By Clinton D. Hamilton
Through the centuries, there has been continuing controversy about the nature of Christ. John and Paul had to deal with errors about it in the first century A.D. Men are fascinated about the incarnation and appear to have difficulty limiting themselves to revelation. Rather, some give themselves to philosophical speculations that treat matters beyond the pages of revelation. The question in this article deals with the nature of Christ. In response to it, I propose to limit myself to the revelation given in God’s scriptures.
Question: While on earth, did Jesus have a human spirit or a Divine spirit?
Response: The question is brief but it is clearly phrased. There can be given a brief and clear answer. However, it seems appropriate to supply the foundation or predicate for the response based on the scriptures before there is given this brief, simple answer.
The apostle John had to contend with false teachers who denied what the Lord said about his own nature and what the revelation of God says about it. In dealing with the state or condition of Christ before the incarnation, John made clear affirmations. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God” On. 1:1-2). This was Christ’s state and condition before time and matter existed. The Word was Deity. God is spirit On. 4:24) and accordingly one must conclude that Deity the Word was spirit. Accordingly, the Word is a Divine spirit. The preposition with indicates an association and communication. A similar use of the preposition is in Mark 6:3 when Christ was referred to as the carpenter’s son, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon, as well as his having sisters “here with us.” The idea was they were in association and communication with them. They were distinct individuals and so was the Word a person in the Godhead. Whatever the Word, Logos, was in the beginning that is precisely what the Word was in the flesh. The Deity, the Word, became incarnate, clothed in the flesh. What was in the flesh is not something different. John called one who denies this fact an antichrist (1 Jn. 4:1-3). He also said that that which was from the beginning, the Word of life, is that which was manifested in the flesh (1 Jn. 1:1-2). He did not divest himself of his Deity when he came in the flesh.
This same Word became flesh and dwelt among men. “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14). It should be observed that the same Word that was in the beginning is the one that came in the flesh; they are not two different persons. But the Word’s state or condition changed.
In the flesh, the Word revealed the Father: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (Jn.1:18). Prior to being on the earth, the Son knew the Father intimately as he did also in the flesh. Declared is a term that needs some consideration. It is translated from exegeomai which Vine states in this passage to mean “to unfold in teaching, to declare by making known.” Thayer gives essentially the same definition. The idea is that the essential nature and character of Deity are unfolded or brought to one’s intellectual understanding. The Son of God is the revelation of the Father.
When Paul said that the Philippians should have the mind of Christ, he explained what he meant and in doing so talked about the condition and state of Christ both before and after he became flesh. His statements appear particularly appropriate in our seeking the answer to the question before us. “Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:5-9). We need to analyze what is said but the overview is that Christ was willing to renounce himself for the good of others and thus should the Philippians be in relation to one another. But the force of the argument is intensified if one clearly understands what is said about Jesus. Succeeding paragraphs will make clear what the passage says about his condition and state prior to his coming to earth, as well as his condition or state after he came in the flesh.
Existing has to do with his being. The term is translated from huparcho. Vine observes that it “denotes to be, to be in existence, involving an existence or condition both previous to the circumstances mentioned and continuing after it.” Christ was a being in the essential character and usual condition or state of Deity. The incarnation did not change the reality of the Deity of Christ as was pointed out in connection with John’s gospel considered in preceding arguments. Christ emptied himself but not of his Deity. Emptied is from kenoo which means the giving up of something so that the person does not have it. This does not refer to his Deity but to the prerogatives, honors, and glory that were his from the beginning, prior to coming in the flesh. On one occasion Christ implored the Father, “And now, Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (Jn. 17:5). He had emptied himself of this in becoming incarnate.
Form is derived from morphe which has a consistent meaning in both instances of its occurrence in the passage under consideration. Morphe, Vine observes, denotes the characteristic feature of a person or thing. Vine quotes Gifford to the effect that nature or essence is under view and without this Christ would not exist. Consequently, he states that any “modes of manifestation, or conditions of glory and majesty” would not separate the person from his nature or essence. Form of God essentially means that Christ was Deity. The affirmation is the same as the one made by John.
In like manner, Christ took the form of a servant. The meanings of form is consistent: Christ was by nature or essence subservient. Servant is from doulos which means a slave and denotes one in relation to the master. In the remedial system, Christ became really and truly a slave and in this condition he was obedient even unto death. As a slave, Christ surrendered the prerogatives of the Father to whom he was subservient. His manifestation in the flesh did not, however, divest him of his Deity: Christ’s nature and essence were still Deity, but in this manifestation there was the releasing of the glory and majesty as his prerogatives before the incarnation.
Another term that deserves our attention is likeness which is from homoioma which means resemblance. Christ was truly man (Rom. 5:15; 1 Cor. 15:21; 1 Tim. 2:5). He was a complete man. The writer of Hebrews is especially clear on this point. After stating that Jesus was not ashamed to call the sanctified his brethren, he quoted Psalm 22:22, “I will declare thy name unto my brethren, In the midst of the congregation will I sing thy praise” (2:12). The writer further observed, “Since then the children are sharers in flesh and blood, he also himself in like manner partook of the same; that through death he might bring to naught him that had the power of death, that is, the Devil” (Heb. 2:14). Accordingly, “It behooved him in all things to be made like unto his brethren, that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17). Without question, Christ shared humanity with men for he was in all points like his brethren. This kinship made him especially prepared to be aware of man’s infirmities. “For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but one that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). One of necessity must conclude that he was in the likeness of men, sharing the essential nature and quality of men. Whatever it is that makes one a man, that is what Jesus shared.
Another term that needs to be noticed is fashion which comes from schema which means essentially that Jesus shared “the state and relations of a human being” (Vine). Whatever would cause one to recognize a being as man is that which Christ possessed.
If he were not essentially and really a man, Christ could not be tempted in all points like as we are. Nor, on the other hand, would he be an example for men (1 Pet. 2:21). As a man, he showed men how they should live. Thus he demonstrated what men ought to be in relation to God. If this were not theoretically possible for men, then the example would be for naught. The fact that men may not, and do not, so live is not attributable to its impossibility but to the weakness of men. One must remember at the same time that Jesus did not surrender his Deity in the flesh. He was still omniscient, omnipotent, and had the power of being omnipresent. He knew men and what was in their minds which clearly indicates his omniscience On. 2:24-25; Lk. 5:22; 6:8; 9:47). He was able to walk on water (Matt. 14:25-27); rebuked the raging wind to still it (Lk. 8:24); and raised Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter from the dead On. 11:43-44; Mk. 5:35-42; Lk. 8:49-56). Numerous other miracles could be cited with these that demonstrate his omnipotence. The ability of his Deity to be as if he were everywhere is indicated by the fact that he saw Nathanael sitting under the fig tree before Philip reached him On. 1:48). When he came in the flesh, he did not divest himself of his Deity, but only the prerogatives including glory and equality in heaven.
There is much about Deity in the flesh, and Christ’s being fully and completely a human being that one may not be able to fathom, let alone explain. However, this should not blind us to the revelation of the scriptures about this phenomenon. Nor should it cause us to enter into harmful and fanciful philosophical speculations that really add no light to Divine revelation.
The simple answer to the question posed is that Jesus had a human spirit and while in the flesh he was Deity, and thus was spirit (Jn. 4:24, God is spirit and Jesus was God, Jn. 1:1-2).
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 5, p. 5-7
March 3, 1994