Modern thinking often wants to make Jesus only a man and not God. However, ancient thinking often refused to acknowledge Jesus’ humanity. Both were declared heretical. This study looks at the humanity of Jesus and why it is important.
The gospel of John and his epistles are often believed to have been written in the last decade of the first century (circa 90 AD). It is interesting how John emphasizes several times the humanity of Jesus. Examples include John 1:14, “So the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” 1 John 1:1 “We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands.” and 2 John 1:7 “I say this because many deceivers have gone out into the world. They deny that Jesus Christ came in a real body. Such a person is a deceiver and an antichrist.”
Those who denied the total humanity of Jesus tended to dominate the early church theological debates. Their teachings manifested themselves in various guises and are known by several names, depending on their emphasis or leader. Many were directly or indirectly influenced by gnostic thinking, although a couple came from other sources.
Toward the end of the first century, early gnosticism was becoming fairly wide spread through out the Roman empire. Gnosticism was not Christian based, rather, it was based on Greek philosophy, especially Plato. Some Christian groups adopted gnostic thinking and modified Christian teachings to fit the gnostic teachings.
Fundamental to gnostic thinking was that knowledge was king (gnostic comes from the Greek word gnosis which mean knowledge). As Plato taught, gnostics believed that the material world was something to slough off and become pure spirit. As such, Christian gnostics felt that Jesus, the Son of God, would not have actually become flesh. Rather, Jesus was an emanation of God, something otherworldly.
Another major thought was Arianism which taught that the Word took the place of the human soul in Jesus, making the man a mere puppet of the Word. Jesus, the flesh, was not actually the Word. The Word inhabited Jesus. Ironically, Arianism also taught that the Word was not God either, rather the Son was created (begotten).
Arius, the leader of this group and from which they took their name was a fairly influencial church leader. The early church had a large group which followed Arius’ teaching and without Athanasius firm opposition, this heresy could have become dominant. Arianism was basically antithetical to Trinitarian thought. It probably took the four great councils to finally declare it as heretical.
Generally, Jesus’ humanity is not questioned in today’s Christian thinking although it can still be seen to a small degree in some Unitarian thought or other.
So why is the Son of God’s humanity so important?
Without God becoming man, we would have no vicarious atonement. Ok, lots of syllables there, what in the world did that mean? Romans 6:23 probably puts it best. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Sin demands punishment from God. OUR sin results in God’s judgement upon us — eternal death. “And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.” John 3:19 But God does not want to punish us, “For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
It took a perfect sacrifice, the shedding of blood, to bring us salvation. This sounds barbaric! And it would have been if God would have demanded some random individual to die for all of us. However, He demanded it of Himself, for only a perfect, sinless sacrifice could bring us that salvation. He became a man, born of a virgin (the immaculate conception) so that He would be a unique human, sinless. He was born without original sin and remained sinless throughout His life. He had to be a man, truly human, to be able to offer Himself as the sacrifice.
His sinless sacrifice on the cross is accepted as a satisfactory payment for our sin—a vicarious atonement.
And so, the Son of God had to become the Son of Man that we might be saved. To deny the Son of God’s humanity is to deny our salvation.
All scripture quoted came from the New Living Translation (NLT).
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