Last year Catholic Answers Magazine asked me to write an article about the humanity of Jesus, actually “the scandal of his humanity”. We are constantly defending his divinity, but think very little about his real human humanity. He was God and Man.
Based on my many trips to the Holy Land and walking in his sandals, so to speak, they asked if I would tackle this issue so here it is.
They walked from sunup to sundown for at least two days. Rugged country but also rugged men. They had left the Jewish community in Capernaum and headed north to the pagan, gentile district of Caesarea Philippi. Jesus had led this motley crew of disciples for three years. They had watched his life, listened to him teach and debate, and witnessed his miracles and works of power beyond number.
Upon arrival in this unfamiliar territory, Jesus asks what is arguably the most important two questions of all time. Presumably gesturing toward the crowds thronging the outskirts of the city, he asked his devoted disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” And then he looks directly in their eyes and asks an even more pointed question, “Who do you say that I am?”
There is no more important question we can ask. It has puzzled people from the beginning and is still debated to this day. The disciples responded to Jesus’ first question with a flurry of responses from the editorials and rumors of the day, that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead, others said Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. All of these were heroic men from their past.
The debate and speculation continues. The Jehovah’s Witnesses knock on your door and present Jesus as “a god”, an angel, maybe even Michael. The heretic priest Arius in the 4th century agreed as to his angelic nature. The Mormons present Jesus as a son of their heavenly father who is one god of many gods. The secularist will say at best he was a good teacher and a hapless rabbi, while a Jew might say he was a dangerous imposter and false teacher. In any case, Jesus remains one of the most discussed and debated figures in human history.
When Jesus addressed them personally with his second question, Peter blurted out, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” Now that was a mouthful and I suspect maybe even he was surprised a bit. Jesus quickly acknowledged the truth of Peter’s words but also gave the credit to God, not to any insightfulness of Peter. He said, “Blessed are you … for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” In other words, the gray matter between your ears did not conceive of this profound definition. It was God who gave you a direct revelation and inspired your words.
Was Jesus merely a prophet with a human nature or was he more than that. Peter’s words soared way above the words of the others. The Messiah was eminently expected but it was a man that was anticipated. His title would be Son of David and he would bring back the glory days of their ideal king of the past. Peter’s first description of Jesus was piercing, but the second portion of his description soared like an eagle — the Son of the Living God. A son has the same nature as his father, so Peter’s statement asserted that Jesus was not only human, but was divine as well.
The disciples knew of Jesus humanity but now began to comprehend the divinity of Jesus, as one of them would later write, “In the beginning was the Word … and the Word was God … and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” Jesus was the Word and he put on a tent of flesh. That is what dwelt means. In the original Greek it the word tent or tabernacle, in other words, to dwell in a tent of flesh.
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