We cannot regard as satisfactory a theory of the manner of the Incarnation that does not take account of the impressions made by the Christ upon His friends and neighbours, and of the relations that existed between Him and them.
I. At the outset we have to consider the family life of the Incarnate. Born of Mary He lived under the charge of her husband Joseph, who treated Him as his son. The family of Joseph was not a small one: he had several sons and daughters by his first wife; [See note VII.] and they appear in Scripture always as the brethren and sisters of Jesus. [Matt. 13:55, 56.] Thus from babyhood the Lord Jesus had lived in a large household, one among many. Whatever characteristics were His they were well known to all His relations, and the effect that they produced upon them must be noticed.
We gather that, apart from the astonishment of His mother and Joseph at the behaviour of the boy Jesus in the Temple in His twelfth year, [Luke 2:41 ff.] there was nothing in their view of Him that can be called as evidence to any abnormal demeanour of the Christ as a lad and young man. He was famous for His wisdom; but His life was that of the son of a carpenter, and so far had He entered into it that His brethren appear not to have expected anything else from Him. When therefore the youngest son of the house began His ministry His relations were struck by wonder. St. Mark tells us that they regarded Christ as being beside Himself, [Mark 3:21, 31 ff. Cf. parallels.] while St. John records that His brethren did not believe upon Him. [John 7:5.] St. James, His stepbrother, did not believe on Him until after He had risen from the dead. [Cf. 1 Cor. 15:7.]
Thus we are well provided with evidence to the naturally human demeanour of our Lord in His home life. For thirty years He lived at home, and during all that time He in no way exhibited any signs of abnormal power. His life afforded His relations no clue at all to the extraordinary manifestations of wisdom and power that mark His ministry.
There can, I think, be no doubt that the Incarnate was most entirely conditioned by boyhood and manhood in His home life; and that He never betrayed any sign of being more than a perfect lad and a perfect young man. Of course, the actual evidence is slight. But the unbelief of the brethren and the doubts they had of His sanity must be allowed great weight. How far the family view of the Christ had become known to His cousin, John the Baptist, we cannot say; but it is possible that it may have been a factor in the doubt that overtook John in his prison house. [Matt. 11:2 ff. and parallels.] Eighteen years of practical silence and self-suppression was a heavy trial to those who had hoped for Messiah's reign. It is even possible that Mary's wonder at her Son was just a little balanced, though not outweighed, by her experience of His normal, quiet life in her house. We can hardly believe that the message of the angel had lost its force, but it appears to be the fact that she went with her stepsons to induce our Lord to leave off teaching the multitudes. [Mark 3:21 and 31 ff.] She may have gone for His sake, to soften the blow of the family's mistrust; but I think we must admit that she had no such evidence of abnormal powers in Jesus as would avail to make her stepsons change their policy.
This being so, it seems impossible to accept the view that the Incarnate was living in manhood in the unlimited exercise of His divine powers; restraining them only on occasions to allow the human faculties to have their way. What is normal in Christ is the exercise of the human faculties.
On the other hand the extreme Kenotic theories find support in the evidence that we have so far adduced. The Christ in whom His brethren did not believe might be said to have abandoned His divine powers, were such a theory compatible with the rest of the evidence. Here and here alone do Kenotists find a slight basis for their position; but it will be found to vanish as we proceed.
The attitude of the neighbours agrees with that of the brethren. They appear to have known Jesus to have been very wise, but not exceptionally well taught, [Luke 4:22, 28. Cf. 2:52.] and not possessed of any extraordinary powers. He had never impressed them as being of a higher class of intellect than His brethren and sisters. His great distinction was His wisdom.
When therefore He became famous throughout the land, they were troubled and offended. He called Himself the Messiah: He, the son of their village carpenter, who had given no sign of so high an office. They heard of His teachings and His miracles, but the life He had lived amongst them was for them decisive proof that He was not the Messiah.
II. Our Lord chose His friends from among His disciples; men who had faith in Him and His mission. With these friends He lived in the closest intimacy for three years, being almost always with them. They must have seen Him in every kind of circumstance, heard Him teach on every subject that could concern their souls, and received from Him the clearest indication of His work and its issues. Further than this He chose three from their number who were privileged to witness His inner life, to have a glimpse of His glory, and some insight into His life of prayer. [Matt 17:1-8; 26:37-46 and parallels.]
Apart from His disciples He had special friends at Bethany in the house of Lazarus. There He shewed Himself in His hours of weariness, resting from His works, and seeking quiet and refreshment. [John 11:1-3. Luke 10:38 ff. Matt. 21:17.]
What, then, was the impression made upon these friends by the Christ?
We have already seen that the disciples were not astonished at Christ's request for information, and that Martha did not regard it as superfluous to warn Him of her brother's illness, and of the state of his body in the grave. [John 11:3, 39.] Thomas could not trust his Master to save Himself from the Jews, although he knew Him so well as to wish to die with Him. [John 11:16.] No! with all the experience they had of His miracles, His authority as a teacher, His sinlessness, and His personal power they were still accustomed to His true human life amongst them. They never ceased to regard Him as truly human. The Christ of God He was: the Son of God: but His manhood entirely limited and conditioned Him. Had it been otherwise, to have lived with Him day by day would surely have passed the power of the Apostles.
They believed in Him and His mission: their belief had been confirmed to some of them by a voice from heaven; [Matt. 3:17 and 17:1-8 and parallels.] and yet so human was He that the moment He was bound by the soldiers His friends forsook Him and fled. [Matt. 26:56 and parallels. Cf. John 14:9.] They were always more conscious of His manhood than of His divine personality. He was known to them as man; perfect man yet truly human. So slow of apprehension were they, so influenced by the reality of His human faculties, that each miracle seemed to them merely a disturbance of the normal in life. It was as if God were interfering by means of their Master, rather than as if the Master Himself were divine.
This I think is the impression that the Evangelists give as to the first faith of the friends of Jesus. They, of course, emphasize the other side most strongly: they strive to make clear to us how truly superhuman the power of the Incarnate is. But they do not conceal from us their own first thoughts. [Luke 24:19-21.]
St. Mark is the historian of the miraculous works of the Christ; but he has made it clear that the miraculous power was so conditioned by manhood as to be compatible with a really human life.
All that was needed for the confirmation of the faith of Christ's friends was to see Him conquer death in His own personal power, and to witness the exaltation of the manhood in order that it might still mediate divine power. The divine person was glorified, raising His manhood to a corresponding degree of power and ability. Then it was that His friends were able to apprehend Him, the divine Son conditioned in manhood.
III. But the most striking point in the Gospel history of the friends of Jesus is their failure to be of use to Him. They were never on His level for a moment. No one of them really grasped His purpose, or understood that He must die. His kingdom was never comprehended, nor His spiritual reign over the souls of men. Never for a moment was He anything but a teacher to them. He made His own plans, taking counsel of no one. Alone He went to His prayers; alone He faced His sorrows and His dangers; alone He fought His battles with Satan and with men. [Mark 1:13. Matt. 26:40.] Freely He gave to all men: but He never received anything from any one. The precious ointment marks the highest response of men to Christ. [John 12:7.] Misunderstood, slandered, deserted He stood alone, asking nothing from His friends. He was not alone, however. His Father was with Him. [John 16:32.]
Just as He had publicly displaced Moses, and revealed Himself as the Teacher who stood before a disobedient world; [Matt. 5:21, 22, 27, 28, etc.; 19:8.] just as He had publicly called all men to Himself as their Refuge; [Matt. 11:28.] so He stood amongst men independent of them all.
To be truly independent of the human race, and yet to be truly human! It is wonderful, but it is the Gospel truth. And the reconciliation of the two facts is, I believe, best established in this theory of the Incarnate as the Son truly conditioned in manhood. For on the one hand His very true and perfect manhood secures for Him recognition as really human; while on the other hand His divine powers conditioned in their use and mediated by His human faculties rendered Him independent of all except the Father in heaven.