A Series of Answers to Common Questions
If Jesus is God, how can God die? Who was running the universe those three days that Jesus was dead?
Implicit in the question is the assumption that death implies non-existence, so to say Jesus died implies that God ceased to exist, which cannot happen. The problem is that the definition of death is wrong since according to the holy Scriptures death does not mean non-existence, but rather refers to the separation that resulted from Adam's rebellion against God. The Scriptures tell us that as a result of the first man's sin, two types of separation occurred. The first is spiritual "death" where a person is severed from having fellowship with God, being separated from God's loving, intimate presence. Instead of God's love abiding upon an individual, it is the divine wrath that rests upon him:
"The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.'" Genesis 2:15-17
After disobeying God by eating from the forbidden tree, the man and his wife were then banished from the presence of God in Eden:
"And the LORD God said, 'The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.' So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life." Genesis 3:22-24
Scriptures continue to elaborate on this spiritual separation that has occurred as a result of sin:
"For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil will not sojourn with you. The boastful will not stand before your eyes; you hate evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful." Psalm 5:4-6 NRSV
"If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear." Psalm 66:18
"Rather, your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear." Isaiah 59:2
"Then they will cry to the LORD, but He will not hear them; He will even hide His face from them at that time, because they have been evil in their deeds." Micah 3:4
"Your eyes are too pure to behold evil, and you cannot look on wrongdoing..." Habakkuk 1:13
"But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger." Romans 2:5, 8
"As for you, you were DEAD in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to LIVE when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us ALIVE with Christ even when we were DEAD in transgressionsit is by grace you have been saved." Ephesians 2:1-5
In this last passage, Paul speaks of believers being dead in sin prior to their regeneration and union with the Lord Jesus. Yet it is obvious that believers were still conscious and alive when they were dead in sin. Being dead in sin doesn't mean ceasing to exist, but refers to being separated from loving union with God, just as the passage itself states.
The second type of "death" that the Holy Bible refers to is physical death. This is where the soul/spirit departs from the body and the body returns to the ground from which it came. And, as our sin-bearer, the Lord Jesus experienced both types of death, i.e. the loss of intimate communion with God and his soul departing from his body. We will have a lot more to say about this in response to the next question in our series.
Yet, neither types of death results in non-existence or cessation of life. Note for example, the following citations:
"But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel." Hebrews 12:22-24
"As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead." James 2:26
"When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed." Revelation 6:9-11
Interestingly, not only is the questioner's definition of death unbiblical, it is also contrary to the Quran:
And say not of those slain in God's way, 'They are dead'; rather they are living, but you are not aware. S. 2:154
Count not those who were slain in God's way as dead, but rather living with their Lord, by Him provided, rejoicing in the bounty that God has given them, and joyful in those who remain behind and have not joined them, because no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow, S. 3:169-170
This echoes the words of the Lord Jesus Christ:
"But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive." Luke 20:37-38
Christ, therefore, did not cease to live when he died on the cross since, as the Holy Bible teaches, the Lord's soul was still consciously alive during the three days his body lay in the tomb:
"Jesus answered them, Destroy this temple, AND I WILL RAISE IT AGAIN IN THREE DAYS. The Jews replied, It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and YOU are going to raise it in three days? But the temple he had spoken of was HIS BODY. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken." John 2:19-22
"The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life--only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down OF MY OWN ACCORD. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father." John 10:17-18
The only way that Christ could be able to raise himself from the dead is if Christ were still consciously alive. This establishes that Christ did not cease to exist for those three days that his body remained in the grave. Both Christs divine nature and his human soul were still conscious during that period of time.
So in answer to the question, the one true God always exists as three distinct Persons even during the entombment of Christs physical body. And, even as his body lay buried, Christ was alive and sovereignly sustaining the universe along with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
A Series of Answers to Common Questions
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