The book of Hebrews is a store house of wonderful treasure concerning Jesus Christ. One of these precious gemstones tells us, “In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety” (5:7). The context of this passage deals with the qualifications of Jesus to serve in the role of High Priest. The verse cited makes reference to the agonizing night of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to His crucifixion. Prostrate before the Father, being deeply troubled over the approaching hour of sacrifice, He prayed fervently as His sweat issued in droplets of blood, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me” (Matthew 26:39).
Some hesitate to apply Hebrews 5:7 to the events in the garden due to the fact that Christ prayed for the “cup” to be removed, and while His prayer was “heard because of His piety,” the “cup” of crucifixion was not removed. Others say the “cup” was not the cross, but merely the agony of the night in prayer. That the “cup” actually referred to His death is witnessed in the fact that after the prayer had ended and the arresting party had arrived, Jesus rebuked Peter sharply for drawing his sword in defense, saying, “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11). Although the time of prayer had already passed, Jesus continued in anticipation of drinking the “cup,” therefore looking ahead to another event which must be the cross.
The supposed difficulty is answered in the fact that Christ did not pray solely for the Father to remove the cup, but additionally, “Thy will be done” (Matthew 26:42). The request of Christ was “heard” that night and the “will” of God accomplished upon the cross in answer to Christ’s prayer. While the specific petition to remove the cup was not granted, “an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him” (Luke 22:43). This affords a glimpse of how God sometimes answers prayer, not by removing the burden or even substituting a lighter one, but strengthening the heart, enabling man to accept the load that is his to endure.
Errors Regarding the Nature of Christ
The passage from Hebrews indicates these things occurred “In the days of His flesh” – implying that He had an existence prior to His appearance in the flesh of humanity (cf. John 1:1, 14). His life in the flesh commenced with His birth; however, only forty years after the death of Christ, some Christians began entertaining various opinions concerning the nature of Jesus. Greek philosophy taught that “flesh” is intrinsically evil, and it didn’t take long before Satan developed false teachers who perverted the immensely important doctrine of the incarnation.
A group known as Docetists (A.D. 70-170) denied that Jesus was literally a person of “flesh.” Believing all flesh to be inherently evil, they disbelieved that God could be connected with such, and therefore the body of Jesus could not have been real human flesh. The heresy of this denial is seen in John’s strong warning: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 7). Organized groups denying the flesh of Jesus within a few years of John’s letter where the Docetists, Cerinthians, and Gnostics. But their protest against the flesh of Christ doesn’t alter the truth.
Conversely, the deity of Jesus was denied by the Ebionites in A.D. 107. They believed Jesus was just a mere man who was anointed with the Holy Spirit to teach God’s will among men. The Arians in A.D. 325 believed Jesus was superior to man, but inferior to God. They believed Jesus was the first and greatest creation of God, and that the title “Son of God” proved subordination to the Father in time and origin because – as the Jehovah’s Witnesses argue today – the son cannot be co-existent with the father.
The denial of either the deity of Jesus or His humanity is a primary goal of Satan for all who will not totally forsake Him, and the succeeding centuries (even until today) abound with groups claiming to be “Christians,” but who unashamedly deny either the flesh of Christ or His eternal divinity as God.
The Humanity of Jesus Announced By God
Old Testament prophecy revealed that Messiah would partake of a physical nature. On the occasion of the first sin, God declared to the serpent, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel” (Genesis 3:15). These words are the first announcement of God’s brilliant design for grace.
Both Adam and Eve had sinned, and every intelligent creature, whether angelic or demonic, heavenly or earthly, were all fully aware of the devastating consequences of sin. Satan’s intent was to slay mankind; not by wielding the sword himself, but through instigating sin, he anticipated God wielding the sword of justice against His very own special creation who sinned. The sword of Divine justice had never previously been withheld, and forgiveness was an unknown possibility (see II Peter 2:4; Jude 6).
No doubt Satan rejoiced in his great victory that day, but his rejoicing would be short lived. Before the elation in his ugly heart could reach a climax, God revealed that although Satan had gained a victory over mankind, he would never achieve victory over God. The actions and intents of Satan against man had been countered and overruled before the creation of the world (see Revelation 13:8; I Peter 1:18-21; Ephesians 1:3-10).
While the first disclosure of God’s grace for mankind conveyed limited information, the grand significance of those words is unlimited, reaching even into eternity. The purpose of God in creating man had not been thwarted by Satan; rather, God was making definite use of the Evil One in working out His eternal purpose. The ruthless and cruel attack Satan perpetrated against our beautiful Mother Eve in the dawn of creation reveals his hideous character and unscrupulous methods. He wantonly beguiled her; wooing her with deceptive words, winning her confidence, and betraying her without mercy.
Satan’s implacable hatred of God viciously brought down upon Eve and mankind a tidal wave of misery and woe. Think of every tear, pain, frustration, sorrow, and unending heartache that was brought upon mankind through the deceit leveled against this lovely woman who was totally innocent of any wrong against her attacker or even against her God at that juncture. But contrary to his devilish desire, God did not swing the sword of justice that day upon Adam and Eve; instead, at least one innocent animal was slain that a sufficient covering for the exposed pair might be supplied, suggesting that God Himself was determined to right the wrong that was perpetrated against man that day.
The devil’s sinister grin of grim satisfaction surely froze to his evil face when God announced the continuance of mankind on the earth, and furthermore, that the “seed” of woman would one day bruise his own repugnant head. In those brief words, God promised to Adam and Eve far more than could ever have been perceived through the limitations of finite intelligence.
The protoevangelium is rich with great Bible doctrines that need to be preached in successive harmony. A few of these are: 1) The incarnation of the Word. 2) The virgin birth. 3) The crucifixion. 4) The resurrection. 5) The ultimate victory of God over all evil. 6) The final overthrow of defeated Satan in hell. 7) The extension of God’s grace to mankind. The announcement of God that day promised breathtaking concepts.
The Essential Doctrine of Christ’s Humanity
As indicated in God’s pivotal announcement of the incarnation, the humanity of Jesus is a vital component in the declaration of hope for mankind and permanent doom of the wicked Adversary. A great division occurs in the Bible at Genesis 3. Prior to the devastating events of the garden, man enjoyed open and unrestricted access to God and to the tree of life. Adam and Eve could still be alive today if not for sin.
Following Genesis 3 appears the record of God’s activity in training and preparing those who choose to love Him for the Way of escape from the bonds of sin and death. How this remarkable grace would be achieved was certainly unknown, not merely by Adam and Eve, but by the angels (see I Peter 1:10-12), and, presumably, by Satan and his demons as well. The remainder of the Bible provides the answer as to how God will remain just and righteous in dealing with sin, but at the same time become the justifier of the one who has sin. The humanity of Jesus is a biblical doctrine we must believe.
The incarnation and the virgin birth lay side by side in the heart of God from the very beginning. The “seed” of woman can refer to none other than Jesus, born of the virgin, Mary. Many deny the incarnation as existing in the protoevangelium, but without the incarnation of God in human flesh, how could there be a “seed” of woman? It is the unvarying law of human procreation that the union of two persons, a male and female, results in new life; a new person who did not formerly exist.
But Jesus was not a new Person. He was in the beginning with God and was Himself God, the creator of all that exists (John1:1-3). To become the “seed” of woman demands the exemption of the normal process of conception, hence the necessity of the virgin birth. A sexually active woman could offer no proof that the conceived child in her womb was not of natural means.
Unbelievers scoff at the doctrine of the virgin birth, but let them answer this: By what other way would holy God become a man upon choosing to do so? Would He kill a man and take possession of his body? Would He claim a deceased body from the morgue or graveyard? When it is remembered that God created man a dichotomy of body and soul, these means can at once be discerned as implausible.
The human being is not an incorporeal spirit, but a union of body and soul. Sin resulted in devastation coming upon the human family; each person eventually succumbing to death which is the literal tearing in two of the person, separating body from soul. This condition precipitates the doctrine of the resurrection, i.e., the restoration of the person in body and soul. It would be contrary to God’s established law of creation to allow a second person to become identified with the body which belongs to another; for in the resurrection, to which person would the raised body belong?
The virgin birth solves the conundrum. The pre-existing Person who was with God and was God became clothed with the flesh of humanity in the womb of Mary, a virgin. That God was able to become flesh and live as a man reveals the complete harmony which exists between the virgin birth and the creation of man in God’s image.
From the incarnation we recognize that the kinship between God and man must be far more extensive than sometimes perceived. God is spirit (John 4:24), and man is composed of a body inbreathed with the spirit of God (Genesis 2:7). What appears to be the birth of a new person to Mary in Bethlehem is actually the fullness of the Godhead robed in human flesh (cf. Colossians 2:9) without the interaction or assistance of a male human. Jesus had no earthly father, but was conceived in the womb of a virgin by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20).
Paul explained the incarnation of Christ in these terms: “But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, becoming of a woman, becoming under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who are under the Law, that we might receive adoption as sons” (Interlinear Translation by Alfred Marshall; Galatians 4:4). Young’s Literal Translation reads, “and when the fullness of time did come, God sent forth His Son, come of a woman, come under law.”
Paul alludes to the ancient promise of God in Genesis 3:15, proving Jesus to be the “seed” of woman and not the offspring of a male human. The same is seen in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. Having listed the names of male descendents from Abraham to Joseph, he then writes, “…Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ” (1:16). Luke begins his record of ancestry in this manner, “And when He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being supposed the son of Joseph” (3:23).
Isaiah declared, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (7:14). He further explained, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). The “son” and “child” of these statements are in reference to the male child conceived and born of Mary.
In confirmation of the essential role that the humanity of Christ plays in satisfying the work of human salvation, Christ stated to the Father, “Sacrifice and offering Thou hast not desired, but a body Thou hast prepared for Me” (Hebrews 10:5). The willingness and voluntary nature with which Christ accepted the task of human redemption is beautifully illustrated in the citation’s conclusion: “In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (in the roll of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God’” (10:6-7).
The humanity of Jesus is witnessed in that He possessed a body of flesh. John said, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). John also introduced his first epistle with the same profound theme with which he began his gospel, i.e., God manifested in the flesh of Jesus Christ, that man may have fellowship with the Father through the Son (see I John 1ff). He later wrote, “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (I John 4:2).
John presents the humanity of Jesus as an essential doctrine pertaining to fellowship with God. To deny His humanity is to forfeit your reward (II John 7-11). The necessity of belief in the flesh of Christ is made equal by the apostle to the necessity of belief in His deity. Each is shown to be a heavenly “must” for all who desire to attain salvation.
The Humanity of Jesus is in Unity with our Humanity
Although He was miraculously begotten in the womb of the virgin, Mary, He experienced a perfectly natural birth as all men are born. He who “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6), found it needful to pass through the helplessness of infancy, the ignorance of toddler development, the difficulty of adolescence, and the maturation into adulthood just like all mankind.
That the incarnation is the greatest mystery of all ages is found in the words of Peter concerning both the prophets of old and the angels of heaven, all seeking to know how salvation could become a possibility. However, the great difficulty in understanding it does not diminish the full acceptance of this marvelous truth by the faithful of all ages. As brother George Bailey often says, “We don’t understand how a black cow can eat green grass, give white milk and make yellow butter; but we believe it does.” There are more mysteries on the dinner table than we can explain, but we still believe in eating. The same must be true concerning the incarnation of Christ and His identification with mankind. Although we may never fully comprehend it, we must believe it.
The Birth and Growth of Jesus as Man
The angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, saying, “For there is born unto you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). These men made their way into the city with haste, “and found both Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger” (2:16). The babe was circumcised on the eighth day according to the Law and given the name “Jesus” (2:21). After the days of purification, He was presented before the Lord in the temple “as it is written in the law of the Lord, every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord” (2:22-23).
His early childhood is summed up by Luke, who stated, “And the child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him” (2:40). The margin reveals the true meaning for the word rendered “increasing,” “lit., becoming full of.” As Jesus developed daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly, He was becoming full of wisdom; this, no doubt, was aided in no small way by the sincere devotion of Joseph and Mary in all the ways of God, revealing the importance of godly parents in the home. When He was twelve, Jesus was found in the temple “sitting in the midst of the teachers, both hearing them and asking questions: And all that heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers” (Luke 2:46-47).
Luke concludes the story of His youth by revealing, “And Jesus advanced in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (2:52). Here we find the fourfold development of Christ as a man: 1) mentally; 2) physically; 3) spiritually; 4) socially. These areas represent exactly the type of growth and development that is inherent in the doctrine of the incarnation. He who “emptied Himself,” taking no advantage of the attributes belonging to Him as deity, began at once to fill Himself with the word of God and to establish kinship with His fellow man. His whole life declared unmistakably that He was fully identified with mankind – though He was sinless.
Jesus was a real Man
Old Testament prophecy further spoke of the “Seed” of both Abraham and David as the One who would bring blessings to all men (Genesis 22:18; II Samuel 7:12). Paul spoke to the church at Rome “concerning [God’s] Son, who was born of a descendent of David according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3). Matthew’s Gospel opens with the confirmatory declaration, “The book of genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” This record proves not only that Christ was the promised “Seed” (Galatians 3:16), but it also indicates His existence as a real flesh and blood human.
Satan often proposes that Jesus is only a myth, a mere character of legend. The genealogies provided by Matthew and Luke stand as evidence to the contrary. Ask any critic to name even one ancestor of Paul Bunyan, Santa Clause, or any other legendary figure. The genealogical record in the Bible affirms the humanity and historical existence of Christ. Jesus was a real man.
Furthermore, Jesus spoke of Himself as man when He stated to the Jews, “you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth” (John 8:40). The word “man” translates the Greek “anthropos” meaning “a man, human, mankind” (Thomas, 1998). But when John claimed, “After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me” (John 1:30), the Greek “aner” is used for “Man” indicating the male sex as in “a fellow, husband, man, sir” (Strong, 2009). “Anthropos” does not necessarily specify sex, but the word “aner” signifies a male as distinguished from female. Both terms are important descriptions of Christ; “anthropos” designating His human nature, and “aner” His masculinity.
Of interest on this point is the title most often employed by Christ with reference to Himself, i.e., “Son of Man.” Jesus used this title more than eighty times in His personal ministry, e.g., Matthew 10:23; 12:32; 16:13, 27; Luke 9:26, 56, 58; 19:10; 22:22, 48. The title “Son of God” indicates a unity with God’s nature or essence. It is not descriptive of Christ being somehow less than God or subordinate to God in either origin or time. The term “Son of God” denotes that – while appearing in the flesh of man – He remained fully God in every way that God is God (John 10:31-39; for additional study, see article on this site entitled: Is Jesus the Eternal Son of God?).
The same is true regarding the title “Son of Man.” Jesus was not the offspring of a human father, yet He identified Himself as the Son of Man. In the same way that the term “Son of God” does not indicate inferiority to God or a less-than-God nature, neither does the term “Son of Man” indicate He is less than man or inferior to man. In fact, the exact opposite is true.
The meaning is found in the use of the Greek “anthropos” instead of “aner.” Jesus was the Son of Mankind or Humanity, emphasizing His human nature. If the Greek “aner” had been employed in the phrase “Son of Man,” it would have certainly declared that He was the son of a human father. Nothing of the sort characterized Jesus. He was the seed of woman, being born of a virgin. Jesus was not the offspring of a human father, yet He called Himself the “Son of Man.” The term reflects His unity with humanity in the same way the term “Son of God” reflects His unity with deity.
Jesus often spoke of Himself as flesh or possessing a body. In the thrilling discourse of John 6:26ff, Jesus mentions His flesh five times in six verses (51-56). Following His resurrection, yet prior to His ascension, Jesus offered His flesh as evidence that the disciples were not seeing a spirit (Luke 24:39). This was proof that Jesus was the same man they had known before His crucifixion.
The disciples knew Jesus as a real flesh and blood man, and the Bible vividly portrays Him as absolute man in every way that man is man – though without sin:
1. When He had been without food, He hungered (Matthew 4:2).
2. When He traveled a great distance, He grew tired (John 4:6).
3. He also became thirsty (John 4:7; John 19:28).
4. He required sleep (Mark 4:38).
5. When He saw those in distress, He felt compassion (Matthew 9:36).
6. He expressed sadness, even to tears, at the death of His friend, Lazarus (John 11:33-35).
7. He experienced sorrow of expectant tragedy as the cross loomed ominously ahead (Matthew
26:38; John 12:27).
8. He was tempted in every way that man is tempted (I John 2:16), yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).
9. Righteous indignation was stirred in Christ by the disbelieving and wicked (Mark 3:5; John 2:13-
17; Mark 11:15-17).
10. Yet He expressed tender affection for those who were nearest to Him (John 11:3; 19:26-27;
11. When His body was pierced with a sharp object, He bled as all men do (John 19:34).
12. And at the moment of death, His spirit departed the body (John 19:30).
These things are common to all men, and Jesus exhibited real human nature, demonstrating His unity with humanity. In depicting the true humanity of Jesus, Hebrews 2:11 says, “For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren.” Christ and His people are from the same human nature, for “since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same” (2:14).
In the words of Clarke, “Though, as to his Godhead, he is infinitely raised above men and angels; yet as he has become incarnate, notwithstanding his dignity, he blushes not to acknowledge all his true followers as his brethren.” For the purpose of saving humanity, Christ willingly identified Himself with the human creation, and He expresses no shame for having done so.
The scheme of human redemption is dependent upon the incarnation of deity. That the Word would condescend to become flesh in order to effect salvation for fallen man is indeed the mystery of the ages. May God help us in comprehending this essential doctrine of Christianity.
Clarke, Adam (n.d.), Commentary on the Holy Bible (Nashville, TN: Abingdon).
Marshall, Alfred (1993), The Interlinear NASB-NIV, Parallel New Testament in Greek and English
(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House).
Strong, James (2009), A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew
Bible (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software).
Thomas, Robert L. (1998), New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries: Updated
Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc.).
Young, Robert (1898), Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).