The apostle Paul clearly taught that Christ’s incarnation is essential to our salvation. He wrote to the Corinthians, “Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). To the Romans he added, “For as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all sinned…. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift of grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many…. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one [man] shall many be made righteous” (Rom. 5:12, 15, 19).
The anonymous author of Hebrews expands upon this theme, showing Christ as the one who fulfills all that God intended for humanity. Jesus’ humanity and its attendant mortality is the thing that enabled Him to suffer the death which He has tasted for every human. Such an incarnation was fitting or suitable because it brings the Sanctifier and the sanctified into a fraternal relationship, so that He now addresses other humans as His brothers (Heb. 2:5-13).
The Lord Jesus Christ is a genuine human being. He became a human in the only way in which anyone ever becomes human: through conception and birth. True, Jesus is unique in that He was conceived and born of a virgin. Nevertheless, through His mother He received a complete human nature.
Human nature is distinguishable from human personhood, and Christ’s human nature is distinguishable from His eternal person. Humanity exists, not merely as a collection of individual persons, but as a race. Our nature (singular, not plural) derives from the race and is not merely a collection of accidents that happen to accrue to all of us as individuals. Human nature is tied to procreation. We are really connected to each other, or Christ could not be connected to us.
In the incarnation, the Lord Jesus entered the race through the process of conception and birth. He added our nature to His own eternal person. From eternity He possessed the nature of Deity, not as derived from some other person, but in His own right. He was autotheos. Since the incarnation, He has possessed two complete natures: a divine and a human. These two natures cannot be mixed, and the person cannot be divided.
It is Christ’s connection to us—His real participation in and possession of our nature, gained through the process of conception and birth—that qualifies Him to be our substitute. Only a human could bear human sins. Christ only redeems that which He takes into Himself.
These facts may explain the statement of Hebrews 2:16, which says that Christ certainly does not lay hold of angels, but He lays hold of the seed of Abraham. The idea of “laying hold” has the idea of seizing either to help or to hurt. That is why some translations state that Christ does not help angels, but the seed of Abraham. In any event, the verse pretty clearly implies that Christ has offered no redemptive work in behalf of angelic beings.
Why are humans redeemed but fallen angels are not? At least part of the answer is that angels are not a race. The Bible refers to them as a company, a band, and a host. Unlike humans, however, angels are individual creations. Angels are not conceived and they are not born. No angel ever came from another. Angels share no real connection with each other; there is no “angelkind” except as a collection of individuals.
Christ became incarnate as a human by being born into the human race. No such thing was possible with angels. Perhaps He could have created for Himself an angelic body (whatever angelic bodies might be), but even if He had, He would not have become a brother to other angels. Angels have no brothers, no sisters, no mothers, no fathers. Christ could take human nature into Himself because He could enter the human race, but no way existed for Him to take angelic nature into Himself. Humans are redeemable; angels are not.
Perhaps that is one reason why angels desire to look into these things (1 Pet. 1:12). They do not experience redemption; it is outside their personal knowledge. All they can know about it they must learn by observing Christ’s dealings with humans. That knowledge, however, appears to be an important part of God’s purpose: “that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:10-11).
This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
John Donne (1572–1631)
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-belov’d imprisonment,
There He hath made Himself to His intent
Weak enough, now into the world to come;
But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars and wise men will travel to prevent
The effect of Herod’s jealous general doom.
Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith’s eyes, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.