We’ve argued that God (a powerful, spiritual, person) created the universe for a reason. Human beings seem to have something wrong with them and it seems we are not functioning the way we were meant to. God knows why he made the universe and knows how we ought to function (He made us, in some sense, after all) and to know either with any certainty, we’ve got to find out from Him. God communicating to us through prophets and preserving that communication in writing seems the best way to reach the largest number of people. This communication can be verified through historically verifiable miracles (both biblically and extra-biblically), the most reliable of which would be the resurrection of Jesus. If He rose from the dead, then His claims can be seen as having God’s stamp of approval. The biggest claim that Jesus made that was in any way controversial was His claim to be God in the flesh.
What’s weird is that up until this point, the three monotheistic religions would be in agreement in principle. The Jews were waiting for a Messiah and that these events could occur is at least conceptually possible, even though many of the Jews of the day and many later would disagree with the facts. Muslims would agree it’s at least possible since God can do whatever He wants – He’s sovereign after all. However, the nature of Jesus in Christianity is really weird. In Christianity, Jesus is just one person, but He’s got a divine nature and a human nature, which is weird since most things that exist have only one nature at any given level rather than two.
Why Does It Matter?
That is a very good question. At first glance, this looks like esoteric, ivory tower theological musings, like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. (The answer is much higher than “42”, BTW.) But for reasons that affect nothing less than salvation, Jesus being both God and man are essential. Here’s why. If Jesus was not God, then he was merely a finite being and could only die for his own sins. He would have been a lying heretic since he claimed a divine nature on several occasions, and every human being would still be responsible for paying his own sins. On the other hand, if Jesus wasn’t really human, He could not die and his life and death would have been a charade with no redemptive value. He would be an inadequate example of how to live for God because he would have done so without finite human limitations. The crucifixion would have been for show, providing no payment for the sins of humanity. So, yeah, there is a lot at stake.
Does the Bible Teach It?
This is where we should ALWAYS start when considering any theological ideas. Let’s face it, different church leaders and theologians have come up with ideas through the centuries. If a clear case can’t be made from the Bible, which all Christians consider authoritative in some sense, then we could hold an idea as suspect. But if the Bible clearly teaches an idea, we should take it very seriously. In this case, there are a lot of implications. How do we determine if the Bible teaches that Jesus is both divine and human?
First, does the Bible depict Jesus as functioning as divine? We already covered that a few posts ago when we were talking about how Jesus viewed Himself (which you should go back and read if you haven’t already). It’s pretty clear that Jesus not only forgave sins, but performed miracles to verify his authority (Matthew 9:2-8). Jesus claimed divine authority on multiple occasions (Matthew 7:28-28. 12:8). Of course, as we covered recently, He rose from the dead and claimed to have done so by His own power (John 10:17-18). These simply are things that no moral human being
Second, does the Bible depict Jesus as functioning as human? It’s difficult to argue against this point, although several different groups have done so over the years. What did Jesus do that -was not only human, but completely unnecessary for God? We know Jesus was born (Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:7) and that He grew up (Luke 2:52). Jesus slept (Mark 4:38) and thirst (John 4:7-9; 19:28), just like the rest of us. He felt pain (Matthew 27:46), which would seem weird for God. Finally, he died as appropriate for a human being, but not for God (John 19:33).
If the Bible presents Jesus as functioning as both divine and human, is it reasonable to assume that one or the other is a charade, either God pretending to be human or a human pretending to be God? Not if he’s held up as a moral authority which would entail being truthful. What about being mistaken? Could the authors have been mistaken about the facts? If so, it would seem that God or Jesus’ followers, knowing Him particularly well, could have corrected this too. The other alternative, given that we’ve shown the Bible to be historically reliable, is that Jesus had both a divine nature and a human nature, being perfectly God and fully man.
How Are We Supposed to Understand This?
That is also a very good question. Let’s face it, getting ideas is one thing, but making them work together is another matter entirely. Jesus being God and man at the same time seems mutually exclusive. After all, Jesus was pretty physical and God is spiritual – seems to be a problem. Jesus was born and God has always existed – seems to be a problem. Jesus died and God is immortal – seems to be a problem. How can these two natures be reconciled?
First, let me say that, Jesus was a unique individual. Let’s not assume there is anything at all in the universe that is quite like Him. God alone is pretty unique and to have some aspect of God take on human characteristics is extremely weird. If someone asks for an example of something else with two natures, even if no example comes to mind, it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible or didn’t happen in this case. It just means there’s nothing else in the universe quite like Jesus, and that’s kind of the point to begin with.
Second, Jesus’ followers and the early church didn’t seem to have too much of a problem with this. When we look through the New Testament, almost no space is used to explain this concept. It seems to have just been assumed since the writers of the Gospels and the Epistles simply present Jesus as divine and human and leave it at that. It wasn’t until the 3rd century that the church started tackling the issue in response to various heresies that either denied Jesus’ humanity (Doceticism) denied Jesus’ divinity (Ebionism, Arianism, Apollinarianism), or needlessly complicated them both (Nestorianism, Eutychianism). It wasn’t until two centuries later (Council of Chalcedon, 451 A.D.) that a way of understanding the nature of Jesus was developed and has been accepted by orthodox Christianity ever since. This illustration seems helpful in outlining the traditional view:
Essentially, any view that keeps all of the above in play can be considered orthodox. One person, two natures of God and man. Every view that has been listed as a heresy in one council or another has missed some aspect. For example, the Arian view was that Jesus was a divine being, but a created one. This reduces Jesus divine nature and was ruled heretical. The Apollinarian view was that Jesus had a human body and emotions, but a divine mind. This flat out ignored a passage of Scripture in which Jesus was shown as growing intellectually (Luke 2:40), which is something an all-knowing being such as God does not do. As we said earlier, if you don’t take all of Scripture into account, you’re missing something. I could go on, but I think you get the point. Any view that doesn’t stay within the above boundaries is going to be out of line with orthodoxy and, in all likelihood, Scripture.
How Did Jesus Get That Way?
That is a very good question. After all, if the Son of God is eternal (He is) and Jesus was born (He was), we seem to have a problem here. Clearly, Jesus didn’t always exist as a human being – that would at best make Him the first human with no clear connection to the rest of humanity. The rest of us came from Adam and Eve and Jesus was later born to one of their descendants (Merry Christmas!). So it seems that Jesus as least had a divine nature prior to being born. How does that nature relate to His human nature?
Looking at the illustration above we can make a few assumptions. Jesus did not lose His divine nature because then He would be merely human. Any who say His divine nature turned into a human nature is saying roughly the same thing since the divine nature has become something else (the old has passed, the new has come). Some have suggested that Jesus had a mingling of the two natures in some way. That is also a bit weird because Jesus would then be neither God nor human, but instead some sort of hybrid, having a nature completely different from either. Another option, though, is that a human nature was added to Jesus’ already divine nature. Where would we get this idea?
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus, Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used for his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the form of a servant being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8
What we see here are two things. First, Jesus by nature is divine. Second, a human nature was later added out of obedience. Jesus’ relationship with the Father, that of a Son, includes an element of subservience, not out of a different in their nature, but in relationship. For example, my daughter is the same kind of thing as I am, namely a human being, although a much cuter and more compelling one. When it comes to the kinds of things that we are, there is essentially no difference. However, because I am her father, there are a lot of one way obligations that we have. For example, I am obligated to care for her, raise her, etc. She, on the other hand, is obligated to obey me (she’s 10 years old, so that’s not weird). These are relational obligations and if one of us doesn’t meet them, most people would agree that the one failing to meet an obligation is failing to live up to his or her part of the relationship. It would be weird and very inappropriate if I was obligated to obey my daughter and she was obligated to raise me. Similarly, it’s appropriate for the Son to honor the Father through obedience. And the obedience mentioned here is beautifully depicted in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus prayed to the Father before going to the cross.
“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will. ” – Matthew 26:39
Jesus took on a human nature so that He could live the human life we were meant to and show that it was possible. He went the next step and accepted the death that we all deserve to show that redemption is also possible.
So, to sum up, Jesus is a unique person. Having the nature of God, whose righteousness is sufficient to pay for the sins of all humanity if He could die, and the nature of man, providing the possibility for Him to die, makes Jesus the only such person in the universe and the only means of saving humanity while preserving God’s justice. God’s law was violated and God’s law had to be vindicated. Sin had to be punished and if we weren’t to pay the price, someone else had to. That someone must be sinless to be a sufficient sacrifice, but even so, a sinless human would only account for one other human being. But God, a being of infinite value and righteousness, could appease the need for justice and make provision, not just for a single life, but all life, Himself being the source of life. Whether or not we understand the nature of Jesus, we had best understand what His sacrifice means for us.
Fictionalism and the Two Natures of Jesus – Reasonable Faith article
Did Jesus Possess the Nature of God? – STR article
Jesus’ Two Natures: God and Man – CARM article
The Deity of Jesus is Not a Late Legend – Cold Case Christianity (Jim Wallace) article
The Person and Work of Jesus – Biblical Training video (Lesson taught by I. Howard Marshall)