Immanuel: Born of Woman a True and Righteous Man


God dwelt with his people in the Tabernacle and Temple, and he dwells with his people now through the Holy Spirit. In fact, in all the texts that we studied, the word for “dwell” comes from the same word for “tabernacle,” God’s dwelling place with his people in the wilderness.

Texts: Isaiah 7:14; Isa 53:3-5, 9, 11; Galatians 4:4 Download PDF file

December 11, 2011

The Annunication by Master Bertram of Minden, 1383 (click to enlarge).  Jesus comes down from heaven with a cross, a depiction of the relationship between the Incarnation and Redemption.

The Annunication by Master Bertram of Minden, 1383 (click to enlarge). Jesus comes down from heaven with a cross, a depiction of the relationship between the Incarnation and Redemption. Note also the Trinitarian symbolism.

To most evangelicals, “Virgin Mary” or “Mary, Mother of God” are easily dismissed as Catholic ideas. But the title, “Mother of God,” is both early and a mistranslation. It was used of Mary as early as the mid-3rd century, and the Greek term used, Theotokos, is literally, “God-Bearer” or “Birth Giver of God,” not “Mother of God.”

The controversy over the title “Theotokos” began when Nestorius, bishop of the church in Constantinople, tried to resolve two major problems. First, how could Jesus Christ be sinless, if he was a man born of a woman who was part of the fallen human race? Second, if Jesus Christ was divine, how is it possible that he could die if God cannot die? To solve these dilemmas, Nestorius said that Mary only gave birth to the incarnate Christ, not the eternal divine Logos, for how could the eternal God have a beginning? So he preferred to call Mary Christotokos, “Christ-Bearer” or “Birth Giver of Christ,” instead of Theotokos. “God-Bearer.”

With this teaching, Nestorius effectively separated the two natures of Christ into two persons in one body. In 431 A. D., a great ecumenical council of 250 delegates convened in Ephesus (the same Ephesus in Acts 19 and Revelation 2:1-7), and condemned Nestorianism as a heresy. The council affirmed the union of the two natures of Christ in one Person and the title of Mary as Theotokos, “God-Bearer.”

But in time, the term “Mother of God” was used more and more, over against “God-Bearer,” and has become a title of veneration or worship of Mary. Many Catholics understand “Mother of God” as a title not only of respect, but also of Mary’s authority and role in the church. She assumed higher positions and more gifts since Ephesus, all extra-biblical: receiving prayers (600 A.D.); “Immaculate Conception” or sinlessness (1854); “Assumption” into heaven like Elijah’s (1950); “Mother of the Church” (1965). Pope John Paul II even called her “Co-Redemptrix” with Christ, while many other Catholics see her as “Co-Mediatrix.”

In reaction to the above Mariolatry by Catholics, evangelicals today give small honor to Mary, reacting like the radical Anabaptists. These radicals repeated the Nestorian heresy by affirming only that Mary was the “Mother of Jesus,” but not the “Mother of God.” The Reformers, on the other hand, paid a high respect to Mary but also avoided the Catholic error. John Calvin, for example, said in his commentary on Luke 11:27:

It cannot even be denied that God conferred the highest honor on Mary, by choosing and appointing her to be the mother of his Son… For it was of vastly greater importance to be regenerated by the Spirit of God than to conceive Christ, according to the flesh, in her womb; to have Christ living spiritually within her than to suckle him with her breasts.

Our texts today assure us that our Lord Jesus Christ is perfectly qualified to be our Redeemer because he is truly the eternal Son of God who was born to be truly man, “God sent forth his Son, born of woman” (Gal 4:4), a virgin who “shall conceive and bear a son” (Isa 7:14; cited Matt 1:23). Thus, the Article 18 of the Belgic Confession say that the Son of God

took the form of a servant and was born in the likeness of men (Phil 2:7). He truly assumed a real human nature with all its infirmities, without sin, for He was conceived in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit and not by the act of a man.

Question and Answer 15 of the Heidelberg affirms that this mediator and redeemer must not only be “one who is a true and righteous man” but also “more powerful than all creatures, that is, one who is also true God.”

Today, in this season of Christmas, we will study only the first part that God requires of our Mediator and Redeemer, and the second part will be taken up next Lord’s Day. Our Mediator has to be not only a true man, but also righteous. And the Bible also tells us that this true and righteous Man will dwell with his people.

True Man
Being conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a human mother qualifies Jesus as a true man. He was not only born of a woman, but also a fruit of the womb of Mary (Luke 1:42). He also descended from Adam, Abraham and David (Matt 1:1). The Old Testament foretold of him who is the seed of the woman Eve (Gen 3:15), a branch of David (Jer 33:15), a shoot from the stump of Jesse (Isa 11:1).

The New Testament speaks of him as partaking of true human flesh and blood (Heb 2:14), a fruit of the loins of David (Acts 2:30), of the seed of David according to the flesh (Rom 1:3), descended from the Jews according to the flesh (Rom 9:5), the seed of Abraham (Gal 3:16), and of the tribe of Judah (Heb 7:14). Last week, we learned that he was “made like his brothers in every respect (Heb 2:16, 17; 4:15). He is a true human being.

True Body
Since he is fully human, he has both elements of a human being: a human body and a human soul. With a body of a man, he is able to experience all human weaknesses—hunger, thirst, weariness, and aging. He was born as an infant, was circumcised like any other Jewish baby, and grew in stature and in wisdom as a young man into adulthood (Luke 2:52).

He partook not only our weaknesses, but even more so he shared our mortality. The body that he was born with on that first Christmas night is capable of dying, since dying was part of his mission when he came down from heaven. This is because death came through Adam, and the second Adam also has to die and be raised from death in order that those who believe may also have eternal life, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1Cor 15:21-22).

This is why Jesus could offer to all sinners his broken body and shed blood for eternal life, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6:54-55). How else can our bodies be raised from the grave on the last day, if Christ himself did not have true flesh and blood that died and was raised from the grave?

True Soul
Not only did Christ assume a true human body, he also had a true human soul. For if he did not have a true soul or spirit, he would not be a real and true man. When Adam fell into sin, his whole being—body and soul—was corrupted. In the Garden of Eden, he suffered spiritual death on the day he surrendered to the serpent’s temptation. Centuries later, his body also suffered death. Both his soul and body suffered corruption and death.

Since man’s body and soul are now in bondage to sin and death, Christ had to assume human body and soul in order to redeem both—the whole human being. This is why our creeds and confessions always talked about man as “body and soul,” such as in the Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 34 where we read, “with His precious blood, He has redeemed and purchased us, body and soul, from sin and from all the power of the devil.” Q&A 37 says he suffered that “He might redeem our body and soul from everlasting damnation.”

Jesus had a human spirit-soul. The Bible affirms that man has two elements. When a person dies, “the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Eccl 12:7). So also says James, “the body apart from the spirit is dead” (Jas 2:26). Jesus himself affirms this twofold essence of the human being when he warns us, “fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28). Jesus’s last words before he died on the cross also confirm that he possesses a human spirit-soul, “’Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last” (Luke 23:46).

False Teachings

The Annunciation by Francesco Albani (1578–1660) (click to enlarge)

The Annunciation by Francesco Albani (1578–1660) (click to enlarge). Note the Trinitarian emphasis.

Thus, Christ’s true humanity—body and soul—is one of the most important doctrines in the Scriptures. For if he was not a true man, then he is not qualified to redeem our body and soul from the bondage of sin and death.

The doctrine of the union of his human and divine natures in one Person has been hotly debated during the first five centuries of the church. Many false teachings or heresies arose during those early years such that several ecumenical church councils had to be convened to settle them. We have earlier noted the Nestorian heresy that separated the two natures of Christ into two Persons dwelling in one body.

There was also the error of docetism: Christ did not actually come as a man, but only appeared as one. We know that this false teaching was already present during the first century because John himself warned them, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh” (2John 1:7; see also 1John 4:2-3).

In the 4th century, there were false teachers who denied Jesus’s full humanity. Apollinaris, a bishop in Laodicea, used the Gnostic idea of man as a three-part creature with body, soul as the seat of emotions, and spirit as the mind and will. To uphold Jesus’s sinlessness, Apollinaris taught that he had a human body and soul, but his human spirit was replaced by the divine spirit, the Logos or Word. The result was a one-third divine, two-thirds human Person. 1

Finally, in the 5th century, Eutyches of Constantinople tried to solve the dilemma of the union of two natures in Christ with another novel idea. The divine nature of Christ overwhelmed the human nature, resulting in a Christ as one Person who had one body, and one nature—a divine nature, but which is different from God’s true divinity. Thus, Christ was an entirely different being, neither human nor divine. This heresy became known as Eutychianism or monophysitism.

How are we to avoid the mistakes of these false teachers in the early church? Remember that all of them were trying to protect three things that the Bible affirms about Christ: his divinity, his humanity, and his sinlessness. But in trying to understand and rationalize these three things, they all fell into great errors. The Bible says that he was a true man: born of woman, with true flesh and blood, and who suffered and died (Gal 4:4; Heb 2:14; 1Cor 15:21-22). The Bible also says that he is equal to God, the fullness of God dwells in him, and he is the Word who was already God before the beginning of the world (Phil 2:7-8; Col 1:22; John 1:1).

Christ is fully human and fully divine: the only true God-Man. Accept these texts as truths, because you will never comprehend them until your minds are perfected in the age to come. If you do not, and try to use your finite mind to explain this mystery, you will be treading on heresy.

Righteous Man
Not only is our Redeemer required to be a true man; he has to be truly righteous as well. For how could someone who is also sinful be a sacrifice without spot or blemish? In the Old Testament, all sacrificial animals are required to be without spot or blemish because they point to the once for all perfect sacrifice offered by a perfectly righteous Christ on the cross. Christ was our Passover Lamb who was “without blemish” (Exod 12:5; 1Cor 5:7).

The Old Testament prophets foretold of a Suffering Servant who was righteous all the way to his death, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth… he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth… the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous” (Isa 53:7, 9, 11).

Our Lord Jesus was Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, the perfect sacrifice who was born under the Law and fulfilled the whole Law (Gal 4:4; Matt 5:17). He was obedient to his Father all the way to the cross (Phil 2:8). He “suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous” (1Pet 3:18). The preacher describes him as our “high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners… made perfect forever” (Heb 7:26, 28). He had to completely obey God’s Law because his perfect righteousness would be given to those who believe in him, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Cor 5:21).

Because of his perfect obedience, his sacrifice satisfied the wrath of God against our sins. Since he is the only man who is truly righteous, and all mankind are doomed to unrighteousness, he is our only hope for salvation. And since we cannot attain righteousness on our own, our righteousness can only come from outside of us, which Martin Luther calls “alien righteousness.”

As our high priest, Christ offered the sacrifice of his own flesh and blood once for all for all our sins. What must you do to be counted righteous before God? Not by your own works of righteous­ness, because with one sinful act, you are doomed to eternal hell. Paul tells us how we are declared righteous by God, “faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness” (Rom 4:9). And faith is never alone, because it is evidenced by fruits, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Rom 1:17). Your salvation starts with faith, but it is also by faith that you live righteously each day until your last.

How do you as believers daily live in faith, when you know how susceptible and vulnerable you are to temptations? You are able to live by faith only because Christ indwells you.

“Dwelt Among Us”
Beginning at Mount Sinai and throughout their wilderness wanderings, Israel was accompanied by the Lord God, who dwelt in their midst in the tabernacle as a cloud by day and a fire by night (Exod 40:38). He covenanted with a promise of blessing for obedience, “I will make my dwelling among you… And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people” (Lev 26:11-12).

Because of their unbelief and disobedience, God judged them again and again by famine, sword, and finally, by slavery and exile to foreign nations. But the loving and patient God still promised restoration from judgment, and it was in the form of a sign, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa 7:14). When he comes, Immanuel will truly be “God with us,” for this is the Lord’s promise in the new covenant, “My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Ezek 37:27).

The fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 occurred twice. Notice its original setting. King Ahaz of the southern kingdom of Judah was being threatened by Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel. Against Isaiah’s assurance to trust in the Lord’s deliverance from his enemies, Ahaz allied with Assyria. The two kings invaded Judah, but God gave Ahaz a sign. His wife will bear him a child, whose name will be Immanuel, “God with us,” an assurance that Ahaz ignored. His child will later become King Hezekiah, during whose reign Assyria itself invaded Judah.

Seven centuries later, when the birth of Jesus was announced by an angel to Joseph, he revealed to us that this infant will “save his people from their sins.” He will also be the second fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of Immanuel, God with us, who will be conceived by an unmarried virgin. The Holy Spirit will overshadow her as the Spirit of God hovered over a void and empty earth, creating order and life. Her conception would not be a result of normal physical relationship between man and wife, but wholly through the Spirit of God miraculously creating life in an empty, “barren” womb.

John confirms this as well when he said that the Eternal Word “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Christ as Immanuel literally dwelt among his disciples during his three years on earth. Before he ascended into heaven, he gave them the Great Commission with his promise, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). How is he who is now in heaven, dwell with his people on earth?

After he departed, Christ poured out his Spirit on his disciples, and he continues to indwell all believers until he returns from heaven (Rom 8:9-11). His Spirit enables us to live in righteousness each day and proclaim the gospel to the world. Through the regenerating and sanctifying work of his Spirit, Christ is building his church, “the temple of the living God” (2Cor 6:16). Thus, Paul assures us of Christ’s presence among us by his Spirit even while he is in heaven, “you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you” (1Cor 3:16).

At his return, Jesus will complete his promise to be with us forever. John says God will restore creation in a new heaven and new earth, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev 21:3). Finally, God’s promise throughout the ages will be fully completed when he takes up residence with his people in unbroken, perfect communion in the new and eternal heaven.

Throughout this history of redemption from the time of Adam’s fall in the garden of Eden, God’s promise is one: I will send a Redeemer whose name would be Immanuel, “God with us.” He dwelt with his people in the Tabernacle and Temple, and he dwells with his people now through the Holy Spirit. In fact, in all the texts that we studied, the word for “dwell” comes from the same word for “tabernacle,” God’s dwelling place with his people in the wilderness. So when John says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” he is literally saying, “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” And when the new heaven and new earth comes, God will finally “tabernacle” with us his people forever and ever.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in the great Christmas hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,”we express our longing for Immanuel to come and ransom us from our mournful exile in this earth.

He came down from heaven as an infant born of a woman, and a true and righteous man. His mission was to save his people from their sins, and only a true and righteous man, Jesus Christ, will satisfy God’s righteous wrath against sinners.

Immanuel came down from heaven and lived with his people for a little while, and ascended back into the right hand of his Father where he continues to intercede for his people. But he poured out his Spirit to indwell us, to help us live in righteousness while we await his return.

At his return, he will be the Key of David who will open wide our heavenly home, where he will be Immanuel dwelling with us, and we with him, forever.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever (Psa 23:6).


  1. For the Gnostic impulse of the tripartite view of man (body, soul and spirit), see Dr. Kim Riddlebarger’s “Trichotomy: Beachhead for Gnostic Influences” and this author’s “Dichotomy, Trichotomy, or Polychotomy?”
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