Doctrine of Christ (part 1)August 22, 2011 Time: 00:20:01
Today we are beginning a new section of the class. We have been surveying Christian doctrine and we looked at, first of all, Doctrine of Revelation (or Doctrine of Scripture), and then for a long time we talked about the Doctrine of God. We finally brought that to a close last time with our discussion of the Trinity. Now we are turning to a new section, which is called the Doctrine of Christ. This is what is called Christology among theologians. Here we will be looking at Christ’s person and work.
The Person of Christ
What we want first of all to talk about is the person of Christ – who is Jesus Christ from a Christian perspective? We want first of all to look at some Scriptural data concerning the person of Christ. Here we find that as we look at the New Testament that the New Testament teaches that Jesus is both truly God and truly man.
Deity of Jesus
First, the Scriptures teach that Jesus is truly God. Here I would simply refer you to the lectures that we had in our discussion of the Trinity, where I showed from the New Testament that Jesus is ascribed the attributes of deity, that he is called Lord (the name of God in the Old Testament), and that he is even called ho theos (God) in certain passages in the New Testament. So rather than review all of those, I will simply refer you back to our lessons on the Trinity and the deity of the second person of the Trinity.
A nice summary of this comes in Paul’s letter to the Philippians 2:5-8 where Paul says,
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
There you have encapsulated the New Testament doctrine of Christ’s true deity and his true humanity. He is said to be in the form of God, to have equality with God, but then to have humbled himself and taken on human form, the likeness of men, and then became obedient to death on a cross. That is a beautiful passage affirming the deity of Christ and his incarnation as a human being.
Humanity of Jesus
Not only do the Scriptures teach that Jesus is truly God, but they also teach that he is truly human. Unfortunately, this aspect of the person of Christ is often under-emphasized by Christians. I think this is understandable. It is the deity of Christ that cults and Unitarians and Muslims criticize, so naturally we emphasize very, very strongly the deity of Christ. But the Scripture also emphasizes that Christ is truly human – he is a human being. Very often persons who are in other religions don’t understand this doctrine. For example, in my recent debate with Yusuf Ismail in South Africa on the person of Christ or the identity of Jesus, Ismail wanted to call the title of the debate, “Jesus: Is He God or Man?” That displays a Muslim mentality – it is an either/or proposition; these are mutually exclusive alternatives. To debate this would be to fall into the very assumption that the Muslim wants to make, namely that someone can’t be both. It took the longest time negotiating with him to get the title of the debate changed so that it would be something like “Jesus: Is He Man or Both God and Man?”2 Finally, he agreed to that. But it is absolutely critical that we understand that as Christians we affirm the true humanity of Christ. When Muslims argue with Christians that Jesus is not God, what they typically do is point to all the passages in the New Testament that display the humanity of Jesus – his suffering, his weakness, his limited knowledge, his death on the cross. And they say, “look at all of these indications that he is just a man.” Of course, those only go to prove that Jesus is a human being, which is exactly what Christians affirm! It is very important that we not fall into this false dichotomy of Jesus: God or man. We want to affirm his humanity as strongly as we affirm his deity. So let’s look at some passages in the New Testament that display the true humanity of Jesus.
First, Jesus experienced a human birth. Luke 2:7, 11: “And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” And then the angel says, “For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” So Jesus experienced a human birth.
He also experienced temptation. Matthew 4:1: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” We want to affirm that these were real temptations. Jesus felt the allure, the attraction, of sin. He was really tempted, the Scripture says, in all points as we are, and yet he resisted and did so without sin.
Jesus obviously had various physical limitations. Matthew 4:2 goes on to say, “And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry.” So he experienced physical hunger. John 4:6: “Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.” Here Jesus had been walking all morning, and now by noon he is tired. He is exhausted. And he sits down, and he’s thirsty and then goes on to ask a Samaritan woman for a drink. So Jesus hungered and thirsted; he felt physical weariness.
Not only was he physically limited, but he was also mentally limited as well. Jesus had mental limitations. Luke 2:52 speaks of this. This is Jesus as a youth, as a boy: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.” He not only grew physically in stature, but he also increased in wisdom, which shows that he had mental limitations, and therefore he was able to learn and to increase in wisdom. Also, Mark 13:32 shows that these limitations were never completely done away with during his pre-resurrection state. Mark 13:32 is Jesus’ saying on the date of his second coming. He says, “But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” If you were to ask Jesus the time of his return, he would tell you honestly, “I don’t know – only the Father knows the time of my return.” So there were mental as well as physical limitations.
Of course, there is Jesus’ torture and death. Luke 23:33, 46: “And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left.”3 And then later: “Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last.” So Jesus was clearly mortal; he experienced torture and finally death.
Remarkably, not only did he experience mental and physical limitations, but he also increased morally as well. He grew morally. Look at Hebrews 5:7-9: 4
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.
So here it speaks of Jesus’ learning obedience through suffering and actually being morally perfected through the sufferings that he experienced.
Many of us, hearing these sorts of verses, feel uncomfortable – we feel squeamish. We don’t like this idea that Jesus was truly human. But the church has always affirmed this. The church fathers were adamant that Jesus was truly a human being and therefore had a human existence, just like you and me. With physical limitations and mental limitations, he was not like Superman dressed up like Clark Kent. So often we think of Jesus as God incarnate as sort of like Superman wearing the clothes of Clark Kent. But his is a genuine incarnation. He was truly human.
In fact, the Scripture actually condemns people as heretics who deny the true humanity of Christ. Look at 1 John 4:1-3. Here John warns,
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already.
Anyone who denies that Jesus Christ has truly come in the flesh, that he has a genuine human nature, is a heretic – he is anti-Christ – and therefore to be avoided. So the early church fathers were insistent that we believe both in the true deity of Christ and in the true humanity of Christ.
Sometimes this can be confusingly expressed by Christians – needlessly so, I think – by saying that Christ was fully God and fully man – or he was 100% God and 100% man. Under one interpretation, that sounds like a contradiction. If he was fully man, then there isn’t any room for deity. You can’t have any other thing besides humanity, if he is fully man. Or if he is fully God, that seems to exclude his humanity. What these Christians mean, I think, is not that he was 100% human, or he was 100% God; what they mean is he was truly God and he was truly human. That is to say, he possessed all of the essential attributes of deity and in that sense is fully God. He didn’t have just some attributes of deity; he had all of these essential attributes of deity and therefore was truly God. And he possessed all the essential attributes of humanity and therefore was truly human. He is fully human in that sense: that he has all the essential attributes that a human person does. So understood properly, “fully God and fully man” is unobjectionable; but I think it can lead to misunderstanding because it sounds contradictory. What we want to say, as the creeds will say, as we will discover later on, is that Jesus was truly God and truly man; he had all of the essential properties of humanity and all of the essential properties of deity.5
The question, of course, is: how is this possible? How can anybody be truly human and truly divine? These do seem to exclude each other. To be truly divine is to be eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient. How can Jesus have those properties and yet be truly human: to be limited in time and space, to be mortal, to have a beginning of his existence, to be weak, to be ignorant of many things? How in the world can Jesus be both God and man? That will be the task of systematic theology, to which we will turn next time.
Question: I am not willing to go too far on this human aspect. First of all, Christ’s incarnation in my opinion was a unique entity. There never has been anything like it and never anything like it again, as far as we know. One huge quality that he had that no other human being has ever had was that he was incapable of sin. He was tempted, he felt all the temptations, but he did not have a sin nature, he was incapable of sin. Also there are numerous passages where he had supernatural knowledge. Some people believe that the Holy Spirit supplied all of his supernatural powers. I personally don’t believe that. I don’t know how much he gave up; there is a few passages where it says specifically the Holy Spirit empowered him to do things. I personally don’t think the Scriptural evidence indicates that he gave up all supernatural powers in his incarnation. He knew the thoughts of others. I think he is a unique entity. You are right, we can’t say he is 100% God; but he wasn’t 100% human either, because I never knew a human with no sin.
Answer: OK, let’s hang onto those good questions! Those are the kinds of questions we are going to have to deal with. We certainly agree with you that Christ is unique. There is no other person who is truly God and truly man. So we all agree with that. But your questions that you have raised are exactly the kind of tough questions that we are going to need to address.
Question: I disagree with that, but I had a question. When Jesus was tempted – and you said he was seriously tempted – he could only be tempted if he was capable of sin. There would be no reason to tempt him if he was incapable of sin.
Answer: All right, we have an interesting disagreement here! I am not going to try to settle this in the last 15 seconds. But let’s just note the disagreement because we will come back to this issue. The first comment says, “He is the second person of the Trinity – God cannot sin, therefore Christ cannot sin.” This last comment says, “He was genuinely tempted, which presupposes the ability to sin. How can you be tempted if you are incapable of sinning?” You are absolutely right to pinpoint this difficult question, and we will come back to it and talk about it.
Followup: The reason I am hoping I am right is because when I am tempted and I don’t act on it, I feel like as though I was sinning just by allowing temptation to come upon me.
Answer: Let me say a pastoral comment in closing. I think sometimes a person can be responsible for being tempted – by channel surfing or walking by the magazine aisle, where your eyes wander. Certainly that is true. But the act of simply being tempted to do something wrong is not itself sin. As you say, that is clear from the case of Christ, who was genuinely tempted and yet did not sin.
4 In the audio, Dr. Craig refers to verses 7 to 10 but only reads up to verse 9