Christological Conundrums

I have spent some time recently studying Christian apologetics (defence of the faith) and have heard some Muslim scholars raising interesting questions about the Trinity and the dual (human & divine) nature of Christ. Here are a few thoughts.

One Muslim questioner was asking about Mark 11:12-14, which says the following:

12 Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry. 13 And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 In response Jesus said to it, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.”

And His disciples heard it.

The questioner was suggesting that if Jesus is God, surely He could have made figs appear on the tree to satisfy His hunger. Why didn’t He do so? Also, if Jesus is God, wouldn’t He have known there were no figs on the tree before He even approached the tree?

I suppose what we’re getting at here is the question of whether Jesus maintained qualities such as omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence when He took on human form. It seems from this passage that He didn’t, so are we really able to say He is fully God and fully man? I would be interested to get your thoughts – feel free to comment below.

A different but associated question that has been puzzling me is this: Did Jesus will the crucifixion? There seem to me to be two conflicting scriptures here.

Firstly, John 10:17-18 (NKJV):

17 “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. 18 No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”

Secondly, Luke 22:41-43 (NKJV), in which Jesus is praying to God the Father in anticipation of His crucifixion:

41 And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed,42 saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” 43 Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. 44 And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground…

Unless I am mistaken, it seems that in the first scripture Jesus is suggesting He has authority over His own life and death, but in the second scripture that He is dependent on the will of the Father. This is somewhat confusing, and so to aid clarification, I’d love to get your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

7 comments

  1. Steven, The fig tree was used as an OT type for Israel (Hosea 9:10, Nahum 3:12, Zech 3:10). Jesus was using the barren fig tree as a symbol for Israel’s spiritual fruitlessness. I’ve also considered Christ’s resoluteness in accomplishing His mission contrasted with His agony as he anticipated His impending death. The physical pain He would have had to endure as a totally innocent victim would been bad enough but the thought of being made sin who knew no sin (2 Cor. 5:21) and being separated from and forsaken by the Father (Mark 15:34) had to have been more painful than we could possibly comprehend.

    1. Hi Tom, many thanks for your thoughts and the helpful scripture references alongside them. I can see how the barren fig tree could represent Israel’s spiritual fruitlessness, although I don’t know whether there is anything in the New Testament that makes this connection? Is it conjecture on our part? Perhaps not; maybe God intended for us to draw this conclusion for ourselves, I find it hard to say.

      I can’t imagine the agony Jesus must have been through as He contemplated His crucifixion. I think Luke 22:42 shows a very human side to Jesus (I know I have prayed a similar prayer on numerous occasions!). In a general sense I’m interested in the God nature of Jesus, and what exactly is contained or encapsulated within that (i.e. what are the attributes that made Jesus ‘fully God’ during His time on earth?). I do sometimes find the Trinity a difficult concept, mainly as I try to understand how the different persons relate to each other and interact.

  2. Possibly, the fact that God took human form in Jesus, shows His omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence and the necessary ‘splitting’, required of Jesus’ experience of omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence. If Jesus hadn’t entered ‘unconsciousness’, of His full Divinity, so to speak, then he could not have taken on the burden of the world (the Wound of separation from God). Without God suffering Himself, literally, having the experience Himself, through Jesus, then how else could Jesus have actually been crucified and have His sense of separation from God crucified for the good of the world? In Jesus, God sacrifices his own consciousness, i.e., forsakes Himself, in order to crucify the ‘sin’ in mankind. It is conceivable that God allowed Himself, through Jesus, to be ‘birthed’, through suffering / separation, into humanity, and also allowed Himself, as Jesus, full access to His Divinity, as the moment called for. Surely, such a divine paradox could be perfectly executed by God Himself?

    1. Hi Gregg! So good to read what seems like a clear understanding of the Incarnation (a subject I am struggling with a bit) so thank you so much, I really appreciate your thoughts and I’m sure other readers will too! I think where I get confused is trying to understand how Jesus experienced His divinity (and how His divine nature interacted with God the Father during His time on earth). The division of God into the Trinity makes sense to me on a theoretical level, but in terms of the nitty gritty of Jesus’ life it raises some confusion in my mind. There seems to be a lot implied in the New Testament on this subject but not much that is explicit. I will keep exploring!

  3. Hi Steven!

    I think you are right to raise these issues about Christ’s nature. I only have time to give you my initial response on the first issue, at present.

    The explanation given is that the fig tree is often a symbol of Israel in scripture and that its prosperity and peace withered because most of the Jews, especially their leaders, were destitute of spiritual fruit. However, this does not explain the apparent absence of divine knowledge of Christ who was described as ‘hungry’ when He saw the fig tree. Also, we are led to believe that He is hungry for food, which is probably incorrect!

    The account in Mt 11:18-19 is similar and certainly ‘suggests’ that He was looking for fruit rather than planning to curse the fig tree! This implies that something was lost when the accounts were written; otherwise, He was fooled by its foliage and unaware that it was not the season for figs! It is quite feasible that from an observer’s point of view, Christ approached the fig tree for its fruit, but Christ probably knew that it was fruitless and proceeded to it with the intention of cursing it – to fulfil the prophecy about Israel’s demise. Christ was not obliged to reveal all of His thoughts to His followers! This is one of the problems of the ‘Sola Scriptura’ approach.

    Below is a link to the writings of St John Chrysostom, including his thoughts about the fig tree, which may be of help to you. It is presented in Question and Answer format and number five refers:

    http://www.orthodox.net/questions/10monape.html

    I’m not claiming to know the complete truth and I think the issues you’ve raised are worth further investigation, but I hope my thoughts are of some help. I would suggest that the ‘Word’ is insufficient on its own.

    Peace and love to all,
    Dinos

    1. Thank you Dinos for your thoughtful reply, and for the link to the writings of St John Chrysostom, which I visited and read. ‘Sola Scriptura’ is a fascinating issue and I’ve recently been listening to various Baptist pastors who defend this idea. I’m interested to hear arguments from the opposing viewpoints though! Hope you are well, my friend 🙂

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