On William Lane Craig’s website, he regularly answers a question which has been submitted to him. I often find his answers very helpful, particularly because he brings to theological questions greater philosophical expertise than many systematic theologians have.
On January 11, 2021, in Q & A number 714, “Zygotic Jesus,” Craig responded to two questions from “Rodrigo,” in Brazil.
First, Rodrigo asked:
In what sense was Jesus omniscient while in the form of a zygote or fetus? It makes sense to use concepts of the subliminal and subconscious or preconscious for when He was an adult, already having a brain, but how can a zygote have a subconsciousness?
In response, Craig appealed to the Nicene Creed (AD 381), in which the global church laid out very precisely that, “as a divine person, Jesus had all the essential properties of God, including omniscience. Obviously, as a zygote, and even later, he was not consciously aware of all that he knew. We needn’t say that the zygote had a subconscious but that it was simply unconscious, and that needn’t affect the divine nature or person.”
I am well satisfied with Craig’s answer to this question, and it comports very well with my own understanding of the incarnation of Jesus, which made him truly divine and truly human. Three mornings a week, I recite the church’s “Definition of Chalcedon” in 451, because I think it is very well stated and biblically sound, and it addresses an extremely important theological doctrine.
The second question which Rodrigo put to Craig was this:
If presently, after His ascension to Heaven, Christ is not in his physical resurrected body, and if Christ’s human nature is formed only by the union of His divine soul and human body, does that mean he does not presently have a human nature? Also, if he will reassume his glorified body only at his second coming, would that be a second incarnation?
We want to affirm that Jesus has a human nature even in his ascended state. The incarnation is not a temporary state of Jesus’ thirty-odd years on earth. Rather his resurrection shows that he has permanently assumed a human nature, the strongest possible affirmation of the worth of human corporeality. One could say that in his ascended state Jesus is spatially located somewhere, perhaps in another space-time different than our own. But like you, I’m inclined to say that between his ascension and bodily return, Jesus, while having a human nature, does not have a body. The reason is because he has exited our space-time manifold. By way of analogy, imagine a tuning fork placed inside a vacuum jar. If you were to pluck the fork, it would vibrate, but there would be no sound because there is no medium to conduct sound waves. Were you to introduce air into the jar, then the vibrations would be manifested as sound. The vibrating fork remains intrinsically the same in both scenarios, but its manifestations are different depending on the medium. Similarly, Jesus’ human nature is not now manifested as a physical body because, since he is not in space-time, there is no medium for the expression of his human nature in a three-dimensional form. When Christ re-enters our space-time manifold, then—voilà! —his physical body will again become manifest. This will be in a literal sense a re-incarnation, but not a second assumption of a human nature, since that remains constant throughout.
My thoughts about this are not as well settled as they are concerning the first item. Initially, I had a tentatively negative response to Craig’s proposal, because I wondered if it diminished the nature of Jesus’ resurrection. On further consideration, however, I am tentatively inclined to affirm Craig’s suggestion.
Paul identifies the bodily resurrection of Jesus as the first fruits of his glorious triumph over sin and death, in which we who believe will participate when Jesus returns and all believers are raised bodily “with Jesus” (1 Cor 15:20-23). In our case, the raising of our bodies to new life, indeed to eternal life and immortality, entails robust embodiment. There will be some form of continuity between the bodies we have now and the bodies we receive then. Those resurrected bodies will be ours, but they will not be exactly like the bodies we have in this life, though Paul was not given an understanding of just how these new bodies would be alike and yet different from our original bodies (1 Cor 15:35-41).
Frequently, when we think and talk about Christ’s rule over all things, which he decisively accomplished in his death and resurrection, we speak of the “now and not yet” aspects of Christ’s victory. The battle against Satan, sin and death was won at the cross, but it will not be fully consummated and revealed until Christ’s return, when the final enemy, death is completely vanquished (1 Cor 15:24-26). Given this “now and not yet” situation, the peculiarity of Jesus’ own embodiment in this interim period seems quite appropriate.
The nature of Jesus’ embodiment, between his resurrection and the consummation of his reign, is not something I had thought about before, so my response is tentative, and I welcome the thoughts of others who read this post and ponder Craig’s answer to Rodrigo’s question.
Changing my mind
Conversation with commenters (see thread below) has been helpful. I am no longer inclined to affirm Craig’s proposal, and Marc Vandersluys has expressed well the basic difficulty which Craig’s view must confront: “If Christ is indeed the first-fruits of the resurrection that we should expect for ourselves, wouldn’t that mean Jesus did go into that embodiment immediately? Otherwise, it seems to me, Paul’s words viz. ‘first-fruits’ would be empty of meaning.”