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 Issues | Doctrine of Christ | The Person of Christ

The Person of Christ

by Leon Morris

Church Book Room Press 1960

When we want to understand the importance of a person we turn to his work. If we think, for example, of Winston Churchill our minds instinctively go back to the dark days of the war when he rallied the Empire. If we think of Napoleon we recall his mighty deeds on many battlefields. If we think of Einstein his enunciation of the theory of relativity gives us the measure of his greatness. What men do shows what men are.

Similarly in the religious world, if we wish to understand something of the person of Jesus Christ we do well to begin with what He has done. John sums it up for us in a sentence: “the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world” (1 Jn. 4:14). The greatness of Christ is to be seen in the fact that He brought salvation, not for just a few, but for “the world”.

The Bible views men’s plight as serious in the extreme. It tells us over and over again that men are sinners. This does not mean that in their own eyes they are incredibly evil; indeed, most think they are quite decent folk (it is other people who are the sinners!). Rather does it mean that they do not measure up to the standard that God sets. Or, to put it another way, no man lives up to the highest and best that he knows, and because of this he is a sinner in God’s sight, whatever he may be in his own. The Bible insists that the consequences of this are terribly serious. It talks of hell. Modern man has laughed hell out of existence to his own complete satisfaction, and finds the whole idea an amusing relic of the thinking of an earlier age. Because it does not square up with what he thinks is fit and proper he assumes that it cannot possibly exist; and this is disastrous thinking. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that as we live out our lives we are not engaging in some light-hearted parlour game, with no particular importance. Our actions have eternal significance. What we are in the next life is determined by what we are in this life. Since all men are sinners (Rom. 3.23) the prospect is very bad.

In this situation the Bible tells us that Christ came to be our Saviour. The New Testament writers are unanimous that His death is the means of our salvation. However we understand atonement to have been effected, it comes to us only on account of Christ’s work for us. Such a work demands a personality more than human, for a mere man could never atone for another man, let alone for all mankind. But through the centuries men have been putting their trust in Jesus Christ, and finding in Him peace of heart and mind, forgiveness of sin and the assurance of God’s favour. That is to say, they have found that He did bring about atonement. What He has done and continues to do, then, indicates strongly that He is more than any mere man.

The Claims of Jesus
In His teaching Jesus continually made claims for Himself both explicitly and by implication, and claims that we should regard as fantastic did any other make them. He said He could forgive men’s sins, and indeed, on one occasion worked a miracle to prove His point (Mark 2: 10ff.). He said that He would raise men up at the last day (John 6:40). He said that He would be the Judge of men at that day (John 5: 25ff.), and that men’s attitude to Him and His words now would be the criterion by which they will then be judged (Mark 8:38). He spoke of Himself as the bread of life (John 6: 35), as “the light of the world” (John 8: 12). He said that He was “the way, the truth, and the life” and He added, “no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14: 6).

He issued the gracious invitation, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matt. 11:28f.). We have come to take these beautiful words very much for granted. But when we reflect on them they involve an extraordinary claim. We cannot imagine anybody else making them, not Confucius nor Mahommet, not Julius Caesar nor Francis of Assisi nor the Archbishop of Canterbury. In fact not any of the sons of men. But the words sound natural enough as an utterance of Jesus. Furthermore, through the centuries all sorts of weary and heavy laden people have been coming to Him and finding, as He said they would, rest unto (their) souls.”

The making of such claims demands that one of three things be true, namely Jesus was an impostor, or He was deluded, or He was divine. There seems no other possibility. For the first two there is no evidence whatever. It is preposterous to think that He consciously set out to impose on men. The whole of His life is eloquent of loving, sacrificial service. There is no motive. Again, we cannot feel that He was a megalomaniac. As we read the Gospels we see that Jesus is the sanest of men. So there is only the third possibility. He was indeed God, and He made these claims because they were true.

The writer to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). The Gospels confirm this record. They show us One who moved among men, making it His business to seek out sinners and show them kindness and love, and who yet had no sin of His own. In spite of temptation (Matthew and Luke both describe a series of temptations which assailed Him at the threshold of His ministry), He did not succumb.

Now a sinless man is an unique phenomenon, for it is our experience that all men do sin. Thus it is not surprising that some have disputed the record, and have pointed out that it is compiled by friends and followers, implying that therefore it is heavily biased.

However as we read the Gospels it is clear that no attempt is made to gloss over faults. At the time they were written the Apostles were the unquestioned leaders of the infant Church. They were everywhere revered and looked to for a lead, yet their faults are unhesitatingly depicted. For example, we read in all four Gospels of Peter’s threefold denial of His Lord, and how in the critical moment they all forsook Him and fled. We read how on the very eve of the crucifixion they were quarrelling about who should be the greatest. It is just not true to say that the disciples looked back to those days with a fond readiness to overlook all that was disreputable and to recall only what was pleasing.

Again, the evangelists do not praise Jesus. This I find very surprising. I should have thought that when men were writing about their Master, the One whom they trusted to see them safe through this world and the next, that every now and then they would say how wonderful and good and perfect He was. But they do not. They just put down the facts and let it go at that.

Unless we make up our minds before we start that the matter is impossible we are driven to conclude that Jesus was a sinless Being. But sinlessness, as we have noticed, is not a human characteristic. It points us to something beyond man, to the very power of God Himself.

The Miracles
The miracles have had a curious history in Christian thought. In the earliest days they appear to have been accepted wholeheartedly, and to have been cited to show that Jesus is indeed God. But with the rise of the modern scientific method, and the assertion of the principle of the uniformity of nature, they began to appear in a new light, and many Christians looked for natural explanations. In recent times there has been a tendency to think of them as within the possibilities of human nature. That is to say, they are not extraordinary manifestations of divine power, but the natural result of the faith of a pure and spotless life.

This is not the way the New Testament regards them. There it is clear enough that the miracles are something special. They are the signs that the kingdom of God has come near (Luke 11: 20). They cannot be removed by explaining away a story here, and dropping one there, for the Gospels are steeped in the miraculous. If they are at all reliable there cannot be any doubt but that Jesus did things that we must describe as “miracle”. They are not the sort of thing that ordinary men can do, or even could do if they had a little more faith. They are something special, the signs of the breaking in upon this world of the very kingdom of God. People who were there recognized the presence of the divine. “There came a fear (awe) on all: and they glorified God, saying . . . That God hath visited his people” (Luke 7: 16). “They were all amazed at the mighty power of God” (Luke 9: 43). They were amazed at the authority displayed in them (Mark 1: 27). It is quite clear that the men who were nearest to them saw the hand of God in the miracles. We today can scarcely do less.

The Names of Jesus
An extraordinary variety of names is given Jesus in the New Testament, and, for example, Vincent Taylor in his book The Names of Jesus examines about fifty. Of these “the Son of man” was Jesus’s favourite self-designation. It occurs over eighty times in the Gospels and always it is used by Jesus (the only time anyone else uses it of Him is Acts 7:56). It is found in all the sources postulated by the source critics and we have every reason for thinking that this is the term that Jesus liked most of all. Its significance is not easy to discover. Most believe that it goes back to the heavenly Son of man of Daniel 7. In this case the idea the term expresses is that of sovereignty. But as the word was not in common use of the Messiah it would not evoke messianic expectations in those who heard it. That probably explains its use. Jesus chose it, as expressing what He was, but as a term that would lead no one to think of Him as a political revolutionary.

It was otherwise with the term “Messiah”. This word, which means “anointed”, was used of the great Deliverer that the Jews expected. They remembered One long foretold in prophecy and they looked for God to send Him and so bring in the kingdom of God. This, of course, was what Jesus came to do, and occasionally the term is used of Him. But among the ordinary people messiah meant a political and military figure. They looked and longed for a messiah who would defeat the hated Romans and sweep them from the country. Jesus did not so understand the kingdom, and to use the term in common use would have been to court misunderstanding. Consequently its occurrences are few.

In Isaiah 53 we read of “the Servant of the Lord” who suffers for others. Quotations from this chapter are rare in the Gospels, but language reminiscent of it is frequent. Almost all New Testament scholars are agreed, not only that Jesus saw His mission as a fulfilment of Isaiah 53, but also that this was for Him a leading idea. The fusing of the conceptions of the heavenly Son of man of Daniel 7 and the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 yields the thought that the person of Jesus was supremely majestic, but that He came to earth primarily to suffer for others, and not in any way to assert Himself.

There are several passages where Jesus is spoken of as “the Son of God” or “the Son”, and many where He spoke of “the Father” or “My Father”. Jesus taught men to regard God as their heavenly Father, but He never brackets Himself with them as though His Sonship and theirs was the same in kind. Indeed, He seems to go out of His way to avoid implying any such thing, as in John 20: 17, where He says to Mary Magdalene, ‘I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” It is as though He puts a difference between Himself and the human race by associating Himself with God in a different fashion from them. The temptation narratives, the visit to Jerusalem (Luke 2: 42-52) and other passages likewise imply this special relationship. It is important to notice that “the Son of God” was not one of the usual messianic titles. When Jesus referred to Himself in this way then there is no casual use of an accepted manner of speech, but rather the expression of a deep conviction that the accepted names for the Messiah did not convey the truth of His relationship to the Father.

There are many more names and their meanings make a fascinating study. But it must suffice to cite this group of important names and to show that each has its own particular significance and conveys a little portion of the meaning of the person of Christ. When we consider what all the names mean we are forced to the conclusion that He who could perfectly fulfil all that all of them signify must be exceedingly great indeed. Or, to put the same truth in another way, the Person of Jesus was such that the first Christians had to use all these titles. They ransacked their vocabulary to find some way of conveying a little fraction of the immense significance He had come to have for them.

The Giver of a New Law

The thing that impressed Jesus’ hearers was the authority with which He taught. Unlike the scribes and other recognized teachers of the day, He did not cite authorities for what He said, but taught from His own authority. Particularly interesting is the expression which keeps on occurring in the Sermon on the Mount, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time . . . But I say unto you . . .” To understand the significance of this we must bear in mind that to the Jews of the first century the whole of the Old Testament was the very word of God. They had no doubts and no reservations on the point, and gave to the letter of Scripture a reverence that bordered on the superstitious. It was this Scripture that Jesus chose to modify in this way. When He made such pronouncements He used emphatic speech, emphasizing the pronoun “I”, His thought being not that anybody is at liberty to do as He is doing, but only that He, standing in the relationship to the Father that He does, has this right. He claimed to be able to modify provisions that both He and others accepted as of divine origin. A similar sovereign freedom is seen in His handling of the Sabbath regulations (Mark 2: 28), and the matter of divorce (Matt. 19: 6).

Such passages taken together form impressive evidence that Jesus saw Himself as able to make pronouncements equally authoritative with those accepted as of divine origin. This is nothing less than a claim to deity.

The Resurrection
Throughout His ministry Jesus made predictions that He would be delivered up to His enemies and be killed. He also said that on the third day He would rise again. The Gospels tell us that that is exactly what happened. They recount with solemn emphasis the story of the crucifixion and then the joy of the first Easter morning. Someone has said that the resurrection of Jesus is the best attested fact of ancient history. Whether this can be substantiated or not I do not know, but certainly the evidence is very impressive. When you consider the fact of the empty tomb, the impossibility of friends stealing the body (why should they and how could they, when the tomb was guarded?), and the impossibility of foes stealing it (why should they and if they did, why did they not produce the body when the resurrection began to be proclaimed?), the transformation of the disciples that the resurrection brought about, the nature and the number of the resurrection appearances of our Lord, it is certainly difficult to deny that the resurrection is a fact.

But if Jesus could predict that He would die and that He would rise again, and then fulfil His prediction to the letter this adds another item to our mounting list of evidence which indicates that He was more than merely human. No-one who was only a man could do that. We have only to contemplate our own death to see the force of the point. The resurrection points unmistakably to the deity of Christ.

Old Testament Passages

An interesting though unobtrusive piece of evidence for the way the early Christians regarded Jesus is their application to Him of Old Testament passages which originally were used of Jehovah. This occurs as early as Matthew 3: 3, where the words “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” are applied to Jesus by John the Baptist. But in Isaiah 40: 3 “the Lord” points us to Jehovah. John the Baptist could take words which originally were used of God and use them of Jesus. In similar fashion Luke 1: 76 applies Malachi 3: 1 to Jesus instead of Jehovah and Acts 2: 21 does the same with Joel 2: 32 (the same Old Testament passage is used by Paul in the same way in Romans 10: 13).

There are other examples, such as Ephesians 4: 8 and Psalm 68: 18, Philippians 2: 10-11 and Isaiah 45: 23, Hebrews 1: 10 and Psalm 102: 25, and many more. It is fairly clear that the New Testament writers made no great distinction between Jesus and God. They saw fulfilled in Jesus words that from their earliest infancy they had been in the habit of using of God only. They did not apply the words of Scripture in this way to other men; it is Jesus only that they regard as fulfilling them. It is surely because they think of Him as divine that they can do so.

In line with this the characteristic expression for the divine name in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, namely ho kurios, “the Lord”, is in the New Testament just as characteristically used of Jesus Christ. And the “Thus said the Lord” of the prophets becomes the “Verily I say unto you” of Jesus.

No attention is drawn to these things, nor is their significance explained. This makes them far more impressive. Those who wrote our New Testament put Jesus with God, and therefore they easily and naturally referred to Him in the way they did.

Things Referred to Christ and to God
Another unobtrusive way of ranking Christ with God is to be discerned in the New Testament habit of referring things now to One and now to the Other. Thus throughout the Gospels we come across repeated references to “the kingdom of God”, while Paul can speak of “the kingdom of his dear Son” (Col. 1: 13). He can even link the two when he refers to “the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Eph. 5: 5). In the Old Testament we frequently read of the coming judgment in terms of “the day of the Lord”. So in the New Testament we read of “the day of God” (II Pet. 3: 12). But we also read of “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 1: 8). Vengeance belongs to the Lord only according to Deut. 32: 35, but it is to be exercised by Christ according to II Thess. 1:7f. So all men are to stand before God’s judgment seat (Rom. 14: 10-12; see RV), but Paul can also refer to appearing “before the judgment seat of Christ” (II Cor. 5: 10).

Men are to believe in God and also in Christ (John 14: 1). Believers abide in God and God in them (I John 4: 13), and they also abide in Christ and Christ in them (John 15: 4f.; the Greek verb is the same in both passages though the English translation varies between “abide” and “dwell”). The Gospel is “the gospel of God” (Rom. 1: 1), and it is “the gospel of Christ” (Rom. 1: 16). Forgiveness comes from God (Col. 2: 13), or from Christ (Col. 3: 13), or from God for Christ’s sake (Eph. 4:32). The church may be spoken of as “of God” (Gal. 1: 13) or as “of Christ” (Rom. 16: 16). Similarly the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God (I Cor. 2: 11), and He is also the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8: 9). God is spoken of as “Alpha and Omega” (Rev. 1: 8, 21: 6), and the same expression is used of Christ (Rev. 1: 11, 22: 13). These are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, so that the expression is a way of saying “the beginning and the end”, and as a matter of fact this is also used of both Persons (Rev. 21: 6, 22: 13).

The list might be further extended, but it is already long enough. One or two such terms of expression might be held to be accidental, but the occurrence of so many is impressive. It is plain that the New Testament writers thought of Christ in much the same way as they thought of God. When they thought of some divine activity they might assign it indifferently to One or the Other. Both would in any case be thought of as acting in the closest harmony. All this is impressive testimony to the very high place the early Christians assigned to Christ.

This is all the more noteworthy when we remember that they were convinced monotheists. For first century Jews, monotheism was not simply another doctrine. It was a deep-seated, passionate conviction to which they clung with loyalty and ardent zeal. In a polytheistic world it marked them off from other men, and thus a fierce nationalism reinforced their religious fervour as a motive for holding the doctrine pure and unsullied. Yet these early Christians without hesitation put Jesus Christ on the same level as God the Father. They did not argue about it, nor did they give reasons. They just did it. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to those who had been saved by Christ’s atoning work.

The Cosmic Christ
The New Testament writers did not think of the significance of Jesus as exhausted by what they saw here on earth. They held that His existence went right back to the beginning (John 1: 1). John tells us on any number of occasions that the Son was “sent” by the Father. This form of speech, which is found also in other parts of the New Testament (e.g. Rom. 8: 3; Gal. 4: 4), clearly implies an existence before the “sending” took place. So does Paul’s reference to Christ’s becoming poor for us (II Cor. 8: 9). When this Apostle says that the Israelites “drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (I Cor. 10: 4) he is not going back quite so far. But the passage is interesting as showing that he thought of Christ as existent well before the incarnation, and as taking care of the people of God.

Some passages go further and associate Him with the Father in the work of creation. The opening of the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us that God has latterly spoken by His Son “by whom also he made the worlds” (Heb. 1:2). This thought is expressed also in Colossians 1:16, “by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him.” This does not infringe the great truth that the Father created all things. The New Testament view is that the Father is the Maker of all that is, but that He made all things through the agency of the Son. John tells us that “All things were made by him (i.e. the Word); and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1: 3). Paul adds the point that “by him all things consist (i.e. hold together)” (Col. 1: 17). That is to say, His work of creation is followed by His work of sustaining what He created. He may be thought of as upholding all things by the word of his power” (Heb. 1: 3).

We should probably understand Romans 8:22f. in this light. The Fall was thought of among the Jews as having effects on nature as well as on man. The Messiah would reverse these evils. So Paul thinks of Christ’s work as being concerned with a restoration and renewal of creation as well as having its effect within the souls of men. It is worth noticing that he thinks of this spiritual work of Christ as also a creative act. “If any man be in Christ,” he writes, “he is a new creature” (II Cor. 5: 17).

Prayer to Christ
There are several examples of prayer being addressed to Christ in the New Testament. The dying Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7: 59), and the last prayer in the Bible is also addressed to Him, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22: 20). Paul prays to Jesus quite often. He has an interesting way of addressing prayer to both the Father and the Son, and of putting his verb in the singular (I Thess. 3: 11; II Thess. 2: 16f.). Clearly he puts no great distinction between the two, but thinks of Father and Son as in some sense one.

Another revealing habit of the great Apostle is to begin his letters by coupling the Father and the Son. It was a convention in the first century to begin a letter with a little prayer. It need be no more than “May the gods preserve you”, and it probably meant no more to most people than putting “Dear” at the beginning of a letter does to us today. But Paul uses the accepted opening with a genuine depth of meaning, and his habit is to say “Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ”. This, or something like it, is found at the beginning of all his letters. This shows Christ’s divinity in two ways. In the first place only on this basis could He be linked so closely with the Father, and in the second place He must be divine if He is to be the source of grace and peace to Paul’s correspondents scattered throughout the world.

He is Called God
With all this evidence before us it is not at all surprising that sometimes the men of the New Testament explicitly speak of Jesus as God. John opens his Gospel by referring to Him as “the Word” and saying “the Word was God” (John 1: 1), and at the climax of it all he records the words of Thomas, “My Lord and my God” (John 20: 28). Acts 20: 28 speaks of “the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood”, while Philippians 2: 6 assures us that He was “in the form of God” and that He “thought it not robbery to be equal with God”. In the opening chapter of Hebrews a passage beginning “Thy throne, O God” is quoted and applied to Christ (Heb. 1: 8).

We might go on. But enough has been quoted to demonstrate the point. The New Testament writers ascribed the highest possible place to Christ. They thought of Him as doing all sorts of things that only God can do. They did not separate Him in their minds from God. And therefore it is the most natural thing in the world that from time to time they expressly identify Him with God.

Jesus the Man
But we should not overlook the fact that the New Testament always regards Jesus as fully man, as well as being God. The Greek and Roman legends abound in stories of gods and goddesses who appeared for a time on earth as though they were human. But at the climax of the story they usually assumed their real personality once more and confounded their opponents. This does not represent anything like an incarnation, but is only a pretence, a piece of make-believe.

The New Testament does not picture anything like that. It shows us a Jesus who, though divine, was also perfectly human. He really took on Him man’s nature, with all that that means in terms of limitation, hardship and difficulty. Thus we have the comfort of knowing that at God’s right hand there sits One who knows the weakness of our frame, for He has shared it; knows the power of temptation, for He has overcome it; knows the uncertainty and the difficulty that is part and parcel of human life, for He has lived it.

Jesus’ development appears to have followed the normal course for the sons of men. People speak of “the virgin birth”, but this is not really accurate. The conception was miraculous, but we have no reason for thinking that there was anything unusual about the birth. Luke’s references to His growth give no hint of anything other than normal human development. The child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him (Luke 2: 40, cf. v. 52).

As a man, He experienced bodily needs just as we do. He could be hungry (Matt. 21: 18), and thirsty (John 19: 28). He was weary and “sat thus on the well” (John 4: 6). Son of God though He was, “yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered” (Heb. 5: 8).

The Gospels record that He went through the full gamut of human emotions. He loved (Mark 10: 21). He had compassion (Matt. 9: 36). He “rejoiced in spirit” when the seventy returned from their mission (Luke 10: 21). He wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19: 41). He could be astonished both at the presence of faith in a centurion (Luke 7: 9), and at its absence from the inhabitants of Nazareth where He had been brought up (Mark 6: 6). He was both angry and grieved with those who tried to prevent Him from healing on the sabbath (Mark 3: 5).

His trouble of soul at the prospect of the cross is brought out in all the Gospels. John records Him as saying, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour” (John 12: 27). The Synoptists speak of the longing for companionship when He went to the Garden (Matt. 26: 37f.), and of His agony as He prayed. Luke tells us that He was in such an agony as He prayed that “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22: 44). And on the cross He cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark (15: 34). It is impossible to miss the very human note in all this.

Jesus was punctilious in His performance of religious duties. He attended public worship with regularity (Luke 4: 16). He was assiduous in His private prayer, and sometimes we are told that He spent a whole night in praying (as Luke 6: 12). Even His enemies recognized His attitude, for as He hung on the cross they said, “He trusted in God . . .” (Matt. 27: 43).

But probably the two most convincing illustrations of His humanity are the limitations on His knowledge, and His temptations.

For the first point we notice that He often was found asking questions. This is not necessarily a proof that He did not know, for in this life we sometimes meet people, like schoolteachers, who ask questions for other reasons than the obtaining of knowledge. Nevertheless as we read the Gospels it does seem as though again and again Jesus asked questions in order to find out things. And in one matter, the date of the second coming. He said, of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son . . .” (Mark 13:32).

This should not surprise us for ignorance seems to be a very necessary part of human living. When we take action we must do so without certain knowledge of the outcome. We must increase in knowledge by the painful discipline of hard work, and a life without this would not be genuinely human.

Some people also think of Jesus as having been mistaken about many things. They suggest that He was a child of His time, and that He shared in the mistakes that men of that time made. But here we should bear in mind that ignorance is not the same as error. It is one thing to say that Jesus took upon Himself such limitations in the incarnation that He became ignorant of many things. It is quite another to say that where He made a definite pronouncement He was wrong and thus led men astray. Leonard Hodgson says that when we assume that error is a necessary part of humanity we are making the mistake of measuring Christ’s manhood by our own, rather than measuring our manhood by His. We must beware of the danger, too, of making Christ so much one with us that we lose sight of the fact that He is also one with the Father.

The Temptations
James informs us that “God cannot be tempted with evil” (Jas. 1: 13). If we find, then, that Jesus was tempted that will be important evidence of His true humanity. The New Testament leaves us in no doubt but that this was the case. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke tell us of a severe time of temptation at the beginning of His ministry, as Jesus faced the prospect of using the powers He knew He had for such purposes as turning stones into bread, casting Himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple, or founding an earthly kingdom. At the end of His ministry there is another severe time of temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane. There Jesus’ human nature experienced a shrinking from the horror of the cross, though He knew it was the will of God. The severe nature of the temptation is highlighted in the story of the agony. In between these two special times of testing we must feel that there were others. Luke tells us that after the former temptation the devil left our Lord “for a season” (Luke 4: 13), which surely implies that presently the assault was renewed by the evil one. So, too, we read in Hebrews 4: 15 that He was “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”

The temptations are important evidence for the genuine humanity of Jesus. But they are also an example for us. We see Jesus winning real victories over genuine temptations, and, especially in Matthew 4 and Luke 4, we see a little of how He did it. We are encouraged accordingly in our own struggle against evil, for we know that Jesus has a real understanding of our situation. His testing was more severe than anything that ever confronts us.

This brief discussion is sufficient to show that there are two strands of teaching about the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ in the New Testament. On the one hand there are those passages which show us that He was fully divine, that He was one with God and must not be thought of as only a superlatively inspired man. On the other hand there are the other passages which demonstrate no less clearly that He was a man, compassed about with the weakness of this human frame.

It is not very difficult to hold firmly to one or other of these strands of teaching. There have always been some, for example, who find it easier to think of Jesus as God than as man. In the early church there were some who denied outright the humanity of Jesus and maintained that all evidence to the contrary must be explained as illusion. In modern times few would go as far as that, but there are many, and usually very devout souls, who think of Jesus with such reverence that they effectively remove Him from contact with man. They love to dwell on the divine side of His nature, and they gloss over His human ignorance, His strong crying and tears” (Heb. 5: 7).

Others find it easy to think of Jesus as a man, a man uniquely inspired, but who find it insuperably difficult to think of Him as really God. They cannot envisage a process whereby God would become man and sojourn among men, so they dismiss the whole thing as impossible.

He who would be true to the Bible evidence has the more difficult task of holding these two sets of truth in balance. He realizes that here is mystery, in fact, the ultimate mystery. Man cannot know how an incarnation is possible. It is not within his power to envisage the means whereby One who is Almighty could compress Himself within human frame and live a human life. But he does not limit God by his own puny powers. He takes the evidence as it stands, and does not try to explain away that which does not please him. Thus he finds himself affirming that Jesus was both human and divine, both God and man. Nothing less will do justice to the Bible evidence.


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