[ Doctrine in Detail ]

Topic: V. God the Son

Lesson: B. Humiliation of the Son

The word humiliation means that the Son humbled himself in becoming a man. It does not mean that he was humiliated in the sense of embarrassed, but he was humbled.

A simple statement, yet profound, is that Jesus Christ is Fully God and Fully Man. Some theologians think that this is the hardest concept to fully understand in theology. But while understanding how it works, how Jesus Christ can be both God and Man, is difficult; it is easy to find verses in Scripture that show Jesus as both God and Man. We also need some understanding of false views and how to defend against them. These false views are perhaps ideas that we would try out ourselves to see if they explain the Biblical teaching, and when we see that they all fall short, we understand the Biblical view more completely.

Objective: To understand that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, and to understand and defend against false views of the nature of Jesus Christ

"Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the Word, the eternal and true God who is of one substance and equal with the Father ... He is truly God and truly man." (Article 4-1, Bible Fellowship Church Articles of Faith) While our doctrine is based upon the Bible, not this statement of faith, I do believe that the BFC articles are a good explanation of what the Bible teaches. The first sentence summarizes the last topic, showing that Jesus Christ is the eternal Word of John chapter 1, equal with the Father in all his attributes. The three dots ... show a few sentences out, we will deal with those during this lesson. But the last sentence, "He is truly God and truly man, ...", is the theme of this lesson.

1. The Virgin Birth (How God Became a Man)

Simply put, the BFC Article states that Jesus was "conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary." This is a matter of faith, from the clear teaching of Scripture.

There was a reform movement within the increasingly liberal Protestant churches early in the last century (about 1920), which was based upon Five Fundamentals. The leaders of this movement were disturbed by the fact that many ministers and missionaries did not believe some basic Christian doctrines. One of these five doctrines was the Virgin Birth. We might ask, what was so important about this doctrine that it was one of five which defined 'Christian Fundamentalism'? I realize that the word 'fundamentalism' has a negative connotation for some of us, but if we simply take it at its original meaning, fundamentalists agreed on what some basic beliefs were and called them the fundamentals.

The Virgin Birth is not only the Christmas Story, it is the very means by which Jesus Christ was both God and a holy man. "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God."(Luke 1:35) This verse explains that because of the work of the Holy Spirit in the conception of Jesus, he would be called 'the holy one, the Son of God.' I realize that the NIV phrases this differently, but it still refers to the child as the 'holy one to be born'.

First of all, Jesus was the Son of God. But in his humanity, he was born without sin as the 'holy one'. Every person ever born (Adam and Eve were not born, but created) has been born with a sin nature inherited (or imputed) from Adam. We will deal with this more closely in a future lesson. But somehow (no, I don't know how the Holy Spirit did it) the Holy Spirit prevented the transmission of sin from Mary to Jesus. It was not just that sin comes from Adam, presumably if a woman was cloned she would still have sin from the original woman. This is of course speculation, all that the Bible tells us is that Jesus would be 'the Holy One' because of the way he was conceived by the Holy Spirit.

The Immaculate Conception?.

We do have to digress for a few minutes to clear up a common misunderstanding. Perhaps you have seen a Roman Catholic Church named the Church of the Immaculate Conception. It is a fairly common name. Many Catholics and former Catholics that I have spoken to have thought that the Virgin Birth is what is meant by the Immaculate Conception - but this is not true.

The Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is stated: "The Most Holy Virgin Mary was, in the first moment of conception ... preserved free from all stain of original sin." (Pope Pius IX, Dec 8, 1854, ex cathedra) While some Catholics have believed this from fairly early times, it became an official doctrine when stated by the Pope. 'Ex cathedra' means that the Pope claimed to be speaking from the seat of Peter when making this statement, and that it is infallible. This is how Catholics explain Jesus being born without sin - he had no earthly father to inherit sin from and Mary was without sin.

The Catholic church also teaches that Mary was free from all sin during her entire life, therefore Jesus was born without sin. "Mary was free from every personal sin during her whole life." (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma) However, there is no indication in the Bible that Mary was born without sin or lived without ever sinning. Rather, Luke 1:35 attributes Jesus being born 'the holy one' to the work of the Holy Spirit, not to a holy life of Mary. In effect, this Catholic doctrine practically makes a god out of Mary. We would rather apply "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"(Romans 5:12) to Mary as well as every other human ever born except for Jesus.

Let us be clear in understanding that the phrase Immaculate Conception as used by Catholics does not refer to the conception of Jesus, but to the conception of Mary in the womb of 'Saint Anne'. This is a doctrine that is not supported in Scripture, does not explain how Mary could be conceived and live without sin, and elevates the position of Mary at the expense of realizing that only Jesus Christ ever lived a human life without sinning.

2. The Humiliation (What did it Mean for Jesus Christ to Humble Himself?)

In short, what we refer to as the 'Humiliation' is stated as, "He took on Himself man's nature, with all of its essential properties except sin ..." (BFC Article 4.1) This is not the normal description of the birth of a baby!! But it is a perfect description of the Son who existed in eternity past with the Father, before the creation of the world, who became a human child.

What do those words, 'all its essential properties except sin' mean? We can think of God who knows all things, yet as a human child, Jesus had to learn everything. He was dependent upon his mother for food in his human nature, although in his divine nature he created all things! While he was all-present, in his human nature he was limited to the body of an infant!

The Apostle Paul wrote, "Your attitude should be the samae as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness."(Phillipians 2:5-7) In fairly modern times, scholars have had difficulty believing that Jesus is fully God (in the early church the problem was understanding that the Son of God truly became human). They have taken the phrase from Philippians 2:5-7 'He emptied himself' (RSV) or 'made himself nothing' (NIV) to mean that Jesus the Son put aside his God qualities or attributes at conception. This is called the 'kenosis', after the Greek word for empty. This was not even and idea until the last century, but is widely taught today.

However, reading the entire section of Philippians in context does not give this idea at all, rather we refer to this as the Humiliation as Jesus humbled himself, taking ON the nature of a servant. We see that Jesus knew when Lazarus died (many miles away), he commanded the waves of the sea, and he resurrected the dead. While he sometimes acted in the power of the Holy Spirit, and other times asked the Father to do something, yet he often worked in his OWN power. This power was not 'emptied' at his conception or birth. So, I would not say he emptied himself of his Godness or attributes, but he did empty himself in the sense of putting aside his honor and glory (but he did reveal his Glory by doing miracles and at the transfiguration) and becoming a humble human, not even born to a rich family but to a poor one.

3. The Two Natures (What does it Mean for Jesus Christ to be Fully God and Fully Man?)

Coming back to the main point of this lesson, Jesus was fully God and fully man. He was one person, yet had both a God nature and a human nature. We cannot see how this works. I am sure that theologians would like Jesus to return for a while to complete a few psychological profiles, perhaps ask a few questions. We simply have to accept that Jesus Christ was unique, and we cannot run scientific tests to figure out how He functioned with two natures.

God and Man. We can see that in a single book, the author of Hebrews presented two facts. "The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word."(Hebrews 1:3) This shows the God nature of Jesus Christ. "... he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people."(Hebrews 2:17) This son, who sustains all of creation, was made 'like his brothers in every way', that is, in every way that we are human, Jesus was human, except for sin.

How important is the belief that Jesus is fully God and fully man? Hebrews states that it was NECESSARY for Jesus to be 'like his brothers' (fully man) to be able to make atonement for the sins of the people.

Ebionite (false) View. How have Christians tried to figure this out? Usually the solution either ignors the human nature or the God nature. The Ebionites were a group in the early church that taught that Jesus was a perfect man, who received the 'logos' (Greek for Word) or perhaps the Holy Spirit at his baptism, and therefore was able to do miracles. They did not really believe he was fully God. This is close to what the Christian Scientists teach today, that if we are 'good enough' or live pure enough with sufficient faith, we can receive a divine presence and do the miracles (specifically the healing) that Jesus did. This is a false teaching, because Jesus was truly God, and no human (even with the Holy Spirit) will ever be or become God.

Docetist (false) View. It is hard to realize that in the early centuries of the church, some people had difficulty thinking of Jesus as fully human. The 'gnostics', who claimed a secret knowledge, believed that everything in the physical world was evil. Creation itself, or simply matter, was evil. They taught that the Old Testament God was evil, as he created the material world, and that the New Testament God - Jesus, came to free us from the physical world. For them, matter equaled evil, but spirit (non-matter) equaled good.

This is false, and a heresy, yet we see in Eastern mysticism (Buddism and Transcendental Meditation) that many try to escape the physical world and be totally spiritual. Of course, Satan and demons are also pure spirit, but are evil. We cannot say that matter is evil (God said his creation was good) or that all spirit is good (the spirit-being Satan is evil). But because of this belief, they taught that Jesus was really only a spirit, and 'appeared' to be a man, in other words, his appearance was an illusion. As we have already seen, this is false, it was necessary for Jesus 'to be made like his brothers in every way.

Arian (false) View. Arius taught, as the Jehovah's Witnesses do today, that the 'Word' (or Jesus) was 'a god' but not God. The main point they make is that the Word was a created being, not existing from eternity past like the Father. In other ways, they also deny that Jesus, the Word, is a part of the Trinity or has other attributes of the true God, such as all-powerful and all-knowing. We dealt with these in last weeks lesson, the point being that they call Jesus 'a god', but rob the word of its meaning and really mean that Jesus is no god at all. Again, the Son is the express representation of God's being. The Word was with God and the Word was God.

Nestorian (false) View. The Nestorians did believe that Jesus was fully man and fully God, but they thought that two different persons dwelt in Jesus. We believe that Jesus has two natures in one person or personality (although we cannot explain how it works). They simply consider it to be two different persons in one body. This unfortunately would mean that God did not become a man, but simply dwelt in a man (much like the Holy Spirit dwells in us).

Eutychus' (false) View. Eutychus taught that the two natures were blended or mixed into a new God-man nature. He would then be neither God nor man. This contradicts both statements in Hebrews, as the mixed person would neither be the exact representation of God nor be like his brothers in every way. This is also called the Monophysite doctrine, meaning 'one will'. The teaching that the God and human wills and natures were blended into one is the distinguishing characteristic of the Coptic churches (Syrian Coptic and Egyptian Coptic) which separated from the Catholic/Orthodox churches after the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. They continue to this day.

Appollinarius' (false) View. Appollinarius gave a simple, but wrong, solution. He claimed that Jesus the Son was God in mind and spirit but dwelling in a human body. He was partially God (mind and spirit) and partially God (human body). Again, this contradicts the teachings of Hebrews 1, because only having a human body would not be 'like his brothers in every way'. Also, God is not tempted, yet Jesus in his human nature (mind/spirit) was tempted in every way but did not sin.

Council of Chalcedon - 451 AD (correct) View. The Council of Chalcedon was called in 451 AD to settle this issue. They determined that Jesus the Son was fully God and fully man, and yet the two natures were not mixed together or confused. In his human nature Jesus was limited in power, he grew tired and thirsty, but in his divine nature he could command the waves to be still. In his human nature he had to learn, he 'grew in stature and knowledge', yet in his divine nature he knew all things (and that 'Lazarus our brother has fallen asleep'). In his human nature he was localized in space to his body, yet the divine nature was all-present. We do not see this particular point demonstrated in Scripture, and some disagree. While it is difficult to understand how this works out, the two natures are clearly taught in Scripture. And anything Jesus did through either nature could be said of Jesus. For instance, Jesus commanded the waves to be still, yet Jesus 'rested'.


"Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man in one person, and will be forever." (Grudem, Systematic Theology)

Written Assignment:

No written assignment for this lesson.

Reading Assignment:

Ryrie: Chapters 42 and 43; BFC Article 4

Key Verses:

"The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word."(Hebrews 1:3)

"... he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people."(Hebrews 2:17)

Additional References:

"... He embodied two perfect and distinct natures in one person. He is truly God and truly man, the only mediator between God and man." (BFC Article 4.1)

All Bible quotations are from the New International Version (NIV), (C)Copyright 1984 by the International Bible Society, used by permission.
Doctrine in Detail (C)Copyright 2002 by Ronald Miller, All Rights Reserved

[ Back to Doctrine in Detail ]