The Hypostatic Union of Jesus

Paul Derengowski, ThM

 

Confusion abounds among Christians and non-Christians alike regarding the nature of Jesus.  Who was he?  Was he God?  Was he human?  Was he both?  Depending on one’s understanding of who Jesus was as a person will directly affect what one believes his essential is to mankind and the relationship he had with God Almighty.  This article is written to not only provide some clarity on just who Jesus was as the God-man, but to provide a possible apologetic against some of the arguments by those who see Jesus as being nothing more than a mere creature, a good man, or a holy prophet.

Jesus the Human Being

With the exception of those who believed that Jesus could not have possessed a human nature (e.g. the Gnostics), there is no doubt that Jesus was a human being.  He was born into this world as a baby (Mt. 1:25) and grew as a child in wisdom and stature (Lk. 2:52), meaning he possessed a mind and a physical body (Jn. 2:21; Lk. 23:55; Jn. 20:25) and was not a phantom (Mt. 14:26-27).  As a man he labored as a carpenter (Mk. 6:3; Mt. 13:55), he hungered (Mt. 4:2; 21:18; 25: 35), he thirsted (Mt. 25:35; Jn. 19:28), he became tired (Mt. 8:20).  Although there is no record of Jesus sleeping, it goes without saying that he slept as well.  Ultimately, he died a cruel death on a cross, which would totally defy what it mean to die, if Jesus was anything less than a human being (Mt. 26:2; 27:26, 35; 28:5; Mk. 15:24-25; Lk. 23:33; 24:20; Jn. 19:18, 20, 23, 41; Acts 2:36; 4:10; 1 Cor. 1:23; 2:2; 2 Cor. 13:4; Gal. 3:1; Rev. 11:8).

One particular designation that Jesus favored was the expression “Son of Man.”  Of the 88 times the phrase is seen in the New Testament, 84 of them appear in the four Gospels, and all of them pertain only to Jesus!  Depending on the context in which it is used, the Son of Man can either speak of:

  • Jesus’ deity (Mt. 9:6; 12:8, 32; 13:41; Mk. 2:10, 28; Lk. 5:24; 6:5; 9:56; 11:30; 12:10; Jn. 5:27; 6:27, 62; 9:35
  • Jesus’ humanity (Mt. 8:20; 11:19, 12:40; 17:9, 12, 22; 20:18; 26:2, 24, 45; Mk. 8:31; 9:9, 12, 31; 10:33, 45; 14:21, 41; Lk. 7:34; 9:22, 44, 58; 22:22, 48; 24:7; Jn. 3:14; 8:28; 12:23, 34, 31
  • Or both Jesus’ deity and humanity (Mt. 10:23; 13:37; 16:13, 27-28; 19:28; 20:28; 24:27. 30, 37, 39, 44; 25:31; 26:64; Mk. 8:38; 13:26; 14:62; Lk. 6:22; 9:26; 12:8, 40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30; 18:8, 31; 19:10; 21:27, 36; 22:69; Jn. 1:51; 3:13; 6:53; Acts 7:56; Rev. 1:13; 14:14

Jesus’ designation as the Son of Man is actually a microcosm of what the Hypostatic Union is all about, for it speaks of both his divine and human natures tied together in the one person.  At times his divine nature may be manifest more emphatically than his human nature, while at other times his human nature is more evident.  At other times there is nothing absolutely detectable as to which nature takes precedence.  If one manages to fail to understand this union, then one can easily wander away into heretical thought and interpretation of the Scriptures when confronted with passages where Jesus is praying to God (Jn. 17:1-ff), suffering agony over his impending death (Lk. 22:44), or when he makes statements declaring that God is greater than he (Jn. 14:28).

Jesus the Incarnation of God

The second nature that Jesus possessed from all eternity is his divine nature.  Jesus has always been God, in other words.  Aside from taking on the human nature described above, which did not change his divine nature, Jesus has been the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8).  The Bible makes this perfectly clear whether in statements from him or about him.  Some of the more explicit examples denoting Jesus’ deity are found in:

  • Matthew 1:23—“‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which translated mean, ‘God with us.’”
  • John 1:1—“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” followed by John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
  • Colossian 2:9—“For in Him all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form.”
  • Hebrews 1:8-10—“But of the Son He says, ‘Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever…Therefore God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee…And, Thou Lord, in the beginning didst lay the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Thy hands.”
  • 2 Peter 1:1—“Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Jesus not only possessed God’s name (Mt. 28:19), but he was the Lord Yahweh of the Old Testament (Jn. 1:23 cf. Isa. 40:3), even though he was not God the Father.  As noted above, his actions in forgiving sin (Mt. 9:6), resuscitating (Jn. 11:43) and eventually resurrecting the dead (Jn. 6:39-40, 44, 54), and granting of eternal life (Jn. 6:27, 68; 10:28; 17:2), among other supernatural activities he initiated or claimed the power to accomplish, all substantiate that Jesus was much, much more than a mere human being.  He was divine.  He was God incarnated.

The Hypostatic Union

The Bible is certain that Jesus took on a human constitution when he came to earth (Jn. 1:14; Rom. 8:3; Gal. 4:4; Phil. 1:6-8).  He did not do so to arrogantly show off.  In fact, when he descended from heaven to perform the Father’s will to pay the sin debt of humanity, Jesus did so as an act of humility.  “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8).  How Jesus managed to equally co-mingle or fuse his deity with his humanity is a mystery.  It is teaching that is not elaborated on in the NT.  Each nature is merely attributed to him.

Because the unity of the two natures in Jesus is not explained in the Bible, there have been several movements throughout church history that have sought to deny, refute, or explain away either Jesus’ deity or his humanity.  Many of those movements under other names, or after having undergone revisions, are alive and well today.  Some of those ancient heresies were:

  • Nestorianism—Taught the disunity of the two natures in Jesus.  Instead, two separate natures co-existed together, without the attributes of deity extending to his humanity.  Jesus, therefore, related closely with God, but only as a deified man.  He was not the God-man, but a God-bearing man.
  • Dynamic Monarchianism—The divine logos was united with God the Father, but was not an actual person.  It was more of an impersonal influence that all men could share it, particularly in the person of Jesus.  That in itself deified Jesus and made him worthy of honor, even though, once again, he was not God, but a sort of demi-god.  Modern-day Unitarianism subscribes to this heresy.
  • Sabellianism or Modalism—A Trinitarianism heresy, Sabellianism or Modalism teaches that God manifests Himself in one of three modes when necessary.  While it safeguarded the divinity of Jesus, it also compromised his distinct humanity and person.  Hence, the Father was Jesus and Jesus was the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit was the Father, but only one identity at a time.  So, when God was in the Father-mode, the Jesus and Holy Spirit modes were inactive and essentially did not exist.  Modern-day Word-Faith exponents like T. J. Jakes and John Hagee subscribe to this heresy.
  • Arianism—Arius taught that God was absolutely unique and by Himself in the universe.  Jesus was a created being, who because of his special stance as a creature, was empowered to assist in the creation of the world and universe.  Hence, Jesus did not possess a divine nature, but had divine capabilities as a sort of demi-god.  Modern-day Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and Muslims are the progeny of this ancient heresy.
  • Semi-Arianism—Jesus possessed a similar nature as God the Father, but ultimately is subordinate to Him.  He was one step above humanity, but one step below deity.  He was like the Father, but not like Him at the same time.  He was not a creature, but he was not God either.  He was somewhere in between.
  • Eutychianism—Jesus’ humanity was absorbed into his divinity thereby leaving him with only one nature, not two: the divine.  Interestingly, Eutyches taught that Jesus was incarnated in the flesh at his birth, uniting the divine nature with the human, but shortly thereafter the divine was the only reality and the human only appeared to be (Docetism).
  • MonophysitismThe polar opposite of Eutychianism, Monophysitism taught that the two natures of Christ were realized in the human body of Jesus.  The flesh became divine, thereby negating the divine nature.  Therefore, Jesus had only one nature, the physical, which had been divinized.

The orthodox teaching on the hypostatic union of Jesus might be summed up as follows: Jesus Christ perfectly, wholly, and undividedly possesses two natures (human and divine), in unified fashion, in his one person.  Therefore, he is 100% man and 100% deity, whereby he may interact with both man and God as a mediator, paying the sin debt on the behalf of man with a perfect sacrifice, while glorifying God perfectly in the fulfillment of the Father’s legal requirements involving holiness.  At times, during his human life on earth, he was capable of subordinating one nature to another to carry out his earthly mission, but at no time did he ever forfeit one nature or the other.  He now resides at the right of the Father in heaven as the God-man, having never been deified, but always having been God, yet with the addition of a human nature to manifest God’s crowning achievement when He created man in His image.

In more ancient times, The Council of Chalcedon addressed the God-man union in Christ in 451 a.d. and produced a creed that remains a standard point of reference for orthodox teaching on the subject and should be read and thought upon by every Christian who wishes to know the Christian churches’ position.

CONCLUSION

Jesus Christ was one of the most complex individuals to ever grace the face of the earth, much less a point in human history.  The Hypostatic Union only adds to his complexity.  It is something that very few Christians know about; much less those who attempt to demean his person by either overlooking or neglecting to understand what the Scriptures have to say about both his divine and human natures.  Nevertheless, for those who take the time to think about the complexity of Jesus’ person, the reward is not only great, but the conclusion is sure: Jesus was God incarnate in the flesh.

From the Scriptures we learn that Jesus was human.  From those same Scriptures, though, we learn that he was divine as well.  The combination of those two natures was integral in healing a broken relationship between man and God brought on by man’s fall into sin.  Although a mystery in how humanity and divinity were fused, for lack of a better word, into one person, it is no less evident: Jesus was the God-man.  Failure to recognize that is to hold to a faulty view of Jesus, much like those heresies described above, and follow an individual that cannot relate to God or man, and ultimately lead one to the precipice of dying in one’s sins without any possible hope or recourse.

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