- Religion and Philosophy
Was Jesus just a Man?
What do you say?
God vs. Man
Some say that Jesus was merely a man, a good man who had little fault, but a human being nonetheless.
Some others have claimed that Jesus was in fact God, and that he only appeared to be man. He never actually became a flesh and bone creature.
Still others claim that Jesus was both God and man, fully God, and yet completely human at the same time. Most Christians will agree with this last line of thought. Christianity teaches that Jesus is fully God, and yet fully man.
Jesus was just a man
For many, Jesus was a human being, plain and simple. He is viewed as a revolutionary of his time, and as a man of the people. He fought for the care and protection of the poor and marginalized in society.
He was a teacher, according to the bible, of Jewish law. The term for this kind of teacher was "Rabbi." He was considered this by his own disciples (Mark 9:5), the common people (John 6:24-25), and even by the Pharisees (John 3:1-2) who were revered teachers of the Law during Jesus' time. He taught Jewish Law, from Jewish Scriptures, and was continually using God's Word as the source of his teaching.
However, he often taught these things in a new way. For instance, he once summed the entire Jewish Law into two brand new commandments for people: to love God with all of their being, and to love their fellow human beings as themselves (Matthew 22:34-40). For this, he was revolutionary and a man of the people. It was also for this reason, and the fact that he claimed to actually be God, that the other teachers of the Law worked so tirelessly to put Jesus to death.
Jesus was God only appearing as man
There are some who claimed, or still claim, that Jesus was God, but that he was only appearing to be man: it was all an illusion. This frame of thinking was called Docetism, a belief that stemmed from Gnosticism (the belief that the spirit good and divine, and that flesh is evil and should be shunned).
The belief that Jesus was merely appearing to be human, and that his body was an illusion. For those who believe this, Jesus did not actually died but only appeared to die. Therefore, Jesus never rose from the dead because he was never actually dead.
Jesus was both God and man
The majority of Christians hold to the doctrine of Hypostatic Union. This doctrine states that there were two natures of Christ, God and human. These two natures were neither mixed together nor divided, but were both who Jesus truly was. He was completely, truly, perfectly God. At the same time, not taking anything away from this completeness or perfection, he was completely, truly, and perfectly human.
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit (God), and born of the virgin Mary (human). He born into humanity, yet was completely begotten from the Father (one of the persons of the Trinity).
It is beyond human understanding how this is possible, yet we attempt to explain it and continue to profess it in both the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed. "Jesus...conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried." We profess Jesus as God, by stating he was conceived by the Holy Spirit (another person of the Trinity), yet we also profess him as human by stating that he suffered and died.
The Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), who's entire purpose was to try to explain this belief and formulate it into a solid doctrine, put it into these words in their confession:
We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach people to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; (ἐν δύο φύσεσιν ἀσυγχύτως, ἀτρέπτως, ἀδιαιρέτως, ἀχωρίστως – in duabus naturis inconfuse, immutabiliter, indivise, inseparabiliter) the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person (prosopon) and one Subsistence (hypostasis), not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten God (μονογενῆ Θεόν), the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.
The incarnation, the "coming down" of God into flesh, is important to the Christian faith. The Apostle Paul states in his letter to the Christians in Rome that through Christ, all believers have died. He has taken humanity's place of punishment on himself, and all have died with him. Yet all are raised with him in life, because he has risen from the dead into eternal life.
Why it matters to Christians
If Jesus merely appeared to be human, and did not actually die as Docetism would have you believe, then death has not been conquered by Christ. In the same way, eternal life has not been given through Christ if he has not died and risen from the dead.
If Jesus was merely a man, then his death means nothing for Christians. He may have been a perfect man, a revolutionary man with many good things to say. He may have had a way to live a good life. But if he was only a man, then through him Christians gain nothing. His death does not conquer death, nor does it give eternal life.
This is why the Apostle Paul stresses the death and resurrection of Jesus in his letter to the Romans. In Romans chapter 6 verse 5-10, Paul states:
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all;but the life he lives, he lives to God.
If Jesus is both perfectly God, and perfectly man, he has kept God's perfect law in the place of humanity. His death means everything to Christians, because through him all believers have died, and through him all believers are granted eternal life. He has bridged the gap between God and humanity.