In the Days of His Flesh
It is one of the most touching passages in the entire book of Hebrews. A portion of the verse reads like this:
“Who in the days of his flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him who was able to save him from death …” (Hebrews 5:7).
The immediate context deals with the qualifications of Christ to function in the role of our high priest. In this brief space we can but focus upon a single phrase, “the days of his flesh.” What a treasure house this is.
The Necessity of Flesh
Not long after Christianity was born, false teachers arose who were intrigued with the imposing presence of the historical Jesus, and yet they labored under certain lingering delusions of Greek philosophy — namely that “flesh” is intrinsically evil.
Accordingly, these early heretics denied that Christ ever possessed a physical body; he only “appeared to,” they said. These men were called Docetists, derived from a Greek word, dokeo, meaning “to appear” or “seem.”
To deny that the Messiah was truly a person of “flesh,” was viewed by the inspired writers as heresy. John declared:
“For many deceivers are gone forth into the world, even they that confess not that Jesus Christ cometh in the flesh” (2 John 7).
The importance of recognizing that Christ was a being of actual flesh may be emphasized in several ways.
- Old Testament prophecy sets forth the claim that Jesus would partake of a physical nature.
Consider these examples. The Lord would be the “seed” of woman (Genesis 3:15; Galatians 4:4), the offspring of Abraham, David, etc. (Genesis 22:18; 2 Samuel 7:12; Isaiah 11:1). A body was to be prepared for him (Psalm 40:6 — LXX, cf. Hebrews 10:5) as he made his entrance into the world as a human baby (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6). And he went to be subjected to physical punishment, implying a fleshly body (Psalm 22:14ff; Isaiah 50:6; 53:5).
- Christ appeared in the flesh to provide men with a visible commentary on the character of deity. John declared that “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory …)” (John 1:14; cf. 1 Timothy 3:15).
And so, while no man has seen God in pure spirit essence, they did witness his Son, whose mission it was to “declare” the Father (John 1:18; cf. 14:9). The word “declare” (exegesato) forms the basis of our English term “exegesis.” The word suggests the “adequacy of the revelation” of God that Jesus provided (Morris, p. 114).
- As a fleshly being, Christ was tempted in every human way, just as we are (Hebrews 4:15), yet he provided us with an example of how to resist the inclinations of carnality (Psalm 119:11; Matthew 4:1ff; 1 Peter 2:21-22).
- The existence of the Son of man in the flesh facilitated the atoning sacrifice of the cross. God, as a spirit entity, cannot die. He possesses “immortality,” i.e., the intrinsic nature of deathlessness (1 Timothy 6:16).
Inasmuch as the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), if Jehovah was to remain “just,” and yet be the “justifier” of sinful man (Romans 3:26), the death of an innocent victim must be substituted for the penalty due man. Since a physical death demands a physical being, Christ assumed the form of “flesh” in order to be able to die.
Inspiration expresses the matter like this: “Since then the children are sharers in flesh and blood, he also himself in like manner partook of the same; that through death he might bring to nought him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14; cf. 2:9-10).
As was observed at the commencement of this piece, it was necessary, in the sacred scheme of things, that Christ must partake of the nature of humanity if he was to operate effectually as our mediator and high priest. Let us consider each of these concepts separately.
First, if Jesus is to mediate between a holy God and fleshly man, he must bear an equal relationship to both parties, i.e., be both God and man. Christ is eminently qualified to function in such a capacity (John 1:1, 14). Paul’s emphasis upon Christ, our “mediator,” as “man” (without the article in the Greek, stressing “man” as a nature), who stands between the Father and humanity (1 Timothy 2:5), is extremely significant.
Second, there is the matter of the Savior’s role as our priest. It was imperative that Jesus be made “like unto his brethren” (i.e., share in flesh and blood — Hebrews 2:14) if he was to become a “merciful and faithful high priest.” Because of that identity with us in the flesh, he is able to come to our aid (Hebrews 2:18). We may entertain every assurance that he personally knows the troubles with which we struggle in this shroud of flesh.
Beyond the Flesh
While it is vital that the Bible teacher emphasize the sojourn of the Son of God “in the days of his flesh,” there is the implication that the second Person of the Godhead enjoyed an existence outside of the “days of his flesh.” This may be discussed in two phases — the pre-flesh, and post-flesh state of the Lord.
- Contrary to the assertions of some cultists (e.g., the “Jehovah’s Witnesses”), the second Person of the Godhead was not created. Rather, he existed eternally (Micah 5:2; John 1:1; 8:58; 17:5).
Moreover, as the “angel [messenger] of Jehovah” or “messenger of the covenant” (Malachi 3:1), the Lord was active in the Old Testament era (cf. John 8:56), even caring for Israel in the wilderness of Sinai (1 Corinthians 10:4). (See Jackson, 1996, p. 42.)
- Following his earthly visit, however, the Son of God ascended into heaven from whence he had come. He is now in an exalted state and, therefore, is no longer “in the days of his flesh.”
Nonetheless, he has retained his identity with humanity. Murray has noted: “The continuance of [Jesus’] humanity is indispensable to the discharge of His heavenly ministry” (p. 334; see Jackson, 1987, pp. 13-15).
Christ currently possesses a glorified body. Hear Paul:
“For our citizenship is in heaven; whence also we wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory” (Philippians 3:20-21).
Since it is the case that “we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2), and, as it is further a fact that our future bodies will be spiritual, immortal, and incorruptible (1 Corinthians 15:42ff), it logically follows that such is the nature of the Savior’s current status. He remains our “brother” (Romans 8:29; Hebrews 2:11) though he is no longer “flesh.”
And so, the sacred expression, “in the days of his flesh,” is wonderfully rich — in its explicit affirmation, and in its implications. Be instructed and refreshed by this thrilling phrase.
Scripture references: Hebrews 5:7; 2 John 7; Genesis 3:15; Galatians 4:4; Genesis 22:18; 2 Samuel 7:12; Isaiah 11:1; Psalm 40:6; Hebrews 10:5; Isaiah 7:14, 9:6; Psalm 22:14; Isaiah 50:6, 53:5; John 1:14; 1 Timothy 3:15; John 1:18; Hebrews 4:15; Psalm 119:11; Matthew 4:1; 1 Peter 2:21-22; 1 Timothy 6:16; Romans 6:23; Romans 3:26; Hebrews 2:14; John 1:1, 14; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 2:18; Micah 5:2; John 1:1, 8:58, 17:5; Malachi 3:1; John 8:56; 1 Corinthians 10:4; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 John 3:2; 1 Corinthians 15:42; Romans 8:29; Hebrews 2:11
- Jackson, Wayne. 1987. _Christian Courier. August.
- Jackson, Wayne. 1996. Christian Courier. March.
- Morris, Leon. 1971. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
- Murray, John. (1998. The Wycliffe Bible Dictionary. Charles Pfeiffer, Howard Vos, John Rea, Eds. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.