More Fantastic than Fiction (Incarnation)

J. I. Packer, author of Knowing God, says that “nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation,” the union of God and man in the person of Jesus.  The Incarnation is also the greatest mystery – one that I can’t and won’t attempt to unpack fully.  But understanding who Jesus is involves understanding what we can about Him…


Scripture clearly teaches that Jesus was born of a virgin (Matt 1:18-20) and was conceived of the Holy Spirit.  This is important, because it shows both that man could never, ultimately, work salvation for himself, and that Jesus can be both fully man and fully God. If he had been born of man, he would have inherited Adam’s sinful nature; if he had just arrived from outer space without being born of a woman, he would not have been fully man and therefore could not have ‘been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet without sin’ (Heb 4:15, ideas borrowed from Andrew Wilson).

THE NATURE OF THE INCARNATIONThe Chalcedonean Creed of 451 summarizes the teaching on Incarnation (creed in bold, my thoughts along with Wayne Grudem’s and John Piper’s in regular font type).

1)  Jesus has two natures – He is God and man.
The Bible teaches that Jesus is not someone who was a lot like God but God himself (John 1:18).  It shows that Jesus has all the attributes of God.  He knows everything (Matt 18:20), is everywhere (Matt 16:21), has all power (Matt 8:26), depends on nothing outside of Himself for life (John 1:4), rules over everything (Matt 28:18), never began and will never cease to exist (John 1:1) and is our Creator (Col 1:16).  Everything that God is, Jesus is.

Jesus has always been God but Jesus has not always been man.  This fantastic miracle took place years ago and is the reason we celebrate Christmas.  Jesus did not give up any of his divinity in the Incarnation but rather, as I’ve heard it expressed, “Remaining what He was, He became what He was not.”  If Jesus had given up any divine attributes, then he would not be fully God. 

But Jesus also became man.  He had a human body.  He grew tired, weak, hungry, thirsty and obviously, he also died.  He also had a human mind.  We are told he ‘increased in wisdom’ (Luke 2:52) as he grew up, and that he did not know the day or hour of his return (Mark 13:32).  Lastly, he had human emotions – Jesus felt troubled, sorrowful, amazed and tearful.  We are also told that Jesus was tempted in every way and that is why we can trust him to sympathize with our weaknesses.  We have a Savior who can truly identify with us because He is man, and who can also help us in temptation because He has never sinned.  This truth sets Christianity apart from all other religions.

2)  Each nature is full and complete
     Just as the Trinity is not each 33% God but 100%, Jesus is 100% God and 100% man.  Everything that is essential to being God is true of Jesus and everything that belongs to the essence of humanity is true of Jesus (not my own words but I thought they were succinct).
     Jesus will be fully God and fully man forever.  He rose physically from death as a man and ascended into heaven as a man. In becoming flesh, as John 1:14 puts it, ‘the Word became flesh’, the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, became human and will remain human forever.

3)  Each nature remains distinct.  According to Wayne Grudem, this means that his natures do not alter each other’s essential properties and do not mix together into a mysterious third nature.  “Jesus’ human nature is human, and human only.  HIs divine nature is divine only.  For example, Jesus’ human nature did not become all knowing through its union with God the Son, and neither did His divine nature become ignorant of anything. If any of the nature underwent a change in its essential nature, then Christ is no longer truly and fully human, or truly and fully divine.”

4)  Christ is only One person.  Christ is two natures united in one person forever.  Confusing but true. 
    (There are groups of heretics that believe Jesus was really two people even though none of the Scriptures refer to Jesus as plural and Jesus never says “we” instead of “I”.)

5)  Things that are true of one nature but not the other are nonetheless true of the Person of Christ.  For example, his human nature hungered but his divine nature could never be hungry.  So when Christ was hungry on earth, it was His humanity that hungered.
    In John 8:58, Jesus says that “before Abraham was born, I am” and of course Christ’s human nature did not exist before Abraham.  But his divine nature has existed eternally and since Christ is one person, He could truthfully say that before Abraham was, He was.  Another example is Christ’s death.  God cannot die.  “We should never speak of Christ’s death as the death of God.  But humans can die, and Jesus’ human nature did die.  Thus, even though Jesus’ divine nature did not die, we can still say that the Person of Christ experienced death.”  (Grudem).  Grudem also says that “by virtue of union with Jesus’ human nature, his divine nature somehow tasted something of what it was like to go through death” (Systematic Theology, p. 560).

This is really the most important part to focus on – the rest is heady stuff that is important, yes, but not essential for being a Christian.  But we all need to understand what the incarnation means for our lives.

The second person of the trinity coming into the world and assuming a human nature was a voluntary condescension – a submitting to humiliation on the part of Jesus.  The supreme example of humility.  Noted in Phil 2:5-8.

The Son did not empty himself by subtraction: taking the very nature of a servant and being made in human likeness.  Paradoxically, being “made nothing” means adding humanity to deity, rather than subtracting deity.  God’s Son “concealed the divine glory under the veil of flesh and as it were, laid it aside; not by putting off what he was, but by assuming what he was not.”  (Francis Turretin).  This quote gets me every time – Jesus assumed what he was not – for my sake!

Jesus’ mission of salvation is prominent in the birth narratives (Matt 1:21, 25, Luke 1: 31, 67-70).  The Messiah had to be a man because it was man who was guilty of sin and deserving of punishment.  The Son had to assume a true human nature, without sin, yet able to suffer and die.  The Messiah also had to be God.

“A mere man could not render a sacrifice of infinite value from God that could atone for millions of people from every tribe, nation and tongue.  A mere man could not have withstood the assaults of Satan, the constant temptations and the immense suffering and agony that Jesus endured.  A mere man could not endure the unmitigated wrath of God that millions deserved in the space of a few hours.” (Martin Luther)

This truth should enliven our understanding of God and enrich our worship of Him.  Because Jesus is God, He cannot be defeated, we have security in Him, and He is an adequate Savior.  Becuase Jesus is man, He can identify with us, appeal our need before the great High Priest and we can relate to Him.  More fantastic than fiction, indeed.


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