How do we understand the relationship between the divine and the human natures in Christ? Some of the key Bible verses that deal with this question are the following:
- The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).
- The angel said to Mary, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon you and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you; therefore also that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
- In Him [Christ] dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9).
If we take these words at face value, we accept as truth that the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus in the womb of the virgin Mary. The joining of the two natures in Christ was entirely by God’s initiative and plan. Christ’s divine nature in its full completeness is joined to the human nature. Mary’s nature was human; therefore, this Offspring was human.
While we cannot explain Christ’s Person, the church fathers used an apt analogy to help us. The divine nature is in Christ’s human flesh as heat is in iron, they said, employing the language of the smithy. The heat penetrates to every atom and molecule of the metal. The fire communicates its own attributes to the iron. In a somewhat similar way, the divine nature of Christ penetrated the human nature, filling it and communicating, sharing, and revealing.
To describe Christ’s Person, the church has used the biblical terms “unity” and “union.” For example, faithful teachers have spoken of the union of the two natures into the one Person. In Christ, the divine resides permanently in human flesh.
The Bible teaches that, after His incarnation, our Lord possessed a true human nature and that He rose in the same flesh, which was conceived by the Holy Ghost in the virgin Mary. He ascended into heaven and will return to give judgment on the Last Day in this body, which was pierced at His suffering for us, and we will see Him then also in His full glory as He is.
What lessons and comfort are to be drawn from these remarkable teachings?
- The great lesson of the Bible’s teaching on the salvation of us sinners begins here, namely, that the divine nature comes to the human, not the other way around. If we understand this, we have the fundamental, most basic thought in place for being able to appreciate God’s love.
- It is the foregoing that provides the way for hope. In God’s inventive, loving mind and heart, we find our greatest comfort, namely, a plan revealed through His Word, the Holy Bible, by which divine grace in the Person of Christ gained the upper hand over sin!
- So far as the joining of the divine and human natures in Christ, the whole point was the salvation of sinners (John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:21). The eternal Christ from His divine power lends eternal value to His blood, shed for us in His suffering, that cancels our sin (1 John 1:7).
James Olsen is an ELS pastor emeritus living in Ontario, Wisconsin.