During the earliest centuries of church history, much of the theological debate centered around the identity of Jesus. Was He merely human? Was He God? Was He both? Was He neither? Over time, sustained reflection on the Apostolic testimony of the New Testament led the church to affirm Christ’s true deity. But, the church fathers also confessed Christ’s true humanity. The essentials of this teaching on the person of Christ were codified at the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451, and the confession produced by this council was adopted by the Protestant Reformers.
The Definition of Chalcedon says that in the one person of Christ are united a true human nature and a true divine nature without confusion, mixture, division, or separation. In other words, when the Son of God, who from all eternity possessed the divine nature, added to Himself a human nature, each nature retained its own attributes. The divine nature did not become human and the human nature did not become divine. Neither were the natures mixed together such that Christ was a strange human-divine hybrid, neither truly human nor truly divine. No, Christ was and remains the God-man. This is a mystery we cannot fully comprehend, but we must affirm it. If Christ is not truly human, He cannot atone for our sin, for only a human being can atone for the sin of other human beings. If Christ is not truly God, the atonement He offers does not have sufficient value to be applied to all the elect. If Christ is not the God-man, there is no salvation.
Many passages of Scripture teach the true humanity of Jesus. For example, today’s passage describes the hunger of Jesus (Matt. 21:18). The ability to get hungry is an attribute of Christ’s human nature, for God has no need of anything, even food. Similarly, Christ’s growing weary and sleeping also reveal His human nature, for God neither slumbers nor sleeps (Mark 4:38; see Ps. 121:4). At a few points in His ministry, Christ also expressed ignorance of certain things (Matt. 24:36). Again, that is a revelation of Christ’s humanity, for God is omniscient, and in His divine nature Christ is omniscient as well.
Importantly, Christ’s humanity enabled Him to be tempted. Because He became like us in all respects except for sin, our Lord could be tempted as a man, and so He can help us when we are tempted (Heb. 2:17–18). He is not far removed from what we face, but having walked through it Himself, He can give us what we need to fight against sin.