The Humanity of Jesus

Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”

Matthew 26:53-54

Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane when guards came to arrest him. One of His disciples thought about putting up a fight against this wrongful arrest, but Jesus stopped him. And then Jesus said the comment above about angels. This comment is peculiar on so many levels.

Some people believe the miraculous gifts of the Spirit are no longer in operation today. They say these gifts were only for the early church and are no longer happening. One of their arguments is that the reason Jesus was able to do all of His miracles was because He was God in the flesh. Even though we are commanded to imitate His life, they say, we can’t expect to imitate this part of this life. He was operating as God, revealing His divinity with each miracle.

If that is true, then so many passages of scripture make no sense whatsoever. For instance, why would Jesus need to call on His Father to send Him twelve legions of angels? If He was operating out of His divinity, Jesus could just call on the angels Himself and they’d have to come. And why would He even need to call on angels at all if He was operating out of His divinity? He is infinitely more powerful than they are. But Jesus suggests here that not only is He not requesting angels to come to His rescue, but that even if He did request them, He’d have to make that request through the Father.

This is just one of the many instances where we see evidence that Jesus was not, in fact, operating out of His divinity while He walked the earth. Yes, He was God in the flesh, but He set aside His divinity in order to operate only out of His humanity while on the earth. [Also note that on two different occasions Jesus needed angels to attend to Him (Matthew 4:11 & Luke 22:43). If He was operating out of His divinity, would this have been necessary? It only makes sense if Jesus is operating only out of His humanity.]

Jesus Himself confirms this reality when speaking to His own disciples:

Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 

John 5:19

If Jesus was operating out of His divinity, He could do whatever He wanted by Himself. Instead, by operating only out of His humanity, Jesus stays completely dependent on the Father. He can do nothing by Himself. Nothing.

Jesus operated only out of His humanity throughout His formative years. Jesus submitted to the human reality of the need to grow. Luke confirmed this:

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

Luke 2:52

Make no mistake, God does not need to grow in wisdom or in stature or in favor with God. If Jesus was operating out of His divinity, He wouldn’t either. But He chose to humble Himself fully and live a completely human life. This included the need to grow in various aspects of His life.

The apostle Paul tried to articulate this truth to the church in Philippi:

…Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

Philippians 2:5-7

Jesus was God, but He never used His divinity to His own advantage. Instead, He operated only out of His humanity. He could have used His divinity to do all those healings, deliverances, and miracles, but He decided not to. Instead, He did all of those healings, deliverances, and miracles while operating out of His humanity. But how?

Luke gives us a couple clues.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness…

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 

Luke 4:1, 14

If Jesus was operating out of His divinity, why would He need to be full of the Spirit and then to be “in the power of the Spirit?” He would already be both. Instead, we see Luke make a point to record that Jesus shifted into a fullness of the Spirit that led to Him operating in the power of the Spirit. Because Jesus was operating only out of His humanity, in order to do any miracles, He had to stay surrendered to the Father and allow the power of the Spirit to flow through Him.

In the very next chapter, Luke again reveals this truth about Jesus.

One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick.

Luke 5:17

Why would Luke need to mention that the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick if Jesus was operating out of His own divinity. It’s a silly thing to say. But it makes complete sense if we understand that Jesus was operating only out of His humanity. He was completely dependent on following the direction of the Father and being empowered by the Holy Spirit. Because Jesus chose to operate only out of His humanity, if He wanted to heal someone, He had to be dependent on the power of Spirit to be present.

The implications of this truth about Jesus are profound. It means that we no longer get to sit back and marvel at Jesus’s healings and miracles as spectators. We no longer get to excuse ourselves from the life of the miraculous with, “…yeah, but Jesus was God.” Yes, He is God. But Jesus was modeling for us what the fullness of humanity looks like. Jesus was showing us what is possible when a human is fully surrendered to the Father, fully empowered by the Spirit, and sin-free. He set the bar that we now pursue with our own lives.

The apostle Paul even makes the claim that the power that raised Jesus out of the grave is now inside of us as believers!

…and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms..

Ephesians 1:19-20

And Jesus Himself expected that we would use the power of the Spirit in us for the sake of the Kingdom. Jesus expected that we would be surrendered to the Father, empowered by the Spirit, and freed from sin (because of His own atoning work on the cross). He layed out these expectations to His own disciples.

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 

John 14:12

If Jesus was doing His miracles by operating out of His divinity then this claim is ridiculous. We could never do what Jesus did because we are not God. But Jesus expects that not only will we do the miracles He did, but that we would do even greater things. This statement only makes sense if Jesus did all that He did by operating out of His humanity. It also means we now have the reward and responsibility of pursuing the same kind of life Jesus lived, miracles and all.

Imitate Jesus

…have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage
;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.

Philippians 2:5-7

Paul tells us that though Jesus was God in the flesh, Jesus did not use His divinity as something He “used to his own advantage.” In the Greek the word here means “to take by an open display of force like someone seizing a prize or bounty.” In other words, rather than openly displaying the power of His divinity, Jesus instead set His divinity aside and “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.”

Paul learned this truth from Jesus Himself:

For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. 

John 5:18-20

We see in this passage in John the same two truths that are articulated in Philippians 2: 1) Jesus was God in the flesh, and 2) Jesus made himself completely dependent on the Father, not operating out of His divinity but rather His humanity. If Jesus was operating out of His divinity it wouldn’t be true that “the Son can do nothing by himself.”

Instead, Jesus operated as a human who was fully connected to the Father and completely filled by the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1), walking in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14). By doing so He became our example, not just our Savior.

If Jesus operated out of His divinity, Christianity becomes a spectator sport where we get to say, “Well, yeah, but Jesus was God!” We never have to take up the call to imitate Jesus because that seems impossible. But by Jesus operating completely out of His humanity, we don’t get that excuse. We are now invited to fully connect to the Father and be completely filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit just as Jesus modeled and just as the first century Christians attempted.

When Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons and raised the dead, He did so as a human who was fully connected to the Father and fully empowered by the Spirit. Then He turns to His disciples, who are in no way divine, and commands them to do the same things (Matthew 10:1-8; Luke 10:1-21; Matthew 28:19-20). And we see the disciples do what Jesus had been doing. They just needed the authority of Jesus (Matthew 10:1; 28:18; 2 Corinthians 5:20) and the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49; Acts 2:4, 43) in order to perform some of the same signs and wonders.

All of this leaves us without excuse. The whole, “Yeah, but Jesus was God” excuse doesn’t really work. Jesus is our example, and we are to imitate His life. Paul put it this way, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ”(1 Corinthians 11:1). He also said, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children…”(Ephesians 5:1).