Straight Cuts: The MAN Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5)
Rolland D. McCune
This article first appeared in FrontLine • January/February 2000. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.
Fundamentalists have always held clearly to the genuine and total deity of Jesus Christ. This was one of the “fundamentals” of the faith, and there was no compromise or deviation on the point. In some respects it was the flagship of Fundamentalism’s armada against modernism. But, conversely, the genuine and complete humanity of our Lord has not always been clearly understood.
We believe that Jesus is fully man and fully God, that He is neither more nor less human than we are, and that we are neither more nor less human than He is. When last did we hear of a fight for the faith over the humanity of Jesus or even a sermon on His human nature? The truth is, some of the most vexing heresies in church history have involved a denial, in some way, of the authentic human nature of Jesus of Nazareth. We probably have not seen the last of those controversies.
The Bible teaches plainly concerning “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). He was “the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1), a “babe wrapped in swaddling clothes” (Luke 2:12), a “carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James” and others, whose “sisters [are] here with us” (Mark 6:3). He had a human body, soul, and spirit (John 2:21; 12:27; 11:33). He had a human birth (Luke 2:5, 12), growth and development (Luke 2:40, 52), emotions (John 11:35), and appetites (John 19:28). He had human limitations as seen in His weariness from traveling (John 4:6), fatigue that required sleep (Matt. 8:24), and physical stress in the Garden on the night in which He was betrayed (Luke 22:43).
Our Lord had all the appearances of a human being: He was a recognizable Jew (John 4:9), had the looks of a prophet (Matt. 16:13–14), and even after his resurrection was mistaken for a gardener (John 20:15). He experienced human suffering and death (Luke 22:44; John 19:30, 34). Jesus had every essential characteristic or attribute of true humanity. (Sin is not a necessary ingredient of genuine humanity. Adam was clearly and fully human before he sinned.)
The Bible also teaches that Jesus’s human nature, which He received from His human mother, Mary, was inseparably and permanently united to His divine nature (the eternal Logos, John 1:12) in the miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). This union formed the one indivisible Person of Jesus of Nazareth. A nature is a complex of attributes or characteristics that make something what it is. This one Person, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, has two distinct but inseparable natures. The historic formula cautions us, “we must neither divide the Person nor confound the natures.” Since His supernatural conception, Christ is, and always will be, the God-man (John 1:14; Heb. 7:24): fully God and fully man (Col. 2:9). In this union of the two natures, His human nature does not “humanize” His divine attributes in any way, nor does the divine nature “deify” any aspect whatever of His humanity.
Why is His true humanity important? One reason is that our Sinbearer had to be a member of the human race so He could pay the penalty of human sin (Rom. 6:23; Heb. 2:17, 9:22). God cannot die. No human death, no atonement for human beings. But it is also necessary for our Sinbearer to be God so that His death can have infinite value. Anything that diminishes either of our Lord’s natures undercuts His atonement for sin, thus questioning His ability to forgive sin and be our Savior. And this strikes at the very heart and soul of New Testament Christianity. “Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God” (1 John 4:2–3; cf. 2 John 7).
Another reason His full humanity is essential is His ability to be a perfect high priest. “Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest” (Heb. 2:17). He was tempted, abused, persecuted, ridiculed, and betrayed. He knows human life by experience from the inside; He has lived where we live. Our God and Savior is no mere armchair expert living in lofty splendor unrelated to us and removed far from us. He does not react to our cries mechanically and coldly, but personally, warmly, and lovingly.
Yes, Jesus Christ is really human, and His humanity is as important as His deity.
Rolland D. McCune, retired, was formerly Professor of Systematic Theology at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary.