Jesus Christ the Son of God and Son of Man

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Jesus Christ the Son of God and Son of Man

Jesus Christ the Son of God and Son of Man

The origin of the Son

How Jesus came to exist is explained in simple terms in the Gospel of Luke. To Mary, a God-fearing virgin in Israel, herself a descendant of David the King, there appeared an angel with a very remarkable message:"Thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus..."

“Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee … Thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus (Saviour). He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David … and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” (Luke 1:28-33)

Let us pause for a moment to appreciate the shock of surprise and then exhilaration that these words would provoke in her. She knew quite well the promise made to David over 900 years before. A descendant (son) of David would be the means of restoring the glory of the kingdom of Israel, and of reconciling Israel to God. This was the long expected Messiah, and she was actually to be his mother. Her child was to reign on David’s throne!

But then – perplexity. Although Mary was betrothed to a God-fearing Israelite named Joseph, they were not yet married, and there could be no question of a child being born until they were. How then, Mary asks the angel, can this promise come to pass? The angel is quite explicit in his reply:

“The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee,and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” (verse 35)

To complete the picture, Matthew’s Gospel gives us the matter as it appeared to Joseph, her future husband. Before they were married, Mary “was found with child of the Holy Spirit”. Joseph would have been fully justified in repudiating his undertaking to marry her. But an angel had a message for him from God:

“Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she shall bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for it is he that shall save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20,21, RV)

From this Joseph would understand that this child was to be the Messiah. The whole episode is concluded by Matthew’s statement:

“All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying (he quotes Isaiah’s prophecy uttered 700 years before): Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (verses 22,23)

These divine statements to Mary and Joseph contained the most momentous news. A child with a great destiny was to be born, for he would not only reign on David’s throne for ever, but he would also “save his people from their sins”. But the child’s origin is clearly stressed. Mary is to be the mother, but Joseph is not to be the father. The child will be conceived because “the power of the Highest”, “the Holy Spirit”, will operate upon Mary to bring the marvel to pass. And so “a virgin shall conceive” and her son shall be called “the Son of God”. This is the clear Bible teaching of the Virgin Birth of Christ.

Jesus, Son of Man

There is reluctance sometimes to accept the fact that Jesus, the Son of God, was fully a member of the human race. Some feel that to think of him as sharing our nature with all its weakness is to degrade him, and to throw doubt on his sinlessness.

Here again we must turn to the evidence of the Bible. We have seen already the clear record of his origin and his birth: Son of God, but also son of Mary. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Galatians, puts it thus:

“When the fulness of the time came, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law.” (4:4, RV)

“Born under the Law” means that he was a male Israelite, living under the Law of Moses. Paul tells us why: “that he might redeem them which were under the law” (verse 5). The Jews lived under a law that condemned them because they could not keep it without sinning. Jesus was born one of them, so that he could fully represent them in his work of redemption.

The Epistle to the Hebrews describes how Jesus had to be made “perfect through sufferings”, so that he might be “the author of salvation” for those who are to be sons (and daughters) of God. For this reason “he that sanctifieth (Jesus) and they that are sanctified (the faithful) are all of one”; that is, are of the same nature. This is what he next declares, referring to the sons and daughters this time as “the children”:

“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same …” (Hebrews 2:10-14)

This is an explicit declaration that the nature of Jesus was exactly like that of his fellows, “flesh and blood”. The writer goes on to tell us why this had to be:

“Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” (verses 17,18)

In short, Jesus, in order to carry out his great work of sacrifice for sin, had to be of the same nature as those he came to save; and in order to be a merciful high priest, he had to have experience of all their temptations. The point is put equally clearly in chapter 4, verse 15:

“For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but one that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (RV)

There is, however, a great reluctance to accept the idea that Jesus literally suffered all the temptations that we do. Some feel that to think of him as literally feeling temptation – that is, the urge to commit sin – is to defile him and to make him less than sinless. This, however, is a great mistake. There is a tremendous truth embodied in the living experience and the death of Jesus, and to this we must now turn.

Why was the Son of God born thus?

What was God’s purpose in bringing His Son into the world in this way? The following statements will make it clear:

“Thou shalt call his name Jesus (Saviour): for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)

“God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us … For if, when we were enemies (that is, of God), we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:8-10)

The clear message emerging from these sayings is that the work of Jesus, under the good hand of God his Father, was to be a sacrifice so that sin could be put away, men and women could be saved and reconciled to God. This is the great work of redemption in Christ. We need redemption; we need “saving”, as the Bible puts it. For otherwise our situation is just as the Apostle Paul told those Ephesians theirs had been, when they did not yet know the Gospel:

“At that time you were without Christ … having no hope, and without God in the world.” (2:12)

What a devastating verdict! Yet that is our case too – “having no hope”, apart from the work of God in Christ. That is why the Gospel of Christ is not a pleasant “optional extra”, but vitally necessary if we are to escape the fate of eternal death.

The vital work of Christ

So we come to “the problem” (if we may call it that) which needed to be solved. Mankind cannot save itself from the consequences of sin, that is death. Yet God is “not willing that any should perish”: in fact He desires “that all men should be saved” (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4). Yet He cannot overlook sin, for that would be to abdicate His righteous authority in the world. So sin must be recognized, condemned, and conquered in such a way that men and women of earnest, sincere hearts can see the lesson, and acknowledge its truth for themselves. Men and women need a Redeemer who can achieve in himself, and on their behalf, what they in their weakness are unable to do.

So God manifests His only Son, begotten by the power of His Holy Spirit, yet fully a member of the human race. That Son experiences all the temptations of humanity, but firmly rejects them, and chooses to do, not his own will, but the will of the Father. It is vital for us to understand that Jesus made this decision entirely of his own will. He was not forced into it by God, or inevitably predisposed towards it by some pre-existent consciousness in heaven. As the Epistle to the Hebrews puts it:

“Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” (1:9)

So, representing the human race, Christ conquered sin in that very nature, flesh and blood, where before it had triumphed: he reversed the original failure which led to the Fall, and, being himself sinless, was able to be offered as a sacrifice for sin. His death upon the Cross was the atonement for human sin. So God, having upheld His righteousness in condemning sin, could now in the abundance of His love and grace, extend forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with Himself to all those who will acknowledge His work in Christ.

If Jesus had, as part of the Godhead, already existed in heaven, it is inevitable that he would have been deeply influenced by that knowledge during his life as “Jesus of Nazareth”. He would have known that his glorious resurrection and exaltation were certainties. He would not have needed, nor would he have been able, deliberately of his own will to choose to obey God in the face of the greatest natural pressures to please himself. His great conquest of sin, as a representative member of the human race, would not have been possible and the necessary atonement for sin would not have been achieved.

Understanding the truth about the nature and the experience of Jesus “in the days of his flesh” is absolutely essential if we are to understand God’s work of redemption in him.

The Holy Spirit

The doctrine of “God the Holy Ghost” came very late into the Trinitarian theology of the 4th and 5th centuries. It was the last, after the Father and the Son, to be declared to be “God”. The Apostles’ Creed knows nothing of it; and its appearance in the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds has, according to some authorities, the appearance of being “an afterthought”.

The Bible’s presentation of the Holy Spirit is very different. It is the power and influence by which God achieves His ends. In the beginning “the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” and as a result the various acts of Creation came to pass. All living things, man and animals, says the Psalmist, depend upon God:

“Thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.” (Psalm 104:29,30)

By His Spirit He sustains them all in life.

The prophets of old spoke their messages from God, not out of the inventions of their own minds, but because they were “holy men of God, moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). Jesus himself performed his great signs and spoke his words of life, because “God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power” (Acts 10:38).

Nowhere do the descriptions of the activities of the Holy Spirit suggest that it is to be regarded as a person.

SOME BIBLE PASSAGES REVIEWED

But do not some passages in the New Testament suggest that Jesus pre-existed in heaven, and that he came down from heaven, as the Doctrine of the Trinity affirms?

There are a few passages, it is true, which are commonly used by those who hold such views. The astonishing thing is that they are so few – hardly more than half a dozen of any substance. In a short work like this no more than a brief treatment of some of them can be attempted, but enough to suggest how they may be understood in harmony with the rest of scripture.

1. “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness …” (Genesis 1:26)

This is one of the rare passages from the Old Testament which are sometimes put forward in support of the Doctrine of the Trinity. It is a striking fact, however, that the Jews, who received the writings of the Old Testament in their own language, Hebrew, never derived any Trinitarian ideas from them, but in fact precisely the opposite – they believed firmly in One God. The Doctrine of the Trinity has always been a tremendous obstacle to any Jew examining the doctrines of the Church.

“God” in the above quotation is elohim, a word plural in form, but capable of either a singular or plural sense. Most commonly it is used of God Himself, but sometimes for those who act for Him with His authority. So it is used of the judges of Israel, because they were appointed to pronounce judgement in His name: “Thou shalt not revile the judges” (Exodus 22:28, RV margin). In Psalm 82 the rulers of the nation are called elohim (verses 1,6), yet because they have “judged unjustly” (verse 2), they shall “die like men” (verse 7). In Psalm 8, man is said to be made “a little lower than the angels (elohim)” (verse 5; quoted in Hebrews 2:7).

In harmony with this usage the Genesis quotation above is best understood of the angels. There is of course no clear reference to the Trinity in any case. Although parts of the verse are quoted in the New Testament, it is never given a Trinitarian sense, nor was this passage commonly used in the debates about the subject in the early centuries.

2. “In the beginning was the Word …” (John 1:1 ff.)

Here it is vitally important to understand in what sense the Apostle John is using the Greek term logos (word). It is generally agreed nowadays that the explanation must not be sought in the ideas of the Greek philosophers of the time, but in the Hebrew thought of the Old Testament scriptures.

In Jewish religious thinking and writing Word and Wisdom had come to be applied to God Himself. In Proverbs chapter 8 there is a remarkable passage about “wisdom”:

“I, wisdom, dwell with prudence … I am understanding … The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was … When he prepared the heavens, I was there …” (verses 12,14,22,23,27)

Add to that, this declaration:

“By the word of the Lord were the heavens made …” (Psalm 33:6)

In the Greek (Septuagint) version of this Psalm, “word” is logos. In the Aramaic commentaries of the time Memra (word) came to be used as a name for God.

Since logos was in current use in the Greek philosophy of his day, John needed to give it the true sense of the Biblical revelation. So logos, first a thought conceived in the mind, then demonstrated in action, stands for the wisdom of God expressed in His purpose. The Word represents therefore the mind of God. That is why “the Word was God”, or as the New English Bible puts it: “what God was the Word was” – the true significance of God is His mind and His will.

So “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14) and Jesus, the Son of God, was born. This is not the “incarnate Son”, but the “incarnate Word”. It is quite illogical to assume the pre-existence of “God the Son” first, and then to interpret John’s “Word” in that sense. As we have sought to show, the Biblical teaching gives no support to any such doctrine.

3. “I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me” (John 6:38)

In what sense did Jesus “come down from heaven”? The narrative of his birth tells us that he came into existence because the “Holy Spirit (the power of the Most High) came upon” Mary his mother. He was born as a result of the direct intervention of God’s Holy Spirit. In a unique way he alone among the human race could say he “came from heaven”.

The result of this heavenly intervention was that he could point to the great difference between himself and the Jews who were rejecting his claim. The Apostle James gives us a valuable clue, when he declares that there are two wisdoms: one belonging to the earth, sensual and devilish; the other “from above”, peaceable, pure and righteous (3:14-18). The first is the natural thinking of the human mind, fulfilling its own desires; the second is the mind and thinking of God. Jesus explicitly says that he came “not to do mine own will” (to follow his own natural desires) but “the will of him that sent me” (the wisdom from above). So he can say to the Jews:

“Ye are from beneath; I am from above …” (John 8:23)

“He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” (14:9)

Not that Jesus and God were the same person; but that the Son perfectly reflected the mind and wisdom of the Father.

4. “Now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was … thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:5,24)

Here our difficulty is to understand how Jesus could have been honoured and loved by the Father before he actually existed as an independent person. The problem really arises from our limited view of time.

To us the passage of time is like a line. Separate events are distinct points on that line. So if we were to indicate the relative places in time of Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, Christ and the apostles, we should get something like this illustration:

An order of appearance inevitably arises. We cannot think of their place in history in any other way. But this is because of our finite minds. We have no consciousness of the distant past; and none at all of the future.

But the mind of God is not subject to these limitations. His mind is infinite in power. He is just as capable of being conscious of past situations, or of future ones, as He is of the present. So we cannot represent the Divine experience of time by a line. It must be more like the following diagram.

Now we know that Moses did not exist before Abraham, and that David lived about four centuries before Daniel. But in our diagram God is the centre of the arc; He is the same distance from them all. Our “distance” represents God’s infinite consciousness. He was just as “conscious” of the sort of person they would each be, long before they were born. He could visualise them, and speak prophetically of them. So the Father knew what sort of person the Son would be before he was actually born and began to exist as a separate person. He could plan what He would eventually accomplish through him. He could “glorify” and “love” in advance His own Son, “the only-begotten of the Father”.

As the Apostle Peter put it:

“Christ was foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world, but was manifested at the end of the times for your sake.” (1 Peter 1:20, RV) (The AV uses “foreordain” here, but elsewhere translates the same word by “foreknow”.)

So too the saying of Jesus to the Jews:

“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad … Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:56-58)

Abraham, having received the promises, looked forward to the coming of the One in whom “all families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Jesus knew that he was that One, having priority even over Abraham in God’s purpose.

5. “(Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him were all things created … all things have been created through him, and unto him; and he is before all things, and in him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church (or community of believers) … the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence” (Colossians 1:15-18, RV)

The principle of God’s foreknowledge outlined in the last section is a great help to an understanding of this one. Here the Apostle Paul is strongly emphasising the pre-eminent position of Christ in God’s purpose for the world.

In what sense was Jesus “the image of God”? Paul’s words to the Corinthians explain:

“Christ … is the image of God … God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:4-6)

So Christ is “the image of God” because he provided “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” in his face, that is in his character. Now the glory of God here is not some bright light or miraculous power, but the very character of God Himself in His holiness, His truth and His mercy. This character Jesus reflected perfectly, as John says:

“We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Jesus was the image of God, then, not as a physical replica, but as the reflection of his Father’s Spirit, in grace and truth.

He is called here “the firstborn of all creation”. The title “firstborn” is applied to him twice in the New Testament because he was the first member of the human race to rise from the dead to immortality:

“Jesus Christ … the firstborn of the dead.” (Revelation 1:5, RV)

“Christ … should be the first that should rise from the dead …” (Acts 26:23)

“… the firstborn among many brethren.” (Romans 8:29)

Jesus has become the first of the new creation of immortal beings; the present believers in Christ are “heirs” with him of the same promise (Romans 8:17).

6. “Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, counted it not a prize (margin: Greek, a thing to be grasped) to be on an equality with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5-8, RV)

About the Apostle Paul’s general intention in this passage there can be no doubt: the followers of Christ must show the same humility of mind as did their Master. Paul then comments upon some features of Christ’s experience, but his observations have been given various interpretations.

“In the form of God” presents a problem: in what sense was the apostle using “form”? It cannot be in a purely ‘physical’ sense, for Jesus did not appear among men as an immortal being. Paul uses the word again in the next verse: “taking the form of a servant.” As Jesus knelt before the disciples to wash their feet, he adopted the position, and undertook the duties of, a servant. He came “to minister” (to serve), he said. So in his ministry, Jesus adopted the position of God towards his fellows, speaking with God’s authority and in His name. He was Immanuel, “God with us”.

He “counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God” means he “counted it not a thing to be grasped”. The New English Bible has “did not think to snatch at equality with God”. That “equality” must be the final reward of Jesus’ faithful service; as Paul says:

“God highly exalted him,and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow … and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord …” (verses 9-11, RV)

The equality Paul must have had in mind was a sharing in God’s own dominion. But that is not an equality in absolute terms, for Paul concludes:

“… to the glory of God the Father.”

Jesus did not attempt, says Paul, to “grasp at” this supreme authority by his own will. Although there seems to be no linguistic link, the parallel in the Garden of Eden is remarkable. Eve believed the serpent who told her that if she took of the forbidden fruit, she would not die, but would “be as God (RV), knowing good and evil”. She would be equal with God. So she “grasped” the prize in her own way, fulfilling her own will. And Adam followed her. Such was not Jesus’ way. “Not my will, but thine be done” was not only his final prayer in Gethsemane, but the tenor of all his life.

So Jesus “emptied himself” (AV, “made himself of no reputation”), which is explained by the phrase which follows, “taking the form of a servant” (or slave). He moved among the people not as a Prince entitled to worship, nor as God’s anointed ruler of the world, but as “the Servant of the Lord” prophesied by Isaiah. Paul expressed it thus:

“Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9, RV)

He was “made in the likeness of men”. The word “likeness” cannot possibly mean “similar, but not the same”, for the emphatic testimony of the New Testament, as we have already seen, is that “in all things he was made like unto his brethren”, sharing “flesh and blood” with them, and experiencing all their temptations (Hebrews 2:14,17; 4:15). This likeness is identity: “being found in fashion as a man.”

This rather complicated passage is found, then, to be entirely consistent with the teaching of the rest of the New Testament. Jesus is Son of God, yet he is fully man. He puts aside all his own desires for self-fulfilment and all pride in his unique position; by his humility he achieves redemption for others, and becomes the example to all true believers.

Learn here about Why Jesus had to die