By Earl E. Robertson
While the humanity of Jesus is not assailed and ruthlessly attacked as often as his divinity, it is nonetheless rejected by some and grossly misunderstood by others. The doctrine of the incarnate Son of God is indeed plainly taught in the word of God. Reasons demanding the humanity of Jesus are also given in the Bible. While the fact of his humanity must be emphasized so must also the objectives of incarnation be stressed. We must show that God had reason for Jesus to be “flesh and dwell among men” (John 1:14). We shall show that Christ accomplished all things, while in the flesh, that God sent him to do (John 17:4); being full of grace and truth he brought both to man (John 1:14,17).
So John (1 John 1:1) is declaring that Jesus really lived in the flesh while he was in this world manifesting God. We are aware that while John lived there were certain Jews who did not confess that Jesus Christ “is come in the flesh.” They were deceivers and anti-Christ (2 John 7). While these Docetic Gnostics contended for a phantom body for Jesus, John additionally writes: “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is the spirit of anti-Christ, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world” (1 John 4:2-3). To John, the incarnate Jesus was not an illusion! “Docetism” is a theological term derived from the Greek verb dokeo, meaning “to seem.” It was the doctrine that Christ did not actually become flesh, but merely seemed to be a man. These Jews taught that matter (the physical body) is evil. Therefore, to confess the goodness of Jesus would, to them, ,be a denial of his humanity. The apostle John attacks this false doctrine in his letters. Later, Ignatius and Irenaeus dealt extensively with this error. Tertullian wrote some five books against it.
Jesus Lived In A Body Of Flesh
John affirmed that the one “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled” is Jesus the Christ (1 John 1:1). Not only had John heard Christ but his eyes had seen him and his hands had touched him! This is physical-and this physical is the fleshly body of Christ. The Hebrew writer quotes David, saying, “Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me” (Heb. 10:5). Of this fleshly body he further affirms, “He taketh away the first (Law), that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:9b,10). It is called “the body of his flesh” and means simply the body consisted of flesh (Col. 1:22).
Shortly after his birth in Bethlehem he was made to escape from the murderous efforts of Herod the Great by a quick flight into Egypt (Matt. 2:13-15). After the death of Herod, Joseph and Mary along with Jesus returned to their own country (Matt. 2:22-23). It was here in Nazareth that Jesus was reared (Luke 4:16; John 1:45,46). The physical development, along with his moral and spiritual guidance, was here in this place (Luke 2:39-52). This writer says “. . . Jesus increased in stature. . . . This word “stature” has to do with maturity or development, and the lexicographers say “in height and comeliness of stature.” Jesus was successful in his physical growth whereas Zacchaeus was not (Luke 19:3). This metaphorical use of increase or progress is used in the dative case, identifying the thing in which Jesus grew. And the passage says it was in his physical or fleshly development. Just as surely as Zacchaeus was in the flesh but did not grow up, that is, he “was little of stature,” Jesus Christ was in the flesh and did “increase in stature.” To argue against the fleshly existence of Jesus also argues against the fleshly existence of Zacchaeus! Who can believe it?
The doctrine denying that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh not only makes its propagator a liar and anti-Christ, but also nullifies all revelation pertaining to the deeds dependent upon the life of Christ. The deeds of his life from the manger to the cross, and the ascension, are all myth if the teachings of the anti-Christ are true. The scriptures affirming Jesus to be “seed of woman” demand his humanity. Paul makes use of Gen. 3:15 in Gal. 4:4 to emphasize the prophetical impact of the truth that Jesus is of woman. He took not the nature of angels upon himself when he came into this world, but the seed of Abraham (man) (Heb. 2:14-18). Angels could not die (Luke 20:36), but Jesus had to die (Heb. 2:9; 9:28). The deeds of his life as affirmed in the word of God demand his fleshly life. Paul says, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory” (1 Tim. 3:16). This passage shows the sphere of his manifestation: “in flesh.” As above shown, John’s eyes had seen and his hands had handled this Jesus made flesh. “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Luke 24:39).
He Laid Down His Life
The inherent qualities manifesting “the power of an endless life” (Heb. 7:16), set forth the deity of Jesus; but, the humanity of Jesus is declared through the love of God, “because he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). He laid down his life “that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). Paul preached that Christ died and was buried (1 Cor. 15:3,4). He further affirmed, “we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more” (2 Cor. 5:16). This “seed of David according to the flash” is the one who died (Rom. 1:3). No one took his life, he laid it down “of himself” (John 10:17,18).
The purpose of his humanity was that he might adequately represent man to God. Man’s sins demanded death. God’s demand for death for sin would have accomplished nothing by a sinner dying. Man’s salvation then and now depends on the “offering of the body of Jesus Christ” (Heb. 10:10). Only he “who did no sin” could “bare our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:22,24). However, his death in flesh alone could not have accomplished for man what has been done. That dead body had to be raised! Paul says that Jesus “was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). He who said “I lay it down of myself,” also tells us “I have power to take it again” (John 10:18). After his passion he was both seen and heard (Acts 1:3). When Thomas felt the resurrected flesh of Jesus, he exclaimed: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Yes, his flesh was made alive (1 Pet. 3:18). The objective of his humanity embraces the fact of his being “a merciful and faithful high priest” for the Christian, and to be “able to succour” the tempted (Heb. 2:17,18). He “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). By having become just as much human as any human being, he could know the trials and burdens that all men have, and do something about them. As a mediator (1 Tim. 2:5), he represents us before God. One can rest with confidence that he will be correctly and sufficiently represented by Jesus before the Almighty.
His birth was physical, he was born of woman; his trials and temptations were real because he was human; he suffered in death because he was flesh; his burial was in a literal tomb because his body was physical; his resurrection was bodily one because it was flesh and would, therefore, offer undeniable evidence of his deity and sufficiency for all the needs of the human family.
R.A. Torrey said, “While the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is the corner-stone of Christian doctrine, it is also the Gibraltar of Christian evidence, and the Waterloo of infidelity and rationalism.” And I add a hearty amen!
Truth Magazine, XX:21, p. 2-3
May 20, 1976