The Christian Walk
A Meditation on the Doctrine of the Person of Christ
by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon
“And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had.” John 17:5
The incarnation of the Son of God is one of the most blessed truths in the Bible. It is an essential doctrine of the Christian faith. Without it we would not have a Christian faith. Even Larry King, the popular talk show host of Larry King Live, said that of all the people through all of history he would desire to interview Jesus Christ. And the question he would want to ask Him concerned the reality of the virgin birth. “Were you born of a virgin?”
The manner in which God redeems is the most celebrated topic in which the Christian rejoices. When we come upon the actual method in which He redeems through the incarnate Son, we become awe-struck. How could any Christian fathom His infinite love for us; we who are frames of dust, and cut grass which withers in the noonday sun. What mysteries lie in His Word surrounding such a sacred truth? Is the virgin birth and the incarnation of the Son of God a mystery that we cannot comprehend? That depends on what you mean when you ask the question. The historical fact of the virgin birth is something we can attest to. It is a historical fact for us to believe, as much as Watergate, the Berlin Wall falling down, or the war in Iraq taking place. But the reality behind the hypostatic union, the union of the two natures of the Son of God, is something of a mystery.
It is quite true that there are some bone fide mysteries in the Bible. For example, the doctrine of the Trinity (the problem of the One and the many) is one of those mysteries that go beyond our logical comprehension of completeness, but not in contradiction to it. We can, by a rational faith, believe in that doctrine though we cannot fully comprehend the reality behind it. Another difficult doctrine is the attempt to answer how the two natures of Christ bind together without destroying or changing those two natures in any way. In others words, what is the “glue” that binds these two natures together, but does not allow them to mix or corrupt one another? This is as much a mystery as the Trinity is since God has not revealed to us, anywhere, the basic nature of these unions. And it is interesting to note that both the Trinity and the hypostatic union are questions of “relationship.”
When studying the union of the two natures in the person of Christ, oftentimes we come away with having more questions about that union that when we first began studying it. When we survey the passages in the Bible that attest to the truth of these two natures in one person, a number of verses leap from the page at us and we are forced to deal with them in some manner of answering our questions adequately. It is our Christian responsibility to know the Word, even when the Word is difficult to know. John 17:5 often does not leap as a “lion from the thicket” for Christians when they are having their morning devotions in the passage concerning Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. If they do think about it, it often revolves around the heresy of the Kenotic Theory, which we will look at in a moment. Many commentators and theologians have thought through this verse concerning the incarnation of the Son of God. Many commentators have adequately dealt with the actual text of John 17:5, the exegetical manner in which it is interpreted, but the theological implications of the text, those we will consider, are oftentimes neglected. It is important to be a workman who exegetically defines the text he is working on with biblical precision and well-done translation. But well-done translation does not always wind up interpreting the text correctly, or in a theologically helpful manner. After translating the verse, it should be asked, “Why is John 17:5 in the Bible?” Certainly, it is there to help us know something more about Jesus Christ the Son of God, and His incarnation. It is a very important verse to consider, and after doing so, one might have a greater understanding of how the union of the two natures of Christ compliments one another in perfect harmony. But what are the theological implications of this text?
It is one thing to say we understand the essence of a thing behind a particular verse, like understanding the Trinity completely, because we find Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the Bible. Obviously, though the truth of a thing is present, the essence, or makeup of a thing may still elude us. It is true that God is three persons in one essence. However, to understand the nature of that essence in relationship to the three persons and to one another is beyond us. We cannot comprehend it in its entirety. Only God is able to rightly interpret His own being perfectly. But to say that we have to simply throw up our arms and place hard theological ideas in a mystery box each time we encounter difficult texts is poor biblical stewardship. When we give up too quickly on a difficult text we will most likely miss gaining other important truths. Other helpful truths may appear to us if we continue to wrestle with hard doctrines even though we never accomplish understanding a “thing” in its entirety. Take for instance the idea about the kind of “glue” which holds the two natures of the Son of God together. The Bible does not reveal to us anything concerning what type of “glue” this may be that adheres the divine nature to the human nature, or if it is glue at all. However, that ought never to stop us from thinking about the divine nature or human nature in any other passage of the Bible in which God has given us. You see, John 17:5 says something about the incarnation of Jesus Christ. It says something about the Son of God in human flesh, and it is our duty to exercise our minds about what that might be. We do not need to concern ourselves over the “glue” problem. We do not need to concern ourselves on what is not in the text. What we do need to do is study John 17:5 and determine how this verse helps us to come closer to a more complete Christology. We need to study this text and find out what the text is teaching us about Christ and about the nature of Christ.
There are a number of verses in the Bible that are essential. This verse is one of those verses. John 17:5 is a biblical text that should be thought about and understood by every Christian. That does not mean that the moment every Christian reads the Gospel of John that John 17:5 will suddenly jump out at them as John 3:16 does. However, in terms of understanding the person of Jesus Christ, this verse is essential to the study. To grasp even a portion of what this paper is about, this one verse would help us to understand more about our Savior and the infinitely amazing ideas concerning His two natures.
Before presenting any ideas concerning the exegesis of John 17:5, it would make prudent sense to say a few things about the incarnation of Christ. The solid, orthodox statements that have been the creedum of the church would suffice nicely to set our minds far from the errors of those like the Ebonites, Gnostics, Arians, Apollinarians, Nestorians, Eutychians, and the like. You may not be familiar with these heretical positions concerning the natures of Jesus Christ; but you should be. Any good historical theology book would help in this regard, and William Cunningham’s Historical Theology is one of the best in print. Even today these old heresies are being propagated by the cults. Christians should know how to defend this cornerstone doctrine in a culture and world where heresy concerning the only Savior is tolerated.
In these next couple of paragraphs there is no need to give you a systematic theology on the person and nature of the Son of God. That is going beyond the scope of the verse and idea at hand. But there is a need to simply state some of the orthodox tenants of the Christian faith as something that the biblical church believes and has believed for centuries. Heretics have often chided these truths, but they have withstood the test of time as thoroughly Biblical and provable. So, the question to briefly answer first is this, “What can we say about the union of two natures of the Son of God?”
The two natures of the Son of God are connected in an indissoluble union and do not mix or interpenetrate. Though they are attached, they are still separate natures. The Son of God is very God. Jesus Christ is very man. He is one person. That means He is one person, self or Ego. He is not schismatic, nor does He have two persons and two natures. That is the heresy of Nestorianism. There is no transfusion of the natures into one another although there is an assumption of the human nature by the divine nature. By assumption is meant “taking on.” The divine nature of the Son of God has taken on the human nature. He is not changed by the union, but takes on a nature He did not formally have. By “nature”, in this connection, is meant description. A “nature” is the essential qualities of any “thing.” For instance, an eye is made of the cornea, cones, rods, pupil, iris, ducts, glands, veins and the like. The total attributes of a particular “thing” represent the nature of a thing or the description of a thing. It is the totality of its encompassed parts and attributes. The substance of Jesus’ human nature is not personal, for if it was, Christ would then be two persons. Rather, the human nature is impersonal. The divine nature, which is personal already as the eternal Son, took upon itself the impersonal nature of a human being. In doing so the divine nature assumed the human nature (which encompasses its assumption). That does not mean He absorbed the human nature into His divine nature, but that He attached the human nature of the man Jesus Christ to Himself. The divine nature did not change, but assumed the flesh of the human nature.
In a short digression, among the few philosophical or theological writers of this last century who disagree with the above paragraph is Gordon Clark. It is important to address his disagreement since his ultimate conclusion on the nature of the Incarnation and the person of Christ leads him to believe in a kind of Nestorianism, if not a full-fledged Nestorianism under the guise of philosophical and “logical” necessity.
In his work The Incarnation which is published by the Trinity Foundation (they have published all of Clark’s works), he says “That Christ assumed a body causes no difficulty to anyone who believes the Bible; but to understand how the Second Person could have a human soul and a human person (which virtually all orthodox Christians deny), and how that mind or soul was related to the divine Person is perhaps the most difficult problem in all theology.” (Page 4) It is not the idea that the Second Person of the Trinity took on or assumed human flesh that troubles Clark, but rather how Jesus could really be a man with a soul, a true man, that related to the divinity of the Second Person. In his logical progression of thought he asks, “How can He be a true man without being a human person?” (Page 17) Clark, in attempting to sort out the history of Christianity on the issue, moves through the medieval scholastic Aquinas, to the Reformation, up and through to the 19th century with men like Charles Hodge, and then offers some basic conclusions. The first conclusion he makes is that he does not like the old formulation of the creeds and their use of the word “substance.” He finds it to be a meaningless term. He does like the word “person” and defines it this way, “a person is the propositions he thinks,” (Page 55) or, he says that a “person is a complex of propositions.” (Page 64) Personhood, or personality, is what a being thinks about himself. He then goes on, after defining this, to resume his analysis of the incarnation by denying, rightly, the Kenotic Theory (which will be discussed later in this paper). He defends the immutability of the Godhead from the possibility of any change and then continues his investigation of Jesus Christ as a true person. The confusion begins to arise when he asks, “If the person, being the Logos, could not be crucified, was our salvation accomplished by the alleged death of an impersonal nature?” (Page 69) He questions the manner in which orthodox Christianity had previously settled the issue through stating that the personal Son assumed an impersonal nature. He assumes that since Jesus had a soul, which is true, that he must have also been a complete person as well, but distinct in this manner from the Son as a divine person. For instance, he makes a difference between the soul and nature when he quotes Matthew 26:38, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful.” He rightly notes that Jesus did not say my “nature” is exceedingly sorrowful but “my soul is exceedingly sorrowful.” Can the Second Person of the Godhead speak like this? He then “clinches” it for the reader when he says, “One statement is very clearly not a statement by the Logos. On the cross Jesus said, “I thirst.” No Trinitarian Person could have said this because the three persons are pure incorporeal spirits and thirst is a phenomenon of the body.” (Page 73) This sounds convincing at first glance. Clark emphasizes this by saying that Jesus went from a state of not thirsting to thirsting, a change, something the Logos could not do. Because of this, Clark concludes his ideas in this way: “Some unfriendly critics will instantly brand the following defense of Christ’s humanity as the heresy of Nestorianism.” (Page 75) Clark is right. He seems to hold to a form of Nestorianism, and he died before finishing the manuscript. It ends on page 77 without a great amount of further explanation.
There is no doubt that Clark has given his readers some very valid questions and has raised some important issues. His desire to be rid of the word “substance” is helpful; for that word often takes up too much time to define properly. And if it is defined properly, other words like “nature,” “person,” and the like, in most theological treatises often confuse the meaning of the word “substance” when they are used. So I applaud Clark in his desire to be more precise in his definitions. However, his entire thesis, revolving around Nestorianism, is an ignortio elenchi, an irrelevant conclusion. The reason is that Clark is explaining the doctrine of the Trinity and not the doctrine of the hypostatic union. For those who have read the book, you may be asking, “How can you say that since Clark was writing a book entitled The Incarnation?” The reason I say this is because the flaw in Clark’s argument rises out of a failure to think through the incarnation as the incarnation. Clark is trying to hard to defend the Trinity, when he should be defending the hypostatic union.
Clark is right in saying that the Logos, or Second Person of the Trinity, cannot change. But he has made a false assumption to say that when the Logos supplies the human Jesus with personality, that the humanity of Christ does not affect the actions of the Son through that vehicle (something we will discuss at length later.) He restricts himself far too much by a separation of the two natures, and for him, the two persons joined together (Nestorianism). He should have taken some time, at least, to consider the manner in which the divine person actually expresses Himself in the humanity of the man Jesus Christ. It is like asking someone who believes in abortion this question, “When were you your mother?” In other words, when were you, at any time, your mother? Of course the answer to this is “never.” At no time were you ever your mother (whether one cell big or 50 million cells big makes no difference). At conception you are a distinct person from your mother. Clark seems to be thinking that at some time Jesus was a distinct person, a person distinct from the Logos who is also a distinct person, and the two joined together. His entire consideration and discussion is based on that unwritten assumption. The reality is that at no time was the humanity of the man distinct from being attached to the divinity of the Son. At the very moment of conception the Son has assumed the nature of the humanity of Jesus. I believe Clark would affirm this, but his Nestorianism seems to deny this. The Second Person gives the humanity of the man its personality. At no time were they distinct. Underlying most of the argumentation of Clark, as brilliant as he was, he missed this important point and seems to have fallen into a redefined Nestorianism, which is still Nestorianism. He continues to assume that the person of Jesus and the person of the Son are two distinct persons joined in the hypostasis. This, unfortunately, incorrectly handles not only the texts he quoted, but also the actual nature of the personhood of Christ. His Nestorianism would not allow him to think otherwise, and rightly so, for Nestorianism necessarily views the natures of Christ in this manner.
In view of misconceptions, like the one above, not only should we consider the idea of “nature” but also the word “person.” Boethius, an ancient philosopher, defines “person” (personando) as the “individual substance of a rational nature.” Augustine simply defines “person” as the “substance” of the nature. It is that which gives the natures its identity of “personhood.” “Substance” for the most part is a poor word, as Clark pointed out. It takes far to long to explain what it means and is often taken for granted on a variety of fronts. It may be easier to grasp the idea of “person” defined as “the individual description of a rational nature.” When we describe the traits of a rational mind, or the mind itself, that would constitute the definition or description of the person.
Secondly, it is important to understand that the attributes of one nature cannot transfer to another. The human nature does not transfer some of its being to the divine nature. Nor does the divine nature transfer some of its being to the human nature. If they did, then the natures would cease to be their respective natures and they would be mixed. This is the heresy of Apollinarianism. The divine nature would become “lowered” and corrupted, and the human nature would be somehow “deified.” In any case, they would be something other than they were, which means, most importantly, that God could change. This is a concept to touch on later, but it is vital to grasp the reality of this truth when it concerns the interaction of the person of the Son with the human nature of Christ.
When the Son of God assumes, or takes upon Himself, the human nature of Jesus Christ, the union of the two natures adds nothing but a “relationship” to the person of the Son, as William Ames rightly states. In his Marrow of Theology he rightly describes how the person of the Son relates to the divine nature in a divine manner – as befits the divine nature – and also relates to the human nature as befits the human nature. This means that He is one person with two natures. The two natures are two distinct definitions that carry their own unique attributes. The properties or attributes of a substance constitute its essence, so that if they were removed, or if others of a different nature were added to them, the substance itself would change. The divine nature holds divine qualities (infinite, aseic, omnipresent, etc.) and the human nature holds human qualities (finite, fleshly, mortal, etc.). Thus, we could rightly say that Jesus Christ is one nature and another nature, not one person and another person. These natures are then joined hypostatically, or in personal union with the person of the Son of God (which is what the Greek term in conjunction with this doctrine signifies: hypostasis). Here it is important to note that the Son of God did not unite Himself with a human person, but with a human nature. The man Jesus Christ does not exist apart from the divine personality of the Son of God. It is not that Jesus Christ first existed, grew up and lived, and then the divine Son of God attached Himself to an already speaking, living person like your next-door neighbor. Rather, the whole person and nature of the divine Son of God attached itself to the shell of a human nature and gave it His own personality. We may, then, be able to express it this way: one nature does not communicate its attributes to another, but that one person, the eternal Son, expresses Himself through both natures in their respective capacities. The properties of both natures are communicated to the one person, though the two natures do not communicate their essential description to one another. In other words, though the Son is one person that is cognitively aware of both natures simultaneously in His one person, it does not follow at all to say that the nature of the human Jesus communicates its properties to the divine Son since they are united together; or vice versa. We see then that the Son is a complex person made up of two natures but one person; and this has been the orthodox interpretation of the biblical data for 2000 years. The Chalcedonian Creed offers a good example of this, although their language may be inadequate:
Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.
Thirdly, all error concerning the incarnation results from an attempt at trying to reconcile the manner in which the two natures bind hypostatically together, or a form of it. The error can be avoided if we think through what we know to be true about God and then interpret John 17:5 in conjunction with what we already know about Him.
It is prudent to remove a misconception in this arena first. It surrounds the Kenotic Theory. The manner of expression and mode in the eternal Son casts a great amount of clarity on the old heresy called the Kenotic Theory. The Kenotic Theory, believed by the Socinians (and many modern day churches), taught that the Logos voluntarily humiliated Himself in taking on the flesh of the human nature of Jesus. In doing so, when the eternal Logos “awoke” in the humanity of the baby Jesus, he truly became human. The doctrine is taken from Philippians 2:6-8 (especially verse 7) where it states, “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Those who held (and still do hold onto) this theory believed that the divine Son of God, the begotten Son of God, infinite, eternal, omniscient, and the like, emptied Himself of His glory and took on the form of a servant. It certainly seems to imply that the Son took on the form of the servant, which means He emptied Himself of His divine power and Godhead, by making himself “of no reputation.” This little phrase is alla eaton ekenowsen morphane doolou labown. The word which represents the phrase “of no reputation” is alla eauton ekenowsen (Transliterated.) The word “ekenowsen” comes from the Greek word that means, “deprive of power, make of no meaning or effect.” The verb is in the indicative aorist active tense, 3rd person singular which states that the eternal Son, “he,” did something (made himself of no reputation) in the past, in order to (in the present) take on the form of a servant and be obedient unto death. Thus, some believe that the Son stopped being the Son in order to become man (is this the Hegelian dialectic?). The reason this false doctrine had come to light is because the adherers had (and do have) a very difficult time reconciling the fact that both natures are simultaneously exemplified in the person of the Son, whether He is the eternal Son, or the man Jesus Christ in the same person. So they opted to believe that while the Son of God was Jesus Christ walking on the earth, He ceased to be the eternal Son. For those of you who are sharp out there, you can immediately see the implications of this nonsensical idea. Can God cease to be God? Answer this with an emphatic “No!” If that were the case He could never be the eternal, infinite, immutable God of the Bible. Can God become something He was not before? Absolutely not. God never changes. This cannot be said enough. God never, ever changes. If God changed, His immutable nature would be utterly “destroyed.” Those who believe He ceased to be the eternal Son for a time to walk the earth as a human being have enhanced their heretical Christology at the expense of orthodox conceptions surrounding the doctrine of God. But then, this begs the question, “did the incarnation change the Godhead?” No, not at all. Why? Ask yourself this question, “If the Son of God had not joined with the human nature, and then at a specific time attached itself to the human nature, would this be a change?” The answer to this again is, “no, not at all.” Taking on the human nature of the man Jesus Christ does not change the divine nature. It simply is an attachment of the person of the Son to the humanity of Christ. An example may help clarify this. If a man who lives in New Hampshire goes out to shovel his driveway, he may want to wear some protective clothing, such as mittens. His hands fit nicely into his wool mittens and he shovels the driveway. Now the question is asked, “How did his hands change?” The answer is that they did not change at all. They are still the same hands he had before he put on the mittens. At this time, while he is shoveling, he simply wears the mittens over his hands and the mittens allow him to accomplish his task of shoveling. In the same way the eternal Son took on the nature of the man Jesus Christ. The Son did not change, but the Son did take on or assume the uncorrupted nature of a perfect human being. This is the cornerstone of the incarnation.
Fourthly, an explanation of the immutability of God and the personal union of the Son to the human nature is in order if we are to escape the problem of the Kenotic Theory and hold on to a solid biblical Christology. First, we should be reminded that God is immutable. This can never be overstated. This means He never changes as alluded to previously. When it is said that He never changes, at this point, this refers to His essential attributes and the exercise of those attributes never change. The Westminster Confession, chapters 2 and 3 make reference to the being and will of God as immutable (as do all the other reformed confessions). Scriptures which attest to this may be cited abundantly, but Malachi 3:6 states this very succinctly, “For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” In other words, because God’s decrees and power to uphold those purposes never change, the Sons of Jacob are not consumed in His anger for this wickedness. He is like “mountains of brass,” fixed, and unmoved (Zechariah 6:1). As James 1:17b also demonstrates that with God there is, “no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” The phrases here that James utilizes are unique in that they are astronomical terms referring to the constant rotation and spin of the planet. By this rotation the earth experiences a consistency of night and day through the shadow of the sun, or the lack thereof. Thus, God, in complete opposition to the daily change of the terrestrial bodies by rotation, is fixed and immovable. There is no shadow of change with Him in any manner. If this is true, and these two Scriptures certainly show that it is true, then God is not able to cease to be what He is in His essential being and description. God cannot stop being God. As a matter of biblical fact, He cannot change at all. Thus, the Son of God is not able to become less than He eternally is. He is not able to “become” at all. There is no possibility of “becoming” for an eternally infinite and immutable God. There is no diminution of His glory in any respect, and there is no gain in it. He is as gloriously immutable as He ever was or ever will be. A question arises, though, concerning the praise of the saints. If God cannot change, or “become” anything more than He is, how would Christians practically understand “giving Him glory?” What does God receive if He cannot change? The Psalmist said, “I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and I will glorify Your name forevermore (Psalm 86:12). How do saints glorify God? Do they make Him more glorious? No, they reflect the nature of God as a mirror reflects the light. Righteousness and holy living seen in His children reflects His own nature to the world. In this He is glorified. In other words, when we reflect Him as “individual mirrors,” the world should see His glorious nature. They should look at us and see His glory exuding from every pore in the fabric of our being. In this He is given glory through praise. It is a conscious decision on behalf of those who see this glory in the saints to say “What an amazing God they serve!” And though this may seem strange, lost pagan heathens have been known to say this about godly Christians. This demonstrates the already attained glory God possesses. He is not more glorified, but His already attained glory is reflected for others to see and to praise Him for who He already is.
If the above is true, how can Paul say in Philippians that he “made Himself of no reputation” or that he “emptied Himself?” Can God stop being who He is? Can he be less glorious because He takes on the form of a servant? Well, we know what the verse cannot mean. It cannot mean that God became less than He was by taking on the form of a servant. The Socinians actually believed this because they could not wrap their arms around the idea that the Son of God is one person in two natures; they theologically stripped the Son of his divinity for a time so they could reconcile the concepts. So how do we understand these verses?
This Scripture in Philippians 2 is very unique in that it affirms, not denies, both the eternal nature of the divine Son and the human nature of the Christ in one person. Paul makes plain that the Son of God has “the form of God” possessed, which is the divinity of the eternally begotten Son, and “the form of a servant,” which is the humanity of the man Jesus Christ. The person of the Son is expressed in both natures. The Son did not believe it was robbery to be God, which means He did not count it wrong to be equal or associated with the Father, as well as manifesting Himself, or expressing Himself in the concealment of the human nature of Christ. In this concealed nature the Son, as the form of the servant, takes precedence in his thought. In this section of Philippians Paul is stressing the eschatological promises fulfilled in the power of God through the work of the cross. The “concealment” of the Son is very well understood here. It is not that the Son has “emptied” himself of His divine Glory, but better interpreted here, that he “laid aside” his glory. But this still seems to be puzzling. Does this mean that God ceased to be God when He “laid aside” his divine nature? No, but the divine operation of the effulgent glory of the Son, in taking on human flesh, was veiled. That does not mean the divine Son ceased or stopped in His own divine glory to be glorious, but it does mean that in taking the form of the Christ, and in the assumption of that fleshly nature, the person of the Son was not expressed in infinite glory while in the human nature. Why is this? Since the limitation of the human nature could never have the ability to infinitely express His divine attributes, the wording Paul uses surrounds the idea that the human nature acted like the mitten on the man shoveling snow. It veiled his hand for a time and limited his hands for a time even though the mittens helped him in the cold weather. If the man were to attempt to dial a telephone with big wooly mittens, it would be more difficult to do so. In the same way the Son limited himself, but did not change, while in the humanity of the servant of Jesus. In relation to His eternal glory being veiled, we may analogize this in terms of a light in a closet. When the light is on, and you shut the closet door, you only see remnants of the light shining through the cracks that it is able to shine through. That does not mean that if you were in the closet you would not see the light burning brightly, even blindingly. When you open the door the light shines in all its fullness. So in taking on flesh, the servanthood of the Son is seen as an “emptying” or veiling” or “laying aside” of the expression of the Son in the human nature, which would make Paul right in his assessment of the incarnation. It is exceedingly true that the Son of God’s power was restricted in the form of the servant for a time (until His glorification and ascension) since His work on earth was to take on the humiliation of flesh, as a human being. But this did not mean that the expression of the infinite Son of God ceased. Paul never says anything remotely close to this. He is simply explaining that in the expression of the Christ on earth the glory of the Son was veiled, but Christ was still truly the Son of God. It is a focus on the divinity of the Son as Christ and the humanity of the Son as Christ at the same time which gives us the impression that He willingly laid aside the glory He speaks about in John 17:5. (Which will be discussed in a moment.) There is no need to be vexed over the idea that the Son stopped being the Son, or to enter into some theory of emptying that robs God of His Godhood. Rather, we are to understand the expression of the Son in the humanity of Christ as being limited by the form of the servant, but never extinguished as the eternal Son of God. The Son is forever expressed in the divine nature as the infinite God. Thus, the Son of God was still upholding everything He had created, and He still continued in exercising His sovereign control as the eternal Son. He continued to exemplify His attributes as God, and never stopped the eternal action of being the infinite Son. Whenever we focus on the humanity of Christ, we must always acquiesce to the truth that the expression of the eternal Son, while Christ walked the earth in His humiliation, was veiled for a time in that human nature; yes, we may even say, expressly, “emptied for a time” since the manifestation was not complete in its infinite capacity since the human nature had specific and finite limitations. So we can say that the person of the Son “claims for itself the properties of both natures” as the Italian Reformer Francis Turretin rightly asserts.
The Christian should also guard against being thrown off track in Colossians 2:9 where Paul states, “For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” In the opposite manner, this does not mean that the fullness of the Godhead and attributes of the Godhead dwell in a finite and limited space, i.e. the human flesh of Jesus of Nazareth. But rather the apostle here signifies that the personhood of the Godhead is truly united with the humanity of Christ. All of the attributes of God are, in the act of hypostasis, connected to the flesh of Jesus Christ. They subsist in the person of the Son but are expressed in both natures simultaneously.
Having expressed those important points we now come to the text in John 17:5. It is a very interesting verse for a number of reasons. It reads, “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” What do we do with a verse like this? Jesus Christ, the eternal Son, desires to have the glory He once had before the foundation of the world. Deeming it in this way seems to play a part in the Kenotic Theory. It seems to suggest that Christ was not glorious and now He desires the glory that He once had as the eternal God to be reinstated to Him again. This is very curious since the fact remains that God cannot change. Why would Jesus Christ say such a thing? The orthodox scholar is challenged here because the clincher to this is found in the Greek word doxasan. The verb “glorify” is doxadzo. It is a verb in its imperfect aorist active tense. This means that Christ is asking for something that was in the past, but it is not now. This would, again, seem to suggest that the Kenotic Theory may be true – that the Son stopped being the Son and now Jesus Christ desires to regain what He had initially had before He emptied Himself. But this is a red herring argument for the Kenotic Theory. The reason it is a red herring is because of the assumption made on behalf of the subject.
It is important that the Christian take time to think through these next few sentences. The human nature of Jesus is not the infinite God. Jesus Christ as a human physically experienced everything that a physical nature would experience – He hungered, slept, ate, used the bathroom, tired, cried, etc. He was a man. But in His unique personhood He was also the eternal Son. When looking at this verse (John 17:5) we must remember that it is the expression of the infinite God through the model of the human nature of a human being. It is the hand trying to express itself as best it can in the fingerless mitten. And because the Son, as His true person, is expressing Himself through the human nature, there is a longing and desire for the human nature to express itself in its most elevated state – He, as the unique human being He was, desired the fullness of infinite personality in the human nature. That does not mean He is capable, in his human nature, to truly obtain the glory (an infinite glory) He once had before the foundation of the world, because we know that He is not infinite in His human nature. But to whatever extent the human nature may be glorified, this is what the divine Son expresses. The divine Son certainly knows what it means to be glorious. How then would the divine Son “feel” if He was expressing Himself through a nature that did not have the capacity for infinite glory? He would say exactly what He said in John 17:5 – He desires, in that human nature, to be glorified with the glory He had before the world was.
This is difficult to understand, but if we are able to grasp it just a little, it will be well worth it – especially in relation to the manner in which the divine Son expresses Himself through Christ’s human nature – like when He weeps over Jerusalem. In moving forward here it is important to understand the idea of “expression.” The person of the Son is made up of two natures in which the consciousness of the Son extends. The consciousness of the Son is either restricted and limited by the human nature, or He is infinite and unlimited by the divine nature. At times relevant information from the person of the Son is communicated between both natures, so long as the human nature can possess the desired capacity that the infinite nature allows as acceptable. In other words, as the eternal Son of God, He is omniscient. At other times, when the human nature expresses certain ignorance about something in the human nature, this does not mean the eternal Son is ignorant because the expression of the Son in His divine nature is not restricted. In His human nature the Son is certainly restricted. For instance, Mark 13:32 states, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Here the subject is the Son, but in His human nature. He is ignorant of the time of His return. The eternal Son that is omniscient is not restricted by ignorance, but the human nature is unaware of the time. At a specific time, the mind of the Son is restricted to the consciousness of the Son of God in Christ as man. This means when the Son expresses Himself humanly, He is not omniscient. He cannot be omniscient since the finite brain cells of Jesus Christ limit the amount of knowledge He can possess. At certain times, certain unknown facts are made known to Christ by the communication of those facts to the capacity of the mind of Christ. For instance, John 17:5 is communicating an idea that the preexistent Son had and the humanity of Christ is expressing it. The humanity of Christ was not present before it was conceived in the Virgin Mary. How could it have known anything about the “glory” He had before the world began? He knows because that information was cognitively communicated by the divine mind to his human brain cells. It was communicated from one nature to another. However, to say that the human nature understood infinitely the infinite glory of God would be a mistake.
To conclude, a summary may be given in this manner – the “filter” by which the person of the Son is expressed is either the human nature or the divine nature. This expression is accomplished simultaneously since the Son is not restricted by time and place and fills the human nature while also continuing to remain the eternal God. Each nature, then, expresses the person of the Son in its capacity. The eternal Son, begotten of the Father, is expressed in His divine nature by those attributes commonly associated to the Godhead as infinite, omniscient, omnipresent, etc. Thus, the Son’s person is infinitely expressed in the personhood of the divine Son of God, though the person of the Son is limited in its expression in His human nature since finite flesh is not infinite, eternal, omniscient, etc. This might be more easily understood by an analogy. If a man were to speak into a megaphone to address a crowd, his voice (singular) would be limited by the operation of the megaphone. But if the same man were to address the world through a radio station microphone while being on the air, the address would be amplified at an enormous multiplication and his voice could be heard around the world. It is still the same mouth and voice (the same person) but it is a different technological device that either restricts or amplifies that voice (the human nature or the divine nature of the Son). Now this analogy is weak since we are dealing with the divine attributes of the Son of God that are infinite. But it may serve to aid in understanding this point just a little. The Son of God expressed in His divinity as the infinite second person of the Godhead is like the man expressing his voice over the radio around the world. The mode of the eternal Son allows the person of the Son to be exemplified in a greater manner than it is exemplified in the human nature of Jesus Christ. The expression of the divine Son of God, though divine, is still limited as the man with the megaphone is limited by the activity of his voice only exemplified a few hundred feet in comparison to the radio that sends his voice all over the world. The person of the Son is exemplified in both natures in different degrees. One degree is infinite, and the other is limited, though both rightly and completely express the Son in their given means. There is no schizophrenia in the person of the Son because the one person of the Son is expressed in two natures. A man is not schizophrenic because at church, formally, he carries himself in a certain light (which is always the case when he is dressed up in a suit), and then at home (when he has on his Captain America T-shirt) and is sitting down with a cup of coffee and his wife. His person expresses itself in a different manner to the occasion. For the divine Son of God, in either simultaneous expression, He is always the Son. Thus, the Son in His human nature is able to eagerly express His desire to be glorified. This is done by a point of reference He previously has as an eternal awareness communicated to a finite human brain. He yearns to be glorified (as a human) in the same manner as He was before the world began (as He is divine). The Son is always glorified as the eternal Son. He will forever attain the highest glory. But as the man Jesus while He was in obedience through His humiliation, the human nature obscured the effulgent glory. In His humiliation His existence is limited by time and space as one who tabernacles among us. Thus, “glory” is something the human nature desires as that which He does not possess now in the human form. On earth He is limited in His human nature.
The Eternal Son is forever glorified but the earthly Jesus, being the one person of the Son, must react in this manner to desire that which the human nature has not experienced. In John 17:5 the Son prays in a manner that is expressive of the human nature. So, the human nature expresses a longing based on prior communicated knowledge that could not have been attained in any other way than by experience. The Son knows what that glory is like. The human nature then expresses this prior knowledge in a manner suitable to its frame. It must, of necessity, desire it.
Maybe the question should be – should the human nature desire to be glorified with that glory He once had before the world was? This is a more interesting question. The state of Christ’s changed human nature after His resurrection is a glorified state granted to Him by the Father. It is the answer to this prayer in John 17. The human nature should desire to be glorified in a manner befitting its nature. Whatever it means to be “glorified by the Father,” Jesus Christ rightly desires this glorification of His human nature. He does not desire to stay in a state of humiliation. Could the eternal Son desire anything less in His person than full glorification? This would be unthinkable to restrict the Son in the way in human form. In either nature the desire of the Son is to be fully glorified. This is the reason we find Him longing and praying in this way.
If you have made it through reading this complicated series of theological assertions, you may be asking, “Why does this matter?” Well, it matters greatly in a number of ways but only two will be mentioned for brevity. First, it matters that we understand the orthodox, biblical idea of the hypostatic union of Jesus Christ. Without Jesus Christ as the God-man, we have no Savior who can save. He must be God to save, and He must be a man representing His people to die. There is no other manner in which men may be saved except through the God-man Jesus Christ. If we change the natures of the God-man by addition or subtraction, to subtract from who He is or change who He is by adding something extra, then we have created a false Jesus. Secondly, whenever we see the expression of the Son of God in the human nature of the man Jesus Christ, we are witnessing the platitudes of the eternal God of the ages and His dispositions, seen in the “emotions” of the human nature. That means when we see Jesus angry, weeping, sad, happy, joyful, etc., we are witnessing in the pages of the Divine Word the actual “longings” of God pushed through a human filter. Jesus’ weeping means something theistically. Jesus’ joy means something theistically. Jesus’ anger means something theistically. They really and truly show forth something of the “thoughts” of God towards creation in the manifold expressions of Christ. This does not mean that God can change. No, as the Westminster Confession states, He is “without passions or parts (WCF 2:1).” This should cause every Christian to stop and think deeply about the manner in which God speaks through the man Jesus Christ in this way.
Various explanations have been given in an attempt to understand what God means when He is communicating anything in human terms or in human actions (anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms). This intensifies when thinking through the incarnate God in the man Jesus Christ. When it says, “Jesus wept,” that does not mean God cries, but it does mean that God means something by such an act since Christ is the person of the Son expressed through the human nature. But what does it mean? If the eternal Son is expressing Himself in human terms through the human nature and the human nature cries, what does that mean for the divine nature since we are really dealing with the divine Son? Subsequently we are also dealing with the Godhead in general. Does this “crying” say something of God Himself? If the answer becomes a bare “theological orthodoxy” then there is something that the thinker has not thought about. If the answer is that the doctrine of God would never allow “God to cry” and the matter is left there, the answer becomes a red herring. It does so because the subject is not dealing with the bare theological assertions surrounding the Doctrine of God and His attributes. It is dealing with the incarnation of God, where God, in some fantastic fashion, assumed the nature of a human being. That union forever binds the Son. But does that union affect the Godhead? As was said before, no, God is immutable. How would we explain the weeping of the eternal Son in the humanity of the man Jesus? If the question is posed in this way, it has been asked incorrectly. If a man dials a phone with a mitten on his hand, that does not make his hand lose its attributes as a hand even though the mitten does not have separate fingers. The man Jesus does cry, and that is exhibited of the human nature of the man, not of the divine nature in its most perfect being. Even though the personality of the Son is exemplified through human nature, this human nature is limited in its capacity to act as an eternally divine and unhindered being. The Son’s desires or expressions through the human nature do not change; they merely are translated by the human nature. For instance, meat may be put into a sausage grinder, but it come out as sausage not steaks. The same meat is reshaped to fit the filter that exudes the newly made sausage. In this way the humanity of Christ has an affect on the interpreted actions of the Son. The eternal Son does not cry. But the human nature in attempting to translate the actions and dictions of the personality of the Son may interpret them only by accommodation and may have no other manner of expression other than to cry. That means the interpreter of any text in which Christ speaks in the Gospels should be made with care. If a theologian or scholar believes God cries because Jesus cried, or thinks that God died because Jesus died, or believes that God has “blood” (Acts 20:28) because Jesus bled and died on the cross, then he is misinterpreting the manner in which the natures of Christ relate. We may certainly come to understand the plain meaning of the text. We may even use language as Paul did in saying that the church was bought by the blood of God, but our theological abstractions on such ideas should be guided by our orthodoxy, not by straining the text in every instance as those who adhere to Open Theism do. We can know the truth of the statements made in the Bible when Christ speaks, but we are hindered as to their infinite meaning. This is logical since human beings, anyway, cannot contain infinite knowledge. We understand by accommodation just as the human nature of Christ accommodates the divine mind in human form.
The Christian, in understanding above, should then see the truth behind such statements as “Be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1).” As Christians imitate Christ they are imitating God. They really are imitating the interpreted divine mind in the man Jesus Christ. This alone should cause Christian amazement in reflecting God’s glory as dear sons and daughters.
Explaining such a theological topic is difficult and this paper is far from covering it exhaustively. However, if Christians were to gather just a little from this work, they would begin to see the mind-boggling implications that peer around every theological corner on this issue. Just the idea that Christ wept (John 11:35) should cause us to say, “What could the eternal Son be saying to us here in relation to His divine nature?” Such thoughts draw us back into the Old Testament prophetic passages where we find the longings of God for His people. Such passage may take on new meanings for us. It causes us to wonder with more reverence at Ezekiel 18 and 32 about Gods desires toward the lost, and His “desire” that the wicked not perish. No, fancy exegetical work will not soften the import of those passages. Many have tried, including this author, to do so (Greenhill, Hopkins, Turretin, Calvin, etc.). Exegetically we have to deal with the text, and the text is quite plain. We need to rethink the way we understand “accommodation” and “interpretation” and the doctrine of the incarnation forces us to do just that in this respect.
Real expressions of God’s mind are seen through the filter of the human nature of the man Jesus Christ. This holds huge implications on the New Testament alone and all the passages studied in “red.” We should take very special notice of them. May we read the New Testament in a deeper and more meaningful light knowing that the expression of Christ is truly the expression of the person of the eternal Son of God.