I recently rented Arrival (a worthy movie about aliens coming to Earth to communicate with us) and was immediately struck by the forcefulness and clarity with which it teaches us about Jesus’ humanity. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a perfect demonstration of why Jesus needed to set aside His prerogatives of deity if He were to be a true man.
The movie isn’t about Him mind you, it’s about aliens, so let me give you some background information in case you haven’t watched it yet. The aliens appear out of nowhere as if by magic, waiting for us to come speak with them so that in the future they can ask a favor of us. The problem? They don’t speak like we do, and after the we figure out to try writing to them, our top experts are dismayed to find out that aliens write holistically. That is, their ideas don’t really have progression or movement to them, they just are. Whereas our ideas develop with each sentence, theirs are all one unit, and if you are to understand it you must grasp all that is being said at the same time. Worse, they don’t experience time as a series of linear events like we do, to them time is always now. Oh they make a distinction between events happening at this moment and events still to come, to be sure, but they possess knowledge of the future now.
It’s a side-effect their language, by the way. Thinking in it they gives them the ability to see into the future (and spoiler alert: humans who learn their language pick up this ability to see into any point of their future too.) Imagine writing a sentence a sentence with two hands. The left hand starts at the left side of the page and works as normal, and the right hand starts on the right side of the page and works backwards toward the middle. If you knew exactly what you wanted to say, the spacing between the words and letters, you could master it with some practice. But how would you master knowing what to write before knowing what to say? By going back to a time where the letter was already written and copying it, that’s how.
Pretty neat eh? It’s the end of needing to learn things, or practicing to get good at something. By using the alien language and jumping into a point in the future after you’ve learned anything, you can pull that knowledge back into the past and equip yourself with it. Imagine two year old violin virtuosos, or six year old chess-masters. It’s also the end of needing to grow, because whenever you wanted to you could simply throw yourself into the slip stream, pull out the abilities, and use them perfectly from the beginning. There is a bit of a problem of course in seeing everything in the future as the eternal now, because there’s no way to focus on what’s in front of you (in addition to the impossible paradoxes it creates). But set aside those paradoxes for a moment and consider the question, “what would life be like if we could do that?” If we could go outside our rigid swim lanes and pierce the veil of future? Traveling backwards instantly creates paradoxes and confusion, but what if it didn’t?
This is what convinced so forcefully me of why Jesus needed to voluntarily limit His abilities while on Earth–if He didn’t He wouldn’t be one of us. The problem is compounded for Jesus because not only would He be pulling information, abilities, and knowledge from the future, He would be pulling it from His infinite deity. He therefore would not merely have perfect knowledge about His future, He would have perfect knowledge about everything. Likewise, had He used this power He would not merely be seeing events of His future, He would be seeing everything as God does. But Luke says, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52) which means time progressed forward for Him as it does for us. He had to learn to use His hands, to walk, to recognize the animals and shapes He invented before He stepped into human flesh. He wasn’t born knowing how to speak because He didn’t draw that knowledge from the future.
I’m convinced this is also the key to understanding confusing passages like Mark 13:32, “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” If you’re wondering why Jesus (who is God) doesn’t know the same things God, it’s because He’s chosen for His time on Earth to live as one of us. He’ll know only what He learns, and unless God teaches Him, He’s not going to avail Himself of those abilities lest He cease to experience life as a man. Were He to pull knowledge from His divinity He would cease to sympathize with us poor creatures who push against the unknown future at the rate of once per second. Now the time will come when He won’t need to limit His power in that way—specifically when He acts as a judge to bring history to an end (see the book of Revelation)—but while on Earth being a man like us was absolutely essential. (For more on this, see Heidelberg questions 35 and 36)
It also explains some other confusing passages, things like John 5 when He says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what He seeth the Father do: for what things soever He doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth Him all things that Himself doeth… I can of Mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and My judgment is just; because I seek not Mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent Me.” Why does it look like Jesus is saying the Son is not only subordinate to the Father in office, but in essence? Or to put it another way, how can that be if the Son is also fully God, maker of heaven and Earth? Simple: He’s voluntarily setting aside use of these abilities. He’s receiving revelation just like how God revealed things to Peter (Matt 16:17), or Simeon (Luke 2:26), or any other prophet. While on earth He received His revelation the same as everyone (from the Father) for “All things are delivered to me of my Father” (Luke 10:22), and was forced to fight off the Devil in the wilderness with the Scripture alone just as we would have.
He’s still God of course, which is why He didn’t correct the disciples when they worshiped (John 20:29). But while on Earth He took the form of a bond-servant, and was like us in all things except with regards to sin.
And if all that is true, then it means time itself is linear, and we will never be able to step outside of it or go backwards through it. I suspect this is because time is nothing more than the physical manifestation of God’s decree that He should have increasing glory for Himself. The decree that He would always have more glory than before creates the concept of time. But that is, as they say, for another post. In the meantime, go watch the movie. It’s pretty good.