. The Real Christ...
The extent of Christ's humanity is brought out by the RV translation of 1 Tim. 2:5. "There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus". Paul is writing this after the Lord's ascension and glorification. A mediator might be thought of as being somehow separate from both parties; but our mediator is actually "himself man", so on our side, as it were. Having received Divine nature doesn't take anything away from the Lord's appreciation of our humanity, to the extent that Paul here [for all the other exalted terms he uses elsewhere about Jesus] can call Him even now "himself man". The Lord Jesus inaugurated the “new and living way” for us dia , on account of, “his flesh” (Heb. 10:20). It was exactly because of “the flesh” of the Lord’s humanity that He opened up a new way of life for us. Because He was so credibly and genuinely human, and yet perfect, the way of His life becomes compellingly the way we are to take. Once we grasp this, we can better understand the anathema which John calls down upon those who deny that Jesus was “in the flesh” (2 Jn. 7-9). The Lord's relationship with His cousin John provides an exquisite insight into both His humanity and His humility. The people thought that Jesus was John the Baptist resurrected (Mk. 6:14). Perhaps this was because they looked somehow similar, as cousins?
Fear of Death
And exactly because of that, He had a quite genuine "fear of death" (Heb. 5:8). This "fear of death" within the Lord Jesus provides a profound insight into His so genuine humanity. We fear death because our human life is our greatest and most personal possession... and it was just the same with the Lord Jesus. Note that when seeking here to exemplify Christ's humanity, the writer to the Hebrews chooses His fear of death in Gethsemane as the epitome of His humanity. Oscar Cullmann translates Heb. 5:7: "He was heard in his fear (anxiety)". That very human anxiety about death is reflected in the way He urges Judas to get over and done the betrayal process "quickly" (Jn. 13:28); He was "straitened until it be accomplished" (Lk. 12:50). He prayed to God just as we would when gripped by the fear of impending death. And He was heard. No wonder He is able therefore and thereby to comfort and save us, who lived all our lives in the same fear of death which He had (Heb. 2:15). This repetition of the 'fear of death' theme in Hebrews is surely significant- the Lord Jesus had the same fear of death as we do, and He prayed in desperation to God just as we do. And because He overcame, He is able to support us when we in our turn pray in our "time of need"- for He likewise had the very same "time of need" as we have, when He was in Gethsemane (Heb. 4:16). Death was "the last enemy" for the Lord Jesus just as it is for all humanity (1 Cor. 15:26). Reflection on these things not only emphasizes the humanity of the Lord Jesus, but also indicates He had no belief whatsoever in an 'immortal soul' consciously surviving death.
The Lord's fear of death was, it seems to me, to a far greater extent than what even we experience- doubtless because He knew all that was tied up with His death and how much depended upon it. He spoke of how "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!" (Lk. 12:50). There was something in His body language during His last journey to Jerusalem which was nothing short of terrifying to the disciples: "They were amazed; and as they followed Him, they were afraid" (Mk. 10:32-34). All this came to a climax in His extreme sweating in Gethsemane as the great horror of darkness began to actually descend on Him (Mk. 14:33-42). Contrast this with the calmness of suicide bombers or other religiously persuaded zealots going to their death. The Lord- our Lord- was too sensitive to humanity, to us, to His own humanity, to His own sense of the possibility of failure which His humility pressed ever upon Him... than to be like that.
Contrast all this with the words of Ignatius at the start of the 2nd century A.D.: "Our God, Jesus the Christ, was carried in Mary's womb" (Ephesians 18.2). How could God get inside the womb of an ordinary woman? If the very founders of popular Christianity, the 'church fathers', could be so totally astray... surely we have to get back to the Bible for ourselves and give no weight at all to the accepted wisdom of 'orthodox / mainstream Christianity' as a religion.
The Real Jesus
We non-trinitarians understand, quite correctly, that Jesus saved the world on account of being human- for all His Lordship and spiritual unity with the Father. If He had been of any other nature, salvation would not have been possible through Him. He in all ways is our pattern. It is our humanity that enables us to go into this world with a credible, convincing and saving message. We have to be enough of a man himself in order to save a man. We are not asking our hearers to be super-human. The way senior churchmen seem to lack a genuine, complete humanity has led so many to conclude that because they cannot rise up to such apparently austere and white-faced levels, therefore Christianity for them is not an authentically human possibility. Our message is tied to us as human people, just as the message of Jesus was Him, the real, human Jesus. The word was made flesh in Him as it must be in us. This is why nowhere in the Gospels is Jesus described with a long list of virtues- His actions and relations to others are what are presented, and it is from them that we ourselves feel and perceive His righteousness. The teachings of Marxism, e.g., can be separated from Marx as a man. You can accept Marxism without ever having read a biography of Karl Marx. But real Christianity is tied in to the person of the real Christ. The biographies of Jesus which open the New Testament are in essence a précis of the Gospel of Jesus. His life was and is His message. We are to follow Him. This is His repeated teaching. A Marxist follows the ideas of Marx, not merely his personality. But a Christian follows Christ as a person, not just His abstract ideas.
If the message of Jesus is defined by us merely as ideas and principles, then we will inevitably find that ideas and principles lack the turbulence of real life- they are abstract. The principles of Bible Truth will be found to be colourless and remote from reality- unless they are tied in to the real, concrete person of Jesus. God forbid that our faith has given us just a bunch of ideas. The principles of the Truth, every doctrine of the Truth, is lived out in Jesus- and it is this fact, this image of Him, which appeals to us as live, passionate, flesh and blood beings. A person cannot be reduced to a formula. It is a living figure and not just dry theories that actually draws people, and in that sense is " attractive" . The person of Jesus, as the person of each of us in Him, makes the ideas, the doctrines, the principles, real and visible; He " embodies" them. It is only a concrete, real person who can be felt to call and appeal to people. What I am saying is that if we present the principles of the Truth as they are in Jesus, then this will be far more powerful in its appeal than simply presenting dry theories. " The truth as it is in Jesus" is a Biblical phrase- surely saying that the doctrines of the one Faith are lived out in this Man. Because of this, the person hearing the Gospel will feel summoned, appealed to, called, by a person- the risen Jesus. And then later on in the life of the convert, it will become apparent to him or her that this same Jesus, by reason of His very person, makes demands, challenges, invitations to them, to yet greater commitment. And only a real, living person can be encouraging in life. Principles as mere abstractions cannot encourage much of themselves.
Jesus is our representative- a distinctive Bible doctrine. We are counted as being in Him. This means that His life is counted as being our life- and only because He was human and we now are human can this become true. The wonder of this is that so many people have acquired a new personal quality through their association with the risen Jesus- for all their human failures, humiliations, setbacks. No longer is it so important for them to ask 'Who am I? What have I achieved in this dumb life?'. Rather it is all important that we are in fact in Christ, and sharing in His life and being. Life has become so achievement and efficiency orientated that many of us feel failures. Only by achievement, it seems, can we justify ourselves in society. We have become caught up in a machine of life that robs us of our humanity. Our initiative, spontaneity, autonomy, our essential freedom- is lost. Yet if we are in Christ, secure in Him, part of His supreme personality, then our lives are totally different. We are no longer ashamed of our humanity. We are affirmed for who we are by God Himself, justified by Him- for we are in Christ. This is the real meaning, the wonderful implication, of being truly 'brethren-in-Christ'.
By losing our life, we gain it. But the life we gain is the life of Jesus. And therefore life has meaning and purpose, not only in successes but also in failures. Our lives then make sense; for we have and live the true life, even if we are destroyed by opponents and deserted by friends; if we supported the wrong side and came to grief; if our achievements slacken and are overtaken by others; if we are no use any more to anyone. The bankrupt businessman, the utterly lonely divorcee, the overthrown and forgotten politician, the unemployed middle aged man, the aged prostitute or criminal dying in prison...all these, even though their persons and lives are no longer recognized by this world, are all the same joyfully, gleefully, recognized by Him with whom there is no respect of persons; for they are in His beloved Son.
I remember the cold, Russian winter’s day when it finally burst upon me that the Lord Jesus really was human. Because He was genuinely human, so genuinely so, I suddenly started thinking of all sorts of things which must have been true about Him, which I’d never dared think before. And in this, I believe I went up a level in knowing Him. He was the genuine product of the pregnancy process. He had all the pre-history of Mary in his genes. He had a genetic structure. He had a unique fingerprint, just as I have. He must have been either left-hand or right-handed (or ambidextrous!). Belonged to a particular blood group. Fitted into one psychological type more than another. He forgot things at times, didn't understand absolutely everything (e.g. the date of His return, or the mystery of spiritual growth, Mk. 4:27), made a mistake when working as a carpenter, cut His finger. But He was never frustrated with Himself; He was happy being human, comfortable with His humanity.
And as I walked through that long Moscow subway from Rizhskaya Metro to Rizhsky Vokzal, the thoughts were coming thick and fast. Why did He look on the ground when the woman [presumably naked] caught in the act of adultery was brought before Him? Was it not perhaps from sheer embarrassment and male awkwardness? Did He… ever know sexual arousal? Why not ask these questions? If He was truly human, sexuality is at the core of personhood. He would have known sexuality, responding to stimuli in a natural heterosexual manner, “yet without sin”. He was not a cardboard Christ, a sexless Jesus. He shared the same unconscious drives and libido which we do, with a temper, anxiety and ‘anxious fear of death’ (Heb. 5:7) as strong as ours. He was a real man, not free from the inner conflict, effort, temptation and doubt which are part of our human condition. No way can I subscribe to a Trinitarian position that “there was [not] even an infinitely small element of struggle involved” when the Lord faced temptation (1). He was tempted just as we are- and temptation surely involves feeling the pull of evil, and having part of you that feels it to be more attractive than the good. The record of Jn. 8:8 seems to imply that it was the way Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust which convicted the accusers of the adulteress in their consciences. As He kept on writing, they one by one walked away. It's been speculated that He was writing their deeds or names there, fulfilling Jeremiah's prophecy of how the names of the wicked would be written in the dust. But I'm not so sure they'd have just let Him do that with no further recorded comment. My suggestion is that He stooped down and looked at the ground out of simple male embarrassment, but His 'writing' in the dust was simply Him doodling. If this is so, then there would have been an artless mix of His Divinity, His utter personal moral perfection, and His utter humanity. Embarrassed in front of a naked woman, crouching down on His haunches, doodling in the dust... that, it seems to me, would've been the ultimate conviction of sin for those who watched. It would've been surpassingly beautiful and yet so challenging at the same time. And it is that same mixture of utter humanity and profound, Divine perfection within the person of Jesus which, it seems to me, is what convicts us of sin and leads us devotedly to Him. Maybe I'm wrong in my imagination and reconstruction of this incident- but if we love the Lord, surely we'll be ever seeking to reconstruct and imagine how He would or might have been.
The fullness of the Lord's humanity is of course supremely shown in His death and His quite natural fear of that death. Perhaps on no other point do human beings show they are humans than when it comes to their reaction to and reflection upon their own death. I would go further and suggested that the thought of suicide even entered the Lord's mind. It's hard to understand His thought about throwing Himself off the top of the temple in any other way. His almost throw away comment that "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death" (Mt. 26:38- heos thanatou) is actually a quotation from the suicidal thoughts of Jonah (Jonah 4:9) and those of the Psalmist in Ps. 42:5,6. Now of course the Lord overcame those thoughts- but their very existence is a window into the depth and reality of His humanity.
I suspect I can see through that huge gap between writer and reader, to sense your discomfort and alarm, even anger, that I should talk about the Lord Jesus in such human terms. I can imagine the splutter and misunderstanding which will greet these suggestions. I am not seeking to diminish in any way from the Lord’s greatness. I’m seeking to bring out His greatness; that there, in this genuinely human person, there was God manifest in flesh. The revulsion of some at what I’m saying is to me just another articulation of our basic dis-ease when faced with the fact the Lord Jesus really was our representative. I believe that in all of us, there’s a desire to set some sort of break between our own humanity, and that of Jesus. But if He wasn’t really like us, then I see the whole ‘Christ-thing’ as having little cash value in our world that seeks so desperately for authenticity and human salvation. The human, Son of God Jesus whom we preach is actually very attractive to people. There’s something very compelling about a perfect hero, who nevertheless has a weak human side. You can see this expressed in novels and fine art very often. Some examples would be novels like D.H. Lawrence, The Man Who Died; Miss Lonelyhearts (Nathanel West); Faulkner’s A Fable. Nikolay Gorodetsky wrote a book entitled The Humiliated Christ In Modern Russian Thought where he brings this out well(2). If He were really like us, then this demands an awful lot of us. It rids us of so many excuses for our unspirituality. And this, I’m bold enough to say, is likely the psychological reason for the growth of the Jesus=God ideology, and the ‘trinity’ concept. The idea of a personally pre-existent Jesus likewise arose out of the same psychological bind. The Jews wanted a Messiah whose origins they wouldn’t know (Jn. 7:27), some inaccessible heavenly figure, of which their writings frequently speak- and when faced with the very human Jesus, whose mother and brothers they knew, they couldn’t cope with it. I suggest those Jews had the same basic mindset as those who believe in a personal pre-existence of the Lord. The trinity and pre-existence doctrines place a respectable gap between us and the Son of God. As John Knox concluded: “We can have the humanity [of Jesus] without the pre-existence and we can have the pre-existence without the humanity. There is absolutely no way of having both” (3). His person and example aren’t so much of an imperative to us, because He was God and not man. But if this perfect man was indeed one of us, a man amongst men, with our very same flesh, blood, sperm and plasm… we start to feel uncomfortable. It’s perhaps why so many of us find prolonged contemplation of His crucifixion- where He was at His most naked and most human- something we find distinctly uncomfortable, and impossible to deeply sustain for long. But only if we properly have in balance the awesome reality of Christ’s humanity, can we understand how one man’s death 2,000 years ago can radically alter our lives today. We make excuses for ourselves: our parents were imperfect, society around us is so sinful. But the Lord Jesus was perfect- and dear Mary did her best, but all the same failed to give Him a perfect upbringing; she wasn’t a perfect mother; and He didn’t live in a perfect environment. And yet, He was perfect. And bids us quit our excuses and follow Him. According to the Talmud, Mary was a hairdresser [Shabbath 104b], whose husband left her with the children because he thought she’d had an affair with a Roman soldier. True or not, she was all the same an ordinary woman, living a poor life in a tough time in a backward land. And the holy, harmless, undefiled Son of God and Son of Man… was, let’s say, the son of a divorcee hairdresser from a dirt poor, peripheral village, got a job working construction when He was still a teenager. There’s a wonder in all this. And an endless challenge. For none of us can now blame our lack of spiritual endeavour upon a tough background, family dysfunction, hard times, bad environment. We can rise above it, because in Him we are a new creation, the old has passed away, and in Him, all things have become new (2 Cor. 5:17). Precisely because He blazed the trail, blazed it out of all the limitations which normal human life appears to impress upon us, undeflected and undefeated by whatever distractions both His and our humanity placed in His path. And He’s given us the power to follow Him.
He wasn’t a God who came down to us and became human; rather is He the ordinary, very human guy who rose up to become the Man with the face of God, ascended the huge distance to Heaven, and received the very nature of God. It’s actually the very opposite to what human theology has supposed, fearful as they were of what the pattern of this Man meant for them. The pre-existent view of Jesus makes Him some kind of Divine comet which came to earth, very briefly, and then sped off again, to return at the second coming. Instead we see a man from amongst men, arising to Divine status, and opening a way for us His brethren to share His victory; and coming back to establish His eternal Kingdom with us on this earth, His earth, where He came from and had His human roots. Take a passage must beloved of Trinitarians, Phil. 2. We read that Jesus was found (heuretheis) in fashion (schemati) as a man, and He humiliated Himself (tapeinoseos), and thereby was exalted. But in the next chapter, Paul speaks of himself in that very language. He speaks of how he, too, would be “found” (heuretho) con-formed to the example of Jesus in His death, and would have his body of humiliation (tapeinoseos) changed into one like that of Jesus, “the body of his glory”. We aren’t asked to follow the pattern or schema of a supposed incarnation of a God as man. We’re asked to follow in the path of the Lord Jesus, the Son of man, in His path to glory. Repeatedly, we are promised that His glory is what we will ultimately share, at the end of our path of humiliation and sharing in His cross (Rom. 8:17; 2 Cor. 3:18; Jn. 17:22,24). The more we think about it, the idea of Jesus as a Divine comet sent to earth chimes in with some of the most popular movies. Think of Superman and Star Trek- the hero descends to earth in order to save us. Or take the "Lone Ranger" type Westerns, set in some wicked, sinful, hopeless town in the [mythical] American West... and in rides the outsider, the heroic cowboy, and redeems the situation. The huge success of these kinds of story lines suggests that we like to think we are powerless to change, that our situation is hopeless and beyond human salvation... an outsider is needed to save us, as we look on as spectators, feeling mere pawns in a cosmic drama. And this may explain the attraction of trinitarianism and a Divine comet-like Christ who hit earth for 33 years. It breeds painless spectator religion... go to church, hear the Preacher, watch the show, come home and spend another rainy Sunday afternoon wondering quite what to do with your life. Yet the idea of a human Saviour, one of us rising up above our own humanity to save us... this demands so much more of us, for it implies that we're not mere spectators at the show, but rather can really get involved ourselves. In The Real Devil I often found myself making similar points in relation to the misunderstanding of Satan as a superhuman being involved in a cosmic battle with God, which we watch from afar here on earth.... whereas the Biblical 'satan' refers to the 'adversary' of our own natures, internal codes and dysfunctions, which we ourselves must struggle to master, following the example of the Lord Jesus. His victories become ours; until His very death becomes our personal pattern too.
The relationship of the Lord Jesus with His Father was evidently intended by Him to be a very real, achievable pattern for all those in Him. He wasn't an aberration, an uncopyable, inimitable freak. John's Gospel brings this out very clearly. The Father knows the Son, the Son knows the Father, the Son knows men, men know the Son, and so men know both the Father and Son (Jn.10:14,15; 14:7,8). The Son is in the Father as the Father is in the Son; men are in the Son and the Son is in men; and so men are in the Father and Son (Jn. 14:10,11; 17:21,23,26). As the Son did the Father's works and was thereby "one" with Him, so it is for the believers who do the Father's works (Jn. 10:30,37,38; 14:8-15). Whilst there obviously was a unique bonding between Father and Son on account of the virgin birth, the Lord Jesus certainly chooses to speak as if His Spirit enables the relationship between Him and His Father to be reproduced in our experience.
The Challenge Of Christ’s Humanity
The undoubted need for doctrinal truth about the nature of Jesus can so easily lead us to overlooking the need for obedience to His most practical teaching. As Adolf Harnack put it: “True faith in Jesus is not a matter of credal orthodoxy but of doing as he did (4). In this sense we need “to rescue Jesus from Christianity (5). We need to reconstruct in our own minds the person of Jesus and practical teaching of Jesus which so perfectly reflected His own life, free from the theology and creeds which have so often surrounded Him. As a result of this, our preaching of Christ so often ends up stressing those elements which the unbeliever or misbeliever finds most difficult to accept, rather than focusing on the Lord’s humanity and His practical teachings, which they are more likely to accept because as humans they have a natural affinity with them. The Lord Jesus was not merely human, as a theologically correct statement. He passionately entered into human life to its’ fullest extent. Thus B.B. Warfield comments: “[Jesus] knew not mere joy but exultation, not mere passing pity but the deepest movements of compassion and love, not mere surface distress but an exceeding sorrow even unto death" (6).
There is an incredible challenge in the fact that the Lord Jesus had human nature and yet never sinned. He rose above sin in all its forms, and yet was absolutely human. It seems to me that many Christians feel that their calling is to rise above both sin, and also their own human nature. And this results in their belief that spirituality is in fact a denial of their humanity. In extreme forms, we have the white faced nun who has been led to believe that being spiritual equals being white faced, passionless, and somehow superhuman. In a more common expression of the same problem, there are many elders who believe it to be fatal to show any emotional conviction about anything, no chinks in their armour, no admission of their own human limitations or understanding. For this reason I see a similarity between the ‘lives of the saints’ as recorded in Catholic and Orthodox writings (replete with white faces and large holy eyes, hands ever folded in prayer, never making a slip)- and the glossy biographies of Evangelical leaders which jump out at you from the shelves of Protestant bookstores. They too, apparently, never set a foot wrong, but progressed from unlikely glory to unlikely glory. All this arises from an over-emphasis upon the Divine rather than the human side of the Lord Jesus. The character of the Lord Jesus shows us what it’s like to be both human and sinless. It has been truly commented that “if we believe in the fact of his humanity, we must affirm our own”. And the same author perceptively points out that “Just as we have sought a mythical model of Jesus Christ whose humanity is a sham, so we have sought a mythical model of the Christian life” ( 7). Because we seek to rise above being human, we are aiming for something that doesn’t exist. The Lord Jesus wasn’t and isn’t ‘superhuman’; He was and is the image of God stamped upon humanity, and in this sense the New Testament still calls Him a “man” even now. We need not take false guilt about being human. We should be happy with who we are, made in the image of God. Yes we are human, with all that this involves, negatively and positively. I interpret the image of the baby Jesus maybe rather differently from how the Christmas cards do. For a baby and young child to survive, there is an element of desperate selfishness from the first struggling breath. The Lord would've been no different, and obviously shared this basic instinct to preserve self, right up to His death on the cross. And yet somehow He would've stood apart from other people, even as a young person, as He never allowed what Richard Dawkins has termed "the selfish gene" to predominate in Him (8). It was this difference in Jesus, throughout His life, which was and is so crucial. For it is exactly this aspect of Him which is our moment-by-moment challenge, inspiration and saving comfort.
The Preference Of Jesus To Be Seen As Human
When the Lord spoke of how "the son of man has nowhere to lay his head" (Mt. 8:20), He was apparently alluding to a common proverb about how humanity generally ["son of man" as generalized humanity] is homeless in the cosmos (9). In this case, we see how the Lord took every opportunity to attest to the fact that what was true of humanity in general was true of Him. Perhaps this explains His fondness for describing Himself as "son of man", a term which can mean both humanity in general, and also specifically the Messiah predicted in Daniel. He understood Himself as rightful judge of humanity exactly because He was "son of man" (Jn. 5:27)- because every time we sin, He as a man would've chosen differently, He is therefore able to be our judge. And likewise, exactly because He was a "son of man", "the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" (Mk. 2:10). If it is indeed true that "'Son of Man' represents the highest conceivable declaration of exaltation in Judaism" (10), then we can understand the play on words the Lord was making- for the term 'son of man' can also without doubt just mean 'humanity generally'. Exactly because He was human, and yet perfect, He was so exalted. It's perhaps noteworthy that in the wilderness temptation, Jesus was tempted "If you are the Son of God..." (Mt. 4:3), and He replies by quoting Dt. 8:3 "man shall not live by bread alone"- and the Jonathan Targum has bar nasha [son of man] here for "man". If we are correct in understanding those wilderness temptations as the Lord's internal struggles, we see Him tempted to wrongly focus upon His being Son of God, forgetting His humanity; and we see Him overcoming this temptation, preferring instead to perceive Himself as Son of man. Twice in Mark, Jesus is addressed as "Messiah" but He replies by calling Himself "the Son of man" (Mk. 8:29-31; 14:61,62). If this was His preferred self-perception, should it not be how we perceive Him?
In this context, note how the Lord Jesus is “the last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45). Even in His resurrected, immortalized glory He is still as it were an “Adam”, the Son of Man. As such He shows us to what humanity can attain; His path to that glory is to be ours. For that “last Adam became a life-giving spirit”, in the sense that the spirit or mind of Christ really can be ours. This possibility ‘works’ and hinges around the fact that He was human, one of us. This is ‘humanism’ as it should be; these possibilities opened up to us by the personal path of Jesus personally. Psalm 8 comments in profound poetry upon this ‘rise’ of the “son of man”, both the Lord Jesus personally and every man in Him. The Psalm outlines how we progress, from being in one sense a tiny being on earth, so small that human life is at first blush reduced to practical insignificance by the immensity of the stage we stand upon, to being “crowned with glory and honour”, made greater than the Angels who created the earth (Ps. 8:5). The smallness of man is emphasized in Ps. 8:4- two Hebrew words are used, enosh (related to a word meaning ‘weak’), and adam, ‘soil’. Yet enosh and adam are to be crowned, perhaps respectively, with “glory and honour”. Yet this “son of man” of Psalm 8, terms which are understood by David there as applying to all men, with ‘Adam’ as everyman, are specifically applied to the Lord Jesus who although human rose up to become Lord of all creation (Heb. 2:6-9; 1 Cor. 15:27,28; Eph. 1:22). We poor weak ones really can realistically follow His path to glory. The end point of our spiritual development is to become like the body of Christ (Eph. 4:11-16). The usage of Psalm 8 eloquently presents Jesus as human, a “son of man” as much as any of us are; indeed, it has been commented that Christ’s preference for this title would have been seen as striking: “It is an extremely odd expression in Greek... in itself a commonplace idiom, like the modern English ‘guy’, it is as odd in the gospels as if some famous teacher or guru of today constantly referred to himself as ‘the Guy’” (11). And yet for those who become “in Him”, identifying with Him in baptism and a life lived in Him, encouraged in this by His very humanity- His path to glory, from so low to so high, becomes ours. A study of the Lord Jesus Christ therefore reveals the possibilities of being human. But we would rather insert a gap between Him and us, calling Him ‘God’, or weaving intricate theories of how our nature precludes us from being like Him, implying His nature was different; or focusing our thinking and theology on Him as Saviour to the exclusion of seeing Him as our real example who beckons us forward through every temptation and every choice of commitment to God which we daily face. This, without doubt, is how the Lord Jesus is presented to us in passages like Heb. 2:14-18 and 4;15,16. Our sinfulness, our humanity and mortality, no longer is to be seen as locking us down within the limits of our ordinary experience. He has shown us, if we perceive Him for who He really was and is, that we as humans have a potential far beyond what we may think. In this very context of describing Christ’s exaltation from so low to so high, we are bidden have the same mind which was in Christ (Phil. 2:3-5).
Him and Us
Heb. 2:6-9 is an example of the inspired writer using expected reader response and expectations in order to make a point. Having spoken of how the world to come will be given to redeemed human beings and not to Angels, the writer goes on to quote from the Psalms to prove that point: "Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, "What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet." Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death". We begin reading the quotation assuming it's talking about humanity generally; but as it goes on, we realize it's talking about the pre-eminent Son of Man, i.e. the Lord Jesus. Notice how He is called "Jesus", with no 'Lord' or 'Christ' added on. The point of it all is to make us perceive how totally identified is Jesus with humanity as a whole; a passage which speaks in its context of humanity generally is allowed to quite naturally flow on in meaning to apply to the Lord Jesus personally. It's a majestic, powerful way of making the point- that the Lord Jesus was truly one of us.
Throughout the Gospels, it’s apparent that both explicitly and implicitly, the Lord was almost desperate to persuade His followers to see Him as their brother, one to whom they could realistically aspire- and not a superhuman icon to be trusted in to get them out of temporal problems. We've noted His preference for the title ‘Son of man’ rather than any more direct reference to His Divine Sonship- although this term is also associated Him with the glorious Son of man of Daniel’s visions. The Lord’s struggle was prefigured in the way Joseph-Jesus had to urge his brothers “Come near to me, I pray you”, and begged them to believe in His grace and acceptance of them (Gen. 45:4; 50:18-21). This is in essence the plea of Jesus to Trinitarians today.
Take the incident of the withered fig tree in Mark 11:20-24 as an example of what I mean. The disciples were amazed at the faith of Jesus in God’s power. He had commanded the fig tree to be withered- but this had required Him to pray to God to make this happen. As the disciples looked at the withered fig tree and then at Him, wide eyed with amazement at His faith, the Lord immediately urged them to “have faith in God... whosoever [and this was surely His emphasis] shall [ask a mountain to move in faith, it will happen]... therefore I say unto you, Whatsoever things you desire [just as Jesus had desired the withering of the fig tree], when you pray [as Jesus had done about the fig tree], believe that you receive them, and you shall have them”. I suggest His emphasis was upon the word you. He so desired them to see His pattern of faith in prayer as a realistic image for them to copy. How sad He must be at the way He has been turned into an other-worldly figure, some wonderful, kindly God who saves us from the weakness and lack of faith which we are so full of. Yes, He is our Saviour, and our hearts surely have a burning and undying sense of gratitude to Him. But He isn’t only that; He is an inspiration. It is in this sense that the spirit of Christ can and does so radically transform human life in practice. Of course, we have sinned, and we continue to do so. For whatever reason, we are not Jesus. But our painful awareness of this [and it ought to be painful, not merely a theoretical acceptance that we are sinners]... shouldn’t lead us to think that His example isn’t a realistic pattern for us. It makes a good exercise to re-read the Gospels looking out for other cases of where the Lord urged the disciples to not look at Him as somehow separate for themselves, an automatic Saviour from sin and problems. Thus when it was apparent that the huge, hungry crowd needed feeding, the Lord asked the disciples where “we” could get food from to feed them (Jn. 6:5). In all the accounts of the miraculous feedings, we see the disciples assuming that Jesus would solve the situation- and they appear even irritated and offended when He implies that this is our joint problem, and they must tackle this seemingly impossible task with their faith. The mentality of the disciples at that time is that of so many Trinitarians- who assume that ‘Jesus is the answer’ in such a form that they are exempt from seeing His humanity as a challenge for them to live likewise.
Repeatedly, the Lord Jesus carefully worded His teaching in order to use the same words about Himself as about His disciples. He was the lamb of God; and He sent them forth as lambs amongst wolves; He was “the light of the world”, and He stated that they too must be likewise. As He was the source of living water to us, so we are to be to others (Jn. 4:10,14). I have tabulated many examples of this kind of thing in A World Waiting To Be Won chapter 3. John grasped this, by using even some of the language of the virgin birth about the birth of all God’s children. It’s as if even the Lord’s Divine begettal shouldn’t be seen as too huge a barrier between us and Himself. Many of the Lord’s parables had some oblique reference to Himself. The parable of the sower speaks of the type of ground which gave one hundred fold yield- and surely the Lord was thinking of Himself in this. And yet the whole point of the parable is that all who receive the Lord’s word have the possibility of responding in this way. Or take the related parable of the mustard seed [=God’s word of the Gospel] which grows up into a huge tree under which all the birds can find refuge (Mk. 4:31,32). This image is replete with allusion to Old Testament pictures of God’s future Kingdom, and the growth of Messiah from a small twig into a great tree (Ez. 17:22). Here we see the power of the basic Gospel message- truly responded to, it can enable us to have a share in the very heights to which the Lord Jesus will yet be exalted at His return.
I suppose most challenging of all is the Lord’s invitation to us to take up our cross and follow after Him, in His ‘last walk’ to the place of crucifixion. This image would’ve been chilling to those who first heard it, who were familiar with a criminal’s walk to his death. Quite rightly, we associate the cross of Jesus with our salvation. But it is also a demand to us to be like Him, not only in showing the courtesy, politeness, thoughtfulness etc. which is part of a truly Christ-like / Christian culture, but in the utterly radical call to self-sacrifice unto death. It is in this matter of bearing the cross after Him that we would so dearly wish for the crucified Christ to be just an item in history, an act which saved us which is now over, an icon we hang around our neck or mount prominently on our study wall- and no more. But He, His cross, His ‘last walk’, His request that we pick up a cross and walk behind Him, the eerie continuous tenses used in New Testament references to the crucifixion- is so much more than that. If He washed our feet, we must wash each others’ (Jn. 13:14). Everything He did, all He showed Himself to be in character, disposition and attitude, becomes an imperative for us to do and be likewise. And it is on this basis that He can so positively represent us to the Father: “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (Jn. 17:16).
(1) F.D.E. Schliermacher, The Christian Faith (Edinburgh: T& T Clark, 1928) p. 414. Clement of Alexandria, one of the so-called "fathers" of the Christian church, "Argued that Jesus, being divine, did not need to eat or drink, but merely did so to keep up appearances" (as quoted in N.T. Wright, Who Was Jesus? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) p. 69). It's hard to square this with the Lord's cry from the cross: "I thirst!" and other Gospel references to His need to eat and drink. The founding fathers of 'Christianity' as a religion, it seems to me, utterly missed the point of the real Christ. Thomas Hart, To Know And Follow Jesus (New York: Paulist Press, 1984) p. 44 adds more nonsensical verbiage: "He has a human nature but is not a human person. The person in Him is the second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Jesus does not have a personal human centre". Any Biblical reflection upon the sensitivity, the love, the death, the kindness of the Lord Jesus... reveals He had the most wonderful "personal human centre". And that is obscured by this hopeless mess of words from Trinitarian apologists. The idea of having "two natures" seems to me quite unBiblical and would imply a lack of integrity to every word and action of Jesus. It would be like a man saying "I've got no money in my pocket" and showing an empty pocket- when he has 1000 Euros or $ in a money belt, and a fist full of well charged debit cards.
(4) A. Harnack, What Is Christianity? (5th ed., London: Benn, 1958), x.
(5) R.W. Funk, Honest To Jesus (San Francisco: Harper, 1996) p. 300.
(6) B.B. Warfield, ‘The Emotional Life Of Our Lord’ in The Person And Work Of Christ (Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1950) p. 142.
(7) Nigel Cameron, Complete In Christ (Exeter: Paternoster, 1997). He perceptively sees a link between the false notion of an ‘immortal soul’, and a wrong view of the nature of man and of Jesus: “There is the idea, as unbiblical as it is common, of the ‘soul’- understood as an animating spirit which inhabits the body but in fact itself constitutes the human person, the essential self. Then there is the related idea of the life to come as an ‘after-life’ in which the soul survives while the body departs. These are notions which derive from ancient Greece and have become parasitic on Christian thinking. They foster a lasting suspicion of man as a corporeal being, and undermine our confidence in the Christian life as a human life” (p. 110). I find these sentences very incisive and true in their analysis.
(8) Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford: O.U.P., 1993).
(9) Oscar Cullmann, The Christology Of The New Testament (London: SCM, 1971) p. 154.
(10) Cullmann, op cit p. 161.
(11) Edmund Hill, Being Human (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1984) p. 223. “Son of man” is a Hebrew phrase used often to describe people in their smallness and modesty compared to great men; it is rendered “men of low estate” in Job 25:6; Ps. 49:2; 62:9. Yet Dan. 7:13,27 and Mk. 14:62 purposefully juxtapose the images of the humble “son of man” with Messiah Himself coming in clouds of glory.
Duncan Heaster has written over 20 books, some of which contain material relevant to The Real Christ. And there is a host of other relevant material...