Behold the Man

Behold the Man

Antonio Ciseri – Ecce Homo (Behold the Man) 1871

 It is finished.

These are three of the last words the Son of God ever uttered.  However, his words beg the question; what is finished?  What is the work that has been accomplished?  In his book, Becoming Human, the Orthodox theologian John Behr argues that Jesus’ healing of the blind man, recorded in John’s gospel, may give us a clue into the meaning of Christ’s statement.  In John 9:2-3, as Jesus encounters the man who was born blind, his disciples ask him:

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

After saying this, Jesus healed the man by spitting on the ground and anointing his eyes with the mud. St. Ireneaus, commenting on this passage, points out the parallels between Christ’s healing of the blind man and God’s initial fashioning of man from the dust. He concludes that,

“The work of God is the fashioning of the human being.”

In the opening chapter of Genesis we encounter a God who creates by his Word. He speaks and creation occurs within that speaking.

Let there be light…and there was light.

Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters…

Let the waters under heaven be gathered together into one place…

And so on…

In these passages God simply says, “let there be” and it is so. However, when it comes to the creation of humanity, God announces his project not with an injunction, but by saying,

“Let us make man [anthropos] in our image, after our likeness.” 

The creation of humanity is the only act in Genesis that is not followed by, “and it was so.” The making of the human being is unique; it was not completed in the garden, it was only started there. To make man in His image and likeness is the ongoing work of God.

It is only at the conclusion of Jesus’ earthly ministry that the project of God is finished.* In John 19:5 at the trial of Jesus, Pilate exclaims:

“Behold the man [anthropos]!”

Jesus, not Adam, was the first true human in history. It is the Son of God who finishes the work, which the Father announced in the beginning. As St. Maximus said:

“Christ as human, completes what he himself, as God, has predetermined to take place.”

As Christians we know what it means to be fully human because God became man in Jesus of Nazareth. The arrival of Christ begins the new creation – the new genesis. For the creation of the world all that was needed was a divine command, but for the human being to come into existence, requires a creature to pass from death to life.

This new existence begins in baptism, where the baptized chooses a new mode of being: “in Christ” rather than “in Adam.” And it is continued, thereafter, throughout all of life by learning to die to the sin, which hinders us from loving God and loving our neighbor. As we take up our cross and follow Christ into death we put our faith in the God, whose strength is made perfect in weakness. For it is in death, when our utter weakness and impotence are exposed, that God will finally fashion us anew from the dust in the image of his Son.


All quotes from: John Behr’s, Becoming Human: Meditations on Christian Anthropology in Word and Image

*I am by no means saying that this is the only correct reading of Christ’s statement on the cross, but I do think that it is a true reading of the text. I thought Behr’s interpretation was fascinating especially in light of the New Testament’s motif of new creation.


  • Jeff Yim

    Bomb quote from Steven Jillson: “Jesus, not Adam, was the first true human in history.” A related idea that is anachronistic to be sure is: Jesus was the first and greatest Christian.

  • Steven Jillson

    Thanks Jeff! Yeah I think that is definitely true.

  • Steven Jillson

    This is Herbert McCabe on Jesus being human:

    “Jesus died of being human. His very humanity meant that he put up no barriers, no defences against those he loved who hated him. He refused to evade the consequences of being human in our inhuman world. So the cross shows up our world for what it really is, what we have made it. It is a world in which it is dangerous, even fatal, to be human; a world structured by violence and fear. The cross shows that whatever else may be wrong with this or that society, whatever may be remedied by this or that political or economic change, there is a basic wrong, persistent through history and through all progress; the rejection of the love that casts out fear, the fear of the love that casts out fear, the fear that without the backing of terror, at least in the last resort, human society and thus human life cannot exist.” (God Matters)