Did God die on the cross?

Jesus is God. Jesus died on the cross. Did God die on the cross? At times pastors, theologians and the average Christian all say that God died on the cross. This statement is both entirely accurate and entirely inaccurate. In one sense it can be said that God died on the cross. In another, equally important sense, God did not die on the cross.

Understanding what happened on the cross requires an understanding of the Trinity and the hypostatic union. The Bible teaches that God is one God who is Three. God the Father is God. God the Son is God. God the Spirit is God. These three are distinct but not separate. The Father is not the Son. The Son is not the Spirit. God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, became fully human without giving up any part of His deity. Jesus is fully God and fully man. When Jesus died on the cross the God-man died.

Saying God died on the cross becomes a kind of short hand for saying, Jesus, God the Son, died on the cross. When understood this way the statement “God died on the cross” is a helpful way to describe the magnitude of God’s sacrifice for our salvation.

In several important ways God did not die on the cross. Because God is a Trinity and because of the unique nature of the incarnation God the Son endured things that the Father and Spirit did not. God the Father did not hang on the cross. God the Spirit was not buried in a tomb. Only God the Son suffered these things. If the phrase means anything more than God the Son died on the cross it is inaccurate. God did not die on the cross.

If death is a cessation of existence, a loss of ability, or a conclusion of consciousness, then God did not die on the cross. Not only did God the Father and God the Spirit not cease to exist on the cross, neither did God the Son. The Divine portion of the second person of the Trinity did not stop functioning on the cross. No member of the Godhead can cease existing. God the Son is as eternal as the Father and the Spirit. His eternal essence did not dissolve on the cross. He remained fully God and His deity did not cease with the end of His physical life.

This does not mean that Jesus’ death on the cross was purely physical or a solely human act. Jesus died as the God-man. Thus His eternal nature was involved in the suffering and death on the cross. Jesus Christ the Son of God died on the cross. He truly suffered all that death entails, physically and spiritually. God the Son did not cease to exist, even for a brief time, but God the Son endured death for the salvation of men.

Where was Jesus between His death and His resurrection?

The dead body of Jesus was taken off the cross and laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. What happened to His soul? One of the more popular answers to this question is based on a cryptic statement in the book of 1 Peter.

1 Peter 3:18-20 says of Jesus, “Being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah.” (1 Peter 3:18-20) These words have led many to conclude that Jesus’ spirit went into hell while His body was in the tomb. Unfortunately, what this verse is talking about is not at all clear. One author has said there are over 180 different interpretations of 1 Peter 3:19. A clear consensus about the meaning of the phrase “preached unto the spirits in prison” will probably never be reached on this earth.

The words of the Apostles Creed (not actually written by the apostles) imply that Jesus’ spirit went into hell.  “I believe in Jesus Christ  . . .  (He) was crucified, died and was buried, He descended to hell.” The apostles creed is believed to have been written 50 years after the death of the last apostle, but the earliest existing copies of this creed do not contain the phrase, “descended into hell”, leading many to conclude it was not originally in the apostles creed. Whether this phrase is original or not, it cannot be traced back to a direct teaching of the apostles.

A strong case can be made that Jesus went into heaven on the day of His crucifixion. At His death He said, “Father into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Knowing that Jesus is God’s beloved Son who pleased the Father in all things we can reasonably assume that at death He was taken directly into the presence of the Father. This is confirmed by Jesus’ promise to the believing thief, “Today thou shalt be with me in paradise.” Either Jesus was with the thief in heaven that very day or He erred in His promise. Since Jesus is God who cannot lie, the latter option is not possible. After His death Jesus went into heaven.  Being the Son of God His spirit was in no way restricted to heaven.

If Jesus did go into hell, though I don’t believe He did, He did not go for the purpose of paying for salvation. Jesus death on the cross did everything necessary to purchase our salvation. His work was finished and the payment fully paid before He died. This is why Jesus said, “It is finished”. Teaching that Jesus had to go to hell to finish the payment for sin diminishes the value of the cross and denies Jesus’ own words.

We don’t know exactly what Jesus’ spirit was doing in the days between His death and resurrection. What we do know is that Jesus died for our sins and rose again for our justification. He is alive now and forever to give salvation to those who turn to Him for forgiveness.

Who was responsible for Jesus’ death?

The death of Jesus was entirely the plan of God. His death was not at all plan B but the eternal plan of God. Jesus did not come to earth and tried but failed so He had to go to the cross. The cross was always the plan of God. Jesus is the “Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world.” As we think of this question, it is important to recognize that Jesus’ death on the cross was God’s plan.

Even though Jesus’ crucifixion was the eternal plan of God, there were those who nailed Jesus on the cross in disobedience to God. They were not accepting of God’s plan for salvation and striving to live in obedience to God. They were in rebellion against God. God holds those responsible who rebelled against Him and who in their rebellion conspired for Jesus’ destruction.

A huge body of people were directly involved in the conspiracy to kill Jesus. Judas Iscariot jumps to the forefront of the mind because of his betrayal. Judas was hired to betray Jesus by the ruling body of Israel, called the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin tried Jesus and condemned Him, but they had no authority to put Jesus to death. The Jews were under Roman domination and so could not legally execute a prisoner. Only Rome could do that. The Sanhedrin had Jesus taken to the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, who attempted to pass the problem to the Roman governor of the next region over, Herod. Herod just wanted to see a magic trick. When Jesus refused to perform, Herod sent Him back to Pilate. Pilate knew the injustice of the Jews schemes to have Jesus crucified and sought to have Him released. The Jews became very agitated and Pilate finally agreed with their demands. He brought out a basin of water and washed his hands in front of the Jewish leaders telling them he was not responsible for what happened to Jesus.

When Pilate washed his hands and said, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person” the Jews willingly took the responsibility on themselves. They bear the responsibility for Jesus death. The Jews knew the promises of God. They knew the Word of God. They were waiting for their Messiah. They rejected God’s Word and God’s Savior and took on themselves the responsibility for their rebellion which sought Jesus’ crucifixion. When Pilate his hands before the Jews they said, “His blood be on us and on our children.” (Matthew 27:25) The Jews said they would take responsibility for Jesus crucifixion.

This is borne out later in the Bible. After Jesus death, burial, resurrection and return to heaven, the apostles of Jesus began to preach to the Jews. The apostles preached of salvation, forgiveness and judgment. They preached to the nation the judgment for their rejection and execution of Jesus God’s Messiah. In Acts 5 the apostles were called up on charges before the Sanhedrin, the same group that a few months earlier had condemned Jesus to death. As they stood before the rulers of Israel Peter declared to the of “Jesus, whom ye slew and hung on a tree.” Peter and the apostles, under the direction of the Holy Spirit repeatedly declared it was the Jews who were responsible for Jesus death.

Even though it was Pontius Pilate who gave permission for Jesus death and it was the Roman soldiers who did the scourging, who took Jesus to Golgotha, who drove the nails through His flesh and hung him up on the cross, the responsibility falls on those Jews and their leaders who rejected Jesus. Jesus came to His own people. He was a Jew, a descendant of King David. Jesus came to bring salvation. The salvation He brought was not the salvation the Jews were wanting. They wanted deliverance from Rome and Jesus was bringing deliverance from sin. The Jews of that generation rejected their Messiah and their’s is the responsibility for refusing their promised Savior.

Were the same people at Jesus triumphal entry and at his judgment?

Palm Sunday is the Sunday set aside by many church calendars the week before Easter to remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. A few days before His crucifixion Jesus road into the city on the back of a donkey. As usual He was surrounded by a large crowd of followers. On this day the crowd was immense. Jerusalem was filling with hundreds of thousands of Jews from all around the Roman Empire coming to the city to celebrate the feast of Passover. Many of these Jews had heard of the miracles Jesus had done throughout Palestine. On top of that, word of Jesus’ recent raising Lazarus from the dead had spread throughout the city. As Jesus road into Jerusalem the immense crowds began to shout their praise to Him. “Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.” (Mark 11:9-10).

A few days later Jesus was betrayed by Judas, taken captive by the Jewish leaders, condemned as guilty of blasphemy and presented to Pontius Pilate for official execution. Pilate was reluctant to condemn Jesus to death, so he sent Jesus to Herod and upon Jesus’ return Pilate had Him scourged. When those things did not satisfy the Jews demands, Pilate attempted to force the Jews into choosing to have Jesus released by offering them a choice between Jesus and a vicious criminal named Barabbas. The Jews rejected all Pilate’s pleas. In the end a large crowd was standing in front of Pilate shouting, “Crucify him.”

One obvious difference between the two crowds is the presence of Jesus’ disciples and closest followers. In the triumphal entry Jesus’ disciples were present and taking the lead in shouting praise to Jesus. On the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples were nowhere to be found. The twelve closest to Jesus and possibly others of those most faithful to Him fled when Jesus was arrested. The crowd in the Praetorium was led and incited by the chief priests and other Jewish leaders. The leaders of the two crowds were very different and Jesus’ closest disciples did not stand before PIlate’s judgment hall.

If the same people were in both crowds is very hard to say. One would speculate at least some of the Pharisees and more curious would have been in both crowds, but the Bible doesn’t say this. The crowd in front of Pilate was much smaller than the tens of thousands who shouted praise to Jesus a few days earlier. Jerusalem at that time was filled with several hundred thousand people so it is not necessary for the same people to be in both crowds. However, there is no reason to absolutely say they were two different groups.

The shouts of praise to Jesus when He rode into the city on a donkey were not praises for Him as God’s Son the Savior from sin. The shouts were praises for Jesus as a conquering king coming to usher in a golden age for the Jewish people. The crowd was crying out for a king to drive out the Roman invaders and reestablish Israel as an autonomous nation. Jesus had no intention of overthrowing Rome. His purpose was to die for the sin of His people. Jesus’ purpose was rejected by the majority of Jews who heard and saw Him. They rejected His claim to be God. Even if they were not in the crowd shouting for His crucifixion most would have agreed with the demand that one they considered a blasphemer be put to death.