“My God, My God!”

“My God, My God!”: On the mystery of the Incarnation

The subject of the Incarnation will be studied by the redeemed through eternity.

George E. Rice, PhD, a retired pastor, professor, and administrator, lives in Greencastle, Pennsylvania, United States.

 

In his First Epistle to Timothy, Paul says, “[G]reat is the mystery of godliness” (3:16).1 Then he lists six truths included in this mystery, God was (1) “manifested in the flesh,” (2) “justified in the Spirit,” (3) “seen by angels,” (4) “preached among the Gentiles,” (5) “believed on in the world,” and (6) “received up in glory.” Of these six truths, the first, “God was manifested in the flesh,” staggers our thinking. This theme will be studied by the redeemed throughout eternity. But for now, an aspect of this mystery fascinates and humbles anyone who tries to understand it.

“My Father”

In the Gospels, Jesus’ use of the phrase My Father becomes a familiar refrain. His claim to be the Son of God is an important foundation. Jesus’ use of this title helps us to understand the relationship between the First and Second Persons of the Godhead, within the context of the plan of salvation. As humans, we know that a true and loving relationship between a father and a son can be a joy beyond description. This human experience helps us to understand the relationship between the Father and Jesus. Although Jesus assumed the position of Son in the master plan of dealing with sin, He has assured us that the pre-Incarnation relationship with His Father was not compromised. “ ‘I and My Father are,’ ” He said, “ ‘one’ ” (John 10:30).

“My God”

Jesus introduced a second truth about His relationship with His Father. The first truth, the Father-Son relationship, begins in the birth narrative, the start of most of the Gospels; in contrast the introduction of the second truth comes at the end of the Gospels. As Jesus died upon the cross, a cry of despair escaped His lips: “ ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’ ” (Mark 15:34).

What was Jesus saying when He uttered, “My God”? What was He telling us? He spoke of this relationship only one more time. On the day of His resurrection, He revealed Himself to Mary Magdalene at the tomb and told her, “ ‘[G]o to My brethren and say to them, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God” ’ ” (John 20:17). The Second Person recognized the First Person as His God.

Paul and Peter expanded on this amazing theme. In several of his epistles, Paul refers to the First Person as “Jesus’ God.” For example, he wrote in the introduction of his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3). He repeated the truth of this relationship between the Father and Jesus in the introductions of his letters to the Ephesians (1:3) and the Colossians (1:3), and by using an Old Testament quote from Psalm 45:6, 7 in Hebrews (1:9). Paul also mentioned this truth within the context of two epistles: “[T]hat you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6), and “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Eph. 1:17). Peter mentioned this relationship once: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:3).

In 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Peter, the and is epexegetical and gives further explanation to the relationship between the First and Second Persons of the Godhead. The First Person is not only Jesus’ Father, but also His God.

Eternally linked to humanity

In this context, look at what Ellen White wrote,

By His life and His death, Christ has achieved even more than recovery from the ruin wrought through sin. It was Satan’s purpose to bring about an eternal separation between God and man; but in Christ we become more closely united to God than if we had never fallen. In taking our nature, the Saviour has bound Himself to humanity by a tie that is never to be broken. Through the eternal ages He is linked with us. “God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son.” John 3:16. He gave Him not only to bear our sins, and to die as our sacrifice; He gave Him to the fallen race. To assure us of His immutable counsel of peace, God gave His only-begotten Son to become one of the human family, forever to retain His human nature. This is the pledge that God will fulfill His word.2

God gave His Son to the human race, forever to retain His human nature. Thus, Jesus referred to the Father as His God because Jesus is now a human being. As a human being, Jesus related to the Father as we are to relate to Him. Jesus is still God, still the Second Person of the Godhead, but now He is a human being as well. Jesus voluntarily subordinated Himself to the First Person, always to remain in this position of subordination. This fact was part of the plan of redemption from the beginning.

In Philippians, Paul sets out this truth. He said that Jesus existed upon two platforms. From each platform, there were three descending steps. The first and higher platform was His pre-Incarnation existence, where He was “in the form of God, [and] did not consider it robbery to be equal with God” (Phil. 2:6). From here He took three descending steps: (1) He “made Himself of no reputation,” (2) “taking the form of a bondservant,” and (3) “coming in the likeness of men” (v. 7).

At this point, He stood upon the second and lower platform, “being found in appearance as a man” (v. 8). Then He took three more descending steps: (1) “He humbled Himself,” (2) “became obedient to the point of death,” and (3) “even the death of the cross” (v. 8). After Jesus reached the bottom, with His “death of the cross,” the First Person “also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name” (vv. 8, 9). When Jesus was exalted, He was exalted in His incarnate form. He was exalted in the form He had upon the second platform as a human. “Christ,” Ellen White wrote, “had ascended to heaven in the form of humanity.”3

Linked with this eternal truth is another event that staggers the mind. When God created the first beings in the universe with the freedom of choice, He knew that a rebellion might arise against His government. Should this rebellion come, Jesus’ subordination would follow, and He would become a member of the race who chose to follow the leader of the rebellion. By Jesus’ incarnation and death, sin would be met head-on and defeated, the rebellion ended, and then the universe would be eternally secure, even though all created beings would still have freedom of choice. All this happened through the death of Jesus, who had subordinated Himself to the Father.

The New Testament reveals this subordination over and over: “ ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself’ ” (John 5:19); “ ‘I can of Myself do nothing,’ ” (v. 30); “ ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth’ ” (Matt. 28:18); “ ‘All things have been delivered to Me by My Father’ ” (Matt. 11:27); “ ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will’ ” (Matt. 26:39); “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place” (Rev. 1:1).

The Father gave all authority in heaven and on earth to Jesus so that He could fight the great controversy against Lucifer. And, when the controversy is over, Jesus returns this authority to the First Person. “Then comes the end, when He [Jesus] delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. . . . The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. . . . Now when all things are made subject to Him [Father], then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:24, 26, 28).

What humanity gains

When sin is no more and Jesus returns the power and authority back to the First Person, how will redeemed humanity fare? Let’s go back to the first two sentences of the quotation from The Desire of Ages, page 25: “By His life and His death, Christ has achieved even more than recovery from the ruin wrought through sin. It was Satan’s purpose to bring about an eternal separation between God and man; but in Christ we become more closely united to God than if we had never fallen.”

“More closely united to God than if we had never fallen”? How can this be? We are the only beings in the universe that has a Member of the Godhead as a part of our family. When Jesus subordinated Himself and permanently took humanity upon Himself, the human family became unique, in a position like no other beings in the universe, not even the angels.

How do our minds grasp these amazing truths? They don’t; that’s why it is called “the mystery of godliness.” If we understood, it would no longer be a mystery. Thus, the mystery of God “manifested in the flesh” will be the focus of study and attention of the redeemed throughout eternity, and the center of all praise will be given to the Father and the Son.

Notes:

1. Unless otherwise noted, all scriptures are from the New King James Version.

2. Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1940), 25.

3. Ibid., 832.


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George E. Rice, PhD, a retired pastor, professor, and administrator, lives in Greencastle, Pennsylvania, United States.

March 2011

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