PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Theology of the Incarnation; One Person Two Natures

12/22/13 Theology of the Incarnation; One Person Two Natures; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20131222_one-person-two-natures.mp3

We are taking a few weeks to study the theology of the incarnation. What do we mean when we say that God became a man? In the past two weeks we have examined some of the biblical evidence of who Jesus is. We saw that the bible plainly teaches that Jesus, although he is distinct from the Father and in perfect fellowship with his Father, is fully God, that he has always existed as God, that he fully possesses in himself all the attributes that make God God. Jesus is the divine Word that brought everything that is into existence. He is eternal, immortal, omnipotent, omnipresent, sovereign, holy, worthy of our worship.

We also saw that Jesus is really and truly human. Although conceived supernaturally by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a virgin, he was born in the normal way, he was circumcised on the eighth day, he grew and developed intellectually, physically, spiritually and socially like every other human. He learned, he grieved, he wept, he rejoiced, he ate, he drank, he slept, he became physically exhausted and weak, he suffered, and he died a violent human death. He had a real human body, a human mind, human emotions, a human will. His corpse was put in a tomb. He did not stay dead, but even after the resurrection, he presented his real physical human body alive to his disciples.

This is what the bible teaches and what all Christians believe about Jesus. Jesus is really truly fully God. Jesus is genuinely authentically human. These two natures, full deity and full humanity exist in the one person of Jesus.

The question before us today is ‘how can these things be?’ How can Jesus be both fully God and really human? How can he be infinite, eternal, uncreated, and have a birth day? How can he fill all space and be present in a body in Judea? How can he know all things and learn? How can he be all-powerful, sovereign, and grow and develop? How can he be immortal and die? This is a mystery much greater than the resurrection. If Jesus really is who he claimed to be, it would be shocking if he didn’t raise from the dead. The mystery of the incarnation is a mystery probably equal to if not greater than the trinity. That God is three persons in one being is incomprehensible to us, but that one of those persons, while remaining fully God, would unite himself forever to our human nature is staggering to the imagination.

Outline

I think it is essential that we begin by defining our terms, so that we understand what we mean by the words we use. Then we will listen to history and see what we can learn from the mistakes and wisdom of those who have gone before us, and we will conclude by examining some of the biblical passages that shed light on this issue.

Terms

When we say that Jesus is one person with two natures, we must understand what we mean by ‘person’ and what we mean by ‘nature’.

The Princeton theologian Charles Hodge puts it simply: “a person is an intelligent subject who can say I, who can be addressed as Thou, and who can act and be the object of action” [Hodge, 1871, vol I, p.444]. A person is one who can think, feel, and act in relation to other persons. When I say ‘person’ I do not mean ‘human’. As I understand it, there are three classes of personal beings; God, angels, and men. For instance, we could say that the angel Gabriel is a personal being. Angels are spirit beings, not made up of matter, not human, but Gabriel is a distinct personality who can have a conversation with Michael or Lucifer or Jesus or Mary.

By nature, I mean the essential characteristics that distinguish one class of being from another. Nature is similar to species. The attributes of Gabriel’s personality are what distinguishes him from Michael, another angelic being. The attributes of Gabriel’s nature as an angelic being are what distinguish him from the human Mary, or from God. The nature of an angel is a created spiritual being, localized but without a physical body. The nature of God is infinite uncreated eternal self-existent being. The nature of man is created being who is both spiritual and physical.

Making these kind of distinctions in our vocabulary is extremely helpful when we are talking about things like the triune God, because when we say that God is three and God is one, we do not mean that God is three in the same way that he is one. We do not mean that God is three persons and one person or that he is three beings and one being; that would be nonsense. No object can logically be three in the same way that it is one. If we are talking about a triangle, we do not say that it has three sides and it has only one side; nor do we say that a triangle is one shape and it is three shapes. A triangle is one shape with three sides. God is one being consisting in three persons. When we come to the incarnation, we are not saying that Jesus is one person and two persons; neither do we say that Jesus is one nature and two natures. We say that Jesus is one person with two natures.

History

It will be helpful to look at the development of our understanding of the incarnation in history. Our understanding of truth is refined though challenges. I know what I believe about God, but when I talk to someone with a different understanding of who God is, I am forced to think more carefully and articulate more clearly what God is like, and examine the scriptures to be sure that what I believe is in line with what God says about himself. Through the challenge, I grow in my understanding and appreciation of who God is. This is what happened in the church. The scriptures clearly teach that Jesus is fully God, that Jesus is fully man, and that Jesus is one person. We spent the last two weeks looking at some of the biblical data. This is what all Christians believe about Jesus. But this is not easy to understand. Very early there were challenges to this understanding. And we can learn and be warned from these challenges. Some denied that Jesus was God; they believed that Jesus was merely a man with a human father and mother, who was adopted by God at his baptism. Others, believing matter to be inherently evil, believed that for God to unite himself to humanity would be to defile himself; Docetism (from dokeo – to appear) taught that Jesus only appeared to be human and die; his humanity was merely an illusion.

Sabellius taught that there is only one God, but denied that God exists eternally in three distinct persons. He believed that God presented himself at different times in different modes; in the Old Testament as the Father; in the Gospels as Jesus, and after the ascension as the Spirit. His view became known as modalism. Modalism denies the personal relationships within the trinity that we see evident throughout scripture.

Arius taught that although Jesus was an exalted being above all other beings, he was the first created being and did not eternally exist and did not share the divine nature of the Father. He taught that Jesus’ nature was similar to the nature of the Father, but that he was not of the same nature as the Father. Arius’ teaching was condemned at the council of Nicea in 325 A.D.

Apolinaris taught that Jesus had a human body but not a human mind or spirit. He taught that Jesus’ human spirit was replaced by the divine Logos. But Hebrews 2:17 tells us that ‘he had to be made like his brothers in every respect’. That which he did not assume he could not save. If Jesus were not fully human, he could not be the savior of the whole person.

Nestorius affirmed that Jesus was fully God and fully man, but he taught that as a result, Jesus was two separate persons, a divine person and a human person.

Eutyches went to the other extreme emphasizing the unity of the person, going so far as to say that at the incarnation the human nature of Jesus was absorbed into the divine nature, so that Jesus was one person with only one nature; a divine/human hybrid nature (monophysitism). But if this is true, then Jesus was neither fully God nor fully man, and unable to be our mediator.

These unbiblical views of Jesus forced the church to think more carefully and articulate more clearly what is true about Jesus. Here is the statement that was agreed upon at Chalcedon in 451 A.D.

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us. [Chalcedonian Creed, 451 A.D.]

This makes it explicit that Jesus is one person with two natures. He eternally possessed the nature of God, and at a point in time he assumed additionally a real human nature. His divine nature continued immortal, eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent; while his human nature really learned and grew, became hungry and thirsty and weary and died. These two natures were united in one person, so that the person of Jesus really experienced hunger and pain and temptation and death. Jesus fully possesses the nature of God and fully possesses the nature of man, and these two natures exist in the one person of Jesus. His divine nature was not modified by the incarnation, nor was his human nature changed through the incarnation. Jesus was not two people, but one person.“What He was He continued to be; what He was not He took to Himself” [Gregory of Naziansen, 379 Orat.XXIX.19].

Biblical Passages

Let’s look at some of the biblical passages that directly speak to this issue. We have already spent some time in the beginning of the gospel of John, so can quickly review what we have seen there.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God.

The creative Word who always existed, who shared the nature of God and existed in relationship with his Father, this one,

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The pre-incarnate Word who was with his Father and was himself God, became something he had not been before; he took to himself flesh, a real human body.

Look also at the beginning of John’s first letter:

1 John 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

The eternal self-existent one, that which was from the beginning, the one who was with the Father, the one who has life in himself, was made manifest, was seen, was heard, was touched, was handled. His real true humanity was verified by eye-witnesses. Remember that John says later in this epistle that this understanding of the incarnation is essential to the true gospel; anyone who does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not from God; but is the deceiver and antichrist (1Jn.4:1-3, 2Jn.1:7).

In Romans 1 Paul speaks of Jesus’ human nature; he was called to preach:

Romans 1:1 …the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations,

The one who was God’s Son eternally, according to his human nature was descended from David, but according to the Spirit, in his divine nature, he was declared to be the Son of God.

Later in chapter 9 where Paul is speaking of his people, the Israelites, he says:

Romans 9:5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

Jesus, in his human nature was ethnically Jewish. According to the flesh, his family tree is traced by Luke (3) through his mother Mary and connects him all the way back to Adam through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and king David. And this same passage in Romans clearly states the divine nature; that Jesus is God over all, blessed forever. In his human nature he is descended from the Israelites; in his divine nature he is God over all.

In Hebrews 1, the Son is said to be the Creator and heir of all things, the radiance of the glory of the Father and the exact imprint of his nature, he is called God and he is seated on the right hand of the Majesty on high. In chapter 2, we see this eternal Son made lower than the angels

Hebrews 2:9 … so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Jesus took on a human nature so that in that nature he could taste death for me. In verse 11, his humanity is connected with mine.

Hebrews 2:11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers,

Jesus can call me brother because he really and truly shares my humanity, having taken on a genuine human nature. Verse 14 says:

Hebrews 2:14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

We have a human nature, flesh and blood. From eternity he did not have a human nature, but he took on flesh and blood so that he might destroy death by dying. The author goes on to make clear that Jesus did not take on the nature of angels to save angels, but the descendants of Abraham, and we are told

Hebrews 2:17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

He was not from eternity like us. He has always possessed the very essence of God. But he had to be made like us in every respect so that he could make propitiation for our sins.

In Romans 8, Paul tells us:

Romans 8:3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,

Jesus is the eternal Son sent by his Father. He is sent in real human flesh and for sin. But Paul is careful to make clear that he was not sent in sinful flesh. He was sent in the likeness of sinful flesh. The Word became flesh; real human flesh and blood, yet not fallen sinful flesh and blood.

One more passage, probably the clearest of all on this subject, Philippians 2.

Philippians 2:5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus from all eternity existed in essence as God. He fully shares every divine attribute with his Father. But his status and glory as equal with his Father was not something he clung to at all costs. He was willing to stoop down, to make himself nothing, to empty himself. But he did not empty himself by setting aside any divine attribute, as some have falsely taught. The text tells us how he emptied himself. He emptied himself by taking. He detracted from his own glory by adding to himself. Remaining what he was, he assumed what he was not. He took the form of a servant. He emptied himself by being born in the likeness of men. He set aside his rights and privileges as God and humbled himself by taking our nature.

Bruce Ware, in his theology book for young people, illustrates it this way. You take a brand new shiny car off the showroom floor for a test drive. Latest model, all the bells and whistles, power under the hood, polished and sparkling. You head up the canyon road. Of course it has been raining. For days. You want to see what this thing can do. After a few hours, you drive back to the showroom. The salesman rushes out, mortified at what was once his new car now covered bumper to bumper in a thick coating of mud. As you hand him back the keys, you smile and say, don’t worry, nothing has been lost. I have taken nothing away from your car. I have only added to it. True, all the essential qualities that make this car what it is are still there. Even the brilliant paint job, but it has been completely hidden, it has lost its appearance of glory not by subtraction, but by the addition of a thick layer of mud. Jesus emptied himself by taking, taking to himself the nature of humanity. “He had not lost His former being, but He had become what He was not before; He had not abdicated His own position, yet He had taken ours; ” [Hilary of Poitiers c.360 Trinity, III.16].

Application

The scriptures plainly teach, and the church throughout history has affirmed that because of the incarnation, Jesus is fully God and now also truly man, two natures united in one person forever. Why is this important? What is the use of it? Why does it matter? Just a few points of application as we close.

Understanding that Jesus is one person with two natures helps make sense of scripture. This gives us theological categories to help wrap our finite human brains to some limited degree around who Jesus is. In his human nature he was helpless, wrapped up lying in a feed trough, totally dependent on his mother. In his divine nature he continued to hold the universe together by the word of his power. In his human nature he learned and grew. In his divine nature he continued in the perfection of every divine attribute. In his human nature he was hungry, thirsty and exhausted. In his divine nature he was in absolute control of all of nature. In his human nature he was led like a lamb to the slaughter and stumbled under the weight of the cross. In his divine nature, he was able to carry the sins of the world on his shoulders and pay for them in full. If he were not fully God and fully man in one person, he could not be our Savior.

Understanding that Jesus is not two persons but one person; that the divine/human person of Jesus really experienced temptation, suffering, sorrow, heartache, and death draws me to Jesus. He understands. He can sympathize. He really understands. And he invites me to come.

Increasing our understanding of who Jesus is should drive us to fall on our faces in worship. With the old hymn writers we say ‘Amazing Love! How can it be, that thou my God shouldst die for me? Tis mystery all: the Immortal dies: who can explore his strange design? …Tis mercy all! Let earth adore, let angel minds inquire no more.’ [And Can It Be, Charles Wesley, 1738]. ‘Fairest Lord Jesus, ruler of all nature, Son of God and Son of man! Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor, Thou, my soul’s glory, joy, and crown’ [Munster Gesangbuch, 1677]

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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December 22, 2013 - Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , ,

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