The Incarnation and the Son of Man

The incarnation of the Eter­nal Word of God is one of the most profound mysteries of the Christian faith. So what do the scriptures say concerning it?

W. E. READ, Field Secretary, General Conference

The  incarnation of the Eter­nal Word of God is one of the most profound mysteries of the Christian faith. Something of this wonderful theme is revealed in the Scriptures, but much of it remains as one of the mysteries of God's prov­idence. There are many other mysteries in the Word of God, matters in which we can go so far and no farther. Beyond what is divinely revealed we are not to venture. We are safe only as we keep to the revealed pathway of truth; beyond that is specula­tion, philosophical deduction, and vain imagination.

Doubtless all of us feel that there are many aspects of this question to which we do not have the answers. Can we explain how God could become man? Do we know how Deity and humanity were blended in the person of Jesus? Can we explain how Christ, the Sinless One, came through a sinful channel? Who can explain the miracle of the sinless life of Jesus? We surely would like to know just how He could be tempted in all points as we are tempted. Who can explain the miracle of His resurrection, or of His ascension? How we would like to have the answers to all these questions. Again we remark, some of these mysteries are revealed in part, but much is still unrevealed, and will doubt­less remain so until we pass within the pearly gates of the city of God.

Really, when we think of Jesus, every­thing about Him is a miracle. His coming into this world was a miracle; His stay here was a series of miracles; His going out was a miracle; truly there is none like Him. His life is unique, the only Son of the ever­lasting God.

There are many other things in the Word of God that are in the realm of mysteries. What has been revealed in that Word is for us to know, to believe, and to cherish; but we must never forget that "the secret things belong unto the Lord our God" (Deut. 29:29).

We can of course reverently meditate on some things of which our knowledge is limited. Think of the being of God. The Apostle to the Gentiles refers to "the mys­tery of God," or the mystery "of Christ" (Col. 2:2). Ellen G. White, from whose writings in books and periodicals a number of quotations are included, says:

No finite mind can fully comprehend the charac­ter or the works of the Infinite One. We cannot by searching find out God. To minds the strongest and most highly cultured, as well as to the weakest and most ignorant, that holy Being must remain clothed in mystery.—Education, p. 169.

Much about the plan of redemption is a mystery. Paul refers to this as "the mystery of the gospel."

There are mysteries in the plan of redemption—the humiliation of the Son of God, that He might be found in fashion as a man, the wonderful love and condescension of the Father in yielding up His Son—that are to the heavenly angels subjects of continual amazement.—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 702.

That He should consent to leave His glory and take upon Himself human nature, was a mystery which the sinless intelligences of other worlds de­sired to understand.—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 69.

All of this—His decision and His birth into the human family—was involved in the incarnation. "Great is the mystery of godli­ness: God was manifest in the flesh!" ex­claims the apostle (1 Tim. 3:16).

In contemplating the incarnation of Christ in humanity, we stand baffled before an unfathom­able mystery, that the human mind cannot com­prehend. The more we reflect upon it, the more amazing does it appear. How wide is the contrast between the divinity of Christ and the helpless in­fant in Bethlehem's manger! How can we span the distance between the mighty God and a helpless child? And yet the Creator of worlds, He in whom was the fulness of the Godhead bodily, was manifest in the helpless babe in the manger. Far higher than any of the angels, equal with the Father in dignity and glory, and yet wearing the garb of humanity! Divinity and humanity were mysteriously com­bined, and man and God became one. It is in this union that we find the hope of our fallen race. Looking upon Christ in humanity, we look upon God, and see in Him the brightness of His glory, the express image of His person.—Mrs. E. G. WHITE in The Signs of the Times, July 30, 1896.

But in all such meditation and study, let us keep to what is clearly revealed. The following cautions are much to the point in this connection.

It is a masterpiece of Satan's deceptions to keep the minds of men searching and conjecturing in regard to that which God has not made known, and which He does not intend that we shall under­stand. It was thus that Lucifer lost his place in heaven.—The Great Controversy, p. 523.

Thus many err from the faith, and are seduced by the devil. Men have endeavored to be wiser than their Creator; human philosophy has at­tempted to search out and explain mysteries which will never be revealed, through the eternal ages. If men would but search and understand what God has made known of Himself and His purposes, they would obtain such a view of the glory, majesty, and power' of Jehovah, that they would realize their own littleness, and would be content with that which has been revealed for themselves and their children.—/bid., pp. 522, 523.

Let us observe further some of the things that are revealed.

1. That Christ is God.—There are many passages of Scripture that emphasize this Christological aspect of the relation of Christ Jesus to the Godhead. Notice Rom. 9:5; 2 Cor. 5:19; 1 Tim. 3:16; Titus 2:13 (R.S.V.); Heb. 1:8-10; 2 Peter 1:1 (R.S.V.).

Christ, the Word, the only begotten of God, was one with the eternal Father,—one in nature, in char­acter, in purpose,—the only being that could enter into all the counsels and purposes of God. "His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of peace." Isaiah 9:6. His "goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." Micah 5:2.—Patri­archs and Prophets, p. 34.

2.    That Christ was pre-existent.—This also is stressed in several places in the IVord of God. See John 1:1-3; 8:58; 17:5, 24; Col. 1:17; Rev. 1:8; 22:12, 13. We read also:

"Before Abraham was, I am." Christ is the pre­existent, self-existent Son of God.-1VIRs. E. G. WHITE in The Signs of the Times, Aug. 29, 1900.

We are believers in Christ, . . we believe in His divinity and in His pre-existence.—Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 58.

3.    That Christ was from eternity.—In addition to the scriptures just mentioned, reference might be made to Prov. 8:22, 23; Micah 5:2 (margin).

Again we read:

From the days of eternity the Lord Jesus Christ was one with the Father.—The Desire of Ages, p. 19.

The Lord Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God, existed from eternity, a distinct person, yet one with the Father. . . . There are light and glory in the truth that Christ was one with the Father be­fore the foundation of the world was laid. This is the light shining in a dark place, making it re­splendent with divine, original glory. This truth, infinitely mysterious in itself, explains other mys­terious and otherwise unexplainable truths, while it is enshrined in light, unapproachable and incom­prehensible.—MRs. E, G. WHITE, in The Review and Herald, April 5, 1906.

4.    That Christ was the Creator of all things.—This thought is emphasized time and again in the New Testament. See John 1:1-3; Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:13-16; Heb. 1:1, 2.

We read:

The Father wrought by His Son in the creation of all heavenly beings. "By him were all things created."—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 34.

5.   That Christ is the source and giver of all life.—See John 5:26; 1:4; 10:17; 11:25. Again we read:

"I am the resurrection, and the life." He who had said, "I lay down my life, that I might take it again," came forth from the grave to life that was in Himself. . . Only He who alone bath immortality dwelling in light and life, should say, "I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it again."—Mrs. E. G. WHITE in The Youth's Instructor, Aug. 4, 1898.

"In him was life; and the life was the light of men." . . . It is not physical life that is here speci­fied, but immortality, the life which is exclusively the property of God. . . . In Him was life, original, unborrowed, underived.—Mrs. E. G. WHITE in The Signs of the Times, April 8, 1897.

6.    That Christ was divine and human. —He was the "Son of God" (Rom. 1:4). He was also the "Son of man" (Matt. 26: 64). He was God "manifest in the flesh" (1 Tim. 3:16). The Eternal Word "was made flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:14).

In Christ, divinity and humanity were combined. Divinity was not degraded to humanity; divinity held its place.—The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 1082.

Christ was a real man; He gave proof of His humility in becoming a man. Yet He was God in the flesh.—MRs. E. G. WHITE in The Youth's In­structor, Oct. 13, 1898.

He clothed His divinity with humanity. He was all the while as God, but He did not appear as God. . . . He was God while upon earth, but He divested Himself of the form of God, and in its stead took the form and fashion of a man.—MRs. E. G. WHITE in The Review and Herald, July 5, 1887.

7.    That Christ took our human nature. —The apostle Paul emphasizes this truth. See Phil. 2:7; Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:14.

Christ did not make-believe take human nature; He did verily take it. He did in reality possess hu­man nature. "As the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same." He was the Son of Mary; He was of the seed of David according to human descent.—The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 1130.

Taking humanity upon Him, Christ came to be one with humanity and at the same time reveal our heavenly Father to sinful human beings.

Jesus was in all things like unto His breth­ren. He became flesh even as we are . . . yet He was the blameless Son of God.—The Desire of Ages, p. 311.

8.       That Christ was sinless, undefiled by sin.—The perfect, sinless character of the Son of God is stressed. Paul says He "knew no sin" (2 Cor. 5:21); Peter states that He "did no sin" (1 Peter 2:22); John remarks that "in him is no sin" (1 John 3:5). Further testimony is found in Hebrews 4: 15; 7:26. He is "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners."

In the fulness of time He [Christ] was to be re­vealed in human form. He was to take His position at the head of humanity by taking the nature but not the sinfulness of man.—Mrs. E. G. WHITE in The Signs of the Times, May 29, 1901.

In taking upon Himself man's nature in its fallen condition, Christ did not in the least participate in its sin.. . . Could Satan in the least particular have tempted Christ to sin, he would have bruised the Saviour's head. As it was, he could only touch His heel. Had the head of Christ been touched, the hope of the human race would have perished. . . . We should have no misgivings in regard to the per­fect sinlessness of the human nature of Christ.—The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 1131.

Repeated emphasis is found on this thought in the writings of Ellen G. White:

He . . . was Himself without the taint of sin. . . . His nature was without the taint of sin.—Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 528.

He was unsullied with corruption, a stranger to sin.—Ibid., vol. 2, p. 508.

He did not consent to sin. Not even by a thought did He yield to temptation.—The Desire of Ages, p. 123.

In His human nature He maintained the purity of His divine character.—The Youth's Instructor, June 2, 1898.

9.       That Christ was tempted in all points as we are.—This is a wonderful, comfort­ing thought. But let us ever remember that although it is true, it is also true that He was "without sin" (Heb. 4:15). His being tempted, however, did not contaminate the Son of God. He bore our weaknesses, our temptations, vicariously, in the same way He bore our iniquities. In taking upon Him­self the sins of the world, He was still the pure, spotless Lamb of God. That such a thing could be is surely a mystery. Nobody can explain how Jesus could be tempted in all points as we are tempted and yet be uncontaminated, without sin.

Some seem inclined to argue that in order to be really human He must have had sinful propensities. Clear counsel has been given us on this point. And while these quotations and many others from the Lord's servant were included in the Counsel Sec­tion of THE MINISTRY last September, it is felt wise to include them again here.

Be careful, exceedingly careful as to how you dwell upon the human nature of Christ. Do not set Him before the people as a man with the propen­sities of sin. He is the second Adam. The first Adam was created a pure, sinless being, without a taint of sin upon him. . . Jesus Christ was the only be­gotten Son of God. He took upon Himself human nature. . . . He could have sinned; He could have fallen, but not for one moment was there in Him an evil propensity.—The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 1128.

In treating upon the humanity of Christ, you need to guard strenuously every assertion, lest your words be taken to mean more than they imply, and thus you lose or dim the clear perceptions of His humanity as combined with divinity. His birth was a miracle of God; for, said the angel, "Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. . . The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, . . . therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God."

These words do not refer to any human being, except to the Son of the infinite God. Never, in any way, leave the slightest impression upon human minds that a taint of, or inclination to, corruption rested upon Christ, or that He in any way yielded to corruption. He was tempted in all points like as man is tempted, yet He is called "that holy thing." It is a mystery that is left unexplained to mortals that Christ could be tempted in all points like as we are, and yet be without sin. The incarnation of Christ has ever been, and will ever remain a mystery. That which is revealed, is for us and for our children, but let every human being be warned from the ground of making Christ altogether hu­man, such an one as ourselves; for it cannot be. The exact time when humanity blended with divinity, it is not necessary for us to know. We are to keep our feet on the Rock Christ Jesus, as God revealed in humanity.—Ibid., pp, 1128, 1129. (Italics sup­plied.)

We sing with rapture, "A wonderful Saviour is Jesus my Lord!" and that is true. There is none other like Him. Paul speaks of the "unspeakable gift." This does not mean a gift about which we cannot or must not speak or bear witness, but rather a gift that is "wonderful beyond descrip­tion." He is incomparable; He is unspeak­ably precious; He is God's greatest gift to men. Thanks be unto God for His gift. It is wonderful beyond description!

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W. E. READ, Field Secretary, General Conference

April 1957

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