The God Who Became Man, The Man Who is God

How are we to understand the person of Jesus Christ in light of the biblical evidence that he was God and human? The church has wrestled with this tension for 2000 years, and much like the Trinity, has come to the conclusion that there is a deep mystery in the unity of the divine and human natures in the one person of Christ. What we will attempt to clarify in this lecture is what we do not mean by claiming that Jesus is both 100% God and 100% man. It would seem on the surface that these two assertions are contradictory. How can God be located in only one place, or how can a man who is finite know everything or be all powerful? It would seem that we have made a statement that makes no sense. While we are free to make nonsensical statements, the church throughout its history has rightly been uncomfortable with leaving its doctrines unexplained. While the explanations have not always been satisfying to everyone, often being perceived as more confusing and worthless than the original nonsense statement, the church has nevertheless felt compelled to offer an explanation for the faith that we have. Like Augustine, we must start from our position of faith in the revelation of God, but once we stand in the position of faith, we are not asked to remain silent, but are instead called to seek to understand our faith, to give a credible answer to the questions that are raised both by those inside the family and those outside. It is to that charge that we proceed as we seek to elucidate the mystery of the unity of the two natures in the one person of Christ.
Let it be understood at the outset that there is no explicit verse that deals with how the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ work together, or if they have any influence upon each other. Over the course of church history various options were put forward as to how the divine and human interact in Jesus. The two broad options that the church has rejected is that either one or the other nature becomes practically irrelevant. Liberalism depreciated the divinity of Christ, while conservatives have often depreciated his humanity. The latter problem has been termed Docetism, while the former one goes by many names, but broadly we can call it an Ebionite issue.
At this point, you might be asking what does it matter how we understand the divinity and humanity in Christ. Does it really matter what is going on behind the scenes? Well, on one level you may be correct, but history has shown us that when a group of believers fails to struggle with the unity of the divine and human that they tend over time to fall into one of the misunderstandings of Jesus, with the long term result that they eventually either deny his humanity or his divinity. It is our goal to so understand how the two natures are related that we can stay on the narrow road of orthodoxy and avoid crashing into either the docetic or ebionite guard rail.
A practical implication of the unity of the divine and human in Christ is that he bridges the metaphysical, moral, and spiritual gap between God and humanity. We have already shown that the Bible portrays Jesus as both human and God. At this point, however, we must ask ourselves are there any scriptural texts that indicate to us a way to reconcile the two natures in Christ. In other words, what happens in the womb of Mary when Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit? There are several verses in which both the humanity and divinity of Jesus are mentioned in the same context, with the implication being that there is only one person Jesus Christ who is being discussed. One such passage is John 1:14 in which “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Here the Word who is clearly described as God in v. 1 is said to have become flesh and he has dwelt among us. The divine has become human, but has not ceased to be divine. Jesus is also treated as a single person. There is no indication that we are dealing with a person who is possessed by God, a person who somehow has God hiding inside of him, as we often find to be the case in the NT with those who are possessed by a demon. The person is not equated with the demon, but instead the demon is treated as an invading party to the person. This is not the case with Jesus. He is not a man who has been invaded by God, but is a man who is God.
Galatians 4:4 says that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law.” Again, we see that the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity was born of a woman, born under law. It is clear from this passage that God became a man while not ceasing to be God. If we look close, we also will see that this passage does not tell us how this took place. We can be certain that the Son was born of a woman, but how it happens is not revealed. If you are like me, you drove to work today. You got in your car, turned the key, pushed the pedal, and made your way down the road. Most of us have a slight understanding of how our car works, but we could not explain what is going on under the hood. I can tell you that my car got me to work today, but I could not explain to you how it works. If, however, we wanted to know how it works we could go to the manual to discover what makes a car run. When we go the manual called the Bible, there is not an entry for what takes place under the hood of the incarnation, but it is clear that there was an incarnation of the Son. It may be more like the scientific paradox of how light is both a wave and a particle. According to our current understanding this should not be possible, but yet it is. Although we do not know how light can function in these two ways, we nevertheless affirm that it does.[1]
In speaking about the great mystery of the incarnation Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3:16 that “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” Here we see that “he” appeared in a body. The “he” that is being referred to is Jesus. It was the Son, the second person of the Trinity who appeared in a body and was taken up in glory. He revealed himself as a human being. We will come back in a little bit and show how some people have taken the phrase “in the flesh” both here and in John 1:14 to argue that what happened in the incarnation is that God only inhabited a human shell. He clothed himself in a human form, in flesh, but did not join himself to a human psychology or will.
In addition to those passages which speak of Jesus as both God and man, there are also verses that use titles that apply to both his human and divine nature. In 1 Corinthians 2:8 we read that “None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” What they did not understand was the secret wisdom of God decreed before the foundation of the world that God himself was saving his people by becoming one of them. In the verse under consideration we have the shocking statement that the rulers of this age crucified the lord of glory. The question that must be asked is who is the lord of glory? Who is being referenced in this verse? The easy answer is Jesus, and of course, that is the correct answer. Might there be, however, a deeper reference to the OT understanding of God as the lord of glory. We find the same type of statement in Acts 3:15 when Peter says that the religious leaders killed the author of life. The irony is obvious in that statement. The very one who created life has been put to death. How can the lord of glory be crucified? How can the author of life have his life taken from him. As we learn in John 5:26 the Father has life in himself and he has granted for the Son to have life in himself also. Here we are getting into the eternal generation of the Son from the Father, but that is another discussion, one best left for a lecture on the Trinity. Nevertheless, it is clear that the Son has life in himself, not from outside himself. If the Son has life in himself, then how can someone crucify him and take that life from him. Again, we read that Jesus laid down his life for his followers. His life was not taken from him, but he has the power to lay down his life and pick it up again.[2] This is not a power that a human has on his own, and yet, death is not something that can happen to God.
In a similar vein, we read in John 3:13 that “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” It is the son of man that has descended from heaven. We know that this was the favorite title that Jesus had for himself. Is he saying that he descended from heaven where he existed before he was born? That would appear to be the clear implication of the statement, but how do we reconcile this statement with the conception of Jesus. Did Jesus exist before he was conceived, and if so, was his conception merely a disguise. Was it play acting to try to convince people that he was human, or was the conception of Jesus the conception of a real human being, albeit without a human father contributing the male DNA? If we are to hold to a consistent hermeneutic that involves both the reliability and consistency of the biblical witness, then we cannot merely brush aside all the evidence that speaks of the true humanity of Christ. It is this problem that has brought about the tension in the church in attempting to understand the unity of the two natures in the one person of Christ.


[1] I am aware of quantum mechanics and its work on wave and particle relations. I use this example to show how people can hold two positions that seem at odds with each other because the evidence forces them to that position. Much like modern quantum science, the church was confronted with the two facts of the divinity and humanity of Christ and has sought to understand how the two can be related, while still holding to the truth of each nature.
[2] John 10:18


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