The title of this article, ‘Who is Jesus now?’, may not have instantly grabbed your attention. After all, I imagine that most readers of The Briefing have a pretty good idea of who Jesus is. But I wonder if you have really thought about who Jesus is now. Right now. At this very moment. We know that when Jesus was on earth he was both God and man. But is that still the case? Is Jesus still a man? My guess is that some of us tend to have a vague idea that, when Jesus finished his work of redemption and ascended to his Father, he left his humanity behind somewhere on the way—that he returned to just being God. After all, didn’t he just need a body to die and rise again? Once he had done that, was there really any need for him to keep his human body?
Actually, as we examine the New Testament, we see that Jesus did remain a man, is still a man today, and will remain a man for eternity. So, in answer to the question “Who is Jesus now?”, we can say that he is both God and man. Let’s look at these two identities.
The risen Lord Jesus is truly God
Probably, for most of us, if we believe that Jesus is raised and exalted, then we will believe in his deity. There are many places where we could go in the New Testament to see this, but if you do want to be convinced about the deity of Jesus, probably the best place to go is John’s Gospel. John opens his Gospel by stating: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. In the beginning you have God—but you also have the Word. The Word is with God— he is in relationship with God—and, more than that, he actually is God. John here refers to Jesus as the Word of God, but in the rest of the Gospel he calls him the Son of God. From the beginning the Son is with the Father—the Son is truly God. Then John tells us in verse 14 that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth”. It is the Word of God, the Son of God who became flesh, who became man. Jesus Christ is God become man.
But Jesus’ deity remains beyond his time on earth. In John 17, Jesus prays to his Father just hours before his arrest and crucifixion. Early on in this prayer he prays: “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (v. 5). The Son was always God. There was never a time when he was not the true God. But when he was on earth his glory was concealed. People did not see him in his full glory as the Son of God. However, when he rose from the dead and ascended to heaven then the glory that he had before was restored. Jesus was seen for who he really is—the Son of God. Jesus never stopped being God. He was God when he was born as a man. He was God when he rose from the dead. He is God in heaven today. The Jesus whom we fix our eyes on, in whom we trust—is truly God.
But we can also say that he is truly man.
The risen Lord Jesus is truly man
The assumption that people sometimes make is that when Jesus ascends to heaven he somehow sheds his humanity. As soon as he redeems us, the job is over, and there is no more reason for him to remain a human. It is as if the resurrection reverses or undoes the incarnation.
Well, we are going to take a bit of a whistle-stop tour through what the New Testament says about Jesus after his resurrection. We will see that at each point it affirms that Jesus remains a human being with a physical body.
1. Jesus rose as a human being with a physical body
In Luke 24, Jesus speaks with his disciples after the resurrection. The disciples’ initial reaction is to think that they have seen a ghost. Jesus reassures them:
“See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. (vv. 39-40)
The risen Jesus is a human being with a physical body that could be touched. He could also eat:
And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. (vv. 41-43)
Jesus rose as a genuine human being with a physical body. He could be touched. He could eat. Even after Jesus left them, the fish bones would have sat there as testimony to his bodily resurrection, to his on-going humanity.
2. Jesus ascended into heaven as a human being with a physical body
When Jesus ascended into heaven he did not shed his humanity on the way. So, for example, Acts 1:9 describes Jesus ascending to heaven in front of his disciples: “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight”. The disciples saw Jesus ascend into heaven as a human being with a human body. It is not as if he disappeared or vanished from their sight—they see him rise up. My kids’ picture Bible gets this right—you really see Jesus’ ascending in bodily form.
3. Jesus reigns in heaven as a human being with a physical body
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is proving the truth of the resurrection—the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of Christians. In contrast to those who would call Jesus’ resurrection into question, Paul states that:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (vv. 20-28)
Two things to note from this very important passage.
First, Paul makes a clear comparison between Adam and Christ that turns on them both being human beings. Verse 21-22 says:
As by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
Secondly, Paul tells us that Jesus must reign until he has put all things under his feet:
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” (vv. 25-27)
It is important to see what Paul is doing here. He is actually referring to the Old Testament. Paul is proving that Christ must reign until everything is put under his feet, and the way he proves that is by appealing to the Old Testament Scriptures. There were no quotation marks in Paul’s day, but he is effectively saying: Jesus must reign until he defeats all his enemies— and that includes death because the Old Testament says that “God has put all things in subjection under his feet”. This gives us confidence to know that we will be raised from the dead, because if we aren’t raised, then Jesus will not have fully defeated death. So, Paul is quoting a part of the Old Testament that shows us that God has put all things in subjection under Jesus—and this will only be fulfilled when Jesus defeats all his enemies.
The part of the Old Testament Paul is quoting is Psalm 8:6: “You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet”. But who is David referring to in this Psalm? Whose feet does God put all things under? The Christ? The Messiah? The king? His Son? No, David asks:
What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet. (vv. 4-6)
What is man that you are mindful of him? David is speaking about mankind. About humanity. In other words, God’s purpose for man is that he rule everything under God. And so when Paul applies this Psalm to Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15, he is applying it to Jesus as man. Jesus is the true man, the true human being who fulfils this Psalm. And so, if when he ascended into heaven Jesus somehow stopped being a human being, then he could not fulfil this Psalm; he could not fulfil God’s charter for humanity.
If you are into sport, you will know that some of the cruellest moments come when someone is disqualified. Australian readers might remember one of the most galling examples from the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Jane Saville was an Australian race walker, and she was leading the 20km event as she entered the Olympic stadium, set to win another gold for the host nation. Then an official stepped out holding a red card to tell her that she had been disqualified for apparently having two feet off the ground at one point in the race. Saville broke down and began screaming, “No, no, no, not me!” She (sadly) broke the rules and had to be disqualified.
If Jesus is no longer a human being, there is a sense in which he too would be disqualified. He would not be able to fulfil this Psalm. He would not be able to fulfil God’s purpose for humanity. Jesus remains a man—he is currently reigning as a man, and he will continue to do so until all his enemies are finally put under his feet.
Even then he doesn’t stop being a man. Let’s look at the last two aspects.
4. Jesus will return from heaven as a human being with a physical body
It is this point that really gets to the heart of why it is important for us that Jesus remains a man. The fact that Jesus remains a man will have an eternal impact on us—because when we are raised from the dead we will be like him. And that means we will be glorified human beings, like he is a glorified human being. Paul fleshes that out in Philippians 3:20-21: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself”. Our bodies will be like his body. Jesus will transform our humanity. When he became a man he was subject to all the limitations that we face living in a fallen world. He was subject to tiredness, to sadness, to weakness, and even to death. When he was raised, he was raised into glory but, crucially, he still remained a human being. A glorified human, but a human nonetheless. In other words, Jesus brings humanity into glory. And we will follow the same path. He secures a perfect future for us because we will be like him. He will change our human bodies so they will be like his glorified human body.
But this is still not the end of the story!
5. Jesus will reign forever as a human being with a physical body
Jesus’ ongoing humanity is not simply for our sakes—it is for his glory. Romans 8:28 is a familiar verse: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose”. But what is God’s purpose? Paul goes on to tell us in verse 29: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers”. Here is the idea we have just been thinking about, that we will be conformed to the image of Jesus. But it is what comes next that is vital, in order that Jesus might be the firstborn among many brothers. Firstborn essentially means supreme: that Christ will be supreme among many brothers. The picture of eternity is Jesus as supreme and surrounded by brothers. Surrounded by men and women who are like him, so that all the glory is reflected back to him. God’s purpose—God’s amazing plan—is that there will be a human being, a man, at the centre of the universe for all eternity.
We have seen at each point—from the incarnation onwards into all eternity—that Jesus remains a human being with a physical body. When Jesus became a human being, he became a human being forever, and he will retain a physical body eternally.
There are many different ways this truth about Jesus should impact our thinking and our Christian lives, but there are two that are particularly important.
First of all, we rightly are concerned to stress the deity of Christ. It is after all what makes him unique—here is the only man who was and is also God. There is and was no-one like him. However, in stressing the deity of Christ we can easily forget or downplay his humanity. It is important that we remember his humanity because it shows us that human life is extremely valuable in the eyes of God. When God became a man, he did so for eternity—not just for 30 years, not just for 2000 years, but for eternity.
But western society is becoming increasingly intolerant of the idea that humanity is unique. As far back as 1973, British psychologist Richard D Ryder coined the term ‘speciesism’ to denote a prejudice against non-humans. He used the term to describe what he saw as discrimination that is practised by human beings against other species, and even argued that ‘speciesism’ was a form of racism. As our society turns its back on its Christian heritage, this kind of thinking will surely increase. Certain forms of ecological and animal rights philosophies already portray this distorted view of the place of humanity. You also see it play out in some of the pro-abortion and euthanasia arguments.
In contrast, the risen exalted Jesus—truly God and truly man—shows God’s eternal commitment to humanity. And that means that we are to treat all human beings with respect and dignity—the unborn, the weak, the poor—because all humanity is valuable in the eyes of God, and of greater value than any other species. As Christians, we usually go to the doctrine of creation to understand the place of humanity. That is right and helpful but we also need to remember the fact of Jesus’ eternal incarnation. We live in a fallen world, and as we look around it often seems as if there is nothing very noble about humanity. In many ways we are often no better than the ‘brute beasts’. But Jesus shows us that humanity will not always be like this. Jesus shows us what humanity is meant to be, and what humanity one day will be. Human beings are special in God’s eyes, and we know that because the Son of God became a man and remains a man forever.
Secondly, Jesus retains a human body and we will be like him. And that means that, like him, we will retain our bodies for eternity. We will be transformed, we will be different, but we will still retain our bodies. Our eternal future will be a physical, bodily future. It is very common for Christians to pit the ‘spiritual’ against the ‘physical’, as if the spiritual were somehow more holy than the physical. We think of redemption in terms of escaping from our bodies. But the problem is that the spiritual can seem vague. It can seem less real than our earthly existence, and so it becomes less attractive. Images of eternity involve floating around on clouds playing harps. That is part of the reason, if we are honest, that in our heart of hearts we are not sure we really want “to go to heaven”—at least not yet. We feel like we have so much more that we want to experience here. Eternity just feels less real than our current existence on earth. And yet, in reality our bodies, our physical existence, our humanity, will actually be more real then than now. We are looking forward to the day when our bodies will be redeemed, when they will be transformed and glorified—not when they will be dissolved. We are looking forward to a future that is more real, that is more of what it means to be human, because Jesus has gone before us. He did not dissolve into spiritual nothingness. He retains his humanity, he retains his body.
As we think more and more about Jesus as he is now, we gain a clearer view of reality. That eternity is more real, more glorious, more substantial, and more human than life now. (Of course you might be thinking, “If Jesus still has a human body, then where in the universe is he?” That’s something we’ll think about next time.)
Who is Jesus now? He is truly God and truly man, and so one day like him we will be truly human. What a great hope!