In the previous post beginning this series looking at the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union, we observed from the Scriptures why we need a substitute to pay the penalty for our sins. This substitute had to be fully human and not some other kind of creature. He had to live under the law–which is for humanity–and fulfill it without sin. If He had broken the law Himself, He could not pay the penalty for anyone else. He would have to bear his own penalty. We also looked at several heresies in church history that failed to explain substitutionary atonement. Understanding the need for a perfect human substitute, we will now ask the question why this same substitute also had to be fully divine.
The Perfection of God
God is just, holy, righteous, and perfect. As God is perfect, this He naturally must demand from His creatures. His law is flawless, eternal, and demanding.
The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
— Psalm 19:7
If a human who is made “in the image of God” violates the perfect Law of God at any time, he is absolutely guilty without the slightest plea for pardon in his own case. God has commanded:
Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God.
— Deuteronomy 18:13
Jesus, the perfect substitute who was fully human as we, yet sinless, likewise affirmed:
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
— Matthew 5:48
God cannot grade on a curve. God cannot allow any violations of His law to go unpunished. If He did, He would be inconsistent with His own nature. If God ultimately waived any sin, He would violate His own law and be imperfect Himself. If God were to declare a penalty for violating His law, then dismiss it for any reason, He would be a liar and not God. However, it is impossible for God to lie (Num 23:19; Tit 1:2; Heb 6:18).
Therefore, fellow humans, to satisfy the holiness of God on our own, we would have to keep the entire law of God without the slightest error. How have we done thus far?
The Plight of Humanity
When we look around us, we easily can see that plenty of humans exist who have violated God’s law. However, if we look at our own hearts, we cannot deny our place among them. If God expects humans to be perfect, has there been even one among us who have fulfilled this requirement?
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
— 1 John 1:8, 10
Even Job, who is described as “perfect and upright” (at least in the outward sense) had his flaws. After testing Job’s endurance, God had to give him a long lecture about His own sovereignty. After this scolding, Job said, “Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6) Earlier, Job admitted something that every human who understands his own heart should admit:
If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse.
— Job 9:20
This is not simply “piety” or “humility” that demonstrates the goodness of a person. This is admitting the truth of one’s own plight. Truly, Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, who received wisdom from God Himself, realized:
For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.
— Ecclesiastes 7:20
The Apostle Paul, who was very knowledgeable in the Old Testament, used to believe he stood righteous before God, but was converted from the error of his ways and declared:
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
— Romans 3:23
King David, who was “a man after God’s own heart” is also one we know as a murderer and adulterer. He realized the plight of humanity when he observed:
God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God.
Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
— Psalm 53:2-3
The Penalty for Sin
The Word of God is clear about the absolute penalty for sin–any sin. Although different sins can have different degrees of consequences according to the form of the law God gave to Moses for the people of Israel, ultimately the penalty for the sinner is the same: death.
Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.
— Ezekiel 18:4
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
— Romans 5:12
For the wages of sin is death;…
— Romans 6:23a
This is why people die physically. Because we are all sinners, the penalty of this sin is death. Yet, there is never a time in our lives when we were not sinners. We start dying even from conception because we are already sinners and experience the penalty for our sin.
The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.
— Psalm 58:3
For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.
Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.
— Psalm 51:3-5
But, is death from this life the final punishment for sin? Is the end of this life a sufficient satisfaction for the perfect law of God? We may think this at first thought, but when we consider our imperfect human system of justice, we will realize that even death from this short life cannot satisfy perfect justice.
Picture all the recent serial murders and shootings that have been occurring almost every week on the news. A man steps into a movie theater and opens fire on a crowd. A man snipes at a crowd from a high floor of a hotel room. A man enters a church and kills up to three generations within one family alone. Is the mere death of the single body of one murderer, whether by a cop or by suicide, a perfect satisfaction of justice to account for the death toll of the many others in his wake? Did perfect justice happen when Hitler took his own life? We know and experience the void and the lingering lack of justice even as the life of a murderer ends. The voice of the blood of millions still cry out from the ground.
Even as we ponder all the injustice in the world, we must realize that we can’t even begin to understand the injustice from God’s perspective. Even things we might dismiss and believe are good, God sees them from the perspective of perfect, eternal holiness. Even “the plowing of the wicked is sin” (Pro 21:4) because anything done for reasons not to glorify and worship the holy God are sin before Him.
Does the Bible provide the solution for perfect justice? Indeed it does. No sin goes unpunished perfectly.
For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
— Ecclesiastes 12:14
The serial murderer cannot escape the full consequences of mass slaughter by merely taking his own life. God will bring this work, and every sin, into judgment. This must mean that the judgment comes after death, because, although death from this life is a consequence of us being sinners, it cannot suffice to satisfy perfect justice.
And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
— Hebrews 9:27
What does this judgment look like? What is perfect justice for sin?
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
— Revelation 20:12-15
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
— Matthew 25:41
Such a picture is indeed frightening and horrible to ponder, but when we understand a perfect God and perfect justice, nothing else can even make sense. Perfect justice for violating the perfect law of God demands a perfect punishment, which must be eternal. Also, notice that every “secret thing,” or the very thoughts of people, are included in this judgment. Not a single human being can escape the fury of the wrath of God against his sin. Not a single human being can stand in judgment of God or accuse Him of injustice. We all deserve this fate, and none of us can escape it…without a substitute.
The Perfect Substitute
Every religion devised in the mind of man misunderstands perfect justice, because every religion reasons from the limitations of man’s experience. Only God’s Word shows us what true justice demands. Every religion that believes that we humans can actually redeem ourselves by doing “good” neither understands God nor humanity.
Knowing that every person will stand before the judgment of God as a sinner, the only way any human can be spared the wrath of God is for someone else who has never sinned to bear that penalty in his stead. For example, if I robbed you of $100,000 and you took me to court and the judge ruled in your favor that I owe you the money back, that would be just. However, what if I had spent all this money before the trial and had become physically handicapped? Although the judge ruled in your favor, you would still be deprived of all that money I had stolen. If I had no hope of paying it all back, you would never feel satisfied. What if I repented of my theft and you felt touched by the guilt I felt? That would be better than if I were proud of my misdeed. What if the judge were wealthy and, in his mercy and grace, pardoned me of that debt by paying you back all that money himself? Justice would be served more because the crime is resolved and your loss has been recompensed.
Because justice demands that stolen property be restored in full–at a minimum–there are many times when perfect justice is not even possible. Yet, if a perfect God demands perfect justice of imperfect creatures, how do imperfect creates escape the perfect punishment that inevitably must follow? The answer is a perfect substitute! This substitute must be fully human to satisfy the law of God given to humans, but he must be fully divine to satisfy the injustice against a perfect God and to bear this penalty on behalf of every guilty human being who will be spared.
Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
— Matthew 20:28
How can one man–even if he managed to be perfect–pay the penalty of capital punishment due to more than one person? As we observed earlier, Hitler’s suicide could not atone for the deaths of the millions of people he killed. Merely putting to death one innocent human in Hitler’s place would not atone for all his murders. The perfect substitute would have to have enough value in his person as a full human being to pay the justice for all those deaths before God. Such a person would have to be divine to endure the intense wrath of God Himself on all that sin. Such a person is Jesus Christ of Nazareth–the God-Man.
The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
And he is the propitiation [satisfaction] for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
— 1 John 2:2
Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.
— 1 Peter 2:24
For one human being’s death to satisfy the penalty of the sins of billions of people from all over the world, he could not simply be human.
Who, then, was this one who was killed?
And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses.
— Acts 3:15
Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
— 1 Corinthians 2:8
Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ;
Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
— Titus 2:13
(Jesus) Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;
— Hebrews 1:3
Only one who is eternal and of eternal worth can accomplish this marvelous task! He must be the go-between for God and man by being both fully divine and fully human Himself.
For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;
— 1 Timothy 2:5
My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
— 1 John 2:1
But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood.
Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
— Hebrews 7:24-25
Job understood the need for a perfect mediator between God and man when he declared of himself:
I know it is so of a truth: but how should man be just with God?
If he will contend with him, he cannot answer him one of a thousand.
For [God] he is not a man, as I am, that I should answer him, and we should come together in judgment.
Neither is there any daysman betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both.
Let him take his rod away from me, and let not his fear terrify me:
Then would I speak, and not fear him; but it is not so with me.
— Job 9:2-3,32-35
Praise God that He has provided a perfect Savior to satisfy His perfect justice and restore us to Himself! How are we made just before God in light of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ? We must believe Who He is and what He did on our behalf.
But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.
But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.
Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
— Galatians 3:23-26
The law of God is perfect, good, and righteous, but it condemns us. It shows us how we are guilty before God. It shows us that we need a perfect Savior, who is none other than Jesus Christ.
What did Jesus Christ do for us in bearing the penalty of sin on our behalf?
For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
–1 Corinthians 15:3-4
We need to realize that the Jesus Christ Who lived 2,000 years ago died on the cross of Calvary not as a mere man or as a martyr for a religious cause, but that He was the divine Son of God in full humanity who came to give His own life on the cross. He was not swooned and revived, He was buried and fully dead for three days. Then, He conquered death and the satisfaction of divine justice by being raised back to life in the same body in which He was wounded.
Now, He is glorified in heaven still as the God-Man Who is our mediator, advocate, and High Priest before the father to plead His blood perfectly on behalf of all those who believe His work saves them. He will return to earth to complete the final act of justice by putting an end to all sin being committed. Those who refuse the perfect substitute will bear the full penalty of their sin against God’s law by suffering an eternal punishment in a Lake of Fire. Those who believed in the perfect work of Jesus Christ as the perfect substitute for their sins will spend eternity with Jesus Christ with glorified and resurrected bodies like His own but without the wounds.
This is the choice that we all must make, and this is why the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union matters. The doctrine that Jesus Christ is both fully divine and fully human is entirely the apex of all reality. Indeed, the reality we all experience is complete nonsense without the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. All logic and reason is meaningless and completely contradictory without the Hypostatic Union.