The Incarnation

The Incarnation

James Gunn

In The First Epistle Of John

Repeated warnings have been given against the assumption to a superior knowledge that denies the incarnation of our Holy Lord. These warnings must again be raised in this period of multiple cultic movement. Modern heresies are but the ancient errors revived, revived for the purpose originally intended, the dishonour of our Lord Jesus.

There were, and there are, those who assert that such is the frailty and limitation of humanity that Deity could not be contained in such a weak vessel; therefore, they deny the perfect humanity of Christ. There were, and there are, others who argue conversely, and affirm that since God is so omnipotent, majestic, and eternal, Deity could not be restricted by humanity; God being so transcendent could not submit to confinement within a human body, and they deny the Deity of Christ. Such heresies were prevalent in the times of the Apostle John. His First Epistle, in great measure, is a refutation of their blasphemous contentions.

It is very interesting to notice the different verbs used by John when, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, he made allusion to this mysterious historical event. They are: “to manifest,” “to come,” “to send,” and “to be.”

Any consideration of the character of the incarnation in the light of the first three of these verbs must accept what they definitely imply, the preexistence of the Lord Jesus. Before one can be made manifest, he must be; before one can come, he must exist; before one can be sent, he must be associated with the sender.

In his Gospel the Apostle John records some of the astonishing claims of the Lord Jesus in this very matter. These personal contentions of the Lord certainly had been accepted by John; consequently they controlled his thinking. “Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love Me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of Myself, but He sent Me” (John 8:42). In a more lengthy passage; namely, John 8:52-56, Abraham becomes the example of one who has kept the sayings of Christ and has not died. The implication in verse 56 is not that Abraham saw Christ’s day by faith, but that he, although physically dead, because of this keeping of the words of the Lord, lived, and as a living spectator saw Christ manifested through the incarnation. Abraham will never die eternally; there was a time when he did not exist, but there eventually came a time when he was made (V. 58), but before even then, said Christ, “I am.” The verb “to be” which expresses the being of the Lord indicates that He ever lives in one continuous present.

Christ a Manifestation of God

The language used by John to picture this greatest event in all history does so in the stages of human experience. His language indicates that the Word of Life had been made manifest, had been brought to the light, from distant obscurity into the brightness of personal intimacy.

John visualized the Lord as coming near to men until He was clearly manifested. The Lord was first seen as being heard as at a distance and unseen; then, as if passing by, caused some to glance at Him; later, as if coming near enough to arouse an interest in some who intently look upon Him; and finally, as if He were so near that He could be handled. John had looked upon the Effulgence of the Divine Glory, the Express Image of Deity, and that in a form that could be heard, seen, and handled. “Great is the Mystery of Godliness: God was manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16).

The verb “to manifest” is not only used in connection with the first advent of Christ, but also in regard to the second (1 John 3:1-3). Respecting the first, we read that Christ the Son of God was manifested to the apostles for a twofold purpose: “He was manifested to take away our sins” (V. 5), and “that He might destroy the works of the devil” (V. 8).

When Christ is again made visible to mankind, John asserts that all believers will be made manifest with Him, for they shall be like Him in glory. The Apostle Paul declares, “When Christ who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4). What a triumphant event!

Christ a Reality in the World

The test by which spirits are to be examined is the test of the incarnation: “Herein know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God” (Chapter 4:2-3).

Three very important points of doctrine are stated in this confession. “To come” presupposes a movement out from in order to arrive at a certain place or condition. Such logic leads to the conclusion that the Lord Jesus, as stated earlier, had an eternal existence with the Father. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

This apostolic confession does not say, “Jesus Christ come into flesh,” implying, as some claim, that Christ the Eternal descended into the Man Jesus and remained in Him for some years, but withdrew before the crucifixion. This satanic delusion appeared very early in the history of the Church, and still permeates Christendom.

Moreover, the spirit of God through John does not say, “Jesus Christ came in flesh,” producing the impression that He who came in flesh did not remain in that form, but that He left humanity and ascended back to Heaven in spirit only. The language employed subscribes to the fact that Christ is come in flesh; that is, He came in a human body and ever remains in that human body, albeit a glorified body (Phil. 3:21).

The contention of the ancient and godly Athanasias needs again to be restated and affirmed by Christian testimony everywhere: “Jesus Christ is truly God and truly Man—co-substantial (co-essential) with the Father according to Manhood… Begotten before all ages according to the Godhead, and in these latter days for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary … according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of the two natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence.”

Christ the Representative of the Father

Of our blessed Lord Jesus, we read, “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” (Phil. 2:6-7).

It was as His Perfect Servant that the Father sent His Son into the world. Matthew records the parable of the nobleman who planted a vineyard and rented it to a company of husbandmen. In order to receive the portion which was his by arrangement, the nobleman eventually sent his son. The husbandmen said among themselves, “This is the heir, come let us kill him, and seize on his inheritance” (Matt. 21:33-41).

There is both a contrast and a comparison here. According to this Epistle by John, the Father sent the Son to give not to get, but the Son whom He sent was likewise slain. “God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him,” asserts John. Furthermore, he affirms, “God, … sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” and “The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world” (4:9, 10, 14). It is in this sense that the Lord Jesus is the Divine Apostle, God’s Sent One (Heb. 3:1). Our blessed Lord who came voluntarily in flesh, came in obedience to the Father in order that men be redeemed. Bethlehem was a prerequisite to Calvary.

Christ a Unique Personage

In dealing with the dreadful influence of many antichrists, the Apostle discloses the sources from which they derive their propaganda. The first source is Jewish: “He that denieth that Jesus is the Christ, he is antichrist” (Chapter 2:22). A rejection of Jesus as the Christ, the Annointed One, the Messiah, is common among Jews. Thank God for all of Hebrew origin who have embraced by faith the Lord Jesus as Saviour, Lord, and Messiah! The second source is that of Gentile philosophy. Paul met it at Colosse through his Epistle to that church; John confronts it now at Ephesus. “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father.” This statement alone refutes the premise upon which Unitarian doctrine rests (Chapter 2:23).

In chapter 5:5-6, the Apostle raises and answers another question: “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? This is He that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water, but by water and blood” (Vv. 5-6).

The name “Jesus” and the appellation “Son of God” used so wisely here by John, reveal the unique personality of our Saviour. He is Jesus, for this is the name of Him who is come in the flesh; He is the perfect Man in all the virtues of unfallen, sinless humanity. He is the Son of God in all the fulness of the divine attributes.

Three witnesses are called upon to give testimony to the unique personality of Christ. First, the “water” through which He entered at His baptism upon His public ministry, a ministry of both oracles and miracles. Second, the “blood”. In His death, He overcame him who had the power of death, Satan (Heb. 2:14). The death of Christ, yes, and even the manner of His death, affirm His claims to be the Son of God. His death was as great a miracle as was His life. Third, the “Spirit.” Through the power of the Holy Spirit the Church was born at Pentecost, and through His indwelling she is sustained. These three testify to the unique personality of our Lord Jesus: the “water,” His miraculous life; the “blood,” His miraculous and triumphant death; the “Spirit,” in and through the Church, His miraculous and glorious accomplishments. Only One who is absolutely unique could execute all that is contained in this threefold testimony.