Jesus’ Physical Origin
It is fundamental to Christian theology that Jesus was truly human. In support of this we have only to recognize the fact that he was born of woman (Mt. 1:25; Luke 2:6f.; Gal. 4:4, etc.). If this is regarded as being inadequate, it needs to be explained that according to the book of Genesis Eve, the mother of all living (Gen. 3:20), stemmed from Adam (Gen. 2:22) who was created from the ground (Gen. 2:7). In light of this all humans who are flesh (Ps. 78:39) are regarded physically as dust (Ps.103:14). So does Jesus qualify?
In light of the evidence just presented, he does. His birth of woman though virgin is evident proof of this and his genuine humanity is never seriously questioned throughout the Bible, though it certainly has in church history. Indeed, Luke goes so far as to indicate that his human father through his mother was Adam himself (3:38) who was prototypical and representative man according to the flesh. The author of Hebrews insists that in the nature of the case Jesus shared flesh and blood with his fellows (Heb. 2:14) and was like them in every respect (2:17). He also maintains that through death to which humans are naturally subject he destroyed the one who has power of death, that is, the devil. (1* This may seem contradictory but it is merely paradoxical. Man is indeed naturally mortal but he is promised life if he keeps the law, Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5; Mt. 19:17, cf. Rom. 8:3. In the event, the devil has the power to ensure that he does not keep the law so unlike Jesus himself who overcame the devil, John 14:30; 1 John 3:8, mortality prevails.)
Paul in particular stresses that Jesus gave his flesh in death to bring about reconciliation with God (Col. 1:22, cf. Rom. 5:10f.; 1 Pet. 3:18). But the apostle goes even further and maintains that Jesus is the second Adam (1 Cor. 15:45-49). At this point especially Jesus’ recapitulation of the race is underscored. It is important to spell it out in more detail.
Son of Adam, Son of God
As a son of Adam through his mother Jesus was a genuine human being (cf. Luke 3:38) and thus, as the Son of his Father God in a more fundamental and realistic way than Adam (cf. Luke 1:35), he gestated in his mother’s womb as Adam had gestated mutatis mutandis in the Garden of Eden before coming into the world as we know it. Like a baby Adam of course knew neither good nor evil at the beginning (Gen. 2:17; 3:5,22) and it was only when he had developed into physical maturity that he gained minimal understanding and broke the single (negative) commandment that he was given. He and his immediate descendants, with the exception of Enoch and Abel in their intellectual and spiritual if not physical infancy, failed to exercise the dominion over creation (Gen. 1:26-28) which along with keeping the commandment was their calling (Gen. 2:17). Hence the curse on the ground which was not overcome till God made a covenant with obedient Noah (cf. Gen. 8:21). By contrast, Jesus as the seed of Adam ignorant of (the) law (Isa. 7:15f., cf. Rom. 4:15) enjoyed an innocent gestation (cf. Rom. 9:11), birth and infancy and resembled the animals with whom he was cradled in the stable. When in his case the parental commandment eventually registered on his mind as he verged on childhood, he kept it and went as his ancestors had done before him in fear of Herod to Egypt (cf. Mt. 2:15) as a beneficiary of the covenant with Noah and a true child of nature. Doubtless by this time, in contrast with the animals, he was able to recognize rainbows and appreciate their significance. Unlike Noah, the assumption is that in Egypt he lived sinlessly and was not guilty of worshipping false gods (cf. Jos. 24:2f.). Eventually on his return to the Promised Land he was made like all circumcised Jewish boys (but not girls) a son of the commandment at his bar mitzvah (cf. Luke 2:40-52). At this point along with the rest of Israel he was separated from the nations (Lev. 20:24,26) and holy to the Lord (Dt. 14:2,21).
If he had mastered sin during his youth in contrast with his fellows (Gen. 4:7; 8:21), it was now incumbent on him to live without sinning under the law of Moses which his circumcision now brought fully into effect (cf. Gal. 3:10; 5:3). This all Jews had universally failed to do even after leaving Egypt (cf. Jos. 24:23f.; 1 Sam. 8:8; Ezek. 20:8) as they were frequently reminded (1 K. 8:46; Ps. 130:3; Eccl. 7:20, etc.). Though his life under the law is touched on in Scripture (e.g. his circumcision and presentation in the temple, Luke 2:21-24), there is no mention of his having come morally short in any way. Like Adam who initially knew neither good nor evil, Jesus was born innocent along with all his fellows (Dt. 1:39, cf. Isa. 7:15f.). In contrast with them, however, he is simply assumed to have avoided sin. This fact is verified specifically in Matthew 3:13-17, etc., when he is baptized by the Spirit. In other words, having kept the law he is born again in accordance with the promise of Leviticus 18:5 originally though somewhat cryptically given to Adam in Genesis 2:17. It should be noted that John the Baptist as the human agent of Jesus’ baptism was reluctant to officiate doubtless because he understood baptism as a sign of repentance and he had already presented Jesus as the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Furthermore, he realized that he himself who was merely born of woman (Mt. 11:11) needed Jesus to baptize him. Nonetheless, Jesus urges him to proceed and when he does, God pours out his spirit on him signifying that his stint under the law is ended and that he is born again. In other words, in contrast with the OT (e.g. 1 Sam. 10:6,10) the Spirit remains on him (John 1:32) and seals him (John 6:27, cf. Eph. 1:13; 4:30). As Jesus implies, this means that he is now not only commissioned for his ministry but enabled to fulfill all righteousness (Mt. 3:15), something he could not possibly do under the law as the author of Hebrews well realized (Heb. 7:18f., cf. 8:7).
Pioneering the Third Race
So having passed through the heathen period of his life under Noah as a slave and what was essentially his adolescence in bondage to the law under Moses as a servant, Jesus next led by the Spirit in his maturity was now able to lay the foundation of the church and pioneer what we call Christianity as the Son of God (1 Cor. 3:11, cf. 10:32; Gal. 4:1-7; Col. 3:11).
Jesus our Trail Blazer
If what has been averred above is correct, the reader will be well aware that while Jesus obviously followed in the footsteps of his ancestors or, to put it differently, recapitulated the life of fleshly Israel before him, he certainly did not recapitulate their life under the leading of the Spirit for the simple reason that they never succeeded in attaining to it. So we are forced to conclude that at his baptism Jesus himself became the pioneer or as Paul would put it the second Adam. From this point on all believers in him would regard him as their prototype: they would in the words of Paul be conformed to his image (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18). So instead of being merely the ‘recapitulator’ of the race, Jesus now in the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4) became the ‘precapitulator’ of his people. Is this important? Most certainly.
First, it is vital to recognize that Jesus died for the sins of literally all believers. He uniquely became their Saviour as Isaiah, for example, had implied when he called on all to turn to God (Isa. 45:22). Apart from Jesus who was God in the flesh and who gave his life as a sacrifice for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous (1 Pet. 3:18), all would have been left in their sins. In that state they could not possibly gain eternal life since its precondition was righteousness under the law (Lev. 18:5; Ezek. 20:11,13,21; Mt. 19:17; Rom.10:5; Gal. 3:12, etc.). Thus it is not without good reason that we read in the best-known verse in the Bible that God so loved the world that he gave his Son so that all who believe on him should have eternal life (John 3:16). However, this verse on its own, despite its reference to the world, tends to obscure the total picture since it immediately raises the question of those who never heard of Jesus before his incarnation and could not possibly have put their faith in him as such. So John 3:16 needs to be supplemented by the rest of Scripture or, more specifically, by other passages that express the horizontal as well as the vertical, the chronological (history) as well as the extensive (worldwide) universality of the atonement. While verses like Hebrews 9:15 bring out the retrospective efficacy of the atonement, 1 John 2:2 impresses on our minds its extent. In other words, God’s eternal covenant (Heb. 13:20) embraces the entire world of believers throughout history as Hebrews 11, for example, implies along with Romans 1-3, especially 3:21-31. Here we can see the point of references like John 14:6 and Acts 4:12 which summarize or encapsulate biblical teaching in general about Jesus as being uniquely the Saviour of the world.
Once we understand this the importance of the doctrine of recapitulation can be appreciated. First, at the beginning God promised eternal life to mankind (Adam) on condition of keeping the commandment (law). Since, on the one hand, this proved beyond the capacity of Adam and all his natural children, and, on the other, God said that he alone would save his people, God himself in the person of the Word had to keep that law, gain eternal life, die for sins, rise again from the dead and ascend transformed into heaven as his people’s pioneer (cf. Heb. 2:10-13; 6:19f.; 10:19f.; 12:2; Rev. 14:4.). In other words he had to assume and experience personally what he intended to save. Having done this successfully, his prayer is that his disciples shall be with him in glory (John 17:24, cf. 12:26) in his Father’s house (John 14:2f.).
At the heart of the doctrine of recapitulation, which was commonly held in the early church but lost to view under the pervasive influence of Augustine of Hippo, is the truth of the incarnation and the inadmissibility of Docetism. While the former in its purity has frequently been under siege not least by well-intentioned teachers who have tended to put Jesus on the wrong sort of pedestal and thus separated him from the rest of humanity, the latter as was intimated above has been all too evident during the course of church history. Once Jesus had conquered in the flesh and achieved perfection as the second or last Adam, he epitomized the doctrine of recapitulation (Heb.2:10-12). As Paul put it, God’s plan from the start was to sum up all things in heaven and earth in him (Eph. 1:10). It is thus that he as God and Man who was creation in miniature gained permanent pre-eminence (Col. 1:15-20). He, Jesus the man, became and remains the perfect image of God (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3) and reigns at God’s right hand forever (Rev. 4,5). In light of this we must all seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness by faith in his Son (Mt. 6:33). For, if we have the Son, we have the Father also (1 John 2:23; 5:1,11f.).
For Paul, Jesus, the Word who himself became man, is the second or last Adam who represents and encapsulates all first Adamic believers and brings them to glory as God’s children (cf. Gal. 4:4f.; Eph. 1:5f.; Heb. 2:10-13). While the first Adam was characterized by dust, death and corruption, the second is the epitome of spirit, life and imperishability (1 Cor. 15:47-53; 2 Tim. 1:10), truly the man of heaven. In the plan and providence of God, the former is replaced by the latter (Heb. 10:9) and all who believe in him are finally conformed to his glorious image (John 17:24; 1 Cor. 15:43; 2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:21; Col. 3:4) forever safe in the Father’s house (John 14:1-3,18,28). All without exception have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb (Eph. 1:7; Rev. 5:9) and have become one man in Christ (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:15; 4:13).