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The Humanity of Christ: What It Is
A close friend of mine is crazy smart. Like Harvard undergrad and Stanford Law kind of smart. He tells a funny story about the historical, human Jesus.
My friend and his Ivy League buddies were up late playing Trivial Pursuit (what else would a group of super smart collegians do?) For those of you unfamiliar with it, Trivial Pursuit is a game in which each player works his/her way around the game-board by answering trivia questions in any of six different categories – geography, entertainment, literature, science and nature, sports, and history. That night as they played, one of the guys drew a history question that went something like this:
“A first century Jew from Nazareth, his life serves as the turning point in the Julian and Gregorian calendars and the basis for a major world religion. Who is he?”
The question is an easy one. The answer is Jesus. But before the other player could give it, the Harvard senior who asked the simple question was utterly flabbergasted at it, and blurted out, “What?! This question is a history question? Why? According to who? Why would a question about Jesus be in the history category?!”
My friend was equally flabbergasted, but not at the question. He was baffled by his classmate’s ignorance, to which he responded, “Dude – you don’t have to believe he’s God, but c’mon man, you can’t honestly think he didn’t exist!”
My friend is right. Believe what you want about who Jesus was, but there is no doubt that he was. Jesus of Nazareth lived – as a man – on this planet – at a fixed time – in a real place.
Jesus was human.
He had a mother, he had brothers, he had friends, and he walked, talked, ate, drank, worked, slept, laughed and cried. These are historical facts attested to by non-religious first-century historians, ancient writings, the Bible, and – as mentioned in the game Trivial Pursuit – the world’s most-recognized calendar for 2,000 years.
Beyond these facts lies the Church’s traditional teaching of Jesus’ humanity. The Christian Church believes and teaches, as most people know, that Jesus Christ is God. But the church also believes he was fully human. Like the Trinity, this teaching of the church can be difficult to grasp because it is so unique. There have been prophets, teachers, and religious leaders throughout time, but none have legitimately claimed to be God while also being fully human. Yet that is the Christian understanding of Jesus.
He was indeed God, but he was also born a helpless baby, he grew into adulthood, he walked the roads of Galilee and Jerusalem, he got hungry and thirsty, he experienced human emotion, and he died a brutal death. He bled real blood, cried real tears, knew real anger and experienced real joy – because he was really human.
This is what it means to believe that Jesus of Nazareth, the Jesus that Christianity worships as God, is also fully human. So the question we pose again here is, why does it matter?
The Humanity of Christ: Why It Matters
I’m not sure at what age a child is able to understand that a person in costume – whether it’s Dad playing Santa Claus or a stranger at Disneyland in a mouse costume – is still a real person, dressed up as something different. But until they do, Halloween must be pretty terrifying, right? I mean, how many times have you seen young children run in pure fear from someone in a gorilla suit while the older kids laugh hysterically at the practical joke? The older kids know it isn’t real. They know what the young ones don’t – that it’s just Dad having fun, pretending to be a giant monkey.
It may seem an elementary illustration, but it’s an important one for understanding why it matters that Jesus was fully human. If Jesus was fully divine (as we discussed in our last Why it Matters post) but not also fully human, then he didn’t really live a life like ours – he was just pretending. He was God in a human suit. While he may have fooled some and not others, the truth is he didn’t live an authentic human life. He only pretended to be like us.
That matters. Because if God, like dads in monkey suits and Santa costumes, was just pretending to be human, then he only pretended to experience what we do. It means he pretended to be a baby. He pretended to be helpless. He pretended to grow. He pretended to endure adolescence. He pretended to be tempted. He pretended to feel sorrow, anger and amazement, and he pretended to need food, water and rest.
So what? Why does all this pretending or not pretending matter?
It matters because of this: the crux of Christian belief is that Jesus showed us what human life in perfect relationship with our Creator can be like.
Jesus, as a human, lived the perfect life we couldn’t, died the death we deserve, and was raised by God to new human life, and in doing so, showed the same is possible for us.
So, if he didn’t actually experience a human relationship with God, real human death, and a real bodily resurrection, then how can we ever believe we will experience it? If he hasn’t done it, then there’s no proof we can. If Jesus’ life was an act, then his promise is only a theory.
As the Apostle Paul wrote, “If Christ has not been raised, then [our] faith is useless…and we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 19 NLT)
But if he was not pretending, and he really was human – fully human – and really did die on that cross and walk out of the grave, then there is real hope that God is not just saying resurrection of human life is possible, but God has proved it. With that as a reality, it changes everything about our human life, giving it meaning, purpose, peace, and power.
That matters to me. Does it matter to you?
The Humanity of Christ – Scripture
Here are some key Scripture passages about Jesus’ humanity:
The Humanity of Christ – Read About It
Want to learn more? Here are some recommended book titles regarding the humanity of Christ:
- Theology for the Community of God – Stanley Grenz
- The Man Christ Jesus – Bruce A. Ware
- The Jesus We Missed – Patrick Henry Reardon
- Christology – Gerald O’Collins
- The Incarnation – Stephen Davis