From the CLC Bible Companion
Jesus was fully human in every way; in fact, he shows us what it really means to be human.
THE MAN FROM NAZARETH
From the second century AD, some people claimed that Jesus had not really been human, but that he had only seemed to do human things, suffer and die. This idea may be reflected in 2 John 7. They could not understand how Jesus, the divine Son of God, could ever have been a man with flesh and blood. These views are known as “Docetism”, from the Greek word “to appear” or “to seem”. Early church leaders, such as Ignatius and Irenaeus, argued against Docetism, and the church’s creeds clearly affirmed that Jesus was a human. It is important to note that Docetism arose around the second century, well after the events of Jesus’ life. The people who met Jesus during his earthly life had no reason to doubt that he was a human being, just like them. The New Testament consistently describes Jesus in human terms:
- Birth and early years.
Although Jesus was conceived in Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:35), he still had a very human birth (Luke 2:6) and required his mother’s care and attention (Luke 2:7) and Joseph’s protection (Matthew 2:13-15). Over the following years, Jesus grew up in age, strength and wisdom, just like any child would (Luke 2:40,52). We do not know very much about Jesus’ family life; however, it is clear from the Gospels that his parents, brothers and sisters were well known in their home town of Nazareth (Matthew 13:54-56; Mark 6:1-3). Jesus’ early years were so normal that the people who had seen him grow up were surprised that he could teach about God with authority (see also Luke 2:46-47) and do great miracles – they thought he was just a carpenter, as Joseph had been before him.
In the mid-second century AD, imaginative stories began to be written about Jesus’ early life, claiming he had superhuman powers. For instance, in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, he moulds some birds out of clay and then brings them to life! While these stories were quite popular at the time, the church never accepted them as true. As the New Testament suggests, until the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus seems to have grown up just like any other first-century Jewish boy.
- Physical, emotional and spiritual life.
Jesus was fully human in every way. He had bodily needs for food (Matthew 4:2; 21:18; Luke 4:2), water (John 4:7; 19:28), and rest (Matthew 8:24; Mark 4:38; Luke 8:23; John 4:6). He accepted the hospitality of others during his ministry (John 12:1-2, also Luke 8:1-3), and was often found at a party! He experienced the full range of human emotions, including joy (see Luke 7:34), friendship and love (John 15:12-15), compassion (Matthew 9:36; Mark 1:41; Luke 7:13), grief (John 11:33-35), anger (Mark 3:5; John 2:13-17) and anguish (Luke 22:44). In his spiritual life, Jesus had to draw strength from God in prayer (Luke 6:12; 9:28) and resist the temptations of Satan (Matthew 4:1-11, also Luke 4:13). The first Christians knew that Jesus’ work of salvation was effective for them because he had been completely human, just like them in every way except for sin (Hebrews 2:14-18; 4:15).
- Jesus’ miraculous power.
Sometimes we think that Jesus’ miracles prove that he was divine. However, the people who saw them did not automatically think this. They presumed he was a human who was able to use heavenly or demonic power (Luke 11:15-16). Jesus explained that he worked miracles by “the finger of God” (Luke 11:20); he was a human being filled with the Holy Spirit of God (Luke 4:18-21). Other humans also performed miracles (eg 1 Kings 17:17-24; Acts 3:1-10).
- Death and burial.
The Gospels describe the agony Jesus endured on the cross (Matthew 27:33-50; Mark 15:33-37; Luke 23:44-46). John records that he saw blood and water flowing out of Jesus’ side after his death, proving that he really was dead (John 19:33-35). Jesus was buried in a tomb, and everyone expected that his body would rot away (the women brought spices for it on the third day, Luke 24:1).
- Bodily resurrection.
After his resurrection, Jesus remained a real human being, even though his resurrected body was able to do extraordinary things (Luke 24:31,36). He ate with his disciples and invited them to touch his body to prove he was not a ghost (Luke 24:37-43; John 20:27). The message of the first Christians was grounded in the knowledge that Jesus, who had brought God’s life and salvation, was a real human being (1 John 1:1-3), both before and after his resurrection (Acts 17:31; 1 Corinthians 15:17).
THE SON OF MAN
Jesus knew that he had a special status among other humans. In the Gospels, he refers to himself over fifty times as “the Son of Man” (eg Mark 2:10; 10:45). The Aramaic phrase that stands behind this title can simply mean “a human being”, but it has special significance because of its use in Daniel 7:13.
There, Daniel sees a vision of “one like a son of man” approaching the throne of heaven and being given authority by God to rule the whole world. By calling himself “the Son of Man”, Jesus is referring both to the fact that he belongs to the family of humanity and to his unique status within that family. When Jesus calls himself “the Son of Man”, he claims that he is the one human being to whom God has given authority over everything (see Mark 14:62). Jesus uses this power and authority to seek out and save the lost (Luke 19:10). He brings salvation through the weakness of his humanity – ultimately through his suffering and death in Jerusalem (Mark 8:31; 14:41). In the future, as the Son of Man, Jesus will be the standard of judgment for all other humans (Luke 18:8).
THE SECOND ADAM
The role of the Son of Man – to exercise responsible authority over the earth – was nothing new. In Genesis 1, humans were created on the sixth day, after everything else, as the pinnacle of God’s work. God gave humans a task appropriate to their lofty status – he instructed them to act as good stewards of his world (Genesis 1:28). Adam (whose name simply means “man”) and his wife Eve were supposed to be role models for the rest of humanity, living with God in fellowship and obedience. However, through their distrust of God’s word (Genesis 3:1-5) and disobedience (Genesis 3:6), this good order was disrupted (Genesis 3:14-19). The Old Testament does continue to speak of God’s vision for humanity (eg Psalm 8); however, in reality, humans are now incapable of living in the way God intended. Sin and death get in the way. If the story of Adam reveals what went wrong, the story of Jesus is the story of humanity as it should be. Jesus lived in constant fellowship with his heavenly Father. He exercised responsible authority over the world around him (eg calming the storm, Mark 4:39; feeding the crowds, Matthew 14:19-20). Jesus was not just another member of the human race; he was the one true human, the one who revealed human life as God had always intended it.
One of the ways the first Christians expressed this was by calling Jesus “the second Adam” or “the last Adam”. Paul contrasts the disobedience of Adam with the obedience of Jesus, and then he contrasts the effects of their lives: whereas Adam’s disobedience brought death to all, Jesus’ obedience brought life to all! (1 Corinthians 15:45; Romans 5:12-21). It is sometimes suggested that John’s Gospel envisages Jesus as the second Adam too. Just before his crucifixion, at the climax of John’s Gospel, Jesus is presented by Pilate to the crowds with the words, “Here is the man!” (John 19:5). Whatever Pilate himself may have thought about Jesus, Christians have rightly seen a deeper level of meaning in these words: “Here is the true man! Here is the second Adam!”
THE IMAGE OF GOD
Humans were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). This means that among all creatures, humans were to embody the kind of life that God has, and reflect his glory in the rest of creation (Psalm 8:5). Since the fall, the image of God in humanity has been broken and marred by sin. However, Jesus is the perfect and complete image of God (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3), fully reflecting God’s glory in his humanity (John 1:14).
Of course, Jesus is much more than the perfect human being. But we must remember that Jesus resists sin and reflects God’s glory because he is being truly human, not superhuman. Jesus reveals that sin is not a normal part of humanity as God intended it; it is abnormal. As a human being, Jesus lived in dependence on God’s Holy Spirit, and was raised from the dead. This is what it means for us to be human too (Philippians 2:5-8).
Jesus’ perfect humanity is the hope of our salvation – we can be truly human as we join his family and are made in his image, which is the image of God (Romans 8:29).
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