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Q324 : Did Jesus Die Spiritually?

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Q324 : Did Jesus Die Spiritually?

Hello Tony. Greetings in the name of the Lord Jesus.

I have a little question which has agitated my mind lately. I know that when Adam ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, he died spiritually, fulfilling God’s word that he would die “in the day he eats” (Gen. 2:17). Physical death came later on as a result of the spiritual death.

Did Jesus also die spiritually, since it appears that the penalty for sin is spiritual death? When Jesus said “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Mat. 27:46; Mark 1:34), was this when his spiritual death occurred? Does it mean Jesus died twice on the cross, spiritually and then physically? At that moment of spiritual death, was Jesus still God? Was there a separation in the Trinity at that moment? How does this square with “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself . . .” (2 Cor. 5:19)?

I would appreciate your thoughts on the above issues.

A324 : by Tony Garland

Some observations in response to your question:

Adam's death

The Hebrew behind God’s warning to Adam has been translated by some as: “in the day that you eat of it dying you will die” (מוֹת תָּמוּת [môṯ tāmûṯ]). This phrase is taken in a number of ways: 1) as denoting the certainty that death will follow (“you will certainly die,” HCSB); 2) that the dying process will begin as soon as you eat, ultimately culminating in death. So the verse can be seen as teaching that “in the day you eat” the physical dying process will immediately begin—which is certain to lead to death.

Did Jesus die spiritually?

This has been taught by some. Many others,including myself, see this as an impossibility. Why? Because, as very God, Jesus' divine nature is immutable. As the Great I AM (John 8:58; Ex. 3:14) — the self-existent one — it is impossible for Jesus to die both physically and spiritually—to cease to exist. Moreover, as a member of the trinity, Jesus' spirit could not die independently from that of the Father and the Holy Spirit. To do so would violate the divine union of the three persons.

At that moment of spiritual death, was Jesus still God?

A consideration of your follow-on question leads to the same answer: Jesus can never cease to be God any more than the Father or the Spirit can cease to be God. God cannot divorce Himself from His divine nature or eternality. Ontologically, He can never be anything other than fully God eternally: at every instant of history (and even before) He always fully exists.

The Incarnation

The difficulty for us is grasping the nature of the incarnation—that Jesus, who exists eternally (e.g., John 1:1-3), was born in His humanity at a point in history and, later, died—also in His humanity, as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. Thus, He died physically, but we have no evidence from any passage I'm aware of that we should consider His death in any way to be spiritual. (His cry asking why the Father had forsaken Him is a pointer to the opening line of Psalm 22—which He knew He was fulfilling—but also should be understood as being in reaction to dying on the cross without the Father's intervention).

The nature of the sin Jesus bore

It is important to remember that although Jesus bore our sins thereby propitiating God's wrath, His death was not brought about by sin. Unlike we, who age and die because of our sin, Jesus was sinless.1 Although we are born separated from God spiritually (born dead, needing to be born again to be joined spiritually to God), not so Jesus. Our sin was placed upon Him—it was not His own. Although He became an offering for sin, our sin debt which He bore was not the innate cause of His death—as it is with us. So the process by which man becomes spiritually separated from God (our sin nature) never had a hold upon the man Jesus. Jesus never lost His sinless perfection during the mysterious transaction which took place on the cross. If He had, He would have necessarily ceased to be God and the trinity would have been ruptured: an impossibility.

Interpret the unclear by what is clear

As with the incarnation, the specifics surrounding Jesus' death on the cross are mysterious and not fully spelled out in Scripture. Like the incarnation, aspects of what took place are beyond our grasp. In such cases, the best we can do is apply what we do know with certainty in an attempt to confirm or deny ideas which arise on these issues. In this case, the nature of God: His eternal existence, His ongoing sinlessness, and His immutable nature, help us to discount ideas which violate those fundamentals.

I hope that helps.


Endnotes:

1.Isa. 53:9; John 7:18; 8:46; 14:30; 2Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 7:26; 9:14; 1Pe. 1:19; 2:22; 1Jn. 3:5

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