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Have you ever wondered how Jesus could be both human and divine? 

Have you been tempted to accept his humanity but question or doubt his deity? After all, one person with those two natures does not make sense, right?

Our minds are wonderful gifts, but they have their limitations. Our intellects want to understand, manage, and control information so that it makes sense. If it does not make sense, our minds want to change it to make it fit our thinking, or perhaps we just ignore or reject the inconvenient bits that do not fit— even when it comes to something God reveals that surpasses the limits of our intellect. 

Jesus exposes this flawed condition when he questions the Pharisees in the scene reported in Matthew 22:41-46, part of the larger context of 21:23-22:46

In this post, we will explore:

  • Jesus’ questions.
  • Why he asked them.
  • The response of the Pharisees.
  • What we should do when truths do not seem to make sense.

Let’s begin by reading and orienting ourselves in this short scene.

The scene

Here is what we read in Matthew 22:41-46:

While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” 

“The son of David,” they replied.

He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” ’

If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?”

No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

This scene concludes several confrontations with Jesus in the Temple. Once again, the Pharisees are involved, who, you will remember, 

were exponents and guardians of the written and oral law, and, in belief, were the conservatives in distinction from the Sadducees. But their religious orthodoxy was spiritually barren … (Scroggie, A Guide to the Gospels, 48).

The Lord first asks whose son, or descendant, is the Christ. The second question includes the quotation of Psalm 110:1: 

Of David. A psalm. The LORD [Yahweh] says to my Lord [adonai]: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”

Where the letters of ‘LORD’ are capitalized, it is a translation of God’s name, Yahweh (literally, YHWH). As Yahweh is Hebrew, it does not appear in Matthew’s quotation, which is in Greek. 

As a note of interest, Psalm 110:1 is the most quoted Old or Hebrew Testament (OT) text in the New Testament (NT). The NT writers used this Psalm to unfold some of the Messianic qualities of the Lord Jesus. See, for example, Matthew 26:64; Luke 22:69; Acts 2:34-35; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Hebrews 1:3, 13; 1 Peter 3:22. As a separate study, you will discover several rich themes about the Lord Jesus in these verses (and their contexts). 

Let’s look at these two questions in more detail.

Question #1

The first question Jesus asks the Pharisees is, 

“What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” 

They correctly respond with “The Son of David.”

They were familiar with OT texts promising that the future Christ or Messiah would be an offspring of King David (e.g., 2 Samuel 7:11b-16; Psalm 89:4, 36-37; Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:1-16; Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15-16). From their perspective, that much was clear

It was not clear to them where Jesus’ second question took them.

Question #2

Here is that second question again:

He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” ’

If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?”

Take a moment to read Psalm 110. Now, focus on its opening verse.

The superscription is: “Of David. A psalm.” So, David “speaking by the Spirit”— by divine inspiration— wrote this Psalm. In other words, this is a revelation from God by, or through, David.

In the first verse, David writes that he hears the LORD (Yahweh) speaking to “my lord” (adonai). “My lord” is David’s lord— one superior to King David. The implication is that the Messiah is not simply the son (or human descendant) of David; otherwise, David would not refer to him as “my lord.”

Furthermore, here is what David hears Yahweh say to David’s lord:

“Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” 

David’s lord is bidden to sit upon the throne at Yahweh’s right hand, the highest place of majesty, honor, and authority. The conclusion is that the Messiah is not just David’s descendant; “he sustains a divine relationship to Yahweh (Wilkins, Matthew, 727). 

The response

There is no response: “No one could say a word in reply.”

The Pharisees had no difficulty understanding that the Messiah was a human descendant of David, but they could not make sense of Psalm 110— that the Messiah was an equal with Yahweh

Even after Jesus emphasized that David was “speaking by the Spirit,” they resisted God’s revelation. Focusing on one revelation (i.e., Christ’s humanity) while ignoring others (i.e., Christ’s deity) can only lead to error. 

I wonder what would have happened if one of them asked:

“How can that be?”


“What does that mean?”

I can see Jesus responding to such holy curiosity— the desire to know God.

I can think of two Pharisees who changed and accepted God’s revelation of both Christ’s humanity and his deity. The result was their recognition of Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). The first was Nicodemus, who seems to have gradually shifted his viewpoint (John 3:1-21; 7:50; 19:39). The other was Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul the apostle, whose change was radical and instant (Acts 9:1-19). 

Let’s take a moment to analyze this issue.

An analysis

In The Voice of Jesus (18), Gordon Smith writes:

In Christian theology … frequently the truth is found in sustaining two polarities and that error arises when we affirm, intentionally or inadvertently, one side of the equation over the other

He advocates keeping the two polarities in “dynamic tension.” I agree, although I prefer the phrase “wholesome tension.”

The Pharisees demonstrated an error concerning the identity of the Messiah/Christ by focusing on one side of the equation (i.e., Christ’s humanity) while ignoring or denying the other (i.e., Christ’s deity). This error is continued today in various pseudo-Christian groups who deny the deity of Jesus Christ. 

We need to recognize the texts that reveal both his holy humanity and his full deity— both sides of the equation— which, to our limited intellects, seems incompatible. Once we correctly understand that these two polarities reveal both his humanity and deity, we must hold the two in wholesome tension

There are other instances where we need wholesome tension, such as 

  • the polarities of God’s nature, which we attempt to understand as the Trinity.
  • the polarities of Christians actively participating in the Kingdom of God now, although the Kingdom will not reach its full expression until sometime in the future (i.e., “already but not yet”).
  • the polarities of God’s sovereignty and humans’ genuine free will.

Affirming one polarity while ignoring or denying the other is an error that dishonors God and will result in wrong practice or living. Although challenging, holding the two polarities in wholesome tension is necessary. We are to accept God’s revelation (properly understood), not subject it to our desire for control, our presumptions and biases, and our intellectual limitations.  

This is not anti-intellectual. I am not saying, “Do not think or question.” After all, in a previous post, we read that we are to (Matthew (22:37)

Love the Lord your God with all your … mind. 

C. S. Lewis rightly comments,

The heart cannot rejoice in what the mind rejects as false.

God’s revelations are not false, but they do surpass the limits of our intellects. Our intellect can follow in the right direction, but when it reaches its limits, it should pause, kneel, and worship.

Let’s take a moment to see what we can learn from our text.

What can we learn?

I propose we can learn at least three things from our text. You might have more, and I want to hear what they are.

1.         Listening and learning 

Again, I encourage you to read the Bible regularly in large sections. See: “Make This Your New Year ReVolution,”

As we place ourselves under holy Scripture, we must intelligently, comprehensively, and consistently listen, receiving all that God reveals. We must also be prayerfully aware of the Holy Spirit, who “will guide us in all truth” (John 16:13-15).

There is plenty of room for questions, doubts, challenges, and delight— and there will also be moments of Spirit-engendered illumination. 

2.         Exposing

If you listen carefully, you will find apparent incompatibilities— truths that do not seem to make sense. At first, you might think they are contradictions, but the more you listen and discover, the more you realize they are not; they are like the north and south poles at opposite ends of one great revelation.

I recall speaking with a man who declared he was a modalist, a modern term for the 3rd-century teaching of Sabellius. Stephen Nichols helpfully defines this serious error in For Us and For Our Salvation (153): 

Modalism is a “heretical view that denies the individual persons of the Trinity; views biblical terminology of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as merely modes of existence or manifestations of the one God.”

Simply put, a modalist believes God manifests himself with one of three different masks in different situations. They focus only on one side of the equation (the oneness of God) while ignoring or denying all the texts revealing the distinct persons of the Father, who is God, the Son, who is God, and the Spirit, who is God.

Here is a simple diagram that holds the two polarities in wholesome tension:

Together, we read the scene in which Jesus was baptized (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22): 

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Simultaneously, the Spirit descended like a dove upon the Son (Jesus), while the Father spoke from heaven, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him, I am well pleased.” This is not some form of cosmic ventriloquist’s act; it reveals three separate ‘persons’ in divine co-equal harmony: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit

This one text exposed the polarization this man had adopted. 

Of course, we ourselves could be the ones whose error is exposed.

3.         Inviting

Although speculative, I wondered how Jesus would have responded if the Pharisees had asked for help understanding the polarities of Christ’s humanity and his deity. Nicodemus and Paul were Pharisees who discovered how Jesus answered.

It was my hope that the man I spoke to about the Trinity would ask: 

“How can that be?”


“What does that mean?”

The Spirit responds to such holy curiosity— the desire to know God.

Let me know what comments and questions have been raised by this post. You can contact me by using this link.

FORWARD TO the next post in this series

BACK TO What ‘Great Commandment’ Guides Your Life?

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