January 2009 Issue
Son ~ His Humanity
by David Roach
Recently, a church member approached
me hesitantly. He looked half afraid that I would accuse him of
heresy once I heard what he was about to utter. Then he said,
"I love God the Father. Don't get me wrong. But I really
feel close to Jesus. What do you think of that?"
After a moment of consideration, I told him he was exactly
right to feel that way because Jesus Christ is the bridge between
sinful humanity and God the Father. God the Son came to earth
as a human to make God the Father known to us. Believers are right
to feel a unique kinship with Him.
I didn't give much thought to the brief exchange at the time.
But later I came to a sobering realization I was the one
who should have felt like I was in error, not him. It's not that
I said something unbiblical in response to his question. I affirmed
his correct application of the doctrine of Christ's humanity.
However, it is an indictment of me and many pastors like me that
after years of preaching, we still have not brought our congregations
to a confident understanding of Christ's humanity and its applications.
Seventy years ago, theologian Louis Berkhof made an observation
that applies in evangelical circles
today. "There has been a time, when the reality and natural
integrity of the human nature of Christ was denied, but at present
no one seriously questions the real humanity of Jesus Christ,"
he said. However, "men have sometimes forgotten the human
Christ in their reverence for the divine. ... The splendor of
His deity should not be stressed to the extent of obscuring His
Historically Southern Baptists would never deny that Jesus
is fully human. Yet when we emphasize the deity of Christ almost
exclusively, we rob those we teach of the precious comfort that
comes from knowing Jesus as our mediator, brother, and perfectly
sympathetic high priest.
Scripture teaches in vivid detail that Jesus was fully human.
He lived such a normal human life that people from His hometown
had difficulty seeing Him as a teacher, much less the Son of God.
And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and
many who heard him were astonished, saying, "Where did this
man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are
such mighty works done by his hands? Is this not the carpenter,
the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?
And are not his sisters here and with us?" And they took
offense at him (Mark 6:2-3, ESV).
Jesus called Himself a man and was called a man by others (John
8:40; Acts 2:22; Romans 5:15; 1 Corinthians 15:21). His frequent
use of the self-appellation, Son of Man, indicated real humanity.
When John writes that Jesus became flesh (John 1:14), flesh
signifies human nature. In every physiological way Jesus was as
human as you and I.
From the first moment of His life on earth, Jesus had a human
body. He grew in the womb like all human babies and was born as
all humans are born (Luke 2:7). The normal laws of growth and
development applied to Him (Luke 2:40, 52). In adulthood Jesus
felt tired (John 4:6; Matthew 8:24), thirsty (John 19:28), and
hungry (Matthew 4:2). During the march to His crucifixion, Simon
of Cyrene carried Jesus' cross for Him, presumably because Jesus
lacked the strength to carry it Himself (Luke 23:26). Even after
His resurrection, Jesus demonstrated that He possessed a real
human body by eating and inviting the disciples to touch Him (Luke
Jesus had a mind like ours. Like other human children, He learned
how to eat, talk, read, and obey His parents (cf. Hebrews 5:8).
Jesus revealed His human mind when He said of His second coming,
But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even
the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (Mark
Jesus' divinity never negated His human emotions. During the
hours preceding His crucifixion, Jesus felt troubled (John 12:27;
13:21). He marveled at the centurion's faith (Matthew 8:10), wept
at Lazarus's death (John 11:35), felt compassion for the spiritually
helpless crowds (Matthew 9:36), and experienced agony in prayer
Jesus did not cease to be a human after His resurrection. He
will always be human. He appeared to the disciples as a man with
scars from the nails that held Him on the cross (John 20:25-27).
Following His ascension Stephen (Acts 7:56) and Paul (Acts 9:5)
saw Jesus as a human. In Revelation, Jesus still appears as one
like a son of man (Revelation 1:13) and invites us to eat
with Him in the marriage supper of the lamb (Revelation 19:9).
Though Jesus is as fully human as we are, Scripture affirms
that He differs from all other humans in one respect: He never
sinned. In His actions, thoughts, and motives Jesus did not once
depart from God's perfect moral standard. The author of Hebrews
teaches that Jesus was in every respect ... tempted as we are,
yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Peter says Jesus committed
no sin (1 Peter 2:22) and calls Him the Holy One and Righteous
One (Acts 2:27; 3:14). Jesus confessed to the Pharisees that He
always does things that please the Father (John 8:29).
Some might object that because Jesus never sinned, He was not
truly human. But to view sin as a necessary condition of humanity,
misconstrues the Bible's teaching. God created Adam and Eve as
truly human and expected them to live holy and righteous lives.
The Fall created an abnormal situation, not a picture of true
humanity. Sin obscures our true humanity. Thus Scripture presents
Jesus as the ideal man, exhibiting all the characteristics God
created man to have (2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15).
Christ's sinless humanity offers believers a source of great
comfort. Because He endured the same temptations we face, Jesus
sympathizes with us in every temptation. In fact, Jesus experienced
a greater strain under temptation than we experience. Baptist
theologian Wayne Grudem helpfully compared Jesus to a champion
weightlifter: "Just as a champion weightlifter who successfully
lifts and holds over head the heaviest weight in the contest feels
the force of it more fully than one who attempts to lift it and
drops it, so any Christian who has successfully faced a temptation
to the end knows that that is far more difficult than giving in
to it at once. So it was with Jesus: every temptation he faced,
he faced to the end, and triumphed over it. The temptations were
real because he did not give in to them. In fact, they were most
real because he did not give in to them."2 Regardless of
how great our temptation, Jesus knows what the burden feels like
because He felt the same burden and endured. Only a fully human
and fully sinless Jesus could sympathize with us in our temptations
and give us the encouragement to obey God.
Christ's full humanity also makes Him eligible to obey God
as our representative and take God's judgment as our substitute.
A thousand years ago, Anselm of Canterbury correctly wrote in
Why God Became Man that only God could die for sinners
but only a man should die for sinners. Only God can take on Himself
enough judgment to pay for the sins of whosoever will believe
in Christ. But justice demands that a real human take the judgment
because real humans committed the sin. If Jesus were not fully
human, He would not have been eligible to die in our place on
the cross. Similarly, Scripture teaches that Jesus obeyed God
as our representative. Though perfect righteousness is required
to have peace with God, all of us fall short (Romans 3:23). Yet
because Jesus obeyed the Father perfectly, God credits to the
accounts of believers the righteousness of Christ and treats us
as though we are perfectly righteous (Romans 5:18-19). Were Jesus
not fully human, He would not be eligible to obey as a representative
Without a fully human Jesus, we would have no mediator between
God and humanity. Because of His deity, Jesus can represent us
in the presence of the Holy Father (1 Timothy 2:5). Because of
His humanity, He can represent the Father to us. If Jesus ceased
to be either fully God or fully human at any moment, there would
be no one to bring sinners back to God.
Only a fully human Jesus can be our example in life and death.
God chose not merely to shout instructions at us from heaven.
Instead He sent a perfect model for us to imitate in our daily
lives. That is why John tells us, whoever says he abides in
him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked (1 John
2:6, ESV). Even in His death, Jesus is the pattern we follow.
When Jesus was raised from the dead, He received a new body that
was imperishable and glorious (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). Paul says
Jesus was the "first fruits," an initial sample of what
the harvest will be like (1 Corinthians 15:23). At the second
coming, all believers will receive glorious, imperishable bodies
that will never age or decay. The dead in Christ will rise from
their graves to receive these bodies, and living believers will
be caught up in the air and instantly transformed (1 Thessalonians
4:16-17). Jesus had to be raised as a man in order to be the "firstborn
from the dead," the pattern for our resurrection bodies (Colossians
Understanding Christ's humanity requires trusting Him. We trust
Him first as our Lord who saves us. Because Jesus can stand in
our place to receive judgment for sin and achieve perfect righteousness,
we can trust Him as our only hope for salvation.
We also trust Christ as a worthy example to follow. We look
to Jesus like a boy looks to His father and imitates him. When
my father taught me how to pitch a baseball, he did not simply
tell me how to do it. He stood next to me in our yard and had
me copy his footsteps and arm motions as he went through a pitcher's
windup. I just kept copying until the motion came naturally to
me. With Jesus, we similarly stand beside Him, copying His footsteps
and actions. At first it will feel difficult. But with time the
imitation comes more naturally to us. By such imitation, we learn
to live in a way that pleases the Father.
Jesus' humanity gives us a concrete hope for life after death.
He has already stepped into heavenly existence, and we will follow
Him there just as surely as we have been empowered to follow Him
in this life. This truth felt real to me when a friend died recently.
At the funeral home I looked at his body lying lifeless in the
casket and felt sad. But in the midst of grief, I realized that
the resurrection is not merely an abstract concept. It's real
and it's personal. That body in that casket is going to get up
when Jesus returns. Then my friend will put on a heavenly body
that is more glorious than I could stand to look at right now.
The thought of that resurrection comforted me. The same reality
should bring comfort every time a Christian loved one dies and
ultimately when we face death ourselves. Eventually all humans
will die. But we know death is not the end. We know because there
was a human before us who showed us the way. He is fully and gloriously
1 Louis Berkhof,
Systematic Theology, 4th ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1938),
2 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,
David Roach is pastor of Emmanuel Baptist
Church in Shelbyville, Kentucky, and a PhD candidate at The Southern
Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
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