The incarnation

…or “Who is Jesus?”

Gordon MackleyBy Gordon Mackley

This blog is not about who was the historical Jesus. It looks at Jesus and his various titles: the Christ, the Son of God, the Son of Man and God the Son, how all this fits together and how this fits into the Easter story.

The Word (Logos) Exists from the Beginning

John 1:1-14

1:1 In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

This is very similar to the very first words in the Bible:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1

Logos in Greek (translated as ‘the Word’) means more than just the English ‘word’ and has the idea of a plan or design and thus a designer. It is the root of our English word ‘logic’. From these opening words of John’s Gospel, we can deduce that the Logos (God the Son), was part of that God who created everything in Genesis 1 (Elohim in Hebrew). God the Son was at the beginning i.e. he has always existed.

1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

The Greek word here ‘skenoo’ literally translates as ‘tabernacled’ and uses the same root as in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Tanakh or Old Testament) for ‘The Tabernacle’, God’s Holy tent. Also in 2 Corinthians 15 Paul describes us (humans) as living in an earthly tent so there is a double metaphor here.

‘God the Son’ and ‘Son of God’
The passage continues and makes reference to this ‘Logos’ being the ‘Son of God’

We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

If we look at one of the well-known Christmas passages:
Luke 1:35

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God….”

We can see that ‘Son of God’ applies in a natural physical sense so this ‘Logos’ or ‘God the Son’ was born as a human being in the normal manner.

The Tabernacle in the Old Testament was a place where people and God met. God sent Jesus as a human being as his own living ‘Tabernacle’ among people.

To further understand ‘Son of God’ we need to understand the Jewish concept of ‘son of’ (‘ben’ in Hebrew, ‘bar’ in Aramaic, ’huios’ in Greek). This can be literal but it is also used as a metaphor when it means ‘having the nature of’, as in ‘son of violence’ ( a violent person), ‘son of courage’ (a courageous person), ‘son of man’ (a human being), and thus ‘son of God’ in Jewish metaphor means one who has the very nature of God. There is no concept in this metaphor of a ‘son’ being subservient to a ‘father’.

Jesus as both God and Man

This dual nature of God and man is exemplified in this passage:

Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
Luke 2:11

‘Christ’ means messiah or anointed one and the expected messiah was to be a human being.
‘Lord’ is Kurios in Greek which is used in both the Septuagint (Old Testament in Greek) and in the New Testament to translate ‘Adonai’ in Hebrew and used to describe God.

Philippians 2 explains this dual nature further:

2:5 have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, 8 And being found in appearance as a man (he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death –even death on a cross!

Here the word for likeness (‘in very nature’) in Greek is ‘morphe’ (form) but this is not a physical form as God is not physical:

God is spirit
John 4:24

Again it was not that Jesus looked physically like a servant (actually ‘doulos’ in Greek, literally a slave or bondservant) but that he was prepared to serve in that way as if he were a servant. It is interesting that the word translated as ‘man&’ is ‘anthropos’ in Greek which is a human being not necessarily a male one (‘andros’ is the Greek for man as opposed to woman). Clearly as a human being, Jesus was male and there could be many reasons for that but from the reference here it seems that the priority was that Jesus was human rather than male.

More Attributes of the ‘Son of God’

Continuing the John 1 passage:

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.

This ‘highest place’ or ‘Most High’ is ‘huperupsoo’ in Greek and has the same root as that used in Luke 1:35:

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”

‘Most High’ as in the Luke passage is a name of God so ‘highest place’ is the place of God.

The reference to ‘the name above every name’ alludes to the use in Hebrew thought that the name was more than just the word by which someone was called but described the nature of the person. In Deuteronomy 28:58-59 there is this reference:

58 You might not fear this glorious and awe-inspiring name: Yahweh your Elohim. 59 If so, Yahweh will strike you and your descendants with unimaginable plagues (Names of God translation).

Devout Jews used this passage as a reason for never using God’s personal name, ‘Yahweh’ (as given to Moses in Exodus 3:14) and instead used the Hebrew for ‘The Name’ (Ha Shem). This translates as ‘onoma’ in Greek and is used in verse 9, so ‘The Name’ which Jesus has which is above every name is actually ‘Yahweh’, God.

Verse 10 continues:

10 …that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth. 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Those ‘in heaven’ are the various angelic host, those ‘on earth’ are people who are alive. Those ‘under the earth’ is an allusion to the ‘place of the dead’, although this was not regarded in Jewish thought as actually physically underground (as in Greek pagan theology) and here means those who have died. There is a similar description used in Revelation 5:13. It is interesting to note that the Bible starts with ‘heavens and earth’ in Genesis 1 and ends in Revelation 21 with ‘a new heavens and a new earth’. Between the beginning and the end there is a third ‘place’, ‘under the earth’ (or the place of the dead, ‘Sheol’ in Hebrew or ‘Hades’ in Greek). So in this passage every person, alive and dead, and all those in the spiritual realm bow to Jesus. ‘Lord’ is again ‘Kurios’ (Adonai), so Jesus is Adonai, God.

Another quote which shows the two natures of Jesus is John 14:23

‘Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me”.

These verses together make an interesting contrasting pair. In Verse 23 which is a spiritual or ‘heavenly’ reference, Father God and Jesus are together (‘we will come to them’). In verse 24 where Jesus is referring to his earthly words, Father God and Jesus are separate (‘they (the words) belong to the Father who sent me’). Thus here is a statement of Jesus’ divinity in verse 23 and his humanity in verse 24.
From all this we can establish that God the Son existed in the beginning was born as a human being as Jesus (but still remained God). He is God incarnate.

The Old Testament
For any that may believe that the idea of a ‘Son of God’ is a New Testament reference only, there is this reference in the Old Testament:

Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Whose hands have gathered up the wind? Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is the name of his son. Surely you know!
Proverbs 30:4

Jesus after the Resurrection

After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.
Hebrews 1:3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
Mark 16:19

‘Sitting at the right hand’ does not mean to be subservient as in ‘right hand man’ in English. In the custom of this time a person of high rank would put someone on his right hand to give him equal honour with himself and recognise him as possessing equal dignity and authority. So Jesus rules as God into eternity sustaining all things by his powerful word.

The Son of Man
Jesus also called himself ‘The Son of Man’. A son of man can simply mean a human being as we have already seen but ‘The Son of Man’ was also a messianic title and this was what the high priest regarded as blasphemous in Matthew 26, as we see in the Easter story.

Jesus replied. ‘But I say to all of you: from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.
Matthew 26:64

Jesus here is quoting:

‘In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
Daniel 7:13

Thus Jesus was claiming here to be the one to which the Daniel 7:14 titles applied. This was either true or the High Priest was correct and it was blasphemous as these are titles only appropriate for God.

The Purpose of the Incarnation

(God Coming to the Earth as a Human Being)

The story of the crucifixion is well known and so is the verse which explains why God the Son was sent to earth as Jesus:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.”
John 14:9-10

So it is important that Jesus is God as claimed, as this means that we can look at Jesus’ life and know that that is what God is like and therefore what we should aspire to, to be Godly people.

That Jesus is fully God and fully man (incarnation) is unique to Christianity. Jesus lived a human life but did not possess a sinful human nature as we do. He was tempted but never sinned.

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Hebrews 2:14-18

and

4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.

This is not the concept of Plato where everything physical was bad and the spiritual good. However we are all born to naturally do things wrong. This is part of our human nature. We have to learn to do things right. However you understand this it starts near the very beginning with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3.

22 And the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live for ever.’ 23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.

This innate human nature to do wrong has carried on to every human being:

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned
Romans 5:12

This is except for Jesus. Because Jesus was God in human form rather than an ordinary human he was not made that way. We could say that He possessed a divine nature given from the Holy Spirit rather than a human nature, although that was still clothed in a human body.

Why Did Jesus have to be ‘God in the Flesh’

This is important because Jesus had to meet all the requirements of a Holy God before he could be an acceptable sacrifice for our sin:

The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.’
John 8:29

14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
Hebrews 9:14

The way to be made right with God against all the things we do is a perfect sacrifice that would satisfy forever God’s righteous anger against all the wrong doing of all of us .

14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy.
Hebrews 10:14

This is described as ‘Sacrificial Atonement’ which sounds very heavy but those who have read or seen film versions of ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ will recall Aslan dying for Edmund. He is then resurrected because of what Aslan refers to as “deeper magic from before the dawn of time’ (before Narnia was made). C.S. Lewis is there describing this mystery of ‘Sacrificial Atonement’.

Jesus’ divine nature made him fit for the work of Redeemer. His human body allowed him to shed the blood necessary to redeem. No human being with a human nature could pay that same price. No one else could meet the requirements to become the sacrifice for the wrong doing of the whole world

This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Matthew 26:28 (As used in Communion services)

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 2:2

If Jesus were merely a good man as some claim, then he would be essentially human like us and not perfect and whilst this may seem somewhat mysterious this would mean that he really would not be able to bring us salvation even by dying on the cross.

Because Jesus was God in the flesh and thus totally innocent of all sin, he alone could pay God for all our wrong doings. His victory over death and the grave won the victory for everyone who puts their trust in Him

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures
1 Corinthians 15:3

Misleading by the Enemy

Helen Gallagher’s song ‘Once for All’ sums up the position perfectly. Jesus died once on a cross for all the sins of everyone throughout all time.

But the enemy does not give up and is very subtle! There may be whispers in our ears – ‘we cannot really be saved’; ‘we are not good enough because we have (and are doing) all manner of bad things’.

However we do not have to earn our salvation. If we did as Fraser would have said in ‘Dad’s Army’, ‘We are all doomed’. But we are not. We are all saved by the grace (or ‘undeserved gift’) of Jesus, God made as a human being in the flesh who showed His love by dying in our place.

So if we here such voices, we must not listen to them. They are from the enemy and never from GOD.

Summary

The Bible says in many places and in many different ways that Jesus is God from the beginning and on to eternity but that he was born as a baby and lived a human life on the earth.

Jesus showed what God is like and how God would want human life to be.

This incarnation of God in the form of a man who was sinless but who was then killed was the sacrifice which permitted those of us who believe in him to seal our salvation. It was essential it was like that to effect our salvation.

We should not be misled into believing that we are not saved. Jesus has died once for all.

This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
1 John 4: 9

This is part of a song by the band ‘Delirious’ addressed to Jesus

Thank you for saving me, what can I say?
You are my everything, I will sing your praise.
You shed your blood for me, what can I say?
You took my sin and shame, a sinner called by name.
Great is the Lord….

Written by Martin Smith ©1994 Curious? Music UK

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