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Letters to a New Believer (3): The Humanity of Christ

D Newell, Glasgow

Having agreed to speak on the above topic at a Sunday evening Bible teaching meeting I thought I’d give you a sneak preview. Historically, the truth about the person of Christ has been attacked in two distinct ways. I suppose the commonest line of assault now is against His deity, just as it was while He was on earth. After all, no one could doubt a real manhood which was patently obvious for all to see. That Jesus of Nazareth was the Living God was, however, another matter entirely, provoking vocal Jewish objections: "For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man [there’s His humanity admitted], makest thyself God" (Jn 10.33). It was not the Lord’s acts of kindness but His astonishing claims which stirred up such hatred. It is no different today: people are tolerant of a baby in a manger or a benevolent miracle worker, but the Lord’s words (about their sinfulness, His deity, His atoning death) they cannot stomach. Your friends will reject you not because of your lifestyle but because you speak about the absolute claims of Christ. But after the ascension some began to question the reality of His manhood. John deals with both errors. His gospel validates Christ’s deity, commencing, "In the beginning", a dateless, eternal past in which the Word, Himself fully divine, dwelt "with God". Yet "the Word [deity] became flesh [humanity], and dwelt among us" (Jn 1.14, JND). W E Vine’s succinct formulation is worth memorising: "in becoming – what He was not before – man, He did not cease to be what He ever had been – God". That is to say, He is "true God, true Man, one Christ". On the other hand, John’s first letter, while confirming His deity, specially asserts His humanity: "every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God" (1 Jn 4.3; 2 Jn v.7). Although the epistle starts with "the beginning" the reference is not now to a past eternity but to the inception of the Lord’s earthly life. Just note the careful eyewitness report: "which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled" (1 Jn 1.1). The Lord Jesus was audible (Mt 26.73 suggests He spoke with a northern Galilean accent), visible (not to the imagination but to the physical eyes), looked upon (theaomai, which implies "careful contemplation" rather than a mere passing glance which might be mistaken), and tangible. What then can we learn about His humanity?

First, it was predicted in the Old Testament. In Genesis 3.15 the coming victor over the serpent is announced as the "seed of the woman". This explains Satan’s intense interest in denying the truth about his vanquisher. Further, the unusual language (Hebrew genealogies trace the seed of the man) hints at virgin conception, for the Son of God entered this world in a supernatural manner befitting His excellence (Is 7.14). The details accumulate through the Old Testament. The Messiah would be the seed of Abraham bringing blessing on the entire world (Gen 12.1-3), the kingly peace maker from the tribe of Judah (Gen 49.10), the royal descendant of David (2 Sam 7.12-13), and born specifically at little-known Bethlehem (Micah 5.2). And His humanity is pictured as well as prophesied. When God designed Adam’s body He had His Son’s incarnation in view, which is one reason why Adam is a fit type of Christ. Adam was given dominion over the earth (Gen 1.26), a dominion he never truly exercised because of the sin into which he so quickly fell. Nevertheless it is God’s purpose to govern this world through man – but the man is Christ. Psalm 8.4-6 and its New Testament commentary in Hebrews 2.5-9 make this clear. When the Saviour returns in glory He will rule the earth for God. That is why we have no trust in human politics but every confidence in Christ Jesus!

Second, it was genuine humanity. In the Old Testament God occasionally made Himself known in temporary human guise as, for example, "the angel of the Lord" (Gen 18.22; 22.11-18; Josh 5.13-15; 6.2). John 1.18 is the key to unlock these appearances; since it is the Son who discloses God every Old Testament theophany is therefore a Christophany. But such visible manifestations did not involve a permanent union of deity and humanity. The incarnation is different. It was "no mere emanation of divinity, neither was it a person once divine who ceased to be so by becoming man (in itself an impossible absurdity), but one who, to glorify the Father, and in accomplishment of the purposes of grace to the glory of God, took humanity into union with Godhead in His person" (W Kelly). The Lord’s favourite title was "Son of man" (80 times in the gospels), one which emphasised real humanity (Mt 8.20) while also testifying to messianic dignity and future rule (Mt 26.64; Rev 14.14). Despite virgin conception the Lord experienced normal birth processes (Lk 2.6-7), being in this sense more representatively human than Adam, who was created at mature age. Further, He grew in manhood (Lk 2.40,52), possessing body, soul, and spirit (Lk 22.19; Jn 12.27; Lk 23.46). Marvellous to relate, He was subject to the limitations of manhood – hunger, thirst, weariness, temptation from without – most obviously in His willing submission to death. "He poured into His humanity and the work of the cross all that He was, holding nothing back" (Percy Parsons, commenting on Philippians 2.5-9).

Third, far from being placed on a pedestal or preserved like an exhibit at a museum, Christ’s humanity was fully active. Even before the Fall man was created to work (Gen 1.26; 2.15), and none was more energetic in the service of God and man than the Lord Jesus. He came to reveal God (Col 2.9), to exemplify human perfection (2 Cor 5.21), and to redeem sinners (Heb 2.9). Whether we consider the silent years before His public ministry (Lk 2.42-52; Mk 6.3), the service years (beautifully summed up in Acts 10.38), or the suffering of the cross, all His earthly life brought complete pleasure to God (Mt 3.17).

Fourth, unlike ours, His humanity was sinless, untainted by Adam’s sin or personal failure. He was "that holy thing" (Lk 1.35), sent "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Rom 8.3). Note Paul’s precision: He was not sent "in the likeness of flesh", which might question His genuine manhood, nor was He "in sinful flesh", which would compromise His perfection. Testimonies of friend and foe alike confirm His flawlessness (Mt 27.4; Lk 23.41,47; Jn 19.4,6; 1 Pet 2.22; 1 Jn 3.5). Being "as much a man as I am, but not such a man as I am" He was thus qualified to be my substitute.

Fifth, His was an accompanied manhood. Never existing apart from His deity it was always under the holy control of His eternal divine person. One person with two natures, He was the heavenly man as no one else can ever be.

Sixth, it is a continuing humanity. His earthly sojourn was temporary (John 1.14 says literally He "tabernacled among us") but His manhood permanent. Although the Son took it upon Himself at a point in time He has never subsequently relinquished it. Rather, He took His resurrection body with Him back into heaven, so that there is at this moment a glorified man at God’s right hand (Acts 1.11; 1 Tim 2.5; Rev 1.7).

Finally, it is a pattern humanity. The Lord Jesus is not only the perfect expression of everything God is in Himself, He is also simultaneously the example of everything that men ought to be for the glory of God. Pilate’s words, "Behold the man!" (Jn 19.5), with their unconscious quotation from Zechariah 6.12, form a fitting caption for the Lord’s earthly life. He is our model in meekness (Mt 11.29), service (Jn 13.15), love (Jn 13.34), unselfishness (Phil 2.5). To persecuted saints Peter upholds the Lord’s endurance as a beacon of comfort: "Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps" (1 Pet 2.21). Although His atoning sufferings were unique, in His submissive response to unjust affliction Christ Jesus is our hupogrammos, the perfect copybook example which the student learning his penmanship has to imitate. He has blazed the trail; we simply follow His steps. John’s summary is the most comprehensive: "He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked" (1 Jn 2.6). If we claim to dwell in Christ (our eternal position by grace) we shall evidence it by living like Christ (our daily practice in the world). Alas, we all fall so far short – but failure does not nullify the obligation. Wonderfully, the final instalment of God’s great salvation is to "transform our body of humiliation into conformity to his body of glory’ (Phil 3.21, JND), so that His people are completely fitted for their everlasting habitation. And this He will do by "the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself" (ESV) – I have no hand in it at all.

Well, just a few thoughts for consideration. One of the best starter essays on this great subject is the relevant chapter in H C Hewlett’s superb book, The Glories of our Lord. Do read and enjoy.

Affectionately as ever in Christ Jesus.

David

To be continued.

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