Jesus an ordinary child? Yes and no

Nativity setA young woman has a baby boy. That baby grows to adulthood and lives 33 years. How many times has that happened in the history of the human race? Millions?

The young woman and her boy were not members of the ruling class. They lived in an unremarkable village about 2000 years ago. He learned an unremarkable trade, and then became an itinerant teacher. Death at 33 was probably not unusual at that time, but this man was executed for his teaching, because the leaders of his community disapproved. Again, it seems pretty ordinary.

Yet today we are still celebrating the birth, life, and death of this man named Jesus. Oh, and his resurrection from the dead, too. That makes him extraordinary! Who was—who is—this man?

Superior to angels

Mystical Nativity : Botticelli

The Mystical Nativity / Sandro Botticelli, ca. 1500

The writer of the book of Hebrews begins his message saying that God had formerly spoken by prophets, but had recently spoken by his Son. He does not identify this Son as Jesus until Hebrews 2:9. In fact, it takes him a while to identify this Son as a human being.

First, he demonstrates from several psalm texts that this Son is superior to angels. Angels have always been somewhat mysterious, and their appearance to humans has always been startling and awe inspiring. They are emissaries from God to people.

People have always regarded angels as a superior kind of being. Certainly they are superior in holiness, power, and knowledge. But they are not superior to this Son of God. As Hebrews 1:5-7 makes clear, angels are God’s servants. Like humans, they are commanded to worship the Son.

Son of God and Son of Man

Nativity / Blake

Illustration to Milton’s On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity / William Blake, 1809

Now here’s what God says to the Son in Hebrews 1:8, quoting Psalm 45:6: “Your throne O God is forever.” And in the next verse, “Therefore God, your God, has anointed you.” The Son of God is God. God, implicitly God the Father, has anointed God the Son “with the oil of gladness more than your companions.” (Scripture quotations in this post are from NKJV.)

Next, the writer quotes from Psalm 102, beginning with verse 25, and addresses the Son as Lord . If you look at Psalm 102:25, the word Lord is not present, but it appears earlier in the psalm and words of verse 25 are still addressed to him.

Throughout the Old Testament, those four letters (which can be transliterated into the Roman alphabet as JHVH or YHWH) appear as Lord because pious Jews never pronounced that name. Christians have long attempted to approximate a pronunciation, the most familiar form being Jehovah.

In addressing Jesus as Lord , the writer of Hebrews tells us that Jehovah in the Old Testament is the same person as Jesus in the New Testament. Only Jesus seldom referred to himself as the Son of God. He preferred the title Son of Man.

What does it mean to be the “son of” someone? At least two things. The son is in the father’s family, as opposed to some other family. The son must also be the same kind of being as the father. The son of a human is human. The son of a horse (although English usage does not use “son” in that case) is a horse.

The Son of God is, of course, God, not an angel. The Son of Man must therefore be Man.

Psalm 8:4-6 asks

What is man that You are mindful of him,

And the son of man that You visit him?

For You have made him a little lower than the angels,

And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;

You have put all things under his feet.

The writer of Hebrews quoted not from the Hebrew Old Testament, but the Greek translation. Therefore the wording differs slightly between the psalm and Hebrews. The NKJV missed one important difference, though. It probably should have rendered Hebrews 2:6-7 capitalized like this:

What is man that You are mindful of him,

And the Son of Man that You visit Him?

For You have made Him a little lower than the angels,

It is not my ordinary practice to capitalize pronouns that refer to God, but certainly the writer of Hebrews intends the Son of Man specifically, not the son of man generically. During his earthly ministry, he did, temporarily, rank below angels.

Who is this Son of Man?

Nativity / Correggio

Adoration (a.k.a. La Notte) / Correggio, ca. 1528-1530

So far, the writer of Hebrews has spoken of God and God’s Son. Then, after again asserting that God has not put the world to come in subjection to angels, he suddenly refers to the Son of Man. All without identifying anyone in particular.

In Hebrews 2:8b, he admits that we do not yet see all things put under this Son of Man. ” But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.”

How can the Son of God and the Son of Man be the same person? The Son of God must be God, and the Son of Man must be man!

A passage from John’s gospel points us in the direction of the answer:

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.

The door into the world of humanity is through a woman’s womb . Satan, the thief, showed up in the Garden of Eden unannounced and uninvited. Jesus came in by the door.

His birth was entirely ordinary, but his conception could not have been ordinary. If it were, he would have been sinful from conception, just like all the rest of humanity. Therefore, he would have been powerless to help us. It’s entirely because of sin that Jesus’ mother had to be a virgin.

God needed Mary’s womb in order to enter the world “through the door,” but he needed no genetic material either from her or any man. God prepared an entirely new creation so that the uncreated Son of God could also become the sinless Son of Man.

There was and remains something extraordinary about this otherwise very ordinary man. He came into the world to show us how to live without sin. Then he died and went to hell to give us the power to follow his example.

Photo credits
Nativity set. Some rights reserved by a.drian
Nativity artworks by Botticelli, Blake, and Correggio are public domain

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