Saviour of the World|
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
In this chapter, we will examine what a number of reliable, careful Bible scholars have written about Christ’s human nature. Of course, just be cause a particular scholar — or even the majority of scholars — holds a certain view doesn’t mean it is true. However, it is reassuring to know that many present-day biblical and systematic theologians fully support the view of Christ’s humanity taught in the 1888 message.
Today, the emphasis is on scholarship as the basis for arriving at truth. Sound scholarship is important to a true understanding of Scripture, but we must also realize that scholars have often gone wrong. Jewish scholars, for example, failed to see the Messiah in the suffering servant of the Old Testament. This greatly contributed to the rejection of Jesus by the leaders of Israel.
Likewise, many Bible scholars of today still cling to such errors as the natural immortality of the soul and Sunday as the Christian Sabbath — neither of which are supported by Scripture. Modern scholarship is often influenced by speculation and liberalism, based on human reason or the opinions of scientists. The popular historical-critical method of interpreting the Bible sets up the human mind as the ultimate measuring stick for determining truth — rather than “thus saith the Lord.”
This does not mean, however, that we should totally discard modern biblical scholarship. It has done much to give us a clearer, deeper understanding of Scripture. This is especially true in regard to the humanity of Christ. Practically all schools of theological thought today take the humanity of our Lord much more seriously than Christian theologians have ever done before.
Ever since the Incarnation, human beings have been confronted with the question Jesus posed to His disciples:
“Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
The New Testament writers did not argue for, or try to explain, the twofold nature of Christ; they simply proclaimed as a fact that He was truly God and truly man in one Person. This is the mystery of the Incarnation.
As the early church grew, gentile Christians, who were mainly of Greek origin, found it difficult to accept this fact at face value. Many of them believed that the physical body was intrinsically evil. “How could a holy God,” they argued, “coexist in human flesh?” And so began the great christological controversies, with some denying our Lord’s divinity and others denying His true humanity.
It required a period of more than 300 years and two church councils, Nicea and Chalcedon, for the Christian church to finally restore and accept the simple apostolic declarations concerning the unipersonality of Christ — that He was fully God and fully man at the same time. Even though it did not solve all the christological problems, this was the generally-held position in the Christian church until “the age of enlightenment” in the eighteenth century. At that time, scholars and theologians again began to question the person and work of Christ, and the discussion still goes on today.
In the early 1960s, a British scholar, Harry Johnson, earned his doctoral degree from London University for his biblical and historical research on the subject of the humanity of Christ. In 1962, he published his conclusions in the book, The Humanity of the Saviour (Epworth Press, London). This is what appeared on the flyleaf of that book:
The eternal Son of God became man for our salvation; but what kind of human nature did He assume? The answer of this book is that He took human nature as it was because of the Fall. Despite this, He lived a perfect, sinless life, and finally redeemed this “fallen nature” through His Cross; in this victory is the basis of Atonement.
This Christological position is supported by the New Testament, and there are several indications which suggest that it gives a deeper interpretation to some sections of the Gospel narrative. It is clearly taught by Paul, and is the obvious implication of certain aspects of the Christology of Hebrews.
Anders Nygren, Commentary on Romans 8:1-11
It was to be right in sin’s own realm that the Son was to bring sin to judgment, overcome it and take away its power.... Paul is concerned to affirm that when Christ came into the world, He actually stood under the same conditions as we, and under the same destroying powers as had man in bondage... Christ’s carnal nature was no unreality, but simple, tangible fact. He shared all our conditions. He was under the same powers of destruction. Out of “the flesh” arose for Him the same temptations as for us. But in all this He was master of sin.... Christ overcame sin in its own realm, in the flesh, when He Himself came in the form of sinful flesh.
Harry Johnson explained in these words how Christ could live a sinless life in spite of the fact He assumed our sinful nature that was dominated by the law of sin:
The Humanity of the Saviour, pp. 30-31
The central line of Christian thought has always affirmed that Jesus was the incarnate Son of God. For this reason it is not possible to make statements about Jesus as though He were only a man and nothing more. He was divine as well as human, two natures within one unified personality. Jesus shared our “fallen human nature,” a nature which, while it did not make sin inevitable in such a way as to undermine responsibility, yet did, nevertheless, make sin “highly probable” — some would say with Aulen and Luther that for the natural man it made it “inevitable.” ...Through the power of this divine nature (controlled by the Holy Spirit) the weaknesses of His human nature were overcome so that He did live a perfect life.
The Son of God came to be our Saviour in order that His victory should be ours; any “advantage” which He possessed He used for our benefit.
Another issue that crops up regarding the post-Fall view of Christ’s human nature is this: How could Christ have an unbroken connection with His Father, if He assumed our sinful nature that is alienated from God? Note Johnson’s reply:
Ibid., pp. 33-34
It must be underlined, however, that in the definition of “fallen human nature” that has been given, the alienation involved in the assumption of this nature was in no way personal. Personal alienation only arises when personal sin and rebellion enter into the situation and guilt is incurred. Jesus, even though born into an alienated race, into the aeon of sin and death, still enjoyed unbroken the Son’s fellowship with His Father....
This whole position may be challenged as too paradoxical. Jesus assumed “fallen human nature,” yet He was free from actual sin. He was born into a race alienated from God, yet had a perfect fellowship with His Father and possessed a deep experience of Sonship. But paradox cannot be escaped. The Incarnation and Atonement are both full of paradox.
One of the arguments presented by proponents of the pre-Fall view is that, since Christ did not have a human father, but was born by the intervention of the Holy Spirit, His human nature was exempt from the sinful bent we are born with. Johnson answers this argument in these words:
Ibid., p. 43
The fact that one human parent was involved in the birth of Jesus is sufficient to mean that there would be a strand of human heredity. ...As long as one human parent was involved, the strain would be passed on. To say that it is only passed on when concupiscence is present is hardly accepted. If the strain was not transmitted, we must assume that in some mysterious way the chain of heredity was broken between Mary and Jesus, but we have no basis on which to found this assumption.
The Roman Catholic doctrine of the immaculate conception teaches that Mary herself was conceived without the taint of sin, so that when Jesus was conceived in her by the Holy Spirit, He, in turn, could be exempt from being born with a sinful human nature. Johnson condemns this idea:
Ibid., p. 43
The Son of a human mother, even born without a human father, is still organically related to the whole human situation; and the doctrine of the immaculate conception of his mother is a mere gesture in the overwhelming dilemma; for an infinite regression of immaculate conceptions would hardly serve to remove the taint.
Ellen White wrote:
The Desire of Ages, p. 117
For four thousand years the race had been decreasing in physical strength, in mental power, and in moral worth; and Christ took upon Him the infirmities of degenerate humanity. Only thus could He rescue man from the lowest depths of his degradation.
Harry Johnson came to the same conclusion:
The Humanity of the Saviour, p. 56
To have a real identity with mankind whom He [Christ] came to save, to be the “Son of Man,” it was essential that He should become a part of the human race in the very fullest sense. Does this mean that He became part of the humanity that had been weakened by the sin of generation after generation? Certainly, if He did assume this “fallen human nature,” then in reality He was one with mankind.
Johnson then goes to answer to the question, “In what sense did Christ stand alone from the rest of humanity He came to save?”
Ibid., pp. 56-57
He alone among all mankind had never yielded to sin, and the “fallen human nature” that He had inherited had never been allowed to issue in rebellion against the will of God. Not only was the “Son of Man,” bound to humanity with the ties of self-identification, but He was “Son of God,” and throughout His incarnate life He lived in perfect obedience to the will of His Father.
Having shown the link between Jesus, as the “Son of Man,” and the human race He came to redeem, Johnson goes on to point out the relevance this truth has for us:
Ibid., pp. 57-58
Before there could be a Parousia, before the Kingdom of God could come in power, Jesus had to face the supreme struggle, enter the lists against the power of darkness, and triumph over them through His Cross. He did this as “Son of Man,” as One having an affinity with the rest of mankind, One who through His act of self-identification was one with fallen humanity. If we are to keep the representative idea of the “Son of Man,” an important concept which cannot be ignored, and if we are to give its communal aspect any real significance, then in some essential way there must be a unity between the “Son of Man” and the rest of mankind. This unity is maintained on the hypothesis that Christ assumed “fallen human nature....”
Only as Jesus redeemed the “fallen human nature” that He assumed was He able to found a new and redeemed humanity, so paving the way for the coming of the Kingdom of God in all its fullness, and to become the One who will come with power and majesty at the consummation of the ages.
Turning to the cross of Christ as the power of God unto salvation from all and every aspect of sin, Johnson comes to this conclusion:
Ibid., p. 62
The Cross was the final battle with the power of sin, and the battle was decisive, once and for all. In that struggle the “fallen nature” which He assumed was nailed to the Cross, purged and cleansed even through death; thus in Jesus, risen and victorious, there is a root of sinless humanity.
The Bible makes a clear distinction between the flesh (our sinful nature) and the mind (the seat of the will):
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.
One of the clearest statements made by both E.J. Waggoner and A.T. Jones, upholding the sinlessness of Christ, was the distinction they made between the fallen human nature Christ assumed, which was dominated by the law of sin, and His mind, which never consented to sin. Jones and Waggoner both insisted that we should never drag the mind of Christ into sin. Harry Johnson comes up with a similar conclusion:
Ibid., pp. 62-63
Jesus assumed “fallen human nature,” but He never added to this nature His will, and there was no break in fellowship between Himself and His Father. On the Cross, there took place the decisive battle between Jesus and the powers of evil, not simply powers that were external, but also the power of the “fallen nature” that He had inherited. Here on the Cross there was the purging of human nature.
Ellen White agreed when she linked Jesus’ cleansing of the temple in Jerusalem with His mission of cleansing the human temple He came to redeem. Here is what she says:
The Desire of Ages, p. 161
In the cleansing of the temple, Jesus was announcing His mission as the Messiah, and entering upon His work. That temple, erected for the abode of the divine Presence, was designed to be an object lesson for Israel and for the world. From eternal ages it was God’s purpose that every created being, from the bright and holy seraph to man, should be a temple for the indwelling of the Creator. Because of sin, humanity ceased to be a temple for God. Darkened and defiled by evil, the heart of man no longer revealed the glory of the Divine One. But by the incarnation of the Son of God, the purpose of heaven is fulfilled.
Since the post-Fall view has been presented in a wrong light by so many within Adventism, please note carefully, in this final quote from Harry Johnson, what he has to say about the results of misrepresenting the post-Fall view of the human nature of Christ:
Ibid., p. 105
No doubt the idea that Jesus assumed “fallen nature” is a doctrine that needs careful exposition if serious errors are to be avoided; it is also true that often it has been expounded by unfortunate advocates; and coupled with these factors is the truth that other doctrines have tended to cloud the issue. All these factors have tended to militate against the acceptance of the doctrine; yet the result is that Paul’s doctrine of redemption has been robbed of some of its meaning. Something of the wonder of redemption, the grandeur of deliverance, the infinite love of the condescension of the Incarnation has been lost when Paul’s pattern of redemption has been not given this interpretation. To do justice to the thought of Paul it is necessary to accept the doctrine that Christ assumed “fallen human nature.”
If we Adventists are to restore the full gospel and complete what the Reformers began some 400 years ago, we need to seriously consider what Thomas F. Torrance has to say about the human nature that Christ assumed in the Incarnation and the need of re-learning this truth:
The Mediation of Christ, pp. 48-49
Perhaps the most fundamental truth which we have to learn in the Christian Church, or rather relearn since we have suppressed it, is that the Incarnation was the coming of God to save us in the heart of our fallen and depraved humanity, where humanity is at its wickedest in its enmity and violence against the reconciling love of God. That is to say, the Incarnation is to be understood as the coming of God to take upon himself our fallen human nature, our actual human existence laden with sin and guilt, our humanity diseased in mind and soul in its estrangement or alienation from the Creator. This is a doctrine found everywhere in the early Church in the first five centuries, expressed again and again in the terms that the whole man had to be assumed by Christ if the whole man was to be saved, that the unassumed is unhealed, or that what God has not taken up in Christ is not saved.... Thus the Incarnation had to be understood as the sending of the Son of God in the concrete form of our own sinful nature and as a sacrifice for sin in which he judged sin within that very nature in order to redeem man from his carnal, hostile mind.
Could this be the reason The International Critical Commentary has changed its position on the humanity of Christ from a pre-Fall to a post-Fall view? This is what it has to say, as a result of this change:
If we recognize that Paul believed it was fallen human nature which the Son of God assumed, we shall probably be inclined to see here also a reference to the unintermittent warfare of His whole earthly life by which He forced our rebellious nature to render a perfect obedience to God.
No longer do we Seventh-day Adventists have any reason to feel ashamed of the truth taught in the 1888 message regarding the humanity of Christ. We need have no fear that taking a post-Fall view of Christ’s humanity will brand us as a cult or sect, out of harmony with evangelical Christianity. We do not look to modern biblical scholarship as the basis for what we believe, but it is clear that a growing number of Christian scholars today are backing up the view of Christ’s humanity that was presented in the 1888 teachings.