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Christ's Full Humanity

As John continues to narrate the events leading up to the raising of Lazarus, he includes one of the shortest sentences in the New Testament: Jesus wept. Among the various implications of this statement, one of the more significant ones is that our Lord and savior is able to sympathize with our grief and sadness and loss because he himself wept over the death of one whom he loved.

And it is important that we appreciate the genuineness of his grief. They were not crocodile tears that Jesus shed, but genuine tears for Lazarus, for Mary and Martha, and for the general sadness that the presence of death in God’s good creation prompts. This genuine grief is a part of his redemptive work. As Herman Ridderbos puts it, “As the Son of God, he does not come to redeem the world from imaginary grief or to make grief over death imaginary. Therefore, he joins the mourning procession for the friend whom he is to raise from the dead, and he weeps.”[1]

In this way, we can appreciate all the more what the writer of Hebrews means when he says, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb 2:17 ESV). What Jesus experienced was not an approximation of our experience, but the actual experience of living in this fallen world as a human—except for sin. He did not seem to be human, but actually was and is human. And because he is human, he is able to represent us. Thus, Christ’s humanity, including his expressions of emotion, are central to our salvation.

In the history of the church, though, the full humanity of Christ has been attacked from a few different angles. With the remainder of this reflection, I’d like to introduce a couple of those attacks before coming back to why even the emotional life of Christ is important for our salvation.

The earliest and most substantial rejection of Christ’s full humanity is called Docetism. Donald Macleod offers a succinct summary of Docetism:

This label covers a group of sometimes bizarre speculations bound together by a refusal to accept that God could in any real sense become man. … Docetism rested on two fundamental principles: matter is evil, and the divine can experience neither change nor suffering. … [According to Docetism, Jesus] had the appearance of a man, but this was a mere mask, an image without substance… his flesh had no reality, with the result … that he ‘was not what he appeared to be, and feigned himself to be what he was not—incarnate without being flesh, human without being man.’[2]

Against this view that the Son of God only seemed to be human, the early church fathers stressed the fact that if Christ only seemed to be human, then he only seemed to represent humanity before the judgment seat of God, and thus he only seemed to accomplish redemption. What that left, however, was no salvation at all.

A second attack against the full humanity of Christ acknowledged his humanity but stopped short of giving him full humanity by denying that the person of Christ had a human will or mind. Commonly called Apollinarianism, this view presents a “truncated Christ.” Macleod again summarizes the problem with this view of the full humanity of Christ: “There is no real incarnation, no assumption of humanity and no becoming man. There is only God assuming the conditions of human existence. In that existence the human body and the divine Logos formed one ousia [substance], but there was no room for human psychology.”[3] And a representative of humanity without a human psychology is not a true representative. In the words of one early church father, “If he has a soul, and yet is without a mind, how is he man, for man is not a mindless animal?”[4]

And those words are helpful for us as we move from considering the full humanity of Christ in the cognitive domain to the affective domain, for if he has a soul and yet is without a heart, how is he man, for man is not a heartless animal. Thus, it is critical that we appreciate the full range of (sinless) emotions that Christ expressed, including weeping, because they are an integral part of his full humanity.

[1] The Gospel According to John: A Theological Commentary, trans. John Vriend, Eerdmans Classic Biblical Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018), 402. [2] The Person of Christ, Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 157. [3] The Person of Christ, 159. [4] Gregory of Nazianzus, quoted in MacLeod, The Person of Christ, 160.

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