A brother in the faith recently asked how Christ could be at the same time both God and man. One reference used in the reply remained tenaciously in mind:
The union of the divine with the human nature is one of the most precious and most mysterious truths of the plan of redemption. . . .
This truth has been to many a cause of doubt and unbelief.—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 746.
Meditating upon the subject later, I began to wonder just how many really do understand this most pre-. cious truth. Some seem to have only a blurred snapshot view depicting God temporarily stepping into the human body of Christ. Others are proclaiming a divergent view, that Christ assumed a sinful, human nature and with it inherited corrupt passions that have plagued the entire human race since the Fall.
What is the answer? Was Christ truly human as we are? Did He have passions identical to ours, or an inherent tendency toward sin? Was it our place or Adam's that Christ came to take?
First, to deny the incarnation of Christ is to deny nearly all the accepted teachings of the Scriptures. But to understand the complete "how" of this divine act, the process whereby God "adopted" a human body, is another matter entirely. Through the pen of Ellen G. White, God explains that "Christ, at an infinite cost, by a painful process, mysterious to angels as well as to men, assumed humanity."—The SDA Bible Commentary, on I Tim. 3:16, P. 915.
Many theories in the past centuries have been proposed to explain this act, with various times set as to when the divine Christ entered the human body of Jesus.
However, if one accepts the Bible as inspired, sentences such as "You shall conceive and bear a son" and "the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy child to be born will be called 'Son of God— (Luke 1:31, 35, N.E.B.)* cannot be ignored. Whatever else these Scriptures teach concerning the Incarnation, it is obvious that they specify the holy Child as the "Son of God" prior to His birth.
Near the beginning of John's Gospel he states clearly that "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). How great must be the love of God for lost men to permit a member of the Godhead to come physiologically down below the level of the sinless angels, below the level of sinless man, to the low level of degraded, sinful man. But it was only on this level that sinful man could ever hope to be redeemed.
Unfortunately, men today have sometimes misinterpreted what Christ actually adopted when coming down to our level. When Paul states that Christ was made "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Rom. 8:3) they interpret, "He was made in sinful flesh." When Paul says He "took upon him the form of a servant" (Phil. 2:7), they quickly translate "Christ's human nature was no different from other men." As if this were not enough, they specify that this is precisely what the Seventh-day Adventist denomination has always taught. But the question remains: Do we actually teach this?
Was Christ Truly Human?
At the specified time "God sent forth his Son, made of a woman" (Gal. 4:4).
Not only was He God Himself, but He then also became man. Theologically speaking, He did not become God and man, or God in man, but God-man. Divinity was not laid off when He accepted humanity, neither did His human nature change into the divine nature of God. Instead, "the two natures were mysteriously blended in one person."—The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on Mark 16:6, p. 1113. This act is something that man can neither comprehend or explain.
When He was made of a woman was He also made exactly as any other child of a woman? Did He have normal wants and needs? Again we have this clear statement:
When Jesus took human nature, and became in fashion as a man, He possessed all the human organism. His necessities were the necessities of a man.—Ibid., on John 1:14, p. 1130.
Jesus became hungry, thirsty, weary, and needed sleep even as we do (Matt. 4:2; 8:24; John 4:6, 7). He had bodily wants to be met, and when deprived of these necessities, as in the wilderness, He became weak and famished. In fact, it was when Christ was craving for food that Satan appeared as an angel from heaven and pointed to the loaf-shaped stones as a means to satisfy His hunger. Thus Satan was tempting Christ to use His inherent divine nature to help His human nature.
When Christ came to the earth and partook of humanity, He suppressed certain privileges possessed by God. Expressed in the positive, He voluntarily took upon His divinity the limitations of (1) space, (2) knowledge, and (3) power. But all His limitations were self-imposed. The first limitation is perhaps more than obvious. The second is to be found in Matthew 24:36, where Christ explains that He at that time did not know exactly when He Himself would later return to this world as King. The third is noted in the Garden of Gethsemane experience (Matt. 26:53, 54).
We cannot say that He gave up omnipotence, omniscience, or omnipresence, but that He voluntarily limited their use. In fact, throughout the Gospels we discover exceptions where these three divine attributes are employed to glorify God. The expression so of t used by Ellen G. White—"Divinity flashed through humanity"—reveals that Christ did retain His divinity throughout His stay on earth.
1. He took the form of man.—Paul explains that "bearing the human likeness, revealed in human shape" (Phil. 2:7, 8, N.E.B.),* Christ humbled Himself to the death of the cross. He had the shape of mortal man; He had the likeness of a mortal being. No longer did he appear as God:
He was God while upon earth, but he divested himself of the form of God, and in its stead took the form and fashion of a man.—Ellen G. White in The Review and Herald, July 5, 1887, P. 417.
In the same way that we are all sharers of flesh and blood, so is Christ. He outwardly appeared as any normal human being. He could be felt and handled even following His resurrection. A doctor in those days could examine Him with all the medical instruments available and still come to the inevitable conclusion that He was in every sense a member of the human race.
2. He took the nature of man.—Human nature is specified as the instincts or inherited tendencies directing human conduct. Therefore, when Christ partook of human nature, He became subject to the inherited tendencies of man.
It is at this point that many are misled. To say that the human nature of Christ is likened to ours is not to say that it is identical with ours today. In other words, was Christ's nature that of Adam or that of modern sin-oriented man?
Whose Place Did Christ Take?
If Christ came to the earth in the place of sinful man, He would have then needed a sinful nature. But, if it was specifically to redeem Adam's failure that He came, then all He needed was the sinless nature of Adam.
Using this hypothesis, what does inspiration reveal about this Redeemer? Whose failure did He redeem?
Christ, in the wilderness of temptation, stood in Adam's place to bear the test he failed to endure.—Review and Herald, July 28, 1874, p. 51.
Christ is called the second Adam. In purity and holiness, connected with God and beloved by God, he began where the first Adam began. Willingly he passed over the ground where Adam fell, and redeemed Adam's failure.—The Youth Instructor, June 2, 1898, p. 425.
Was it not Adam's sin that condemned the whole race? Therefore, by rectifying Adam's sin through a perfect life, by dying a death on the cross and by paying the ransom necessary to meet the justice of God, does that not make possible the salvation of every member of the human family? The Bible aptly states this truth: "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:22).
Nevertheless, it must not be ignored that the Scriptures clearly teach that He "was in all points tempted like as we are" (Heb. 4:15). If He possessed the perfect and sinless nature of unfallen Adam, how could He ever hope to experience temptation as we sinners must?
Does this text mean as it reads? Does it, for instance, mean that Christ was tempted to kill in the same way a mentally deranged murderer is tempted? Does it mean that He experienced the agonizing desire of the derelict alcoholic for more alcohol, or the drug addict's violent craving for another shot of morphine? God forbid!
It is obvious that one must interpret "in all points" to mean "in every major issue." Thus, He was not tempted to watch degrading TV movies, but He was tempted in "the lust of the eye." He was not tempted to use dope, but he did meet "lust of the flesh." He was not tempted to covet the latest Cadillac, but He was tempted regarding "the pride of life."
Did Christ Have Any Advantage?
If He came only to take the place of unfallen Adam, did He then have an advantage over fallen man in conquering temptation?
In redeeming man, justice demanded only that Christ stand in the place of Adam to bear the test he failed to endure. But love demanded a greater sacrifice than this. Christ must step below the level of sinless man. He must meet the tempter without the strength of perfect manhood, without the full vigor of mind and body, and without the glories of Eden (The Desire of Ages, p. 117).
In behalf of the race, with the weaknesses of fallen man upon him, He was to stand the temptations of Satan upon all points wherewith man would be assailed (Review and Herald, July 28, 1874).
It would have been an almost infinite humiliation for the Son of God to take man's nature, even when Adam stood in his innocence in Eden. But Jesus accepted humanity when the race had been weakened by four thousand years of sin. Like every child of Adam He accepted the results of the working of the great law of heredity—The Desire of Ages, p. 49.
Jesus met temptation with the same weaknesses by which man is encompassed."—The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments on John 1:14, p. 1131. These weaknesses were a result of the workings of the great law of heredity; they were weaknesses by which all mortal men are compassed, but they are not the sinful tendencies of sinful man.
To elaborate, it would seem there are only two major types of temptation. For the sake of clarity let us call the first "external." It was upon this point that Adam and Eve first fell. They did not then have a perverted appetite for the forbidden fruit. Instead, Satan merely suggested that God was withholding something from them. That something was to be found in the eating of the fruit.
The fruit looked good, and the tempter apparently gave the serpent the power of speech to question God's goodness. Obedient to this suggestion, Eve stepped forward and ate.
But the second is a result of the first, a result of the perverted appetites caused by the transgression. This we could call "internal." It is that referred to by James: "Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed" (James 1:14). This perverted lust Christ could not and did not possess. He began where the first Adam began and passed over the same ground where he failed. This He did with the same handicaps that we have today, physiological and environmental, but He did not possess our sinful tendencies or degraded passions. His was human nature, but not corrupt. How do we know this is true? How do we know that He was not in every way just as we are? The Scripture says He was "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" (Heb. 7:26).
Was He Human Exactly as We Are?
The answer is an emphatic "No!" These words from the Lord's messenger are illuminating:
Let every human being be warned from the ground of making Christ altogether human, such an one as ourselves; for it cannot be.—Ibid., on John 1:1-3, 14, p. 1129.
No one . . . could say that Christ was just like other children.—Ellen G. White in The Youth's Instructor, Sept. 8, 1898.
Christ was slightly different from any other man on earth. Being God within, sin could not exist in His members, and in every way He was "without sin." Had He in any minute way participated in sin, either willingly or inadvertently, He would have failed as our Redeemer and all would have been lost. This raises the next question:
Did He Have Any Inherent Tendency Toward Sin?
This, perhaps, is the crux of the whole problem. It is upon this and the following question that some have discredited the book Questions on Doctrine. They claim the statement that Christ "was exempt from the inherited passions and pollutions that corrupt the natural descendants of Adam" (page 383) must be false_ But the question remains: Did Christ have an inherent tendency toward sin?
We should have no misgivings in regard to the perfect sinlessness of the human nature of Christ. —The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments on John 1:14, p. 1131.
Do not set Him before the people as a man with the propensities of [Dictionary—"natural inclinations to, or bents toward"] sin. He is the second Adam. The first Adam was created a pure, sinless being, without a taint of sin upon him; he was in the image of God.—/bid., p. 1128.
Here we see Christ with a perfectly sinless human nature, and as one who did not have any natural, internal inclinations to, or a bent toward, sin. All His temptations, as Adam's, had to come from the external. He had the natural inclinations only of sinless Adam, not of sinful man. He became hungry even as Adam must have prior to the Fall, but not as man does today (ie. for dope, alcohol, et cetera).
Ellen G. White (continuing the last quotation) contrasts Christ and the human race of His days thus:
Because of sin his [Adam's] posterity was born with inherent propensities of disobedience. But Jesus Christ was the only begotten Son of God. He took upon Himself human nature, and was tempted in all points as human nature is tempted. He could have sinned; He could have fallen, but not for one moment was there in Him an evil propensity [tendency]. He was assailed with temptations in the wilderness, as Adam was assailed with temptations in Eden.—Ibid.
This highlights that statement already quoted: "Such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" (Heb. 7:26). Is Christ "separate" from us in that He was not born with inherent propensities of sin? He was born with the characteristics of weakened humanity, but still "He was perfect, and undefiled by sin."—Ellen G. White, The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 2, p. 11. He was born with a deteriorated human nature, but not with a sin-inclined human nature.
Did He Have Passions Identical to Ours?
Again from the pages of inspiration comes a positive and direct "No!"
Not possessing the passions of our human, fallen natures, but compassed with like infirmities, tempted in all points even as we are.—Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 509.
He is a brother in our infirmities, but not in possessing like passions.—Ibid., p. 202.
How could any reader misinterpret these clear statements? Is it not more than obvious that Christ was "separate from sinners" in that He did not have any natural, sinful propensity (tendency) toward sin? Is it not also obvious that He did not have the "inherited passions and pollutions that corrupt the natural descendants of Adam"? (NOTE: This phrase in Questions on Doctrine states which passions it is that Christ did not inherit—the ones that "corrupt" men today.)
Thus we behold Christ "by a painful process" adopting weakened human nature, but not the sinful tendency toward sin or the perverted passions of that fallen nature. He came into the world specifically to redeem Adam's failure, and thereby we too may be redeemed. Every major issue that man must meet, He has already conquered, but not as a sinner. He conquered as the sinless one, doing so with the same weaknesses of mortal flesh that we presently have, "except in sin."
Never, in any way leave the slightest impression upon human minds that a taint of, or inclination to, corruption rested upon Christ, or that He in any way yielded to corruption.—The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments on John 1:14, p. 1128.
The New English Bible, New Testament. @ The Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1961.
(Note: Some of the above references are reproduced in Appendix B, pp, 647-660, of Questions on Doctrines.)