Ronald H. Hanko is pastor of Trinity Protestant Reformed Church, Houston, Texas.
4. The significance of Christ’s humanity.
In speaking of the two natures of Christ, it must be very clear that the confession that He is true man is not of lesser significance than the truth that He is God. The fact of the matter is not that the deity of Christ is of primary importance, and the humanity of Christ of secondary importance, but that both are essential to our confession and our salvation. So too, the Church has always recognized this and held that the humanity of Christ is as precious and necessary to her as the truth that He is God’s Son. Already in the early history of the church we find the confession that “it is necessary to everlasting salvation that (we) also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man” (Athanasian Creed, 29, 30). The Belgic Confession also echoes this when it insists that “our salvation and resurrection also depend on the reality of His body” (Art. XIX).
This confession of the Church is even more remarkable in the face of the present tendency to emphasize the humanity of Christ at the expense of His deity. That the church has not abandoned her confession of the true humanity of Christ when faced with a constant denial of His divinity can only be ascribed to the fact that Scripture speaks so clearly of the humanity of Christ and its importance for our faith. Never does the confession that Jesus is God stand alone in Scripture, but it is always joined to the confession that He is also bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. This is especially striking in the Gospel and Epistles of John, where it is especially the divinity of Christ that is being defended. We would expect, for example, that in the statements John makes in I John about antichrist and the spirit of antichrist, he would say that the characteristic teaching of antichrist is a denial of Christ’s divinity, but it is not so. Rather, in I John 4:2, 3, he insists that the mark of antichrist is the denial that “Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.” Along the same lines Scripture insists in other passages that the essence of faith in Him is not so much the confession that He is the Son of God, but that He is the Christ, that is, the Son of God incarnate (cf. Matt. 16:16, John 20:31, I John 2:22, 5:1, etc.). For this reason also the great question according to which we are judged is always, “What think ye of the Christ?” not “Do you believe that Jesus is God?”
Because of the one-sided emphasis on the humanity of Christ that is so popular today, it is absolutely necessary that the church remember the importance and significance of this truth. She must never over-react to this one-sidedness by de-emphasizing or neglecting the truth that Christ is true and real man. That this can happen is evident in Roman Catholicism. For one reason and another, and in spite of the fact that Christ’s humanity is still very much a part of her official confession, she has lost sight of this truth in her teaching to the extent that she has needed and substituted other mediators instead of Him.
There is also another reason, however, why the current emphasis on the humanity of Christ may not lull the church into a sense of false security, that is, that much of the emphasis on Christ’s humanity today is not really the teaching of this important truth. Berkhouwer points this out:
Does not everyone today accept—barring now a few radical exceptions—that there has been a real Jesus of Nazareth and must we not devote all our attention to those doctrines which deny that this man Jesus Christ is the Son of the Father? The question as it is thus formulated in the church tends to weaken the urgency of our warning against the Docetic danger (the denial of Christ’s real humanity, R.H.). One must not think that the acknowledgment of the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth is identical with the confession of the church touching the human nature of Christ. The acknowledgment of his historicity is not half of the Christological dogma. The point of this dogma is not that there was a historical person, one of whom it is believed on historical grounds that he really lived, but the issue is the significance of the teaching that he was true God and true man in the unity of the person. For this reason, despite the practically general agreement on the historicity of Jesus, the confession of the church regarding the human nature of Christ remains of critical important (The Person of Christ, p, 198).
Perhaps the clearest evidence of this danger is the fact that most Jews today do indeed accept the historical fact that there was a man Jesus, but this, of course, in no wise means that they believe in Him. No more than with the Jews, does all the current talk of Christ’s humanity mean that the church actually believes in Him. It is very much possible to speak of a genuine human nature while detracting from or denying His humanity.
The significance and necessity of Christ’s humanity is of such importance because it is inseparably connected with our salvation. The simple fact is, as the Belgic Confession points out, that our salvation depends on the reality of His humanity (Art. XIX). If He is not man, there is no salvation for us. The Heidelberg Catechism explains why this is so by showing that He must be man to pay for man’s sin. For any other creature to suffer in our place would be a travesty of justice on the part of God Himself. That, of course, is the reason too why the oceans of blood shed in the Old Testament sacrifices not only did not, but could not take away sin (Heb. 10:4). The necessity of His humanity is to be found, then, in the fact of sin and the fall.
Now, as H. Hoeksema explains in his Reformed Dogmatics,
It is possible . . . to view this necessity from a different aspect, and to consider it from a higher, theological point of view. The ultimate reason for all the necessity, for every “must”, is the eternal counsel and good pleasure of God. It was Gods eternal purpose that in Christ as the incarnate, crucified, raised, and glorified Son of God all the fulness of God should dwell bodily. The incarnation, therefore, is not an afterthought of God, so that Christ is appointed only to repair what has been marred and destroyed by sin and by the devil; but it is God’s first and final purpose to reveal His glory in Christ. He purposed to reveal Himself and to realize His everlasting covenant, and thus to glorify His holy name, in the highest possible degree. And this revelation is to be realized in Christ, the Son of Sod in the flesh, crucified and risen from the dead. Thus it is in God’s good pleasure. And it is for this reason that Christ is called the Firstborn of every creature, that is, the firstborn in and according to the counsel of God, for Whom and through and unto Whom all things are created. If we consider the necessity of the incarnation from this higher view-point, even sin and death, the devil and all the powers of darkness are but a means unto an end. They are subservient to God’s purpose of bringing His Son into the world and of realizing in and through Him all His good pleasure.
This view of the relationship between Christ and sin in the counsel of God has been known as “supralapsarianism,” and in light of such passages asColossians 1:15-17 it is difficult, at best, to deny that according to this supralapsarian conception, Christ is indeed first and foremost in the counsel of God, even in relation to sin. Nevertheless, there is always the danger in this supralapsarian position that the reality and horror of sin be underemphasized by speaking of it only as a means to reveal Christ, and that danger is also, obviously, a very practical danger, a kind of implicit antinomianism. The fact is, that alongside the Biblical emphasis on the primacy of Christ in the counsel of God, Scripture teaches that historically, that is, from our viewpoint, there is but one reason for the incarnation, and that is the horrible reality of sin. All that Scripture teaches about the relation of the incarnation and sin can be summed up in the words ofHebrews 2:17, that “it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren . . . to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.” We must at this point also, therefore, avoid idle speculation, that is, speculation beyond the teaching of Scripture, and find the necessity and significances of the incarnation first of all in the coming of sin into the world.
It should also be pointed out that not only our redemption from the guilt of sin depends on the humanity of Christ, but the whole of our salvation. He is man not only to die for man’s sin, but also to be a capable intercessor for us, to be able to help us in our temptation (Heb. 2:18), to be sympathetic to our needs as High Priest that we might approach the throne of grace through Him (Heb. 4:14-16), and to give up hope in Him both now and for the judgment. The Heidelberg Catechism gives us a good example of this truth, when it points out that His presence in heaven means that we have our flesh in heaven as sure pledge that He will also take us there to be with Him (XVIII, 49). Not only as our “sacrificing” High Priest, therefore, but also as our heavenly High Priest, as the one who has gone behind the veil, He must be one “taken from among men” (Heb. 5:1).
That a loss of this doctrine either by denial or by neglect is to the spiritual harm of the people of God is evident from Roman Catholicism, which has substituted the intercession of saints and angels for the intercession of Christ, and so left the church without access to God. It is also evident from the early history of the church in its struggles with Gnosticism, and its denial of the reality of Christ’s humanity. It also was forced into substituting other mediators for Christ and teaching a worship of angels, which teaching Paul excoriates in Colossians 2:18as a denial of Christ’s Headship.
In holding to a strict and careful confession of the humanity of Christ, then, we find the hope of salvation, the assurance of pardon, and access to the Father in Him. “To what purpose,” as the Belgic Confession says, “should we then seek another advocate” or be afraid to come to God and hope in God through Him, “since it hath pleased God to give us His own Son?” (Art. XXVI) Truly, “He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son” (II John 9).