20-22 The Importance Of The Humanity Of Christ
The extent of Christ's humanity is brought out by the RV translation
of 1 Tim. 2:5. "There is one God, and one mediator between
God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus". Paul is writing this
after the Lord's ascension and glorification. A mediator
might be thought of as being somehow separate from both parties;
but our mediator is actually "himself man", so on our
side, as it were. Having received Divine nature doesn't take anything
away from the Lord's appreciation of our humanity, to the extent
that Paul here [for all the other exalted terms he uses elsewhere
about Jesus] can call Him even now "himself man". The
Lord Jesus inaugurated the “new and living way” for us dia
, on account of, “his flesh” (Heb. 10:20). It was exactly because
of “the flesh” of the Lord’s humanity that He opened up a new way
of life for us. Because He was so credibly and genuinely human,
and yet perfect, the way of His life becomes compellingly the way
we are to take. Once we grasp this, we can better understand the
anathema which John calls down upon those who deny that Jesus was
“in the flesh” (2 Jn. 7-9). The Lord's relationship with His cousin
John provides an exquisite insight into both His humanity and His
humility. The people thought that Jesus was John the Baptist resurrected
(Mk. 6:14). Perhaps this was because they looked somehow similar,
Fear Of Death
And exactly because of that, He had a quite genuine "fear
of death" (Heb. 5:8). This "fear of death" within
the Lord Jesus provides a profound insight into His so genuine humanity.
We fear death because our human life is our greatest and most personal
possession... and it was just the same with the Lord Jesus. Note
that when seeking here to exemplify Christ's humanity, the writer
to the Hebrews chooses His fear of death in Gethsemane as the epitome
of His humanity. Oscar Cullmann translates Heb. 5:7: "He was
heard in his fear (anxiety)". That very human anxiety about
death is reflected in the way He urges Judas to get over and done
the betrayal process "quickly" (Jn. 13:28); He was "straitened
until it be accomplished" (Lk. 12:50). He prayed to God just
as we would when gripped by the fear of impending death. And He
was heard. No wonder He is able therefore and thereby to comfort
and save us, who lived all our lives in the same fear of death which
He had (Heb. 2:15). This repetition of the 'fear of death' theme
in Hebrews is surely significant- the Lord Jesus had the same fear
of death as we do, and He prayed in desperation to God just as we
do. And because He overcame, He is able to support us when we
in our turn pray in our "time of need"- for He
likewise had the very same "time of need" as we have,
when He was in Gethsemane (Heb. 4:16). Death was "the last
enemy" for the Lord Jesus just as it is for all humanity (1
Cor. 15:26). Reflection on these things not only emphasizes the
humanity of the Lord Jesus, but also indicates He had no belief
whatsoever in an 'immortal soul' consciously surviving death.
Contrast all this with the words of Ignatius at the start of the
2nd century A.D.: "Our God, Jesus the Christ, was carried in
Mary's womb" (Ephesians 18.2). How could God
get inside the womb of an ordinary woman? If the very founders of
popular Christianity, the 'church fathers', could be so totally
astray... surely we have to get back to the Bible for ourselves
and give no weight at all to the accepted wisdom of 'orthodox /
mainstream Christianity' as a religion.
The Real Jesus
We non-trinitarians understand, quite correctly, that Jesus saved
the world on account of being human- for all His Lordship and spiritual
unity with the Father. If He had been of any other nature, salvation
would not have been possible through Him. He in all ways is our
pattern. It is our humanity that enables us to go into this world
with a credible, convincing and saving message. We have to be enough
of a man himself in order to save a man. We are not asking our hearers
to be super-human. The way senior churchmen seem to lack a genuine,
complete humanity has led so many to conclude that because they
cannot rise up to such apparently austere and white-faced levels,
therefore Christianity for them is not an authentically human possibility.
Our message is tied to us as human people, just
as the message of Jesus was Him, the real, human Jesus.
The word was made flesh in Him as it must be in us. This is why
nowhere in the Gospels is Jesus described with a long list of virtues-
His actions and relations to others are what are presented, and
it is from them that we ourselves feel and perceive His righteousness.
The teachings of Marxism, e.g., can be separated from Marx as a
man. You can accept Marxism without ever having read a biography
of Karl Marx. But real Christianity is tied in to the person of
the real Christ. The biographies of Jesus which open the New Testament
are in essence a précis of the Gospel of Jesus. His life was and
is His message. We are to follow Him. This is His repeated
teaching. A Marxist follows the ideas of Marx, not merely his personality.
But a Christian follows Christ as a person, not just His abstract
If the message of Jesus is defined by us merely as ideas and principles,
then we will inevitably find that ideas and principles lack the turbulence
of real life- they are abstract. The principles of Bible Truth will be
found to be colourless and remote from reality- unless they are tied in
to the real, concrete person of Jesus. God forbid that our faith has given
us just a bunch of ideas. The principles of the Truth, every doctrine
of the Truth, is lived out in Jesus- and it is this fact, this image of
Him, which appeals to us as live, passionate, flesh and blood beings.
A person cannot be reduced to a formula. It is a living figure and not
just dry theories that actually draws people, and in that sense
is " attractive" . The person of Jesus, as the person of each
of us in Him, makes the ideas, the doctrines, the principles, real and
visible; He " embodies" them. It is only a concrete, real person
who can be felt to call and appeal to people. What I am saying is that
if we present the principles of the Truth as they are in Jesus, then this
will be far more powerful in its appeal than simply presenting dry theories.
" The truth as it is in Jesus" is a Biblical phrase- surely
saying that the doctrines of the one Faith are lived out in this Man.
Because of this, the person hearing the Gospel will feel summoned, appealed
to, called, by a person- the risen Jesus. And then later on in
the life of the convert, it will become apparent to him or her that this
same Jesus, by reason of His very person, makes demands, challenges, invitations
to them, to yet greater commitment. And only a real, living person can
be encouraging in life. Principles as mere abstractions cannot
encourage much of themselves.
Jesus is our representative- a distinctive Bible doctrine. We are counted
as being in Him. This means that His life is counted as being our life-
and only because He was human and we now are human can this become true.
The wonder of this is that so many people have acquired a new personal
quality through their association with the risen Jesus- for all their
human failures, humiliations, setbacks. No longer is it so important for
them to ask 'Who am I? What have I achieved in this dumb life?'. Rather
it is all important that we are in fact in Christ, and sharing in His
life and being. Life has become so achievement and efficiency orientated
that many of us feel failures. Only by achievement, it seems, can we justify
ourselves in society. We have become caught up in a machine of life that
robs us of our humanity. Our initiative, spontaneity, autonomy, our essential
freedom- is lost. Yet if we are in Christ, secure in Him, part of His
supreme personality, then our lives are totally different. We are no longer
ashamed of our humanity. We are affirmed for who we are by God Himself,
justified by Him- for we are in Christ. This is the real meaning, the
wonderful implication, of being truly 'brethren-in-Christ'.
By losing our life, we gain it. But the life we gain is the life of Jesus.
And therefore life has meaning and purpose, not only in successes but
also in failures. Our lives then make sense; for we have and live the
true life, even if we are destroyed by opponents and deserted
by friends; if we supported the wrong side and came to grief; if our achievements
slacken and are overtaken by others; if we are no use any more to anyone.
The bankrupt businessman, the utterly lonely divorcee, the overthrown
and forgotten politician, the unemployed middle aged man, the aged prostitute
or criminal dying in prison...all these, even though their persons and
lives are no longer recognized by this world, are all the same joyfully,
gleefully, recognized by Him with whom there is no respect of persons;
for they are in His beloved Son.
I remember the cold, Russian winter’s day when it finally burst
upon me that the Lord Jesus really was human. Because He was genuinely
human, so genuinely so, I suddenly started thinking of all sorts
of things which must have been true about Him, which I’d never dared
think before. And in this, I believe I went up a level in knowing
Him. He was the genuine product of the pregnancy process. He had
all the pre-history of Mary in his genes. He had a genetic structure.
He had a unique fingerprint, just as I have. He must have been either
left-hand or right-handed (or ambidextrous!). Belonged to a particular
blood group. Fitted into one psychological type more than another.
He forgot things at times, didn't understand absolutely everything
(e.g. the date of His return, or the mystery of spiritual growth,
Mk. 4:27), made a mistake when working as a carpenter, cut His finger.
But He was never frustrated with Himself; He was happy being human,
comfortable with His humanity.
And as I walked through that long Moscow subway from Rizhskaya
Metro to Rizhsky Vokzal, the thoughts were coming thick and fast.
Why did He look on the ground when the woman [presumably naked]
caught in the act of adultery was brought before Him? Was it not
perhaps from sheer embarrassment and male awkwardness? Did He…have
an erection ever? Why not ask these questions? If He was truly human,
sexuality is at the core of personhood. He would have known sexuality,
responding to stimuli in a natural heterosexual manner, “yet without
sin”. He was not a cardboard Christ, a sexless Jesus. He shared
the same unconscious drives and libido which we do, with a temper,
anxiety and ‘anxious fear of death’ (Heb. 5:7) as strong as ours.
He was a real man, not free from the inner conflict, effort, temptation
and doubt which are part of our human condition. No way can I subscribe
to a Trinitarian position that “there was [not] even an infinitely
small element of struggle involved” when the Lord faced temptation
(1). He was tempted just as we are-
and temptation surely involves feeling the pull of evil, and having
part of you that feels it to be more attractive than the good.
The record of Jn. 8:8 seems to imply that it was the way Jesus stooped
down and wrote in the dust which convicted the accusers of the adulteress
in their consciences. As He kept on writing, they one by one walked
away. It's been speculated that He was writing their deeds or names
there, fulfilling Jeremiah's prophecy of how the names of the wicked
would be written in the dust. But I'm not so sure they'd have just
let Him do that with no further recorded comment. My suggestion
is that He stooped down and looked at the ground out of simple male
embarrassment, but His 'writing' in the dust was simply Him doodling.
If this is so, then there would have been an artless mix of His
Divinity, His utter personal moral perfection, and His utter humanity.
Embarrassed in front of a naked woman, crouching down on His haunches,
doodling in the dust... that, it seems to me, would've been the
ultimate conviction of sin for those who watched. It would've been
surpassingly beautiful and yet so challenging at the same time.
And it is that same mixture of utter humanity and profound, Divine
perfection within the person of Jesus which, it seems to me, is
what convicts us of sin and leads us devotedly to Him. Maybe I'm
wrong in my imagination and reconstruction of this incident- but
if we love the Lord, surely we'll be ever seeking to reconstruct
and imagine how He would or might have been.
The fullness of the Lord's humanity is of course supremely shown
in His death and His quite natural fear of that death. Perhaps on
no other point do human beings show they are humans than when it
comes to their reaction to and reflection upon their own death.
I would go further and suggested that the thought of suicide even
entered the Lord's mind. It's hard to understand His thought about
throwing Himself off the top of the temple in any other way. His
almost throw away comment that "My soul is very sorrowful,
even to death" (Mt. 26:38- heos thanatou) is actually
a quotation from the suicidal thoughts of Jonah (Jonah 4:9) and
those of the Psalmist in Ps. 42:5,6. Now of course the Lord overcame
those thoughts- but their very existence is a window into the depth
and reality of His humanity.
I suspect I can see through that huge gap between writer and reader,
to sense your discomfort and alarm, even anger, that I should talk
about the Lord Jesus in such human terms. I can imagine the splutter
and misunderstanding which will greet these suggestions. I am not
seeking to diminish in any way from the Lord’s greatness. I’m seeking
to bring out His greatness; that there, in this genuinely human
person, there was God manifest in flesh. The revulsion of some at
what I’m saying is to me just another articulation of our basic
dis-ease when faced with the fact the Lord Jesus really was our
representative. I believe that in all of us, there’s a desire to
set some sort of break between our own humanity, and that of Jesus.
But if He wasn’t really like us, then I see the whole ‘Christ-thing’
as having little cash value in our world that seeks so desperately
for authenticity and human salvation. The human, Son of God Jesus
whom we preach is actually very attractive to people. There’s something
very compelling about a perfect hero, who nevertheless has a weak
human side. You can see this expressed in novels and fine art very
often. Some examples would be novels like D.H. Lawrence, The
Man Who Died; Miss Lonelyhearts (Nathanel West); Faulkner’s
A Fable. Nikolay Gorodetsky wrote a book entitled The
Humiliated Christ In Modern Russian Thought where he brings
this out well(2). If He were really
like us, then this demands an awful lot of us. It rids us of so
many excuses for our unspirituality. And this, I’m bold enough to
say, is likely the psychological reason for the growth of the Jesus=God
ideology, and the ‘trinity’ concept. The idea of a personally pre-existent
Jesus likewise arose out of the same psychological bind. The Jews
wanted a Messiah whose origins they wouldn’t know (Jn. 7:27), some
inaccessible heavenly figure, of which their writings frequently
speak- and when faced with the very human Jesus, whose mother and
brothers they knew, they couldn’t cope with it. I suggest those
Jews had the same basic mindset as those who believe in a personal
pre-existence of the Lord. The trinity and pre-existence doctrines
place a respectable gap between us and the Son of God. As John Knox
concluded: “We can have the humanity [of Jesus] without the pre-existence
and we can have the pre-existence without the humanity. There is
absolutely no way of having both” (3).
His person and example aren’t so much of an imperative to us, because
He was God and not man. But if this perfect man was indeed one of
us, a man amongst men, with our very same flesh, blood, sperm and
plasm… we start to feel uncomfortable. It’s perhaps why so many
of us find prolonged contemplation of His crucifixion- where He
was at His most naked and most human- something we find distinctly
uncomfortable, and impossible to deeply sustain for long. But only
if we properly have in balance the awesome reality of Christ’s humanity,
can we understand how one man’s death 2,000 years ago can radically
alter our lives today. We make excuses for ourselves: our parents
were imperfect, society around us is so sinful. But the Lord Jesus
was perfect- and dear Mary did her best, but all the same failed
to give Him a perfect upbringing; she wasn’t a perfect mother; and
He didn’t live in a perfect environment. And yet, He was perfect.
And bids us quit our excuses and follow Him. According to the Talmud,
Mary was a hairdresser [Shabbath 104b], whose husband left
her with the children because he thought she’d had an affair with
a Roman soldier. True or not, she was all the same an ordinary woman,
living a poor life in a tough time in a backward land. And the holy,
harmless, undefiled Son of God and Son of Man… was, let’s say, the
son of a divorcee hairdresser from a dirt poor, peripheral village,
got a job working construction when He was still a teenager. There’s
a wonder in all this. And an endless challenge. For none of us can
now blame our lack of spiritual endeavour upon a tough background,
family dysfunction, hard times, bad environment. We can rise above
it, because in Him we are a new creation, the old has passed away,
and in Him, all things have become new (2 Cor. 5:17). Precisely
because He blazed the trail, blazed it out of all the limitations
which normal human life appears to impress upon us, undeflected
and undefeated by whatever distractions both His and our humanity
placed in His path. And He’s given us the power to follow Him.
He wasn’t a God who came down to us and became human; rather is
He the ordinary, very human guy who rose up to become the Man with
the face of God, ascended the huge distance to Heaven, and received
the very nature of God. It’s actually the very opposite to what
human theology has supposed, fearful as they were of what the pattern
of this Man meant for them. The pre-existent view of Jesus makes
Him some kind of Divine comet which came to earth, very briefly,
and then sped off again, to return at the second coming. Instead
we see a man from amongst men, arising to Divine status, and opening
a way for us His brethren to share His victory; and coming back
to establish His eternal Kingdom with us on this earth, His earth,
where He came from and had His human roots. Take a passage must
beloved of Trinitarians, Phil. 2. We read that Jesus was found (heuretheis)
in fashion (schemati) as a man, and He humiliated Himself
(tapeinoseos), and thereby was exalted. But in the next
chapter, Paul speaks of himself in that very language.
He speaks of how he, too, would be “found” (heuretho) con-formed
to the example of Jesus in His death, and would have his body of
humiliation (tapeinoseos) changed into one like that of
Jesus, “the body of his glory”. We aren’t asked to follow the pattern
or schema of a supposed incarnation of a God as man. We’re
asked to follow in the path of the Lord Jesus, the Son of man, in
His path to glory. Repeatedly, we are promised that His
glory is what we will ultimately share, at the end of our path of
humiliation and sharing in His cross (Rom. 8:17; 2 Cor. 3:18; Jn.
17:22,24). The more we think about it, the idea of Jesus as a Divine
comet sent to earth chimes in with some of the most popular movies.
Think of Superman and Star Trek- the hero descends
to earth in order to save us. Or take the "Lone Ranger"
type Westerns, set in some wicked, sinful, hopeless town in the
[mythical] American West... and in rides the outsider, the heroic
cowboy, and redeems the situation. The huge success of these
kinds of story lines suggests that we like to think we are powerless
to change, that our situation is hopeless and beyond human salvation...
an outsider is needed to save us, as we look on as spectators, feeling
mere pawns in a cosmic drama. And this may explain the attraction
of trinitarianism and a Divine comet-like Christ who hit earth for
33 years. It breeds painless spectator religion... go to church,
hear the Preacher, watch the show, come home and spend another rainy
Sunday afternoon wondering quite what to do with your life. Yet
the idea of a human Saviour, one of us rising up above
our own humanity to save us... this demands so much more of us,
for it implies that we're not mere spectators at the show, but rather
can really get involved ourselves. In The Real Devil I
often found myself making similar points in relation to the misunderstanding
of Satan as a superhuman being involved in a cosmic battle with
God, which we watch from afar here on earth.... whereas the Biblical
'satan' refers to the 'adversary' of our own natures, internal codes
and dysfunctions, which we ourselves must struggle to master, following
the example of the Lord Jesus. His victories become ours; until
His very death becomes our personal pattern too.
The relationship of the Lord Jesus with His Father was evidently
intended by Him to be a very real, achievable pattern for all those
in Him. He wasn't an aberration, an uncopyable, inimitable freak.
John's Gospel brings this out very clearly. The Father knows the
Son, the Son knows the Father, the Son knows men, men know the Son,
and so men know both the Father and Son (Jn.10:14,15; 14:7,8). The
Son is in the Father as the Father is in the Son; men are in the
Son and the Son is in men; and so men are in the Father and Son
(Jn. 14:10,11; 17:21,23,26). As the Son did the Father's works and
was thereby "one" with Him, so it is for the believers
who do the Father's works (Jn. 10:30,37,38; 14:8-15). Whilst there
obviously was a unique bonding between Father and Son on account
of the virgin birth, the Lord Jesus certainly choses to speak as
if His Spirit enables the relationship between Him and His Father
to be reproduced in our experience.
Of Christ’s Humanity
The undoubted need
for doctrinal truth about the nature of Jesus can so easily lead
us to overlooking the need for obedience to His most practical teaching.
As Adolf Harnack put it: “True faith in Jesus is not a matter of
credal orthodoxy but of doing as he did (4).
In this sense we need “to rescue Jesus from Christianity (5).
We need to reconstruct in our own minds the person of Jesus and
practical teaching of Jesus which so perfectly reflected His own
life, free from the theology and creeds which have so often surrounded
Him. As a result of this, our preaching of Christ so often ends
up stressing those elements which the unbeliever or misbeliever
finds most difficult to accept, rather than focusing on the Lord’s
humanity and His practical teachings, which they are more likely
to accept because as humans they have a natural affinity with them.
The Lord Jesus was not merely human, as a theologically correct
statement. He passionately entered into human life to its’ fullest
extent. Thus B.B. Warfield comments: “[Jesus] knew not mere joy
but exultation, not mere passing pity but the deepest movements
of compassion and love, not mere surface distress but an exceeding
sorrow even unto death" (6).
There is an incredible
challenge in the fact that the Lord Jesus had human nature and yet
never sinned. He rose above sin in all its forms, and yet was absolutely
human. It seems to me that many Christians feel that their calling
is to rise above both sin, and also their own human nature. And
this results in their belief that spirituality is in fact a denial
of their humanity. In extreme forms, we have the white faced nun
who has been led to believe that being spiritual equals being white
faced, passionless, and somehow superhuman. In a more common expression
of the same problem, there are many elders who believe it to be
fatal to show any emotional conviction about anything, no chinks
in their armour, no admission of their own human limitations or
understanding. For this reason I see a similarity between the ‘lives
of the saints’ as recorded in Catholic and Orthodox writings (replete
with white faces and large holy eyes, hands ever folded in prayer,
never making a slip)- and the glossy biographies of Evangelical
leaders which jump out at you from the shelves of Protestant bookstores.
They too, apparently, never set a foot wrong, but progressed from
unlikely glory to unlikely glory. All this arises from an over-emphasis
upon the Divine rather than the human side of the Lord Jesus. The
character of the Lord Jesus shows us what it’s like to be both human
and sinless. It has been truly commented that “if we believe in
the fact of his humanity, we must affirm our own”. And the same
author perceptively points out that “Just as we have sought a mythical
model of Jesus Christ whose humanity is a sham, so we have sought
a mythical model of the Christian life” ( 7).
Because we seek to rise above being human, we are aiming for something
that doesn’t exist. The Lord Jesus wasn’t and isn’t ‘superhuman’;
He was and is the image of God stamped upon humanity, and in this
sense the New Testament still calls Him a “man” even now. We need
not take false guilt about being human. We should be happy with
who we are, made in the image of God. Yes we are human, with all
that this involves, negatively and positively. I interpret the image
of the baby Jesus maybe rather differently from how the Christmas
cards do. For a baby and young child to survive, there is an element
of desperate selfishness from the first struggling breath. The Lord
would've been no different, and obviously shared this basic instinct
to preserve self, right up to His death on the cross. And yet somehow
He would've stood apart from other people, even as a young person,
as He never allowed what Richard Dawkins has termed "the selfish
gene" to predominate in Him (8). It was this difference
in Jesus, throughout His life, which was and is so crucial. For
it is exactly this aspect of Him which is our moment-by-moment
challenge, inspiration and saving comfort.
Of Jesus To Be Seen As Human
When the Lord spoke of how "the son of man has nowhere to
lay his head" (Mt. 8:20), He was apparently alluding to a common
proverb about how humanity generally ["son of man" as
generalized humanity] is homeless in the cosmos (9). In this case,
we see how the Lord took every opportunity to attest to the fact
that what was true of humanity in general was true of Him. Perhaps
this explains His fondness for describing Himself as "son of
man", a term which can mean both humanity in general, and also
specifically the Messiah predicted in Daniel. He understood Himself
as rightful judge of humanity exactly because He was "son of
man" (Jn. 5:27)- because every time we sin, He as a man would've
chosen differently, He is therefore able to be our judge. And likewise,
exactly because He was a "son of man", "the Son of
Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" (Mk. 2:10). If
it is indeed true that "'Son of Man' represents the highest
conceivable declaration of exaltation in Judaism" (10), then
we can understand the play on words the Lord was making- for the
term 'son of man' can also without doubt just mean 'humanity generally'.
Exactly because He was human, and yet perfect, He was so exalted.
It's perhaps noteworthy that in the wilderness temptation, Jesus
was tempted "If you are the Son of God..." (Mt.
4:3), and He replies by quoting Dt. 8:3 "man shall
not live by bread alone"- and the Jonathan Targum has bar
nasha [son of man] here for "man". If we are correct
in understanding those wilderness temptations as the Lord's internal
struggles, we see Him tempted to wrongly focus upon His being Son
of God, forgetting His humanity; and we see Him overcoming
this temptation, preferring instead to perceive Himself as Son of
man. Twice in Mark, Jesus is addressed as "Messiah"
but He replies by calling Himself "the Son of man" (Mk.
8:29-31; 14:61,62). If this was His preferred self-perception, should
it not be how we perceive Him?
Him And Us
Throughout the Gospels, it’s apparent that both explicitly and
implicitly, the Lord was almost desperate to persuade His followers to see Him
as their brother, one to whom they could realistically aspire- and not a
superhuman icon to be trusted in to get them out of temporal problems. We've noted His
preference for the title ‘Son of man’ rather than any more direct reference to
His Divine Sonship- although to the Old Testament mind, ”son of
man” was a title which upon closer reflection associated Him with the glorious Son of man of Daniel’s visions. The Lord’s struggle was prefigured in
the way Joseph-Jesus had to urge his brothers “Come near to me, I pray you”, and
begged them to believe in His grace and acceptance of them (Gen. 45:4; 50:18-21). This is in essence the plea of Jesus to Trinitarians today.
Take the incident of the withered fig tree in Mark 11:20-24 as an
example of what I mean. The disciples were amazed at the faith of Jesus in God’s power. He had
commanded the fig tree to be withered- but this had required Him to pray to God
to make this happen. As the disciples looked at the withered fig tree and then at Him, wide eyed with amazement
at His faith, the Lord immediately urged them to “have faith in God... whosoever [and this was surely His emphasis] shall [ask a mountain to move in faith, it
will happen]... therefore I say unto you, Whatsoever things you desire [just as Jesus had desired the withering of the fig tree], when you pray [as Jesus had done about the fig tree], believe that you receive
them, and you shall have them”. I suggest His emphasis was upon the word you. He so desired them to see His pattern of faith in prayer as a
realistic image for them to copy. How sad He must be at the way He has been
turned into an other-worldly figure, some wonderful, kindly God who saves us
from the weakness and lack of faith which we are so full of. Yes, He is our Saviour, and our hearts surely have a burning and undying sense of
gratitude to Him. But He isn’t only that; He is an inspiration. It is in
this sense that the spirit of Christ can and does so radically transform human
life in practice. Of course, we have sinned, and we continue to do so. For
whatever reason, we are not Jesus. But our painful awareness of this [and it
ought to be painful, not merely a theoretical acceptance that we are sinners]...
shouldn’t lead us to think that His example isn’t a realistic pattern for us. It
makes a good exercise to re-read the Gospels looking out for other cases of
where the Lord urged the disciples to not look at Him as somehow separate for
themselves, an automatic Saviour from sin and problems. Thus when it was
apparent that the huge, hungry crowd needed feeding, the Lord asked the
disciples where “we” could get food from to feed them (Jn. 6:5). In all
the accounts of the miraculous feedings, we see the disciples assuming that
Jesus would solve the situation- and they appear even irritated and offended
when He implies that this is our joint problem, and they must
tackle this seemingly impossible task with their faith. The mentality of
the disciples at that time is that of so many Trinitarians- who assume that ‘Jesus
is the answer’ in such a form that they are exempt from seeing His humanity as
a challenge for them to live likewise.
Repeatedly, the Lord Jesus carefully worded His teaching in order to
use the same words about Himself as about His disciples. He was the lamb of
God; and He sent them forth as lambs amongst wolves; He was “the light of the
world”, and He stated that they too must be likewise. As He was the source of
living water to us, so we are to be to others (Jn. 4:10,14). I have tabulated
many examples of this kind of thing in A World Waiting To Be Won chapter
3. John grasped this, by using even some of the language of the virgin birth
about the birth of all God’s children. It’s as if even the Lord’s Divine
begettal shouldn’t be seen as too huge a barrier between us and Himself. Many
of the Lord’s parables had some oblique reference to Himself. The parable of
the sower speaks of the type of ground which gave one hundred fold yield- and
surely the Lord was thinking of Himself in this. And yet the whole point of the
parable is that all who receive the Lord’s word have the possibility of
responding in this way. Or take the related parable of the mustard seed [=God’s
word of the Gospel] which grows up into a huge tree under which all the birds
can find refuge (Mk. 4:31,32). This image is replete with allusion to Old
Testament pictures of God’s future Kingdom, and the growth of Messiah from a
small twig into a great tree (Ez. 17:22). Here we see the power of the basic
Gospel message- truly responded to, it can enable us to have a share in the
very heights to which the Lord Jesus will yet be exalted at His return.
I suppose most challenging of all is the Lord’s invitation to us to
take up our cross and follow after Him, in His ‘last walk’ to the place of
crucifixion. This image would’ve been chilling to those who first heard it, who
were familiar with a criminal’s walk to his death. Quite rightly, we associate
the cross of Jesus with our salvation. But it is also a demand to us to be like
Him, not only in showing the courtesy, politeness, thoughtfulness etc. which is
part of a truly Christ-like / Christian culture, but in the utterly radical
call to self-sacrifice unto death. It is in this matter of bearing the cross
after Him that we would so dearly wish for the crucified Christ to be just an
item in history, an act which saved us which is now over, an icon we hang
around our neck or mount prominently on our study wall- and no more. But He,
His cross, His ‘last walk’, His request that we pick up a cross and walk behind
Him, the eerie continuous tenses used in New Testament references to the
crucifixion- is so much more than that. If He washed our feet, we must wash each others’ (Jn. 13:14). Everything He did, all He showed Himself to be
in character, disposition and attitude, becomes an imperative for us to do and
be likewise. And it is on this basis that He can so positively represent us to
the Father: “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (Jn.
(1) F.D.E. Schliermacher, The Christian Faith
(Edinburgh: T& T Clark, 1928) p. 414. Clement of Alexandria,
one of the so-called "fathers" of the Christian church,
"Argued that Jesus, being divine, did not need to eat or drink,
but merely did so to keep up appearances" (as quoted in N.T.
Wright, Who Was Jesus? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) p.
69). It's hard to square this with the Lord's cry from the cross:
"I thirst!" and other Gospel references to His need to
eat and drink. The founding fathers of 'Christianity' as a religion,
it seems to me, utterly missed the point of the real Christ. Thomas
Hart, To Know And Follow Jesus (New York: Paulist Press,
1984) p. 44 adds more nonsensical verbiage: "He has a human
nature but is not a human person. The person in Him is the second
Person of the Blessed Trinity. Jesus does not have a personal human
centre". Any Biblical reflection upon the sensitivity, the
love, the death, the kindness of the Lord Jesus... reveals He had
the most wonderful "personal human centre". And that is
obscured by this hopeless mess of words from trinitarian apologists.
The idea of having "two natures" seems to me quite unBiblical
and would imply a lack of integrity to every word and action of
Jesus. It would be like a man saying "I've got no money in
my pocket" and showing an empty pocket- when he has 1000 Euros
or $ in his wallet.
I can't help but note the intellectual desperation of trinitarianism.
Retranslation and twisting of the actual Biblical text is always
a tell-tale sign that an author is desperate to prove his or her
point, rather than being led to truth by God's word. Augustine (Homilies
On John 105.17) mistranslates Jn. 17:3 like this: "This
is eternal life, that they may know Thee and Jesus Christ, whom
Tho has sent, as the only true God". The Greek text, in any
reading, simply doesn't bear that translation. That's Augustine's
interpretation, and yet he purposefully makes out that his interpretation
is in fact what the original text actually says. Other church fathers
such as Ambrose followed him in this (see H.A.W. Meyer, Commentary
On John (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1884 p. 462)). This
incident alone indicates the lack of integrity required to force
the doctrine of the Trinity into the Bible. It's simply not there,
and if it were there, this kind of utter desperation wouldn't have
to be resorted to. And we see the same in some Bible translations
of the present day, where trinitarian interpretation is dressed
up as the actual text of Scripture. I note that in recent times,
more and more theologians and leading Christians are admitting to
doubt about the Trinity. And if one looks for it, we find scepticism
about it in many writings of leading Christian thinkers and writers
throughout history. Further, I note that trinitarians are increasingly
recognizing that their standard arguments are weak. There was a
time when Gen. 1:26 would be often quoted to support the Tinity.
But it's now widely recognized that there are several Hebrew words
which have plural endings, and yet refer to a singular entity- e.g.
panim means "face". Nearly always, elohim
is referred to in the singular by the grammar surrounding it.
Thus "Christians have traditionally seen this verse as [proving]
the Trinity. It is now universally admitted that this was not what
the plural means to the original author" (G.J. Wenham, Genesis
1-15 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1997) p. 27). The note in the NIV
Study Bible likewise takes the approach that this passage refers
to Angels: "God speaks as the Creator-King, announcing his
crowning work to the members of his heavenly court".
(2) Nikolay Gorodetsky, The Humiliated Christ
In Modern Russian Thought (London: SPCK, 1938).
(3) John Knox,
The Humanity and Divinity of Christ (Cambridge: CUP, 1968)
A. Harnack, What Is Christianity? (5th ed., London:
Benn, 1958), x.
R.W. Funk, Honest To Jesus (San Francisco: Harper, 1996)
B.B. Warfield, ‘The Emotional Life Of Our Lord’ in The
Person And Work Of Christ (Philadelphia: Presbyterian &
Reformed, 1950) p. 142.
Nigel Cameron, Complete In Christ (Exeter: Paternoster, 1997).
He perceptively sees a link between the false notion of an ‘immortal
soul’, and a wrong view of the nature of man and of Jesus: “There
is the idea, as unbiblical as it is common, of the ‘soul’- understood
as an animating spirit which inhabits the body but in fact itself
constitutes the human person, the essential self. Then there is
the related idea of the life to come as an ‘after-life’ in which
the soul survives while the body departs. These are notions which
derive from ancient Greece and have become parasitic on Christian
thinking. They foster a lasting suspicion of man as a corporeal
being, and undermine our confidence in the Christian life as a human
life” (p. 110). I find these sentences very incisive and true in
(8) Richard Dawkins,
The Selfish Gene (Oxford: O.U.P., 1993).
(9) Oscar Cullmann, The Christology Of The New Testament
(London: SCM, 1971) p. 154.
(10) Cullmann, op
cit p. 161.