QWhy was it so important for the Son of God to come in the incarnation of man on the earth?
AThe incarnation of Christ is vital to many aspects of the Christian faith. Without the incarnation, there is no Christ, no cross, and no Christianity.
In John 1 we read of the incarnation, that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth… For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” (John 1:14, 17-18). The incarnation is vitally important for many reasons, but first and foremost because incarnation was the means of the eternal God coming down to meet man, and dwell among us. God has chosen the incarnation as the means of giving the highest revelation of Himself; the only-begotten Son, become flesh, declaring the Father. There was no other way for God to do this, other than to take manhood into union with Himself. The incarnation is the vehicle, if we can use the word, that brought grace and truth to man. This is what Jesus brought: grace, or the activity of Divine love in the midst of evil, and truth, the revelation of all things as they really are. It required One who was fully God and fully man. If the Son had never been made flesh, or if He were merely a man, grace and truth could not have come to us.
It is important to see that the sacrifice of Calvary could not be accomplished apart from the incarnation. When Adam sinned he forfeited his life, “for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). The wages of sin is death; a life must be forfeited (Rom. 6:23). The claims of a righteous and holy God must be met, and a life must be given to set man on another footing before Him. Hence, God required the sacrifice of blood; “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11). But the life of an animal could not redeem a man’s, other than in a ceremonial sense, as Hebrews 9 and 10 show (Heb. 9:12; 10:4). It must be a human life given in exchange for another human life. But “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23), and so none could give himself a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28), because that life is forfeited, and therefore not free to offer. Further, the one whose life was given must be a Divine person. First, even if a man was sinless, the work of atonement required a personal excellency that went beyond a mere man; the sword of judgment must be “against the man that is my fellow, saith the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 13:7). He must be both God and man to be the “daysman” of Job 9:33, and the “one mediator” of 1 Timothy 2:5. Second, He must offer Himself “by the Eternal Spirit” to God (Heb. 9:14), which only a Divine Person could do. Third, no mere man can truly offer His life, but instead loses his life, or has it taken from him (Ecc. 8:8). Only a man who was also a Divine Person could offer Himself in this supreme sense (Eph. 5:2; Gal. 2:20; 1 John 3:16). In incarnation, the Son became a man in order to be the sacrifice that God’s righteousness required; thus a body was prepared for Him (Heb. 10:5). On the cross He offered up His holy life in death, and shed His precious blood before the eye of God, in order to bring us into a new standing before God! There was no other way, apart from incarnation.1
In Hebrews 2 the manhood of Christ is taken up, and there are a number of reasons given for Christ becoming man.2
- To make atonement for sins (Hebrews 2:17). The sins of mankind, and the whole issue of sin, is a terrible outrage against the glory of God. Christ became a man first and foremost to glorify God with respect to the issue of sin (John 13:31-32). This work of propitiation was done on the cross, but incarnation was necessary in order for Him to accomplish it. The same can be said of the substitutionary aspect of the cross; “who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). In order to accomplish substitutionary atonement, the Son had to come in incarnation, with a human spirit, soul, and body, in which He bore our sins on the cross.
- To fulfill the counsels of God with respect to man (Hebrews 2:7-8). The purpose for which God created man could not be completed by the first man, who failed in his place. But the Son became man to accomplish that purpose, and it will be fulfilled to God’s ultimate satisfaction and glory. It could not happen without the incarnation!
- To annul the devil by death (Hebrews 2:14). The defeat of Satan required that a righteous man would enter into death and then rise again! We know from Luke 20:36 that angels cannot die, so the Son had to go a little lower than the angels “for the suffering of death”; i.e. He had to become a man to offer Himself in death.
- To be able to sympathize with us (Hebrews 2:10, 18). Another great reason for the incarnation is that manhood fitted the Son of God to be our merciful and faithful High Priest. In His pathway here on earth, Christ passed through every experience necessary to make Him qualified to sympathize with us perfectly as our great High Priest. God, according to His own character, has chosen to give us, the “many sons”, a perfect Leader on our way to glory! We could not have this sympathetic Leader without the incarnation.
In addition to these reasons, there are more given in John 6. The Son came down as the bread of heaven:
- To make the gift of eternal life possible. Jesus said “the bread of God is he who comes down out of heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33), and then “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35), and then “He that believes on me has life eternal” (John 6:47). To “eat the living bread” come down from heaven is to receive and know Christ as the Son of God, come as a humble man, to bring eternal life to as many as believe on Him (John 6:51). The flesh of the Son of God was given for us at the cross, and so incarnation alone was not enough to save us; the atoning death was also needed. However, we can see that incarnation was vital to make the gift of eternal life possible!
- To be the daily food that sustains us in our pathway. Christ has set Himself before the believer as an object, that we might find our sustenance in Him; “he also who eats me shall live also on account of me; this is the bread which has come down out of heaven” (John 6:57-58). He is the antitype of the manna; Christ in incarnation as a humble man on earth living for His Father’s will; that is what we feed on! This is the “ongoing” sense of eating, rather than “once-for-all”. We eat the Bread of Heaven once for eternal life initially, and then we continue to feed on Him to sustain that life.
Another reason for the incarnation is to fulfill the Messianic prophecies. From the moment sin entered the world, God promised that the woman’s seed would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). All of God’s purposes, and all of man’s blessing, looked forward to the incarnation of the Son; “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa 7:14). The prophecies of the Messiah in connection with His sufferings and His future kingdom glories all depend on the incarnation.
When we consider the incarnation of our blessed Lord Jesus, we can hardly think of one purpose of God, or one blessing of man – whether in salvation or in our preservation in the pathway – that is not vitally linked to that stupendous reality! The revelation of God, the atoning work, the counsels of God, Messianic prophecies, the sympathies of Christ, the gift of eternal life, and many other blessed truths all connect with the incarnation of Christ. How fitting then that the validation of sound doctrine would be the truth of the Person of Christ. He is the touchstone; “Hereby 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: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world” (1 John 4:2-3).
At the same time, scripture makes it clear that the incarnation alone is not sufficient to secure our salvation or accomplish the purposes of God. The death of Christ, His resurrection, and glorification at God’s right hand are equally necessary. It is a deadly evil to deny the incarnation, but is also a tragic loss to emphasize it to the neglect of the cross, etc., which parts of Christendom have done.
- We shall now better comprehend the nature of the atonement, which could enable the Holy God to set up man on another footing. To meet, the righteousness of God, there must be a victim, not, in himself, chargeable with our offense, in any way, bearing the penalty of death. But not only this, there must be a personal excellency, over and above the life offered up. The life is offered up, in substitution, and the perfection elicited in the time of offering is that basis, which forms the ground for the re-establishment of man, in another condition. It is evident that man could find nothing of this kind in himself-he could not offer up a life, for he had none to offer, it was forfeited. – Wigram, G.V. The Atonement. The Present Testimony, New Volume II, p.233.
- In Hebrews 2 four reasons are given why Christ took flesh and blood: first, to make atonement; second, for God’s glory and counsels; third, to destroy him that had the power of death; fourth, that He should go through every sorrow, and so have sympathy with us. – Darby, J.N. Brief Thoughts on Philippians.