“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of His nature, sustaining all things by His powerful word.” (Heb 1:3)
“This is how you can know God’s Spirit: Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ came to earth as a human is from God” (1 Jn 4:2)
Throughout this series, we have been looking at the mystery of Christ, a term that Paul uses seventeen times. Now we come to what I believe is the heart of that mystery: the Incarnation. During the first four centuries AD, this mystery carried such truth in tension that the church had to continually struggle and strive to articulate and defend it.The Apostle John, recognizing the centrality of the Incarnation, began his Gospel with a poetic description (Augustine called these the most sublime words over penned):
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (Jn 1:1, 14)
John was declaring that Jesus is the full revelation of God. The Nicene Creed states of Him, “the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.” The doctrine of the Incarnation expresses the mystery that Jesus Christ is fully human and fully God. (Theologians call this hypostasis.) This union of God and man is not merely a moral or spiritual union; it is a physical union of two natures so as to make One Person. Christ did not set aside His divinity in order to come “dwell among us”. In the first centuries of the church, many pushed against this full unity of two natures, leading to heresies like Gnosticism and Docetism which denied the full humanity of Christ, and Arianism that denied the full Divinity of Christ. Arianism became the central controversy for about one hundred years and resulted in the leaders of the church gathering on three occasions to debate what the Scriptures teach about the Incarnation. The result was the foundational creeds that form the basis of Christian doctrine.
So, why does this matter?
As I have written earlier, Jesus is the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity. When the Word became flesh, God could never again be understood as an abstract or faceless Deity. Paul wrote to the Colossians, “For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ” (Col 2:9). Jesus was the perfect expression of the Father. Jesus declared, “I and the Father are One…If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father” (Jn 10:30; 14:9). Jesus, now on earth, unveiled God in heaven.
It is vital that we absorb this truth: Jesus Christ is the full revelation of God. He is not just one facet of God. God did not become Christlike; this is who He has been from all eternity. Whenever we are unsure or insecure about what God is like, we need to remember and meditate upon this. There is no aspect of the Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) that is not revealed in who Christ is. He is exactly like the Father. Exactly. The Incarnation means that the eternal Triune relationship has now come to earth.
I have stressed this truth because I am convinced that our 21st century evangelicalism has missed this truth. Jesus did not come as the Father’s representative. He did not come to teach us more of what Father God is like. He did not come as a smaller version of God. We have imagined and preached too small a Christ. And a smaller Christ means a smaller Gospel. As Brad Jersak has written, “Jesus is the decisive revelation of who God is and the radical re-definition of what God is like.”1
As we take time to meditate on the Incarnation, its implications grow… Since Christ came as fully God, then while He was walking on the earth, He was at the same time holding all of creation together (“and by Him all things hold together” Col 1:17). As we read of Jesus healing the sick and teaching the multitudes, we must understand that He was orchestrating all the activity of the cosmos. As the Word, Jesus “was not hedged in by His body, nor did His presence in the body prevent His being present elsewhere as well.” 2
The Incarnation is the eternal union of Man and God. For all eternity, the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, is one of us. He became human; He will remain human. Because the Incarnation is not just about the birth of Jesus, but of all His life, His Ascension is also part of this eternal union. Therefore, the Incarnation is not over; Jesus continues to live out His Sonship as a human. There is a Man right now as a member of the Trinity (1 Tim 2:5).
In becoming human, Jesus entered into our fallen existence. In the Incarnation, Jesus brought together the Triune life of God in all its purity, joy, righteousness and fullness, and human existence with all its brokenness, fear, corruption and disease.3 Jesus entered into our condition, but He was never tainted by it; Light conquered darkness. This is how He conquered. Without the Incarnation, God could look upon our condition with compassion, but in the Incarnation, He joined us in our failure, alienation and darkness, but never yielded to them. He fully entered humanity, but refused to live His life as anything but the Son of God. This is why the Apostle Paul calls Christ “the last Adam”. While the first Adam yielded to temptation in his desire to be like God, the last Adam was God Who became man in order to defeat the very powers and temptations that defeated the first Adam. As Baxter Kruger has written, “Jesus stood in Adam’s shoes but refused to be Adam.” 4
In the mystery of the Incarnation––this perfect union of man and God––lies an infinitely deep and beautiful truth, one worthy of a lifetime of meditation and adoration. This is the beauty of God revealed. This is the beauty that reconciles the whole cosmos.
1 Brad Jersak, A More Christlike God (CWR Press, 2015)
2 Athanasius, On the Incarnation (Pantianos Classics, 1944)
3 C. Baxter Kruger, The Great Dance (Regent College Publishing, Vancouver, BC, 2000)