Jesus Was, Is, and Will Always Be, the God-Man
“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Matthew 1:34NKJ
Question 40 of the Larger Catechism asks, “Why was it requisite that the Mediator should be God and man in one person?” It gives the answer, “It was requisite that the Mediator, who was to reconcile God and man, should himself be both God and man, and this in one person, that the proper works of each nature might be accepted of God for us, and relied on by us, as the works of the whole person.” Last week we saw why it was necessary that our Mediator be man, this week we consider why His divine and human natures must dwell together in one person.
In the 5th century a controversy arose over the title, “mother of God,” for Mary. The dispute was not really about Mary, however, it was about Jesus. Was the child conceived in Mary’s womb merely a man or was He also God? Nestorius, a monk, then elder, then Patriarch of Constantinople, objected to this title for Mary, asserting that Mary’s womb housed only the human nature of Jesus. Nestorius’ high position as one of the five co-equal patriarchs of the early church (the Roman pope was another) elevated this controversy immediately. At stake was how the Church was to understand the nature and person of Christ. Was Christ one person with a divine and a human nature from conception on, or was He born a man, who then assumed a divine nature at some point after His birth? Nestorius taught that God “assumed” the man Christ at His baptism, and from that point on He was both divine and human.
In 431 the Council of Ephesus rightly condemned the Nestorian Heresy, since it separated Jesus Christ into two persons. Jesus, a mere man in Nestorius’ view, was obviously a whole person before the point when the second person of the Trinity assumed Him at His baptism. Thus, Nestorius’ position logically demanded that Christ be two persons. Rather than the organic God-man of Christian orthodoxy, Nestorius set forth a God-bearing man: a man who also bore the person of the Son of God. As the Scripture above surely teaches, the man that was conceived in the womb of the virgin was, from the moment of His conception on, also God. Throughout His incarnation, Jesus was always, “God with us.” In this sense, every orthodox believer will joyfully agree with the Council of Ephesus that Mary was the mother of God.
As the Catechism teaches, what is at stake in this question is whether or not the various works of Christ, which we rightly distinguish as being proper either to the divine or the human nature, nevertheless were also the works of the whole person. For example, we know that God cannot be hungry, tired, weak, limited in knowledge, suffer, or die. Therefore, where we see the Scripture attributing these things to Christ, we rightly assign them to His human nature. Strictly speaking, it was not God who bled and died on the cross, it was man. God does not have a body, does not have blood, and God cannot die. However, as we saw two weeks ago, it was only because the person who suffered and died was not a mere man but was also God, that His sacrifice can have infinite value and weight in the sight of God and be sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world.
Likewise, if Jesus as a mere man was alone conceived in the womb of Mary, underwent growth and development from a fertilized egg, to an embryo, and then was born all apart from being united to the divine nature of the second person of the Trinity, then the Son of God did not truly experience what it means to be a man, the way every other man does. How could we say that He could “sympathize with” all of “our weaknesses,” or that He was “tempted at all points as we are yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15), if in fact His divine nature was not united to His human nature as we underwent these things? Additionally, every one of these merely human experiences and works of Jesus would not be sufficient to be imputed to all of the elect, as they would have the weight of only one man’s good works before God. Praise God that when the Son agreed to take upon Himself a human nature, He did it fully, taking up and therefore redeeming every stage and aspect of our nature, and therefore, we can have complete confidence in Him!