At Christ's Sacrifice On The Cross, Did Only His Human Nature Die Or Did His Divine Nature Die As Well?

This is a complex and easily-distorted subject, and one can be tempted to replace divine revelation with his or her own speculative theories. But certain inspired statements can help us to better understand the subject. For instance, in Isaiah 9:6, Christ is called “Everlasting Father.” In John 11:25, Christ Himself affirms, “I am the resurrection and the life.” In John 10:17, 18, He adds, “. . . because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again . . .” And Ellen G. White says, “In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived.”1

In harmony with these statements, Ellen White argues: “He who had said, ‘I lay down my life, that I might take it again’ (John 10:17), came forth from the grave to life that was in Himself. Humanity died; divinity did not die. In His divinity, Christ possessed the power to break the bonds of death. He declares that He has life in Himself to quicken whom He will. All created beings live by the will and power of God. They are recipients of the life of the Son of God. However able and talented, however large their capacities, they are replenished with life from the Source of all life. He is the spring, the fountain, of life. Only He who alone hath immortality, dwelling in light and life, [could] say, ‘I have power to lay it (my life) down, and I have power to take it again’ (John 10:18).”2

The following statement by Ellen White confirms the above-mentioned concept: “Was the human nature of the Son of Mary changed into the divine nature of the Son of God? No; the two natures were mysteriously blended in one person—the man Christ Jesus. In Him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. When Christ was crucified, it was His human nature that died. Deity did not sink and die; that would have been impossible. . . . When the voice of the angel was heard saying, ‘Thy Father calls thee,’ He who had said, ‘I lay down my life, that I might take it again,’ ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,’ came forth from the grave to life that was in Himself. Deity did not die. Humanity died, but Christ now proclaims over the rent sepulcher of Joseph, ‘I am the resurrection, and the life.’ In His divinity Christ possessed the power to break the bonds of death. He declares that He had life in Himself to quicken whom He will.”3

In Ellen White’s devotional book entitled Lift Him Up, she adds: “Jesus Christ laid off His royal robe, His kingly crown, and clothed His divinity with humanity, in order to become a substitute and surety for humanity, that dying in humanity He might by His death destroy him who had the power of death. He could not have done this as God, but by coming as man Christ could die. By death He overcame death.”4

But even if “the life of an angel could not be accepted as a sacrifice”5 for the fall of the human race, would it be enough if only Christ’s human nature died on the cross? This is, undoubtedly, a mystery for which we don’t have all the answers. However, we should not forget that Christ came as the “last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45) to pay the price for the ransom of humanity (see Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:20-22). He died as a man for all human beings. In addition to that, Christ died the “second death” (Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8) from which there is no resurrection of creatures. Because this death means the eternal alienation of the creature from the Creator, only He who has life in Himself could resurrect from this death.

Therefore, even if we don’t have answers to all the questions about the “mystery of godliness” (1 Tim. 3:16), by faith we accept the inspired statements that tell us that on the cross, only Christ’s human nature died, not His divine nature, which was mysteriously veiled during the incarnation.

1 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, 530.

2 ———, Selected Messages, book 1:301.

3 ——— quoted in the SDA Bible Commentary, 5:1113.

4 ———, Lift Him Up, 345.

5 ———, Patriarch and Prophets, 66

This question is answered by Alberto Timm, an associate director of the General Conference Ellen G. White Estate.