How can God die if Jesus is God?
And other questions.
In the previous chapter I wrote that the remaining questions in our study didn't fit into any particular category, so I divided them up into two sections, those that could be answered from the Old Testament and those that could be answered from the New Testament. I've answered questions from the Old Testament, so to finish up I'd like to end with questions that can be answered from the New Testament. Five questions, and four of them have to do with Jesus's death and resurrection.
What is Lent, and does it apply to us?
The term Lent refers to a Roman Catholic practice. The word comes from the old English word lencten, which refers to the spring time of year. Roman Catholics observe Lent which is actually a period of fasting, penitence and other types of ascetic practices for a prescribed number of days (40) which begin on Ash Wednesday each year and end on Palm Sunday according to the Catholic liturgical calendar.
Much of the practice of Catholicism revolves around its calendar of feasts and observances. For example, Lent represents the time that Jesus spent 40 days praying and fasting in the wilderness, and so, the Lenten observance lasts 40 days from one observance (Ash Wednesday) to another (Palm Sunday).
Catholics celebrate Palm Sunday, which is a memorial of Jesus's triumphant entry into Jerusalem. We read in Luke 12, that people were praising Him, they laid garments on the ground along with palm leaves on which He and the donkey He was riding would pass. On Palm Sunday, Catholic churches give palm leaves to those who come to Mass. These palm leaves are kept, burned and the ashes are then used the following year on Ash Wednesday.
On Ash Wednesday the people attending Mass come forward and the priest dips his thumb into the ashes and draws a cross on the forehead of the individual. This is a reference to the ashes and sackcloth that the Jews used to wear when in mourning or penance. Lent is a modern day observance where Catholics commemorate Jesus' fasting in the wilderness by receiving the ashes on their forehead and denying themselves certain foods or practices for 40 days.
Of course, there are no commands, examples or inferences in the Bible that lead believers to practice such things. These are strictly inventions of religious leaders without any authority from the scriptures.
New Testament Rituals
There are only two rituals or observances in the New Testament that we are specifically told to keep.
Some people don't like describing baptism as a ritual because they think the term "ritual" takes away its significance, however, it is a ritual in that it is something we do that has a spiritual meaning. Biblical baptism is immersion in water (the word baptism comes from the Greek word baptizo which means to plunge or immerse). A repentant believer in Jesus is buried with Christ in baptism (and thus washes away his sins - Acts 22:19) and resurrects from the water (as Christ resurrected from the grave) in order to live a new life as a Christian saint. This ritual is rich in significance and power. Baptism acts out in a physical way the true, spiritual effect that is happening at that moment. A person is burying the old guilty sinner and resurrecting a new forgiven saint.
In addition to this, it is at the moment of baptism that God gives the following gifts, positions and powers. At baptism, a person:
- becomes a disciple of Jesus – Matthew 28:18-20
- obeys the gospel – Mark 16:15-16
- is born again – John 3:5
- has sins forgiven and receives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit – Acts 2:38
- Is added to the church – Acts 2:47
- puts on Christ – Galatians 3:26
- receives a clear conscience – I Peter 3:21
- Is considered saved – I Peter 3:21
All these things actually happen at baptism because God has ordained and commanded it in His word. So baptism is a ritual, or an acting out, but it is not one that has been invented by mankind. This is the important difference. The empowerment, importance or necessity of baptism is something that we are obliged to submit to because it has been established by God's word, not tradition or the idea of some religious group.
2. The Lord's Supper
The other ritual that Christians practice is communion. This is the only other ritual given in the New Testament that disciples are obliged to observe. Jesus Himself commanded that believers be baptized, and Jesus commanded that believers observe the Lord's supper. These are not suggestions, they are commands:
And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you, do this in remembrance of Me."
- Luke 22:19
The "Do", in "..do this," is an imperative verb. We know that it is a command because of the grammar used to instruct us on this point. In Acts 2:42 we see the apostles and the early disciples following Jesus' command. 3000 were baptized after hearing Peter's sermon on Pentecost Sunday. Luke writes that these new Christians were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread (another way of describing communion) and prayer. Then in another passage Acts 20:7 Luke writes:
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread...
What is Luke teaching here? He's saying that early in the first century, Christians would gather together on the Lord's day to break bread or to take the communion. We see, therefore, that the early disciples (being taught and led by the apostles) followed through on Jesus's command to share the communion every Lord's day (Sunday) in remembrance of Him.
Now, there were other cultural practices that the New Testament mentions, things like foot washing, or the wearing of veils, or having a love feast, but these were not commanded for future generations of Christians like baptism and communion. When Paul talks about the wearing of veils in I Corinthians, for example, he's commenting on that practice because there was a problem in the church about continuing this tradition. Some women wanted to do away with the wearing of veils (which signified that this woman was in subjection to her father or husband). Women who became Christians felt that their freedom in Christ also freed them of all social conventions, especially those which were a burden. However, in doing so they were getting ahead of social norms too quickly (in that culture, a woman without a veil in public was seen as immoral. The net result of doing away with this cultural symbol before its time, therefore, was to create scandal and confusion.
Paul teaches that the true meaning of modesty is not being too far ahead or behind social conventions so as to draw attention to oneself in how we dress or act. He wasn't making a new rule about the wearing of veils but rather teaching the church concerning the way it dealt with social customs without creating a negative opinion about people of faith. We know that the wearing of veils and its meaning eventually changed and the church's customs about these things changed with the times. The church could do this because this matter was guided by human opinion and custom and not instructions or commands from the Bible.
Communion, however, was a different matter. This ritual was given by Christ and taught by the Apostles. This is why Paul begins his teaching on the subject with the words, "This is what I received from the Lord…" I Corinthians 11:23-26. In this instance he is teaching the church how to observe that command (taking communion) in a proper way and to maintain this teaching in the future. Other practices like prayer beads, candles, parades, feasts, these are all things that were designed and implemented by the authority of religious leaders and teachers in various groups. They may have had a sincere goal of enhancing worship, however, whatever the motivation, they did not have the Biblical authority to do so. We have the information in the Bible that instructs us on how, when and why we take the communion. However, none of these instructions gives us the right to add or change the ritual that has already been given to us by God through His inspired word.
The Bible gives us two significant observances that remember and celebrate both the death of Christ as well as our resurrection with Him. These two summarize perfectly the core aspects of our religion and we do not need anything more to enhance it.
Why did Jesus's human nature agree to give up His life?
Answer: He did so because He knew what God's will was.
41And He withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, 42saying, "Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done." 43Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. 44And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.
- Luke 22:41-44
His question to God and His struggle was human. His submission was from His human side. Jesus did it because He knew that this is what God wanted, and He wanted to do the will of God. He was able to do so because He had no sin to weaken Him or spoil the offering of His perfect life, I Peter 2:22.
It was a was a struggle because He was a man and it is innately human to resist torture and crucifixion. Had the story of the last few hours of His life been that He was calm and had no feelings about what was to happen, we would doubt that Jesus was both fully divine as well as fully human. However, His advantage was that His humanity was not weakened by sin of any kind and thus His personal holiness and purity enabled Him to sacrifice His life through a painful death because of His love for the Father and sinful mankind.
How can God die if Jesus is God?
Answer: The fact that Jesus was a divine being who inhabited a fully human body answers this question. In John 1:1-18," in the beginning was God, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." The life that Jesus offered on the cross was a human life, not a divine one. Divinity is eternal, and not subject to the experience of death.
The divine being that took on the person of Jesus permitted the human part of His nature to experience fatigue, anger, sorrow, even death so that He could offer a perfect and fully human sacrifice to pay for man's sins.
14Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.
- Hebrews 2:14-15
Because people are afraid of death, they commit all kinds of sin. They're greedy. They're worldly. They're immoral. Why? Because the inevitability of death moves people to try everything they can while alive, even things that are forbidden by God. So the Law demanded the offering of a perfect human life as payment for the sins of mankind and Jesus is sent by God to offer what was required, a perfect human life. However, the fact that Jesus was Divine gave His human life an innate value that was worth the life of every human being that ever lived. This is why His sacrifice pays the debt of sin not only for one sinner but for all sinners who ever lived.
How long was Jesus in the grave?
Answer: The Bible says that Jesus Himself claimed that He would be killed and raised three days later.
For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, "The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later."
- Mark 9:31
Jesus was crucified on the Friday, and He rose on the Sunday, John 20:1. In answering this question it is important to understand how the Jews counted days.
- Thursday Sundown to Friday Sundown, is one day. – Jesus is put in the grave.
- Friday Sundown to Saturday Sundown, is another day.
- Saturday Sundown to Sunday Sundown, makes a third day. - Jesus is raised from the dead.
I would say three days, two nights, but Jesus said three days.
Will we know each other in heaven?
I saved this question for last because it provides a natural ending to this book. There is no passage in the New Testament that addresses this question directly, but there are several that give us insight as to what our relationships might be.
For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
- Matthew 22:30
Here, Jesus says that we will be like angels in nature. This is a clue. What, therefore, do we know about angels?
- Angels know the difference between one human being and another, and they interact with humans. The angel Gabriel knew it was Mary, he knew who she was. Did he not also go see Elizabeth? He knew the difference between Mary and Elizabeth, he interacted with them, so obviously angels can interact with humans.
- Angels also have the ability to interact with different individuals, they are not simply spirit power without consciousness.
- Angels also interact with other angels and spirit beings, and they can distinguish from among them. Michael, for example, and Satan disputed over Moses's body, Jude 1:9. We know that the Angel of the Lord, referring to Michael the archangel, was a prince of nations, Daniel 10:21.
- There is a hierarchy of angels, and they have a certain relationship with people and with nations. If angels have recognition skills and are able to communicate with humans and as well as other spirits, according to Jesus it is reasonable to conclude that we also will have these abilities.
Remember, we are going to be transformed into the perfect version of ourselves, not different versions. I'll become the perfect version of myself that God has in mind, I'm not going to become something or someone else. What's the point? Where's the joy? If I'm someone else and have a different consciousness, where is my joy? My joy is that I remember being a sinner, I remember being saved, I remember being faithful to the Lord and serving Him, and now everything He said to me that would happen is happening, and I'm rejoicing. What will be eliminated are sin and death, not our uniqueness as beings.
1Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; 4they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. 5And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.
- Revelation 22:1-5
The Bible says that once in heaven our focus will not be on ourselves or on our loved ones, whether we recognize them or not. Our focus, our devotion and joy, will come from our ability to face the Son of God and glory in His life forever. I'm persuaded that the attraction and the love we have for our families and spouses will pale in comparison to the radiant beauty and joy produced by our presence before the Lord. In my opinion the purpose for our knowing each other in heaven will be to share the unfathomable joy we experience in knowing God forever. Like all good things, they are enhanced when shared with another.