OK, let’s admit it. We love superhero movies. Or at least that’s what the box-office numbers are telling us. By the end of 2019 (2020 doesn’t count), superhero movies represented a mind-blowing 25 percent of the domestic movie marketplace.
But this fascination is nothing new. I can still remember watching the reruns of Superman—the original starring George Reeves—on TV. For most of the show he was just Clark Kent, a normal, mild-mannered reporter. But at the end of each show, he would show up as Superman and save the day.
That’s the thing about Superman. He looked like an ordinary human—he walked, talked, and ate food. But, in reality, he wasn’t human at all. He was an alien being from the planet Krypton. His humanity was only an illusion.
Indeed, Superman was able to save people precisely because he wasn’t human like us. When it comes to the person of Christ, however, things are very different.
Biblical Basis for Jesus’s Humanity
The author of Hebrews reminds us: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things . . . For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham” (Heb. 2:14–16).
This remarkable passage presses home a truth we often forget: Jesus was a real human being, just like us. Indeed, the very raw language of “flesh and blood” heightens the author’s point. His humanity is not a mirage.
Of course, many biblical texts confirm Jesus’s true humanity. He was born of a real woman (Luke 2:7), he was hungry (Matt. 4:2), he was thirsty (John 19:28), he became exhausted (Mark 4:38), and, of course, he died (Luke 23:46).
Historical Denials of Jesus’s Humanity
To be sure, there are very few instances when we feel the need to defend the humanity of Jesus today. Most scholars—and most people—are quite willing to accept that Jesus was a human who really lived in history. If you have a disagreement with your non-Christian friend about the person of Jesus, it’s probably about whether he was really divine, not whether he was really human.
But Jesus’s humanity was not a given in the time of the earliest Christians. Not long after the book of Hebrews was written, heresies already began to arise that questioned whether Jesus was in fact truly man.
One of the most notable of these heresies was known as Docetism. Docetists—from the Greek work dokeo (“to seem”)—argued that Jesus only appeared to be human. They were so convinced of his divinity (which is a good thing), they became equally convinced that God could never take on the fallenness of human flesh. As a result, they argued his humanity was an illusion.
In other words, Jesus was like Clark Kent. Sure, he looked like a human, but he was really an alien from another world.
The apostle John makes Jesus’s humanity a test of orthodoxy.
But the earliest Christians plainly and repeatedly condemned this misunderstanding. Not only do we have the passage from Hebrews, but the apostle John makes Jesus’s humanity a test of orthodoxy: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (1 John 4:2). And whoever rejects the reality that Jesus came “in the flesh” is called an “antichrist” (1 John 4:3).
Why Jesus’s Humanity Matters So Much
Pretty strong words. So, what’s the big deal? Why can’t we have a Superman Jesus? The Hebrews passage answers that question: “for surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.”
In other words, Jesus could only represent humans if he became a human—a real human. And if he cannot represent us, then he cannot redeem us. Or as the church father Gregory of Nazianzus once said, “That which he has not assumed he has not healed.”
If he cannot represent us, then he cannot redeem us.
Don’t miss the incredible implication of this truth: our salvation is as dependent on Jesus’s humanity as it is on his divinity.
But there’s more. It’s not just that we need a representative. We need a representative who sympathizes with us and understands us. We need someone who knows what it is like to live in a dark, fallen world.
Since Jesus became a real human being, he experienced the life humans live. Again, the author of Hebrews: “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every way, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest” (Heb. 2:17).
When you think of the many hardships of a human life, Jesus experienced them. He was tempted (Matt. 4:1–11), sorrowful (Matt. 26:38), angry (Mark 3:5), rejected by his family (Mark 3:21), falsely accused (Mark 14:56), and betrayed by a friend (Luke 22:47). He cried out in desperation to God (Luke 22:44). He even wept at a funeral (John 11:35).
When we struggle with life in a fallen world, no one can say, ‘Jesus doesn’t understand what it’s like.’
When we struggle with life in a fallen world, no one can say, “Jesus doesn’t understand what it’s like.” Yes, he does. He lived a real human life and joined us in the muck and mire of a broken world.
But there is one difference. There is a place where Jesus is not like us. He is sinless—“holy, innocent, unstained” (Heb. 7:26). Therefore, he could be the perfect sacrifice when he “offered up himself” on our behalf (Heb. 7:27).
Someone Greater Than Superman Is Here
In the end, we don’t have a Superman Jesus. We have someone better. We have a Savior who shared in our infirmities and weaknesses.
So, the next time you’re talking about the person of Jesus, don’t focus only on his divinity. Speak also—with hope and thankfulness—about his humanity. It’s only because Jesus is both that he can save, and save to the uttermost.