As promised (so long ago…in a galaxy so far away…), here are my thoughts on the humanity of Jesus as it pertains to our Struggle of Faith.
Part 1. The necessity of Christ’s humanity: our representative as the Last Adam.
I closed my last post (Incarnation) by saying that Christ’s humanity was identical to our fallen humanity and that “…it must be this way if the creation (and fallen humanity) is to be reconciled.” This idea was met with disagreement from a friend who commented, “Jesus’ humanity HAD to be DIFFERENT from ours in order for His sacrifice to be accepted as payment for our sins. If He was identical to us (which, by the way, is not what I said or ever would say because Jesus was man and God), He would have also inherited Adam’s curse, been unable to resist sin, and been just as unqualified as Savior of the World as anyone else.” However, I believe this objection is unwarranted on at least two counts. First, the conclusion simply does not follow from the stated premise (a premise that I disagree with, by the way). No where does the Bible declare that Jesus’ humanity was any different from our humanity (in fact, it takes great pains to convince us otherwise) much less that it must be different for His sacrifice to be acceptable as payment for our sins. In addition to what I will be saying below, I think the necessity of Christ sharing our humanity is also clear when we consider the covenant obligations of man (represented by Israel) and God (which, Lord willing, we will discuss next time). Secondly, the conclusion that if Christ assumed our fallen humanity (thus, as my friend implies, inheriting Adam’s curse), then He would not have been able to resist sin is also unfounded. Why would this have to necessarily be the case? Now if He was absolutely identical to us, then my friend would have an arguable point; but I never said that. I only said that His humanity was identical to ours. The Second Person of the Trinity did not cease to be God when He assumed our humanity, therefore He was not absolutely “identical” to us (the concepts of anhypostasis and enhypostasis as useful means to understand the hypostatic union will be briefly discussed below). The fact is that it is God Himself bearing our fallen humanity who overcame the curse of sin as man for us and on our behalf. The point of importance here is that He did so as man within our corrupt humanity (not contrary to it) and not as God acting upon our humanity from outside of it.
As I wrote in my previous post, I think much of the difficulty we have with the idea that Jesus assumed our fallen humanity is that we reserve His atoning work on our behalf to the cross and we neglect the atoning value of His life (from the actual Incarnation itself as well as the life that he lived within our humanity). When we reduce Christ’s atoning work to the cross, we bring a false dichotomy to Christ by distinguishing between His “Person” and His “Work”. Doing this leads to all kinds of difficulties, as the controversies in the early church show us. I don’t think we take seriously the fact that as the “last Adam”, Christ’s very life was also His redemptive work on our behalf. In His very life (and death), Christ has, so-to-speak, undone the “work” of Adam; He has recovered in “Adam” (in humanity) what was lost in Adam (and thus, in humanity). As the “last Adam”, Christ came in our humanity, in our fallen Adamic nature, to recover humanity and to restore Adam’s race to fellowship with God.
(On a side note, I personally believe we must speak of Christ’s work not as “recovery” and “restoration”, per say, but as consummation because Adam himself wasn’t ultimate. As I’ve written elsewhere, Adam [and Eden] were typological and spoke of the fulfillment of humanity [and creation] in Christ. Christ didn’t come simply to restore us to the likeness of Adam, but to bring us into the fullness of God’s purpose for humanity. Christ came not only to bring to fulfillment the New Creation of the Kingdom of God, of which Eden only typified; He came to bring humanity to its own fulfillment, of which Adam [and Eve] was only a type. Man is not fully human apart from union with Christ [link]. The title of Philip E. Hughes’ seminal book succinctly captures this idea: “The True Image: The Origin and Destiny of Man in Christ”.)
Getting back to my friend’s objection, I totally understand this position; I once would have espoused it as well. On the face of it, the idea that Jesus would share our fallen humanity sounds…blasphemous? And for the early church, the understanding and formulation of Christ as truly man and truly God and the controversies that entailed have filled countless theology books in our seminary libraries. The position of “orthodox” Christianity is that Jesus the Christ was truly and fully God as well as truly and fully man. The question then becomes, “what kind of humanity did Jesus possess?” It is my position that if Jesus did not assume our fallen humanity, then his coming (life) and His work (sacrifice) are irrelevant and meaningless. To paraphrase the early “father” Gregory Nanzianzen, if Christ has not assumed our fallen humanity, then we are not redeemed—we are still in our sins and estranged from God.
When we consider that in the Incarnation Christ assumed our fallen human nature, we are not saying that Jesus is, therefore, a sinner in need of redemption. To think this way is to forget that Christ is God come as man. There are two technical terms that need to be considered when we think of the Incarnation and the hypostatic union between God and man in Christ. The first is anhypostasis. Robert T. Walker in his “Editor’s Introduction” to T.F. Torrance’s, “Incarnation” says this: Anhypostasis (means) that the humanity of Jesus had no reality of is own apart from the incarnation of the Son. In other words, Jesus as man would not have existed if the eternal Son had not become man. The humanity of Jesus only came into existence in the incarnation. It was entirely the act of God and had no independent reality” (pg. xxxvii). The second term is enhypostasis. Again I quote Robert Walker: Enhypostasis (means) that the humanity of Jesus did have full reality in the incarnation of the Son. Although entirely the act of God, the humanity of Jesus had full, individual and personal reality in the person of the eternal Son” (ibid, emphasis mine).
These terms help us better understand the nature of the hypostatic union between God and man in Christ, and in doing so we can see more clearly how it is that Jesus can assume our fallen human nature yet “without respect to sin” as such. Jesus Himself didn’t need to be “redeemed”, but He did need to come in our fallen condition in order to redeem us. In order to recover our fallen humanity from the disease of sin in which we now exist, “Jesus has to become what we are, assuming our humanity to the full” (Walker xxxii). As the “last Adam”, Christ came in the fullness of our Adamic nature in order to undo the corruption of sin in humanity. Christ assumed our fallen human nature in all of its corruption—body and mind—in order to redeem it. He subjected Himself to the curse of sin within our humanity in order to overcome sin and overthrow the curse in Himself. Unless Jesus was subjected to the mind and body of fallen humanity His life (and death) would have had no redemptive value for us nor would He have been tempted in a manner that would have any affect whatsoever on sin (and He certainly would not be able to identify with us as sinners). But this is the glory of His humanity and our glory in Him! In our fallen and corrupt human nature Jesus overcame sin where we could not! His life (as the true and obedient “son”) as well as His death (as the One bearing our guilt) was vicarious! He overcame sin for us and on our behalf by subduing it from within fallen humanity: Christ cleansed our diseased, sin-soaked humanity by wrestling with sin, overcoming it, killing it and raising it to new life in Himself.
By coming and assuming our fallen human nature, God in Christ has judged our sin and guilt on the cross in Himself: He who knew no sin became sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him! Unless He came in our condition, He could not have judged our sin in Himself. But He who is the Judge (Christ) is also the One who was judged on our behalf. And because He lived an obedient life of true “sonship” from within our fallen condition, not only was He justified on the cross, but we who are “unfaithful sons” are now forgiven and justified in Him (because the One who judges is also the One who forgives and justifies).
I want to close this post by quoting two lengthy passages by T.F. Torrance in his book, “Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ”:
(iv) The nature of Jesus’ humanity—fallen humanity redeemed and perfected But now to return to our discussion: our immediate question is, How then are we to speak of ‘the human nature of Christ’ in the hypostatic union? We must surely begin with the fact that Christ is the new man, the perfect man, and the one man who represents all humanity. His human nature is true human nature (even it if was uniquely joined to divine nature, as we are not), and far from measuring its truth and fullness by our own human nature, we must judge the poverty of our human nature by the perfection and fullness of his human nature. But if we do that, we must also say clearly that he was made in the likeness of our flesh of sin; he assumed sinful flesh, that is, our adamic fallen human nature, and in sinlessly assuming it began its redemption and healing. He carried that redemption and healing throughout the whole of his life which he lived in perfect obedience, truth and holiness. Throughout, within the poor clay of our corrupt humanity, he showed forth perfect humanity, remaking ours and converting it in himself. Through his obedience unto death, and through his resurrection, in which he had power to lay down his life and to take it again, he raised our fallen nature as a perfect and incorruptible human nature, so that in the resurrection, the body which was raised from the dead was as perfect as his holy life and person all through his life from his birth to his death.
When we speak, therefore, of the ‘human nature’ of Christ in the hypostatic union, we have to say two things.
(1) On the one hand, we have to say that he was completely like us, in all things, in our frail, feeble and corrupt and temptable humanity, yet without being himself a sinner. Nevertheless, he did identify himself in complete and utter solidarity with us sinners in our fallen and guilty humanity, under God’s wrath and judgment. He came to be one of us, and one with us in that condition, in order to save us and deliver us from the bondage and corruption of sin under the divine judgment. He was completely one with us vicariously.
(2) On the other hand, we must say that he was completely unlike us in that by taking our fallen human nature upon himself, he condemned sin in it; he overcame its temptations, resisted its downward drag in alienation from God, and converted it back in himself to obedience toward God, thus sanctifying it. From the beginning to the end of his life, he submitted our fallen humanity with our human will to the just and holy verdict of the Father, freely and gladly yielding it to the Father’s judgment, and was therefore obedient unto the death of the cross. In all this the Son is wholly like us, in that he became what we are, but also wholly unlike us, in that he resisted our sin, and lived in entire and perfect obedience to the Father. And therefore in Christ’s humanity there took place a vicarious sanctification of our human nature and lifting of it up again into fellowship with God. There alone, in Christ, can human nature be true and perfect, for human nature was made for fellowship with God, and it is always less than human when it withdraws from or alienates itself from that divine fellowship, while in Christ it is restored to fellowship with God. Here Jesus was wholly unlike us in his actual human nature, for in his human nature he overcame the opposition and enmity of our fallen human nature to God, and restored it to peace with God first in glad and willing submission to God’s judgment, and then in the resurrection from the dead (204-205).
(iii) The humanity of Christ essential for reconciliation The humanity of Christ is also essential to God’s act of reconciliation (in the previous point in this particular section, Torrance explained the humanity of Christ is essential for revelation), for the actuality of atonement is grounded upon the fact that in actual human nature it is God himself acting on our behalf. Thus any docetic view of the humanity of Christ would mean that God only appears to act within our human existence, or that his acts are only of tangential significance, that they do not really strike into the roots of our existence and condition, and have no relevance to our need. Atonement is real and actual only if and as the mediator acts fully from the side of man as man, as well as from the side of God as God. If the humanity of Christ is imperfect, atonement is imperfect, and we would then still be in our sins. If Jesus Christ is really and truly man, then his death for sin is an act of God himself in human nature, and not just an external act upon human nature. But if atonement is to fulfill its object (objective), it must be not only act of God upon man, but act of man in response to God, man’s sacrifice, man’s oblation, satisfaction by man for sin before God. Apart from the human obedience and human life and death of Christ, apart from his human sacrifice, we have nothing at all to offer to God, nothing with which we can stand before God, but our sin and guilt. But here in the full humanity of Jesus, as it is joined eternally to his deity in incarnation and atonement, man’s destiny as man is actually assured and restored to its place in God from which it has fallen; man’s wrong has been set aside in and with the judgment accomplished upon the humanity of Christ, and now in his humanity our new right humanity has been established before God (186, emphasis mine).
The covenant that God made with mankind (typified in “Israel”), that He would be our God (Father) and we would be His people (literally, “son”), has now been fulfilled in the true “son”, the God-man, Jesus Christ. He has taken our humanity, cleansed it in Himself and has presented us spotless with Him (in Him) before the Father. In union with Christ by the Spirit we are now New Creations in Him! We have been transformed! We are now truly sons and daughters in Him!
I have not dealt specifically in this post with the necessity of Christ assuming our fallen humanity in terms of covenant-faithfulness. Lord willing, this will be the subject of my next post…hopefully without as much delay.