The Divine Nature of Christ

If you were to casually read through the New Testament, you might notice that it speaks over and over about certain mysteries. I have studied all of the texts that speak about these mysteries and have determined that there are seven mysteries found there.

I would like to study one of these mysteries with you, one I have studied for many years. This mystery has six parts and is one of the most fascinating studies in all of the Bible. In fact, we know that if we are saved in the kingdom of heaven, we will be studying this mystery throughout eternity.

All six parts of the mystery are listed in 1 Timothy 3:16, but we will just look at the first part of the verse. “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh.” I make no claim to fully understand this mystery, but we need to study and try to understand it as far as God has revealed.

I can remember that as a small child, we were told that the world had become so wicked that it could not last much longer and that Jesus would come before we could grow to adulthood. Most Adventist teachers and preachers believed that the world would end within five to ten years.

In the 1940s, the Adventist church had a clear, distinct vision in mind. The largest number of Adventists could be found in the United States and consequently, the Second Advent movement emerged more profoundly here than in any other country. The Adventist missionary program began sending missionaries from the United States to countries all around the world. The Adventist vision combined the preaching of the gospel and medical missionary work. Mrs. White had written that the three angels’ messages would be more effectively and quickly spread to every single person in the world in this way, and once this was accomplished, the Lord would come, and we could then go home with Him.

My father had this same vision, and along with my mother, had a deep desire to help finish the work. So when I was four years old, our family went as missionaries to Burma. My father became the business manager of the Rangoon Mission Hospital.

Back then it was an iron-clad rule that children were to be seen, but not heard. And while you can stop a child from talking, you cannot stop him or her from listening and thinking. So I would listen to these missionaries talk. They would say things like: When Jesus came to this world, He was just like us. He came in flesh just like ours, but He didn’t sin. He is the only Person in the world who has not sinned.

Even as a four-year-old, I knew that I was a sinner, and I knew that I needed a Saviour, but I wasn’t afraid because I had been taught all my life that Jesus Christ came to this world to save sinners, and that He was going to save me if I gave my life to Him, but I was perplexed. I thought, if Jesus Christ was just like me, a sinner, if He came in the flesh just like I have, well, if He was just like me, then He would need a Saviour, too.

Later, when I became a Seventh-day Adventist minister, prominent ministers of the church would say that Christ came in sinful flesh. Every time I heard this, I felt that it must be wrong, but I was just a young minister, recently graduated, and these were well-known Adventist ministers who were college educated, some with master’s and doctor’s degrees in theology and other academic areas. For 150 years, Adventists have written books about and have been preaching and teaching that Jesus came in the sinful flesh of man. I decided that if what sounded wrong to me was actually the truth, then I should be able to confirm it in the Spirit of Prophecy.

Back then we didn’t have the Spirit of Prophecy available electronically like we have today. If you wanted to know something, you read a book; and I had been reading books for many years. I had stacks of books written by Ellen White, including The Review and Herald articles, The Signs of the Times articles, the Testimonies, and the Conflict of the Ages books. I started searching all of these books, searching for even one statement made by Ellen White that would tell me that Christ came to this world in sinful flesh. For over 50 years I have been reading, and I have yet to find such a statement in the Spirit of Prophecy that confirmed it.

Regardless of what I personally believe, I have not preached on this subject at Steps to Life until now, and have avoided talking about it to all, except a few close friends, because it is such a controversial issue. But there are some things, if we want to be ready for Jesus to come, that we need to understand. We need to search for truth and light.

We will be studying the nature of Christ in this series of articles, beginning with the nature of His divinity. With all the Godhead controversies going on all over the world today, there are a lot of people who do not understand the nature of Christ’s divinity, and we need to see and understand what the Bible says on the subject.

The Express Image of His Person

“Who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Hebrews 1:3

Reading this text in the Greek New Testament, we find the word charaktēr is translated express image, and is very similar to the English word character. It could also be translated as an exact replica; something that is exactly like the other. The word hupostasis is translated of His person. It also could be translated of His essence or of His essential nature. Jesus Christ is an exact personification of the essential nature of God the Father. He is not a junior God, He is not a secondary God. He is an exact personification or express image of the attributes of the Father. Paul uses these specific words nowhere else in the New Testament.

What are the attributes of our heavenly Father?

Let’s consider a few statements from the Spirit of Prophecy. “As speech is to thought, so is Christ to the invisible God. He is the manifestation of the Father, and is called the word of God. God sent His Son into the world, His divinity clothed with humanity, to make known in His life and character the attributes of the Father.” The Signs of the Times, November 15, 1899. What did Jesus come into this world to make known? The life and attributes of His Father, the first Person of the Godhead. Only One who is equal with the Father could fully make manifest what the Father is like. That is why Jesus came.

“God sent His Son into the world, His divinity clothed with humanity, to make known in His life and character the attributes of the Father that men might bear the image of the invisible God. He [Christ] was the embodiment of the law of God, which is the transcript of His character.” Ibid.

A transcript is an exact copy of something. The law of God is a transcript of the character of God and Jesus Christ was the very embodiment, an exact copy, of the law of God. In the old covenant, the law was visible, written in stone. In the new covenant, the law of God is seen in the person of Jesus Christ. By studying Jesus’ life, we are able to better understand the law of God.

“The world saw God imaged in the purity and benevolence of Christ; but because of its depravity and darkness, it did not recognize Him as the Son of God. ‘The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.’ He was ‘the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.’ In spite of overwhelming evidence, men manifested unbelief which only Satan could inspire.” Ibid.

“To human eyes, Christ was only a man, yet He was a perfect man. In His humanity He was the impersonation of the divine character.” In His humanity, not His divinity, “He was the impersonation of the divine character. God embodied His own attributes in His Son—His power, His wisdom, His goodness, His purity, His truthfulness, His spirituality, and His benevolence. In Him, though human, all perfection of character, all divine excellence, dwelt. And to the request of His disciple, ‘Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us,’ He could reply, ‘Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip? he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?’ ’’ The Youth’s Instructor, September 16, 1897

God is pure and holy, the law is a transcript of His character, and He embodied all of His own attributes in His Son. Do you understand that there are people who call themselves Christian ministers, but who hate the law of God? What is our attitude toward God’s law? It was prophesied of the Messiah, “I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is written in my heart.” Psalm 40:8. What does it mean to have the law written in your heart? You can see that clearly when you read the context. Paul says that under the new covenant, the law is not written on tables of stone—that was in the old covenant. Under the new covenant, as explained in 2 Corinthians 3, the law is to be written in the heart. If the law is written in our hearts, then we will want to obey it; in fact, we would rather die than break it.

Now we have laid the foundation for a more in-depth study of the nature of Christ. Sometimes there are questions that don’t appear to have answers and yet, those very answers are the most important for us to know. So let’s return to the scripture we began with, the first part of 1 Timothy 3:16.

“Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh.” Paul says this is a great mystery, and if he says it is, then we should plan to be studying it for years and still not fully understand it.

1 John 4:1–3 tells us just how serious it is that God was manifest in the flesh. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.” Friends, John is telling us that if we do not believe that Christ came in the flesh, then we have the spirit of antichrist.

Now let’s look at Romans 8:7, 8. “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God … .” Verse 7, first part. Anywhere in the Bible where we find the word carnal, from the Greek word Sarks, it can be translated as flesh or fleshly. “So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Verse 8

Let’s stop right here. The Bible says in 1 John 4:3 that Jesus came in the flesh, and if we do not believe that Jesus came in the flesh, we have the spirit of antichrist. But Romans 8 says that the carnal, or fleshly, mind is enmity against God. The fleshly mind is not subject to the law of God. Was Jesus, in the flesh, then not subject to the law of God? Did He have enmity against God? Paul says that the carnal mind does not keep the law of God, nor indeed can it. It is impossible for the person with a carnal or fleshly mind to keep God’s law.

Those who are in the flesh—carnal—cannot please God. But Jesus came in the flesh, so was He subject to the law and did He keep it?

Jesus said “I have kept My Father’s commandments” (John 15:10). Twice God said, concerning Jesus, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17; 17:5.) If those with a carnal mind do not keep the law of God, in fact, cannot keep it, and consequently cannot please God, then how can Jesus, in the flesh, say He had kept the law; and how could God say that He was pleased with Jesus, in the flesh?

“The Bible is not given to us in grand superhuman language. Jesus, in order to reach man where he is, took humanity. The Bible must be given in the language of men. Everything that is human is imperfect. Different meanings are expressed by the same word; there is not one word for each distinct idea.” Selected Messages, Vol. 1, 20

Many Adventist preachers and teachers have preached and taught that Christ came in sinful flesh. But too many of these individuals are confused about Christ’s nature, having taken a certain word that is found many times in the Bible, believing that it means the same thing every time, when, in fact, it may not.

As I have studied the word flesh in its different Biblical contexts, I have found that the word has more than one, or even two meanings. It has close to six different meanings. In some contexts, for example in Hebrews 2, the word flesh in the Bible simply refers to the fact that we are not only spiritual beings, but that we have a body of flesh and blood, and in that sense, Christ came in the flesh because He had a body of flesh and blood.

But in other places in the Bible, such as in Romans 8, the word flesh refers to the fact that we, as sinners, have sinful propensities, a natural bent to sin which, unaided, we cannot resist, and are, therefore, unable to keep the law of God. We are promised the ability to overcome with divine help, if we ask for it, but without it, Romans doesn’t say we try and fail, it says it is impossible for us to do.

So, if it is impossible for man in sinful flesh to keep God’s law, and if Christ had come in the same sinful flesh as we possess, with a natural bent to sin that cannot be resisted without divine aid, then how could He have kept God’s law? How could He have pleased God?

Ellen White has written a great deal of counsel to Adventist ministers who were mixed up on this point. One such statement was given to Elder ___ Baker, an Adventist minister in 1895 (commonly referred to as the “Baker Letter”).

“Be careful, exceedingly careful as to how you dwell upon the human nature of Christ. Do not set Him before the people as a man with the propensities of sin. He is the second Adam. The first Adam was created a pure, sinless being, without a taint of sin upon Him; He was in the image of God. He could fall, and he did fall through transgressing. Because of [Adam’s] sin, his posterity was born with inherent propensities of disobedience. But Jesus Christ was the only begotten Son of God. He took upon Himself human nature, and was tempted in all points as human nature is tempted. He could have sinned; He could have fallen, but not for one moment was there in Him an evil propensity. He was assailed with temptations in the wilderness, as Adam was assailed with temptations in Eden.” Manuscript Releases, Vol. 13, 18

For close to two hundred years, Adventist ministers have incorrectly presented the nature of Christ. Adam was “assailed with temptations in Eden” as a perfect man. He had not yet sinned, nor had his nature yet changed to the sinful, selfish nature possessed by man today. If Christ was beset with temptations as Adam was in Eden, then His nature would not have had the evil natural propensities inherent in man after Adam’s sin.

“Brother Baker, avoid every question in relation to the humanity of Christ which is liable to be misunderstood. Truth lies close to the track of presumption. In treating upon the humanity of Christ, you need to guard strenuously every assertion, lest your words be taken to mean more than they imply, and thus you lose or dim the clear perceptions of His humanity as combined with divinity. His birth was a miracle of God; for, said the angel, ‘Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son, and shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His Father David: And He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing that I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.’ That holy thing that shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God.” Ibid., 18, 19

Then she says, “These words are not addressed to any human being, except to the Son of the infinite God. Never, in any way, leave the slightest impression upon human minds that a taint of, or inclination to, corruption rested upon Christ, or that He in any way yielded to corruption. He was tempted in all points as man is tempted, yet He is called holy. It is a mystery that is left unexplained to mortals that Christ could be tempted in all points like as we are and yet be without sin. The incarnation of Christ has ever been, and will ever remain a mystery. That which is revealed, is for us and for our children, but let every human being be warned from the ground of making Christ altogether human, such an one as ourselves; for it cannot be.” Ibid., 19

The incarnation of Christ has ever been, and will ever remain a mystery. Not even in heaven will we fully understand or be able to explain the incarnation of Christ.

I have been challenged by some, that if I suggest that Christ’s nature was different in any way from our nature, then I must not believe what the Bible says in Hebrews 4:15. “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” After all, every human being is born with the inherent propensities of disobedience, and if Christ was not born with these inherent propensities toward sin, though without sin or sinning, then how could He possibly be tempted in all points like us?

Let’s look closely again at what Mrs. White wrote in the letter to Elder Baker. Jesus could be tempted in all points like us and yet be without sin, and this is a mystery that human beings cannot explain. “It is a mystery that is left unexplained to mortals that Christ could be tempted in all points like as we are and yet be without sin.” Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 1128, 1129.

Remember that in the Bible, the word flesh has multiple meanings. Hundreds of millions of Christians are confused about the meaning of the word flesh in John 6, having been incorrectly taught and led astray. Many people, including some ministers, have tried to make the word flesh as found in John 6 to be literal, something that it is not.

John 6:53–58 says, “Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink of His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.’ ” When Jesus said this, the Jews, taking His words to have a literal meaning, accused Him of teaching cannibalism.

It is a serious thing to twist the words of Scripture, to give them a totally different meaning that fits a particular way of thinking, but is not what is truly presented in the Scriptures. And this is too often done when people attempt to make the symbolic meaning of a scripture into a literal meaning. There are just over a billion people in the world who believe that a few words spoken over a wafer of bread can turn it into the literal body of Christ. And similar words spoken over a chalice of wine make it the actual blood of Christ. They believe that you literally can eat and drink God.

There is no excuse for this misunderstanding of Scripture because Jesus told them exactly what the flesh and blood represented. And then He said in verse 63, first part, “The flesh profits nothing.” It is not about literal flesh and blood, but what the flesh and blood represent. Then, what does it mean to eat His flesh and drink His blood?

Friend, what we consume at the breakfast or dinner table becomes a part of us. What we eat helps our bodies to function properly. As the body takes into itself the food we eat, so does our spiritual body when we consume the bread of His word (His flesh) and His life (His blood) into our hearts and minds. Our entire life is changed—thoughts, feelings, words, and actions—all are brought into perfect conformity with the law of God. “It is the Spirit who gives [quickens] life. The flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” Verse 63. When you study the word of God and you assimilate it into your mind, it changes you.

Jesus Christ was the embodiment of the law of God. Eating His flesh and drinking His blood will change your life completely. Would you like to have that happen in your life? When it does, the recording angel will be able to mark in the book of life, on your page, that you love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. He will be able to mark on your page that your life is in complete conformity with the law of God. This will mean that you are ready to be sealed.

Friend, when you try to explain a mystery that a prophet says human beings cannot explain, rest assured the probability is 100% that your explanation will be wrong. We are not sinful only because we sin. The act of sinning is the fruit of the sin that dwells within (Romans 7:17). We are sinful because we are born in sin just as Seth was (The Spirit of Prophecy, Vol. 1, 60). As creatures who are sinful and fleshly-minded by nature, we are not able to please God (Romans 8:8). And we cannot change our sinful nature. “Our hearts are evil and we cannot change them.” Steps to Christ, 18. We might be able to modify our behavior somewhat, but outward correctness of behavior does not change the heart and cannot purify the springs of life.

Many well-meaning preachers have preached and taught that Jesus had sinful flesh like us. But if Christ had been born with our sinful flesh, He would have had a heart that was deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). That sounds blasphemous, but that would be the logical conclusion of their teaching. The fleshly mind is not subject to the law of God and cannot be, and therefore, those in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:7, 8). But Jesus kept His Father’s commandments (John 15:10) and was well pleasing to the Father (Matthew 3:17; 17:5).

Jesus came as a man, not to live my life, but to live the life that He has promised to give me the power to live. This is about faith and transformation. How can God take a sinner like me and change me so fully and completely that I no longer desire to sin, and consequently, am able then to please Him? Christ, His human nature, and the life He lived is the vision of what we can and will become if we surrender to the working of the Holy Spirit (The Desire of Ages, 310). He endured the cross because of this vision, described in Hebrews 12:2 as the “joy that was set before Him.” This is not a mystery. But how Christ was made to be like us without sinning, how He was able to be the Lamb without spot or blemish sacrificed to pay the price that sin demands, how He was able to please God, and all the while fully be the Son of Man, that is a door that God has not opened to us.

God can change our very nature. He can give us the power to live without sin. And as we live in this constant connection with Him, seeking always to keep His commandments and do His will, then we will be and live as Christ.

God is preparing a people for Christ’s soon return. Do you want to be one of them?

[Emphasis supplied.]

Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at:, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.