Where Is Jesus?

I just finished a small Bible study on a puzzling topic: Is Jesus currently sitting or standing, and is He on a throne or not? To me this is a puzzling topic as I don’t think the Scriptures are incredibly clear on it. Let me explain.

At the end of the synoptic gospels, Jesus is making reference to the end of days:

  • “Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”” (Matthew 19:28)
  • “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.” (Matthew 25:31)
  • “Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”” (Matthew 26:64)
  • “And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”” (Mark 14:62)
  • “So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.” (Mark 16:19)
  • “But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” (Luke 22:69)

What we can deduct from these verses is that at the end, Jesus sits on a throne, and He sits at the right hand of God. Question is: can both be true? If so, it would imply there are two thrones, right?

Let’s skip to Revelation… Here we clearly see in the beginning of the book that Jesus is not on a throne and He is standing:

    • “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6)
    • “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb” (Revelation 5:13)
    • “…standing before the throne and before the Lamb […] and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”” (Revelation 7:9-10)

What about the end of Revelation? Well, in chapter 19, God is seated on the throne (v.4) and Jesus is on a white horse waging war (v.11-16). In chapter 20, there are multiple thrones and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed (v.4), and in verse 11 someone is sitting on the throne, but it is not specified who it is. In chapter 21 we can infer Jesus is on the throne, because in verse 6 He identifies Himself as the Alpha and the Omega, yet in verse 7 He uses a reference that He is the Father. This seems somewhat confusing. In chapter 22, the last chapter of the Bible, it seems to confirm that there are indeed two thrones, for verse 3 says, “but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it.

It seems that at the beginning of Revelation, Jesus is standing and not sitting on a throne, and at the end of Revelation, Jesus is sitting on a throne next to God. The latter would indeed concur with what the synoptic gospels are saying.

So far, so good, right? So why is this such a puzzling topic then? Well, it’s because of the verse references in the epistles. In Acts 7:55-56, Stephen gazes into heaven and sees the glory of God (wow!), and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Both Romans 8:34 and 1 Peter 3:22 make reference to Jesus being at the right hand of God, but say nothing whether He is sitting or standing. Yet, Ephesians 1:20, Colossians 3:1, Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; and 12:2, all refer to Jesus sitting down.

So, what’s confusing? Well, it could be that Stephen’s glimpse into heaven is in Stephen’s present day: Jesus is standing. But all the epistle verses talk about Jesus in the past tense and yet He is sitting down. Hebrews 1:3 makes this very clear when it says, “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high”. This verse concurs with Ephesians 1:20, which says, “when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” and Hebrews 10:12, which says, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.”

Am I missing something here, or is this indeed confusing? Both Stephen’s glimpse and the beginning of Revelation states Jesus is standing. In the synoptic gospels, Jesus refers to Himself at the end of time and here He is seated (as He is indeed in the later chapters of Revelation), but the epistles state that Jesus is already seated at the right hand of God.

What we can say is that Jesus is currently in heaven and that He is at the right hand of the Father. Is it very important to know whether He is standing or sitting down? I don’t know. I hold fast to the promise that there are no contradictions in the Bible, so this topic forces me to study deeper.

In the mean time, what do you think?

The Request of Five Daughters

Some say that you can find Jesus Christ on every page of the Bible, even in the strangest stories which seem to make no sense. In Numbers 27 we find such a story which turns out to be much needed for Jesus. Even more, without it Jesus would not have been… well, just read the post…

In Jeremiah 22:30, the LORD says, “Write this man down childless, a man who will not prosper in his days; For no man of his descendants will prosper sitting on the throne of David or ruling again in Judah.” This man is Jeconiah (or Jehoiachin) and as it was promised that the Savior would ulimately come from the tribe of Judah and sit on the throne of David, this poses a problem.

We read in Matthew 1 the genealogy of Jesus’ legal father Joseph, which takes a path through David and Solomon and then we read in verses 11-12 the name of Jeconiah (on which there is a blood curse announced and on all his decendants, including Joseph, the legal father of Jesus). We read in Luke 3:23, in Luke’s rendering of Jesus’ genealogy, that Joseph was the son of Heli (which is strange as Matthew says that Jacob was the father of Joseph in Matt. 1:16). When we dig a little further in Luke 3:23 we read that the Greek says ‘hōs nomizō’ which can be translated as ‘reckoned as by law.’ In other words, Joseph was the son-in-law of Heli! This genealogy also takes a right turn after David through Nathan (instead of Solomon) thereby bypassing Jeconiah and thus the bloodcurse.

In Numbers 27:1-11 we read the story of the five daughters of Zelophehad and how they stood before Moses to explain that their father died in the wilderness without leaving any sons, and how these daughters don’t want the name of their father (and thus the possession) to be withdrawn from among his family. Moses checks with God, who says that they will get their hereditary possession and will transfer the inheritance of their father to them (Num. 27:7). And says then that “If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter.” (Num. 27:8). Although instituted here, it is applied to them by Joshua in Joshua 17:3-6.

In other words, Joseph, the father of Jesus, had both a legal father (Heli) and a biological father (Jacob), through a Levirate marriage. The theory suggests that Joseph’s grandfathers (Matthan according to Matthew; Matthat according to Luke) were brothers, both married to the same woman, one after the other. This would make Matthan’s son (Jacob) Joseph’s biological father, and Matthat’s son (Heli) Joseph’s legal father. Matthew’s account would trace Jesus’ primary (biological) lineage, and Luke’s record would follow Jesus’ legal lineage. Matthew’s account follows the lineage of Joseph, while Luke’s genealogy is that of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This means that Jacob was Joseph’s biological father, and Heli (Mary’s biological father – as mentioned in the Jewish Talmud Chagigah 77:4) became Joseph’s surrogate father, thus making Joseph Heli’s heir through his marriage to Mary. If Heli had no sons, this would have been the normal custom. Also, if Mary and Joseph lived under the same roof with Heli, his “son-in-law” would have been called “son” and considered a descendent.

Now what does this all mean? In fact, the curse on the royal bloodline was side-stepped by the virgin birth and a specific exception in the Torah, which was associated with the daughters of Zelophehad. The legal line descended through Solomon (the first surviving son of Bathsheba) to Joseph, but he was not the biological father of Jesus. Mary was of the line of David, but through Nathan (the second surviving son of Bathsheba), not Solomon. Applying the provisions of the Zelophehad exception, Heli, the father of Mary, properly adopted Joseph as his son-in-law. Thus meaning that Jesus was indeed from the tribe of Judah yet not affected by the blood curse through the male line.

Amazing, isn’t it!

First, You Pick Up the Cross

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)

Not to offend anyone here, but I believe we have a way to easy and convenient and almost metaphorical picture of cross-bearing. We are not talking inconveniences here. The term is way too glibly used. The general idea that these words of Jesus about bearing the cross refer to passive submission to all kinds of afflictions, like disappointments, pain, sickness and grief that come upon man in life, is totally wrong.

The one carrying a cross essentially walked down death row to their place of execution. He knew there was no turning back. He had no longer any say over his life. Actually, the person bearing his cross was already considered death.

So, to be honest, I don’t think it so much refers to total commitment. Let me explain. To commit means to bind or entrust or pledge or obligate. Now, in that regards, it is Jesus who commits Himself to us, and this is not in any way confirmed or enhanced by our commitment to Him (rather the opposite I would say). I don’t think it refers so much to the way to our death (Jesus didn’t bear His own cross walking to His death).

No, “we were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:4). We are already dead, and brought to back to life, and are a new person. We are not committing to being that new person. We are that new person by His work, not ours. It is all by His grace, and it’s one way.

So, what does it mean then? It is a reminder BEFORE you accept the invitation by faith what the consequences will be. Remember that a disciple (in the sense of a follower) isn’t necessarily yet a regenerated person, a Christian. It is a reminder that when you accept His invitation by faith you will be a dead man walking for “those whom he called he also justified” (Rom. 8:30). You will die and be buried with Christ (by Christ), and raised to walk in newness of life (by Christ’s Spirit).

And read carefully what it says…

First, you pick up your cross.
You need to pick up your cross. No one else can do that for you. You are the one that must be willing to die to self. You pick up your cross. For Jesus the cross was literally dying to self, because Jesus died there as a human, and in another way, Jesus died there as God. And both were necessary to fulfil the Scriptures. What does it take for you to die to self? As long as you are not willing to pick up your cross, as long as you are not willing to lay down your life, you cannot be His disciple.

Second, you follow Him.
Once you are willing to lay down your life, you actually have to do it. And I believe these two actions go hand in hand just like the lame man in John 5 who got up after Jesus healed him from laying on that stretcher for 38 years. It is unthinkable that the healed man would continue to lay on the stretched. No, Jesus’ command of healing and Jesus’ command to get up go hand in hand. Following Jesus after picking up your cross is acknowledging that you would follow the life and pattern of Jesus. This is following Jesus at its simplest. He carried a cross, so His followers carry one. He walked to His self-death, so must those who would follow Him.

Third, you will be a disciple.
You can follow Jesus without being His disciple. Jesus had lots of followers, but all (even including His disciples) stopped following once they figured out where Jesus was going. No, being a disciple (a Jewish talmidim) means so much more. A disciple’s highest calling was to be a reflection of his teacher. A disciple studied to learn, to act, to speak and to respond the same way his master would act and speak and respond. A disciple studied to do the things his master did. His highest goal was to walk after his teacher. There is a story in ancient tradition that tells of a rabbinical student so devoted to his teacher that he hid in the teacher’s bedchamber to discover the mentor’s sexual technique. To be sure, this is a bit extreme, yet it demonstrates the level of commitment required to be a disciple. In Luke 6:40 Jesus said that “a disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Jesus made it clear that only cross-bearers can be His disciples. And if you are not His disciple, well, then why are you following?

I don’t at all think this is talking about the daily inconveniences of life. It’s about counting the cost beforehand. This whole section of Scripture from verse 25 till the end is all about counting the cost, not about what you do once you are a disciple.

Jesus. God, Man, Or Both?, Part 2

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

This verse gives us a beautiful hint that the Messiah would be both God and man, for it says that “for to us a child is born,” which means that this Messiah will be a man, born as a child. But it also says, “to us a son is given,” which means that this Messiah also will a son, given to us by God, God’s Son. So this prophecy 700 years before the birth of Jesus already points to Him being both God and man. But did this prophecy come true? Is Jesus really both God and man? Fully God, fully man; His whole earthly life, and now still?

My objective in this post is simple. Let’s see what the Bible has to say about Jesus’ humanity. Let’s see what the Bible has to say about Jesus’ divinity. Let’s ask some difficult questions that come into mind. And let’s consider the importance of Jesus being both.

Jesus Is Fully Man
So how human was Jesus? Well, although His conception was a miracle, Jesus was born just as all human babies are born (Luke 2:7), and the Bible says that He “grew and became strong” (Luke 2:40). The fact that Jesus “increased in wisdom” (Luke 2:52) implies that He went through a learning process just as all other children do – learning how to eat, talk, read, write, and how to be obedient to His parents (Heb. 5:8).

After Jesus had fasted for forty days in the wilderness, we read that “He was hungry” (Mat. 4:2). And when He hung on the cross He said, “I thirst” (John 19:28). When He came to the well in Samaria and was talking to the woman, it says that He was sitting down because He was wearied from His journey (John 4:6), and so He became tired just as we do. Something we see as well right before Jesus wakes up to calm the storm, He “was in the stern, asleep on the cushion” (Mark 4:38) and the disciples actually had to wake Him up to calm the storm. We also read that His soul was troubled (John 12:27), and that He was “troubled in His spirit” (John 13:21). He was clearly angry when He drove the money-changers out of the temple with a whip of cords (John 2:15). He marvelled at the faith of the centurion (Mat. 8:10), and wept at the death of His good friend Lazarus (John 11:35). Yet He also had compassion on the crowd (Mat. 9:36), and wanted His joy to be in us (John 15:11).

On His way to the cross to be crucified, the soldiers forced Simon the Cyrene to carry His cross (Luke 23:26), most likely because Jesus was so weak from all the beatings He had received. And ultimately we see His limitations in terms of His human body when He died on the cross (Luke 23:46) and His human body ceased to have life in it, just as ours does when we die. But then Jesus also rose from the dead in a physical human body (though one that was made perfect), and afterward when He was with His disciples He said to them, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have,” (Luke 24:39) and they “gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.” (Luke 24:42-43). And in that same human body Jesus also ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9), and it says that He will come back in that same body (Acts 1:11).

Matthew reports an amazing incident in the middle of Jesus’ ministry when even though He had taught throughout Galilee “healing every disease and every affliction among the people” (Mat. 4:23), when He came in His own village of Nazareth the people who knew Him best, the neighbors with whom He has lived and worked for thirty years, saw Him as no more than an ordinary man, living an ordinary life, saying, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? […] Where then did this man get all these things?” (Mat. 13:54-58).

All this to say that as far as Jesus’ human body is concerned, it was like ours in every aspect both before as well as after the resurrection. His divine nature was permanently united to His human nature. Jesus will remain fully God and fully man, yet in one person, forever.

Jesus Is Fully God
So what do the gospels say about the deity of Jesus? Was Jesus really God? Some people say that Jesus never says that He is God, but that is not true. Jesus repeatedly said He is God, but often He does it in a way that we do not directly recognize without understanding some background.

Two things we need to realize. The first is that many times in the gospels Jesus calls Himself the Son of Man, which is a term from Daniel’s vision in Daniel 7, pointing to the Messiah, the eternal world ruler, coming from heaven. So when we read in Matthew 26, “And the high priest said to him, ‘I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his robes and said, ‘He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy.’” (Matthew 26:63-65; see also Mark 14:61-62), Jesus is claiming to be this eternal world ruler coming from heaven from Daniel’s vision. And we know that the high priest knows this as well, because he calls it blasphemy. What is blasphemy according to the Jews? Making yourself equal to God. So, Jesus said He was God.

And this is exactly why the Jews wanted Jesus dead. We read in John 10, “The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.’” (John 10:31-33). Jesus continually made Himself equal to God.

Secondly, Jesus frequently called Himself the Son of God (see for instance Matthew 27:43); saying that God was His father. Now we may see that being God and being the Son of God are two different things, they are not the same. But the Jews say otherwise. We read, “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (John 5:18). And Jesus acknowledged this equality with God by saying things like “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) and “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:11).

One of the biggest statements of Jesus claiming to be God can be found in John 8 where He is talking to the Jews about Abraham, and the Jews say “‘Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” […] You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’ So they picked up stones to throw at him” (John 8:53, 57-58). Why did they pick up stones to kill Jesus? When Jesus said, “before Abraham was, I AM” He was claiming to be the voice from the burning bush; the I AM WHO I AM. The I AM who sent Moses to liberate Israel. Jesus was claiming to be God.

We also have His disciples say that He is God. When He asked them, “‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Christ.’” (Mark 8:29). And also when Jesus presents Himself to Thomas after the resurrection, Jesus said, “‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” (John 20:27-28)

OK, this is all Jesus or others saying that He was God, but are there any examples of actions in Jesus’ lifetime that point to Him being God? Well, Jesus demonstrated His omnipotence (being all powerful) when He multiplied the loaves and the fish (Matthew 14:19), or when He stilled the storm at sea with a word (Matthew 8:26-27). Jesus demonstrated His omniscience (being all knowing) in knowing people’s thoughts (Mark 2:8) and it says that Jesus “needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” (John 2:25). And also the disciples said things like, “Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” (John 16:30) and “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” (John 21:17). On top of that Jesus claimed the power to lay down His life and take it up again (John 10:17-18), which He both did.

All of this to say that Scripture tells us in words and actions that Jesus was fully God. “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), “for in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3)

Questions, Questions, Questions!
Now, I don’t know about you, but this raises all sorts of questions for me. And none of them are easy to answer. Questions like, how can Jesus be fully God and fully man at the same time, always? How could Jesus be all powerful and yet weak? How could He leave the world and be present everywhere? How could He learn things and yet be all knowing? And if He was always both at the same time, was Jesus able to sin? If He was able to sin, then how can He be God (because God can’t sin)? If He wasn’t able to sin, then was He even tempted to sin? And how can He truly identify and sympathize with us if He was or wasn’t able to sin? Why was it even necessary for Him to be fully man and fully God? And why is it important to understand and embrace this? Does this really matter in daily life? Like I said, none of these questions are easy to answer, but I do want to share some thoughts.

The Bible clearly says that while He was fully human, He was different in one important respect: He was without sin, and He never committed sin during His lifetime. To the Jews who opposed Him, Jesus asked, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46), and received no answer. In spite of all the accusations, Pilate could “find no crime in Him” (John 18:38). Jesus Himself said regarding His father, “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” (John 8:29). Paul said that “for our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Peter said, “He committed no sin” (1 Peter 2:22).

OK, He was truly man yet without sin. But was it even possible for Jesus to have sinned? The Bible tells us that Jesus was fully man who did not sin, that Jesus is fully God, that Jesus was tempted (Luke 4:2; Hebrews 4:15), and that God cannot be tempted (James 1:13) nor sin. Do you see the difficulty with these truths? If we believe these individual statements, and that these all come together in the person of Jesus, then there must be a way in which Jesus’ human nature and divine nature work together in a way that He can be distinctly fully man and distinctly fully God, and was tempted in one (human) sense and in another (divine) sense not be tempted. Yet Scripture doesn’t explain it, so I guess this is where faith comes in.

On the other hand, we can make a suggestion. We could say that if Jesus’ human nature had existed by itself apart from His divine nature, then there would have been the possibility for Him to have sinned, since it was a similar human nature that God gave Adam and Eve, and they sinned. But Jesus’ human nature never existed apart from His divine nature. Both His human and divine nature existed united in one person. We could also say that any act of sin involves the person, and that therefore if He had sinned, it would have involved both His human and divine natures. But this would imply that God Himself would have sinned, and it’s not possible for God to sin. Therefore, a conclusion could be that it was not possible for Jesus to sin, because the union of both natures in one person would have prevented that.

This then raises the question if Jesus’ temptations could have been real. And the answer is yes, because Jesus refused to rely on His divine nature to make obedience easier for Him, but met every temptation to sin on the strength of His human nature alone. And we see this play out in the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. For instance, Jesus had the ability, because of His divine nature, to change the stones into bread, but if He had done this He would no longer have been obeying in the strength of His human nature alone. And so He resisted the temptation to the full although He was very hunger. The temptations were real, even though He did not give in to them. In fact, they were most real because He did not give in to them. Jesus was “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

Why Is This All So Important?
This brings me to the question of why is it so important to understand and embrace the fact that Jesus was, and is, fully man and fully God? And what does this mean for every day life?

If Jesus isn’t fully man, we lose everything. Jesus has to be fully man so He could perfectly obey God’s law in our place where Adam and all of us failed (Rom. 5:19). Jesus has to be fully man so He could die and pay the penalty for our sins in our place. He died the death we should have died and paid the prize we should have paid (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 2:16-17). Jesus has to be fully man so He could live an exemplary life for us to follow (1 Peter 2:21). And Jesus has to be fully man so He could rise from the dead to give us hope beyond this life. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15, “… if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. […] If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead […] For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 5:16-21)

Likewise, if Jesus isn’t fully God, we lose everything. Jesus has to be fully God, because only an infinite God could bear the penalty of all the sins. Jesus has to be fully God, because “salvation belongs to the LORD!” (Jonah 2:9), and the whole message of the Bible is designed to show that no human being could ever save man or himself, only God Himself could. And Jesus has to be fully God, because only someone truly and fully God could both bring us back to God (1 Timothy 2:5) and also reveal God most fully to us (John 17:1-5)

He had to be both! “… the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. […] And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:14, 16)

This isn’t just good news, this is the best news ever! I don’t need a God who just sits on His throne in heaven and silently and unpredictably looks down on me with contempt, thinking ‘How can you be this way?’, but giving me no possibilities or opportunities to meet His standards.

I don’t need a God like this. I need Jesus to be exactly how He is. I need a God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8). A God who came down from heaven to earth to dwell among us to give us “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6). A God who came down to save all of us who are so desperately lost, and call us to repent and turn to Him. A God who came down to serve us by laying down His life for us in order to save us and bring us God. But in my depth of sin and the face of constant trial and temptation, I also need a God who can understand and relate because He not only faced it all, but has done it in a way which gives all glory to God. And in all those circumstances I need a God who doesn’t just have pity on me, but who is “able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25)

And we have a God like this, and His name is Jesus. By His perfect and sinless life, His sacrificial death and His resurrection, God provided us a way to be reconciled to Him, if by faith we believe that Jesus is the Son of God. And right now there is a human in the throne room of heaven, who, because He is fully human, is able to sympathize with all of our weaknesses and struggles because He was tempted in every respect as we are (Hebrews 4:15), and because He is fully God, is able to intercede for us to God the Father to ensure our salvation.

This is a God worthy of all worship and glory, so let us rejoice with great joy in what God has done for us through Jesus, who came, and because of what He has done we can now come to Him, and proclaim “Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (Jonah 2:9)

Jesus. God, Man, Or Both?, Part 1

In response to a currently ongoing discussion about whether God emptied Himself in order to become human, here are some thoughts based on two sermons I preached about two years ago. One on Philippians 2:1-11 called “Rejoice! And Be Made Nothing” and one on Isaiah 9:6 called “Was Jesus Really Both God and Man.”

In this first post I want to take a look at Philippians 2:1-11 and the humility of Jesus, and in a subsequent post I will be digging into the humanity and deity of Jesus.

Unity: The Identity of a Christian
Let me start off by asking a couple of questions to probe your heart.

Do you feel any comfort of being in Christ?
When He saved you, He drew you near to Him, and made you a new creation and you were united to Him as a member of His body. How does this truth affect you when you are in need of His comfort because of any sort of suffering you are going through? How does being in His presence, being His child, being part of His family with many brothers and sisters encourage (in the sense of comfort) you in times of need? Do you feel any consolation from being in Christ? Paul says elsewhere, “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” (2 Cor. 1:15). And the psalmist says, “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” (Ps. 94:19). There is great encouragement, comfort and consolation to be found in Christ, but do you feel it? Do His consolations cheer your soul?

Do you feel God’s love for you?
God loves you. Consider that for a moment. The creator of the universe, the holy and perfect God loves you. In fact, He cannot stop loving you. He loves you so much that while you were His enemy, while you were separated from Him because of your sin, He sent His own son to die for your sins so that you could have a relationship with Him again. God loves you, always, in every circumstance, and whatever you are going through. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5).

Do you feel the reality of the Holy Spirit in you?
When you received Christ as your Savior, you also received the Holy Spirit. You were baptized in the Holy Spirit. Your spirit got renewed (regenerated) by being united with the Holy Spirit. You can now have fellowship with the Holy Spirit, and experience His joy and His comfort, and His counsel, and His truth in your life. In fact, Paul says in Romans 5:5 that it’s God’s love that has been poured into your heart through the Holy Spirit. How real in the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in you? How much do you call upon Him in the everyday things of life?

Do you feel a deep love for your brothers and sisters?
When you see one of your brothers or sisters going through some hardship, some sorrow, some weakness, some testing, how spontaneous does your heart go out and desires to help him or her? Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. Do you feel a deep capacity to love your brothers and sisters?

Now, you may wonder why I am asking you these questions. Well, here’s the thing. At the end of chapter one, Paul exhorts us to let our manner of life be worthy of the gospel by standing firm in one spirit and with one mind striving side by side for the gospel – in other words, being in unity together as we deal with all sorts of external conflicts – Paul now continues by saying: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (Phil. 2:1-2)

So let me ask you this question: were you able to answer the four questions I asked you with a resounding ‘yes’? In other words, does being in Christ, and being in God’s love, and being in His Spirit, move you to be manifest His love to one another? Because this is what Paul is saying. That if we are united in Christ, and are united in His love, and united in His Spirit, and united by our love for one another, then let us be living in unity with one another, be knit together in mutual affection for one another.

This is our identity as Christians. You could say these are four gifts to a Christian – encouragement in Christ, comfort from love, participation in the Spirit, affection and sympathy. They are real. Communicated to us both in a direct, spiritual way from Jesus, as well as from Jesus through each other to each other. These four gifts are to lead to a deep, abiding, internal unity amongst each others, united in heart, soul, and spirit, setting our mind on the same thing. And it continues what Paul started talked about in the previous chapter: to live a manner of life worthy of the gospel, side by side striving for the faith of the gospel. But in order to do this, Paul encourages the Philippians to get their act together.

Unity is our identity.

Humility: The Activity of a Christian
So how do we attain this unity amongst each other? Paul continues: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil. 2:3-4)

Now this statement is absolutely countercultural. Our world exists, thrives, for selp-help, self-esteem, self-love, self-actualization. Not for humility. In the world, humility is not a virtue. It is not found. It is not what people desire or look for, at all. And so we must rebel against our sin nature, against our culture, against western civilization, that life is about your destiny and your rights and your vision and your calling and your giftedness and your glory. We must rebel against all of that, because it’s not true. It’s simply not true. Paul here gives us safeguards about love. He gives us the activity which both flows out of our identity as well as allows us to move toward it. Love through unity is both our starting point as well as our goal. He says first: “do nothing from rivalry or conceit.” Do nothing through strife/self-ambition, or vain/empty glory. Nothing! Because pride works itself out in these ways. So flee it with all that is in you.

Strife, rivalry or self-ambition is at the heart of our human fallenness, and it has to do with a desire to put yourself forward, to promote your own interest, your own ambitions, and your own goals at the expense of others. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul lists it as a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:20). And James in his letter says this: “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” (James 3:13-16)

Second, Paul says: “but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Now, what is humility? Humility is not to be confused with false modesty; it does not mean that you should falsely consider others better than yourself. But it has to do with a proper estimation of yourself, being well aware of both your weaknesses and of your glory (we are made in His image after all), but making neither too much or too little of either. Elsewhere Paul says, “I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment” (Rom. 12:3). True humility is therefore not self-focused at all, but looks to the concerns of others. We are to consider other not in our estimation of them, but in our caring for them, putting them and their needs ahead of our own. So, it is not so much that others in the community are to be thought of as better than you, but as those whose needs and concerns surpass your own.

Here is what I believe Paul says, and which I think is very important to understand so that we can apply it: pursuing humility by God’s grace starts with personal obedience of each one of us individually, but can only be worked out in the context of community; meaning that we need each other in our pursuit of humility. If humility means putting the needs of others ahead of our own, we need others’ needs to be able to do this, right? And I believe that if each one of us individually decides to pursue humility by the grace of God, that this will lead to the unity that Paul is talking about. Nothing builds a church stronger and healthier than humility. Nothing breaks and destroys a church faster and certainly than pride.

Where unity is our identity, it is humility which is the activity that fuels that identity.

The Example We Have In Christ
So, are you pursuing humility or not? The only way to pursue humility is that you and I would not work out of rivalry and conceit, thinking that we’re smarter than everyone else and better than everyone else, but by God’s grace in humility look at Jesus. Paul knows this. And so Paul lifts up Jesus as an example of not only the most humble that ever lived, but the only humble person that every lived or will ever live, by saying, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:5-8)

Paul starts in such a comforting hopeful way. He says, “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,” implying that it is possible this mindset. Paul doesn’t give us an example which is impossible to follow or attain. No, he exhorts us to pursue this mind of Christ with everything in us. It is all too easy for us to read this description of Jesus and admire it from a distance. God wants us to be awed by it to be sure, but also to see it as something that we must enter into and imitate. Obtaining this mindset, this attitude, is something we have a choice about. It is something we must choose to walk in. And I believe here as well, Paul is giving us a picture of identity followed by activity. The picture starts with the identity of Jesus, and Paul says that in eternity past Jesus was God. Jesus’ identity is that He is God. Certainly as God, Jesus did not need anything. He had all the glory and praise of heaven. Together with the Father and the Spirit He reigned over the universe. But then Paul says that Jesus did not consider His equality with God as something selfishly to be held on to. Jesus did not think of Himself; He thought of others. His attitude was that of unselfish concern for others. And so He made Himself nothing(!), taking the form, taking the identity of a servant. This is an incredible statement. I won’t bore you with the Greek grammar behind this, but what it implies that the true identity of God, His true inward nature, is that of a servant. Let that sink in for a minute. If you would have to answer the question: “Who is God? What is His true identity?” then the correct answer is: “God is a servant. That is His true identity”. We also mustn’t think that in making Himself nothing that God emptied Himself of His divine attributes to take on the form of a servant (more about this in the next post). No, His true identity, his true nature, is that of a servant, and He added humanity to His nature. This to me is absolutely mind-blowing.

When we read on, Paul tells us the activity that flows out of this identity: “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Wow! Jesus humbled Himself when He became obedient. This was something that Jesus could only experience by coming down from the throne of heaven and becoming a man. When God sits enthroned in heaven’s glory, there is no one He obeys. Jesus had to leave heaven’s glory and be found in appearance as a man in order to become obedient. One key to Jesus’ obedience on earth was the endurance of suffering, as it says in Hebrews, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Heb. 5:8). This again was something He could only learn by experience by becoming a man. Here is what Paul is saying. Jesus is the most humble person and His death on the cross is the most humble event and act in the history of the world. Jesus willingly humbled Himself. Why? That He might lift us up! What?! Yes. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 8:5). God left being worshiped by angels continually to be disrespected by stiff-necked, stubborn, unrepentant, self-righteous, proud people, like you and me. And how did we respond to Jesus, who is God? We murdered Him. That is how proud we are. Not only that, Jesus, allowed us to murder Him. That’s how humble He is. And in dying, He is so humble that He died for me that I might have salvation and love and reconciliation with God who made me. My pride is laid on Jesus, and His humility is laid on me. This is absolutely astonishing!

How is all this for our example? Here’s why. We cannot be like Jesus in that we can die for the sins of world. That was His specific mission. But we can follow Jesus’ example in our pursuit of humility. Here are two thoughts:

  1. Humility means to be a servant: We have the tendency to be confused. Whereas God doesn’t think He is us, we too often think that we are like god. But if this were true; if we truly want to be like god, we would have to also portray the true identity of God, meaning: taking the form of a servant. Because God is a servant, and Jesus came to serve.
  2. Servanthood comes with sacrifice: Many people are willing to serve others if it doesn’t cost them anything; and if there is a price to pay, they suddenly lose interest. But that’s not serving. Serving comes with a sacrifice. Jesus did not only come to serve, but to give His life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28). This means that service and sacrifice go hand in hand.

Jesus’ Exaltation
Jesus revealed that the principle by which God operates is that in order to be exalted, you have to humble yourself and become a servant. It makes sense thus that Paul concludes by saying: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:9-11)

When we seek to take honor to ourselves, we will always be humbled – if not on earth, then for all of eternity. The promise of exaltation for the humble and humiliation for the proud is one ultimately fulfilled in eternity. Peter said this in his letter, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:5-6). The whole purpose of Christ’s humiliation and exaltation is the glory of God. As Jesus faced the cross, the glory of God was uppermost in His mind: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (John 17:1). The joy of pursuing humility comes not primarily from helping others, but from the knowledge that we are glorifying God. We may not see the glory today, but we shall see it when Jesus comes and rewards His faithful servants.

Let us imitate Jesus and make ourselves nothing, becoming a humble servant, willing to sacrifice for the benefit of others. Let us not think about glory other than the glory we want to give to God. Let us not think about our own glory. Jesus didn’t when He came down to rescue us. And if, if, we receive glory, let it be received through the giving of God, which is true glory, everlasting glory.