The humanity of Christ
Peter writes that Christ is both an example for Christians to follow and a Saviour to trust (1 Pet. 2:21-25). For Jesus to be our perfect example and saviour meant living a real human life. This has to be emphasised because Jesus the Messiah is the Son of God who could say, ‘before Abraham was, I am’ (John 8:58).
Jesus is God the Son
The person we know as Jesus of Nazareth is the second Person of the holy Trinity. He did not cease to be God when He became the man Christ Jesus, neither did He lay aside any of His divine attributes. There was no alteration in the being and nature of the triune God when the Son took to Himself human nature. The Father and Spirit did not need to take over any divine work committed to the Son when He became incarnate. Neither did the Son become somebody else at the incarnation. He was still the almighty Son of God upholding all things when He lay in the arms of His mother. But while He was always God He was not always human. At the right time in God’s plan, ‘God sent forth his Son born of a woman…’ (Gal. 4:4).
Jesus is the God-man
Here is the wonder of the one true God. Not only has God revealed Himself as three distinct persons in indivisible union, He has, in the person of the Son, taken to Himself human nature and become the God-man. In the one self-conscious person, the Son of God, who is called Jesus, there are two distinct natures – divine and human.
How human is Jesus?
Though, as God the Son, He has all the characteristics and attributes of God, Jesus is still genuine 100% human. Various false views have been entertained, some supposing that Jesus only appeared to be human or was only partly human or was a mixture of human and divine. Others have suggested that Jesus only pretended to show human limitation for the benefit of His disciples. The apostle John who so clearly portrays Jesus’ divinity also emphasises His real humanity – He ‘became flesh’ (John 1:14). He was a real man, with all the potential as well as all the limitations of human existence. He knew what it was to be hungry and thirsty, to be weary and to suffer pain and death. The Son of God took human nature in its entirety – body, mind and spirit.
Jesus’ physical development
His body was not special heavenly flesh. In forming Christ’s body God’s Spirit used earthly female tissue that led to His foetal development in the womb of the virgin (Matt. 1:20; Luke 1:35). In the normal way, when the nine-month period was completed, Mary gave birth to her first-born son (Luke 2:6-7; Matt. 1:25). The various stages in His bodily development are mentioned: from infancy (Luke 2:16), through childhood (Matt. 2:11,14,19-23; Luke 2:39), to a boy of twelve (Luke 2:42-43) and through to a fully grown adult of about thirty (Luke 3:23). His body grew in height and strength (Luke 2:40,52) and similar to the animal sacrifices, He would have had no physical defects. But He was no superboy displaying uncanny powers to impress His mates.
Jesus’ mental development
Jesus was no freak. He increased in wisdom (Luke 2:52). Like any newborn baby, Jesus was completely dependent on His mother and lacking in knowledge. From instinctive responses common to infants, such as crying and sucking, He learned to eat and drink, to talk and walk, to read and write. He would have gained instruction, first at His mother’s knee, then at the synagogue school, while carpentry skills would have been acquired from His father (Mark 6:3; Matt. 13:55). Like every intelligent child He asked questions to widen His knowledge (Luke 2:46f). He would have had a mind in top condition, uncluttered by sinful thoughts.
Jesus’ moral development
The infant Immanuel was in no position at first to make moral choices (see Is. 7:15), nevertheless, He was filled with wisdom (Luke 2:40) which suggests that at every stage of growing up there was perfect appreciation of right and wrong and the divine favour rested on Him. As a teenager He was submissive to His earthly parents as well as to God’s will for His life (Luke 2:49-52). He learned obedience through suffering (Heb. 5:8) – through all the difficulties that His testing experiences entailed, He learnt to say ‘no’ to the devil and ‘yes’ to God. Like us He had a will of His own but unlike us He always chose to be in line with the divine will (Mark 14:36). Though tempted in every respect as we are, He did not sin (Heb. 4:15).
Jesus’ emotional development
As an infant He would have expressed the feelings typical of a baby but at no stage in His life did His emotions get out of control. As an adult He was troubled and sorrowful, fearful and zealous, angry and amazed, joyful and content, loving and compassionate, and He experienced shame and abandonment.
Jesus’ spiritual development
Jesus did not need to be born again. He was spiritually alive from birth and from the time He began to think for Himself He would have wanted to honour and enjoy God. This does not make Him less human.
Just as some from Christian homes can testify, Jesus would never have known a time when He did not love and trust His heavenly Father. All the means of grace open for our spiritual wellbeing were His: communal worship, in His case at the synagogue and temple; the Scriptures, learnt in the home and school and read in the synagogue; and prayer. He did not need saving faith, but all the spiritual graces were His to perfection, including faith, hope and love. Through His questioning mind, His appreciation of the Scriptures and the illumination of the Spirit, He was very aware by the age of twelve of who He was and of His mission (Luke 2:49). In order to carry out that mission He was given a special anointing of the Spirit and an assurance of the Father’s love (Mark 1:10-11).
Jesus’ life of prayer
His prayer life indicates His need of God’s fellowship and His dependence on God. Besides those quick prayers in moments of crisis (John 12:28), Jesus spent long hours in prayer (Luke 5:16). His public life began with prayer (Luke 3:21f) and ended on the cross in prayer (Luke 23:46). There were special occasions when He felt the need to be much in prayer: appointing the twelve (Luke 6:12f); informing them of His death (Luke 9:18-22); at the time of the transfiguration (Luke 9:28f); and in the garden before His crucifixion. He prayed for friend (Luke 22:31f) and foe (Luke 23:34), and for future generations of believers (John 17).
Though He did not experience marriage or old age and remained sinless, His experience of life as a man was of such a comprehensive kind as to enable Him to understand and feel with old and young, female as well as male (Heb. 2:17-18; 4:15).
Look to Jesus
The risen Lord of glory has not divested Himself of His human nature and continues to bear the physical marks of His atoning death. He is still Jesus, assuring children and young people that He is aware of their concerns, and the pressures of teenage years both from parents and peers (see Luke 2:41-51). When the burdens grow greater in adult life He understands and cares and is able to help those being tempted. We look to Jesus our great example of persevering faith (Heb. 12:2). But primarily, we see Jesus who shared our flesh and blood (Heb. 2:9-17) that He might live our life as the perfect human, the representative last Adam, endure our curse, die as our substitute, make propitiation for our sins, conquer the last enemy, and ever live to be our saviour, mediator and friend.
Philip H. Eveson is a member of Borras Park Evangelical Church, Wrexham. He lectures on the EMW’s Theological Training Course and part-time for LTS.
See the chapter ‘The inner or psychological life of Christ’ in The Forgotten Christ, Apollos, 2007 for further material.