QUESTION: When Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried, did Jesus (Son of God, Son of man, or both) die? If the Son of God died or both the Son of God and the Son of Man died, did that leave only two parts of the Triune God for the time Jesus the Son of God was dead?
ANSWER: We sing…
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast save in the death of Christ, my God: All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood. (TLH 175)
Well might the sun in darkness hide and shut his glories in when God, the mighty Maker, died, for man the creature’s sin. (TLH 154)
O sorrow dread! Our God is dead. (ELH 332)
The mystery is as great as that of the Incarnation when the second person of the Holy Trinity became human. The impossible happened. Jesus is both God and man. The Incarnation, the union of God and man, is permanent.
The question takes us to Good Friday. Upon the cross and in punishment for our sins, His Father forsook the Man who is truly God. We confess, “But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and coequal, so that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshiped” (The Athanasian Creed). The Unity of the Holy Trinity cannot be broken, and yet God the Father forsook God the Son as Jesus suffered the hell sin deserved. God, who cannot die, died in payment for the sin of all people in the person of Jesus the Christ (Acts 20:28, I Corinthians 15:3). There is never a time during which the Holy Trinity is limited to two persons and yet the Son of God died.
From the moment of His conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary, God and man are united. Jesus died as the Son of Man and the Son of God. His death is real. God cannot die and yet the man who is God died for our sin. Knowing this that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (I Peter 1:18-19).
Here are the words of two great Lutheran teachers: “The death of Christ, the God-man, an ignominious death on the cross, was not a termination of His natural life in the course of nature, but a violent, though on His part voluntary, separation of body and soul, without, however, any cessation or suspension of the personal union of God and man in Christ, His body and soul remaining personally united with the divine nature of the Son of God” (Graebner. Doctrinal Theology, p. 121).
“Since Christ’s death is the death of the Son of God, and, accordingly, not merely the departed soul, but also the entombed body remained in personal union with the Son of God, the possibility of death in the case of Christ passes human understanding” (Pieper. Christian Dogmatics, vol. 2, p. 313).
Reverend Charles Keeler
Resurrection Lutheran Church, Winter Haven, FL