Jesus in Space and Time, Part 3: God In The Flesh

Having established the astonishing fact that Jesus has existed eternally and is none other than our divine Creator, John’s Gospel then points out an equally astonishing truth:

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14)

God became a human being. This simple statement contains a profound mystery which the wisest theologians and philosophers in our world will never fully understand. Evangelical Christians have traditionally asserted that during his incarnation, Jesus was both fully human and fully God, and there is an abundance of scriptural evidence for this assertion. His humanity is overwhelmingly obvious, from the moment of his birth as a defenceless baby and throughout his life where we see him walking, talking, sleeping, eating, crying, laughing and ultimately undergoing extreme suffering as he dies a cruel and painful death. He bled like a real human. He truly was one of us.  

Yet he was also so much more. Jesus was God, our Creator, at the same time. He didn’t cease to be God at his birth and then became God again at his ascension. He remained God even as he lived a human life among us. There are clear indications of this in the New Testament. For example, in Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus he quotes Isaiah’s prophecy: “He will be called Immanuel, which means ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23 and Isaiah 7:14). In other words, Jesus in the flesh was ‘God with us’. His incarnational existence among us did not involve him temporarily suspending his divinity.

At the other end of Jesus’ life, in one of his post-resurrection appearances, Thomas, upon seeing his Lord alive again, finally declares, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). It is an indisputable declaration of Jesus’ divinity. Jesus’ response is to effectively affirm this declaration while simultaneously rebuking Thomas for being so slow to believe:

“Because you have seen me, you believe! Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

In between these two references, one at Jesus’ birth and the other at the end of his earthly ministry, we find Jesus speaking in ways which indicate his clear claim to be God. He forgave sin (Luke 5:20) and he applied the Old Testament name of God (“I AM”) to himself (John 8:58). On another occasion he stated, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). The Jewish religious leaders were in no doubt as to what Jesus was claiming, accusing him of blasphemy (Luke 5:21). This led to several failed attempts to have him stoned to death (John 8:49; 10:31) before they finally succeeded in orchestrating his Roman execution.

Both the rhetoric and actions of Jesus throughout his life are unequivocal indicators that Jesus claimed to be divine while simultaneously being human. The New Testament letters continue this assertion:

“He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15)

“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9)

 “… our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13)

My purpose in this study, however, is not merely to provide an apologetic for the divinity of Christ. That is a well-trodden path, exhaustively covered by many other papers and books (including some of my own). I have only touched the surface of this topic here and do not wish to simply regurgitate what is an already well-documented apologetic. I want to dive deeper into this topic. I want to explore the mystery of the confluence of these two natures – the human and the divine – residing simultaneously within one person.

A key passage for this exploration is Philippians 2:1-11, part of which is worth quoting in full:

“Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8)

This is actually one of several liturgical hymns from the first century church, quoted by Paul in this instance. The New Testament translators acknowledge this as a liturgical quote by indenting these verses in our English Bibles. It is their intriguing content, however, that is of particular significance for our exploration of the confluence of Christ’s two natures. These simple statements peel back some of the layers of the mystery of Christ’s incarnation and give us partial insight into its surprising and enigmatic nature.

We will examine these insights more closely in my next post as we continue to explore the topic of Jesus In Space And Time.