The Humanity of Jesus
Part III of IV
We began this study by reviewing the passage that referred to “the days of His flesh” (Hebrews 5:7). What many fail to realize is the fact that Jesus Christ – even after His ascension back into heaven – retains a nature-identification with His people. His identity with humanity is indispensable to His present work as High Priest and Mediator. The body that was laid in the tomb was the same body which was raised from death, changed only from corruptible flesh to an incorruptible body (I Corinthians 15:42f). The apostles touched and handled His raised body (cf. 1 John 1:1-3), and afterwards went to their deaths preaching the resurrection of Christ from the tomb.
The Glorified Body of Humanity
Christ ascended bodily before the eyes of the apostles (Acts 1:9-11), and many years later Paul spoke of the body of Christ in the present tense, saying, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory” (Philippians 3:20-21). This text not only previews the future glorious transformation of the Christian into an immortal body at the time of the resurrection, but it also affirms the present status of Jesus dwelling at the throne in a glorified body. Paul evinces the ascended Christ as retaining His theanthropic nature.
In discussing the resurrection with the Corinthian church, Paul expressed “that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (I Corinthians 15:50). This makes reference to man’s present state, but is no comment upon the composition of the resurrected body. Jesus had flesh and bones following His resurrection (Luke 24:39), but His body was significantly different in many ways (John 20:19, 26; Luke 24:31). That difference is what Paul discourses about in I Corinthians 15:35ff. Man cannot enter heaven in the present natural body, but through death and resurrection – or in the change that is wrought for those still alive when Christ comes again – God will provide the necessary body that is suitable and adapted for eternity (15:38).
Christ was resurrected and later ascended into heaven in the glorified body of His humanity. Paul alludes to this body when he states, “And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly” (15:49). John informs, “Beloved, now we are the children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is” (I John 3:2). Christ now reigns in His glorified body, and it is certain that our future bodies will be spiritual, immortal, and incorruptible (I Corinthians 15:42ff).
In his epistle to the Colossians, Paul declared, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (2:9). Several points in this passage are profound. The verb “dwells” is in present tense form which suggests a fixed or permanent abode, contrasting with that which is temporary or transitory. Paul’s statement depicts a condition which prevailed at the time of his writing, some three decades after the ascension of Christ back into heaven.
The expression “fullness of the Godhead” refers to the full compliment of attributes that constitute the nature of deity. The word “bodily” draws attention to the dwelling place of the attributes of God, i.e., the once mortal, now glorified body of Christ. False teachers were already denying the possibility of a union between God and flesh, but Paul strikes hard at that heresy and any other which would seek to deny the central truth of the incarnation, boldly asserting that the fullness of deity dwells in the body of Christ. Like many other passages, this one certainly teaches us that the incarnation has not terminated.
The Abiding Human Nature of Christ
The first chapter of Hebrews is written to prove Christ is God, the Creator of the universe and thus superior to angels; the second chapter teaches that He is man, being fully identified with humanity in every way, made lower than the angels in rank. The salvation of mankind was entirely dependent upon the perfect blend of deity and humanity, and the book of Hebrews opens by emphasizing the dual nature of Jesus in one body. After demonstrating the failure of mankind to exercise dominion over the earth, Hebrews 2:9 says, “But we do see Him who has been made lower than the angels, Jesus…”
Commenting on the Greek construction of the verb rendered “has been made lower,” Fritz Rienecker explains, “The present [tense] emphasizes the completed state of condition and indicates that the human nature which Christ assumed He still retains.” That the verb tense accurately reflects reality is demonstrated in verse 11 where the writer continues the thought, relating, “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, saying, ‘I will proclaim Your name to My brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will sing Your praise’” (2:11).
The words of Christ are quoted from Psalm 22 which addresses the humanity of Christ, serving primarily as a prophetic view of the day of His crucifixion. In the Psalm, Christ refers to mankind as His “brethren” i.e., “brothers.” Of special interest to our study is the statement, “He is not ashamed to call them brethren.” The verb is again in present tense, indicating a sustained state. These words were penned c. 67 A.D., almost forty years after the Lord’s ascension, but the inspired writer shows that Jesus continues to share the human nature, and He is not ashamed of it.
The concept of the abiding human nature of Jesus Christ is most intriguing. That Christ remains in identity with man until the end of time is certain, for Paul explained that God “will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). We must not think that the ascension has terminated the status of Christ as man; on the contrary, Christ continues in His theanthropic nature, representing mankind at the throne of God.
The Reign of Jesus Christ
In discoursing on the resurrection of Jesus and the resulting triumphs, Paul emphasized, “For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, ‘All things are put in subjection,’ it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all” (I Corinthians 15:27-28).
The Greek word hupotasso is found six times in various grammatical forms in these two verses. Vine says the word is “primarily a military term, ‘to rank under,’ denotes (a) ‘to put in subjection, to subject’…; (b) in the middle or passive voice, ‘to subject oneself, to obey, be subject to.’” Five of the six instances make reference to the Son being given sole dominion over all things in heaven and on earth during the Christian dispensation, lasting until the end of time when Christ will deliver the kingdom back “to God, even the Father” (I Corinthians 15:24).
These five instances affirm that God subjected all things to Christ. The verb “subjected” is found in the aorist tense, referring to a definite point in the past when the incarnate Son was presented with all rule, authority, and dominion. The prophet Daniel vividly describes the occurrence of this coronation: “I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like the Son of man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory, and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed” (7:13-14).
Acts 1:9-11 details the ascension of the Son of Man through the clouds, and ever afterward He is depicted at the right hand of the Father. It is on the day of Pentecost that all different nations and languages began obeying the gospel as preached by the apostles, becoming servants of Jesus Christ. Paul refers to this event as the past point in time when all things were relegated in subjection to the Son, with the sole exception of God.
The apostle also said that God raised Christ from the dead, and “seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:20-23).
When Paul comments in I Corinthians 15:27 that “all things are put in subjection” to Christ, he employs the perfect tense, signifying the abiding nature of that subjection at the time of his writing. The solitary reign of Christ over all things will end with the final judgment, at which time the authority over the kingdom is transferred back “to God, even the Father” (v. 24). The major difficulty involved in Paul’s discourse to the Corinthians is the statement that when all things have been subjected to Christ (a prophecy of His ultimate and total victory), “then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him” (v. 28). The question of great interest is this: In what sense will the Son be subjected to the Father following the Judgment?
The explanations are varied and extreme, but one recurring thought appears among the majority of reputable scholars. Coffman argued, “It is a gross error to see this passage as reducing in any manner the status of Jesus Christ and his ‘equality with God’ (Phil. 2:6), the thing in view here being the end of Christ’s mediatorial office. At the time of his kingdom being united with godhead in heaven, the need of those special devices which were necessary in human redemption shall have disappeared.”
Barnes noted, “The interpretation which affirms that the son shall be subject to the Father, in the sense of laying down his delegated authority, and ceasing to exercise his mediatorial reign, has been the common interpretation of all times.”
The JFB Bible Commentary further explains, “In the mediatorial kingdom, the Son had been, in a manner, distinct from the Father. Now, His kingdom shall merge in the Father’s, with whom He is one; not that there is any derogation from His honor; for the Father Himself wills ‘that all should honor the Son, as they honor the Father (John 5:22-23; Heb 1:6).”
The voluntary nature of Christ’s coming in the flesh to effect the redemption of mankind was part of the eternal purpose of God that Christ might become preeminent in all things (Colossians 1:12-22), and His name be exalted above all names (Philippians 2:9), “not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:21). The perpetual reign of Christ over His kingdom is a well established doctrine that we must believe (cf. II Samuel 7:16; Psalm 45:6; 89:26-29, 35-37; Isaiah 9:6-7; Daniel 2:44; 7:14; Luke 1:32-33).
Furthermore, the Scriptures plainly teach that Christ will share in the glory of God’s throne and dominion forever and ever (Revelation 1:5-6; 5:13; 11:15; 22:3). There is no cessation of Christ’s preeminent reign over all things. Based upon these biblical facts, what is the true meaning of Paul’s statement “that when all things have been subjected to Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subjected to Him that did subject all things unto Him, that God may be all, in all”?
With due respect for all scholars who speak of Christ ending His dominion at the consummation of the physical realm, the Bible clearly indicates the reign of Christ over all things is never to be terminated. As the Father was never subjected to Christ as part of “all things,” we must understand through studying other passages that the reign of Christ continues perpetually over “all things” even as the kingdom comes under the authority of the full Godhead. God’s amazing design for the exaltation of Christ through His self-abasement in becoming flesh and subsequent obedience even to death on the cross is never repealed.
Christ continues to reign as the God-man, but the sole authority that had been bestowed on Christ as He led His people out of sin and death and assembled them in one body is finally returned to the fullness of God, and Paul says Christ is then subjected to God, “that God may be all, in all.” This declaration reveals the inclusion of the total Godhead as authoritative over the kingdom into eternity; Christ continues exercising dominion “over all things,” but He Himself is placed in subjection to the Father. The most pressing question appears at this juncture: In what manner can it be possible that the Second Person of the Godhead comes under subjection to God in the age to come?
God’s Response to the Primeval Fall
Mankind, though created in the image of God and placed in authority over all the earth (Genesis 1:26), was not satisfied with the lofty status and position of authority arranged by the Creator, and through uncontrolled pride, man transgressed in the Garden by attempting to seize divine authority and become equal to God (Genesis 3:5). An obvious contrast is drawn to the pride and haughtiness of mankind when Paul addresses the need in the church for humility, emphasizing that Christians should “have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. Who existing in the form of God, counted not equality with God a thing to be grasped. But He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6-7 ASV).
The Second Person in the Godhead was not so proud of His position, nor did He esteem His own self-importance so highly, that He could not divest Himself of His equality with God, suspending His personal attributes of deity. Through the voluntary humiliation and condescension of assuming the form of man through the virgin birth - becoming literally the Son of God and the Son of Man in one unique Person – and willingly suffering in the flesh even to the point of death, Christ chose to benefit mankind eternally through His altruistic and philanthropic sacrifice. As Augustus Strong stated, “this one person, now God and man united, submits himself, consciously and voluntarily, to the humiliation of an ignominious death” (1907, p. 706).
Some contend Philippians 2:6-8 teaches that whereas Christ existed in the form of God prior to the incarnation, He divested Himself of that status while on Earth. Subsequent to His resurrection, these believe He resumed or took again the form or nature of God. This is a base denial of all the Bible teaches concerning the deity of Jesus Christ. If He was not God while in the flesh, why was He given the name “God is with us” (Matthew 1:23)? Why did the prophet declare His name would be called “Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6)? Why did He accept worship (Matthew 8:2; 14:33; Mark 5:6; etc.) when He plainly taught that only God is worthy of worship (Matthew 4:10)?
The emptying mentioned by Paul did not involve the loss of deity, and this fact is determinable by the present tense participle “existing.” The Greek word is huparchon. Of this word, Kenneth Wuest says it “informs his Greek readers that our Lord’s possession of the divine essence did not cease to be a fact when He came to earth to assume human form. The Greek word is not the simple verb of being, but a word that speaks of an antecedent condition protracted into the present. That is, our Lord gave expression to the essence of Deity which He possesses, not only before He became Man, but also after becoming Man…This word alone is enough to refute the claim of Modernism that our Lord emptied Himself of His Deity when He became Man” (1997).
The word huparchon should never be translated with past tense as the usually reliable NASB has done. The present tense denotes the existence of Christ in the form of God as a sustained existence, one that was in no manner interrupted by the incarnation. Paul wrote these words approximately thirty years after the ascension, but He spoke of Christ “existing” in the form of God even while He maintains His identity as Man in the role of Mediator (I Timothy 2:5). A. T. Robertson contrasts the difference between the present tense existence of Christ as deity and His “becoming” (aorist tense) in the likeness of man (1931, p. 445). There was a time when Christ did not exist as man, but there has never been – nor ever will there be – a time when He is not God.
W. E. Vine commented that this grammatical form denotes “an existence or condition both previous to the circumstances mentioned and continuing after it.” The present tense reveals that Christ’s existence in the “form of God” is a sustained mode of being, not one interrupted by the incarnation. Immense significance is found in His existing (present tense) “in the form of God,” and His “becoming” (aorist tense) “in the likeness of man.” This language is profound, teaching us that there was a time when the Second Person in the Godhead did not express Himself as Man; however, there has never been a time – past, present, or future – when He was/is not “in the form of God.” The statement by Paul simply expresses that Christ has always been and at present continues to exist in the form of God.
As detailed previously, this is why Paul exclaimed, “in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). Paul inserted a present tense verb, “dwells” (katoikei), in speaking about the ascended Savior. This simply means that God, in all His remarkable attributes and true essence, exists in the body of Jesus Christ; hence the name, “Immanuel,” which signifies, “God is with us.” Paul describes the glorified body of the risen Lord as the permanent abode of the full compliment of attributes that constitute the nature of deity, thus explaining the earlier statement: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15).
Paul is emphasizing the true identity of the church’s Messiah, striking hard at the heretical teachings that were beginning to arise that claimed the impossibility of the incarnation of deity. This is why the apostle stated in continuation of the thought, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones of dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17). The pre-existent Christ spoke all creation into existence, and although now possessing a body of humanity, He retains His eternal Godhood.
The Subordination of Christ
Of what then did He empty Himself? Certainly not His existence “in the form of God”! H. C. Thiessen is indubitably correct when he asserts that Christ “emptied Himself by giving up the independent exercise of His relative attributes.” Becoming man, Christ relinquished the independent exertion of power which belonged to Him as God.
The limitations of the flesh were not the consequence of a less-than-God nature; rather, they were the direct result of a self-imposed submission concerning the exercise of His sovereign will which He enacted when He subordinated Himself by becoming man. His willful subordination is witnessed through the undeviating submissiveness He offered to the Father while in the flesh on earth (see John 5:19, 30; 6:38; 8:28-29). It also helps to explain statements such as “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28), “God is the head of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:3), and “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Matthew 24:36).
W. C. G. Proctor correctly evaluated the subjection of Christ, stating that it “does not conflict in any way with belief in the full deity of Christ, who shares with the Father the ‘substance’ of the Godhead. The ‘subordination’ is of office, not of person” (1954, 988).
Christ willingly submitted Himself as a servant of God when He enjoined human existence in the womb of Mary (cf. Psalm 22:10), even subjecting Himself to His earthly parents authority as prescribed in the Law (Exodus 20:12; cf. Luke 2:51). Since God is the head of every man, and the Father greater than all men, the humanity of Jesus required the same type subordination. Although possessing omniscience as deity, He voluntarily resolved to forego the benefit of His eternal attributes by living life typical of every man. As detailed more fully in Part I, the adolescent Jesus “kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).
In becoming man, Christ permitted Himself no advantage, but studied and learned the Scriptures in order to know the will of God (cf. Luke 2:46-49). If the information was not available to all men in the Scriptures (e.g. the day and hour of divine Judgment), and not supplied through the power of the Holy Spirit upon Him, Christ was not at liberty to utilize His eternal attributes to benefit His life in the flesh. Although retaining His eternal Godhood, the self-imposed limitations allowed Christ to live as His brethren whom He came to save.
Strong argued intelligently that Jesus “resigned not the possession, nor yet entirely the use, but rather the independent exercise, of the divine attributes” (1907, p. 703). The prerogatives of deity were voluntarily suspended by the humble Christ, choosing for Himself to take on the role of a servant in subordination to God the Father. N. T. Wright captured the great mystery pertaining to human salvation when he stated, “The real humiliation of the incarnation and the cross is that the one who was himself God, and who never stopped being God, could embrace such a vocation” (1986).
In the man Christ Jesus, we have the total reversal of the arrogant and supercilious desire of man to become equal to God. Everything that man lost in his vain attempt to become like God, Christ restored through His voluntary self-abnegation, surrendering His equality with God, and becoming subordinate to the Father when He entered the flesh of created man, assuming the role of a servant (Philippians 2:7). Man’s vain attempt at self-elevation to godhood was his fall. God’s self-humiliation to manhood was man’s restoration and elevation.
This explains why the first temptation of Satan was for Christ to exercise His independent creative power by turning a stone into bread. As man, Christ was near the point of starvation after fasting for forty days and forty nights (Matthew 4:2). Satan proposed the simple exertion of omnipotent power to satisfy the hunger; a power which the “Son of God” (i.e., God in the flesh) would most certainly possess. There was nothing in the Law of Moses which forbade the action of turning a stone into bread; therefore the temptation was not a violation of human law, but was a temptation to exercise the independent administration of divine power which Christ had voluntarily suspended in becoming man. To obey the voice of Satan by exercising His self-determining will to supply His own needs supernaturally would have violated His voluntary decision to become a servant of both God and his fellow man.
As man, Jesus was the only human who was in every way and at all times exactly what God created man to be, carefully maintaining fidelity to God, yet exercising dominion over the earth. Beyond His perfect obedience to the law of God, His existence in the flesh enabled the innocent Savior to be vicariously subjected to the suffering and death of the cross, thus completing God’s eternal scheme for human redemption.
Regarding the type of “subjection” mentioned in I Corinthians 15:28, JFB explained, it is “not as the creatures are, but as a Son voluntarily subordinate to, though co-equal with, the Father.” God, in pure spirit essence, could be neither tempted with evil nor could He die, and without such, a perfect substitute for sin was impossible. Revelation 5:1ff depicts the search through heaven and earth, even under the earth, but no other was found worthy. Christ willingly assented to the mission of redemption, counting not His full and unequivocal position of equality with God a treasure which could not be relinquished.
In the most remarkable demonstration of humility to ever be witnessed, the Creator condescended Himself to become like the created. The exaltation of Christ by God the Father following His resurrection was not with respect to His pre-existent eternal Godhood, but was predicated upon the unprecedented humiliation of His incarnation and vicarious death (Philippians 2:8-11). The bowing of all mankind and the confession of every tongue that He is Lord will demonstrate the eternal recognition by all that the fullness of the Godhead dwells in the humanity of Jesus Christ.
Barnes, Albert (1956), Notes on the New Testament – 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Coffman, James Burton (1977), Commentary on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians
(Abilene, TX: A. C. U. Press).
Jamieson, R., et. al. (1996), Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson
Proctor, W. C. G. (1954), The New Bible Commentary (London, England: Intervarsity Fellowship).