Article by David Mathis
Executive Editor, desiringGod.org
God became a man, and not a woman. Jesus was a son, not a daughter; a brother, not a sister. He did not labor in childbirth, and until his public ministry began, he worked to provide for his family as a man.
As with his Jewishness, the manhood of Christ is a stubborn, objective fact of history that unsettles modern sentiments, and holds important lessons, challenges, and encouragements for both men and women alike, and especially so in our times of such confusion about sex. So, could Christ have come as woman and not as man?
Without pretending to answer the question exhaustively, one way to approach it is to rehearse how Christ’s mission involved accomplishing tasks that God has designed men to do. Consider five aspects of his person and work that demanded a more masculine demeanor than a feminine one.
God created Adam first, as head of the human race. He did not form Adam and Eve simultaneously (1 Timothy 2:13) — nor did he rush to make Eve as soon as he had finished with Adam, to keep everything as fair as possible, as we might be prone to do it. Rather, God lingered — a profound pause worth considering carefully — and he dealt distinctly with Adam, as head, and then with Eve, as “helper” (Genesis 2:18), both before and after the fall.
In fact, we might even say that God seems to take his sweet time, forming Adam first (Genesis 2:7), then planting a garden (Genesis 2:8), making trees (Genesis 2:9), putting the man in the garden to work it and keep it (Genesis 2:15), and giving the man the moral vision for the garden (Genesis 2:16–17), and thus establishing him as head. Then, still prior to making the woman, God parades “every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens” before the man “to see what he would call them” (Genesis 2:19). Finally, at long last, comes the deep sleep and the taking of the rib (Genesis 2:21–22).
Here, as the apostle Paul observes (1 Timothy 2:13–14), God is making a point. He forms Adam first, gives him the instruction, has him name the animals, and gives him a helper to show us that men and women are not only wonderfully similar and equally valuable as humans, but also gloriously different in countless complementary, mutually beneficial ways, with Adam being head of the first humanity.
So also, Christ came to be head — of a new humanity. “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22; Romans 5:12–21). Adam, as head of the human race, “was a type of the one who was to come” (Romans 5:14) — namely, Christ, who came “that he might create in himself one new man” (Ephesians 2:15). As God appointed the man and created the man as head of the first creation, so Christ came as a man to be head of the new race, his church.
Headship applies not only to one man over the whole of humanity; headship is also God’s design for every marriage. “The husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior” (Ephesians 5:23).
Jesus came as a bridegroom to God’s new-covenant people (Mark 2:19). Like a noble husband toward his wife, Christ came to provide for his people, to protect them, and even to sacrifice himself for them. The church does not save Christ. Rather, Christ ventured out into harm’s way and gave himself for us (Galatians 1:4; 2:20; Ephesians 5:2, 25; 1 Timothy 2:6; Titus 2:14) in a way that we do not likewise give ourselves for him. As sinners, we were the damsel in a distress of our own making. He slayed the dragon. Inasmuch as all of us together, as the church, needed Christ’s rescue and provision and protection, so Jesus, as our bridegroom, had to be a man.
Jesus came not only as head and as husband, but also as an authoritative teacher. His miracles may have dazzled the eyes, but his words changed the world. On the road to Emmaus, his disciples spoke of him being “mighty in deed and word” (Luke 24:19). And the kind of authoritative public teaching, on behalf of God, to which he was called is the kind entrusted to the elders of the church, who are men (1 Timothy 2:12; 3:2).
“He came and preached peace,” Paul says (Ephesians 2:17). As God gave Adam, the man, the moral vision for the garden, to instruct his wife, so God appointed his Son, as Christ, to teach both his disciples (Mark 3:14) and the masses. Jesus issued commands, and he exhorted and charged his listeners in a way that is characteristically fatherly (1 Thessalonians 2:11–12) more so than motherly (1 Thessalonians 2:7).
Christ also came as a warrior to disarm the principalities and powers (Colossians 2:15). “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Despite the madness of recent decades — with some women now serving in combat roles — the call to war is a call for men. Men’s bodies and psyches are made by God for combat in a way that women’s, in all their feminine glory, are not.
The ancient prophecy foretold of “enmity between [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring.” The woman, as mother, would have her vital role to play in the war for the cosmos, but the hand-to-hand combatant with the serpent would be her male offspring: “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
Time would fail us to tell of Christ’s coming as the firstborn heir of the Father’s house (Matthew 21:38; Mark 12:7; Luke 20:14) and as the heir of David’s kingly throne (Luke 1:32–33), even as heir of all things (Hebrews 1:2). And so, we finish with one final aspect of Christ’s mission.
We noted Ephesians 5:23 above, but now we emphasize its final four words: “The husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” We might first associate “Savior” more with warrior, but Ephesians 5:23 makes the connection to husband. Regardless, the overlap shows the masculine essence of all three callings. So also, Christ’s headship over the new humanity implies a rescue mission. But now we focus explicitly on the rescue. Jesus came to call sinners (Matthew 9:13; Mark 2:17), and he came to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). He came to give his own body (Hebrews 10:5), his flesh, that he might rescue his body, the church.
Our relationship, as creatures, with our Creator is not egalitarian. Nor is it one in which we are the benefactors and God is the beneficiary. He is not “served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). Indeed, Christ himself, in his own words, did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his own life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). In Christ, God did not come to be provided for by humans. He did not come to be protected by humans. And he did not come at our initiative, but at his. He came to rescue us from the gravest of dangers: human sin and omnipotent divine wrath. And with such a task before him, it was fitting for him to come as a man.
The manhood of Christ is good news for women. It says, in effect, “God made you to be thought for, cared for, provided for, protected, like you long for deep down.” Just as he made us all, in Christ, to be beneficiaries of his attention and love and costly service as the church, so he means for you to be heard and loved and served like that in this passing age. God will care for you like that forever, and one earthly manifestation of his care now, even in this fallen age, is his design for worthy men as fathers and husbands and pastors to care for women in ways that echo Christ’s perfect manhood.
The encouragement for men is not that being the man is easy or full of special privileges. In biblical terms, it is not. It means taking on more, not less — venturing out, taking on risks, exposing yourself to criticism and conflict and peril, to secure and preserve the benefit of those entrusted to your care. The head shoulders a peculiar burden to care for the helper that she does not for her head. The husband gives up personal preference and comforts to greater, collective ends. Teachers pour themselves out in the energy of words. Warriors put their bodies and lives at risk in battle. So also, a savior who would rescue another must venture into harm’s way to bring back the one in peril.
The message of the manhood of Christ is not that manhood comes with perks and extra time on the couch. Manhood, in Christ, is a calling, not a convenience. It is a shouldering of more, not less — not more leisure or momentary comforts. But the encouragement to men is that, through Christ, you can do this. Not perfectly, but genuinely, in ways that really matter. You can put your ear to God’s word and get a spiritual and practical vision for your family, and take initiative, and expend energy, with love and gentleness, to bring that vision into reality, as costly as it will be.David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org and pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is a husband, father of four, and author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.