Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Jesus as Man: The Continuing Significance of the Incarnation

Much has been said and written defending the divinity of Jesus Christ according to the Scriptures.  So much that it has become easy to overlook the importance of the duality of Christ’s nature.  His humanity is less controversial, but holds a great deal of weight in understanding who He was, and what the New Testament claims about Him.  Jesus at the Incarnation became fully Man while retaining the fullness of the Godhead.  He continues to be fully Man as well as fully God, which has significant implications for His followers at the time the New Testament was written and now.
The writers of the New Testament clearly looked to the Old Testament writings, as well as the Gospel accounts, to understand the nature of Jesus Christ and prove who He was and what He came to do.  In the Gospels, Jesus Himself quotes from the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms to defend His own divinity (Matthew 22:44, for example).  The Gospels also quote directly from the Law and the Prophets to show who Jesus was; like Matthew 21:5 quoting Zechariah 9:9.  Even after Christ’s ascension into heaven, Acts records the apostles heavily relying on Old Testament Scripture to prove the truth of the Gospel.  The epistles also quote extensively from the Old Testament writings.  The first chapter of Hebrews alone quotes Psalm 2, Psalm 89, Psalm 97, Psalm 104, Psalm 45, Psalm 102, and Psalm 110, all to illustrate Christ’s supremacy over angels.  Jesus was regarded as the fulfillment of the Old Covenant (as He claims for Himself in Matthew 5:17), and also as God (John 8:58; John 10:30, 36; Colossians 1:15-17, Acts 20:28, 1 Timothy 3:16, John 14:9, John 20:28, to name a few references).  The New Testament gives us to understand that God is Trinity (John 15:26, Matthew 28:19); that is, that He eternally exists as three distinct Persons with one Nature or Form.  John 1 suggests this by describing Jesus Christ as the Word, who was with God in the beginning and who is God, and through whom all things were made.  Jesus claims unity with the Father in John 17:11.  The clearest description of God’s Trinitarian nature is described in 1 John 5:7, “For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one.”  God’s Trinitarian nature is also implied in the Old Testament; in Psalm 110, in prophecies by Isaiah (9:6 and 48:11), in the pluralistic language used in the first few chapters of Genesis (in the original text “God created” is plural; “Let Us make man in Our image,” etc.).  There are also several instances in which the “Angel of the Lord” appears, foretelling Isaac’s birth to Abraham and Sarah, wrestling Jacob, giving instructions to Joshua on how to defeat Jericho, which may be manifestations of the pre-incarnate Son of God.  Taken with Jesus’ repeated affirmations of His oneness with God the Father, it would be hard to take these as indication of multiple or separate gods, especially with proclamation to Israel: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God; the Lord is One.”  However, given the clear relationship of Jesus to the Father, His obedience and dependence on the Father in prayer, the Persons of the Trinity must also be understood to be distinct in relationship to each other and in their roles, though they are equal – as Jesus has the fullness of the Godhead (Col. 2:9).  Since the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ, it follows that every attribute ascribed to God belongs equally to the three Persons of the Trinity, who are also cited as present and active at the beginning of creation (John 1, plural language of Genesis 1, Jesus the Creator and Sustainer of all things as in Colossians 1:16-17, etc.).   The three Persons of the Trinity exist eternally as non-created beings.  Mankind, on the other hand, was wholly tainted by the fall of Adam and so was rendered incapable of attaining holiness (Romans 3:23).  Because humans are created beings, they can never become God (See Isaiah 43:10).  Only God, Who is eternal, can restore mankind into right relationship to Himself and give them righteousness (Acts 4:12).