'Replies from Christadelphians'

6.  Simon Richardson……(cont.)

10th January, 2005

(Continued from page 251)

Christadelphians believe Jesus had a sinful nature using the faulty logic that, in order for Jesus to be tempted, He had to have a sin nature.  But, this does not logically follow because the first Adam did not have a sinful nature - yet he was tempted successfully and fell.  On the evidence of Scripture, Jesus did not have a sinful nature and was tempted unsuccessfully - He did not fall.  Does the Scriptural fact that Jesus did not have a sin nature mean He could not be tempted?  And how did Jesus avoid inheriting the sin nature of His human ancestors?  Is there a way in which this is possible and consistent with Scripture?

Eve was the first person to sin, but sin entered the world through Adam and not through Eve - as Romans 5:12 makes clear:  "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world ...".  Some try to argue that, since Adam was the representative of mankind in the garden, when he fell we fell because we were "in" him. The argument is drawn from Hebrews 7:9-10:

And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, 10for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.

Levi was a distant descendant of Abraham and Abraham was long dead when Levi was born.  How, then, did Levi pay tithes to Melchizedek?  Because of the idea that one person represented his descendants. Levi is considered to have paid tithes to Melchizedek because his distant father Abraham did so, and because Levi was "in" the loins of his father Abraham.   Likewise, from Romans 5:12, sin entered the world through Adam and not Eve because Adam was the representative head of mankind. If this is so, then Jesus would not have received a sin nature from His father Joseph since Joseph had no biological paternity in relation to Jesus.  Therefore, his sin nature would not have been passed down to Jesus.  Since Jesus had a human mother, He inherited human nature.  Scripture reveals that Jesus was both God and Man and He is not just clearly called both the Son of God and the Son of Man, but there are also many Scriptures identifying His Divinity.  Jesus had a divine nature received from God and a human nature, but not a sinful one, from His mother Mary.

People still ask whether it was
possible for Christ to have sinned.  Some argue for the impeccability of Christ - impeccable meaning "not able to sin."  Others object that if Jesus were not able to sin, His temptations could not have been real, for how can a temptation be real if the person being tempted is not able to sin anyway?  Scripture clearly affirms:

(1) that Christ never actually sinned (see above).  There is no question in our minds at all on this fact.

(2) Jesus experienced genuine temptations (Luke 4:2). If we believe Scripture, then we must insist that Christ "
in every respect has been tempted as we are yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15).

If our speculation on the question of whether Christ could have sinned ever leads us to say that He was not truly tempted, then we have reached a wrong conclusion, one that contradicts the clear statements of Scripture.

(3) We also must affirm with Scripture that "God cannot be tempted with evil" (James 1:13).  Jesus was fully God as well as fully man, as Scripture clearly and repeatedly affirms.  So, can we also affirm that Jesus "could not be tempted with evil"?

If Jesus' human nature existed by itself, apart from the divine nature, He would have had a normal human nature and been capable of sinning. But, Jesus' human nature was not separate from His divine nature which is morally pure and incapable of sin.  Jesus was able to be tempted in His human nature, but not in His divine.  In the one person of Christ, dwells two natures: God and man (Col. 2:9).  As God, Jesus could stand without the danger of sinning.  As man, He could be tempted. Exactly how these two natures relate to each other in one person is not clarified in scripture. But, as you can see, it is possible that Jesus be divine and be tempted at the same time because He was both God and man. To say that Jesus had to have a sin nature in order to be tempted is incorrect. Rather, in order to be tempted, Jesus had to be human. The answer is found in the rarely considered truth that Jesus chose not to use His divinity while existing as perfect man on earth, but relied on His continued commune with the Father, through the Holy Spirit, to both perform the many miracles described in the New Testament and to resist the devil and all temptation.  In a similar way, orthodox born-again believers also rely on this relationship to fight against the temptation to sin. 

Scripture supplies us with ample to reason to believe that "Jesus was tempted"; "Jesus was fully man";  "Jesus was fully God"; and "God cannot be tempted." This combination of teachings from Scripture leaves open the possibility that, as we understand the way in which Jesus' human nature and divine nature work together, we might understand more of the way in which He could be tempted in one sense as a man and yet, in another sense, not be tempted in His divine nature:

(1) If Jesus' human nature had existed by itself, independent of His divine nature, then it would have been a human nature just like that which God gave
Adam and Eve. It would have been free from sin but nonetheless able to sin. Therefore, if Jesus' human nature had existed by itself, there was the theoretical possibility that Jesus could have sinned, just as Adam and Eve's human natures were able to sin.

(2) But Jesus' human nature never existed apart from union with His divine nature. From the moment of His conception, He existed as truly God and truly man as well. Both His human nature and His divine nature existed united in one person.

(3) Although there were some things (such as being hungry or thirsty or weak) that Jesus experienced in His human nature alone and were not experienced in His divine nature, nonetheless, an act of sin would have been a moral act that would apparently have involved the whole person of Christ. Therefore, if He had sinned, it would have involved both His human and divine natures.

(4) But if Jesus as a person had sinned, involving both His human and divine natures in sin, then God Himself would have sinned, and He would have ceased to be God. Yet that is clearly impossible because of the infinite holiness of God's nature.

(5) However, if we believe that Jesus constantly maintained that perfect communion with the Father, through the Holy Spirit, then it was
actually possible for Jesus to have sinned, but this perfect union prevented it.

The example of the temptation to change the stones into bread is helpful in this regard. Jesus had the ability, by virtue of His divine nature, to perform this miracle but, if He had done it, He would no longer have been obeying in the strength of His human nature alone.  He would have failed the test that
Adam also failed, and He would not have earned our salvation for us.  Therefore, Jesus refused to rely on His divine nature to make obedience easier for Him.  In like manner, it seems appropriate to conclude that Jesus met every temptation to sin, not by His divine power, but on the strength of His human nature alone (though, of course, it was not "alone" because Jesus, in exercising the kind of faith that humans should exercise, was perfectly depending on God the Father and the Holy Spirit at every moment).  He did not rely on the strength of His divine nature to make it easier for Him to face temptations, and His refusal to turn the stones into bread at the beginning of His ministry is a clear indication of this.

Were the temptations real then? Many theologians have pointed out that only he who successfully resists a temptation to the end most fully feels the force of that temptation. Just as a champion weightlifter who successfully lifts and holds over head the heaviest weight in the contest feels the force of it more fully than one who attempts to lift it and drops it, so any Christian who has successfully faced a temptation to the end knows that that is far more difficult than giving in to it at once. So it was with Jesus: every temptation He faced, He faced to the end, and triumphed over it. 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.

What then do we say about the fact that "God cannot be tempted with evil" (James 1:13)? It seems that this is one of a number of things that we must affirm to be true of Jesus' divine nature but not of His human nature. His divine nature could not be tempted with evil, but His human nature could be tempted and was clearly tempted. How these two natures were united in one person facing temptations is alluded to in Scripture and the distinction between what is true of one nature and what is true of another nature is an example of a number of similar statements that Scripture requires us to make.

When John wrote his first epistle, a heretical teaching was circulating in the church to the effect that Jesus was not a man. This heresy became known as
docetism.  So serious was this denial of truth about Christ, that John could say it was a doctrine of the antichrist: "By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist" (1 John 4:2-3). The apostle John understood that to deny Jesus' true humanity was to deny something at the very heart of Christianity, so that no one who denied that Jesus had come in the flesh was sent from God.

The New Testament gives many good reasons why Jesus had to be fully man if He was going to be the Messiah and earn our salvation:

  1. Jesus was our representative and obeyed for us where Adam had failed and disobeyed. We see this in the parallels between Jesus' temptation (Luke 4:1-13) and the time of testing for Adam and Eve in the garden (Gen. 2:15-3:7).
  2. It is also clearly reflected in Paul's discussion of the parallels between Adam and Christ, in Adam's disobedience and Christ's obedience:  'Then as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous'. (Rom. 5:18-19).    This is why Paul can call Christ "the last Adam" (1 Cor. 15:45) and can call Adam the "first man" and Christ the "second man" (1 Cor. 15:47). Jesus had to be a man in order to be our representative and obey in our place.
  3. If Jesus had not been a man, He could not have died in our place and paid the penalty that was due to us. The author of Hebrews tells us that "For surely it is not with angels that He is concerned but with the descendants of Abraham. Therefore He had to be made like His brethren in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation [more accurately, "propitiation"] for the sins of the people" (Heb. 2:16-17; cf. v. 14). Jesus had to become a man, not an angel, because God was concerned with saving men, not with saving angels. But to do this He "had to" be made like us in every way, so that He might become "the propitiation" for us, the sacrifice that is an acceptable substitute for us.  Unless Christ was fully man, He could not have died to pay the penalty for man's sins.  He could not have been a substitute sacrifice for us.
  4. Because we were alienated from God by sin, we needed someone to come between God and ourselves and bring us back to Him. We needed a mediator who could represent us to God and who could represent God to us. There is only one person who has ever fulfiled that requirement: "There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5). In order to fulfil this role of mediator, Jesus had to be fully man as well as fully God.
  5. God put mankind on the earth to subdue it and rule over it as God's representatives. But man did not fulfil that purpose and, instead, fell into sin. The author of Hebrews realizes that God intended everything to be in subjection to man, but he declares:  "As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him" (Heb. 2:8). Then when Jesus came as a man, He was able to obey God and thereby have the right to rule over creation as a man thus fulfiling God's original purpose in putting man on the earth. Hebrews recognizes this when it says that now "we see Jesus" in the place of authority over the universe, "crowned with glory and honour" (Heb. 2:9; cf. the same phrase in v7). Jesus in fact has been given "all authority in heaven and on earth" (Matt. 28:18), and God has "put all things under His feet and has made Him the head over all things for the church" (Eph. 1:22). Indeed, believers shall someday reign with Him on His throne (Rev. 3:21) and experience, in subjection to Christ our Lord, the fulfilment of God's purpose that we reign over the earth (cf. Luke 19:17, 19; 1 Cor. 6:3).  Jesus had to be a man in order to fulfil God's original purpose that man rule over His creation.
  6. John tells us:  "He who says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked" (1 John 2:6), and reminds us that "when He appears we shall be like Him," and that this hope of future conformity to Christ's character even now gives increasing moral purity to our lives (1 John 3:2-3). Paul tells us that we are continually being "changed into His likeness" (2 Cor. 3:18), thus moving toward the goal for which God saved us, that we might "be conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom. 8:29). Peter tells us that especially in suffering we have to consider Christ's example:  "Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps" (1 Peter 2:21). Throughout our Christian life, we are to run the race set before us "looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith" (Heb. 12:2). If we become discouraged by the hostility and opposition of sinners, we are to "consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself " (Heb. 12:3). Jesus is also our example in death. Paul's goal is to become "like Him in His death" (Phil. 3:10; cf. Acts 7:60; 1 Peter 3:17-18 with 4:1). Our goal should be to be like Christ all our days, up to the point of death, and to die with unfailing obedience to God, with strong trust in Him, and with love and forgiveness to others. Jesus had to become a man like us in order to live as our example and pattern in life.
  7. Paul tells us that when Jesus rose from the dead He rose in a new body that was "imperishable ... raised in glory ... raised in power ... raised a spiritual body" (1 Cor. 15:42-44). This new resurrection body that Jesus had when He rose from the dead is the pattern for what believers bodies will be like when we are raised from the dead, because Christ is "the first fruits" (1 Cor. 15:23) - an agricultural metaphor that likens Christ to the first sample of the harvest, showing what the other fruit from that harvest would be like. We now have a physical body like Adam's, but we will have one like Christ's:  "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven" (1 Cor. 15:49).  Jesus had to be raised as a man in order to be the "first-born from the dead" (Col. 1:18), the pattern for the bodies that believers would later have.
  8. The author of Hebrews reminds us that "because He Himself has suffered and been tempted, He is able to help those who are tempted" (Heb. 2:18; cf. 4:15-16). If Jesus had not been a man, He would not have been able to know by experience what we go through in our temptations and struggles in this life. But because He has lived as a man, He is able to sympathize more fully with us in our experiences.
  9. Jesus did not give up His human nature after His death and resurrection, for He appeared to His disciples as a man after the resurrection, even with the scars of the nail prints in His hands (John 20:25-27). He had "flesh and bones" (Luke 24:39) and ate food (Luke 24:41-42). Later, when He was talking with His disciples, He was taken up into heaven, still in His resurrected human body, and two angels promised that He would return in the same way: "This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11).  Still later, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw Jesus as "the Son of man standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56). Jesus also appeared to Saul on the Damascus Road and said:  "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting" (Acts 9:5) - an appearance that Saul (Paul) later coupled with the resurrection appearances of Jesus to others (1 Cor. 9:1; 15:8). In John's vision in Revelation, Jesus still appears as "one like a son of man" (Rev. 1:13), though He is filled with great glory and power, and His appearance causes John to fall at His feet in awe (Rev. 1:13-17). He promises one day to drink wine again with His disciples in His Father's kingdom (Matt. 26:29) and invites us to a great marriage supper in heaven (Rev. 19:9). Moreover, Jesus will continue forever in His offices as prophet, priest, and king, all of them carried out by virtue of the fact that He is both God and man forever.

All of these texts indicate that Jesus did not
temporarily become man, like the first Adam, but that His divine nature was permanently united to His human nature, and He lives forever not just as the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, but also as Jesus, the man who was born of Mary, and as Christ, the Messiah and Saviour of His people.  Unlike the fallible Christadelphian  'Jesus', who 'could have disobeyed', who 'could' have failed to save us, the Biblical Jesus, the 'last Adam', will remain fully omnipotent and infallible God - and fully man - yet one person, forever.

In Christ Jesus


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