[Note: I am attempting to keep these SBD installments under 2000 words each, but that is–of course–quite inadequate for the topics covered. Consequently, these contributions are more programmatic than they are explanatory or defenses of the positions stated. You may access the whole series at my Serial page.]
The Word, the Son, became flesh and lived an authentic human life as the image of God.
Christology lies at the heart of Christianity because the Christian Faith believes that God is in Christ restoring the world to communion with the Triune God. Christianity is Theocentric because God reconciles the world but it is Christocentric because Christ is the means by which God accomplishes this. God through Christ redeems the creation.
The structure of the Christian narrative is Creation, Fall, and Redemption. This structure is a cosmic drama from the Garden of Eden to the Eschaton. It is also a historical drama in the life of Israel as it repeats this cycle throughout history (e.g., Judges). But, most importantly, it is the personal history of God in Jesus.
Though the Logos, the Son of God, was present at and even the instrument of creation (John 1:1), the Son humbly became a human being who was broken by the cosmic fallenness (e.g., he died) but was exalted by the Father to his own right hand in the heavenlies (e.g, resurrection and ascension). This is the Christological story that appears throughout the Christian Scriptures. The below chart illustrates the pervasive nature of these themes.
John: The Word was God (John 1:1)
Hebrews: Through whom he made the worlds (Hebrews 1:2)
Paul: He is before all things (Colossians 1:17)
Peter: Manifested in these last times (1 Peter 1:20)
Matthew: Immanuel, God with Us (Matthew 1:28)
Luke-Acts: The Son of God (Luke 1:35)
John: The Word became flesh (John 1:14)
Hebrews: Made lower than the angels (Hebrews 2:8-9)
Paul: Born of woman (Galatians 4:4)
Peter: Suffered for us in the Flesh (1 Peter 4:1)
Matthew: Came to Serve and Ransom his Life (Matthew 20:28)
Luke-Acts: He was numbered with the transgressors (Luke 22:37)
John: Glorified Together with God (John 17:5)
Hebrews: Heir of all Things (Hebrews 1:2)
Paul: Seated in Heavenly Places (Ephesians 1:20-21)
Peter: At the right hand of God (1 Peter 3:22)
Matthew: All Authority given to Jesus (Matthew 28:18)
Luke-Acts: God made him both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36)
The same one through whom the cosmos was created is the same one who became flesh and lived among us. The same one through whom God made the worlds is the same one was made a little lower than the angels. The same one who was before the creation of the world is the same one who was born of woman. The one who lived in eternal fellowship with the Father and the Spirit is the same one who joined the human race in order to commune with it as a human. The Son became human and his Sonship (relationship with the Father) was declared at his birth, baptism, death and resurrection.
The Son in the flesh shared our fallenness. He is tempted; he hungers, thirsts, experiences pain, and ultimately dies. The humiliation of Christ is his identification with us in our fallenness—from his birth through his baptism to his death he stands with the lowly, he shares the rituals and death of sinners. He was born among shepherds, he was baptized with those who confessed sin, and he died between the transgressors. He shared our fallenness without guilt and sin, but along with humanity he suffered under the curse of creation which Adamic sin brought upon the world. The Son of God experienced humiliation.
But the same one who suffered in the flesh is the same one who was raised to the right hand of the Father. The same one who ransomed his life is the same one who received all authority in heaven and on earth. The same one who was numbered with the transgressors is the same one who was appointed Lord and Christ by the Father. After he suffered, he entered into his glory—the reigning, resurrected heir of the cosmos. His resurrection and ascension revealed Jesus to be what he already is, that is, God’s Son.
The Divine-Human Identity
The unity between the pre-existent one and the incarnate one is fundamental to Christian theology. This is the mystery of the divine-human identity of Jesus of Nazareth. The same one who existed as God is the same one who humbled himself as Jesus of Nazareth. The divine Logos, with a distinct personal identity from the Father and Spirit, is the same person who assumed flesh as Jesus of Nazareth. It is one person who experiences cosmic reality through two natures—divine and human. This personal (hypostatic) unity preserves the identity of the one through whom the world was created as the same one who was humbled and then exalted to the right hand of the Father.
Philippians 2:6-8 is one of the classic texts for the exploration of this identity. It easily divides into two stanzas. The chart below represents the structure.
Stanza A (vv. 6-7a)
Stanza B (vv. 7b-8)
|in the form of God existing||in the likeness of humanity becoming|
|did not think to exploit the equality with God||and being found in appearance as a human being|
|taking the form of a slave||becoming obedient to death even the death of the cross|
The one who existed in the form (morphe) of God took on the form (morphe) of a slave—this is the act of incarnation. The morphe in which this one (Son) existed was equal with God (the Father). Rather than exploiting this equality toward selfish advantages (NRSV), the Son “emptied himself” by taking on another morphe. The Son became a slave, subject to the humiliation and brokenness of a fallen world. Becoming human, he became obedient to the death, even the humiliating and shameful death of the cross—this is an act of self-humiliation.
- The text affirms the pre-existent equality of the Son with the Father. The Son existed in the “form of God” so that he was equal with God the Father.
- The text affirms the choice which the Son made in humility to become incarnate, that is, to take on the “form of a servant.” The free self-giving of the Son is emphasized—the abasement of his own interests for the sake of the interests of others.
- The text affirms the personal unity between the one who existed in the form of God and added to himself another nature, the form of a servant. It is the same person who is both divine and human.
- The text affirms that this condensation (humiliation) was done through taking on additional nature—the form of a servant. This is the content of the emptying. There is no hint that this one ceased to be God. It is, rather, the self-humiliation of God.
This theological understanding is the root principle of the ethical appeal in Philippians 2:3-5. The theological model of the Son’s self-humiliating act of incarnation is a call for believers to emulate this selfless service for the interests of others.
Authentic Human Identity
Stan Grenz summarized the authenticity of the human life of the Incarnate Son as truly human, true human and the new human (Created for Community, 117-123). While the categories are his, the sentiments below are my own.
The Son is truly human in that the Son authentically experienced human reality as a human with a human psyche. He experienced human existence limited by the finitude of creaturehood (e.g., bounded by time and space). He grew in knowledge and wisdom like other human beings. He experienced the brokenness of the world like other human beings. He hungered, thirsted and grew fatigued just like others. He was perfected through suffering. He wept at graves, struggled with decisions (Garden of Gethsemane) and was tempted by sin just like other human beings. His humanity knew no inherent power or knowledge that transcended the rest of humanity. The Son was fully immersed in human creatureliness. The Son fully and completely identified with humanity and empathetically experienced its suffering. This is the kenosis (emptying) of the Son–he pours himself out into fully experience human life.
The Son is true human. As the remnant of Israel, he is a true Israelite. As the remnant of humanity, he is fully the image of God authentically representing God in the world. He is what humanity was supposed to be from the beginning. Imaging God, Jesus knew no sin but fully embraced the mission of God in the world. His authentic walk with God did not arise out of a special humanity or a quality that was not available to others but arose out of his surrender to the leading of the Spirit in his life. Jesus had no advantage over other humans or otherwise his example is meaningless to us and his temptations were mock imitations of human fallenness. The difference between Jesus and others is that he surrendered while others, including myself, resist.
The Son is new human. Through death he became the fountainhead of a new humanity, a transformed and redeemed humanity. He is a new Adam, a second Adam, that leads a new humanity. We already experience this new humanity through the present gift of the indwelling Spirit but we anticipate the fullness of this new humanity in the future resurrection when body and spirit will be fully transformed into the likeness of the new human Jesus. The resurrected Jesus—in a transformed human body that has conquered death—is Life-giving Spirit to our bodies and souls which are thereby fitted for the new heaven and the new earth.
The Logos–the Son–follows humanity into their brokenness to heal them and lead them in their journey back to God.
The Son became one of us to be present within creation as a creature and unite creation to God. The Son’s union with creation through the flesh, through becoming a human being, sanctifies creation, redeems it, and communes with it. Becoming flesh, living in human skin, and being raised in a glorified but yet still human body bears witness to God’s intent to live in relationship with creation itself rather than simply relating to “spiritual” ghosts floating through the “spiritual” clouds. The incarnation is God’s testimony that–and means by which–God intends to unite creation with the divine community.
The Son became one of us in order to reveal God to us. The life of Jesus tells the story of how God would act as a human being. In Jesus we have a concrete example of who God is, how God behaves, and how God relates to people. We see God when we see Jesus. He embodies God so that we may know who God is. Jesus is the truth, God in the flesh. He is the life and the way; he is God available to the eyes, ears and touch. We know our God because we know Jesus.
The Son became one of us in order to experience and sympathize with our suffering. God within the transcendent experience does not know what it is like to be thirsty, hungry or to experience physical pain. God in Jesus, however, experienced all of these human frailties. Now God knows what it is like to be a human being. God is empathetic and sympathetic through Jesus because he shares our pain and temptations, sits on the mourner’s bench with us, and dies with us (as well as for us). God knows humiliation through Jesus; God knows the experience of fallenness. Our God fully knows us–cognitively but also existentially and experientially.
The Son became one of us in order to redeem us through the sacrifice of his own life. As the God-Human, Jesus is the mediator between God and Humanity. It his human life that was offered as an atonement for our sins, but he did so not as an act of human blood sacrifice but as an act of divine self-substitution. God became human so that God might engage the powers of evil and defeat them. God became human so that God might bear sin, take it up into the divine life and resolve the cosmic problem of mercy and justice–however that is resolved. God became human that we might have a representative at the right hand of the Father who is one of us.
Theologically, the incarnation means that there is a “personal divine absolute within history” (Lewis and Demarest, Integrative Theology, 286). The Logos actually entered history. There is not only an “Absolute beyond history, but as an Absolute in history” as well. He is the reference point for all truth from within history. He is the exegesis of God for humanity.