17. Why must he also be true God?
That by the power of His Godhead He might bear in His manhood the burden of God’s wrath,1 and so obtain for2 and restore to us righteousness and life.3
1 Isaiah 53:8. Acts 2:24. 2 John 3:16. Acts 20:28. 3 I John 1:2.
Already in the NT the church faced one of its greatest and deadliest heresies: the denial of Jesus’ humanity. The Greeks had room for men becoming gods and human-like behavior among by the gods but they had no room for a God-Man. Many of them had a great deal of trouble with the goodness of creation. They were deeply suspicious of the physical, material world. Many of them tended to regard the physical, material world as inherently corrupt and corrupting merely because of its materiality. The idea of God becoming man was, therefore, impossible, because it was mean that God had become corrupt. They associated the purity a god or the gods with their immateriality. This sort of dualism in being (ontological) between the good immaterial (spiritual) world and the evil material world probably lay behind some of the difficulties in the Colossian congregation that Paul addressed. Certainly the congregations in Asia Minor (central Turkey) to which the Apostle John wrote were troubled by this sort of false dualism (see 1 John 1:1-3; 4:2-3). For John it is “anti-Christ” to deny that Jesus is true God and true man.
Throughout post-Apostolic Christian history the church has continually been troubled by this great heresy. The apologists of the second century (100-200) addressed this error in various forms sometimes lumped under the heading of “Gnosticism.” In the high middle ages a sect, the Albigensians, arose who denied or downplayed Jesus’ humanity. Many of the sixteenth-century Anabaptists taught a theory that Christ had a “celestial” humanity thereby denying the true consubstantiality (i.e., sharing our human substance) between us and Christ. Perhaps the most central conflict between the confessional Reformed and Lutheran theologians and churches was the question of the nature of Jesus’ humanity. It seemed to the Reformed that the Lutheran doctrine of the genus maiestaticus, i.e., that Jesus’ humanity belonged to a class of one, threatened the doctrine of Jesus’ true humanity . They affirmed that he was truly human but that the communication of the divinity with the humanity is such that his humanity is also quite distinct from ours. Thus, the Lutherans affirmed that Christ could know, in his humanity, what God knows the way he alone knows it (theologia archetypa) whereas the Reformed affirmed more clearly that his true humanity is consubstantial with us such that even in his humanity he knows only what humans can know (theologia ectypa). To the Reformed it seemed that the Lutheran Christology verged on Eutychianism (the confusion of the human and the divine natures) and, of course, to the Lutherans, the Reformed were nothing but crytpo-Nestorians (dividing the two natures). We say, however, that we are Chalcedonian (451 AD):
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.
It is with these categories in mind that the Heidelberg Catechism says what it does about the Son bearing in his humanity the wrath of God against sin. We need a substitute and he must be like us in every respect, sin excepted (Heb 4). This is why we speak of “consubstantiality.” He must be one of us. He cannot merely appear to be like us. Why not? Because it was one of us, created in righteousness and true holiness, who sinned, who violated God’s law and incurred the greatest penalty.
According to Scripture, as understood and confessed in the ancient church and by the Reformed churches, the justice of God is such that it must punish disobedience. This is the nature of justice even in our world. If a criminal is obviously, manifestly guilty but not punished we experience outrage. How can that be? If we know what justice is, why do we struggle so with the notion of divine wrath? We do because the modern world has been in revolt against the notion of divine justice (except when it suits us) for two centuries or more. Humans, of course, have been in revolt against God’s justice since the fall but never before, at least since the ascension, have whole societies been at war institutionally with the notion of divine justice. We invoke it (e.g., “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord….”) when it agrees with us but we deny it when it doesn’t.
Scripture testifies repeatedly to the existence and righteousness of God’s judgment. The strongest evidence for it is that Jesus taught it (e.g., Matt 5:22) and more than that he submitted himself to it. How can Jesus be the great moral teacher modernity has tried to make him out to be if he accepted and taught the existence of divine justice and wrath against sin and sinners? If he was a great teacher, as the modernists want us to think, then wasn’t he right about divine justice? If he was wrong about divine justice, as all the modernists say, then how is he a great teacher? Why wasn’t he just another ignorant fundamentalist raver?
Of course Jesus was more than just a teacher. He was our Mediator and substitute. He came in our place. He came, was incarnate, was born, obeyed, died, and was raised for us (Rom 5:8). That prepositional phrase “for us” says it all. Only a substitute does something for us, in our place. If we need something but have to been somewhere else at the same time, we send a substitute, some one to do something we need to be done. That person acts in our place. We experience the blessings of substitution in small ways every day. Husbands and wives act as surrogates for each other constantly (“Sorry, Jen can’t be here tonight, she’s flying to Dallas”). Again, if substitution works on a micro scale, why not on the grandest scale of all time?
Jesus came as our consubstantial substitute and he mediates for us now with God. Paul says that there is “one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5). One of the major themes of the book of Hebrews is Jesus’ office and work as our Mediator before the Father. This is why we pray in Jesus’ name. He stands before the Father for us as the representative righteous man for all of his people. He can do so because he bore in his humanity the wrath of God against sin.
Next time: obtaining righteousness and life.