How Human Is Jesus? Very.

Human
Michaelangelo’s Pieta, 1499, Creative Commons

The Nicene Creed reads that Jesus is “Very God of Very God.” I believe the creedal writers could have easily added “very human of very human.” In effect, the Creed does “add” it: “and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” The Creed goes on to state that Jesus “was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures,…”

I believe it is often easier for those of us in conservative Christian circles to emphasize Jesus’ full deity. Against this backdrop, we often sheepishly affirm his full humanity. Those of us in liberal Christian circles may appreciate the attempt to recognize Jesus’ full deity, but resonate far more quickly with the teaching of his full humanity. I wonder if the apparent struggle in conservative Christian circles to affirm Jesus’ full humanity leads us to struggle with our own humanity. I also wonder if that same apparent struggle leads us unintentionally to discount Jesus’ encouraging example of holy living as we undergo temptation to sin. In other words, we are tempted to think that since he was and is God, he could not and did not struggle half as much as we do, and cannot relate to our own struggle with temptation. While I understand the sentiment, it does not account for Jesus’ own life-situation. In what follows, I will develop this reflection.

Jesus is not less human than we are. Actually, he is more human than we are, yet without ceasing to be God. How is Jesus more human? Jesus was tempted more severely than any of us (no one has born the trials and tests that he endured here on earth), and yet he never gave in to temptation to sin during his earthly life. Those who have given in to temptation have not experienced the full weight of temptation. Only those who persevere through the struggle without falling into sin have born the full weight of temptation, a point Millard Erickson brings home in his Christian Theology. Hebrews 4:15 reads, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (ESV). Jesus did not sin, but he did undergo temptation to the max. And while he did not sin, he relied wholly on the Holy Spirit to resist sin. We are to follow his example and rely completely on the Holy Spirit today.

Jesus participated in our full humanity. How could he heal it if he did not take on our humanity, even in its frail and fallen condition? The unassumed is the unhealed, as Cappadocian church father Gregory Nazianzen observed: “He has not assumed what he has not healed; but that which is united to his Godhead is also saved” (Gregory of Nazianzus, Epistle 101 – Letter to Cledonius).

The Scriptures teach that after God formed humanity the Creator spanned the entire creation and assessed it as being very good (Genesis 1:31). Jesus is very good, not just as God, but as human. Not only is he very human and very good, but also he is overwhelmingly good. How so? Jesus recapitulates or transforms our history so that we do not go back to our pre-fallen state, nor attempt to ascend the broken ladder toward perfection in a fallen, moralistic therapeutic deistic world. Rather, Jesus perfects us in the Spirit through our union with him, the God-Man. There is one mediator between God and humanity—the human Christ Jesus, as Paul declares (1 Timothy 2:5). While we do not worship matter, we do worship the God who became material as fully human (and as our mediator), a point brought home with force by John of Damascus.

No one is good except God alone, as Jesus makes clear in Matthew 19:17. And yet, as the very same account signifies, Jesus declares himself to be the one who decides the eternal future of the rich young ruler, a declaration only God could rightly make. So, if Jesus presumes to do something beyond his ability or calling to perform, namely determine one’s destiny, then not only is he not God who alone is good, but also he is not even a good human. But Jesus is good, for he speaks the truth and lives it, too.

Jesus is fully human, indeed supremely so. No one is as human as Jesus, who not only speaks and acts truthfully, but who also lives, dies and rises purely even while under the full weight of temptation, sin, and death. What we endure, he endures. Yet as fully human, he endures even more. How fully human is he? Very.

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