2 Questions about the Doctrine of Christ

This article is part of the Questions and Answers series.

The Wonder of Christ

Nothing can compare in significance to Jesus Christ. There is no issue in all the world more important to settle in our minds than the one Jesus raised when he said, “Who do you say that I am?” (Luke 9:20). Knowing Christ is the great treasure of Christianity (Phil. 3:8).

However, the moment we seek to know Christ, we encounter infinite depths beyond our understanding. Even his love “surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:19), for Christ is the God-man. To explore the wonder of who Christ is and stir our hearts to worship him, let us consider two questions about who he is.

Q: Did Christ know everything when he was a baby?

A: As is often the case in theology, we cannot answer this question with a simple yes or no, but we must make distinctions to clearly understand what God reveals about his Son.

Christ did not know everything in his human nature. If Jesus really was a baby, then he had the qualities of a human child. The Bible tells us, “Jesus increased in wisdom” (Luke 2:52). Ambrose of Milan said, “Jesus advanced in age and in wisdom. . . . For what advances, surely is changed for the better, but what is divine is not changed. So, what is changed is surely not divine,” but is “human.”1

Even as an adult, Jesus said that he did not know the day of his return (Mark 13:32), at least not while he lived on earth in his state of humiliation. Therefore, in one sense we must say that Jesus did not know everything when he was a baby but had the mind of an infant. He had to learn and grow just like the rest of us.

Reformed Systematic Theology

Joel R. Beeke, Paul M. Smalley

The second installment in the Reformed Systematic Theology series draws on historical theology of the Reformed tradition, exploring the doctrines of man and Christ with an accessible, comprehensive, and experiential approach.

However, Christ always knows everything in his divine nature. The person who became incarnate and lay in the manger is the eternal God (John 1:1, 14). The Holy Scriptures say, “[God the Father] has spoken to us by his Son . . . through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:2–3). The Son is the Creator who constantly sustains his creation (Col. 1:16–17).

If God the Son, even when a baby in his human nature, were not thinking of all things taking place in the Andromeda Galaxy, it would have collapsed into nothingness. Athanasius said, “Even while present in a human body and himself quickening it, he was, without inconsistency, quickening the universe as well, and was in every process of nature.”2

Furthermore, as God the Creator, the Son has a divine nature that cannot change. The Scriptures say of the Son, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain. . . . You are the same, and your years will have no end” (Heb. 1:10–12). Since Christ is God, he cannot cease to be God in all his divine attributes, including his infinite knowledge (cf. Matt. 9:4; 11:27; John 6:64; 16:30).

Here is the wonder of the incarnation: Christ is one person with two distinct natures, God and man. The Council of Chalcedon affirmed that the Scriptures teach “one and the same Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son must be confessed to be in two natures, unconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly, inseparably, and that without the distinction of natures being taken away by such union, but rather the peculiar property of each nature being preserved and being united in one person.”3

The incarnation of God as a righteous man is precisely what we need for our salvation, for salvation is reconciliation between the holy God and sinful man. This could only be accomplished by the death and resurrection of the God-man. Augustine said, “God’s Son, assuming humanity without destroying his divinity, established and founded this [Christian] faith, that there might be a way for man to man’s God through a God-man.”4

Here, however, we meet an objection in the form of another question.

Q: If Christ is God, how could he pray, “Not my will, but yours be done?”

A: This question takes us to garden of Gethsemane, where Christ wrestled with the horror of what would befall him in his crucifixion for our sins. It was then he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). How are we to understand this in light of what the Scriptures teach about our Lord?

The incarnation of God as a righteous man is precisely what we need for our salvation.

In his divine nature, Christ has one will with his Father. The Father and the Son are one (John 10:30), not one person, but one God with one divine essence. They will all things in unison and do all things together. Jesus says, “The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing” (John 5:19–20). The Son shares the same sovereign divine will as the Father, for “as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will” (John 5:21).

Ambrose said, “Since the Son gives life to whom he will, and the action [of Father and Son] is one, you see that not only does the Son do the Father’s will, but the Father also does the Son’s. To whom, therefore, the Son gives life, he gives life by the will of the Father; therefore, their will is one.” 5 We conclude, then, if Christ had not become a man, it would be impossible for him to say, “Not my will, but yours, be done.”

However, in his human nature, Christ had to submit his will to his Father’s will. Christ’s divine nature did not replace his human soul. Jesus Christ has a human will that makes human choices (Matt. 8:3; 15:32; John 5:30). Maximus the Confessor said, “The double nature of the Lord Jesus manifests itself naturally and logically by a double will. . . . Human nature cannot exist without a will. . . . In so far as he was man, the Savior possessed a human will by nature, which his divine will governed, [that] his human will never opposed.”6

As a man, Jesus had a natural dread of death, greatly aggravated by his anticipation of drinking the “cup” of God’s wrath against sinners (Isa. 51:17; Jer. 25:15). Consequently, his sinless soul had to submit by the Holy Spirit’s power to God’s will in a far greater degree than human nature had ever known. Adam chose to disobey God to gain his supposed freedom to eat a piece of fruit. Christ chose to glorify God even when it meant he would experience the deepest hell on the cross for our sins (John 12:27–28; cf. Mark 15:33–34; Gal. 3:13).

Christ’s human obedience to the Father is the way he accomplished our salvation. Christ had to take our human will, by taking a true human nature, so that he could both voluntarily offer to God a perfect sacrifice in himself and heal our disobedience by his willing obedience. Ambrose said, “The will of God is one, and the human will another. . . . My will, therefore, he took to himself, my grief. . . . Mine is the will which he called his own, for as man he bore my grief; as man he spoke, and therefore said, ‘Not as I will, but as you will.’ . . . With me and for me he suffers, for me he is sad, for me he is heavy. In my place, therefore, and in me he grieved who had no cause to grieve for himself.”7

The Glory of Christ in the Doctrine of Christ

How precious is the doctrine of Christ! Here, we meet the Lord of glory come down into our humanity to carry our burden and lift us up to himself. Here, we discover the Son of the Father, in perfect union with him and the Holy Spirit in the Trinity, reaching out to us with nail-scarred hands to bring us into joyful communion with the triune God forever.

The beauty and glory of Christ should move us to study this doctrine and seek to understand all that God has revealed about it in his word. However, it must not stop there. We must trust in this God-man. We must love him with all our hearts. We must obey his commandments. We must daily look to him for grace until we see him face to face. And that will be paradise.

Notes:

  1. Ambrose of Milan, The Sacrament of the Incarnation of Our Lord, 7.72, in Saint Ambrose: Theological and Dogmatic Works, trans. Roy J. Deferrari, Fathers of the Church 44 (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1963), 247.
  2. Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word, sec. 17, in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, 14 vols. (New York: Christian Literature Co., 1894), 4:45. This publication is henceforth cited as NPNF 2.
  3. Acts of the Council of Chalcedon, in NPNF 2 , 14:264 –65.
  4. Augustine, The City of God, 11.2, in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series, ed. Philip Schaff, 14 vols. (New York: Christian Literature Co., 1888), 2:206. This publication is henceforth cited as NPNF 1.
  5. Ambrose of Milan, Of the Christian Faith, 2.6.50, in NPNF 2 , 10:229, language modernized.
  6. Maximus the Confessor, Peri Energeiōn kai Thelēmatōn, chap. 51, in Opuscula Theologica et Polemica ad Marinum, in Patrologiae Graeca, ed. Migne, 91:45–48, cited in Douglas F. Kelly, Systematic Theology: Grounded in Holy Scripture and Understood in the Light of the Church, Volume 2, The Beauty of Christ: A Trinitarian Vision (Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2014), 247.
  7. Ambrose of Milan, Of the Christian Faith, 2.7.52, in NPNF 2 , 10:230.

Paul M. Smalley is the coauthor with Joel R. Beeke of Reformed Systematic Theology: Volume 2: Man and Christ.



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