Aug 16, 2013

The Incarnation in the Gospel of John

The Incarnation is when the Second Person of the Trinity took into union with himself what, before that act, he did not possess: a human nature. God the Son did not take into union with himself a human person, but rather human nature (otherwise he would have been two people and would have needed to refer to himself as “we”, not “I”). Jesus was one person with both a divine nature and a human nature (I am using ‘nature’ here to refer to a ‘set of attributes’). The Reformers spoke of this as the ‘communicatio operationum’. 

Even though the Word took on flesh (John 1), he did not cease to be God. In John 8:58 and 17:5, Jesus speaks of a continuity of his pre-incarnate person and his earthly existence. The Son did not lose or diminish any of his deity when He took on the role of a servant but rather He simply added humanity to His eternal deity (Phil 2:5-8). In Jesus, the divine and human natures are fully joined together in one person, without conflict or confusion. The divine and human nature are united together in the one person of Jesus Christ and yet they exist side by side.  Colossians 2:9 says, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”. . In Roman 9:5, we see Paul speak of his human nature, as in Christ “from their race, according to the flesh” and divine nature “the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever.”  In 1 Corinthians 2:8, Jesus is designated per his divine nature (‘the Lord of glory’), yet what is said about him is true because of his human nature (‘the rulers of this age … crucified’ him). This helps us see that a person, not a nature is the subject of the statement.

The Council of Chalcedon (451) is helpful when it declares that Jesus possessed “two natures without confusion, without change, without division, without separation, the distinctiveness of the natures being by no means removed because of the union, but the properties of each nature being preserved.” (For more on this throughout church history, see The Council of Ephesus (431) or even the magisterial work of medieval theologian Anselm of Canterbury in ‘Why God Became Man’, also called ‘Why the God Man?’). The Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q.21) deals with this in a succinct manner: “He was and continues to be God and man in two distinct natures and one person, forever.”

While Jesus was on earth, He was subject to hunger (Lk 4:2), thirst (Jn 19:28) and death and yet He was completely perfect in every way (Heb 4:15). Jesus was tempted (Lk 4:1-13) and yet He was without sin in any way and in fact was not even able to sin because He was not only fully man but also fully God and we know that God cannot sin (
Jas 1:13). I believe this gives an extra dignity to the human condition, shows us that the body is not evil but rather to be cherished and gives us a demonstration of what it means for us to be fully human – Jesus showed how one lives as a human on this earth in a way that is completely pleasing to God. He redeems the elect, yes, but there may be some sense in which Jesus redeems what it means to be human!

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