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.

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.