Jesus: Man, or God?
Romans 9:5 is a verse which, although I had read before, I had not really noticed Paul’s description of Jesus.
“To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen”.
Note that Paul says of Jesus that He is, “from their race” in other words, He is Jewish, He is an Israelite. But Paul asserts more than that, He is one “according to the flesh”. This is a clear assertion of the humanity of Jesus. Jesus IS descended from the Patriarchs, .
But Jesus is not JUST according to the flesh, Paul says He is “God over all” in this verse. One of the clearest and most direct Scriptural evidences that the Bible teaches the Divinity of Christ.
In this one verse, we have an assertion of both the humanity and the divinity of Jesus.
That is going to be the stuff of this morning’s consideration.
- We will look at the Biblical evidence for the divinity of Jesus.
- We will look at the Biblical evidence for the humanity of Jesus.
- We will look at some different ways in which people have explained how they relate.
Jesus is God.
One of the biggest problems we see around to day is this absolute belief that Jesus was a man, a very special man, perhaps, but a man nevertheless. The witness of the NT, however, is that Jesus was not just a man, but actually God.
This is a stumbling block for many people. There is a conservative commentator in the USA who is a religious Jew. His name is Denis Prager. A couple of weeks ago I listened to a podcast where he sat on a stage with Pastor Jack Hibbs, a Christian pastor. Denis Prager said that the issue for Jewish people is NOT that Christians claimed Jesus was the messiah. It was that they claimed He was God.
What DIRECT biblical evidence is there that Jesus claimed to be God?
This is a massive subject and as usual I cannot do it justice in the short time we have available to us this morning, but here are a few of the evidences I find compelling, and I am going to focus on the Gospels, and the encounters Jesus has …
John 8:48–59. “Before Abraham was, I AM”,
Illustration: in modern romantic films, we sometimes see this happening:
Boy says something to Girl,
Girl responds, “I do”.
Boy and Girl look lovingly at one another.
Everyone watching the film understands that a marriage proposal has been given and accepted, EVEN IF no mention of marriage has been made.
When people say Jesus never claimed to be God, this illustration is one you can use – you could argue that in such films the boy never asked a girl to marry him and yet everybody knows that this is what actually happened.
This is the case with John 8:58, Jesus doesn’t actually say, “I am God”, but in making the declaration “I am” in this way, there was doubt amongst his hearers that in making a clear reference to the burning bush encounter which they would not have missed. This was exactly what he was doing.
Luke 11:9 (& others). “I say to you”.
Note that the Old Testament prophets, when they are speaking for God, invariably say, “Thus the Lord Almighty says” or “The Lord God says” or, they would always announce that this information is coming from the Lord Almighty.
But Jesus never ever did that. You will not find a single gospel account which record Him saying, “The Lord Almighty says.” Instead he says, “I say to you” (in the King James it is, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee”) The people who heard Jesus in the 1st Century were accustomed to the prophets in every generation announcing a proclamation from God as “Thus the Lord God Almighty says to you.” When they heard Jesus proclaim, “I say this to you” they understood very well what He meant. Jesus’ words revealed what He thought about himself.
They understood that he considered Himself to be God. He never felt compelled to say, “God’s telling you this.” Instead, He said, “I’m telling you this.” Jesus understood himself to be God, to have the authority of God, and He was not shy about speaking AS God.
Mark 2:5 (& others). “Your sins are forgiven”.
In the Mark passage, a group of friends break through a roof to bring their paralysed friend to Jesus. When Jesus sees the man, He says to him, “son, your sins are forgiven” (interestingly, although John doesn’t pick up on it, Jesus also calls the man “son”, and WHO is our father?).
The scribes around knew the implications of Him saying that. That only God can forgive sin, and John records it, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7). Jesus doesn’t deny what they are thinking. In fact He reveals it (and as 1 Samuel 16:7 says, only God can see into our hearts, another indication of His divinity), and He doubles down and proves it by healing the man.
John 10:33. “You, a mere man, claim to be God”.
John 10:27–30, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
The Jews understood exactly what Jesus was claiming—deity. When Jesus declared, “I and the Father are one,” He was saying that He and the Father are of one nature and essence. He was claiming divinity. Claiming to be God is blasphemy and punishable by death.
So … John goes on to record their actions. John 10:31 “The Jews picked up stones again to stone him”. Jesus challenges them and they reply, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33).
John 20:28. “My Lord and my God”
This is the encounter between Jesus and Thomas. When Thomas calls Jesus “God”, Jesus doesn’t correct Him. Jesus was not averse to correcting His disciples when they got it wrong. He calls Peter, Satan. He also rebukes James and John when they want to call down fire on the Samaritan village (Luke 9:55). At one point, He actually says to the disciples, “are you do dull?” (Matthew 15:16).
Revelation 19:10 tells us that we should only worship God, and given the commandment to worship only God and have “no other Gods before Him” (Exodus 20:3), coupled with Jesus’ assessment of the greatest commandment (“love the Lord your God …”), when Thomas falls down and worships Jesus declaring “my Lord and my God!”, if Jesus wasn’t God, He would have corrected him.
Luke 18:19. “Why are you calling me good? Only God is good”
Jesus is NOT denying He is God, in fact quite the opposite. He is saying that since only God is good, when they address him as “Good teacher”, they are, in fact, recognising His divinity.
Just like in Thomas’ confession of Jesus as God, Jesus does not correct the statement, He merely points out its implication. Jesus is saying, “you do realise you’re calling me God, don’t you?”
He then goes on to answer the question He is asked.
Jesus is a man
As a general rule, defending the humanity of Jesus is not something we will have to do in the 21st century. There are some obscure heresies that deny his humanity which we will look at, but nowadays if people do accept Him as a true character in history, they will not usually deny His humanity, so I don’t think it really is necessary to go into any great theological depth here. Although I have said that today people might not believe Jesus actually existed (which is a matter for arguing the literary and historical evidence), it has not always been the case. Certainly, some of the letters take great pains to point out His humanity, and in history, there have been times when people have done the same.
Here, Paul takes great pains to point out that Jesus is descended from the patriarchs, this asserts that He is a Jew, which is important to the Jews (because salvation is from the Jews, John 4:22), but it also asserts that He is Human.
Matthew and Luke both trace the human lineage of Jesus. They do it to show Jesus is of the line of David, this is one fulfilment of the Davidic covenant that we looked at last week. The Davidic covenant, if you remember from last week, is God covenanting with David that it would be His descendant who would rule the Jews. Jesus, of the line of David, fulfils that covenant. Because it traces human ancestry, it ALSO, however, is an indication of the humanity of Jesus.
Here are some other evidences of the Humanity of Jesus.
- Jesus was conceived in the womb and was born (Luke 2:7), He grew through childhood into an adult. He experienced normal ageing (Luke 2:40 “ And the child grew and became strong; He was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him”), He also learned (Luke 2:52, “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man”), something which, presumably, if He had not “laid aside his majesty” (as we sing), He would not have needed to do.
- He had natural physical needs, we got hungry (His temptation in the wilderness), He got tired (John 4:6), thirsty (John19:28), and He slept (Mark 4:38).
- He experienced human emotions, Mark 3:5 describes both anger and distress “He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts”, In Gethsemane, Matthew records that “ taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, He began to be sorrowful and troubled” (Matthew 26:37). That Jesus would have emotions are prophesied in Isaiah 53:3 “ He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”. The Bible doesn’t describe Jesus laughing and joking, but I have no doubt at all that He laughed and joked with people.
- He died a physical death (Luke 23:46), Jesus felt real physical pain on the cross. He wasn’t some divine God just pretending somehow. He died. The witness of John about blood and water pouring out of Jesus’ side when the spear was thrust in, shows His human death. Reported by John, an eyewitness who did not have the medical knowledge to know about the significance of it, this is medical evidence of “pericardial effusion” which is a build up of liquid around the heart when people die in certain traumatic circumstances. This is MEDICAL proof that Jesus actually died physically. Jesus was also resurrected in a physical body. We have all sorts of gospel witness about him eating fish with the disciples, allowing Thomas to touch him. So, for example, Luke records, “As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when He had said this, He showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marvelling, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and He took it and ate before them” (Luke 24:36–42).
Jesus was human in every way except for sin; He lived a completely sinless life (Hebrews 4:15).
HOW does humanity and deity come together in the person of Jesus?
There is quite an array of beliefs about Jesus and exactly who He was. In particular, how or whether the Human and the Divine met in the person of Christ. Here are just a few of the more common ones.
Docetism – Jesus is God and not human at all.
Docetism takes its name from the Greek “dokesei” meaning to seem or to appear. It is heavily influenced by the Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato:
- Aristotle, teaching that God cannot change, suffer or be affected by the material world, and
- Plato, teaching that matter is in essence evil.
The conclusion is therefore that God, being in essence good, cannot change his form to assume a material (and in essence evil) form. His humanity was just an appearance, that He only appeared to be human, but “was more like a ghost, an apparition than a human being”. Docetism doesn’t accept Jesus’ physical birth because if Jesus had been born humanly, Mary would have contributed materially to him (after all, we now know that the DNA of a baby is a created from both mother and father). Instead, Mary was a vessel through which Jesus came into the world, contributing nothing to him. Docetism teaches, then, that in Christ the divine is real and complete, but the human is only appearance.
Ebionism – Jesus is JUST a man and not God at all
Ebionism is more commonly known as Arianism (which takes its name from Arius, the main proponent of this view) teaches that Jesus was not divine. Arius believed in the absolute uniqueness and transcendence of God. God is unique, and the one source of all things. He is indivisible and unchangeable – otherwise He would not be God. Only God is uncreated and eternal, everything else is created. Arians believe that whilst Jesus is very special, and is the agent of God’s creation, He is not self-existent. The Arian view is summed up in the statement “that there was a time when He (Christ) was not”.
This is the view of all sorts of people today, setting to one side atheists who don’t believe in the spiritual realm at all, Jehovah’s Witnesses have Arian beliefs, Moslems don’t believe Jesus is God, Jews don’t either.
The other views fall somewhere in between.
Apollinarianism – Jesus is God in a “man skin”
Apollinarius, after whom the heresy was named, was the bishop of Laodicea, and reacted strongly against the denial of Christ’s deity by followers of Arius. He believed that humanity has two parts, body and soul. Christ, he argued, could not have a human soul, because to have a soul, would then make Christ consist of three parts, body, human soul and divine soul. Furthermore, he argued, to have a human (created) soul, would make him “enslaved to filthy thoughts”. Apollinarius took the view that this was absurd, and that Jesus’ human body was filled with a divine soul. In other words, physically He was man, but spiritually He was God.
Eutychianism – the union of divine and human in Jesus creates something which is neither.
It is unclear what Eutychus, the father of Eutychianism, truly believed. He was elderly in Constantinople when his view became prominent, and it seems that his views were slightly muddled. Nevertheless, two views were attributed to him:
The main one here is that humanity and deity were blurred into one, which created a mixture that was neither human nor divine (in the same way that if you mix blue and yellow, you get green, which is neither blue nor yellow).
Another, more obscure, belief is this. Because God is infinite, and humanity is not, Christ’s humanity is swallowed up by his divinity like a drop of wine is swallowed in the sea.
There are other more obscure and fanciful views which are complicated to both understand and to explain.
What difference does it make? Why is it important?
If Jesus was not a man, He could not represent us, He could not be our substitute. Galatians 4:4,5 says “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons”. Jesus shares our humanity and therefore can fully represent us. Not only does his humanity mean He can fully represent us, He can also sympathise with us, so Hebrews says, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Only a human could sympathise with our weaknesses and temptations. In His humanity, Jesus was subjected to all the same kinds of trials that we are, He was tempted; He was persecuted; He was poor; He was despised; He suffered physical pain; and He endured a painful, lingering and cruel death. Only a human being could experience these things, and only a human being could fully understand them.
In fact, John writes about people who deny his humanity in 1 John, and he writes this, “This is how you can recognise the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world” (1 John 4:2–3).
Denying the humanity of Jesus puts you in eternal jeopardy.
That He was God is equally important. Hebrews says, “every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
Jesus’ divinity turns his sacrifice from a human one into something which only God can do. Only God can provide a sufficient sacrifice. Abraham knew this when he is taking Isaac up to the mountain, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8). I wonder if He knew how prophetic he was being?
Paul writes in Romans 10 that confession of Jesus as Lord is a pre-requisite for salvation, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord …” (Romans 10:9)
So, Jesus is both God AND man, and there is no conflict between the two, He is divine, He is completely united with God, yet He is also a man and at one with His humanity. He can legitimately and simultaneously call himself both. God and man are both present in the person of Jesus – and without the one swallowing up the other. He is neither hybrid (a mix of two) nor is He schizophrenic (two distinct personalities living in one body). He is one Person, one individual. Jesus is not God with a little man inside, or man with a little God inside.
Because of this truth we can have confidence that He understands us in our weaknesses, He knows our struggles, our worries and our pain. When He walked this earth, He laid aside his majesty (as Graham Kendrick puts it) and therefore experienced the kinds of weaknesses and struggles that we experience on a daily basis. You really DO have a saviour who understands you inside and out!
But because He is God, we can also have the confidence that He has the power and the authority to defeat ALL the works of the enemy. When we are struggling, we can have confidence that in Jesus there is not only the understanding of the struggles we go through, but also the power to help us to overcome them!
That is GOOD news!!