The Strange Math of Jesus: Emptying Himself by Adding Human Nature

Bruce Ware, Professor of Christian Theology

The Strange Math of Jesus: Emptying Himself by Adding Human Nature

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8

Whereas the eternal Son of the Father, the second person of the Trinity, had no beginning and will have no end, the incarnate Son—the son of David, the son of Mary, the Messiah—had a beginning in time and space. This Son,1 Jesus the Christ, was brought into being through the power of the Holy Spirit, as the divine nature of the eternal Son was miraculously joined together with a created human nature in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Luke’s account of this miracle—the grand miracle, as C. S. Lewis rightly called it—is riveting. Luke writes:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. (Luke 1:26-35)

The conception of Jesus in the Virgin Mary was unique in the history of humankind. Not only did the Holy Spirit supernaturally bring about conception within her apart from the involvement of any human father, but even more remarkable was the uniting of the divine and human natures in Jesus, such that this one would be born the son of Mary (Luke 1:31) and the son of “his father David” (Luke 1:32) while also being “the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32), “the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). That is, he would be fully human (son of Mary) while also being fully divine (Son of the Most High). The miracle the Holy Spirit brought to pass, then, was to conceive in Mary none other than the God-man, the theanthropic person, Jesus Christ, son of David and Son of God.

The Nature of the Kenosis (Self-Emptying) of the Eternal Son

Given that the divine nature in Jesus was eternal and infinite while the human nature in Jesus was created and finite, one of the questions we ponder is just how these two natures could coexist in the one person. Could Jesus as both fully divine and fully human be, for example, simultaneously omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent—qualities of his eternal, divine nature—while also possessing a limited and finite human power, a limited yet growing knowledge and wisdom, and a restricted ability to be only one place at one time—qualities of finite, human nature? It seems clear that some qualities of his eternal, divine nature are simply incompatible with his true and genuine human nature, such that it would be impossible for him truly to live as a human if that so-called human life was also one in which he exhibited fully divine qualities such as omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. In other words, would Jesus be truly and genuinely human if in his human experience he had limitless power, knowledge, wisdom, and spatial presence?

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