The Word Became Flesh: Jesus the God-Man

The Counsel of Nicea (325AD), prompted by the Arian controversy, produced in creedal form the Church’s definitive statement of the Bible’s teaching on the deity of the Second Person of the Trinity (the Son).

(a.d. 325; revised at Constantinople a.d. 381)
…And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end…

Following Nicea, the theological focus changed regarding the Son. For as the Bible teaches, the Eternal Son, who was with God and was Himself God (John 1:1), became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). The Son is not just God, but is the God-man. A new Christological controversy began. How should the church understand the Bible’s teaching on the union of the humanity and divinity in Jesus? The result of this controversy was the Chalcedonian creed.

(a.d. 451)
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 soul and body; consubstantial 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.

Chalcedon established that a Biblical understanding of the Incarnate Son of God will affirm three essential truths:

  1. The incarnate Son is one person. 
  2. The incarnate Son has two distinct, yet united natures (divine and human). 
  3. The divine and human natures of the incarnate Son are both complete. 

The first of these truths was denied by the Nestorian heresy. Nestorius, or so it was claimed, taught that in Christ there were two natures and two persons.

To the contrary the New Testament consistently portrays Jesus as a single person. As Paul confirms, it was the pre-incarnate Christ who was born a man. ‘…Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,…[was] born in the likeness of men’ (Philippians 2:5-7).

This truth is also evidenced by the fact that an action of either nature is ascribed to the one person of Christ. This becomes especially convincing when the Biblical writers use titles reminding us of one nature when the action was obviously done by the other nature.

None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified [only the human nature of Christ can be crucified] the Lord of glory [title pointing to the divinity of Christ]. (1 Corinthians 2:8)
“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, [being limited in knowledge is true of the human nature only. The divine nature is omniscient] not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, [title pointing to the divinity of Christ] but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32)

In opposition to Nestorianism, Chalcedon affirmed the Biblical truth that Christ was one person.

‘…the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ…’

The second truth was rejected by Monophysitism (Greek: mono = one, phusis = nature). In this view the human and divine natures of Christ merged to form a single third kind of nature that was neither truly human nor truly divine.

Biblically, such a view is untenable. For one thing, Jesus’ divine nature, being divine is not subject to change. In this regard Jesus is affirmed as being the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8 see also 1:10-12).

Secondly, the Bible speaks of Jesus as being both God and man. For instance, when talking about Jesus’ role as mediator between God and men, Paul highlights the fact that Jesus was human. This is essential because if Jesus wasn’t truly human, He couldn’t truly represent us before God.

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, (1 Timothy 2:5, see Hebrews 2:14-18)

Thirdly, Scripture attributes opposing characteristics to Jesus. These statements only make sense together if Jesus truly had two distinct yet united natures. Consider these examples:

  • Jesus had limited knowledge (Mark 13:32; Luke 2:52), yet He knew all things (John 2:25; 16:30; 21:17) 
  • Jesus was tempted (Hebrews 4:15), yet God cannot be tempted (James 1:13) 
  • Jesus was born (Matthew 1:18ff), yet He was eternal (John 1:1-2; 8:58) 
  • Jesus is now seated in heaven (John 16:28; Acts 1:9-11), yet He is omnipresent (Matthew 18:20) 

In response to Monophysitism, Chalcedon vindicated the Biblical truth that Christ has two distinct, yet united natures (divine and human).

‘…recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved…’

The Apollinarian heresy is an example of a denial of the third truth. Apollinarius taught that Jesus had a human body, but not a human mind.

The problem is that if Jesus didn’t have a human mind, then He is not really human at all. And Hebrews teaches that someone who isn’t fully human is unable to save us:

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. (Hebrews 2:17)

The completeness of Jesus’ human nature is seen by these facts:

  • Jesus had a natural human birth (Matthew 1:18-23). 
  • Jesus had a human body that grew in stature (Luke 2:52); became tired (John 4:6), hungry (Matthew 4:2), thirsty (John 19:28), weak (Matthew 4:11; Luke 23:26); and finally died (Luke 23:46). 
  • Jesus had a human mind (Luke 2:52). 
  • Jesus had a human soul (John 12:27; 13:21; Matthew 26:38) and emotions (John 11:5, 35; Luke 7:9; 10:21; Matthew 9:36; Mark 3:5). 
  • Jesus was tempted (Luke 4:1-13; Hebrews 4:15). 

At the same time Jesus is also declared to be fully God.

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, (Colossians 2:9, see also 1:19)

To safeguard against Apollinarianism, the Chalcedonian creed affirms the Biblical truth that Christ’s divine and human natures are both complete.

‘…at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin…’

The incarnation of the Son of God remains a great mystery. Chalcedon didn’t relieve the mystery entirely. It did however draw three Biblical lines in the sand which should safeguard us against error. All further thought on the Incarnate Christ must keep within the bounds of these lines.

Finally, the incarnation must never be for us merely a mystery to be pondered, but a reality to be proclaimed and praised. Without the incarnation there would be no salvation.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
(Charles Wesley, "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing")

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