The Incarnation: What the Bible Says about the Deity and Humanity of Jesus Christ
The Christian doctrine of the Incarnation is the truth revealed in the Bible that Jesus Christ is God the Son come in the flesh—that he is both God and man, deity and humanity, in one person. In a very real sense, every major doctrine of the Christian faith converges in this one stupendous truth. To understand the Incarnation is to understand the real meaning of Christianity.
Jesus Christ: A Real Man
It is absolutely basic to Christianity that Jesus Christ was a real human being. Denial of the true, full humanity of Christ has always been regarded as a heretical deviation from the gospel. For example, certain theological theories suggesting that Jesus was a divine person merely inhabiting a material body were just as sharply rejected as theories diminishing his deity. The apostle John warned against any denial of the humanity of Christ when he wrote, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (1 John 4:2-3). The Latin translation of this passage rendered the Greek words for “in the flesh” here as in carne, from which the English term Incarnation derives.
The Bible affirms the humanness of Jesus in numerous ways. Although Jesus was conceived miraculously in the womb of a virgin, he developed in her womb according to the usual timeframe (Luke 2:6) and was then born (Matt. 1:18, 25; Luke 1:31; 2:7). He grew from boyhood to manhood, experiencing normal human development (Luke 2:40, 52). He experienced the full range of human emotions such as anger (Mark 3:5), grief over the death of a loved one (John 11:35-36), pity for those suffering (Mark 1:41), and dread (Mark 14:33-35). Jesus got tired, thirsty, and hungry; he slept, drank, and ate just as we do (e.g., Mark 4:38; John 4:6-7). Jesus also experienced ordinary human temptations (Luke 4:1-13; Heb. 2:18; 4:15), though he never committed any sin. The humanity of Jesus is more than just a fact to which Christians give assent; it is essential to our view of Jesus. Christ could not have redeemed us from our sins had he not been a real human being, like us in every way except that he never sinned (Heb. 2:17). Moreover, Jesus after his resurrection was and is still a man, with a real body of flesh and bones (Luke 24:36-43; Acts 10:41; 17:31; 1 Cor. 15:47; 1 Tim. 2:5).
Jesus Christ: Really God
The Bible teaches that Jesus was and is God. Contrary to ideas swirling in the popular culture today, the belief that Jesus is God was not invented in the fourth century. Rather, the deity of Christ is woven throughout the writings of the New Testament, all of which were written in the first century. Most of the New Testament authors, in one way or another, call Jesus God. He is “God with us” (Matt. 1:23), “God” (Acts 20:28; Heb. 1:8), “God over all” (Rom. 9:5), and “our great God and Savior” (Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1). In John’s writings Jesus is called “God” (John 1:1), “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28), and “the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). He also bears the divine title or name “Lord,” which stood for the Old Testament name Yahweh or Jehovah (Matt. 3:3; Rom. 10:9-13; Phil. 2:9-11; 1 Peter 3:13-15). The Book of Revelation calls Jesus the King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 17:14; 19:16), the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End, and the Alpha and Omega (three synonymous titles: Rev. 1:7-8, 17b-18; 2:8; 22:13-14). He has the name above every name (Eph. 1:21; Phil. 2:9-11).
The divine titles of Jesus represent just the tip of the iceberg of the biblical revelation of his deity. Christ fully possesses the nature of God: “For in him the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). He is eternal and uncreated (John 1:1-3; 17:5; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2, 10-12). Those passages also reveal that every created being owes its existence to him: “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands” (Heb. 1:10). He is unchangeable in his essential being (Heb. 1:11-12; 13:8), absolute in power and authority (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:19-21), knows all things including our hearts (Mark 2:6-8; John 16:30-31; Acts 1:24), and is personally present and active in all places at once (Matt. 18:20; 28:20; Eph. 4:10-11). He sustains and directs the universe throughout its history by his powerful word (Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2-3), forgives people’s sins (Matt. 9:1-8; Col. 3:13), sends the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-14; Acts 2:33), and will judge all people at the end of history (Matt. 25:31-46; John 5:22-23; 2 Cor. 5:10). He will rule forever as God over all creation from the very throne of God (Mark 14:62; Eph. 1:19-22; Heb. 1:8; Rev. 22:1, 3).
Jesus Christ: Both God and Man
That Jesus is both God and man is obviously hard to understand. That’s not surprising, since it involves the transcendent Creator uniting himself to his creation by becoming one of us. It would be surprising if his doing so did not result in paradox! The biblical principle to keep in mind here was spoken on the day that the Incarnation began, when Gabriel told Mary, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). It is also not surprising that people have tried to explain who Jesus is in other ways. By looking at some of these views briefly, it will help us understand the biblical doctrine better.
One popular theory is that Jesus was a man who was exalted to heaven and given an honorary status as “God,” meaning that he now functions as God’s agent or “right-hand man.” It is true that Jesus is a man, that he was exalted after his death and resurrection, and that he is seated at the “right hand” of God the Father. However, the Bible teaches that Jesus existed before creation as God (John 1:1). Being God is not an honorary status that Jesus attained; it is who he really is. Jesus was exalted following his resurrection because he had first come down from heaven in humility to die for our sins. He is now exalted not just as the divine Son but as the divine and human Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil. 2:6-11).
Another group of theories is that God and man are fundamentally the same kind of being, or the same “species.” According to these views, human beings are potential Gods, and Jesus is simply someone who has fully realized his “divine potential.” These doctrines err both in their view of humanity and in their view of Christ. Human beings are not potential deities; only one God—one being of the nature and power of the Creator—exists and will ever exist (Isa. 43:10). Rather, human beings are creatures made to reflect God’s character and purposes in this physical world (Gen. 1:26-31). Jesus Christ was always God (again, see John 1:1) and was unique among human beings as the only one who existed before his human life and came down from heaven (John 3:31; 16:28; 17:5; 1 Cor. 15:45-49).
We may briefly mention four implications of the Incarnation.
(1) God is not remote and aloof from us, untouched by our problems. God the Son has permanently joined with our frail race, suffered, and died to rescue us from sin and give us immortality and glory (2 Cor. 8:9; Phil. 2:6-8).
(2) The fact that God has done this demonstrates his great love for us (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8).
(3) Our salvation is assured because God himself has saved us (Acts 20:28); it is a gift of God’s grace to which we can add nothing but to which we owe everything (Rom. 11:6; Eph. 2:8-10).
(4) Jesus Christ deserves all the honors due to God the Father (John 5:23). We should glorify him (2 Tim. 4:18; 2 Peter 3:18), worship him as even the angels do (Heb. 1:6; Rev. 5:14), pray to him (2 Cor. 12:8-9; 1 John 5:14-15), and sing hymns of praise to him (Eph. 5:19; Rev. 5:9-10). We should love him with all our hearts, above all else (Matt. 10:37; Eph. 6:24). “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15).
For Further Study
Bowman, Robert M. Jr., and J. Ed Komoszewski. Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007. A thorough defense from the New Testament of the doctrine of the Incarnation, focusing on Jesus Christ’s identity as the eternal, divine Son of God.