The hypostatic union: How can Jesus have two natures?
Jesus was fully God and fully human when He walked the earth. The Old Testament scriptures suggest the two natures in Isaiah 9:6a “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us…” In his humanity Isaiah writes, “A child is born.” In His deity he says, “A Son is given.”
The hypostatic union answers the question, how can one person have two natures. This union is presented clearly in Philippians 2:5-8, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Once while I was jogging in the morning in downtown Bakersfield, I spotted two Jehovah Witnesses walking my way. As I made eye contact I knew they wanted me to stop. Of course this is exactly what I wanted. As I jogged along I had been praying for a chance to share Jesus that day. I just didn’t expect it to come during my run.
I had the Jehovah Witnesses read Philippians chapter 2:5-8 and asked does this teach that Jesus was in the form of a human. They said yes it does. I then said do you know the same Greek word (Morphe) used for “form” indicating He was human is used for stating he is in the “form” of God? I had them read where it says, “He existed in the form of God.” I said Philippians clearly says Jesus was in the form or nature of a man and He is also in the form or very nature of God. Do you believe Jesus was in the very nature God? They said they couldn’t answer this question because they didn’t know Greek. I told them to go home and study the verses. The fact remains these verses teach Jesus was fully God and fully man. Since Jehovah Witnesses don’t believe Jesus is the same nature as God, they left me wondering how they could make sense of these verses and not give up their beliefs.
Also notice in verse 6 Paul writes “He (Jesus) existed in the form of God.” The word “exist” according to the Vines Dictionary of New Testament Words means “…’to be, to be in existence,’ involving an ‘existence’ or condition both previous to the circumstances mentioned and continuing after it.” Jesus existed or subsists as God from everlasting to everlasting. Dr. John MacArthur states,
“Both before, during, and after His incarnation, He was, by His very nature, fully and eternally God. Existed translates a present active participle of the compound verb huparchō, which is formed from hupo (“under”) and archē (“beginning”) and denotes the continuance of a previous state or existence. It stresses the essence of a person's nature, that which is absolutely unalterable, inalienable, and unchangeable.” “The idea is that, before the Incarnation, from all eternity past, Jesus preexisted in the divine form of God, equal with God the Father in every way.”
Notice the change from the verse 6 “existing in the form of God” to verse 7 “taking the form of a bond-servant.” This is extremely important. Jesus existed as God from all eternity past but then took on a human nature. This event or point in time we call the incarnation. God takes a bod. Philippians 2:5-8 clearly establishes the hypostatic union. Jesus had two natures fully God and fully man and yet, was one person.
The hypostatic union and the kenosis help us understand how Jesus was a different person from the Father and how he sometimes spoke from his human standpoint and other times from His divine. Jesus spoke in reference to His deity when he said: “I and the Father are one [‘one essence,’ lit.].” (John 10:30) The word “One” here is not about purpose and unity but refers to essence; Jesus is the same substance as the Father.
Other times He spoke in reference to His humanity: “…the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). Greater speaks terms of station or position not quality. The Father has a higher station or position than Jesus because of the humbling, the kenosis.
At other times, Jesus refers to different perspectives. Jesus the man becomes hungry and tired; God cannot be hungry or tired. Hal Lindsey writes, “In Jesus’ humanity, He is subject to the Father because the Father is greater than His humanity. But in His deity, He is coequal with God the Father because He is of one essence with Him” (Lindsey, p.81).
The hypostatic union helps us understand who Jesus was during his incarnation. We have single nature, we are human. Jesus was fully God and fully man, two natures and yet one person. This Biblical truth is not contradictory.
In part 1 I wrote about a wife who was contemplating joining the Jehovah Witnesses and how I debated two of their members. That evening was incredible and one I will never forget. We debated for 2 hours, spending 30 minutes on John 1:1 alone. Finally, the wife called the debate to an end and had these words to say: “I would like to thank all of you for coming here to express your views. I now know what I believe to be true and I am comfortable with these words from John 1:1, “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and THE WORD WAS GOD!” Truth had won out! God had used me as an ambassador to communicate His Word accurately. Today this couple still regularly attends a local evangelical church. I did not succeed because I was smarter than these individuals; bottom line it is easier to defend truth than it is to defend error.
Debating Jehovah Witnesses is not for everyone. God used my gifts and talents in a special way. Each of us has been shaped and equipped in a unique manner to be an ambassador for Christ in your sphere of influence. You can’t be me and I can’t be you. Non-Christians come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and God wants to use each of us in our unique way to reach them. We teach people the truth about Jesus because eternity hangs in the balance!
- The Forgotten Trinity by James White
- Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem
- The Bible Fast Forward by Greg Koukl