Ronald H. Hanko is pastor of Trinity Protestant Reformed Church, Houston, Texas.
The Humanity Of Christ
1.The testimony of Scripture.
There seems little need of demonstrating the humanity of Christ from Scripture when there are few, even as far removed from orthodox Christianity as the sects, the Jews, or the Muslims, who do not believe that there was a real man named Jesus. Especially when one remembers that, if anything, there is today the tendency to emphasize the humanity of Christ to the detriment of His deity, it would seem superfluous to try to prove from Scripture that He is indeed a man.
Nevertheless, both history and experience show that there is as great a danger of the church’s straying from this truth as from the truth of His divinity, and this is one reason for presenting the testimony of Scripture to this truth. Another reason is to be found in the importance of this doctrine. John indicates its importance when he says that the denial of it is the beginning of antichrist (I John 4:2). It is as critical to our faith and hope of salvation as the deity of Christ. Thus a study of Scripture’s testimony is necessary not only in defense of the faith, but to strengthen the faith of God’s people.
That Jesus is truly man is explicitly stated in Scripture, first of all by Jesus Himself. He calls Himself a man (John 8:40) and is also called such by the inspired apostles (Acts 2:22) who knew Him and “handled” Him (I John 1:1). So real was His humanity that Scripture at times even calls Him a man without any reference at all to His divinity (Rom. 5:15; I Cor. 15:21; I Tim. 2:5).
This testimony is supported by the further testimony of Scripture that He was born a part of the human race and experienced all that belongs to our life. He was born of a woman (Gal. 4:4), was fed at the breast (Luke 11:27), was circumcised (Luke 2:21), lived with brothers and sisters (Matt. 13:55, 56), was subject to parents (Luke 2:51), grew up and matured as we do (Luke 2:40), so that He was infant, child, youth, and adult. What is more, His growth was not only physical growth but also growth in knowledge and wisdom, that is: intellectual and spiritual growth (Luke 2:40). Scripture even makes the amazing statement that He had to learn obedience as part of His spiritual growth (Heb. 599, something which seems incomprehensible to us when we remember His glory as God. Nevertheless, it is just such things as these that Scripture uses to teach the mystery and miracle of the incarnation. So also, at maturity He was subject to civil and religious authorities (Luke 5:14; I Pet. 2:23), paid taxes (Matt. 17:24-27), worked and rested, ate and drank, worshipped in the synagogues, prayed, and in all these things proved to us that He is like us at all points (Heb. 2:17).
That He is really a man is stated in Scripture in different ways, i.e., that He was made flesh (John 1:14), came in the flesh (I John 4:2, 3), bore the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:3), and partook of the flesh and blood of the children (Heb. 2:14); but all add up to one unmistakable testimony that He was really man as we are, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh (Eph. 5:30). That these passages refer especially to the fact that He had a real human body, does not exclude His having also a human soul (Matt. 26:38), spirit (John 13:21), mind (Phil. 2:5), will (Luke 22:42), and heart (Matt. 11:29). Nonetheless, the emphasis of Scripture lies exactly at that point where the reality of His humanity has often been denied, that He is our flesh and blood, a true son of man.
Christ Himself stresses His humanity by constantly referring to Himself as the Son of Man. Indeed, this is the name He preferred for Himself, using this name more than any other, some forty times in all. So exactly does it describe His humanity that its repeated use in the Gospel of Luke is an indication of the theme of that gospel. This name corresponds to the Old Testament references to Him as the great Seed; of the woman, of Abraham, and of David (Gen. 3:15; Gen. 17:7; II Sam. 7:12). That this seed is ultimately Christ is clear from Galatians 3:16; but the point is that in all the references to Christ as the Seed, the word has first of all literal meaning: “offspring.” Nor is its profound spiritual sense at all obscured by this recognition of its literal meaning. This meaning of the name Son of Man is further confirmed by Scripture’s use of it in connection with Christ’s activity as a man: coming, going, seeking, finding, eating, drinking, being betrayed, delivered over to enemies, lifted up, buried, and risen.
His own use of this name reminds us that His humanity is not abstract church doctrine, but a revelation of His love for His own, and of His willingness to suffer all things for our sakes. That He preferred this name ought never be forgotten by those who desire to come to Him and who seek in Him all joy.
Especially telling proof of His humanity is the testimony of Scripture to His limitations as a man. That He had to grow in knowledge reminds us that His knowledge as a man was limited. Christ Himself acknowledges this in several instances. He told His disciples that He did not know the day or hour of His coming (Mark 13:32), and showed surprise at the faith of the centurion who requested healing for his servant (Matt. 8:10). As difficult as it is for us to reconcile this with His divine omniscience (cf. John 2:24, 25), it is nevertheless an undeniable evidence of the reality of His humanity.
Likewise we find from Scripture that His strength was limited, dependent on food, drink, and rest as ours also is. Nor could He be in more than one place at one time (omnipresence), but was subject to the same limitations of space and place as we are. This is part of the reality of the ascension, for to deny that Christ went to heaven when He ascended in the sight of His disciples is to make the ascension a mere illusion. That He had to grow from infant to adult reminds us that He as a man was subject to time and change as we are, and is not, as man, eternally and unchangeably the same. To this the Athanasian Creed bears witness when it says that He was not only “God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds,” but also “man of the substance of His mother, born in the world.” And all of these limitations are implied in the further statement of the Athanasian Creed that He is “inferior to the Father as touching His manhood.”
Most striking of all in respect to His limitations as a man is the fact that He needed God, just as we do. This we see in His great need for prayer (Mark 1:35; Matt. 26:38; Heb. 5:7), in His worshipping God, even to the extent of speaking of God as His God, and not just His Father (Matt. 27:46). We certainly see in this what the Athanasian Creed calls His inferiority to the Father in respect of His humanity, for it is impossible from the viewpoint of His deity that He should have God or need God.
When we add to all this the testimony of Scripture concerning His suffering and weakness, then indeed there can be no doubt that He was like us, for He did not take on Himself the human nature as it was first created, perfect in strength and knowledge, but our human nature as it is debilitated and weakened by the power and dominion of sin. Thus Scripture also speaks of His hunger, thirst, weariness, poverty, and pain (John 4:6; John 19:28; II Cor. 8:9). But even His suffering was more than physical, and in that also He was entirely like us. He knew sorrow, anxiety, agony of soul, and disappointment in the face of suffering (Matt. 26:37, 40; Luke 22:44; John 11:35; John 12:27). And, most striking of all, He was able to suffer temptation and was tempted at every point with us. Nor may the temptations of Christ be dismissed as anything less than the real spiritual struggle which we ourselves endure in temptation. Scripture speaks clearly of His need for the ministration of angels after His struggle with Satan in the wilderness (Matt. 4:11), and of the agony of His soul in the garden, where the proof of His temptation and struggle is His own bloody sweat.
Only at one point was He different from us in suffering and in temptation: He was without sin. But sinlessness is not essential to our humanity, as is clear in the creation of Adam: that is to say, it is possible to be a real man and yet be without sin. So the sinlessness of Christ does not make Him in any way at all less of man than we are.
It ought to be evident, then, that Scripture pays as much attention to the humanity of Christ as to His divinity, as also ought we, for both are necessary for our salvation. The church must not neglect the truth of Christ’s true humanity by over-reacting against those who believe that He is only a man and who in one way or another deny His Godhead.
Nor may this doctrine ever be mere doctrine, for it is for us personally the foundation of our assurance of salvation and the truth which draws us to Christ as Redeemer, Intercessor, and sympathetic High Priest, especially now that He has in our flesh obtained glory and honor with the Father. As our Belgic Confession says: