100% Human, How Can It Be? (Originally published May 2009)
The Short Take
Jesus’ humanity was no act. He laid aside all his Godly attributes (Php 2:5) in order to live as a man. He did not routinely read minds, or see the future by His own choice. Even His works and teaching were not from His own power but were from the Father (Jn 14:10 ) He was able to lead a perfect life, to discern what others were thinking and perform miracles because even in His humanity, He always remained in the Father empowered by the Father. Joseph and Daniel give us a glimpse of what a man can discern and achieve in the Father. How much more so Jesus! He maintained a perfect relationship with the Father through prayer, meditation and obedience. By reaching His full potential while staying within His humanity Jesus showed each of us our own potential. His example is clear. Live, as Christ did, in the grace of God and the power of the Spirit, with a passion for obedience to God’s will.
The Whole Nine Yards
Baptists, knowing Jesus to be the pre-existent Creator of all, have little difficulty understanding that Jesus is 100% divine, born with no sin nature. However the idea that Jesus is 100% human is fraught with difficulty. The general (and false) application of our understanding is that Jesus was God “acting” as an example to men. So we still ascribe to Jesus’ certain divine attributes such as omniscience. We say He was God so He knew what the Pharisees were thinking. He was God so He knew when the time was right. He was God so He really couldn’t sin, and so forth, all as a way to say “we can’t really follow His example because He was God”. True, Jesus was not born into sin but was the Son of God and therefore had an opportunity to live sinlessly. Nevertheless, it is important we understand that Jesus’ humanity was no “act”. It was so real that He experienced every temptation known to us and also that He was free to choose sin if He wished. It is important for man to understand that Jesus did indeed walk where we walk, faced the temptations we face, and had the same free will to sin that we have. Indeed, He could have fled back to Galilee and avoided the pain and suffering of the cross if he wished. It is important to understand that Jesus did not exhibit perfect obedience because He was God but rather because He remained perfectly in the will of the Father. Hebrews 2 speaks to the importance of truly understanding the humanity of Jesus and Philippians 2 gives us the key to understanding how His humanity works.
Is Philippians 2 literal? What does it mean saying “Who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” There is nothing in the context or content of Philippians 2 to indicate we should read the passage as a simile, parable or allegory, rather the account is a paradoxical historical event, a literal action taken by the Lord Jesus. Jesus decided to lay aside the attributes of God and to become 100% human (in obedience to God); meanwhile He retained His divinity and at the ascension reassumed His Godly attributes. A fact of history.
So what does it mean? Our limited knowledge tells us God is omnipotent, pre-existent, omniscient, holy, immutable, love, omnipresent and so forth. Man on the other hand is limited by his experience, created at conception, tempted, wavering, has free will, limited in time and space, selfish, and so forth. So Philippians 2 tells us the Lord Jesus gave up the former in favor of the later. At the age of 12 Jesus already had a sense of His role on earth. At the beginning of His ministry He was able to withstand direct confrontation and temptation with the devil. Are these events not evidence that Jesus retained Godly attributes? If so, what do we do with the facts of Philippians 2:5-8?
The Greek verb described this historical activity of Jesus God as kenosis, best translated as “emptying” or “to be emptied”. If true, then how did Jesus overcome the devil? Know what the Pharisees were thinking? Perform miracles? Teach so profoundly? He was able to do these things because His attitude toward God was perfect, leading to a perfect relationship with the Father, which led to possession of the strength of the Father. (Ph 2:5) When Jesus acted supernaturally He was able to do so not because He momentarily reclaimed one Godly attribute or another – that would have been inconsistent with His claim of “kenosis” – rather He had supernatural power through God the Father. Just like Daniel or Joseph were able to make supernatural interpretations of dreams through the power of the Father, not out of any divinity of their own. Jesus, ever so much more the perfect follower of the Father, was the ever so much more endowed in His humanity with the power of the Father even to the point of raising Lazarus from the dead.
One of His primary purposes on earth, the absolute primary purpose being to provide the sacrifice for man’s salvation, was to teach man how to have a continuously growing relationship with the Father through quiet time, meditation, obedience, love, worship, service and declaration . Jesus experienced 100% humanity and remained sinless not because He was divine (although He was) but because He always placed His trust in the Father. Christ “tasted death for everyone” (Heb 2:9) but He also demonstrated how we all have the potential to be “[more] perfect through suffering.” (Heb 2:10). Why is this concept of Jesus’ complete humanity so important? Because we can only understand our own human potential for good works when we understand that what Jesus accomplished on earth was accomplished in His humanity through the Grace of God. Grow in Christ and you grow in your strength to do good works.
Caution: This does not mean that Jesus set aside being God and then re-ascended to Godhood through righteousness. Jesus died on the cross as a man in the perfect will of God and subsequently ascended to heaven to reclaim the divine attributes of the triune God which He had willingly laid aside temporarily for the sake of men. Even if you believe the kenosis was “partial”, don’t let this lead you to the belief that Jesus was merely “acting” like a man.