What Christians Must Agree Upon
There are some issues of doctrine that are more debatable than others. We can agree to disagree on these debatable “side issues” and go on living as brothers and sisters. That is because these are “side issues” of other things that are bedrock truths, fundamentals. For instance, the atonement of Christ is a fundamental, but throughout the Christian world there are differences of opinion of how exactly it works. No, we don’t have to agree about these “side issues” to remain in Christian fellowship with each other, but that is not the case for issues of fundamental Christian doctrine. These are things that absolutely must be accepted by a believer in order for that believer to be considered an orthodox Christian.
The second of the famous Five Fundamentals concerns the virgin birth of Christ. This is a crucial point for several doctrinal reasons. In my opinion, the top of these reasons is exactly what it indicates about the dual nature of Jesus: That He had both a human nature and a divine nature. In other words, he wasn’t just a human messiah as was expected, he was a human who was the divine messiah.
What the Jews Expected About the Messiah
The arrival of a Jewish messiah was not at all unexpected by the Jews. They expected it to happen. For many years it had been recognized that the Scriptures prophesied that one would be coming. The Jewish people had been waiting a very long time for God to send them a messiah, someone to save them from earthly oppression. But Jesus wasn’t what they expected at all. He wasn’t a truly great man messiah as was anticipated, he was just an extremely poor carpenter’s son. Furthermore, He was God, a divine messiah.
Jesus’ human background definitely qualified him as this messiah. His lineage through both Mary (Luke 3) and Joseph (Matthew 1) directly traced back to David and therefore gave him divine right to the benefits of the Davidic Covenant, which can be found in 2 Samuel 7:8-16. In the second half of that passage God promised to raise up a man in the line of David to rule forever. So from this human perspective, Jesus appears to have been the perfect recipient of this promise.
Like I said, they were just expecting a man—a great man—but, still, just a man. And they really didn’t think this promised messiah was going to die for their sins. They did not get that the very Son of God was be the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of all humanity for all time nor that the only one who could possibly do this was God in human form. The very idea would have been both ridiculous and blasphemous to them. No, their idea was that this great man, this great warrior-king, would conquer the foes of the nation and literally rule upon a literal throne. Instead, rather than accept Jesus as the divine Messiah, many resented and completely rejected Him. Even many of those who listened to and followed Jesus while he was alive did not really seem to have really understood Jesus or what He was doing.
The Heresies About the Nature of Jesus, the Messiah
This misunderstanding of the human and divine nature of Jesus went on for centuries in the church. For a very long time there have been those who didn’t like or recognize how Scripture shows that Jesus was both human and divine in His natures. That straying Christian thinking has resulted in several famous heresies. The study and refutation of heresy would become honed throughout the second century. In their search for greater knowledge, they obscured the knowledge God has given. Some examples of heresies that focused on either the human or divine nature of Christ and made every effort to explain the other away:
Ebionitism – A Jewish Christian group that arose in the early second century. They taught Jesus was a very important man, but not divine.
Arianism – This heresy arose in the fourth century. Arians denied the divinity of Jesus. They postulated that He was simply the first creature who was ever created and that at best was only partly divine.
Gnosticism – Christian Gnostics rationalized that since all flesh is evil, God could not have become a man. They believed God only seemed to become a man and he only seemed to die.
Apollinarianism – Apollinarianism postulated that Jesus was God merely dressed in the soul and body of a human. It stated Jesus did not have a human spirit, but received His knowledge through the Logos.
How We Know What the Bible Really Says About His Dual Nature
The impregnation of the virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit shows that this is the supernatural way God chose to enter the world as the divine messiah, but it is certainly not the only place in the Bible that talks about or refers to Jesus being the divine messiah. There are many other places in the Bible that indicate Jesus and His work of salvation.
And then you have to consider His claims. Jesus claimed to be without sin (John 8:46). He claimed to be God (John 10:30–33; John 8:58). He claimed He was “The Way, The Truth, and The Life” (Rev. 1:8, “I Am” (John 8:58) and the “Son of God” (Matt. 16:15-17). But His claims also revealed His humanity when He claimed to be hungry (Matt. 21:18), to be thirsty (John 19:28), and to be weary (Matt. 8:20).
We have only to read the Gospel accounts to see Jesus claimed vast, almost superhuman knowledge of human affairs, the Scriptures, the workings of the demon world, the afterlife, and the end of time. It is true that the prophets of the Old Testament also expounded in an extraordinary way that revealed knowledge of many future events, but while sharing the messages of God they did not claim to be God. Jesus did.
His claim to be God is huge. C.S. Lewis famously said, “This man we are talking about was (and is) just what He said or else a lunatic, or something worse. Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend…however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.” Like a lot of Lewis’s thinking, this is flawless logic.
There are so many reasons that we should be eternally grateful for a divine messiah rather than just a human messiah. One of these reasons is the choice Jesus faced on that fateful night in the Garden of Gethsemane. On that night His human nature fully dreaded the future and longed for escape, but in the end His will ceded to His divine nature which longed to follow the Father’s plan of salvation whatever the cost (Matt. 26:36-39).
The Hypostatic Union
And when we accept the dual nature of this poor Israelite son of a carpenter, we are acknowledging what historic church leaders termed the hypostatic union. In the early centuries of the church, there were three primary ecumenical councils who studied to form a definite understanding of what the Bible said regarding the issue of Jesus’ nature. There was the Council of Nicea, which discussed and decided on the biblical teaching of Jesus’ divinity. There was the Council of Constantinople which discussed and decided what it said about His humanity. There was the Council of Chalcedon which brought all this study together to define the doctrine of the unity of the person of Jesus. This was what they found the Bible to teach: “(1) He [Jesus] had two natures—a human nature and a divine nature. Each of these exists in its completeness and integrity. (2) Jesus Christ is one person.” This is what they would term the hypostatic union. (Hypostasis means “substance” in Greek.)
From this understanding they drew up the Chalcedonian Creed. The Chalcedonian Creed affirmed Jesus was “of one substance with the Father as regards His Godhead, and at the same time one substance with us as regards His humanity…recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.” The orthodox understanding of the church is that Jesus’ person contained two full natures, but he was not half God and half man. He was all God and all man at the same time. (Another technical and more modern word used to describe this nature of Christ is theanthropic.)
It is true, Jesus did not necessarily have to express His own deity. It is true, the rest of the Bible declares it for Him. However, He did know and He did express it. Jesus the man fully knew that He was God. His God-ness defined Him. There’s a lot about God the Son I do not understand, but I am convinced of this: The all-powerful God who is our divine messiah has provided salvation for all mankind.