The Incomparable ChristThe Twofold Nature of Christ
Leslie Basham: Jesus was both human and divine. Can you fully understand that? Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: If we could put Jesus in our little box that we could figure out, then He wouldn’t be amazing anymore. He wouldn’t be incomparable. We shouldn’t be able to figure Him out completely. We have to take a lot of this by faith. But as we do, we marvel, and we worship. He really is the incomparable Christ.
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, March 6, 2015.
Nancy’s been leading us through a series called "The Incomparable Christ." We’ve considered several reasons why Jesus truly is incomparable. It’s been a rich study leading up to Resurrection Sunday.
Nancy’s been following an outline in a book called, The Incomparable Christ by J. Oswald Sanders. We’ll send you a Revive Our Hearts special edition when you donate any amount this month. Just visit ReviveOurHearts.com. Here’s Nancy continuing in the series.
Nancy: Within the first few hundred years after the life of Christ here on this earth, there were several controversies that arose within the church that had to do with the person and nature of Christ. Who was He really? They were sorting this through and wanting to make sure they got it right, so I want to give you at the beginning of today’s program just a real quick church history lesson. This all took place within the first three or four hundred years after the life of Christ here on this earth.
First, there was a man named Arius. I referred to him a few programs ago. He was a teacher from Alexandria, Egypt, who believed that Christ was a highly exalted being, but He was a created being who was not Himself the eternal God. So he elevated Christ, but he said Christ was not fully God. That was a heresy that has perpetuated itself many times in many different ways over the past sixteen or seventeen hundred years, the Arian heresy.
Then there was a bishop in Laodicea whose name was Apollinaris. I’m not expecting you to remember this, but I just want you to get a glimpse of some of these streams and how these heresies evolved. This man agreed that Christ was indeed fully God. But he couldn’t see how He could be both fully God and fully man, so he taught that Christ had a human body but not a human mind and spirit. Outside He looked like a man, had a human body, but inside He was fully and only God.
So Arius said that Jesus was not fully God. Apollinaris, the second one, said that He was not fully man. Then came along another popular preacher and bishop in Constantinople whose name was Nestorius. He affirmed that Jesus was fully God and fully man, but he thought that therefore Christ must be two persons in one body, one divine person and one human person. So he denied the unity of the two natures in one body.
Then the opposite issue or heresy arose in relation to how those two natures, divine and human, were related. A man named Eutyches, again a churchman, a teacher, denied the distinction of the two natures. He said that Christ had only one nature that was a mixture of human and divine. It wasn’t fully human; it wasn’t fully divine. It was a mixture of the two.
Now, in relation to each of these heresies, the church leaders met and convened what were called councils to clarify the truth about Jesus. Who was He—God? man? How does this all come together?
You cannot fault them for this being a tough assignment. We’re having a hard time wrapping our minds around some of this because it’s supernatural. It’s mystery. It’s not comprehensible to human beings with finite minds. But they went back to the Scripture and under the leadership of the Holy Spirit clarified these issues.
The final one of those councils dealing with who was Jesus convened in 451 A.D. They met in a city called Chalcedon, which is in modern day Turkey, and they addressed these various issues and heresies. They came up with what is known as the Chalcedonian Creed, which since that time, though you may not be aware of it or familiar with it—since that time, that creed has been accepted by Catholic, Protestant, and orthodox churches as the biblical position on the person and the incarnation of Christ.
It’s a very important document. It’s not the Bible, but it takes the biblical teaching and summarizes it in one document. Now that document, the Chalcedonian Creed, can be summarized in four, important doctrinal statements about Christ. Let me give you those four statements.
- Number one: Christ is fully and completely divine—fully God.
- Number two: Christ is fully and completely human—fully God, fully man.
- Number three: The divine and human natures of Christ are distinct—they’re not one in the same.
- Number four: The divine and human natures of Christ are completely united in one person.
That means there were two distinct natures, one human and one divine, united in one person, the person of Christ. This whole concept that Christ is fully God, fully man, has distinct human and divine natures, two natures that are united in one person—that concept came to be known by theologians (I’ll give you a fancy word here) it’s known as the hypostatic union of Christ, spelled just like it sounds, hypostatic union of Christ.
I won’t go into great detail about how all that emerged, but it is one of the most profound concepts in theology and one of the most important. This is what makes Christ incomparable, the incomparable Christ, the fact that He has two distinct natures, one human, one divine, that are united in one person.
He is not two persons. He is one person, fully God and fully man, the Son of God and the Son of Man. Again, this makes Him incomparable. There is no other “god” in the history of the universe that has ever become a man, and there is no other religious leader who could claim to be God. They could claim to be God, but they weren’t God.
Jesus is the God/man. We’ve been skirting around this in the last few sessions. We’ve been approaching it, but I want to pull what we’ve talked about on the deity of Christ, the humanity of Christ—I want to pull that together today and take a deeper look at the two-fold nature of Christ.
If you’re following along with us in Oswald Sanders’ book, it’s chapter 12, "The Two-Fold Nature of Christ." Now, this is a little bit of tough sledding. I acknowledge that we are in some deep territory doctrinally.
But let me say that the goal of all this is not to be able to spout off terms like hypostatic union or to name these early church fathers. The goal is to see Christ, to get to know Him, to love Him, to be ravished by His beauty, and as you do, you’ll find that sin is less alluring and that life’s pressures are less overwhelming when you see the greatness and the grandness of who Christ is.
You may wonder as we talk about some of these things, what’s the "so what" of all this? What are the practical implications? Well, what’s really practical is that we’re getting to know a Person by studying these things. This is who He really is, and if we’re going to know Him and trust Him and love Him, then it’s important to get this.
Now, I’m not saying that we can ever fully understand it because we can’t, but we need to at least affirm that this is true—Jesus, the God/man. This is a cardinal, foundational Christian doctrine, and as I’ve said, it’s something that our finite minds can no-way, no-how comprehend or explain. This is mystery, and we need to acknowledge that when we’re trying to explain it.
Have you tried to explain it to your four-year-old, how Jesus could be God and could be man? I’ve struggled trying to explain it to you. I’ve spent many hours over these last weeks trying to think through how to make this at least a bit comprehensible, but we’re dealing with mystery.
We’re dealing with things that are beyond our reach, and the secular world sees that as a cop-out. They say if you can’t explain it, it can’t be true, but the fact is, if we could understand this, if we could put Jesus in our little box that we could figure out, then He wouldn’t be amazing anymore. He wouldn’t be incomparable.
We shouldn’t be able to figure Him out completely. We have to take a lot of this by faith. But as we do, we marvel, and we worship. He really is the incomparable Christ.
The concept of Christ having two natures in one person is affirmed in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Let’s look first at the Old Testament. For example, in Isaiah chapter 9, verse 6, we have what is, for many of us, a familiar Old Testament prophecy of the Messiah.
“For unto us a Child is born; unto us a Son is given” (NKJV). Now, here we see a reference, a veiled reference, 700 years before Christ was born, to the fact that He would be one Person. This is talking about one Person. This is not two different people, a child and a son. This is one person, but with two natures.
“A Child is born,” speaks of His which nature? His humanity. “A Son is given,” (from heaven) speaks of which nature? His deity, the fact that He is God. So a Child is born to the virgin Mary. A Son is given. This is the gift of God from heaven. That’s His deity.
You see the same concept—two natures, one person—in Galatians chapter 4, verse 4, “When the fullness of time had come,” this is the time we celebrate at Christmas, “God sent forth his Son,” the One He was talking about in Isaiah 9. He sent forth his Son, “Born of a woman,” two natures.
Son of God, He is God. He is equal or the same substance as God and born of a woman—His deity and His humanity. We’ve been looking at those. We looked at them separately earlier in this series. Now we’re looking at the two-fold nature of Christ at one time.
You see this concept, the two natures in one Person, affirmed in many of our great hymns. For example, one of the great hymns that we sing and one of the earliest Christmas carols ever written, “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” it has this phrase, “Born a child and yet a king,” the two natures in one Person—born a child and yet a king.
This concept, two natures, one Person, is affirmed in many of the great confessions and creeds of our faith. For example, the Belgic Confession, written in 1561, says,
We confess that He is Very God and Very Man;
Very God by His power to conquer death and
Very Man that He might die for us.
Two natures; one Person.
Now, Jesus was always the divine Son of God. He was always equal with God. He was always of the same substance with the Father. Before there was time, in eternity past—and we talked about this earlier in this series when we talked about the preexistence of Christ—before there was time, before eternity began, before He came to this earth, He was always the divine Son of God.
But when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary, He took on a second nature, a human nature, and He did that—don't ask me to explain this; I'm just telling you—He did that without in any way diminishing His deity. He added that human nature to His divine nature that He'd had forever.
You see both these natures in the Gospels. For example, Jesus went to a wedding. That's His humanity, His human nature, but what did He do while He was at the wedding? He changed the water to wine. That's His deity, His God-ness, His God-hood.
He went out on a boat with His disciples and fell asleep in the bottom of the boat because He was tired. What nature is that? His humanity, and then He got up and rebuked and stilled the storm. What nature is that? His deity—two natures, one Person.
Chrysostom was one of the early church fathers who lived in the late 300s and the early 400s after Christ. He said it this way,
I do not think of Christ as God alone, or man alone, but both together. For I know He was hungry, yet I know that with five loaves He fed 5000. [humanity and deity]
I know He was thirsty, and I know yet that He turned the water into wine. I know that He was carried in a ship, yet I know that He walked upon the sea. I know that He died, yet I know that He raised the dead Himself.
I know that He was set before Pilate, and I know that He sits with the Father in His throne. I know that He was worshiped by angels, yet I know that He was stoned by the Jews. . . . Some of these I ascribe to the human, others to the divine nature—for by reason of this, He is said to have been both God and man.
Now, it's important to realize that two-fold nature of Christ is not temporary, but it is permanent. He is still the God/man, and He will be forever. Today, He is enthroned in heaven in His resurrected, glorified body. The scars of the nails in His hands, the scars of the spear in His side are still visible in that glorified body.
And what does He do with that human nature, the God/man? He represents us to the Father. As our Advocate, He intercedes on our behalf. How precious and powerful is that?
So we see here as we look back at the church fathers grappling with these things—and we're trying to grapple with these things that boggle the mind—we see the importance of right thinking in relation to Christ. It's not surprising that this would be an ongoing battleground, not only in early church history, but in our day as well.
Satan doesn't want us to know who Christ really is, so as in the early days of the church, erroneous teaching arose about the nature of Christ, they had to go back to the Scriptures, study it out, and affirm the truth about Christ. That wasn't the end of it. Today there are still people, even within some of our churches, promoting false, erroneous teaching about Christ. And what do we have to do? Keep going back to the Word and affirming the truth about Christ.
Now, the two-fold nature of Christ, fully God, fully man, two natures in one Person, was absolutely necessary for our redemption. This is not just parsing theological mysteries. This is crucial. It really, really matters. We cannot be saved apart from the fact that Christ was the God/man.
This is a plan that God put in motion in eternity past. In order to save us from our sin, Christ had to become a man. He had to be truly man to represent us and fully God in order to be able to save us. As a man, He perfectly obeyed God's law, and that's what qualified Him to die in our place as a substitute for our sins.
As one man is quoted in Oswald Sanders' book saying, “Had He not been man, He could not have sympathized with us; and had He not been God, He could not have saved us.”1 He had to be both God and man.
One of the best explanations I've read of why this matters in redemption was by C. J. Mahaney in a book called, Christ Our Mediator, so let me read to you a lengthy portion out of that book. I don't think I can make it this clear. He said,
Only someone both fully divine and truly human can effectively mediate between God and men. . . .
Since sin has been committed by man, therefore sin must be atoned for by a man. Only a human being can be the perfect substitute for other human beings. The debt and obligation and responsibility is mankind’s alone. Neither you nor I, however, can atone for our sin to satisfy God’s righteous requirements; our own disobedience already condemns us before a righteous God. Furthermore, we’re captives to sin; it’s humanly impossible for us to release ourselves from its grip. . . .
That’s our condition—having no possible way to atone for our sin, nor any possible way to free ourselves from enslavement to it.
A divine rescue is necessary. We need a savior! And in order to be our savior, in order to pay our debt, this individual must be like us—not just God in a form that merely appears to be human, but someone fully and truly human. Yet he must be unlike us as well, since only a perfect sacrifice is acceptable. . . .
You understand that? He has to be like us to represent us. But He can't be just like us, or He'd have to die for His own sin.
Well, C. J. Mahaney goes on to say—and this is the good news; this is the Gospel.
Only Jesus Christ, truly God and fully man, could be our substitute and make this sacrifice. Only Jesus could ever stand in this unique place and position. This One who lived the only perfect life also died a completely unique death as a ransom for our sin. He paid the price you and I owed to the innocent offended party, God our Creator and Judge.2
Thank you, C. J. Mahaney. Well said.
The humanity of Christ means that He is willing to save us, but if He was only human, He would not have had the power to save us. His deity means that He is able to save us! Because He is the God/man, He is both willing and able to save us. Praise the Lord!
And let me give you some even better news than that. He did this—He became the God/man for us. Remember that verse I read earlier, Isaiah chapter 9, verse 6, “Unto us a Child is born; unto us a Son is given” (NKJV). What an incredible demonstration of the awesome love of God!
So without ever ceasing to be fully God, without laying aside any of His God-ness, Jesus took on, clothed Himself, in our human nature so that He could reconcile us to God. And if that doesn’t move you, nothing will.
Now, I know that some are perhaps hearing this concept for the very first time, and you're pondering it. You're thinking it through. You're trying to grasp it. You're saying this is heavy stuff, and I would just say, “Press into it!” It's huge truth. It's worth pressing into.
But here's my concern and that is for many of us for whom this stuff is very familiar. The problem is we lose the wonder. We forget how amazing this is.
Let me just help you restore the wonder a bit by reading an excerpt from a message John Piper preached on the God/man, Christ Jesus. He says,
The union of Christ’s deity and humanity in one Person makes it such that we have all that we need in the same Savior.
Because Jesus is God, He is all-powerful and He cannot be defeated. Because He is God, He is the only adequate Savior. Because He is God, believers are safe and can never perish; we have security. Because He is God, we can have confidence that He will empower us for the task that He commands us for. And because He is God, all people will be accountable to Him when He returns to judge the world.
Because Jesus is man, He has experienced the same things that we do. Because He is man, He can identify with us more intimately. Because He is man, He can come to our aid as our sympathetic High Priest when we reach the limits of our human weaknesses. Because He is man, we can relate to Him–He is not far off and uninvolved. Because He is man, we cannot complain that God does not know what we are going through. He experienced it firsthand.
I was talking with a friend the other day who was discussing this session with me. She had just read this chapter on the two-fold nature of Christ in Oswald Sanders' book, and she said as we were talking about it, “This chapter led me to worship because of the amazing mystery.” That's what the response should be, and that’s what I pray it will do for you as well.
Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss will be right back to pray. She's been discussing a question that has kept theologians busy over the centuries. How could Jesus be fully God and fully man? Today's program has been more than an intellectual exercise. As we've considered our Messiah who was fully human and fully divine, we've been called to worship.
Nancy's entire series, The Incomparable Christ, has been like this. It's deep and profound, practical and worshipful. The series is based on a book by J. Oswald Sanders, The Incomparable Christ. Nancy's following the short chapters in this book as an outline, but she's expanding on the content and making it her own. So when you read the book for yourself, you'll be tackling these topics from another perspective. The book will give you a lot of insight into the work of Christ and prepare your heart for Passion Week and Easter Sunday.
We'd like to send you The Incomparable Christ when you make a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts. And you'll also receive a companion booklet. it includes follow up questions so you can think through practical ways to live out this teaching.
We'll send one book and journal with your donation of any size this week. Ask for The Incomparable Christ when you visit ReviveOurHearts.com, or call us at 1–800–569–5959.
Well, Jesus experienced His life and ministry on earth while remaining single. This is very significant for you and me. Why? Find out Monday when Nancy explains the singleness of Christ. Now she's back to pray and wrap up today's message on Christ as fully God and fully man.
Nancy: We’re on holy ground, Father. I just want to thank You for Christ, the incomparable Christ, fully God, fully man, two natures in one Person. Not only willing to save us because He is man; but able to save us from our sin because He is God. I pray in Jesus’ holy name, amen.”
Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.
All Scriptures are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
1W. Graham Scroggie quoted in The Incomparable Christ by Oswald Sanders, p. 128.
2C. J. Mahaney. Christ Our Mediator: Finding Passion at the Cross. Multnomah, 2004. p. 43–45.
Offers available only during the broadcast of the radio series.