The Incarnation of Jesus


Part One - The Incarnation of Jesus Christ

Sometimes pastors and Bible teachers use terms to describe key doctrinal truths that the listener does not understand. For example, most of those reading this article are probably not familiar with the terms supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism. Yes they really are in the dictionary and they really do speak to a doctrine that relates to the Scripture. However, unless you have formalized training in a Bible College or Seminary you probably have never come across them. That does not mean you are unfamiliar with the doctrines they describe. In the case of these two terms you will find they have to do with a person’s view of the doctrines of election and free will. However, since these terms were unfamiliar with most Christians I decided a long time ago to throw the terms aside and focus on the issues they involve. As a pastor and teacher, it is no value to anyone if my listeners learn the “terms” associated with biblical doctrine but never learn what the Scripture actually teach about them.

I raise this matter because there is a term that is commonly used at Christmas time that I believe many have heard but do not really know what it means. The term in question is the “incarnation.” What are we speaking about when we talk about the “incarnation of Jesus Christ?” Why is this doctrine so important to the Christian faith? What connection does it have to the birth of Jesus? To answer these questions let us begin with a definition of the term.

The word “incarnation” simply means “to take on humanity or to become human.” Using this definition, the incarnation of Jesus Christ is God’s miraculous work of becoming a human being. Even though He was God yet in every other sense he was just as human as we are. He entered this world by being conceived in the womb of a woman and delivered through a natural birth. He grew up like all of us and experienced all the normal aspects of human life. 

The humanity of Christ is a doctrine that is spoken of often in the Scriptures. Let me give just a few examples.

1) Jesus is referred to as the “Son of Man” over 87 times in the NT. In the Greek there are two meanings for the term “son”. The term speaks of the origin of the individual. For example, Joseph was the “son” of Jacob. He originated from Jacob and Rachael. However when the Greek word is used with the genitive case, the term speaks of a person’s substance not origin. This is how it used in the references “son of man” and “son of God.” For example, if I see a male child in a store and I may call him “son”. “Hey, son, please hand me that pen next to you.” By doing so I do not indicate that I am his father but only that he is a male child. With this distinction in terms then we can understand that when Jesus declared He was the “son of man”, He was declaring his humanity not his origin. It has been the failure to note this difference that has misled many into believing that Jesus had His origins from God the Father. Jesus never said He was the offspring of the Father nor of any man either. 

Likewise the “Son of God” when used of Jesus means He is “of the essence of God”, equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This understanding of Jesus statements is witnessed often as the Pharisees to seek to kill Jesus because they felt he was blaspheming God by making Himself equal with God (John 5:18; 10:31-33).

2) Jesus is described as becoming human in Phil. 2. Paul here describes the process whereby the Son of God became the Son of man. The Son dwelling on a plain equal with the Father and the Spirit did not believe His equality as God was so important that He could not give it up to become a man. Therefore, He emptied Himself of His divine attributes in order to humble Himself to become fully human.

Phil 2:5-9, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (NASU)

3) Jesus is desribed as another Adam (1 Cor. 15:45)

4) Jesus is described as the son of David (Lk. 3:31) and of Adam (Lk. 3:38)

Now the incarnation or the taking on of humanity by the Son of God may seem a simple thing at first but in reality it was such a great work of God that it is filled with mystery and miracles. Let me site you a few examples of what I am talking about.

1) A virgin conceived: no product of man was used in conceiving Jesus. Even in our age where artificial insemination has become common place and a virgin is able to conceive yet it still requires the product of a male. In Mary’s case there was no man as God had foretold to Adam and Eve that the Savior would be from the seed of a woman (Gen. 3:15; 1 Tim. 2:15)

Luke 1:34-36, “Then Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?" And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. (NKJV)

2) The omnipresent God became localized: He became confined to a human body. He entered houses, boats and synagogues, traveled on animals and walked from city to city indicating he was not everywhere at the same time. When one thinks of the scope or size of the universe and realizes that God is everywhere at all times the size of our God is staggering. For someone this immense to be condensed into the size of a fetus conceived in the womb of a woman is beyond our ability to comprehend. It would be like taking all the water of the oceans and lakes combined and squeezing them into something the size of the head of a pin. 

3) The omniscient God became limited in knowledge: The Scriptures are clear that Jesus was not born knowing everything as He did prior to His incarnation. Rather, like every baby born into this world he had to grow in wisdom and knowledge.

Luke 2:40, “The Child continued to grow and become strong (in spirit), increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.” (NASU)

Luke 4:1-2, “Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” (NKJV)

John 8:28-29, “Then Jesus said to them, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.” (NKJV)

4) The omnipotent God became limited to the power of a man: The Scriptures indicate that he faced life in the same power as any other man. Some have had the misconception that Christ did His miracles in His own power however the truth is that he did them in the power of another, the Holy Spirit.

Matt 12:28, “But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.” (NKJV)

Luke 4:14, “Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region.” (NKJV)
Acts 10:38-39, “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” (NKJV)

Since He limited Himself to the strength of a normal man He therefore faced all the same risks and challenges every man faces. Thus He had to be cared for and protect as an infant and later faced attempted murder at the hands of the Religious rulers. 

Matt 2:13, “Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, "Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him." (NKJV)

Luke 4:28-30, “So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.” (NKJV)

John 8:59, “Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.” (NKJV)

To be able to understand what our Lord must have experienced giving up His divine power to live as an ordinary man we might think of it like the following. Think of someone who is in the prime of health giving it up to become a quadriplegic for the rest of his life. A fragile existence that is solely dependant on others.

5) The eternal God became limited to the realm of time: In Isa. 9:6, Isaiah speaks of the coming Messiah as the “Everlasting Father.” It is unfortunate that this translation is so misleading. When we read the name “Father” we think of God the Father and that is not Who Isaiah is referring too. A better rendering is “Father of Time.” Jesus was the one who started time with the His Words calling the earth into existence. Likewise, He will be the one who calls for the end of time when He orders this earth and universe to pass away (Rev. 20:11). The fact He was the Author of time implies that He was eternal without beginning or ending. As Peter writes, to the Lord a day is as a thousand years and a thousands years as a day (2 Pet. 3:8). 

To become a man He had to lay aside His eternality for a time and be bound by the schedule that time demands. We see this in Jesus comment to His mother at the marriage feast in John. 

John 2:4, “Jesus said to her, Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come." NKJV

The only way for us to try to understand this is to take a child who has say 70-90 years ahead of him to do many things and tell him he has one day to live. Suddenly he knows the strict confines of time and the need to make every moment count.

In this article we have only taken a glimpse of the miracle and mystery of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. It is beyond are ability to fully appreciate it and yet it is that mystery that makes it so dear to all those who trust in Christ as their Savior. As a recent song writer has written, why would God become a man in order to save the world? All the sacrifice and suffering that he went through to become a man and die on the cross makes one wonder if there was not an easier way to save man. The answer to this is, no, the only way God could save the world was to become a man. More on this the next time.