Rethinking Jesus: Jesus was the God-Man

by Kyle
published April 11, 2015


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In 325 A.D., the church was in trouble. Over the nearly three centuries since Jesus ascended to heaven, Christians had been struggling with exactly what Jesus was. They had a pretty good understanding of who he was, and what his significance was, but what he was proved a much more elusive idea.

One proposal understood Jesus as God. He created the universe. He led Israel out of slavery in pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He delivered the law to Moses. He was the shepherd of Israel and of the whole human race. It also held that Jesus only appeared to be human when he came to earth. His apparent birth was only a chimera and his apparent suffering was illusory.

Others understood Jesus as a true and real man. When he slept, he really slept because he was really tired. When he ate, he really ate because he was really hungry. When he died, he actually died because men are mortal. As John the Baptist had declared, he was “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) But this camp understood Jesus as being only a man. He was a perfect man, and a righteous man, but nothing more.

There were still other views that acknowledged Jesus’ simultaneous divinity and humanity, but stressed one or the other as being more dominant in Jesus’ personality.

The Christian world had become polarized and, in 325 AD, leaders from all over the world met in Nicea, a city in what is now Turkey, to figure out just what Jesus was. As they prayed and searched the Scriptures, they discovered that all their bickering was instigated by the difficulties of a paradox: somehow, Jesus was both fully God and fully human. As the hymnist Sylvia Dunstan points out, he was “Both Lamb and Shepherd.” As the idea developed across Christianity over the span of a little more than a century, this paradox became known as the hypostatic union.

Normally, I try not to stray into the realm of nerd-level theology, but in this case it’s important.

Because Jesus is fully God, he is perfect and infinite. If Jesus were not perfect, he would have to die for his own sins and would not be able to die for anyone else’s. If he were not infinite, he would only be able to pay for one person’s sin. Justice requires “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” (Deuteronomy 19:21) A finite human can only pay for one finite human.

Because Jesus is fully human, he was qualified to pay for other humans and he experienced the actual weakness and temptation of living life in flesh. Hebrews 10:4 notes that “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away (human) sins.” It takes a human sacrifice to pay for human sins. Thankfully, Jesus was a human with no sin of his own. However, Jesus legitimately struggled with the temptation of sin. The last half of Hebrews 4:15 notes that Jesus “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus was just as tempted. He struggled just as much. The draw of power and money and sex and pride and comfort were just as strong. The difference is that Jesus overcame human temptations with the power of God. (For the curious, that’s also how we can overcome temptation.)

This is why Jesus, the “author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) prayed that he wouldn’t have to die (Matthew 26:39), yet endured the cross anyway. God wouldn’t have to pray that way because God has not fear of death. A man wouldn’t have died that way if he could avoid it as Jesus as easily could (recall that he could have called down twelve legions of angels if he wanted to in Matthew 26:53). Only someone who was both fully God and fully man could pray like Jesus prayed in the garden and die like Jesus died on the cross at the same time.

Additionally, only someone who is both fully God and fully man could ascend to heaven and argue our case before God the Father like Jesus does. The first half of Hebrews 4:15, partially quoted above, promises that “we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses.” It’s in the role of the God-man that Jesus is able to perfectly mediate between the two.

If you’ve wondered about my focus on Jesus lately, this is why. Jesus had to be what he is in order to be the way to God that he provides. Jesus said that he alone is “the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) If you ever want to know God, Jesus alone can provide that relationship.

What do you think?

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