How is Jesus fully God and fully man, yet one person? About a week ago my family and I began considering this question in our family Bible reading time, guided by Wayne Grudem’s discussion of it in Chapter 26, “The Person of Christ,” of his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994). Last week we considered Jesus’ virgin birth and his humanity, this week we’re considering his deity, and next week we’ll consider how his deity and humanity are united in the one person of Christ.
The Human Characteristics of Jesus
Jesus had a human body just like ours, as is shown in many Bible passages. For example, he was born (Luke 2:7), grew (Luke 2:40), and died (Mark 15:37). And he experienced hunger (Matthew 4:2), thirst (John 19:28), tiredness (John 4:6), and weakness (Luke 23:26; his displaying weakness would be the probable reason for the soldiers’ making someone else carry his cross).
Jesus had a human mind. For example, as a child/youth he “increased in wisdom” (Luke 2:52; this suggests that he learned as other human beings learn) and even as an adult had limited knowledge (“Concerning that day or hour [the time of his second coming], no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father,” Mark 13:32, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).
Jesus displayed human emotions. For example, he “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death” (Hebrews 5:7; although this passage brings Jesus’ prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane to mind, “in the days on his flesh” suggests that Jesus made such prayers throughout his life) and before his crucifixion even admitted to a crowd that he felt troubled (John 12:27).
Jesus’ brothers and neighbours viewed him as only a man. For example, the Bible tells us that after Jesus began his ministry his brothers didn’t believe in him (John 7:5) and even tried to seize him thinking that he was out of his mind (Mark 3:21). And, astonished by Jesus’ teachings and miracles, the people of Nazareth rejected him, saying, “Where did this man get these things?… Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and James and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:2-3).
The Sinlessness of Jesus
The New Testament affirms that although Jesus was fully human he didn’t commit sin during his earthly life. Jesus told a group of people, “I always do the things that are pleasing to him [God]” (John 8:29), indicating both that he was sinless and that he was always doing things that were pleasing to God. Shortly afterwards he asked them, “Which one of convicts me of sin?” and the only answer that they could give was, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8:46,48). Paul describes Jesus as “him…who knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21); the writer of Hebrews describes him as a high priest “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” and “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners” (Hebrews 4:15; 7:26); and Peter affirms that “he committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22).
Could Jesus have sinned? Grudem has a full discussion of this question. He argues that since Jesus’ human and divine natures coexisted, his sinning would have involved God in a sin, which was impossible (“God cannot be tempted with evil,” James 1:13). Thus Grudem infers that Jesus was <i>impeccable</i> or “not able to sin.” To the objection that Jesus’ being unable to sin would make the temptations referred to by the writer of Hebrews (“[Jesus] in every respect has been tempted as we are,” Hebrews 4:15) unreal, Grudem suggests that although Jesus’ divine nature could not be tempted his human nature could be. However it seems logical that if Jesus could be tempted in his human nature but not in his
divine nature, then he could have sinned in his human nature but not in his divine nature. Whatever, the important thing is that he didn’t sin and thus can serve as “our high priest…who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
The Necessity of Jesus’ Humanity
Gruden suggests and explains seven reasons why Jesus had to be fully man. Here I’ll just list the reasons that he gives and for each provide the reference for a Bible passage supporting it.
1. To be our representative and obey for us where Adam had disobeyed (Romans 5:18-19).
2. To be a substitute sacrifice (Romans 3:24-25).
3. To mediate between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5).
4. To fulfil God’s purpose for man to rule over creation (Hebrews 2:6-9).
5. To be our example (1 John 2:6).
6. To be the pattern for our heavenly bodies (1 Corinthians 15:49).
7. To sympathize with us as our high priest (Hebrews 2:17-18).
The Permanence of Jesus’ Humanity
Jesus didn’t give up his human nature after his death and resurrection. He still had “flesh and bones” and ate food (Luke 24:39-43) when he appeared to the disciples, and he showed them the marks in his hands and side from the crucifixion (John 20:25-27). On a later occasion while he was talking with them he was taken up to heaven still in his resurrection body, and two angels told them, “This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). From these and other Bible passages Grudem concludes, “Jesus will remain fully God and fully man, yet one person, forever” (page 543).