Incarnate Emotions

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An essential part of the Christian confession is that Jesus of Nazareth is “fully God” and “fully man.” If you sometimes wonder why the Nicene Creed and the Definition of Chalcedon are so specific and so detailed, it is because there are numerous ways to slip off the point and into heresy.

One of the easier ways to do this is to imagine Jesus as having a human body, but being “God on the inside.” But no. We confess that Jesus was and is entirely human, and a good way to reinforce this in our minds is to consider what the Scriptures teach about the emotional life of Christ.

The Text

“That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him” (Acts 10:37–38).

Summary of the Text

The apostle Peter is preaching to the household of Cornelius, and in the course of his message he reminds them of something they already knew—how after the baptism of John, the message of Christ spread from Galilee and throughout all Judea (v. 37). The first part of the message was that God anointed Christ with the Spirit and power, and as a consequence He “went about doing good” (v. 38). He went about doing good, which was a capital offense. God was with Him, and He healed all those who were oppressed by the devil. Peter goes on to proclaim the cross and resurrection (vv. 39-40), but our concern here is the Incarnation, the precondition of that vicarious substitution.

Some Guardrails First

As we will see in a moment, Christ experienced true human emotion. But we have to hold two things together. He was truly human, but He was also sinlessly human. When we experience the analog emotions that Christ felt, we need to remember that there is a sinful component in it for us that was not present for Him. But at the same time, the writers of Scripture were able to describe His emotional responses with human vocabulary. We are talking about something that is in the same ball park.

For example, we are commanded in Ephesians to be angry—“be angry and sin not” (Eph. 4:26). But in the next breath we are told to put away all bitterness, wrath, anger, and clamor (Eph. 4:31). This is because there is a righteous anger from above . . . and then there is the other kind. “For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20).


The gospel writers frequently mention how the Lord was internally moved with compassion. This internal state routinely resulted in an external blessing for someone else. “And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean” (Mark 1:41; cf. Matt. 20:34; Luke 7:13). This happens in numerous instances. There is one time when Jesus Himself refers to His own compassion, and that is right before He fed the multitude. “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat: And if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way: for divers of them came from far” (Mark 8:2–3). We have numerous occasions where the Lord exhibits a spontaneous pity that was provoked by the misery of the people who were coming to Him. He did good to them because He wanted to. “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).


We just noted that Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. But sympathy for Mary and Martha was not the only emotion He felt there. We are told twice that Jesus groaned in His spirit (John 11:33, 38). But a better translation of this, even if it seems disrespectful, is that Jesus raged in His spirit, He raged in Himself. Against whom? Against His great enemy—death. This was a preliminary skirmish, being simply a resuscitation, with the great and final battle to come being seen in the Lord’s own resurrection.

And in the incident with the man who had a withered hand, we are told that the Lord was angry and grieved with their hardness of heart (Mark 3:5). But note that when Jesus got angry, the end result was that a withered hand was healed. When men in the flesh gets angry, the end result is a hole in the sheetrock.

We are not told expressly that He was angry when He cleansed the Temple, but He almost certainly was. He was consumed with zeal for His Father’s house the first time He cleansed the Temple (John 2:17), and the task before Him was enormous, and required great motivation.

And there is another occasion where a lesser form of “anger” was displayed. When His disciples were being grown-up and very officious, and were keeping little children away from Him, we are told that Jesus was vexed, annoyed, greatly displeased (Mark 10:14). He was peeved with them.

Sorrow and Exultation

Christ went to the cross—for you and for me—with a strange combination of emotions within His breast. When He contemplated the cross, He exulted in His spirit (Luke 10:21). For the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross (Heb. 12:2). At the same time, He went into the black shadow with His eyes fully open to the price that He was going to pay. The emotional side of it was agitation, perplexity, and disquietude (John 12:27; 13:21). What He experienced was agony. “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Was the Lord despondent and appalled? He was. “And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy” (Mark 14:33).

True Salvation

Christ was sent by the Father to save His elect. And so when Christ came to earth, He came to save the entirety of you, and not just a portion of you. Our tendency is to think of our humanity, in its broken and shattered state, as the true meaning of what it means to be a real human. But no—the unfallen Christ is the ultimate meaning of true humanity. And so in the resurrection, it will not be the case that all your emotions will be freeze-dried and stored in a cooler somewhere.

No, you will be men and women forever. You will be restored men and women, and you will be truly human, all the way through, like the Lord Jesus.

“When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream.”

Psalm 126:1 (KJV)

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