The Two Natures of Jesus Christ, by Ted Johnston
Critics and inquirers alike often question a core tenet of Christian belief — that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully human. Some claim Jesus was an exceptionally gifted man but not God. Others say he was God, only appearing to be human. Some insist that Jesus was a reincarnated angel. Others claim he did not become God until his resurrection.
These and other denials of Jesus’ full divinity or full humanity distort the testimony of Scripture. Moreover, they deny the basis of our salvation—that God took on human flesh to come and rescue us.
Jesus is fully God
An early Christian profession of faith exclaims that “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Romans 10:9). Here are two truths about Jesus. First, he is Christ, a title equivalent to the Hebrew term Messiah, meaning “the anointed one.” By calling him Christ, early Christians acknowledged that Jesus is greater than any human being (see Mark 8:27-30) and that he is the one sent by God to rescue us.
Second, though in Jewish thought the Messiah might be a great man, Christians called Jesus “Lord” (kyrios in Greek). They used this word in their translations of the Old Testament for God’s personal name (YHWH in Hebrew). Although kyrios could be used to mean master or sir, Jews and Christians refused to acknowledge the Roman emperor as “the Lord” (in an absolute sense, which is the way the emperor wanted it) because only God was “the Lord.” Yet Jesus was called Lord, even the Lord.
In Philippians 2, Jesus is said to be “in very nature God” (verse 6); and is to be worshiped as Lord: “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (verses 10-11). This statement paraphrases Isaiah 45:23, where God speaks of himself. God alone is to be worshiped, and when Christians call Jesus Lord, they proclaim him to be God.
The New Testament continuously insists that Jesus Christ is God:
- He was God before he was born in the flesh: “In the beginning was the Word … and the Word was God” (John 1:1).
- After his human birth he continued to be God. On earth, Jesus forgave sins (Mark 2:5-7), something only God can do. He claimed divinity (John 8:58) and thus equality with God (John 10:28-30). These claims led to charges of blasphemy (Matthew 26:63-66) and death by crucifixion.
- After his resurrection, he continues to be God. Thomas called the risen Jesus “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).
- The author of Hebrews, quoting Psalm 104, says of Jesus, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever” (Hebrews 1:8).
Jesus is fully human
The New Testament also insists that Jesus is in every sense a human being, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). John wrote, “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14), and in his epistles John attacked denials of Jesus’ humanity as demonic heresy (1 John 4:1-3; 2 John 7-11).
Throughout the Gospels we see Jesus operating within the confines of human flesh. He was born of a woman and grew up in a human family. He often got tired, and he hungered. At the end of his life, suffering the excruciating pain of crucifixion, he cried out in a human way, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
That Jesus Christ is fully human is of great importance to us. This truth tells us that in order to save us, God became one of us. To do so he did not abandon his divinity (only God can save us), but he fully clothed himself with humanity.
This dual nature of our Savior continues as he intercedes for us in heaven: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). Scripture thus implies that Jesus continues to be fully God and fully human—now God in glorified human flesh. Herein lies a great mystery of the Christian faith.
A great mystery and an encouraging truth
That Jesus is both God and human is a mystery beyond our limited experience. Yet no other explanation upholds all that Scripture says about Jesus Christ. Understanding this essential truth is more than an intellectual exercise. It involves appreciating the great depths of God’s love for us.
Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a woman (Matthew 1:20), was the union of God and humankind for the express purpose of providing a Savior for us (verse 21). This Savior would have a vital and unique quality—he would be Immanuel, which means “God with us” (verses 22-23). He was indeed fully God and yet in an amazing, glorious way, he was “with us” by being fully one of us.
Jesus is fully God and fully human.
Defending the truth
Down through the centuries, leaders of the Christian church have been challenged to defend the truth of Jesus’ dual nature against beliefs to the contrary. Whatever the challenge, the Holy Spirit has eventually led the church back to the scriptural truth that Jesus is both fully God and fully human.
The church council that met in Chalcedon in A.D. 451 produced one of the most complete statements of this doctrine. It reads in part: “Our Lord Jesus Christ is one and the same God, perfect in divinity, and perfect in humanity, true God and true human … Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, manifested in two natures without any confusion, change, division or separation. The union does not destroy the difference of the two natures, but on the contrary the properties of each are kept, and both are joined in one person” (Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, volume 1, HarperSanFrancisco, 1984).
Though the statement employs language that may be unfamiliar to us, a careful reading indicates that it well summarizes the truth of Scripture on a topic of great consequence to all believers.
Jesus Christ’s dual nature —fully God and fully human
Jesus Christ was sent by the Father as Jesus Christ to be God revealed in the flesh for our salvation. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, fully God and fully human, two natures in one Person. Following are Scriptures that support both his divinity and his humanity.
Isa. 9:6; Matt. 11:27; 16:16; Mark 2:5-7; Luke 5:20-22; 9:20; John 1:1; 1:14; 2:19, 21; 3:13, 31; 5:18; 6:38; 8:58; 9: 38; 10:17; 10:30; 13:3; 14:9; 14:23; 16:15; 16:28; 17:8; 17:21-23; 20:28; Romans 9:5; 1 Cor. 10:3-4; 15:47; 2 Cor. 8:9; Phil. 2:5-11; Colossians 1:15-17, 19; 2:9; 1 Tim. 1:17; 2:5; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:2-3, 8-11; 2:7, 9, 14, 16; 13:8; 1 John 5:20; Rev. 1:8, 17; 2:8; 3:14.
Matt. 1:1, 18-25; 4:2; 26:38; Luke 1:26-38; 9:58; 22:44; John 1:14; 11:33-35; 19:28, 34; Romans 9:5; 1 Cor. 15:3; Gal. 4:4; Phil. 2:5-11; 1 Tim. 2:5; 3:16; Heb. 2:14-15, 17-18; 4:15; 10:5; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 4:2; 2 John 7.