Understanding Christ’s Nature
I have always believed that Jesus Christ was both God and Man. But until I was introduced to the reformed faith, I did not think He had a fully human soul. I always thought the Holy Spirit took the place of the human soul in His body. Why? Because for me it was beyond comprehension that one finite human soul could bear the wrath of God against the sins of so many. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, should be able to endure such wrath because He is an infinite Spirit. Or so I thought.
But then I was introduced to the Westminster Shorter Catechism and Question 22 caught my eye:
Q: How did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?
A: Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to himself a true body, and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin.
The proof text for “reasonable soul” is Matthew 26:28. “Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.“
It is indeed a mystery that the infinite Divinity took on finite human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. But it is an even greater mystery to me that it was the finite part, his human body and soul, that somehow bore the punishment of my sin along with the sins of all those who ever have or ever will come to faith in Christ. One human body with one human soul bearing all of God’s wrath to redeem sinful humanity!! It was not Christ’s divine nature that bore our sins, for God is eternal and cannot die. Human sins require a human sacrifice.
Christ Was in Control
Then I was exposed to another mind-blowing concept. Christ orchestrated His own execution! He didn’t just willingly submit to the Father’s will, but he Himself drove a process that had been put in place by agreement of the Trinity before the world began!! When the time for His death drew near, He marched straight into the arms of his executioners, according to Luke 9:51, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” His determination to march to his own death was so great that it frightened the disciples. They knew that following Him might well mean dying with Him (Jn 11:16). After He had taken his last Passover meal with the disciples, John 13:3-4a says, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, …rose from supper.” From this point on He was in control of all the circumstances surrounding His death. Remember He is the one who told Judas to put his treacherous plan into play in John 13:27, “Jesus said to him, What you are going to do, do quickly.” When Judas and the temple guard later came to the garden to arrest Him, they all fell backwards in terror (John 18:6), probably because Christ appeared in His glory to them. Yet He willingly yielded to them. Later when He refused to tell Pilate where He came from in John 19, Pilate threatened him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus responded by saying, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” The calm and control with which Jesus faced Pilate in the prospect of such a gruesome death must have been unnerving for the governor, because from that point on he did everything he could to try to free Jesus.
The circumstances of Christ’s crucifixion also coincided perfectly with the symbolism of the Passover, highlighting the significance of His death as the sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Only God could have accomplished such a feat. All of the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning Christ’s death and resurrection were fulfilled at the cross. Compare the description of the crucifixion in Psalm 22 with the actual events of Christ’s death:
“All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!“
“Many bulls encompass me;
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.”
“I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.”
“For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”
This Psalm repeats the exact words uttered by the bystanders at Christ’s crucifixion and the very actions taken by the soldiers at the foot of the cross (Lk 23:35, John 19:24) as well as the manner in which Christ died.
Isaiah 53:5-6 says:
“And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death…“
Matthew 27:57–60 describes the fulfillment of this prophecy:
“When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock.”
God Planned it All
I used to think that God gave the prophets a peak of the future that He saw unfolding before Him because of His omniscience. But the fact is that he not only saw it, He planned it exactly the way it took place. Acts 3:18 says, “But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled.” God didn’t just see what was going to happen, He caused it to happen.
God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit agreed before the world began that the Father would send the Son to earth as a man to pay the price for the sins of mankind in order to spare whoever would believe in Christ from eternal punishment. Then Jesus carried out the plan according to the divine counsel.
But the fact that Christ suffered the wrath of God in a body made of frail human flesh with a limited capacity for suffering and that He did so willingly when He could have stopped the process at any time is way beyond my comprehension. We know from scripture that He got tired and needed sleep, that He got hungry and needed food, that He got thirsty and needed to drink. Yet this man made of the same stuff we are made of somehow endured a level of pain and suffering that seems beyond all proportion to the physical, mental and emotional limits of human nature. And beyond that, for the short while He hung on that cross, He was separated from God the Father with Whom He had intimate and unbroken fellowship throughout all eternity. Despite the gruesome nature of His physical suffering, that was by far the most agonizing part of the cross. How do we comprehend the fact that the bond between God the Father and God the Son could have been severed? How is that possible?
We Will One Day Know
Though impossible for us to comprehend these mysteries now, we will one day understand them better. And when we do, we will join with the hosts of heaven in praising Jesus:
“Worthy is the lamb who was killed
to receive power and wealth
and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and praise!”
Then I heard every creature – in heaven, on earth, under the earth, in the sea, and all that is in them – singing:
“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be praise, honor, glory, and ruling power forever and ever!”
And the four living creatures were saying “Amen,” and the elders threw themselves to the ground and worshiped.“(Rev 5:12-14)