheless, the foundation of our theological system; it is inextricably linked to the “bedrock” of our religion and hence must be known and understood.
Christ’s hypostatic union is a notion that addresses the profound mystery of Jesus being both entirely God and fully human in one person. This concept is important to the Christian belief in the Incarnation, in which God’s eternal Son becomes Jesus, a human.
The English adjective “hypostatic” is derived from the Greek term “hupostasis.” The term is mentioned only five times throughout the New Testament, with one notable instance found in “Hebrews 1:3.”
They are in: –
1) 2 Corinthians 9:4.
2) 2 Corinthians 11:17.
3) Hebrews 1:3.
4) Hebrews 3:14.
5) Hebrews 11:1.
In “Hebrews 1:3,” Jesus is called “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” The writer of the Book of Hebrews uses the phrase here to refer to the idea of God’s unity. In this sense, the Father and the Son are of the same “nature.” Jesus is shown as the perfect embodiment of God’s very nature.
During the early church deliberations, Greek intellectuals sought to establish common ground with Latin speakers, leading to a shift in the meaning of the term “hupostasis”(“ὑπόστασις.”) which can be interpreted as “person” or “unique essence.” Originally referring to the unity inside the Godhead, it later evolved to signify the individuality of the three people within the Godhead. The term “person” started to be employed in a manner similar to the English word person.
- What is the rationale for utilising this sophisticated terminology?
- What is the significance of understanding the concept of the hypostatic union?
Ultimately, the specific terminology holds limited significance; but the underlying principle it represents possesses immeasurable value and provokes profound intellectual contemplation.
A deity that has not assumed human form does not establish a connection with humanity. This is especially distinct from that of a deity that has done so – as in the case of Jesus the Son of God.
- The concept of a deity, such as Allah, for instance, that has never taken on human form, does not offer the human spirit the same degree of satisfaction.
Hypostatic union (from the Greek: ὑπόστασις hypóstasis, “person, subsistence”) as mentioned earlier is a technical term in Christian theology employed in mainstream Christology to describe the union of Christ’s humanity and divinity in one “hypostasis”, or individual personhood.
The most basic explanation for the hypostatic union is Jesus Christ being both fully God and fully man. He is both perfectly divine and perfectly human and has two complete and distinct natures at once. In Christ we see two distinct natures, divine and human, “joined without mixing, altering, splitting, or disconnecting.” Also, “without division, discord, or disunity.” This idea, which addresses questions about who Jesus is and what he is like, originated in New Testament texts and was explained and reinforced by early church councils and theologians.
Early Church Development.
The hypostatic union was defined and refined through a series of ecumenical councils in the early centuries of Christianity.
- Apollinaris of Laodicea was the first to use the term hypostasis in trying to understand the Incarnation. Apollinaris described the union of the divine and human in Christ as being of a single nature and having a single essence — a single hypostasis.
- The Council of Nicaea (325 AD) focused on the divine nature of Christ, affirming His co-eternity with the Father and that Christ is “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.”
- The Council of Constantinople (381 AD) clarified the nature of the Holy Spirit and further affirmed Christ’s divinity.
- The Council of Ephesus (431 AD) defended the title of Mary as “Theotokos” (God-bearer) to emphasise Christ’s unity as both divine and human.
- The Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) produced the Chalcedonian Creed, which succinctly articulated the doctrine of the hypostatic union.
- The creed affirms that Christ is “truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body, consubstantial with the Father as touching His Godhead, and consubstantial with us as touching His manhood.”
This formulation sought to avoid the extremes of those that would:
- Separate Christ into two distinct persons.
- Confuse His natures into a single nature.
This creed captures the profound nature of the Incarnation and its implications for our understanding of Christ’s identity.
The Scriptural Basis.
- “John 1:14” – “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
- This verse in the Gospel of John affirms the Incarnation, signalling the union of divinity and humanity in Jesus Christ.
- “Philippians 2:6-7” – “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”
- This passage speaks of Christ’s self-emptying, where He voluntarily set aside aspects of his divine prerogatives to take on human form.
The hypostatic union is crucial for understanding the nature of Christ’s work on the cross. Only a fully divine Saviour could bear the weight of humanity’s sins, and only a fully human Saviour could represent humanity before God. “It is rightly said that Jesus came to earth to “save us from God.” This might need a little explaining as it counters some of our modern-day thinking, especially regarding the over-emphasis that is being applied to the phrase “The Love of God.”
The chief reason a God-man was necessary was the justice of God. That may seem to be a strange answer. Thinking of the cross and Christ’s atonement, we assume that the thing that most strenuously motivated God to send Christ into the world was His love or His mercy. As a result, we tend to overlook the characteristic of God’s nature that makes the atonement necessary – his justice.
God is loving, but a major part of what He loves is his own perfect character, with a major aspect being the importance of maintaining justice and righteousness. Though God pardons sinners and makes great provision for expressing His mercy, he will never negotiate his justice. If we fail to understand that, the cross of Christ will be utterly meaningless to us.
He Jesus the Christ of God therefore constructed the bridge between God and Humanity. The hypostatic union provided the bridge between the infinite God and finite humanity, allowing for meaningful interaction, understanding, and reconciliation.
Example and Compassion.
Jesus’ humanity allows Him to empathise with human struggles and temptations. In “Hebrews 4:15” we read “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are yet he did not sin.” NIV.
His divinity, on the other hand, enables Him to provide the ultimate example of obedience and godliness.
In theological terms, it is said that Christ’s divine nature is “impassible,” meaning that it is not subject to suffering, change, or death. This divine aspect of Christ’s nature is eternal and unchanging. Therefore, while Christ’s human nature experienced death, His divine nature was not extinguished or annihilated.
The mainstream Christian understanding is that the eternal Son of God, who possesses a divine nature, willingly entered into human experience by taking on a human nature. As a result, the person of Jesus Christ, with both divine and human natures, endured physical suffering and death on the cross.
This however does not mean that God died on the cross in the same way that a human being dies. The doctrine of the hypostatic union teaches that Jesus Christ, as one person, possesses two distinct natures – divine and human – without confusion or division. While Christ’s humanity experienced suffering and death on the cross, His divine nature remained unaffected by death.
Therefore, the hypostatic union does not indicate that God’s divine nature perished on the cross, but rather that Christ’s human nature experienced death as part of His redemptive work for humanity.
Think back to the well-known Scripture “Hebrews 1:3.” Which says “…upholding all things by the word of his power, …” It is fundamentally true to say and agree with John Calvin who wrote, “All things would instantly come to nothing, were they not sustained by his power.”
Scripture’s teachings have long been acknowledged by Christian theologians as establishing this point. One facet of God’s providence is his effort to maintain everything; it is an essential manifestation of his essence as the self-existent Creator of the universe.
If everything originates from His hand “Genesis 1:1,” then the continued existence of everything is contingent upon him. The “Hebrews 1:3.” passage elaborates on this endeavour of sustaining providence by explaining that the universe is held up in place by God via His Son. Not only did the Son enter history to save us under divine providence, and a heavenly covenant, but He also maintains history by “the word of his power.”
By uttering a single word, God the Son, who continues to be united to a human nature in the person of Christ Jesus, could eradicate the existence of everything.
- So, it naturally follows that if God died at Calvary, then all things would have gone out of existence and the universe would have vanished.
To re-emphasise let me say – To say that God “died” on the cross requires careful articulation. While Jesus, who is fully God and fully human, experienced the agony and physical cessation of life, it is not accurate to say that His divine nature perished or ceased to exist. Instead, it’s more precise to affirm that Jesus, the person who possesses both natures, experienced the reality of death in his human nature while his divine nature remained intact.
When we ponder whether God “died” on the cross, we must grapple with the meaning of death in both human and divine contexts. In human terms, death signifies the cessation of bodily functions, the separation of body and soul. However, when applied to Christ, whose divine nature is eternal and unchangeable, the concept takes on a distinct dimension all of its own.
The hypostatic union which we are considering therefore safeguards the integrity of both Christ’s divinity and humanity. It upholds the profound theological truth that Christ’s death on the cross accomplished redemption – His humanity bore the consequences of sin, while his divinity ensured the efficacy of that sacrifice. This union also underscores the radical extent of God’s love and sacrifice for humanity, as the eternal Son voluntarily subjected Himself to suffering and death for our salvation.
Theologians have historically navigated this question by emphasising the “Communication Attributes and the Non-Communicable Attributes.” Of God. The “communication of attributes” principle asserts that the properties of both natures are communicated to the one person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we can attribute both divine and human qualities to Christ while affirming the integrity of each nature. His divine nature continued to sustain all of existence.
Delving even deeper into the theological complexities surrounding Christ’s hypostatic union and the question of whether God “died” on the cross, we unravel layers of profound significance that invite us to explore the very essence of divine mystery and human salvation.
The Mystery of the Incarnation, Atonement and Resurrection.
Definition: The Incarnation, derived from the Latin word “incarnare,” means “to take on flesh.” It signifies the moment when God, in Christian theology, assumed human form through Jesus Christ. This event is pivotal in the Christian faith and signifies the fusion of the divine and the human, transcending human logic.
At the heart of Christian belief lies the incarnation, the astonishing truth that the eternal Son of God took on human flesh and dwelt among us “John 1:14.” This transformative event is the foundation upon which we comprehend the events that unfolded at Calvary. The Gospel of John, with poetic resonance, declares, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” In “Philippians 2:6-8”, we witness the depths of God’s love as Christ, though equal with God, humbled Himself and became obedient to death on a cross.
It was a fulfilment of a covenantal arrangement between Father, Son and Holy Spirit before the foundation of the Universe. This outworking of the covenant provided the very foundation for comprehending the events that unfolded at Calvary.
- The Incarnation is a fusion of the divine and the human, a profound union that defies human logic and yet stands as the pinnacle of God’s redemptive plan.
- The Incarnation is an event of unparalleled humility, as the Creator of the universe took on the limitations of human existence, subjecting Himself to pain, suffering, and even death.
- The Incarnation is a testament to the lengths God was willing to go to rescue humanity from the grip of sin and death.
- The Incarnation is a fusion of the divine and the human, a profound union that defies human logic and yet stands as the pinnacle of God’s redemptive plan.
The Atonement – Atonement is the Bible’s central message.
Definition: Atonement refers to the needed reconciliation between sinful mankind and the holy God. This reconciliation is possible through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, as expressed in “Romans 3:25”, “Romans 5:11”, and “Romans 5:19.”
The atonement, the redemptive work accomplished through Christ’s death, forms the cornerstone of our faith. It’s the heart of the Christian faith The Apostle Paul in “Romans 5:8” encapsulates the essence of this truth, when he says – “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” affirming that God demonstrated His love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. The cross stands as a testament to God’s mercy and justice intersecting, offering us a way to be reconciled with our Creator.
The atonement however should not be considered as merely a theological concept. Why? Because it is the means by which humanity finds forgiveness, liberation, and restoration. The apostle Paul expounds on this earlier in the Book of Romans in “Romans 3:23-25” and says – “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood.” The cross is the cosmic event where sin’s debt was paid in full, and reconciliation with God was made possible.
We understand from this and there are many other Scriptures to support it that the crucifixion was not merely a human tragedy; it was a divine plan, organised, pre-determined and executed within a covenantal arrangement to reconcile humanity to God.
The imagery of Christ as the sacrificial Lamb foreshadowed in the Old Testament sacrificial system, finds its fulfilment in Jesus’ atoning work on the cross. The author of Hebrews also draws a parallel between the Old Testament sacrifices and Christ’s ultimate sacrifice, declaring that “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” – “Hebrews 10:10.”
Definition: The Resurrection refers to the Christian belief that God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion, signifying his exalted life as Christ and Lord.
This belief is a central tenet of Christianity, and it holds immense theological and spiritual significance. The Resurrection is based on accounts found in the New Testament.
The resurrection serves as the ultimate confirmation of Jesus’ divine nature and His victory over sin and death. Demonstrating that the divine nature of Jesus was never extinguished; it prevailed over death itself.
The Gospel accounts narrate the dramatic and historical moment of the empty tomb, marking the triumphal defeat of death and the vindication of Jesus’ teachings and mission. Paul’s words in “1 Corinthians 15:17” encapsulate the profound ramifications of the resurrection – “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” The resurrection is the linchpin upon which the Christian faith rests.
The Paradox of God’s Death.
The Humanity of Jesus.
The cross marks the culmination of Jesus’ humanity, where He experienced the full gamut of human suffering, including physical death. “Isaiah 53:4-6” prophetically portrays the Messiah as a suffering servant, bearing our iniquities. “1 Peter 2:24” highlights that by His wounds, we are healed a poignant reminder of His sacrificial love.
- Jesus’ physical death underscores the reality of His humanity and the extent to which He identified with our plight.
These Scriptures and others reveal to us the reality of “His physical death,” which is a fact attested by the historical accounts of historians and of course the writers of the Gospels who were eyewitnesses.
The Eternal Spirit.
Jesus, just like any other person who has ever been born, experienced death in his human body. But his spirit never changed, In “Hebrews 9:14”, it says “…how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.” New American Version (Revised Edition.) When talking about the “eternal spirit,” we’re actually referring to a really important part of Christ’s nature.
To explain this in simpler terms, the phrase “Through the eternal spirit” [διὰ πνεύματος] means that it is not limited by time and has qualities that last forever. The text is saying that Christ’s spirit isn’t limited by time, unlike the animals that were sacrificed in the Old Testament.
This concept is really important, especially when thinking about the idea that “God Did Not Die on the Cross.” it’s really fascinating how the divine nature and eternal spirit of God are so intimately connected. It’s like they affirm that God’s existence is unbroken, even when faced with physical death. It’s in this paradox that we can really understand how Christ’s divinity and humanity are deeply connected.
In Christian doctrine, the concept of duality is fundamentally important for us to grasp. It’s all about how God, in His divine form, didn’t actually die on the cross. Instead, it was the human side of Jesus, his human nature, that went through the crucifixion.
Further, “Hebrews 7:18-19” – “Hebrews 9:14” provide more evidence supporting the interpretation of the attribute “eternal.” These verses are all about Christ’s eternal priesthood! They highlight how he acts as a mediator between God and us, and profoundly show to us that his role isn’t bound by time or affected by any changes.
The eternal priesthood of Christ is super important when it comes to understanding the difference between his divine nature and his human nature, especially during His crucifixion. It’s a big part of the theological background.
Sources utilised – The Eternal Spirit.
1. The Bible, “Hebrews 9:14” (New International Version).
2. The Bible, “Hebrews 7:18-19” (New International Version).
3. Grudem, Wayne. “Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine.” Zondervan, 1994.
4. Erickson, Millard J. “Christian Theology.” Baker Academic, 1998.
The question “Did God die on the cross at Calvary?” requires a nuanced understanding.
- Through the Incarnation, we grasp the magnitude of God’s love in sending His Son to dwell among us.
- Through the Atonement we have revealed the intersection of divine mercy and justice, offering us redemption through Christ’s sacrificial death.
- Through the Resurrection we see the triumphant declaration of God’s power over death, validating Jesus’ claims and prophecies.
In the end, the events at Calvary affirm that God’s love and plan for humanity were fully realised in the person of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. The cross, though a symbol of suffering, represents the ultimate victory – a victory over sin, death, and separation from God. It is a victory that beckons us to respond, to embrace the hope and transformation offered through Christ’s sacrifice.
As we continue to navigate the intricacies of this question, may our hearts be stirred, our minds enlightened, and our spirits renewed by the profound truth that the God who hung on that cross also conquered the grave, offering us abundant life and eternal fellowship.
There are still many theological, philosophical, and doctrinal issues surrounding the possibility of God dying on the cross. They find discussion in regard to the character of Christ, the attributes of God, and the significant events surrounding the crucifixion.
God did not die on the cross, is a firmly fixed concept according to traditional Christian theology, firmly based on the ideas of divine immutability and impassibility. Affirming that Christ underwent death in his human essence while His divine nature remained unchanged in his hypostatic union.
This conventional viewpoint has been shaped and preserved in large part by the early Church Fathers, ecumenical councils, and important theological pronouncements like the Chalcedonian Definition and the Nicene Creed. Furthermore, the conviction in God’s immutability has been strengthened by the teachings of theologians like Augustine.
“God’s love for man does not consist in making man central, but in making himself central for man.”
Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology. 1947, reprinted 1993; ISBN 0-8254-2340-6. Chapter XXVI (“God the Son: The Hypostatic Union”), pp. 382–384. (Google Books). (1)
Gregory of Nyssa, Antirrheticus Adversus Apollinarem. (2)