The Humanity of Jesus: Dying in Our Place

Man“God became man, and by his own death, as we believe and affirm, restored life to the world” (Anselm, Cur Deus Homo, 178). The humanity of Christ has many important implications for us, not the least of which relates to his death. Christ had to be a man at his crucifixion in order for salvation to be efficacious.

That the God-Man hung on a cross is a profound mystery. But it is crucial that we understand why Jesus had to be both God and man. Those two natures, combined in one person, are essential for accomplishing what the atonement set out to do: restore sinful man to a holy and righteous God. The Scriptures teach us that the atonement was an event planned by God to reunite himself with his people. As a being perfect in righteousness and holiness God cannot look upon sin (Hab. 1:13). Humanity has sinned, every last one of us (Rom. 3:23), we are born enemies of God by nature (Eph. 2:3). In order for God to dwell with man he must enact justice and cleanse them from sin.

The combination of those two needs makes God’s relationship with humanity difficult. After all, the punishment deserving for offending an infinite God is an infinite punishment. As Jonathan Edwards wrote:

Rebellion against God’s authority and contempt of his majesty, which every sin contains, is an infinite evil, because it has that infinite aggravation of being against an infinitely excellent and glorious majesty and most absolute authority.  A sin against a more excellent being is doubtless greater than against a lesser excellent; and therefore, sins against one infinite in majesty, authority and excellency must be infinite in aggravation, and so deserve that the punishment should be to that degree of intenseness as to be the destruction of the creature, because every sin is an act of hostility, and ‘tis fit that God’s enemies should be destroyed. (“The Torments of Hell are Exceeding and Great)

So, the type of rebellion that man enacts against God requires a payment that man cannot make. He can never satisfy God’s wrath. So how, then, can man and God dwell together. The solution that is offered is Jesus, the perfect God-Man. He in his dual natures can provide the necessary sacrifice. And it is through understanding this concept that we see the importance of Jesus being both God and man in his death.

The doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement teaches that Jesus is offered up as a perfect sacrifice in our place to take the wrath of God in our place. Dr. Ware summarizes the importance of Jesus’s dual nature for the atonement, he writes:

Therefore, Jesus had to be fully God as well as fully man. He had to be fully God for the payment he rendered to be of infinite value, satisfying fully the demands of an infinitely holy God against our sin. But he also had to be fully human in order for his death to be substitutionary, strictly speaking. He died in our place, dying the death we deserve to die, bearing in his body on the cross the sin we commit (1 Peter 2:24), and to do this, Christ had to be a man. So although the infinite value of Christ’s payment for our sin attaches to his being fully God, the substitutionary nature of Christ’s death – that he took our place, bore our sin, and died the death we deserved to die – attaches most squarely to his being fully human. Once again, then, the atoning death of Christ was only efficacious because Jesus who died for our sin was a full integral human being. (113)

The atonement can only be applied to us if the one who achieved it was himself like us.

Jesus as a man secures salvation for man. He is a perfect substitute because he is like us, and yet he can satisfy God’s wrath because he is like God. The God-Man makes it possible; nothing less than a fully divine and yet fully human Jesus can accomplish our salvation.

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