Our lesson begins today with an idea that comes from I John 2:6, where John said that “whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” I’d like us to look at Jesus, both God and man today…and fully come to appreciate the lifestyle He lived.
The word “incarnation” is a vital point for us: it is the union of God and man in one person… God being every bit God, becoming man in every way.
John 1:1: “The Word was with God, and the Word was God… and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (vs. 14).
This passage is one of the summits of Scripture. In fact, it probably reaches the highest of human thought. What is the thought that reaches the height of human concepts? It is this: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is…
- the Word of God
- the Creator of Life
- the Very Being and Essence of Life.
These three truths have to be deeply thought about to understand their meaning. A quick reading of this passage leaves a person disinterested, not even close to understanding what is being said. However, the importance of the truths lie at the very foundation of life. They cannot be overstated, for they determine a man’s destiny. If Jesus Christ is the Word of God, then men must hear and understand that Word or else be lost forever in ignorance of God Himself.
- Christ is eternal (v.1-2).
- Christ is the Creator (v.3).
- Christ is Life (v.4-5).
Jesus revealed his essential nature in what he taught and did. John wrote about Jesus as fully human and fully God. Although Jesus took upon himself full humanity and entered history with the limitations of a human being, he never ceased to be the eternal God, eternally existing, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, and the source of eternal life. John’s Gospel tells the truth about Jesus, the foundation of all truth. If we cannot or do not believe in Jesus’ true identity, we will not be able to trust our eternal destiny to him. John wrote his Gospel to build our faith and confidence in Jesus Christ so that we might believe that Jesus truly was and is the Son of God (20:30-31).
John starts at the “beginning,” with the first eighteen verses of John, called the prologue. Many commentators consider the prologue to be a poem or, at least, rhythmical prose. Some commentators suggest that verses 1-5, 10-12, and 14-18 may have been parts of one or several early Christian hymns. Others have thought that verses 14-18 were used as an early church confessional statement, to which John added his stamp of approval.
Furthermore, the prologue to John’s Gospel provides a miniature of the entire Gospel. John’s goal and guiding purpose in writing can be found in almost every phrase of his work. The prologue highlights most of the insights and truths that we find in the rest of the Gospel. John introduced key terms: the Word, God, life, light, darkness, witness, the world, rejection/reception, belief, regeneration (becoming a child of God), incarnation (the Word become flesh), the one and only Son of the Father, glory, grace, truth, fullness. In the rest of the Gospel, John expanded and illustrated each of these from Jesus’ life and ministry.
|THE REAL JESUS|
|Throughout John’s Gospel, Christ is presented in the following ways:|
|the one who expresses God (the Word)|
|the giver of eternal life to those who believe|
|the bringer of light into a dark world|
|the giver of grace to those who receive him|
|the unique Son sharing an intimate relationship with his Father|
|the bearer of heavenly truth|
|the expression of God’s glory and fullness.|
1:1 In the beginning. When John wrote of the beginning, he was paralleling the words of the creation account. He stressed that “the Word” already existed at the time of creation (as is translated in the neb). More likely, John was thinking of a beginning before “the beginning” in Genesis 1:1, a timeless beginning. Thus, we could translate the first part of the verse as “in eternity the Word existed.”
|Each of the Gospel writers chose a different starting point for their accounts of the life of Jesus. Matthew began with Abraham, showing how Jesus came from Abraham’s family and was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. Mark skipped most of the preliminaries and moved right to the action, beginning with the ministry of John the Baptist. Luke began with a review of his research method and rooted Jesus’ life in the wider historical events of his time. But John presented the largest perspective of all, describing Jesus as the very source of everything we understand as beginning. His purpose was to record, in outline form, the biography of the Son of God, who even in becoming a human being accomplished so much that “if every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (21:25 niv).|
The Word. John called the Son of God, who was with God his Father in the beginning, the Word. John did not identify this person immediately, but described his nature and purpose before revealing his name (see vv. 14, 17). As the Word, the Son of God fully conveys and communicates God. What does John mean by “the Word”? Theologians and philosophers, both Jews and Greeks, used the term word in a variety of ways. The Greek term is logos. In the Hebrew language of the Old Testament, “the Word” is described as an agent of creation (Psalm 33:6), the source of God’s message to his people through the prophets (Hosea 1:2), and God’s law, his standard of holiness (Psalm 119:11).
The Greeks used “the Word” in two ways. It could mean a person’s thoughts or reason, or it might refer to a person’s speech, the expression of thoughts. As a philosophical term, logos conveyed the rational principle that governed the universe, even the creative energy that generated the universe.
In both the Jewish and Greek conceptions, logos conveyed the idea of beginnings—the world began through the Word (see Genesis 1:3ff., where the expression “God said” occurs repeatedly). John may have had these ideas in mind, but his description shows clearly that he spoke of Jesus as a human being he knew and loved (see especially 1:14), who was at the same time the Creator of the universe, the ultimate revelation of God, and also the living picture of God’s holiness, the one in whom “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17 niv). Jesus as the logos reveals God’s mind to us.
To strict Jewish readers, “the Word was God” sounded like blasphemy. Strongly monotheistic, they found it difficult to even speak about God without running the danger of offending the One and Only. Certainly God “spoke” words, but to say “the Word was God” equated the two realities; the Hebrew mind resisted any such thinking about God. One of the most compelling reasons to believe the doctrine of the Trinity comes from the fact that it was revealed through a people most likely to reject it outright. In a world populated by many gods, it took the tough-minded Hebrews to clarify the revelation of God’s oneness expressed through Three-in-oneness. We humbly bow before the one God, but we do not presume to easily comprehend his essential being.
To John, this new understanding of “the Word” was gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. Although it had been right in front of philosophic minds for centuries, they had been blind to it. Jesus revealed the truth in the light of his identity. He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), the express image of God’s substance (Hebrews 1:3), the revealer of God, and the reality of God. The theme of the real identity of Jesus dominates the Gospel of John. We should be grateful that the Son of God has expressed the Father to us and made him real to us. Otherwise, we could not know God intimately and personally.
The Word was with God. By using this expression, John was explaining that the Word (the Son) and God (the Father) already enjoyed an intimate, personal relationship in the beginning. The last verse of the prologue (1:18) tells us that the Son was at the Father’s side; and in Jesus’ special prayer for his followers (chapter 17), he expressed that the Father loved him before the foundation of the world.
The Word was God. Not only was the Son with God, he was himself God. According to the Greek, this phrase could be translated “the Word was divine.” John’s Gospel, more than most books in the New Testament, asserts Jesus’ divinity. Jesus is called “God” in 1:1; 1:18; and 20:28.
|Often little words become large issues. Cults like Jehovah’s Witnesses attempt to insert an indefinite article in verse 1, making it “and the Word was a god” (New World Translation, a specific “translation” by Jehovah’s Witnesses). It is a small addition with devastating results. The added a serves to bolster the teaching that Jesus was a created being who “earned” divine qualities that are attainable by the rest of us. If Jesus is only a god, then the so-called gospel is only bad news. However, John was writing not about gods but about God, and he clearly claimed that “the Word was God”!|
1:2 He was in the beginning with God.NKJV The second verse of the prologue underscores the truth that the Word coexisted with the Father from the beginning. A wrong teaching called the “Arian heresy” developed in the fourth century of Christianity. Arius, the father of this heresy, was a priest of Alexandria (in Egypt) during the reign of Emperor Constantine. He taught that Jesus, the Son of God, was not eternal but was created by the Father. Therefore, Jesus was not God by nature; Christ was not one substance with the Father. He also taught that the Holy Spirit was begotten by the logos. Arius’s bishop, Alexander, condemned Arius and his followers. But Arius’s views gained some support. At the Church Council in Nicea in 325 a.d., Athanasius defeated Arius in debate and the Nicene Creed was adopted, which established the biblical teaching that Jesus was “one essence with the Father.” Yet this controversy raged until it was defeated at the Council of Constantinople in 381 a.d.
This heresy still exists, however, in several so-called Christian cults (see box above). Yet John’s Gospel proclaims simply and clearly that the Son of God is coeternal with the Father.
(1:1-2) Jesus Christ, Son of God—Eternal—Preexistent—Revelation: Christ is eternal. Note three profound statements made about Christ, the Word.
- Christ was preexistent. This means He was there before creation. He had always existed.
- “In the beginning [en archei]” does not mean from the beginning. Jesus Christ was already there. He did not become; He was not created; He never had a beginning. He “was in the beginning with God” (cp. John 17:5; John 8:58).
- The word “was” (en) is the Greek imperfect tense of eimi which is the word so often used for deity. It means to be or I am. To be means continuous existence, without beginning or origin.
“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God” (Psalm 90:2).
“I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was” (Proverbs 8:23).
“And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (John 17:5).
“[Christ Jesus] who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:6-8; cp. 2 Cor. 8:9).
The testimony of John is that Jesus Christ was the Word, the One who had always existed. He was the Son of the living God.
- Christ was coexistent. He was and is face to face with God forever. The word “with” (pros) has the idea of both being with and acting toward. Jesus Christ (the Word) was both with God and acting with God. He was “with God”: by God’s side, acting, living, and moving in the closest of relationships. Christ had the ideal and perfect relationship with God the Father. Their life together—their relationship, communion, fellowship, and connection—was a perfect eternal bond. This is exactly what is said: “The same was in the beginning with God” (John 1:2).
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us)” (1 John 1:1-2).
The testimony of John was that Jesus Christ was the Word, the One who had always co-existed with God. Jesus Christ was the Son of the living God.
- John did not say that “the Word” was the God (ho Theos). He says “the Word” was God (Theos). He omits the definite article. John was saying that “the Word,” Jesus Christ…
is of the very nature and character of God the Father, but He is not the identical person of God the Father.
is a distinct person from God the Father, but He is of the very being and essence (perfection) of God the Father.
When a man sees Christ, he sees a distinct person, but he sees a person who is of the very substance and character of God in all of His perfect being.
“Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3).
“Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?” (John 14:9).
“Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever” (Romans 9:5).
“Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature” (Col. 1:15).
“For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9).
“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory” (1 Tim. 3:16).
“Which in his [Jesus Christ] times he shall show, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting” (1 Tim. 6:15-16).
“And he [Jesus Christ] hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev. 19:16).
The testimony of John was that Jesus Christ was the Word, self-existent and eternal, the Supreme Majesty of the universe who owes His existence to no one. Jesus Christ was the Son of the living God.
Jesus Christ is eternal. This says several critical things about Christ.
1) Christ reveals the most important Person in all the universe: God. He reveals all that God is and wants to say to man. Therefore, Christ must be diligently studied, and all that He is and says must be heeded to the utmost (cp. John 5:24).
2) Christ reveals God perfectly. He is just like God, identical to God; therefore, when we look at Christ we see God.
3) Christ reveals that God is the most wonderful Person. God is far, far beyond anyone we could have ever dreamed. He is loving and caring, full of goodness and truth; and He will not tolerate injustices: murder and stealing, lying and cheating of husband, wife, child, neighbor, brother, sister or stranger. God loves and is working and moving toward a perfect universe that will be filled with people who choose to love and worship and live and work for Him (cp. John 5:24-29).
The very nature of Christ is…
to exist eternally.
to exist in a perfect state of being, knowing nothing but eternal perfection.
to exist in perfect communion and fellowship eternally (cp. 1 John 1:3).
Note: it is the very nature of Christ that shall be imparted to believers; therefore, all three things will become our experience.
“At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you” (John 14:20).
“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29).
“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18).
“Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil. 3:21).
“Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:4).
“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
INCARNATION (in kahr nay’ shuhn) God’s becoming human; the union of divinity and humanity in Jesus of Nazareth.
Definition of Doctrine Incarnation [Lat. incarnatio, being or taking flesh], while a biblical idea, is not a biblical term. Its Christian use derives from the Latin version of John 1:14 and appears repeatedly in Latin Christian authors from about A.D. 300 onward.
As a biblical teaching, incarnation refers to the affirmation that God, in one of the modes of His existence as Trinity and without in any way ceasing to be the one God, has revealed Himself to humanity for its salvation by becoming human. Jesus, the Man from Nazareth, is the incarnate Word or Son of God, the focus of the God-human encounter. As the God-Man, He mediates God to humans; as the Man-God, He represents humans to God. By faith-union with Him, men and women, as adopted children of God, participate in His filial relation to God as Father.
The Humanity of Jesus The angel of the Lord, in a prophecy of Jesus’ birth, plainly stated the purpose of the incarnation: “[Mary] shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21; compare Luke 19:10; John 3:17; 1 Tim. 1:15). The liberation of humanity from everything that would prevent relationship with God as Father requires incarnation. The biblical materials related to incarnation, though not systematically arranged, portray Jesus as the One who accomplished the mission of salvation because He was the One in whom both full divinity and full humanity were present.
Jesus referred to Himself as a man (John 8:40), and the witnesses in the New Testament recognized Him as fully human. (For example, Peter, in his sermon at Pentecost, declared that Jesus is “a man approved of God among you…” Acts 2:22). That the Word was made flesh is the crux of the central passage on incarnation in the New Testament (John 1:14).
The respective genealogies of Jesus serve as testimonies to His natural human descent (Matt. 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-37). In addition, Jesus attributed to Himself such normal human elements as body and soul (Matt. 26:26, 28, 38). He grew and developed along the lines of normal human development (Luke 2:40). During His earthly ministry, Jesus displayed common physiological needs: He experienced fatigue (John 4:6); His body required sleep (Matt. 8:24), food (Matt. 4:2; 21:18), and water (John 19:28). Human emotional characteristics accompanied the physical ones: Jesus expressed joy (John 15:11) and sorrow (Matt. 26:37); He showed compassion (Matt. 9:36) and love (John 11:5); and He was moved to righteous indignation (Mark 3:5).
A proper understanding of the events preceding and including His death requires an affirmation of His full humanity. In the garden, He prayed for emotional and physical strength to face the critical hours which lay ahead. He perspired as one under great physical strain (Luke 22:43-44). He died a real death (Mark 15:37; John 19:30). When a spear was thrust into His side, both blood and water poured from His body (John 19:34). Jesus thought of Himself as human, and those who witnessed His birth, maturation, ministry, and death experienced Him as fully human.
Although Jesus was fully human in every sense of the word, His was a perfect humanity—distinct and unique. His miraculous conception highlights distinctiveness and originality of His humanity. Jesus was supernaturally conceived, being born of a virgin (Luke 1:26-35). To be sure, the Bible records other miraculous births such as those of Isaac (Gen. 21:1-2) and John the Baptist (Luke 1:57), but none attained to the miraculous heights of a human being supernaturally conceived and born of a virgin.
The New Testament also attests to the sinless character of Jesus. He, Himself, asked the question, “Which of you convinceth me of sin?” (John 8:46). Paul declared, God “made him to be sin for us who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). The writer of Hebrews held that Christ was “without sin” (4:15). The New Testament presents Jesus as a man, fully human, and as a unique man, the ideal human.
The Deity of Jesus Paul, in a statement on the supremacy of Christ, asserted, “For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell” (Col. 1:19; compare John 20:28; Titus 2:13). Jesus, was aware of His divine status (John 10:30; 12:44-45; 14:9). With the “I am” sayings, He equated Himself with the God who appeared to Moses in the burning bush (Ex. 3:14). The assertion of the New Testament is that Jesus was God (John 6:51; 10:7, 11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1; esp. 8:58).
The Bible affirms the preexistence of Jesus: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2; see also John 1:15; 8:58; 17:5; Phil. 2:5-11). Jesus realized accomplishments and claimed authority ascribed only to divinity. He forgave sins (Matt. 9:6) and sent others to do His bidding, claiming all authority “in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18-20).
The central proclamation of the gospel is that He is the only way to eternal life, a status held by deity alone (John 3:36; 14:6; compare Acts 4:12; Rom. 10:9). The New Testament pictures Him as worthy of honor and worship due only to deity (John 5:23; Heb. 1:6; Phil. 2:10-11; Rev. 5:12). He is the Agent of creation (John 1:3) and the Mediator of providence (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3). He raised the dead (John 11:43-44), healed the sick (John 9:6), and vanquished demons (Mark 5:13). He will effect the final resurrection of humanity either to judgment or to life (Matt. 25:31-32; John 5:27-29).
The titles ascribed to Jesus provide conclusive evidence for the New Testament’s estimate of His person as God. Jesus is “Lord” (Phil 2:11), “Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15), “the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8), “the mediator” (Heb. 12:24), and “who is over all, God blessed for ever” (Rom. 9:5). In addition, the New Testament repeatedly couples the name “God” with Jesus (John 1:18; 20:28; Acts 20:28; Rom. 9:5; 2 Thess. 1:12; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1; 1 John 5:20).
Formulation of the Doctrine The problems of the incarnation begins with John’s assertion, “the Word was made flesh” (1:14). Clear expression of the relation of the Word to the flesh, of divinity to humanity within the person of Jesus became a matter of major concern during the first five centuries of the Christian era. The unsystematized affirmations of the New Testament were refined through controversy, a process which culminated in the ecumenical councils of Nicaea (A.D. 325), Constantinople (A.D. 381), Ephesus (A.D. 431), and Chalcedon (A.D. 451).
The Council of Nicaea marked the meeting of church representatives from throughout the Christian world. Its purpose was to settle the dispute over the teachings of Arius, a presbyter in the church of Alexandria. He taught a creature christology—that is, he denied the Son’s eternal divinity. Against Arius, the council asserted that the Son was of one substance with the Father. Jesus was fully divine.
The Council of Constantinople met to clarify and refute the christology of Apollinarius, Bishop of Laodicea. Apollinarius insisted that Jesus was a heavenly man dissimilar to earthly men. If a human is body, soul, and spirit, the bishop asserted that Jesus was a body, soul, and Logos [lit. “word”], a man not having a human spirit, or mind. Against this doctrine, the council affirmed the full humanity of Christ.
The Council of Ephesus considered the marriage christology of Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople. He held that the union of the human and divine in Jesus was like the marriage of a husband and wife. As a result, the Council accused him of teaching that there were two separate persons in Christ.
The Council of Chalcedon was perhaps the most significant church council for Christianity. It met in debate over the teaching of Eutyches, a monk from Constantinople. He denied that Jesus had two natures. This reaction against the christology of Nestorius prompted the council to express the incarnation of Jesus in terms of one person with two natures—human and divine.
The mystery of the incarnation continues, and the statements of the first four councils of the Christian church preserve that mystery. Jesus, God incarnate, was one Person in two natures—fully divine and fully human. (by Walter D. Draughon III from the Holman Bible Dictionary)
Do we fully comprehend this concept? Do we believe that…”when Jesus was cut, He bled; when struck, He bruised; when He was sad, He cried; when He was angry, He revealed it; when He got cold, He chilled…when hot, He perspired…when His heart stopped beating and His lungs no longer processed air… He died.”
- Christ did not only come into our flesh, but also into our condition, into the valley and shadow of death, where we were, and where we are, as we are sinners. John Bunyan (1628–1688)
- God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation. I. Packer (1926– )
- God clothed himself in vile man’s flesh so he might be weak enough to suffer. John Donne (1572–1631)
- God, who had fashioned time and space in a clockwork of billions of suns and stars and moons, in the form of his beloved Son became a human being like ourselves. On the microscopic midge of planet he remained for thirty-three years. He became a real man, and the only perfect one. While continuing to be the true God, he was born in a stable and lived as a workingman and died on a cross. He came to show us how to live, not for a few years but eternally. Fulton Oursler (1949– )
- He clothed himself with our lowliness in order to invest us with his grandeur. Richardson Wright (b. 1885)
- In the humanity of Jesus, God was truly speaking our language. John Powell
- Jesus’ coming is the final and unanswerable proof that God cares. William Barclay (1907–1978)
- No one could ever have found God; he gave himself away. Meister Eckhart (c. 1260–c. 1327)
- The Christian faith is founded upon . . . a well attested sober fact of history; that quietly, but with deliberate purpose, God himself has visited this little planet. B. Phillips (1906–1982)
- The coming of Jesus into the world is the most stupendous event in human history. Malcolm Muggeridge (1903–1990)
- The shepherds didn’t ask God if he was sure he knew what he was doing. Had the angel gone to the theologians, they would have first consulted their commentaries. Had he gone to the elite, they would have looked around to see if anyone was watching. Had he gone to the successful, they would have first looked at their calendars. So he went to the shepherds. Men who didn’t have a reputation to protect or an ax to grind or a ladder to climb. Men who didn’t know enough to tell God that angels don’t sing to sheep and that messiahs aren’t found wrapped in rags and sleeping in a feed trough. Max L. Lucado (1955– )
- We know how God would act if he were in our place—he has been in our place. W. Tozer (1897–1963)
- What a terrific moment in history that was . . . when men first saw their God in the likeness of the weakest, mildest and most defenseless of all living creatures! Malcolm Muggeridge (1903–1990)