This article was originally posted on the RFPA blog and was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland.
Arguably, among the most complicated questions in Christology (the doctrine of Christ) are those that concern the natures of Christ. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is both divine (He is the eternal, only begotten Son of God, the second person of the Godhead) and human (He is the man Jesus of Nazareth, with a real, physical human body and a real, spiritual human soul).
Confusion arises when we try to understand how the divine and the human are related in Jesus. The Qur’an says nothing about this, which is understandable—the Qur’an teaches a merely human Jesus (Isa). Although the Jesus of the Qur’an is virgin born and performed miracles, he is a mere human prophet like Moses, Elijah or some other servant of God. It is true that Jesus (Isa) is highly esteemed in Islam, but the Qur’an falls far short of honoring Jesus as the Son of God, a truth that the Qur’an vehemently denies. The New Testament, however, is not satisfied with faint—and false—praise for Jesus. “All men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him” (John 5:23).
In the last blog post we mentioned certain questions that the Muslim might raise in objection to the truth of the Incarnation of the Son of God:
“If Jesus is God, who was ruling the universe when He was in the grave?”
The simple answer to those questions is that Jesus was hungry, tired, suffered, and died only according to His human nature; and that (while a human being) Jesus still ruled according to His divine nature. That is simple to state, but less simple to understand.
When you observe Jesus Christ in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, you are observing one who is the eternal Son of God (that is His person) in the human flesh. “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). When the baby Jesus lay in the manger, He was the Son of God or the Word made flesh. When the boy Jesus grew up in Nazareth, He was the Son of God or the Word made flesh. When the young man Jesus worked as a carpenter, He was the Son of God or the Word made flesh. When the adult Jesus walked around Galilee, or sat in a fishing boat, He was the Son of God or the Word made flesh. When after a long day, Jesus sat down to a meal, ate food, drank water or wine, and then fell asleep, He was the Son of God or the Word made flesh. When Jesus suffered and died on the cross, He was the Son of God or the Word made flesh.
He never ceased to be the Son of God—His deity or divinity was not diminished in the Incarnation.
He never ceased to be man—His humanity was not changed in its union with the divine Son of God.
Jesus was both God and man. Even today, in heaven, Jesus is still both God and man.
Each of those two natures in Jesus has its own distinct properties. Those two natures must not be confused, therefore.
It is the property of humanity to be finite. Therefore, Jesus’s human nature (exactly because it is a true human nature) is finite.
The human body of Jesus, therefore, grew. He grew as a child until He reached His adult height. To speak of an infinite human body that fills heaven and earth by its immensity is nonsense. No human body can be immense, infinite or omnipresent.
The human mind of Jesus, therefore, developed. Jesus was ignorant as a child, just as we were, so He had to learn. Of course, His mind was sharper and keener than ours, simply because His mind was unimpaired by sin, but Jesus never reached a stage in His development when He was omniscient in His human mind. Omniscience is not a human characteristic. (Jesus is omniscient, but only according to His divine nature). That explains, for example, why Jesus was ignorant of certain things not revealed to Him by the Father.
The human body of Jesus, therefore, was not omnipotent. An omnipotent human body is a contradiction in terms. (Jesus is omnipotent, but only according to His divine nature). That explains, for example, how Jesus was able to experience fatigue, pain, hunger, thirst and other natural human weaknesses. He experienced such sensations in His real, finite, non-omnipotent human nature.
It is the property of divinity to be infinite, unchangeable, eternal, omniscient and omnipotent. Therefore, Jesus is and remained infinite, unchangeable, eternal, omniscient and omnipotent. For example, when Jesus perceived the thoughts of the Pharisees, He displayed His omniscience (Mark 2:8). When Jesus calmed the storm of the Sea of Galilee, He displayed His omnipotence (Mark 4:9). Indeed, in all of His miracles Jesus displayed His omnipotence as the Son of God. However, for the most part, during His life on earth Jesus’ glory as the Son of God was hidden behind the infirmity of His flesh. Nevertheless, when Jesus showed His power, not even His enemies could deny it.
As I have indicated more than once, the questions concerning the true divinity and perfect humanity of Christ were settled at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, over a century before Mohammed’s birth. That Mohammed was unaware of these things and makes no effort to interact with Christianity’s official creeds is remarkable.
A much later Christian confession, the Belgic Confession, explains the relationship this way:
We believe that by this conception, the person of the Son is inseparably united and connected with the human nature; so that there are not two Sons of God, nor two persons, but two natures united in one single person: yet, that each nature retains its own distinct properties. As then the divine nature hath always remained uncreated, without beginning of days or end of life, filling heaven and earth: so also hath the human nature not lost its properties, but remained a creature, having beginning of days, being a finite nature, and retaining all the properties of a real body… (Article 19).
The next question we must face is why did Jesus come? Why did the Son of God become incarnate? And the answer is quite simply at the very heart of the Christian gospel: He came to suffer and die for the sins of His people. To that subject we turn next, DV.
Rev. Martyn McGeown
Pastorates: Missionary-pastor in Limerick, Ireland for the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Northern Ireland - 2010.Website: www.limerickreformed.com/
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