I was recently reading a website where I came across the statement that “Jesus of Nazareth did not have to come as a baby. He could have walked into Jerusalem as a full-grown man.” The writer went on to explain that the reason Jesus became a baby was so that he could be our example. “He was an example for us, not just in His suffering, but also in His infancy, in His childhood, in His adolescence.” Without a doubt, Jesus was our example. And it goes without saying that another reason Jesus took on human flesh was to provide the atonement for our sins and propriate the wrath of God.
This writer seemed to be saying that nothing required Jesus from being born of a virgin other than his desire to be our infant and childhood’s example. Could Jesus have simply “walked into Jerusalem”? In a certain sense, he could have done so because Jesus was God. God has deemed it good to appear to men in history in Theophanies or Christophanies, such as his manifestation to Moses and the elders in Exodus 24:10. But when it comes to his incarnation, Jesus must have been born of the virgin Mary, and not merely to be an example for us of how to live. So why was such a birth necessary?
1. Jesus had to be born of the virgin Mary to fulfill the prophecies. The Gospel according to Matthew says,
But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). (1:20-23)
Jesus could not have “just walked into Jerusalem,” or even been born to a woman not a virgin, as this would have violated the prophecies made by the prophets concerning him. In the passage from Matthew quoted above, we are taught that Isaiah’s words were fulfilled in Jesus. I believe that Isaiah said these things in such a way that had Jesus not been born of a virgin, the prophecy would have not been fulfilled. Moreover, if Jesus had merely appeared on earth, he would not have been born in Bethlehem to fulfill the prophecy of the prophet Micah.
2. Jesus had to be born of a woman to redeem us. Paul makes this clear in Galatians 4:4-5, which says,
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
Paul quite evidently sees it necessary that Jesus be born of a woman for our adoption as sons. If he had not been born, but merely “walked in Jerusalem,” he would not be born under the law, and we who are under the law, would not be redeemed and adopted as his sons. So also the protoevangelium (Gen 3:15) speaks of the seed of the woman that would crush the serpent’s head.1 It was essential that Jesus be born of a woman and born under the law to redeem us. He had to become like us in every respect to save us (cf. Heb 4:14-16).
3. Jesus had to be born of Mary to be the promised seed of Abraham, the “Lion of the tribe of Judah,” and the son of David. If Jesus had appeared fully aged in Jerusalem, he would not have been any of these. Paul, for one, knew that Jesus’s lineage in David was essential, as he says in Romans 1:1-4,
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.
For Paul, Jesus’ being born of David’s line was so important, that it was crucial to the gospel itself.
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! (2 Timothy 2:8-9)
If Jesus is not the son of David, he is not the Christ. If he is not the son of David, he has no legitimate right to David’s throne, and God’s promises go unfulfilled. Thus Paul addressed the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia:
And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’ Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. (Acts 13:22-23).
In Revelation 5:4-5, John the Apostle began to weep when no one could open the scroll and break its seals. Because Jesus, however, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered,” he alone can open the scroll and its seven seals. Jesus can open the scrolls only because he is the promised Lion of Judah and Root of David who has conquered. He is the promised Lion of Judah and Root of David because he was born of Mary. If he had not been born of Mary, he would not someday be able to open the seals.
Paul also teaches that it was essential for Jesus to be of the seed of Abraham. In Galatians 3:16,
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.
4. Jesus had to take on human flesh to be our Mediator. There is a Christological heresy known as the Melchiorite heresy which teaches that Jesus did not derive his humanity from Mary. This heresy is sometimes connected with Anabaptists; its name comes from a proponent of this view, Melchior Hoffman, who taught that Jesus’ human flesh was “celestial flesh.” Hoffman said,
“We have now heard enough that the whole seed of Adam, be it of man, woman, or virgin, is cursed and delivered to eternal death. Now if the body of Jesus Christ was also such flesh and of this seed…it follows that the redemption has not yet happened. For the seed of Adam belongs to Satan and is the property of the devil.”2
The person who wrote the article does not appear to believe this, but when the author said, “Jesus of Nazareth did not have to come as a baby. He could have walked into Jerusalem as a full-grown man,” one has to wonder where, if Jesus “had not come as a baby,” Jesus’ flesh would have come from. It seems that if one does not believe that Jesus had to come as a baby by the virgin Mary, one would have to believe that his flesh could have come from somewhere other than Mary, seemingly from heaven itself. I actually once spoke to a man in a Baptist church who embraced this heresy, in order to explain how Jesus was excluded from the guilt of Adam’s first sin and its resulting depravity.3
Lewis Sperry Chafer said,
Cavil about whether the mother may impart a complete human nature and perpetuate a racial stock is silenced by the testimony of Scriptures to the truth that He, though generated by the Holy Spirit, did possess a complete humanity–spirit, soul, and body. He is of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Judah, and the Heir to David’s throne. To this body of evidence for his complete humanity may be added the genealogies which trace His human origin back to Abraham and to Adam. This perfect human kinship was demanded if He, as Mediator, undertook the work of redemption.4
Christ’s mediatorial work on the cross must be done by a man, and one fully a man. This is Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 2:5-6,
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
He emphasizes that the “one mediator” between God and man is the Lord Jesus, who was himself both fully man and fully God in order to mediate. Therefore we affirm, with the Definition of Chalcedon, “Before time began he was begotten of the Father, in respect of his deity, and now in these “last days,” for us and behalf of our salvation, this selfsame one was born of Mary the virgin, who is God-bearer in respect of his humanness.” Jesus the preexistent Son of God took on the seed of Adam. No other flesh would do. He could not simply have walked into Jerusalem with celestial or any other kind of non-human flesh; he had to take on human flesh in order to be our Mediator. It was “in his body of flesh by his death,” that we are presented holy and blameless and above reproach” before the Father (Col 1:21). Otherwise he cannot mediate for us. The second Adam must be born of Adam’s race. Charles Hodges summed it up nicely: “He who sanctifies (purifies from sin both as guilty and as pollution) and those who are sanctified are and must be of one nature.”5 Christ cannot mediate if the humanity is a foreign or alien humanity. The humanity of Christ must be of our race. Jesus must be Adam’s own descendant to ransom Adam’s fallen race.The author of Hebrews wrote,
“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” (Heb 2:14)
In conclusion, Jesus could not have merely walked into Jerusalem, and for many more reasons than he wanted to be our example. Indeed, it was necessary for him to be born of the virgin Mary, to fulfill the prophecies concerning him, to redeem us, to be the seed of Abraham, Judah, and David, and to our mediate between God and us sinners.
1I tend to believe that this teaching is further confirmed in 1 Timothy 2:15, “Yet she will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”
2Wikipedia contributors, “Theology of Anabaptism,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Theology_of_Anabaptism&oldid=87968174 (accessed January 3, 2007). Also see C.K., “Christology,” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/C482ME.html#1989 (accessed January 3, 2007).
3I have found Chafer helpful on this particular question:
“The last Adam entered into this human existence by a birth; yet is protected from the virus of inherited sin by a special divine intervention. . . . Mary had been told previously . . . that she would bring forth a son. In this statement no unnatural procedure is implied; but when she is told that the Generator would be the Holy Spirit she is also told that the child would be Himself holy and legitimately and properly the Son of God. The fallen nature of the mother is divinely precluded. This is the meaning of the assurance that the son she would bear would be holy” (Systematic Theology [Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948], 5:49-50).
See also A. H. Strong: “That portion of human nature which the Logos took into union with himself was, in the very instant by the fact of his taking it, purged from all its inherent depravity.” (Systematic Theology [Westwood, N.J.: Fleming, 1907],678).
4Systematic Theology, 5:48.
5Systematic Theology 2:457.