The Humanity of Christ

I Timothy 2:5

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
July 2007

As we study basic Bible doctrines, the next doctrine we come to is the person of Christ. Who exactly is Jesus? What does the Bible teach about Jesus? Theologians call this “Christology”. Jesus asked his own disciples who they thought that he was in Matthew 16:13-16.

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Who would people say that Jesus is today?  The Jesus of modern-day Judaism is just a great ethical teacher, a rabbi.  He taught some great ethical principles, like love your neighbor and forgive your enemies but is not God.  The Jesus of Islam is a little bigger. According to Islam, Jesus was a prophet.

Islam believes that Jesus performed miracles but even Muslims do not believe that Jesus died on the cross or rose from the dead. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in an even greater Jesus than this. Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus is not just a teacher or prophet but an angel.

What does the Bible teach about the person of Christ? It teaches two things. It teaches that Jesus is both God and Man. This is the Christian view of Jesus. It is accepted by all branches of the Christianity (Roman Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox).

It is the historic position of Christians from all denominations for the last two thousand years. The Bible teaches that Jesus is fully humans and fully divine. I want to start today by looking at the humanity of Jesus. This is actually one of my favorite topics.

You might say, “Why do we need to spend a week on this topic?” Everyone on the planet believes Jesus was a man. Two reasons: One, there are some great applications that we can learn about the humanity of Christ; Two, in the early church there were false teachers who said that Jesus was not a real man.

They believed in a heresy called docetism. Docetism taught that Jesus did not really come in the flesh, did not have a real human body, and did not suffer and die on the cross. They believed that this was all an allusion.

The word “docetism” comes from the Greek word δοκέω which means to think or to seem. Docetism held that Christ only seemed human but really wasn’t. He only appeared to be so. These teachers believed that Christ was God. They didn’t believe that he was man. Today we have the opposite problem.

Most people today accept the fact that Jesus really existed in the past and was a real man. Even the most radical NT scholars like Rudolf Bultmann and D. F. Strauss never questioned that. What they rejected is the idea that Jesus was God.

One of the main reasons that many didn’t believe that Jesus was human and had a real body was something called Gnosticism (another heresy in the early church). Docetism was actually a form of Gnosticism.

Gnosticism taught that matter is evil. They believed that the body was evil but the spirit was good. In 1945 some books written by actual Gnostic writers were discovered in Egypt in the town of Nag Hammadi. It is now called the Nag Hammadi Library. You can read them.

One book written by a Gnostic is called The Acts of John. It was written in the second century. It is not an inspired book. It is part of the New Testament Apocrypha. It claims to be written by the Apostle John but was actually written by a Gnostic. The Acts of John has the Apostle John saying, “Jesus and I walked on the moist sand but only I left foot prints, nor did he blink his eyes” (93).

The Acts of John also says that when Jesus was arrested, John fled to a cave in fear. At the time of the crucifixion, that dark cave became light. Jesus appeared in the middle of the cave and said laughing, “They think they are putting me on the cross but you know I am here. You will hear that I suffered but I did not suffer. You will hear that I was pierced and the blood flowed from me but it did not” (97-101).

Gnosticism is not completely dead. There are some forms of it even today. Did you know that Muslims do not believe that Jesus died on the cross? Muslims teach that Judas, not Jesus, died on the cross. Islam teaches that Allah took Jesus to heaven just before the crucifixion. The Quran says:

They (the Jews) have said, they killed the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the messenger of God. In fact, they never killed him, they never crucified him – they were made to think that they did. All factions who are disputing in this matter are full of doubt concerning this issue. They possess no knowledge; they only conjecture. For certain, they never killed him. No, God took him up unto himself” (Surah 4:157).

Many books of the NT were written to combat Gnosticism, such as Jude, I & II John, though not III John. That book deals with a personal, rather than a doctrinal problem. Cf. I John 4:1-3; II John 7-11.  I want to begin by reading a few verse which say that Jesus was a man (Acts 17:30-31; I Timothy 2:5).

Not only is he called a man in the NT but Jesus’ favorite title of himself was “The Son of Man”. That is what he called himself most of the time. It was his self-designation. He called himself the Son of Man, not the son of Mary and Joseph or even the Son of David. Most of the time, he called himself the Son of Man (84 times in the Gospels).

So let’s explore this topic. What does it actually mean that Jesus was fully human? In what ways was Jesus exactly like us? We do not normally think about Jesus in these terms. We usually think about how different Jesus is from us – perfectly sinless, fully divine (God), born of a virgin, able to raise the dead, walk on water and turn water into wine, etc.

In other ways, Jesus is exactly like us. In fact, you might be surprised how many similarities Jesus had with us. Here are eight ways that Jesus is just like us.

Jesus had a Real Physical Birth

All of us came into the world through a physical birth and Jesus was no exception. He went through a real birth process (Galatians 4:4). The Gospel of Luke describes it. Of course Jesus’ birth was different from ours in a lot of ways.

Most of us were born in a hospital, surrounded by doctors and nurses. Jesus was born in a barn next to some smelly animals.  His birth fulfilled biblical prophecy.  Ours did not.  He was born of a virgin. We were not. He was born sinless. We were all born with a sin nature.  His birth was surrounded by angels.

Luke mentions an angel that appeared to two people before he was born (Zechariah and Mary) and another angel that appeared to the shepherds after he was born.  Our birth was not announced by an angel.  No angel told our parents what to name us, like they did Jesus. No angel announced ours. His birth was different from ours in another way.

Jesus had Real Ancestors

He had real ancestors. The first verse of the NT says that Jesus was “the son of David, the son of Abraham.” He had real parents.  He had real grandparents.  Some of you have studied your genealogy.   The NT gives us two different genealogies of Jesus.  He had two different genealogies because he had two different parents.

Jesus had a Real Physical Body

Jesus had a normal human body with blood in his veins, like we do (John 1:14; Luke 24:39). Now many times in the OT God manifested himself physically in a theophany but that was temporary. The incarnation is permanent. For all eternity, Jesus will be the God-Man (theanthropic). Now there may have been some differences between Jesus’ body and ours. He was sinless but he still had a physical body, like we do.

  • Because he had a body, Jesus knew what it was like to be hungry.

Jesus knew what it was like to be without.  He knew what it was like to go without a meal. He fasted for forty days (Matthew 4:2). Jesus can relate to hunger. He knew what it was like to be without a home (Matthew 8:20).  Jesus was not a homeowner.  He can also relate to homelessness.

Jesus can relate to poverty. He grew up in a poor family. We know this from the offering that Mary and Joseph made in the Temple forty days later. The OT law stated that a woman who just had a baby could not take part in religious services for over a month, because she was regarded as unclean.

When she did appear, an offering was to be made. If a person was to poor to offer a lamb, doves or pigeons could be offered (Luke 12:6-8). Mary and Joseph offer the poor person’s offering.

  • Because he had a body, he knew what it was like to get tired.

Jesus knew what it was like to be tired, exhausted (John 4:6; Luke 23:26). He got tired, just like we do and slept just like we do (Mark 4:38). In fact, not only did he sleep but apparently, he was a heavy sleeper. Here you have a heavy storm. The wind is blowing hard.

The boat is moving up and down. Water is splashing on the boat. The disciples are terrified and a few of them were experienced fishermen and Jesus is sound asleep on the boat, sleeping like a baby.  Apparently, it is not wrong to take a nap when you are tired.  Jesus took one.

  • Because he had a body, he knew what it was like to feel pain.

Jesus felt pain when the Romans struck him in the head, put a crown of thorns on his head, a spear in his side, a whip on his back and nails in his wrists and feet. Jesus felt physical pain.  He also felt emotional pain.

He felt the pain of REJECTION by his own people. He was rejected by his own people. He felt the pain of desertion. He even felt the pain of rejection by the Father who forsook Him on the cross.

He felt the pain of BETRAYAL by his friends.  He knew what it was like to be betrayed by Judas, to be stabbed in the back by one of his own apostles.  He knew what it was like to be betrayed by his friends and deserted by his followers.

He also felt the pain of RIDICULE by his enemies (mocked, spat on).

Finally, he felt the pain of FALSE ACCUSATION. He was accused of things which he simply did not do. He was accused of blasphemy, of breaking the Sabbath. He was also accused of treason.

He felt the pain of REJECTION by his own people. He was rejected by his own people. He felt the pain of desertion. He even felt the pain of rejection by the Father who forsook Him on the cross.

He felt the pain of BETRAYAL by his friends.  He knew what it was like to be betrayed by Judas, to be stabbed in the back by one of his own apostles.  He knew what it was like to be betrayed by his friends and deserted by his followers.

He also felt the pain of RIDICULE by his enemies.  The Roman soldiers insulted him and mocked him.  They spit on him.

Finally, he felt the pain of FALSE ACCUSATION. He was accused of things which he simply did not do. He was accused of blasphemy, of breaking the Sabbath. He was also accused of treason.

Jesus Grew Up

Not only did Jesus have a physical body but that body had to grow up and develop (Luke 2:52). Not only did his body grow but his mind grew as well. Jesus went through the ordinary learning process that all children go through. He learned to walk, to talk, to eat, to read. Believe it or not, he was once a teenager. He may have had freckles at one time. He even knew what it was like to be a misunderstood teenager.

Many have wondered what Jesus was like as a child. The NT talks about Jesus as a baby (birth, circumcision) and then skips thirty years to his public ministry. It does give us only one story about Jesus being left behind in Jerusalem at the age of twelve (Luke 2:42) but NO stories about Jesus as either a child or a teenager.

This has led many questions about what Jesus was like in “the silent years”. It has led many with vivid imaginations to come up with ideas about what Jesus was like as a child. None of these stories are in the Bible. None of them are inspired. They are part of the New Testament Apocrypha. But they are very imaginative and entertaining.

I will mention four of these stories all taken from a book called The Infancy Gospel of Thomas. This book is not the same as The Gospel of Thomas (which has nothing to do with the childhood of Jesus). It is not inspired but was written in the second century (140-170 AD). We know this because Irenaeus quotes this book around 180 AD.

In chapter four of The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Jesus is a bit of a bully. One day he was walking down the street. Another kid was running and bumped into him. He said to the person, “You won’t get where you’re going” and the child fell down and died on the spot.

In chapter nine of the The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Jesus and his friends were playing on the roof of a building, like kids do. They sometimes do dangerous things. One of the kids fell off the roof and died. When the other kids saw what happened, they were scared and all ran away but Jesus stayed right there. When the parents of the dead child arrived on the scene, they saw their dead son.

They saw Jesus on the roof. They put two and two together and assumed that Jesus pushed him off the roof, so they began to accuse him. Jesus denied it but they continued to yell and scream and Jesus for throwing their son off the roof. So Jesus finally jumped off the roof like Superman, stood by the boy, raised him from the dead and then asked the boy if he pushed him off the roof. The parents were amazed and began to worship Jesus.

In chapter thirteen of The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Jesus and Joseph were working in the carpenter’s shop. They were trying to build a bed for a rich man. Joseph needed a larger piece of wood than he had and became upset. Jesus tried to calm Joseph down and told him to pull on one end of the wood, while he pulled on the other end. The piece of wood was miraculously stretched to size.

In chapter fourteen of The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Jesus is portrayed as a smart aleck in school. His father didn’t want Jesus to be illiterate, so he hired a teacher to teach Jesus Greek and Hebrew.

But Jesus knew more than the teacher. He said to him as they were learning the alphabet, “If you are so smart, tell me the meaning of A and I will tell you the meaning of B”. His teacher got so mad that he struck him in the face. Jesus then began to curse his teacher who then immediately fell to the ground.

Some of these stories may be a little entertaining but they are all fictitious. People simply invented them and they contradict some basic details of Scripture. The NT says that Jesus didn’t perform any miracles as a child. We know that because John 2:14 says that the FIRST miracle that Jesus performed was around the age of thirty when he turned water into wine at a Jewish wedding.

Jesus was Born into a Real Family

Jesus not only had a real family.  He had a mother and a father. He had grandparents.  He had aunts and uncles.  He had siblings.  He as not an only child. He had brothers and sisters. Not only did he have them but he had lots of them.  He come from a large family.

The Gospels mention the names of four of his brothers and speaks of his sisters in the plural, which means there were at least two of them (Matthew 13:55-56; Mark 6:3). This means there were at least seven kids in the family. Because of the Virgin Birth, these would be half-brothers and sisters biologically. Genetically, they had the same mother but not the same father.

There were five boys in the family. Jesus was the oldest. His other brothers were named James, Joseph and Judas and Simon. Someone said that his parents started all of their kid’s names with the letter J. When they got to the fifth child, they couldn’t think of another name with J, so they named him Simon. We do not know the names of his sisters.

So Jesus had real brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, not everyone accepts this as fact. Did you know that two branches of the Christian Church (Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox) do NOT believe that Jesus had brothers and sisters. There is a reason why they believe this. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church believe in a strange doctrine called the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary.

It is something that is found in the NT Apocrypha. According to this doctrine, Mary was a virgin before Jesus was born, when Jesus was born and after Jesus was born. They believe that she remained a virgin the rest of her life. It is a rather strange idea that Mary and Joseph were married for years but never had marital relations. Their marriage was never consummated.

Was Mary a Perpetual Virgin?

According to the Roman Catholic Church, she was but Matthew 1:25 says that Joseph had no sexual union with Mary “until she gave birth to a son”. The word “until” clearly implies that Joseph had union with Mary after she gave birth to a son.

Luke 2:7 says that Jesus was Mary’s “firstborn”. The word firstborn clearly implies that others were born after him. Jesus is called Mary’s firstborn son, not her only son.

This whole doctrine is based on the unbiblical idea that there is something sinful or unholy with sex in the context of marriage. Yet the Bible teaches that sex in marriage is holy (Hebrews 13:4).

The Greek Orthodox Church believes that these were not brothers but step-brothers and step-sisters. They believe that Joseph was married twice. His first wife died. Joseph was a widower and these were children from a previous marriage.

Did Jesus have Step-Brothers?

There are several problems with the step-brother theory. First, it does not explain how Jesus could be called Mary’s firstborn. Second, this would make Joseph’s oldest son heir to the throne of David, not Jesus.

Roman Catholics give a different argument. They argue that the “brothers” of Jesus are not literal brothers but cousins (perhaps the children of Mary’s sister). How do they arrive at this interpretation?

The Greek word for brother (άδελφός) is used in the LXX for relatives. It was used of an uncle/nephew relationship, rather than a brother relationship. Lot, for example, was called Abraham’s “brother” but he was actually his nephew (Genesis 13:8; 14:14-16).

That sounds like a good argument but it has one problem. It is all based on how άδελφός is used in the LXX. The word may be used that way in the LXX but it is NEVER used that way in the NT. In the NT άδελφός only means brother. It sometimes means a literal brother or a spiritual brother but it always means brother. In fact, there is another word for cousin used in the NT (Colossians 4:10)

Not only did Jesus have a mother, step-father, brothers and sisters, he also had a real aunt and uncle.  In fact, we even know their names.  The Bible mentions the name of his aunt and we know from reliable church history the name of his uncle. How do we know this?

The Gospels tell us that there were four believing women who witnessed the crucifixion.  According to John, the four women at the crucifixion were three women named Mary and the Virgin Mary’s sister.

We did not even know that the Virgin Mary had a sister if it were not for John.  John 19:25 says, “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” Here again we see three women named Mary at the cross and another woman who was Mary’s sister.

According to Mark, the four women at the same scene were three women named Mary and Salome. Mark 15:40 says,  “Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome.”

Mark was written first and Matthew used Mark when he wrote his Gospel. If you put John and Mark together, you can conclude that Salome was Mary’s sister.  This would mean that Salome was Jesus’ aunt.

According to Matthew, there were three women named Mary, along with mother of James and John.  Matthew 27:56 says, “among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

If you put Matthew and John together, you can conclude that Mary’s sister was the mother of the two apostles James and John.  That would make James and John Mary’s nephews.

It would also mean that James and John were Jesus’ cousins.  That helps explain two things.  It explains why Jesus entrusted his mother to the Apostle John (John 19:26).  John was not only a believer, he was related to Mary. Jesus was asking John to take care of his aunt.

It also explains why Salome asked Jesus for special favors from Jesus for her sons James and John.  Her asking for James and John to have chief seats in the kingdom (Matthew 20:20-23) was a form of nepotism which Jesus rejected.

We know from reliable church history who Jesus’ uncle was.  John 19:25 mentions “Mary the wife of Clopas”.  According to church history, CLOPAS was Joseph’s brother (Jesus’ uncle).  According to church history, he took over as the head of the Jerusalem church after James and was later martyred.  We know this from the fourth century church historian Eusebius who quotes the second century writer Hegesippius.

“After the martyrdom of James and the conquest of Jerusalem which immediately followed, it is said that those of the apostles and disciples of the Lord that were still living came together from all directions with those that were related to the Lord according to the flesh (for the majority of them also were still alive) to take counsel as to who was worthy to succeed James.

They all with one consent pronounced Symeon, the son of Clopas, of whom the Gospel also makes mention; to be worthy of the episcopal throne of that parish. He was a cousin, as they say, of the Saviour. For Hegesippus records that Clopas was a brother of Joseph”.[1]

“But there is nothing like hearing the historian himself, who writes as follows: Certain of these heretics brought accusation against Symeon, the son of Clopas, on the ground that he was a descendant of David and a Christian; and thus he suffered martyrdom, at the age of one hundred and twenty years, while Trajan was emperor and Atticus governor.

And the same writer says that his accusers also, when search was made for the descendants of David, were arrested as belonging to that family. And it might be reasonably assumed that Symeon was one of those that saw and heard the Lord, judging from the length of his life, and from the fact that the Gospel makes mention of Mary, the wife of Clopas, who was the father of Symeon, as has been already shown”[2] .

[1] Eusebius, Church History, III.11.1-2

[2] Eusebius, Church History, IV.32.3-4

Jesus had a Real Job

In Matthew, Jesus is called “the carpenter’s son” (13:55) but in Mark he is simply “the carpenter” (6:3). Before his public ministry, Jesus worked as a carpenter. He was a cabinet maker.  Joseph probably owned a small furniture shop.  If anyone was overqualified for a job, it was Jesus. He was the one who created the universe. He made the planets, all the stars, the vast ocean, all the incredible varieties of plants and animals. What does he do for a living? He makes ploughs, tables and chairs for people in a lowly carpenter’s shop.

Jesus was Tempted

Jesus knew what it was like to experience temptation. He was tempted by Satan. In fact, Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus was tempted “in every way, just as we are”. It doesn’t say that Jesus was tempted in some ways we are tempted but in EVERY way. Does this mean that every single temptation that people face today, Jesus faced? Not really. Jesus experienced the full range of human temptation, not every specific manifestation.

Jesus was not tempted to watch soap operas all day. There was no television. He was not tempted to steal someone’s IPOD.  He was not tempted to cheat on a test in school. He never went to school. He was not tempted to view Internet pornography. There were no computers in the first century.

He wasn’t tempted to be a wife beater. He was not married. He was, however, tempted in the same ways we are tempted (lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life). Hebrews 4:15 says because Jesus knew what it was like to be tempted, he can relate to us when we are tempted.

There are a couple of important differences between his temptation and ours. First, Jesus was tempted to sin many times but he never did sin. He never yielded to temptation. We are tempted to sin and many times give in to the temptation. Jesus never did.

It is not a sin to be tempted. It is only a sin to yield to that temptation. Second, when we are tempted, it is usually done by our own sin nature (James 1:14). Jesus was perfect. He didn’t have a sin nature. He had to be tempted directly by Satan or one of his demons.

Jesus had Real Emotions

Some human emotions are sinful (e.g., jealousy, hate or revenge) but many emotions are perfectly normal human emotions. We experience them and so did Jesus.

  • Jesus knew what it was to be happy.

The Bible mentions Jesus having joy (John 15:11; 17:13; Luke 10:21). The Bible nowhere says that Jesus laughed but there is evidence in the Gospels that he did have a sense of humor. He used plays on words (puns) in his teaching (Matthew 16:18; 23:24).

  • Jesus knew what it was like to be sad.

In the OT, he is called “the man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3). The Bible mentions Jesus having “loud cries and tears” (Hebrews 5:7). In fact, he cried in public on occasion (John 11:35).

  • Jesus knew what it was like to be angry.

It may come as a surprise to some but Jesus got angry at times. The Bible says so (Mark 3:5; John 2:13-15). In fact, one time he got so angry that he grabbed a whip and began knocking tables over in the Temple, spilling money all over the place. Our problem is that we normally associate anger with sin but anger is a normal human emotion. It can be used in a good or bad way. There is a right time and way to be angry (James 1:19; Ephesians 4:26).

  • Jesus knew what it was like to be depressed.

You could not be human if you never got depressed. Everyone gets depressed sometimes. Jesus was no exception. Mark 14:33 says that Jesus was “deeply distressed and troubled”. The NLT reads that Jesus “began to be filled with horror and deep distress” as he thought about what was going to take place the following day. Jesus was understandably upset, terrified and depressed. The next verse says that his soul “was exceedingly sorrowful to the point of death” (Mark 14:34).

  • Jesus knew what it was like to show love.

Jesus showed love (John 11:5, 38; 13:23; 15:9; Mark 10:21) and compassion (Matthew 9:35-36; 15:29-32; 20:29-34) for people. Jesus had genuine compassion for the sick, the hungry and the needy.

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