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Jesus: Man of the Bible

Lesson 9

The Great Paradox!

The last few lessons of our course have been very interesting. Imagine the wonder of Jesus! First we saw him as the pre-existent God who created the universe. Then we saw him as an ordinary person—just like us in every way. The evidence for each side was easy to find and understand and overwhelming. The only problem we have now is trying to figure out a way to have both of these extreme pictures fit into the same person—Jesus! In Jesus, truly, the heaven and earth collide to form a PARADOX1!

God and Man

Is it possible that divinity2 with all its perfection and purity can be joined to humanity with all its weaknesses and limitations—at the same time? This would seem to be the case when we speak of Jesus because we have already seen that he really IS God and he really IS man! Most religions believe and teach that when Jesus Christ came to the earth he was 100% God and 100% man, but is this possible?

A two thousand year old puzzle!

To get to the bottom of the issue we must first realize that people have been trying to explain the existence of God and man in Jesus Christ ever since he left the earth. It is a hard thing to do since none of us know what it means to be God! It isn’t surprising then to see that most attempts to explain focus on the human aspect of the issue. Philosophers in the past have often described MAN as being composed of three basic parts: body, soul, and spirit. They explain that the body is the flesh and blood “house”, or “body” in which the spirit and soul live. The soul is the life force that makes a person a living being, and the spirit is the controlling force within a person that processes information, makes decisions, and stores memories.

Body, Soul, Spirit

There have been attempts to explain Jesus’ humanity using this model. One such attempt was by a fellow named Apolinarius3. He explained that Jesus assumed a human body and soul, but that the human spirit of Jesus was replaced with God. If this were true, then God would be living in a human body. However, if the spirit of Jesus (that part of him that would process information and make decisions) was God, then how could it be said that Jesus, “was tempted as we are?” If temptation involves making decisions, then, using the model above, it would be the spirit of Jesus that would be responsible for deciding what to do. The theory of Apolinarius would have the God part of Jesus receiving the temptations and he would easily defeat each and every temptation. Jesus would be sinless, but it would not be because he “was tempted in every way just as we are and yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) Unfortunately, this idea would destroy his ability to experience humanity! From what we learned in our last study, it should be very easy to see that the idea of Apolinarius is going in the wrong direction.

At about the same time, a fellow named Nestorius put forth another idea4. He believed that Jesus was more like two distinct persons that switched back and forth as the situation needed. Whenever we see Jesus doing human things, that is the time when “Jesus the Man” is in the foreground and “Jesus the God” is in the background. Whenever we see Jesus teaching, healing, walking on water, or doing other things that only God can do then “Jesus the God” is in the foreground and “Jesus the Man” is in the background. The main problem with this idea is that it makes Jesus to be like a person with a “split personality”. In addition, we cannot possibly accept this explanation and then say that Jesus was “like us in every way”, can we? Therefore, Nestorius’ idea is also lacking something.

Still another interesting idea came from a fellow named Eutyches5. He believed that Jesus was born as an ordinary man in Bethlehem. At that time, he was 100% man and 0% God. However, as Jesus grew older the God part of him slowly increased while the man part of him slowly decreased, so that by the time Jesus left the earth he was 100% God and 0% man. This idea totally discards the human side altogether and cannot be accepted if we are to believe that Jesus was truly “just like us in every way”!

By now, you should be able to understand the problem facing us. From past studies, we know that Jesus was completely God, AND, completely human. Therefore, any attempt to explain the relationship between God and Man in Jesus must not compromise either position. Considering how different these two are, this is not an easy thing to accomplish! Let us search in the Bible and see if we can find another possible solution to the puzzle.

A “HEAVENLY” conflict under “EARTHLY” conditions!

To begin our research, please turn to and read Matthew 4:1-10. This passage records the temptation of Jesus by the Devil. Thinking about the details recorded there, one must notice the following.

First, let us ask a simple question. Was this the first time these two individuals met one another? The answer has to be NO! Satan and Jesus are both pre-existent beings and evidence indicates that they knew each other before the Creation and have been adversaries since before the world was made!

This brings up the second point. If Satan KNEW who he was dealing with, then he also knew very well that Jesus was God. This, in turn, means that he also knew that he did not have a chance of deceiving God.

Therefore, if Satan KNEW Jesus was God, and knew that God cannot be tempted by him, then why did Satan tempt Jesus? Is Satan that foolish, OR, had a change occurred in Jesus that now made him vulnerable to Satan’s attack. Would Satan go to so much effort if he did not stand a chance at success? This is very interesting, don’t you agree?

There MUST have been some change in the person of Jesus that made him vulnerable to Satan!

The Explanation unfolds

With this in mind, please turn to Philippians 2:6-8 and read it through several times so that you will easily be able to remember it. Examining the passage verse by verse, we find some remarkable things.

First, let’s work out the context of the passage. Who is speaking and what is he speaking about? The writer (the apostle Paul) is writing to his readers (who are all Christians) about the subject of humility and placing the needs of others above one’s own. To illustrate his point he then uses the example of Jesus. This sets up our passage. What better context could we have?

His first statement for our passage is, “Your attitude should be like that of Jesus…”

He begins his explanation, in verse 6, by describing Jesus in his pre-incarnation state of existence. The phrase Paul uses is “equal with God.” (This matches the conclusions we made in our earlier studies about Jesus during that time.) However, Paul goes on to say that Jesus did not count this equality as being something he should hold on to. In verse 7, he continues by saying that Jesus gave up his equality with God and came down to the earth. (This would be speaking about the incarnation we studied.) The resulting state of Jesus’ existence is described in verse 8. Jesus became equal with man and, as a man, had to be obedient to the Father’s will just like any other human. (This would agree with our study of Hebrews 2:14-18.)

This is remarkable! The true scope of what Jesus did can be seen. It is not only the great change that we see, but also the motivation behind it. Jesus did this because he was putting the needs of others ahead of his own needs! This is what many refer to as self-denial and is the lesson the writer is trying to teach to his readers.

However, in our study today we are also interested in the transfer and change that came over Jesus. What exactly is meant when Paul states that Jesus “GAVE UP” his equality with God? Here is the main focal point of our lesson and of our understanding what happened during the temptation in Matthew chapter 4.

The Greek word we find here is a form of the word KENOO, which means, “to empty, or, to make of no value or use.” Literally, it means to remove the content of something. Figuratively, it means taking away the effectiveness of something. Most translations of the Bible read, “…he emptied himself…”, however, they might just as easily have said, “he made his equality with God of no effect.”

If we consider the context of all we have studied thus far, the writer implies that Jesus VOLUNTARILY agreed to give up those things that made it impossible for him to live life on earth as a “like us in every way” human. (The word “empty” in the text does not necessarily demand the actual removal of these things, but only that they not be used while he lived on the earth.) However one wishes to word it, we are certain that the result was a change in Jesus—which was described by the writer of Hebrews as Jesus becoming like us in every way! That, in turn, would explain why Satan tried so hard to defeat Jesus during the temptation. Jesus became a complete human and so was open to Satan’s attack!

There is still one very great question facing us. “Did Jesus stop being God when he emptied himself and became human?”

The answer to this cannot be found by trying to work out percentages. You cannot have something be 100% of one thing and then be 100% of another different thing at the same time. That adds up to 200%! Instead of percentages, the real issue here is one of IDENTITY! Identity involves everything that makes a person an individual—who he or she really IS.6

Identity has to do with a person’s origin, background, character, physical appearance, etc. Your identity is who you are! As a person experiences new things they become a part of his character and are added to his identity. A person’s situation may change, and new experiences and characteristics might become part of his identity, but the identity itself does not change. New experiences do not erase or change who a person was, but rather, they add to who he is now, and remain a part of him as he goes forward into the future.

For example, a person who is poor might one day become rich. However, if he should become rich, that does not change the FACT that the man who is rich NOW, was once a poor man. He is still the same person!

This is how it is with Jesus. His past identity was not lost when he became a man. The man who was seen dead and hanging on the cross was the same individual who was there on DAY ONE of Creation and who made the light! No person could say that Jesus was not “the God of Creation”, even though at that particular time he was a dead human hanging on a cross! If we look back at the way John explained things in chapter 1 of his book, the fact that the WORD “became flesh” did not mean that he was no longer the WORD who was with God in the beginning and who had made all things. The whole force of John’s argument lies in the fact that the man Jesus, whom everyone knew and saw every day, was REALLY God!

It is not productive to become involved in the attempts of people to place percentage figures on the levels of GOD and MAN in Jesus, because it is not a question of HOW MUCH of Jesus was MAN and HOW MUCH was GOD!

What we see in the final analysis is that:

  1. Jesus IS our GOD and Creator. He made us and everything else in the universe and he is just like the Father IN EVERY WAY.
  2. He gave up ALL that made him different from us and came down to the earth to live.
  3. On the earth he became a MAN to the extent that he was “like us IN EVERY WAY.”
  4. However, BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER all of this, he NEVER stopped being Jesus!

It is also important to note that Philippians 2 is not describing a situation where Jesus was initially God and then he became a man (thus CEASING to be God), then later he became God again (thus CEASING to be man). If this were true, then it would make everything we studied in our last lesson mean nothing. (Please look again at Hebrews 2:18 and 4:15-16.) The only way Jesus can help us is if his HUMANITY was kept and brought back with him when he returned to his ORIGINAL PLACE and status. Jesus’ HUMANITY became a permanent addition to his identity, and that addition has changed his importance in our lives forever!

Someone is said to have discovered an ancient anonymous proverb written about Jesus. It contains words that he himself might say in order to summarize what we have been trying to grasp in our lesson today.

I AM WHAT I WAS GOD
I WAS NOT WHAT I AM MAN
I AM NOW CALLED BOTH GOD/MAN

This gives tremendous meaning to Hebrews 13:8, which simply states,

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

Footnotes

1 A paradox is something that seems to contradict but in reality might possibly be true. It’s like mixing water and oil. While it sounds impossible, under the right conditions it can be done.

2 This is a word used in literature to describe the qualities and characteristics of being a god.

3 Apolonarius was a religious teacher who lived in the 4th century.

4 Nestorius was a religious teacher who lived in the 4th and 5th centuries.

5 Eutychus was a religious teacher who lived in the 4th and 5th centuries.

6 The Random House College Dictionary says that identity is the state or fact of remaining the same one or ones as under varying aspects or conditions. The condition of being oneself or itself, and not another.