Dr. Jose L. New Testament Faculty IBC and Seminary Kumbanad
The incarnated God in the human flesh is a miracle in the history of the universe. John the evangelist clearly enumerates this effect through the prologue of his gospel that Jesus is the eternal Word existed even before the creation of the world. Moreover, there is no distinction in essence between God and the Word (‘the Word was with God and the Word was God’). The evangelist understood that narratives withgenealogies are not enough to explain the complex nature of the person of Jesus (humanityand divinity together). Therefore, he composed a song to explain this.
God’s revelation through the incarnation made possible for people could see the eternal God with their eyes, hear with their ears and touch with their hands. God has shown his face in the person of Jesus Christ. Moreover, this logos (Word) is a holy God. This eternal logos became flesh (sarx) and made his dwelling among us. This is the historic self-disclosure of the person and work of Jesus Christ. What a wonderful miracle happened in the history of the universe that the holy God identified with the likeness of the sinful humanity by becoming the fleshly human being. Certain questions asked in this study is, why this holy God needs to take on human flesh? What benefits do human beings get by this act of ‘Word becoming flesh’
The Holy God becoming the human flesh (sarx)
John’s gospel starts with the Logos hymn which was different from the other gospels. In this prologue, John calls Jesus ‘the Word of God’, the rational principle of the universe according to the Greek philosophy. The prologue also spells out the self-manifestation of God. The Word was with God in the beginning. Moreover, it was through him all things were created. This eternal Word became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn.1:14). The transcendent holy God became really human in Jesus. The great leap of God’s revelation made possible in such a way that ‘God the one and only, who is at the father’s side, has made him known’ (Jn.1:18) through the incarnation. The revelation of logos in the flesh (sarx) is a mystery according to human understanding. The flesh refers to the frailty and vulnerability of human existence (cf.Isa.40:6). He identified with human vulnerability and became an authentic human person in Jesus (Bruce Milne, The Message of John, IVP Press: England: 1993,46). The Greek mind like the Indian mind considers the flesh as evil and yearn for liberation of the flesh from the material world.
However, John portrays a different story of the incarnation the Word that is infused with the material world. This eternal, transcendent, invisible and holy God become transient, weak human being. John is highlighting the humanity of Jesus Christ through the incarnation of Jesus in the fleshly form. He specifically uses the Greek word sarx meaning flesh with a specific purpose of the sanctity of the human body in contrast with the popular Greek concept of the evilness in the body. This incarnation is not like the Hindu concept of Avatar in temporary and recurring nature in contrast to the “once and for all” event in the history of the universe (J.J.Kanagarajand I.S.Kemp, The Gospel According to John, Asia Theological Association: Bangalore, 2000), 66.
The Incarnated Word in the flesh revealed God’s glory
The incarnated word is the source of the light and life which come from a holy God (Jn.1:4,5). John is explaining three things about the Word: ‘Word was life giver, and the life was the light of men and it illuminates.’ Further, the light shines in the darkness’ (Jn.1:4-5). Through the incarnation, God enlightens every one. He is the true light that gives glory to every human being (Jn.1:9) also dispels the darkness (Jn.12:35; 8:12). He came to this world which rebelled against God’s rule to be the light (Jn.1:4,5,9; cf.3:19; 8:12; 12:46). The incarnated Word is the only Son who revealed God’s glory and people ‘have seen the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (Jn.1:14, 18; 3:16, 18). Through the incarnation Jesus revealed the holiness of God and to share the divine life that is in him. It is the glory in the flesh. It is “a visible and powerful manifestation of God” (Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John. A Theological Commentary, Grand Rapids, W.B.Eerdmans Publishing Company: Michigan, 1991), 52.
The other evangelists (Mark, Matthew and Luke) reveals the glory of the eternal Word that might have been manifested tangibly on occasions like the transfiguration event (Mk.9:2-8; Lk.9:32) but here John wants to portray the continuous presence of God in the incarnate Son. This is the single point of event in human history that the word became flesh and tabernacled among the people just like God’s shekinah glory came and dwelt among the people of Israel (Ex.25:80; 24:16; 40:25-34; 2Chr.7:1ff). It is the glory of the holy God the Father full of grace and truth (Jn.1:14). This glory must have manifested visibly on other occasions like ‘signs’ (miracles) where his disciples had the glimpses of his glory (Jn.2:2-11; 4:43-54; 5:1-15; 6:1-15; 6:16-24; 9:1-12; 11:38-44).
For John, Jesus is ‘the only begotten,’ (monogenus)/ the only one of its kind (Jn.1:14). This explains the uniqueness of Jesus as the Son of God. The incarnated Son came from the Father ‘full of grace and truth.’ ‘From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another’ (Jn.1:16). This indicates God’s favour, benevolence and mercy in God’s relationship to humanity manifested the revelation of glory in the incarnate word.
There is a difference between the revealed glory in the OT and the glory revealed in the incarnate Son. In the OT manifested glory call for a distance between the people and the revealed glory on the mountains (the theophany at Mount Sinai; Ex.33, 34), in the tabernacle and the temple as it consumes them because of their sinfulness. But through the incarnation of the Word incarnated in the midst of the sinful world.
If Jesus is the Word incarnate, it explains the supremacy of Jesus Christ. Moreover, the incarnation calls us “to worship him without cessation, obey him without hesitation, love him without reservation and serve him without interruption” (Milne, The Message of John,36)
The Implication for Christian Life
The grand miracle in the history of the universe is considered to ‘an indescribable gift’ in the words of apostle Paul (2Cor.9:15) for the salvation of the whole world where the response is to call him as ‘my Lord and my God’ (Jn.20:28). The angels worshipped in him in the incarnation (Lk.2:13,14), the shepherds worshipped him (lk.2:15-20), and the wise men from the east worshipped him (Mt.2:1-11).
The incarnation “brings healing of the great divide between God and his rebellious creatures into the realm of true possibility.” It brings value to the human existence and the human body which the eastern mind considered to be a prison. The word incarnate identified in our weakness (Milne, The Message of John, 47).
In the Old Testament God’s holiness demanded that human beings must keep their distance from the very presence of God (Ex.1912-13; cf.Heb.12:18-21). Similarly, this same ‘distance command’ is maintained in the tabernacle and at the Jerusalem temple where God’s presence is revealed. However, through the incarnation of Jesus, the same God came and dwelt among people. He broke all the barriers between humanity and God. One of the accusations against Jesus the incarnate was that he was the friend of the tax-collectors and sinners (Lk.5:30). The eternal God has manifested his holiness in humanity so that we might partake in his righteousness.
The incarnation narrative teaches us that the gospel is not away from sinners rather incarnated in the society where we become the salt and light of the world. Let the people see the glory of God in us and know that we are the children of God (Jn.17:20-23). It is not by physical separation that we become carriers of his glory and become effective witness of Christ rather by incarnating in this sinful, defiled, corruptible and unwelcoming world, we become effective witnesses. The holy God is repulsed by sin yet would take on human flesh and would dwell in the midst of sinners. We participate in the incarnation process of eternal Logos by entering into the world of ‘sinners and tax-collectors.’
God was made flesh through the incarnation so that the sinful humanity could be restored back to the Him. The incarnation event has started the redemptive history where ‘though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich’ (2Cor.8:9). Those who believe in the incarnated Word, God gave the privilege of calling them as the children of God.