Do you wrestle more with the God-ness of Jesus, or with his humanity?
That Jesus of Nazareth was truly and fully human was plain enough to those who saw and heard and touched and shared life with him (1 John 1:1). No one questioned his humanity during his ministry. What was not apparent at first, and revealed carefully and convincingly in his life and resurrection, was that he also was God.
But it wasn’t long after his ascension that questions came from the opposite direction. His closest disciples, who knew his humanity full well, worshiped him as God (Matthew 28:17), but the first generation of Christians started from a different place. They began with him as God, and tended to struggle with the fullness of his humanness. The first heresy the fledging church faced was that he wasn’t truly man (1 John 4:2; 2 John 7).
The seesaw oscillated back and forth in the early centuries of the church, and has for two thousand years. His opponents have rejected his deity, and too many of his worshipers have been slow to own the extent of his manhood. The ancient doubts about the God-man, full and perfect in his divinity and humanity, have come down to us today, even among those who call themselves his followers.
Human, All the Way Down
“Not only does the Son of God have a fully human body, but also a fully human mind, heart, and will.”
For those on the left, his humanity is plain enough in history, and in the perceived nonsense of a man actually being God. What’s in question, or “re-mythologized,” is in what sense he is really divine. Was he really God’s son? But we Bible-believers have our own tendencies and troubles as well. Even among those of us who are quick and unashamed to confess him as Lord and God, we often have not wrestled deeply with the unnerving extent of his “incarnation” — that the eternal divine “Word became flesh” (John 1:14).
Have evangelicals today lost our wonder at the true and full humanity of Christ? In fighting for his deity, as we should, have we overlooked how human — how shockingly human — God himself became in Jesus of Nazareth?
Advent is a ripe opportunity for rehearsing not just the easy parts of the incarnation, but also the uncomfortable and challenging aspects of what it means that our Lord is fully human. Not only did the Son of God have — and still has — a fully human body, but also a fully human mind, heart, and will.
His Human Body
The New Testament is clear enough that Jesus has a human body. John 1:14 means at least this, and more: “The Word became flesh.” His humanity became one of the first tests of orthodoxy (1 John 4:2; 2 John 7). He was born (Luke 2:7). He grew (Luke 2:40, 52). He grew tired (John 4:6) and got thirsty (John 19:28) and hungry (Matthew 4:2). He became physically weak (Matthew 4:11; Luke 23:26). He died (Luke 23:46). And he had a real human body after his resurrection (Luke 24:39; John 20:20, 27).
His Human Heart
“The Scriptures plainly affirm that Jesus both knows all things as God and doesn’t know all things as man.”
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus clearly displays human emotions. Here it begins to get a little more difficult for us. When Jesus heard the centurion’s words of faith, “he marveled” (Matthew 8:10). He says in Matthew 26:38 that his “soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” In John 11:33–35, Jesus is “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled,” and even weeps. John 12:27 says, “Now is my soul troubled,” and in John 13:21, he is “troubled in his spirit.” The author to the Hebrews writes that “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears” (Hebrews 5:7).
As John Calvin memorably summed it up, “Christ has put on our feelings along with our flesh.”
His Human Mind
But the waters get even deeper. Jesus also has a human mind. We have only experienced one mind, and simply cannot fathom what it would be like for one person to have both a human mind and a divine mind. Two key texts press us toward this mind-boggling truth:
Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:52)
“Concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32)
The second verse, of course, is striking for those of us with a high view of Christ. And it is, of course, from the mouth of Christ himself. For Christians who affirm his deity, Mark 13:32 seems like trouble. But what looks difficult at first glance proves, with some thorough reflection, to be a glorious confirmation of Jesus’s full humanity. Perhaps put most provocatively, the question goes like this: If Jesus is truly God, and God knows everything, how can Jesus not know when his own second coming will be?
“Have we overlooked how human — how shockingly human — God himself became in Jesus of Nazareth?”
The mature and carefully formulated answer of church history is this: In addition to being fully divine, Jesus is fully human. His one person has both an infinite, divine mind and a finite, human mind. He can be said not to know things, as in Mark 13:32, because he is genuinely human and finite — and human minds are not omniscient. And Jesus can be said to know all things, as in John 21:17, because he is divine and infinite in his knowledge.
Paradoxical as it is, the Scriptures plainly affirm that Jesus both knows all things as God and doesn’t know all things as man. For the unique, two-natured, singular person of Christ, this is no contradiction, but a peculiar glory of the God-man.
His Human Will
But the reality of a human-divine Christ stretches our comprehension even further still. Perhaps trickiest of all, Jesus not only has a divine will, but also a human will. We affirm two wills in Christ — one divine and one human. Again, the tracks are laid by two key texts:
“I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (John 6:38)
Jesus prays to the Father, “Not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)
Jesus has an infinite, divine will that is the will of his Father (one will in God). And as man, he has a finite, human will that, while being an authentic human will, is perfectly in sync with, and submissive to, the divine will.
It is a great mystery, beyond our experience and understanding, and beyond what we will ever know as mere humans. But where it leads for those who call him Lord is not ultimately to confusion, but to worship. Jesus is one truly spectacular person. He is fully God. And he is fully man. Would we want to fix our eternal honor and worship on one who was not utterly unique? There is only one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).
True Human, True Healing
“Christ has put on our feelings along with our flesh.”
Jesus is like us in every respect — human body, heart, mind, and will — except for sin (Hebrews 2:17; 4:15). How amazing that the divine Son of God would not just take on part of our humanity at that first Christmas, but all of it — and then take that true humanity all the way to the cross for us, and now into heaven and the new creation.
Jesus took a human body to save our bodies. And he took a human mind to save our minds. Without becoming man in his emotions, he could not have rescued our hearts. And without taking a human will, he could not save our broken and wandering wills. In the words of Gregory of Nazianzus, “That which he has not assumed he has not healed.”
He became man in full, so that he might save us in full. He is a truly marvelous Savior.