What Does it Mean to be Human?

The Vine

What does it mean to be “human”? Our culture provides two radically different alternatives.

You have no doubt heard the statement, “I am only human.” You may have said it yourself. In doing so we focus on our limitations, failures, or desires as humans. We make mistakes. We fail. We participate in all kinds of behaviors to satisfy our lusts. Beyond this our culture looks for its meaning through the results of scientific endeavors; according to modern scientific theory, humans are simply overdeveloped apes. All of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are understood and interpreted in the framework of biological drives. To be only human is to be little different than the animals.

And yet our culture still uses the word “humanitarian” with its original meaning; we speak of a person as acting humanely, and both terms refer to the higher aspirations we maintain. We aspire to do good, to care for other people and for other forms of life on earth, and to live a life full of meaning and value. No matter how much we learn about the skills and strengths of animals, human supremacy over all other animal life cannot be denied. If there is any hope for the earth, humans will have to prove to be a bit more than mere overdeveloped apes!

In Psalm 8:3-6 David meditates on our very question:

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers / the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? / And the son of man, that thou visitest him?
For thou hast made him but little lower than God / and crownest him with glory and honor.
Thou makest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands / Thou hast put all things under his feet.

David rightly wondered why humans would even matter in light of the huge universe in which we live. We are so infinitesimally small compared to our solar system, let alone our galaxy! What is man, that God would be mindful of him or visit him? And yet David also confesses what was established in Genesis: God has made man in His image, a little lower than the angels, and has crowned mankind with glory and honor, giving him dominion over His creation (cf. Genesis 1:26-31).

It is therefore not a matter of whether we are lowly creatures or honored stewards; we are both. God has made us as creatures within His creation: humanity was made from the dust of the earth on the sixth day along with the beasts of the field, and on an earthly level we are indeed members of the animal kingdom, part of the mammalian class, of the primate order, homo sapiens (Genesis 1:26, 2:7). Yet we are not overdeveloped apes: God made us in His image, and since God is spirit, His image involves the matters of the spirit, His intelligence and characteristics (John 4:24). God made man as His offspring, to share in relationship with Him (John 17:1-3, 23, 17:20-23, Acts 17:28). Functionally, God made man to exercise dominion over the earth, to keep it and tend it (Genesis 2:15). We therefore have all kinds of animalistic desires and inclinations, but God calls us to aspire toward Him in a higher calling, renouncing anything which hinders us from seeking after what God has deemed good, healthy, and honorable (Titus 2:11-14).

But what does true humanity look like? In Psalm 8:4 David spoke of humanity in terms of the Hebrew idiom “son of man,” and it would be a particularly promised Son of Man who pointed the way for us. Most people are acquainted with Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ, or the Son of God, yet He tended to speak of Himself more often as the Son of Man (e.g. Matthew 26:64). Yes, Jesus is fully God (John 1:1), yet Jesus is also fully man, both in the Incarnation and still in His resurrection (John 1:14, Colossians 2:9, 1 Timothy 2:5). Jesus is the embodiment of the image and character of God (Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3). We should not be surprised, therefore, to find early Christians continually insisting on the importance of becoming more like Jesus and living like Jesus: to walk as He walked, to do what He did, to be shaped into the form of His conduct (Romans 8:29, 1 Corinthians 11:1, 1 John 2:3-6). Jesus is the Son of Man, the perfect Human One (Hebrews 4:15, 5:8-9). Therefore, if we want to understand what it means to be human, and to see the best of humanity, we find in the life and example of Jesus of Nazareth.

Humanity is a double edged sword; a seemingly impossible contradiction. We are dust made in God’s image; we maintain great powers of mind and imagination yet remain confined to fragile bodies. We all too easily simultaneously justify our lusts and passions because of our limitations while yearning to be freed from what we feel are the oppressive confines of our bodies. We can always find reasons for discontent, but we must remember that we are God’s creation, and it was good (Genesis 1:26-31). We do well to accept who we are as humans, and not seek to be anything more or less than human. We ought not be less than human, justifying animal lusts and impulses which lead to our harm, the harm of others, and distress in the creation; instead, we must follow the Lord Jesus, maintaining our bodies in discipline, seeking holiness and righteousness in daily conduct, serving one another as good stewards of the gifts God has given us (Titus 2:11-14, 1 Peter 4:10). We also ought not aspire to be more than human, trying to play god or curse the limitations inherent in living as a finite, created being; instead, we must glorify God in our bodies, and rediscover the majesty in our design and function, and be content to remain as God’s creation (cf. Psalms 8:3, 139:13-16, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

What is man, that God has considered him? Dust to dust, and ashes to ashes, yet made in God’s image to share in relationship with Him and obtain the resurrection of life in Jesus, the true Human One, whose example we ought all emulate. May we find true humanity in Jesus and live as good stewards of God’s varied gifts!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus’ Resurrection

The Vine

It seemed that everything had gone wrong. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, everything changed forever. Jesus of Nazareth, whom many believed was the Christ of God, was crucified. Then, when the disciples were in despair, attempting to figure out what went wrong, they hear that Jesus of Nazareth was alive again, resurrected from the dead (cf. Luke 24:19-24). The tomb was empty. Nothing would ever be the same again.

The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the centerpiece of the Christian religion. While Jesus’ birth, life, and death are significant in and of themselves, without Jesus’ resurrection, they are all ultimately meaningless, and we would still be lost in our sins (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:14-19). The Christ crucified and resurrected was the theme of the message of the Apostles, and the resurrection was the basis of the future hope of transformation (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20-58).

We read about Jesus’ resurrection in Matthew 28:1-20, Mark 16:1-20, Luke 24:1-53, John 20:1-21:23, and 1 Corinthians 15:1-58. After Jesus died, His soul went to Paradise (cf. Luke 23:43), and His body was sealed in Joseph of Arimathea’s rock-cut tomb after it was wrapped in linen and covered with seventy-five pounds of spices and aloes. On the third day, the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and some of the women came to finish the anointing of the body of Jesus, and found the large rock in front of the tomb rolled away. Two angels were there, informed the women of what has taken place, and told them to go and make it known to the disciples. Peter and John ran to the tomb, saw it empty with the linen cloths carefully folded to the side. They believed; they just did not know what happened! Mary, meanwhile, spoke to someone whom she believes is the gardener, wanting to know where the body of Jesus was taken. He responded to her; He was no gardener, but Jesus Himself, resurrected from the dead!

The idea of resurrection in the New Testament is not merely life after death; instead, it involves “life after life after death.” Mary and the disciples found the tomb empty and Jesus in a bodily form (cf. Luke 24:39). Nevertheless, Jesus’ body is not the same as it was before since He can now transcend space and time restraints; it has been transformed somehow. The resurrection therefore involves the re-animation or re-creation of the physical body, the return of the soul to it, and the transformation of that body into something “trans-physical” or something of the sort.

Jesus will later appear to Simon Peter, two disciples walking to Emmaus, ten of the disciples, all eleven disciples, James His brother, and 500 brethren at one time over the period of forty days after His death. He instructed them regarding Himself and the mission for the Kingdom that they would soon begin. After that forty day period, Jesus ascended to the Father in Heaven (Acts 1:1-11). At that point Jesus, as the “one like a Son of Man,” received an everlasting dominion from the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:13-14); Stephen, in a vision, saw the “Son of Man” standing at the right hand of God when he saw Jesus while being stoned (Acts 7:55-56); Saul of Tarsus saw the Lord on the road to Damascus, and based on it considered himself an eyewitness of the resurrection (Acts 9:3-6, 1 Corinthians 9:1, 15:4-9). In the 60s CE, long after Jesus’ ascension, Paul spoke of Jesus as still presently human (Greek anthropos, 1 Timothy 2:5). The Lord Jesus therefore remains fully God and fully man, having died never to die again (Romans 6:8-11): He remains in the resurrection body, and thus remains the Son of Man and Son of God, and will return thus one day (Matthew 25:31, Acts 1:11).

The Bible’s claims regarding the resurrection of Jesus are startling, and yet they represent the foundation of the belief that Jesus really is Lord and Christ (cf. Acts 2:36). Since Christianity stands or falls on the legitimacy of the resurrection, many throughout time have attempted to discredit it by positing alternative explanations. Those explanations, however, never account for all of the evidence. Both the “swoon theory” and the “wrong tomb theory” require more faith to believe than the Bible’s claims. The “hallucination theory” cannot explain why people would claim to see Jesus only during a forty day period. The “stolen body theory” is inconsistent with the transformation of the disciples and the testimony of their lives. The “spiritual theory” cannot make sense of the claim of the empty tomb. In the end, the only story that makes sense of the empty tomb, the eyewitness accounts, and the transformation of the disciples is that Jesus of Nazareth was really raised from the dead by the power of God!

Jesus’ resurrection changes everything. By virtue of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Apostles proclaim that God made Him Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). Jesus conquers death through the resurrection, giving us hope that we also can conquer death (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). With sin and death defeated through Jesus, we have no reason to fear anyone or anything! Jesus’ resurrection proves beyond doubt that there will be a day of reckoning for all mankind (Acts 17:30-31). The resurrection shows that Jesus is the first fruit: as He was raised from the dead, so we now can look forward to the day when we also will rise from the dead (Romans 8:18-25, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58). In the resurrection, a new creation is able to burst forth into the old: even though we may still suffer on account of sin and death, we can spiritually die and be raised again through baptism and be new creatures in Jesus’ spiritual Kingdom (Romans 6:3-7, 2 Corinthians 5:17). Ultimately we cherish the hope of our own resurrection based on Jesus’ resurrection: on that day we will be like Him, and will abide with Him forever (1 Corinthians 15:20-58, 1 John 3:2).

Jesus, in His resurrection, demonstrates that death is not the end. Hope is able to spring anew. Jesus is Risen! Let us praise God, and obtain the victory through Jesus Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry