The Humanity of Jesus
Part IV of IV
Christ possesses the nature of both God and man. However, we must not think of Him as sometimes God and sometimes man, as if denoting two distinct and warring personalities in constant strife for self-expression. The incarnation was the unique constitution of an indissoluble union of a divine life and a human nature. It is not two separate personalities or consciences merged; rather, the incarnate life is simply an eternal spirit life taking on flesh and responding to that new existence in the typical fashion shared by humanity. While the spirit essence of Christ was eternal, the human nature had no separate existence anterior to the union with the divine.
As Strong stated, “the Fatherhood of God and the motherhood of Mary produced not a double personality in Christ, but a single personality” (1907). The physical body of Christ had no existence or consciousness prior to the incarnation. Though divine in Spirit (possessing all the attributes of deity), Jesus resolved to forego the independent sovereign administration of His eternal attributes in order to live life as man.
Jesus stressed the dual nature of His Person when He asked the Pharisees: “What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?” Their quick answer was, “The son of David.” Jesus at once propounded a more profound question based upon the Scriptures, “Then how does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, until I put Thine enemies beneath Thy feet”’? If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his son?” (Matthew 22:41-45). Their silence revealed a total lack of understanding of the true nature of the Messiah. Jesus was the Son of David by virtue of His birth in human flesh, but He was the Lord of David by His eternal Spirit and ever abiding Godhood.
The subject of the relationship within the Godhead is quite complex, and this is eminently true before factoring in the incarnation of the Second Person of the Godhead. That Christ was equal in every way to the First Person prior to the incarnation is the point of Paul’s statement in Philippians 2:6-7. The incarnation was not forced upon Christ, but was voluntarily accepted in order to redeem fallen humanity.
A Breathtaking View of Jesus
The humanity of Jesus is unquestionably essential to the salvation of mankind. Having previously discussed the continuation of His human nature throughout the current dispensation and lasting at least until the final judgment, the next most pressing question appears to be this one: How long will Christ continue in self-abasement, remaining in the glorified body of His humanity? The answer to this question may very well sweep the reader off a theological cliff from a point higher than previously ever attempted and into scriptural waters deeper than those ever traversed.
The first message preached by Paul following his conversion was that “He is [present tense] the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). Paul depicts the ascended Christ as retaining His theanthropic nature. As explained in Part III, Christ continues in the role of son-ship even beyond the final Judgment. Along these lines, C. F. Kling raised an interesting question: “What are to be the relations of the glorified God-Man unto the people whom He redeemed? That the Logos will cast off the nature that He had, and become as before the incarnation, can hardly be supposed” (1875).
The Scriptures decidedly support this conjecture. Paul claimed that Christians will become “fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him…that He might be the first-born among many brethren” (Romans 8:17, 29). These statements by the apostle are true only if Christ maintains unity with man, being signally honored as the perfect or quintessential man. The body of Christ is the haven of man’s salvation. But as man, Christ is by nature subject to God, providing explanation for supposed difficult phrases such as “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28) and “God is the head of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:3).
One of the more startling questions that may be asked pertaining to His mission of redemption is this: Is it possible that the voluntary decision of Christ to come to earth – to become a flesh and blood man – might have required a permanent and ever abiding submission to the Father? A submission which, apart from the gross sin and wickedness of mankind, would never have otherwise occurred!?!
Can the words of inspiration regarding this topic really be explained with plausibility in any other way? No wonder the scheme of human redemption was cloaked in secrecy and its solution the greatest mystery of all ages! God becoming a man through the voluntary self-abnegation of the Second Person of the Godhead could never have been imagined by finite intelligence. And that such condescension by deity would be permanent is nearly impossible of acceptance by the proud, haughty attitudes of finite intelligence who would never condescend even for a second to serve one counted less than self.
Barnes offered excellent insight into the permanent nature of Christ as the God-man, explaining 1 Corinthians 15:28 by saying, “This does not mean, evidently, that the union of the divine and human nature will be dissolved, nor that important purposes may not be answered by that continued union for ever; nor that the divine perfections may not shine forth in some glorious way through the man Christ Jesus” (1956).
Several scholars argue that the subjection of Christ in I Corinthians 15:28 carries the force of the middle voice, i.e., “then the Son shall subject Himself to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all.” W. E. Vine defined the verb rendered “subjected” as including the middle voice meaning of “to subject oneself, to obey, be subject to” (1996, p. 606), indicating the willful self-subjection of Christ.
The implication of this is staggering to imagine; yet interestingly enough, it is fully revealed beforehand in the type seen in Moses. Willfully forsaking the position which belonged to him as part of the royal family in Egypt, and fearing not the wrath of the king, Moses made the deliberate choice to identify himself with the poor people of slavery, delivering them from bondage and remaining with them forever, never returning to the sovereign power and majesty of his former position (Hebrews 11:24-27).
Paul explained the situation in these terms, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (II Corinthians 8:9). Although difficult of human comprehension, the scheme of redemption laid a greater burden upon Christ than is generally understood. The previous position of Christ as fully equal with God was voluntarily suspended that He might become a benefactor to humanity, and choosing to become man, even the poorest and lowliest of slaves, He deliberately positioned Himself under subjection to the Father forever.
Concerning the subjection of Christ, Wayne Jackson commented, “This subjection in no way diminishes Christ’s divine glory. This passage presents perhaps one of the most profound thoughts in biblical theology. Christ was not subjected to the Father before the incarnation (cf. Phil. 2:5ff); he will be in some sense after his Second Coming. Why? The answer is not supplied. It could reflect a deeper level of devotion to humanity than anyone can possibly imagine from our present vantage point–forever identified with the redeemed!” (2011, p. 336, emp. in orig.).
This concept seems to capture the intended argument of the Hebrews’ writer who discussed at length the humanity of Christ, engaging the early discourse with these comforting and encouraging words: “For assuredly He does not give help to angels; but He gives help to the descendent of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:16-18).
Further along in the book, the writer contrasts the temporary work of the earthly priest with Jesus, who, “because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently” (7:24). Near the end of this magnificent treatise appears the assurance: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today and forever” (13:8). The name “Jesus” and title “Christ” [i.e. Messiah] has no reference to His pre-incarnate spirit existence as deity, but is only applicable to His subsistence as man. The humanity of Christ is portrayed by these simple statements – in principle at least – as immutable. Murray observed, “The continuance of His humanity is indispensable to the discharge of His heavenly ministry” (1998, p. 334).
We often sing of “the wonderful love of Jesus,” but have we ever considered that His unfathomable love for mankind motivated Him to identify with us in an irreversible way? That Christ would embark on such a mission, humbly accepting the role of the creature in the permanent body of humanity is a stupendous concept. The careful study of Christ’s humanity most certainly intimates a much greater depth of love and devotion than we’ve ever been taught from the local pulpits. This marvelous view of Christ appropriately leaves one breathless. May the God of heaven and earth aid our ability “to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that [we] may be filled up to the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19).
The Shadow Cast in the Mosaic Law
Typical of all great doctrinal truths, the shadow of this marvelous concept involving the permanent humanity of Jesus appears in the Old Testament. The affirmation is found in the law regarding voluntary servitude as depicted in Exodus 21:1-6. This passage presents a vivid description of the voluntary choice of a free man to permanently subject himself to another in order that he might remain with his wife and children forever. The master or owner had no authority to independently direct or force the free man – his very equal – into any service until the free man consented to become his servant. Having willfully submitted himself to the other, the lobe of his ear is pierced through as the sign of a permanent servant.
The corollary of Exodus 21:6 evincing Christ as “the permanent servant” is the language of Psalm 40:6 as quoted by inspiration in Hebrews 10:5. The “opened” or “pierced” ears of Christ described in Psalm 40:6 are made the equivalence of His “body” by the author of Hebrews. The meaning is certain. As the pierced ear of a slave was indicative of one who humbly submitted himself in permanent servitude to another, so also the body of Christ served to identify Him as the voluntary servant of God.
When Christ chose to disregard His equality with God, condescending His lofty position to take on a body of flesh, He willfully subjected or relegated Himself to the position of a servant, and just as the free man who allowed his ear to be pierced wore the sign of permanent servitude, we must recognize that Christ, in becoming flesh, took on the unique sign of permanent subjection to God, i.e., the nature of humanity.
God’s Amazing Love
The very thought of such amazing love and humbleness by Christ should put every man on his knees; and as His church, we should feel piercing shame for the lack of respect and obedience we give to His divine teaching on the subject of humility. Christ announced, “But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12).
The majority of problems in the church arise through pride and haughtiness, not through humble, reverent service before God. Pride doomed man in the dawn of creation, and it continues to represent one of our most constant failures. Because of His incomparable humility in becoming man to die on the cross, human nature has been elevated and made to sit on the right hand of God in the Person of Jesus Christ, fulfilling the appointed destiny of lordship for man over all God’s creation.
The co-reign of Christ as the God-Man with the Father and the Holy Spirit (Revelation 1:4-6; 5:6-13) represents the full recovery of fellowship between God and man as intended in the original creation; and as joint heirs with Him, all Christians (along with the saved of all ages) will at last be restored to the paradise of God’s presence, reigning with Jesus Christ forever (Revelation 22:5). This is indubitably the most magnificent promise in the entire Bible!
Heaven – The Restoration of Mankind’s Stewardship
The beautiful fellowship of God with man was interrupted by sin, but the unrivaled wisdom of God provided the very Lamb which was needed to redeem and restore fallen man to his rightful place in the presence of the Creator. The promise regarding the restoration of man’s dominion over all things is intimated in the parables of Jesus (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 12:42-48; 19:11-27). The apostle Paul expressed the same, saying, “It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him; If we endure, we shall also reign with Him; If we deny Him, he also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself” (II Timothy 2:11-13).
Many have misunderstood the view of heaven presented by the Revelator. It is often claimed that man will simply be gathered around the throne of God, praising Him forever as in one eternal church service. However, this is not the teaching of the Scriptures, nor is it the view intended by the apostle John. The rejoicing around the throne described by John (Revelation 7:9-13) is with respect to the euphoria of realized salvation. The scene of rejoicing and singing is not depicted as eternal in scope (cf. 7:17).
The Psalmist recorded the magnificent promise with these words: “The Lord has sworn an oath to David, a truth from which He will not turn back; ‘Of the fruit of your body I will set upon your throne. If your sons will keep My covenant, and My testimony which I will teach them, their sons also shall sit upon your throne forever’” (Psalm 132:11-12). Jesus Christ fulfilled this promise as a man, and the sons who will reign upon the throne with Him are simply the saved of earth’s population, i.e., the true and obedient remnant who have overcome sin and its consequences. Christ promised, “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21). Nothing else compares with this awe inspiring promise; not even in the Word of God.
Through sin, man forfeited his benignant government of the earth, rejecting the counsel of God in favor of the creature’s authority – the very creature man was ordered to exercise authority over. Not even the angels of heaven possessed such dominion as was granted to man (Hebrews 2:5), but man failed to honor the perpetual decree of the Creator regarding his dominion. By submitting himself to the voice of the creature rather than to the Creator (Romans 1:25), man empowered Satan to usurp the dominion of the world that was originally given to man (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; II Corinthians 4:4). Man’s beautiful crown of glory and honor was dashed to pieces through sin, resulting in the announcement, “But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him” (2:8).
The words of the Psalm quoted in Hebrews 2:6-7 indicate that the dominion of human nature over all the earth was intended to be absolute and complete. Adam was given the authority to name every creature (Genesis 2:19-20), demonstrating his power over them. Man was appointed lordship as God’s steward, but through infidelity to his Creator and becoming subservient to the voice of the creature, “we do not yet see all things subjected to him.” The earth and all that it contains, instead of supporting and benefiting life as God designed, now brings death to mankind; and man remains helpless of himself to alter the destiny of destruction wrought by sin. But all is not lost; for the text continues by saying, “But we see Jesus…” (Hebrews 2:9; KJV).
Although His coming to earth as man marked Him as a permanent servant of God, it must never be misunderstood or forgotten that Christ did not yield to the will of God on the basis of obeying hierarchy or supreme command; rather, the mission of redemption consisted of the willful determination which emanated from His very own eternal spirit as deity. The sacrifice of Himself for sin was no less His own will than it was the will of God; hence the words attributed to Messiah: “Sacrifice and offering Thou hast not desired, but a body thou hast prepared for Me; 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’” (Hebrews 10:5-7).
Christ assented to the mission of redemption by volunteering to serve as the propitiatory sacrifice. His actions were in accordance with the eternal purpose of God wherein He exists; therefore, His own will was satisfied by the body produced in the womb of the virgin, Mary, which allowed Him to become the requisite servant of God to save fallen humanity. The complexity of the Godhead to finite intelligence emerges suddenly when contemplating such designs. Similar is the teaching that God raised Christ from the dead (Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15, 26; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40, etc.) compared to the teaching that Christ raised Himself from the dead (John 2:19; 10:17-18). The practical understanding is that the activity of Christ is the activity of God and vice versa. The unity of the Godhead must remain foremost in mind or the result will be confusion and weakened Christianity.
The coming of Christ was pursuant to the original purpose of creation, i.e., the universal dominion of mankind. Christ, alone, has achieved the unconditional surrender of human life to God, not only by obeying every law of God, but through demonstrating superiority over all that man was originally appointed (Mark 1:13). The honor and dignity which belonged to mankind originally has been fully restored by the perfect obedience and fidelity of Christ. In addition, the wrath of God against sin has been fully satisfied in the propitious suffering of Christ on the cross. In conquering death through resurrection, He has achieved salvation through which mankind is returned to lordship over the things to come (Hebrews 2:5ff).
Augustus Strong wrote: “The union of humanity with deity in the person of Christ is indissoluble and eternal…the incarnation was a permanent assumption of human nature by the second person of the Trinity. In the ascension of Christ, glorified humanity has attained the throne of the universe” (1907, p. 698). The two distinct yet fully unified natures of Jesus – God and man – allow Christ to fulfill all that is spoken by the Hebrews’ writer. The deity of Jesus assures His supremacy over the angels (chapter 1), giving immense value to His sacrificial offering; but in His humanity (chapter 2), He was made lower than the angels in rank, that salvation could be purchased for all men, that through each one’s personal identification with Him in obedience to the gospel, every man might be saved. Since He Himself is man, He is not ashamed to call us His brethren (Hebrews 2:11).
With highest respect and appreciation for His voluntary humiliation of suffering as man, “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). In similar reflection, Jesus often taught that “everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:11; cf. 18:14; Matthew 23:12).
Man’s service to God in the beginning was conducted through the obedient exercise of dominion over the things of God. In the perfect man, Jesus Christ, mankind once again reigns over the things of God. This is the meaning of Christ’s admonition to readiness, saying, “Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions” (Luke 12:43-44). The same is under consideration in Christ’s parable of Money Usage in Luke 19:12-27, wherein He rewards faithful servants in this life by declaring, “…you are to be in authority over ten cities…And you are to be over five cities…”
Christ promised, “He who overcomes, I will grant him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21). For all who allow Him to reign over them in this life, Christ will someday proclaim, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).
The permanent humanity of Jesus is the only means by which fallen man could “reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5) over the possessions of God. If Christ ever dispossesses the body of His humanity, terminating His work as High Priest, it would spell certain and instantaneous doom for the race of man. We owe everything to the willful subordination of Christ in becoming man. He has permanently identified Himself with us, that we might permanently identify ourselves with Him.
May every reader bow in humble adoration before the name of Jesus in this life, confessing His eternal greatness, and obeying the gospel as preached by His beloved apostles to all nations. God Bless.
Barnes, Albert (1956), Notes on the New Testament – 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Jackson, Wayne (2011), A New Testament Commentary (Stockton, CA: Christian Courier Publications).
Kling, C. F. (1875), “First Corinthians,” Lange’s Commentary (New York, NY: Scribner & Armstrong).
Murray, John (1998), The Wycliffe Bible Dictionary (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson).
Strong, Augustus H. (1907), Systematic Theology (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming Revell).
Vine, W. E. (1996), Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers).