There is, and has been for centuries, a great debate about the humanity of Jesus Christ. The implications of the Son of God becoming human are as amazing as they are intense. Did God actually become “flesh and blood?” Did God humble Himself to be born like the humans He Created? Did God spend 12 years as a child and 7 years as a teenager? Did God call a woman “mother” and a man “father?” Did God sleep at night and wake in the morning? Did God eat breakfast with his mother and father and brothers and sisters? Did God play with his siblings and friends in his village? Did God attend His local synagogue and hear religious leaders read and teach about Him from the Old Testament? Did God work in a carpentry shop with His step-father as He was growing up? Did God go to a man named John to be baptized in the Jordan River? Did God call men to follow Him and learn how to be His disciples? Did God walk the dusty streets and roads of Israel preaching to fellow Jews about salvation? Did God allow men to beat Him and nail Him to a Cross? Did God die on that Cross? Did men bury God in a tomb? Did God rise from the dead? Did God show Himself to His followers after His Resurrection? Did God eat food with His disciples and spend time teaching them about His Kingdom before He ascended back to Heaven? Did God really do these things? Is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, also human? Really?
This is an important question for Christians to answer and defend. Attacks on the “humanity” of Jesus Christ began in the 1st century (as early as 70 A.D.), so it’s been an issue for the Church almost from the beginning. This opposition to the true humanity of Christ was known as “Docetism,” from the Greek word dokeo – “to appear or seem.” Docetics taught that Christ only appeared or seemed to be human, but actually was not human – He was an “illusion.”
The Apostle John was still alive when the early Docetics presented this variation of the teachings of the Church. He was quick to address it:
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.” 1 John 4:1-3
“Do not believe every spirit, but “test” the spirits, whether they are of God. Good advice. The word “test” is the Greek dokimazo and means “to test, prove, examine with expectation of approving.” The word “spirits” is pneumata and speaks of the invisible beings that are involved with the physical world. Some spirits are of God. Some are not. The Apostle John says Christians must “test, prove, examine” the “spirits,” whether they are of God.
Now, how in the world can Christians, who are part of the visible world, test spirits that are part of the invisible world? First, understand that “spirits” often work in and through humans. John wrote – “because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” A false prophet (pseudoprophetes) is a person who speaks forth or openly false words. They are not to be believed because their message is false. Christians have the Holy Spirit in them Who “confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.” False prophets have spirits in them that do “not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.” John says that spirits that do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh are “not of God.” The apostle goes further to say that “this is the spirit of the Antichrist.” Yikes! I thought we were waiting for the Antichrist? No, John says, “which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.” The “spirit of the Antichrist” has been in the world for a long, long time. That’s who we are dealing with when someone says Jesus Christ did not come in the flesh. You are face to face with the spirit of the Antichrist! I highly recommend you pray for God’s help when you face that spirit.
Testing the spirits is the job of every Christian, but is the special work of apologists. Ignatius, a student of John the Apostle, defended the Truth of Christ’s Humanity against the Docetics.
“He was baptized by John, really and not in appearance … He was crucified in reality, and not in appearance … Now, He suffered all these things for us; and He suffered them really, and not in appearance only, even as also He truly rose again. But not, as some of the unbelievers, who are ashamed of the formation of man, and the cross, and death itself, affirm, that in appearance only, and not in truth.” Ignatius
Ignatius warned against “any talk that ignores Jesus Christ, of David’s lineage, of Mary; who was really born, ate and drank … He genuinely suffered, even as he genuinely raised himself … Unbelievers who say the passion was a sham are themselves a sham … and their fate will fit their fancies – they will be ghosts and apparitions.” Other early Christian apologists who defended the Humanity of Christ against the Docetic heresies were Polycarp, Iraenus, and Tertullian.
Doceticsm is a hyper-dangerous viewpoint by many who have called themselves Christians from the 1st century to the 21st century. Docetics deny every aspect of Christ’s humanity – including His Death and Resurrection. If Jesus was not human, He could not die – He could not be buried – He could not rise from the grave – because His humanity was just an illusion. John addressed the issue powerfully in his Gospel account:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:1-2, 14
We will see clearly in our study that Jesus was indeed human. There is no question of it. However, we do need to be ready to defend this important truth to those who ask about it and those who oppose it. What’s at stake, you ask? Everything!
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
Building Confidence Through Evidence
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”