Jesus, God in the Flesh
A careful study of Jesus as found in the Gospels reveals many salient facts. One fact is that Jesus’ teaching and presence often was the source of division (cp. John 9: 16). The very nature of Jesus was on more than one occasion the source of controversy. There was so much confusion as to Jesus’ identity that Jesus asked his own disciples: "…Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?" (Matt. 16: 13, see addendum 1). Notice the various views pertaining to whom Jesus was, as expressed by the disciples: "John the Baptist," "Elias," "Jeremias," or "one of the prophets" (v. 14). While the full truth of Jesus’ nature was not always known, Jesus was not, for sure, viewed by his contemporaries as, "Just an ordinary man, like you and me" (Mark 4: 41; John 7: 46, see addendum 2). It is important that we notice Peter’s reply to Jesus’ question and also how Jesus responds to Peter:
"16: And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. 17: And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 16) Peter said that Jesus is "the Son of God" (ho huios theou) and Jesus accepted, commended, and verified Peter's statement. Furthermore, it is upon Peter's confession and the truth it contained, Jesus being the Son of God, the foundational rock, that Jesus then promised to build his church (Matt. 16: 18, 19). The church, then, rests on the Sonship of Jesus. Involved necessarily in Peter’s reply is the fact that Jesus partook of the nature of his Father. It is evident that the Jews so understood "Son of God." Hence, they charged Jesus with blasphemy, "…because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God" (John 10: 36). On an anterior occasion we read, "18: Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God" (John 5, see addendum 3).
Jesus, His pre-incarnate, incarnate, and post incarnate states, respectively. Before the Word (Logos) became flesh, He was God or deity (John 1: 1, 2). In this state, the Word was in every sense God (see addendum 4, Phili. 2: 6ff.). The incarnation period refers to the time the "Word was made flesh" (John 1: 14). During Jesus’ time on earth, He was fully God (Col. 2: 9) and fully man (Heb. 2). Presently considered, Jesus is at the "right hand" of the Father, possessing all the vestiges, attributes, and essential nature of deity (Acts 2: 23-36, see addendum 5). "Jesus," "Savior," "Son of man," and even, "Son of God" are terms especially applicable to Jesus’ incarnation and to the special relationship He sustains with both the Father and with men (see addendum 6 regarding "Son of God"). The verb tense Jesus used in his statement, "Before Abraham was, I am" covers Jesus’ entire span, taking it throughout eternity! (The Greek verb eimi in such a syntax expresses "timeless existence," Word Pictures in the New Testament, by Robertson, Vol. 5, p. 159, cp. John 6: 20, 8: 24, 28, 18: 6, Ex. 3: 14). Notwithstanding, it is during Jesus’ incarnation that today we encounter no small amount of divergent teaching as to Jesus’ deity (see addendum 7).
The static fact that must be in the forefront of any study pertaining to Jesus’ nature while in the flesh is He was God in the flesh. As God in the flesh, Jesus while on earth "forgave sins" (Luke 7: 48). Jesus forgiving the woman prompted the following response form the Jews: "49: And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also?" (v. 49, again, Jesus was not merely a man). On another occasion when Jesus forgave sin, we read:
"5: When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee. 6: But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, 7: Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only? (Mark 2.)
In addition, if Jesus did not exist in the "form of God" while He lived on earth, how could He claim to be "one" with the Father (John 10:30)? Why did the Lord allow Thomas to call him "God" (John 20:30)? Also, why did Jesus accept worship (Matthew 8:2). It is absolutely taught that only God is worthy of worship (Matthew 4:10).
Notwithstanding the immediately foregoing irrefutable biblical facts, some unnecessarily and erroneously draw conclusions from the reference to Jesus performing miracles by the Holy Spirit (cp. Matt. 12: 28). Consider the rational and dialectics of the following quote:
"The fact that Jesus while on earth was an ordinary man is seen in his having to depend on the Holy Spirit to enable him to perform miracles (Matt. 12: 28). Jesus said that of his own power and virtue, "…the Son can do nothing of himself" (John 5: 19, 30). Therefore, in the matter of Jesus possessing anything out of the ordinary, he depended on the Holy Spirit and the Father. He was just an ordinary man, no different, no better than any man before him or after him."
The argument that since the Holy Spirit worked miracles through Christ, Jesus was, therefore, inapt and just a man is seriously flawed. In the original creation, the Bible affirms that Jesus, the Logos, performed the actual creation of all things created (John 1: 1-3, Col. 1: 16). Does such a fact reduce or deprecate the Father and the Spirit in terms of deity? Each had their own peculiar creation role, whether it was providing, the Father, or organizing creation, the Spirit (see Gen. 1, 2). Besides, too much can be made out of cause and effect when exclusively viewed in terms of the Godhead. For instance, we are told that the Father raised Jesus from the dead (Acts 2: 24, 30-32). We are also told that the Spirit raised up Jesus (Rom. 5: 11). Moreover, we are even informed that Jesus raised himself from the dead (John 2: 19). The truth? The Godhead, the totality, was operative in effecting the resurrection. On a simple level, any assigned exclusivity involving Jesus in terms of the Father and the Spirit is in respect to the "Son role" accepted by Jesus. In the Son/Father relationship, an incarnation concept, the Son is understood as "inferior" and "dependent." Notwithstanding, other Bible teaching, some of which we have cited, presents Jesus even in the Son role as God or deity in the flesh, totally representative and of the same "nature" in respect to deity as the Father (Heb. 1: 3, cp. John 14: 8-11).
In addition to Philippians 2: 6, 7, 2 Corinthians 8: 9 is used in an effort to prove "Jesus left his deity in heaven and assumed manhood." One wrote, "Jesus had no innate divine attribute, but exchanged his divine nature for human nature." He continued, "Jesus literally ‘emptied himself of deity’ and became ‘poor’ or gave up his deity to become merely and only a man to serve as man’s ultimate example (Phili. 2: 7, 2 Cor. 8: 9)." Consider the verse:
"9: For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich."
"Rich," is explained as being "God." In the converse, "poor" is "gave up deity." I recall years ago having an exchange with one preacher who so explained 2 Corinthians 8: 9. I attempted to make it as dialectically simple as I could; so, I presented the following for his consideration: "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich ("had deity"), yet for your sakes he became poor ("gave up deity"), that ye through his poverty ("lack of deity") might be rich ("be made deity," my emphasis, dm)." The words, "Rich" and "poor" or "poverty" are antithetically used. Hence, if the first "rich" means deity, then the second "rich" also means deity. Therefore, the explanation requires that Paul is teaching that because Jesus gave up deity, man will have deity! The requisite dialectic consequence of this position was more than the preacher wanted to accept. May I rather suggest that what Jesus gave up was not deity, but all the exalted attendant glory in heaven. Man, if faithful, is enabled by Jesus’ sacrifice to one day enjoy the glory of heaven, apart from himself possessing deity (Rev. 21; 22).
Again, the quotations from those teaching Jesus in the flesh was not God are ignoring the solid biblical facts that we have presented. Such as Jesus is "the Son of God," "He accepted worship," and he "forgave sin." I submit that there were things while in the flesh that Jesus as God in the flesh could have done, but for whatever reasons, He did not elect to do. Such does not strip Jesus of His deity or change who he was, the most extraordinary man to have ever lived, Himself God-man. There is such a thing, I submit, as accepted acquiescence or subordination. It was in this state of imposed subjugation that Jesus obsequiously said: "My Father is greater than I" (John 14: 28). One thus wrote of the alleged contradiction:
"The thing that seems to be at the root of this misunderstanding is a failure to recognize that the Lord's earthly limitations were not the consequence of a less-than-God nature; rather, they were the result of a self-imposed submission reflecting the exercise of his sovereign will. Of what did Christ ‘empty’ himself (reference is to ‘no reputation,’ literally from the Greek, ‘emptied himself,’ Phili. 2: 7, dm) when he became flesh?
Let it be known that "God cannot be tempted" (Jas. 1: 13). So, what is the conclusion? Jesus was in fact tempted; yet, without sin (Heb. 4: 15). How can this be? The God part of Jesus, the Spirit, the real entity within the corporal body, if you will allow me to make such a separation, could not sin, but God is in the flesh. Such a condition is manifestly and obviously different than God apart from the flesh. Could Jesus have sinned? In theory, "yes." However, God within Jesus or, put more precisely, Jesus’ divine nature, controlled the flesh (when Jesus is referenced, both the entity and the body that housed God are usually meant). Here comes the pivotal question: Did Jesus have any advantage in the matter of temptation over all other men? Yes, one simple advantage in addition to God being in the flesh is that Jesus knew things no mere man ever knew (see addendum 8). Jesus had been in heaven, experiencing all the grandeur as the Logos, God without the body (2 Cor. 8: 9).
In order to help simplify the above difficulty, consider the following models. Remember the facts we have established, Jesus was fully God in the flesh (Col. 2: 9)
Model one: Our first model says that since Jesus is observed as having certain limitations and is said to be man, he must have just been an ordinary man, having peculiarly human limitations.
Model two: Our model two says that since the scriptures present Jesus as extraordinary, accepting worship, for instance and forgiving sin, his limitations must have been self-imposed and should in no wise be viewed as denying His extraordinary features and abilities, His deity.
Hence, Jesus while he had accepted limitations in His Father and Son relationship and was under obedience and imposed on himself acquiescence to the Father, still was God in the flesh. He was ordinary in that he had a normal physical body, but extraordinary in that he was "the only begotten of the Father" (see addendum 9). Model one is replete with irreconcilable problems and contradictions. Model two is tenable and consistent with all that is set forth in scripture. Any belief that Jesus was not both fully man and fully God is patently false and against what the scriptures affirm of Jesus (see addendum 10).
The Jesus had two spirits, one human (limitations), one divine (Son of God) position. The problem with this concept of two different spirits in one body is that it is not taught in scripture. It was and is further explained by the proponents of the two spirits doctrine that each spirit contained its own separate and peculiar consciousness and communicated back and forth. Again, such a state or action is not observed in the Gospels. The scriptures present Jesus as only having one spirit (Heb. 5: 7-9). When Jesus died, he "yielded up the ghost" (Matt. 27: 50. God left the physical body). Various actions are ascribed simply to "his spirit" (cp. John 11: 33). The Word indwelt a human body; not the Word and Jesus’ human spirit, some sort of duel spirit being. We are told that Jesus indwelt a body prepared for him and suffered death (Heb. 2).
Some have tried to avoid
the immediately above difficulties by explaining that Jesus had two separate
natures. What they call the "higher nature" they explain to be God
and by "lower nature," they, at least some of them, say the sinful flesh is
meant. This they expostulate is how Jesus was tempted (Matt. 4: 1-11). This view
is also replete with many problems. Perhaps a better way to conceptualize this
whole matter is to say that Jesus (one spirit, God himself) indwelt a human
body, but there was the presence of two wills. Such a view provides some
explanation , albeit esoterically, as to how the presence of the human body
could affect and relate to the within Divine Spirit. One "will" would be God’s
will and the other "will" would have been any needs and influences offered by
the flesh. Such would seem to explain conflicts, if you will, between the more
sublimated "will" and the "natural" desires, the "will" associated with God
always having triumph over any "will" associated with the physical. In this
circumstance, Jesus was really tempted and in theory, could have committed sin,
but did not (cp. Matt. 4: 1-11, Heb. 4: 15ff.). I offer this just mentioned
explanation as a plausible possibility. Remember, we must acknowledge the facts:
Jesus was no ordinary man, but God in the flesh! No man, including your author,
totally grasps in full the entire nature of Jesus in the incarnation situation
or, for that matter, any state. However, to deny Jesus’ bodily existence or His
deity while in the flesh is blasphemy.
Addendum 1: The descriptive expression, Son of man" (uios tou anthropou, Matt. 16: 13) suggests Jesus' manhood and relation to man. Jesus was man in the full sense of the word and concept and He maintained a unique relationship with man (Heb. 2; 4). As intimated in this material, I believe many do not appreciate the presence and influence of the flesh. Can a living entity sin outside of the flesh? Yes (2 Pet. 2: 4). Sins such as envy, hate, arrogance, etc., do not necessarily require the presence of the body. However, lusts of the flesh do (I John 2: 15, 16). There are even desires emanating from the flesh that are not within themselves sinful, such as hunger, the desire to mate, etc. However, they in certain circumstances can become sin (Matt. 4: 1-4, 5: 28). God in the flesh experienced the whole gamut of human experience, yet without sin! God had never experienced the fear of dying, being alone, and acquiescence. Albeit, God in the body of Jesus did (Matt. 26, 27). God without the corporal body had never been spat upon, beaten, and horribly humiliated, but God in the body was (Ibid.).
Addendum 2: In some local churches of Christ, especially during the seventies and eighties, there began to be heard the expression, "Jesus was an ordinary guy, just like you and me." It was during this time period that some began to teach the Calvinistic position that flesh in and of itself is intrinsically and inherently evil. The off shoot of this doctrine was, "Man must sin." Others challenged this teaching, but went too far in their antithetical position. A pivotal and focal point of the controversy within churches of Christ became the temptation of Jesus (Matt. 4: 1-11). The probing question was, "Could Jesus have sinned?" Some answered, "no," while others answered, "yes." Such different answers further fueled the controversy. The "no" reply was construed to mean that Jesus was not really a man and the "yes" answer was interrupted to mean that Jesus was just an ordinary man. The "yes" answer evolved with some to mean that Jesus was in the flesh merely, only, and exclusively man. Some, to the converse, who were practicing sin said, "Yes, he was our sinless example, but He could not sin because He was God." Others countered with the opposite extreme, "He is our example; hence, we, too, must be sinless." The latter to build their case explained that Jesus was just an ordinary guy and if he could overcome sin, so can we, simplistically stated.
Addendum 3: Beginning as early as the First Century, there were serious departures from the Jesus of the New Testament, His nature and attributes. The Gnostics said that Jesus and Christ were two separate entities, arguing that God (Christ) cannot indwell matter (Jesus, they explained), which they said is inherently sinful (see I John 4: 3). The influential Arius (256-336 AD) contended that Jesus was inferior to God the Father, being of a different "substance" and created. Origen about the same time period presented the view that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit comprised a gradation model, the Father at the top and the Son and the Spirit decreasing in "deity" compared to the Father and one another. Then there was the teaching known as Sabellianism that esoterically taught that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were "aspects" of the one God.
Addendum 4: "God," Greek theos, is a term simply meaning, as we are observing it, deity. There is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (Rom. 1: 7; Heb. 1: 9; Acts 5: 3, 4).
Addendum 5: Jesus shall retain the position of His subordinate role until the Judgment, after which "God may be all in all" (I Cor. 15: 24-28).
Addendum 6: "Sonship" in the sense of the same nature, in the case of Jesus and the Father meaning deity, Jesus has always been the "Son of God" (John 1: 1-14). Again, this is how the Jews who often heard Jesus understood "Son of God" as applied to Jesus. It is my understanding that "Son of God" as applied to the relationship between Jesus and His Father does have some special "incarnation references and associations." First, Jesus is so declared, as we have seen, pertaining to his physical birth (Luke 1: 35), his baptism (Mark 1: 11), and resurrection (Rom. 1: 1-4). Such references do not mean, I am convinced, that the angel, the Father, and Paul meant to say that Jesus' Sonship in the sense of John 5 and chapter10 began at the referenced event. If understood in this sense, these statements would be incongruous and incapable of harmony. Such events merely demonstrated the fact of his already existent Sonship/deity and introduce the special Father and Son relationship (John 3: 16).
Addendum 7: The philosopher and teacher Arius (his followers) stated in a letter to Eusebius: "Before he was begotten, or created, or defined, or established, he did not exist. For he was not unbegotten. But we are persecuted because we have said the Son has a beginning but God has no beginning. We are persecuted because of that and for saying he came from non-being. But we said this since he is not a portion of God nor of anything in existence."
Addendum 8: When we consider all the facts in their collective totality, there is great stress attached to Jesus overcoming temptation. We see some of how he accomplished such resistance to sin in Matthew 4: 1-11. Yet, Jesus did have advantages that we do not have, but, once again, such does not mean: "Jesus was God, therefore, we cannot have sinless perfection as our goal." Alas, many use such reasoning to justify social drinking, sinful dancing, etc. The command is, "sin not" (I John 2: 1). However, the reality is "all sin," regardless of how determinedly they strive not to sin (I John 1: 6-9, I John 2: 1).
Addendum 9: Jesus is the "only begotten Son" (I John 4: 9). "Single of its kind," comments Thayer, "…used of Christ, denotes the only Son of God or who in the sense in which he himself is the Son of God has no brethren…he is of nature or essentially Son of God, and so in a very different sense from that in which men are made by him children of God" (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, pgs. 417, 418). God’s people are adopted "sons of God," Jesus is the only Son of God by nature (cp. Rom. 8: 14-16). Jesus being of the same essential nature as the Father could reveal God as no other could (John 14: 8-11). The only begotten is the ultimate expression of God's love (John 3: 16, I John 4: 9). Moreover, we must believe in the only begotten Son of God (John 3: 18, 16).
Addendum 10: There has been a plethora of views that have attacked Jesus being God and Jesus possessing an actual and real physical body. Ebionism (ca. 110 A.D.) denied the deity of Jesus, teaching that he was merely a man with a great measure of the power from the Holy Spirit. Docetic Gnosticism said that matter is evil; hence, Christ could not have really indwelt flesh (A. D. 70-170). Apollinarianism (ca. A. D. 362-431) denied that Jesus was fully physical, believing that it was impossible to combine full divinity with full humanity, two wholes in one whole. Nestorianism (A. D. 428-431) taught that instead of the God-man seen in scripture, Jesus was a mere God-bearing man. Eutyches (Eutychianism, ca. A. D. 449ff.) said Jesus’ body was not a real body, it was of a different substance, a divine body.