Slideshow image

What is so great about Jesus? The nature of Jesus: God and man in one person, forever

Jesus, while one of the most famous persons in history, is arguably, the most widely misunderstood. A friend of mine, conducting a doctoral research project, videotaped “person-in-the-street” interviews in Boston. He asked a simple question: “Who do you think Jesus is or was?” Overwhelmingly the most common answer was this: “Jesus was a great moral teacher.” 

While Jesus certainly gave much great moral teaching, the people offering this view meant also to assert this, “But certainly he was not God in human form!” The follow-up questions in the interview demonstrated this. 

This confusion over the identity, the nature of Jesus, is not new. Once Jesus asked his own disciples a similar “person-in-the-street” interview question. “Who do people say that I am?”  (Mark 8:27). And the disciples answered him: “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets” (Mark 8:28). While these are all impressive, none of those identities included God-in-human-form. They saw Jesus as less than he really is. 

People have struggled with the nature of Jesus Christ historically as well. The early councils of the church largely dealt with this very question: to what extent was Jesus God and man? 

For example, at the Council of Nicaea (AD 325) Arius held that Christ was not fully God because he was, asserted Arius, created by God. “If the Father begat the Son . . . there was a time when the Son was not.” The Council declared that Jesus was indeed fully God, eternally co-existent with the Father. 

At the Council of Constantinople (AD 381) a major controversy surrounded the teaching of Apollinaris, who claimed that Jesus’ divine nature had replaced his human mind, so that he was not fully human. This Council answered by revising the Nicene Creed to its modern form, proclaiming that Christ born of the Virgin Mary, became a real man. 

For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.

The Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) wrestled through how the two natures of Jesus, divine and human, worked within one person. It produced the Creed of Chalcedon, which states the faith accepted among Christian churches. 

We, then, following the holy fathers, all with one consent teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man … one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.

Jesus taught that he is fully God and man, as does all of the Bible. Jesus said, “I and the Father are one,” (John 10:30). He also said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am,” (John 8:58) using the divine name, I Am, for himself. On both occasions those around him picked up stones to kill him for what they presumed was blasphemy, a man proclaiming that he was God. 

Jesus also showed us that he was fully human. One of his favorite titles for himself was Son of Man. “And he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath’” (Luke 6:5). He showed his humanity with his tears, his hunger, his compassion, and even his thirst. “I thirst” (John 19:28). 

Why is this good news for us today? Because being God and man, Jesus serves as the perfect mediator between us and God. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5-6). 

Jesus understands us, he truly does get us in every way! We do not have to hide ourselves from Christ, he knows us fully and sympathizes with our weaknesses. Yet, he is also God Almighty who can do more than sympathize with our problems, he can actually solve them. 

When the disciples had told Jesus about all the mistaken ideas of who he was, he asked them: “‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Christ’” (Mark 8:29).
When we, like Peter, understand who Jesus really is, we can turn to him and find in him the perfect help, the perfect mediator. We can turn to Jesus at any moment for “grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).