Daniel Webster was once asked how, as a Christian and educated man, he could understand that Christ was both God and man at the same time. "I cannot comprehend it," responded Webster. "If I could comprehend him, he would be no greater than myself. I feel that I need a superhuman Savior."
One of the most difficult doctrines to understand concerning Christ is the relationship of his divine and human nature. The Bible teaches that Jesus is both God and man. That does not mean he is half God and half man, nor does it mean he is God sometimes and man at other times. Jesus is God-man. The term is hyphenated to show Jesus is all God and all man at the same time.
Both sides of the nature of Christ are seen in the titles that describe him. Jesus is often called the Son of God in the Gospel of John, while he is called the Son of man in Luke, the latter denoting both humanity and deity. He is at all times 100 a percent God in his nature, words, and actions. Yet at the same time he is 100 percent man. He left footprints in the sand as he walked on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He needed rest and nourishment because he was human, but the winds and waves obeyed him. He was at all times and in every way the God-man-100 percent God and 100 percent man. This union of divine and human is one of the most difficult doctrines to understand, yet one which is foundational to Christianity.
The thing that people usually remember about Christ is his birth, celebrated at Christmas. Many who are familiar with the events surrounding that birth, fail to understand that his conception in the virgin's womb represented the merging of God and man into one human body. John summarizes this miracle in one statement. "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). When we use the term "incarnation," we are speaking of the miracle of God becoming man, yet remaining God.
The divine Word. This title of Christ, used only by the apostle John, implies his deity. A word is a medium of communication. When John called Jesus "the Word," he was implying that God communicated himself to man through the medium of Jesus Christ. The Word was the embodiment of a Person—showing to people what God was and what God revealed to them.
Some New Testament scholars claim John got the title "Word" for Jesus from Greek philosophy. Others argue he was thinking of the Hebrew idea of wisdom. They claim Christ is the personification of wisdom as described in Proverbs 5-8. But perhaps John was using the term "Word" as it was used literally in the Old Testament—“The Word of God." Since the term "Word" means expression or communication, John probably called Jesus the "Word of God" to reveal how God spoke over 1,200 times in the Old Testament. The Word of the Lord was the message or communication from God to men. Since Jesus was the personification of the written and spoken Word of the Lord, he is the revelation of the Lord. He is the incarnate Word of the Lord, just as the Bible is the inspired Word of the Lord.
The first eighteen verses of the Gospel of John provide our fullest description of the Word. "In the beginning was the Word" (John 1:1), refers to eternity, not a specific point in time. The first thing we are told about the Word is that he preexisted the creation and is therefore eternal. Second, we are told that at a point in time he has a personality: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). Third, the Word was engaged in active personal communion with God. This is seen where the "Word was with God" (John 1:1), meaning Jesus was face to face with God. The fact that the Word and God are the same suggest both the plurality of the Godhead and deity of the Word (Christ)—“the Word was God" (John 1:1). Yet this verse cannot be translated "God was the Word," or "the Word was a God" as some religious cults suggest. To do so would ignore the rules of translating the Greek language. Groups such as the Jehovah's Witnesses try to translate the verse to show that Jesus was not "God" but "a God," but they are unable to find a single reputable Greek scholar to acknowledge the possibility of translating the verse "The Word was a God" or "God was the Word." To do so would deny the distinction between the Person of God the Father and the Person of Christ.
The next conclusion we may draw about the Word from this passage concerns the unity of the Father and Son. They are one together, two consciousnesses, yet one essence.
John also points out the Word was the avenue by which God expressed or revealed himself. "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" (John 1:18). The incarnate Word is the continuity of the preincarnate Word. Jesus is called the Word and the only begotten (John 1:14). These were used as stepping-stones to explain the nature of Jesus, the unique revelation of God. vA final and crucial observation concerning the Word may be made in this passage. "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). The verb tense of "was made" denotes action in a point of time. The word "dwelt" means "to tabernacle." In the Old Testament, God's glory dwelt in the tabernacle. As Israel set up their tents in the wilderness around the tabernacle, the glory of God descended on the holy of holies. This meant God's presence dwelt with Israel. one commentator described the wilderness wanderings as “camping with God." As God dwelt with Israel by his glory cloud in the Old Testament, so God dwells in a human tabernacle with his people in the New Testament. The body of Jesus Christ is likened to a tent that was called glorious.
The Gospel writers record the glory of Jesus on the mount of transfiguration where his earthly body was bright and glorious: John observes, "And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father" (John 1:14).
Jesus in human flesh. Not only was Jesus God, he was at the same time flesh. The term "flesh" speaks of his humanity. In the effort to combat the liberal denial of Christ's deity, conservative Christians have sometimes neglected his humanity. We need to realize that both aspects are true—Jesus was both God and man. And to perfectly understand Jesus, we must seek to understand the reality of his earthly body. As he climbed the mountains of Israel, he became tired and was subject to the limitations of humanity.
The birth of Jesus, though miraculous, was a human birth. Like any other child, he inherited his nature from his parents. His father was God, thus he has a divine nature. His mother was human, thus he has a human nature. (Jesus did not possess a sin nature because it was not a part of the original nature of man but was acquired with the first transgression.) Jesus had everything that is part of human nature. He identified with man in everything but sin. "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15).
Jesus grew as a normal child would grow (Luke 2:52). He had the limitations of human nature. There were times when Jesus got hungry (Matt. 4:2) and, on at least one occasion, he had to stop his journey to rest. The primary reason why Jesus became human and endured the limitations of humanity was to help us. "For in that he himself both suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted" (Heb. 2:18).
THE UNION OF NATURES
When we think of the dual nature of Christ, we must somehow not divide him into two parts as though he were a schizophrenic or was two persons in one body. Rather we must think of him as a unity; he is the God-man. His nature has been described a number of ways. At the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451, an ecumenical gathering called to settle some of the eastern church divisions, Jesus was described as having been "made known in two natures without confusion, without change, without division, without separation, the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union." In essence, when we examine the two natures of Christ orthodox doctrine forbids us either to divide the person or to confound the natures.
When the council said it could not divide the person it meant that Christ did not have two personalities (persons) but one. He did not have a perfect divine mind and a limited human mind-Christ had one mind. As humans we cannot understand it, but we can see it in the Gospels. As a person, Christ had one mind, one set of emotions, as well as one will. Commenting on this union, the theologian Shedd wrote: "The two natures, or substances, constitute one personal subsistence. A common illustration employed by the Chalcedon and later fathers is, the union of the human soul and body in one person, and the union of heat and iron, neither of which loses its own properties."
The union of two natures in one Person. This union of the two natures of Christ is personal. meaning they merged in the Person of Christ. Common man is both material and nonmaterial, body and soul. Man's personality exists in his immaterial nature or intrinsic being. The nature is the real man and without it he would cease to exist. Jesus possessed both a divine nature (see Chapter 7) and a human nature (see Chapter 29). The union of the divine and human natures in Christ provided a personal Savior.
The union of two natures was complete. Jesus did not act as God on some occasions and man at other times. We do not say that he performed miracles as God and suffered on the cross as a man. What Jesus did, he did as a unity. He was at all times and in all ways the God-man. Divine and human qualities are both found in him, sometimes one more prominent than the other. When he cried, "I thirst," it was the human body that required water, but back of the cry was Christ dying in a body. When he later cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me," it was deity talking to deity, yet Christ was using a human vehicle to express his prayer.
The union of two natures was permanent. Some have tried to understand the God-man by recognizing his work as God at times and his work as man at other times. The hypostatic union guarantees the constant presence of both the divine and human natures of Christ. The Bible teaches "Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday, and today, and forever" (Heb. 13:8).
Christ had only one personality. This means he had only one mind, one set of emotions, and one will. As a person he had one self-determination and 'one self-perception. He possessed all the characteristics that would be true of only one personality. As we read the Gospels we see someone whose personality is consistent in his nature, words, and actions. H
is union into two natures continued. When Christ took on human flesh in the incarnation, he did not give it up when he ascended back into heaven. Today we worship a Person who is both God and man. The physical body that was born in Bethlehem is now seated at the right hand of the throne. The Hebrews were told of Jesus, "But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood" (Heb. 7:24). Jesus is the Man seated in glory. Paul reminded Timothy, "There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man, Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5). He reminded the Romans that their salvation was dependent upon the work of a man who had overcome the failings of the first man (Rom. 5:1221). These Scriptures do not diminish the deity of Christ but rather recognize his humanity.
THE REASONS FOR THE INCARNATION
The Lord does not work indiscriminately without any purpose in mind. Everything has a purpose and is mandated by God's nature. This includes why the incarnation was necessary.
To confirm God's promises. "Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers" (Rom. 15:8). At least three hundred specific prophecies were fulfilled that could not have been realized if Jesus did not have a human body. Jesus said, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil" (Matt. 5:17). He kept the laws that were imposed on Israel, and what the Old Testament fathers could not do-keep the law-Jesus fulfilled in his human life.
To reveal the Father. From the beginning of time, God desired fellowship with his highest creation. In the garden, it was God's custom to walk with man. Later God dwelt in the tabernacle and, later still, the temple. When Jesus came, he was able to reveal the nature of God in human flesh. "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" (John 1:18).
To become a faithful high priest. Jesus could not today carry out his high priestly functions if he had not become a man.
For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins" (Heb. 5:1). Because of that, Jesus is our great high priest. "Wherefore, he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25).
To put away sin. A chief purpose in the incarnation was that Jesus could be born without sin, live without sin, and ultimately die for the sins of the world. When God clothed Adam and Eve with skins of an animal, he was symbolically covering their nakedness, as one day the sacrifice of a lamb would cover the spiritual sin of God's people. This sacrifice was predicted by Abraham, who told Isaac the day would come when "God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering" (Gen. 22:8). When John the Baptist saw Jesus, he recognized the prediction would soon be completed by calling Christ -the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).
To destroy the works of Satan. "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8). After Satan tempted Eve to sin, and she fell, God predicted that the seed of the woman (Christ) would crush Satan's head. Obviously, Christ had to be born of a woman to deliver the blow to Satan, so Jesus was born of Mary. When Jesus on the cross cried, "It is finished" (John 19:30), he was signaling the end of several things, among them the fact that victory over sin and Satan had been completed.
To provide an example. By becoming a man, Jesus was able to show men how they ought to live. The Christian is responsible to live a holy life. "He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked" (1 John 2:6). Peter exhorted his readers, "Christ ... leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps" (1 Peter 2:21). Over the years certain people have believed that Jesus came to earth for the sole purpose of being God's example of righteousness. In doing so, such people deny his work of redemption. In truth, his incarnation accomplished both purposes.
The incarnation tells us that Jesus was “tabernacled” in flesh. In a certain sense, that principle continues. Today, God still desires to live in a human tabernacle or temple. Christians are described as “temples of the Holy Ghost” (I Cor. 6:19). Jesus taught his disciples “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23). This word “abode” means “mansion.” Christians are exhorted to make their heart a “mansion” in which God lives.
When someone visits another person’s home, he may be entertained in the living room. But when one visits a friend, he is told to make himself at home. He settles down and relaxes, treating the home as his own. Many Christians have invited Christ into their lives (Rev. 3:20) as a guest, but not a close friend. God desires to “make himself at home” in our bodies if we will let him. In the first step, the divine and human natures coexist in Christ, so now we must let the second stop be completed in our lives.
Monday: John 1:1-18
Tuesday: Romans 5:12-20
Wednesday: Romans 6:1-17
Thursday: John 14:15-26
Friday: John 15:1-17
Saturday: I Corinthians 6:1-20
Sunday: Colossians 3:1-17
Taken from: What The Faith Is All About by Elmer Towns