Why Did Jesus Take on a Human Nature?

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Today, much of the church’s focus on the person of Jesus is on His divinity, to the point that aspects of His humanity are often overlooked. This can lead to a lack of understanding regarding such a critical part of His nature. It is important, therefore, to understand why Jesus took on flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).

Jesus the God-man

There is no doubt that the New Testament claims that Jesus was fully God (Mark 1:3, 2:7–11, 14:61–64; John 1:1–3, 8:58–59, 10:28–33, 17:1–5; Romans 9:5, 10:9, 13; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Philippians 2:5–11; Colossians 1:15–16, 2:9; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:1–3; 2 Peter 1:1).1 Yet, it tells us that Jesus was also fully human: Jesus was wrapped in ordinary infant clothing (Luke 2:7), grew in wisdom as a child (Luke 2:40, 52), was weary (John 4:6), was hungry (Matthew 4:4), was thirsty (John 19:28), was tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1–11), was sorrowful (Matthew 26:38a), and after His Resurrection He still had a human body (Luke 24:39).

The belief that Jesus is both fully God and fully man is also known as the Hypostatic Union.2 Jesus will in fact be the God-man forever (Matthew 26:29; Luke 24:39–43; Acts 1:11; 1 Timothy 2:5).

However, the question we need to ask is why did Jesus take on a human nature?

Why Was It Necessary for Jesus to Take on Humanity?

The openings of the Gospels clearly teach the unique virgin conception3 of Jesus (Matthew 1:23; Luke 1:26–31). The fact that He was to be called holy (Luke 1:35, ESV) indicates that He was free from sin—something that no other human can claim (Psalm 51:5; 1 Kings 8:46). This is because sin came into the world through a man, Adam, and therefore all people have sinned by the fact that they are in him (Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:22). Just as a man brought sin and death into the world, it needed to be removed by a man.

We often neglect the teaching that Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience to the Father.

Much of Christian teaching focuses, rightly, on the death of Jesus. However in focusing on the death of Christ, we often neglect the teaching that Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience to the Father (John 8:29). Jesus not only died for us, He also lived for us. If all Jesus had to do was to die for us, then He could have descended from heaven on Good Friday, gone straight to the Cross, risen from the dead, and ascended back into heaven. Jesus did not live for approximately 33 years for no reason. While on earth, Christ did the Father’s will (John 5:30) by taking specific actions, teaching, working miracles, and obeying the Law in order to “fulfil all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Jesus, the Last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45), came to succeed where the first Adam had failed in keeping the law of God. Jesus had to do what Adam failed to do in order to fulfil the required sinless life of perfection. Jesus did this so that His righteousness could be transferred to those who put their faith in Him for the forgiveness of sins (2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9).

Although God provided an atonement for Adam’s sin through an animal sacrifice in the garden (Genesis 3:21),4 the blood of animals is ultimately insufficient to deal with sin, (Hebrews 10:4) which is why Jesus, the Last Adam, gave Himself as a sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 2:17, 9:11–14). Jesus became our sympathetic High Priest (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15) who now stands before the Father as our mediator (1 Timothy 2:5).

Did Jesus’ Humanity Require Sinfulness?

In his humanity, Jesus was subject to everything that humans are subject to, such as tiredness, hunger, and temptation; but does this mean that like all humans He was subject to sin?

The incarnation and virgin conception of Jesus Christ shows sin not to be essential to being human.

It is important to keep in mind that being human does not make one sinful as “sin is not an essential component of human nature.”5 We must remember that God created Adam at the beginning of creation as sinless (Ecclesiastes 7:29)6 and with the capacity not to sin. Adam became a sinner because he broke God’s Law (Romans 5:12; c.f. Genesis 2:17). Moreover, the incarnation and virgin conception of Jesus Christ shows sin not to be essential to being human. The reason we, as humans, sin is because “we are guilty as sinners in Adam”7 (Romans 5:12, 19; 1 Corinthians 15:22).

Jesus was sinless in the life He lived, keeping God’s law perfectly (Luke 4:13; John 8:29, 15:10; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5). Jesus was confident in His challenge for His opponents to convict Him of sin (John 8:46). Even the Roman governor, Pilate, found no guilt in Him (John 18:38), and Pilate’s wife recognized Jesus as a righteous man (Matthew 27:19). We must remember that Jesus was a “lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19). Jesus’ sinless life qualifies Him to be a sacrifice for the sins of others (Isaiah 53:7–10).

But how did Jesus, as a true human, not fall into sin? Some believe it was because of the bond between His divine and human nature.8 On the other hand, theologian Bruce Ware believes that

The answer Scripture suggests to us is this: Jesus did not sin, not because his divine nature overpowered his human nature, keeping him from sinning, but because he utilized all of the resources given to him in his humanity. He loved and meditated on God’s Word . . . he prayed to his Father; he trusted in the wisdom and rightness of his Father’s will and Word; and, very significantly, he relied on the supernatural power of the Spirit to strengthen him to do all that he was called upon to do.9

In his Gospel, Luke, a trustworthy historian (Luke 1:1–4), traces Jesus’ genealogy to the first man and father of all humanity—Adam (3:38). Luke then focuses on Jesus’ temptation by Satan (4:1–13). This is interesting as “unlike Adam, another ‘son’ of God, who sinned (3:38), Jesus overcomes the tests (cf. Genesis 3).”10

Luke tells us that, before Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, He was filled with the Holy Spirit and was led by Him into the wilderness (Luke 4:1). Moreover, after His temptation and at the time when He began his ministry, Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14; cf. Isaiah 11:1–3). In fact, when Jesus went into the synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath, He opened the scroll of the prophet Isaiah (61:1–2) to the place where it said “the Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,” which Jesus said had been fulfilled in Him (Luke 4:21). In His life and ministry, Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38).

Not only was Jesus empowered by the Holy Spirit, but He also relied on the Word of God to defeat Satan in His temptations (Luke 4:4, 8, 12). Jesus overcame Satan’s temptations by quoting Scripture, saying to him, “It is written,” which has the force of or is equivalent to “that settles it”; and Jesus understood that the Word of God was sufficient for this.

Furthermore, when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane and was facing the temptation of giving up on going to the Cross11 (Luke 22:42), He was committed to pray to the Father (Luke 22:42–44). Jesus fought and struggled with temptation (Luke 22:44), yet He was always victorious.

We must remember that Jesus in His humanity was not superman but a real man.

We must remember that Jesus in His humanity was not superman but a real man. The humanity of Jesus and the deity of Jesus do not mix directly with one another. If they did then that would mean that the humanity of Jesus would actually become super-humanity; and if it is super-humanity, it is not our humanity; and if it is not our humanity, He cannot be our substitute since He must be like us (Hebrews 2:14–17).

The Humanity of Jesus Is an Example for Believers

Jesus’ humanity is an example for believers, as it has to do with how we live our lives (1 Peter 2:21). The Christian life should be an imitation of the life of Jesus (see John 13:34, 15:12). We are called to live our lives as He lived His. Just as Jesus was tempted, endured suffering, and faced hatred, so as Christians we will also face those things in this world (John 15:18–20)

Scripture also warns us not to “love the world or the things of the world” (1 John 2:15), noting three things in particular: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). Interestingly, these were the elements in Satan’s temptation of Eve and of Jesus.

Temptation Genesis 3 Luke 4 1 John 2
Physical “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” (3:1) “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” (4:3) Lust of the eyes (2:16)
Personal Gain “You will not surely die.” (3:4) “. . . lest you dash your foot against a stone.” (4:11) Lust of the flesh (2:16)
Power You will be like God (3:5) “All this authority I will give You . . . ” (4:5–6) Pride of life (2:16)

Satan, who has sway over the world (1 John 5:19), will use the desires of the world that he used on Eve and Jesus in order to tempt Christians.

Nevertheless, the way we overcome this battle with the world is by looking to the one who has already overcome the world (John 16:33). Jesus’ life of obedience and faithfulness is an example to us when we face temptation since we have the same resources that Jesus relied on to fulfil His ministry: the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17), prayer (Ephesians 6:18), and the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).

Footnotes

  1. Jesus’ divinity is part of the doctrine of the Trinity, which states that within the one Being that is God, there exists eternally three co-equal and co-eternal persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
  2. The Hypostatic Union describe the two natures, divine and human, in the one person of Jesus Christ.
  3. It’s the conception of Jesus, not the birth, which was supernatural.
  4. Since Adam and Eve were the only humans at this point, the skin God used to clothe them must have been that of an animal. Although Genesis 3:21 does not explicitly say that the skins were from animals, it is a reasonable implication and one that would make sense to the original audience (Mosaic Community) where an animal was offered to make atonement for sin and the skin given to the priest (Leviticus 7:8).
  5. John Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (New Jersey: P&R Publishing Group, 2013), 889.
  6. D.M. Clemens argues that Ecclesiastes 7:29 is a clear reference to Adam. See D.M. Clemens, “The Law of Sin and Death: Ecclesiastes and Genesis 1–3,” Themelios 19, no. 3 (April 1994): http://s3.amazonaws.com/tgc-documents/journal-issues/19.3_Clemens.pdf.
  7. This does not mean we are guilty for Adam’s sin but that we are found guilty in him by the fact that Adam represents us as our federal head. See Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2011), 426.
  8. For example, the question of whether Christ was able to sin or not (impeccability) “means not merely that Christ could avoid sinning, and did actually avoid it, but also that it was impossible for Him to sin because of the essential bond between the human and divine natures.” Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Edinburgh: Scotland: Banner of Truth, 1958), 318.
  9. Bruce Ware, The Man Christ Jesus: Theological Reflections on the Humanity of Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 84.
  10. Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 198.
  11. The cup Jesus refers to in the garden is a metaphor for the suffering He will face on the Cross (see Matthew 20:22–23) by enduring the wrath of God (Isaiah 51:17, 22; Jeremiah 25:15, 17, 28).

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