Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Why Jesus Had to be Both God and Man
just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. Matthew 20:28NKJ
Question 38 of the Larger Catechism asks, “Why was it requisite that the Mediator should be God?” It gives the answer, “It was requisite that the Mediator should be God, that he might sustain and keep the human nature from sinking under the infinite wrath of God, and the power of death; give worth and efficacy to his sufferings, obedience, and intercession, and to satisfy God’s justice, procure his favour, purchase a peculiar people, give his Spirit to them, conquer all their enemies, and bring them to everlasting salvation.” Last time we examined this question we looked at the atonement of Christ according to the monumental work of Anselm of Canterbury, Cur Deus Homo? “Why the God man?” And we saw that our mediator had to be fully God in order to adequately satisfy the wrath of God and to give infinite worth and efficacy to his human good works. Today we will once again draw upon Bishop Anselm to consider how Christ satisfied the justice of God.
When Anselm wrote his work at the end of the eleventh century, the majority of Christian theologians understood that Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross was a ransom. However, they concluded that the ransom was a payment made to Satan in order to purchase back for God the world that was lost to Satan in The Fall. Anselm decidedly broke with this early ransom theory of the atonement. He affirmed that a payment was made, that God’s elect truly were ransomed by their Redeemer’s life, as the Scripture at the head of this article declares. But Anselm concluded that the ransom payment was not made to Satan but to God. Now when all mankind fell into sin by the transgression of Adam, it is true that Satan scored a victory against man. The devil became in that moment, as Scripture calls him, “the god of this world,” (2 Cor. 4:4). Three times in the gospel of John Jesus refers to Satan as “the ruler of this world,” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). And even long after our Lord’s resurrection and ascension, the Bible still concludes, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one,” (1 John 5:19). So we can see why many theologians would theorize that a sort of payment had to be made to Satan in order to free man from his rule over him. How did Anselm break with this tradition?
Anselm saw that when man fell into sin, all of the evils that came upon him as a result – including being made subject to the rule of Satan – were by the judgment of God. In sinning against God, mankind did not give to God what he owed to Him. The Fall was an act of cosmic injustice. The injustice consisted of the creature, man, failing to render to the Creator, God, what was His just due from the creature. Man owed God perfect obedience. Man was made perfect and was given the ability to continue to perfectly obey God. In rendering that perfect obedience to God, man would give full justice to God, pleasing Him, and thereby securing his own blessedness forever. Furthermore, Anselm reasoned, the debt of justice owed from one being to another is greater or lesser depending upon the dignity and worth of the being to whom it is owed, and the nature of the relationship that being has to his debtor. Because God’s dignity and worth is infinite meant that man’s sin against God was an act of infinite injustice, offending God infinitely. Likewise, because man was the offender, God’s justice demanded that only man could make up for the offense. Man the offender must satisfy God the One offended by bearing all of the weight of the offense itself in order for the relationship to be restored.
Thus, the justice of God is the ultimate reason why the Mediator between God and man had to be both God and man in order to fully reconcile them. He had to be man in order to rightly bear the weight of his offensive action against God, and He had to be God in order to sustain or hold up the human nature of His person so that it would fully absorb the infinite wrath of God and not sink under the greater-than-human power of death. As the Godman Jesus satisfied God’s justice, and it is only by God’s justice that Satan was given authority over man. Therefore, to save man, Jesus paid the necessary ransom for our salvation, not to Satan, but to God. He was qualified to pay in our place because He was fully human, and He was able to complete the payment and perfectly satisfy all of God’s offended justice because He was also fully God!