Table of Contents
Part I: Embodiment and The
The Invisible Becomes Visible
|The mystery ... of God ... manifest in the flesh
||1 Tim. 3:16
|The glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ
||2 Cor. 4:6
|In whom dwells all the fulness of
the Godhead bodily
It was not long
after William the Conqueror crossed the Channel from Normandy
and landed on the English south coast in 1066 that our friend,
Anselm of Canterbury, wrote his famous treatise on the Incarnation
to which we have already referred. You may recall that he titled
it, Why God Became Man.
His answer was essentially
what we would say today "to become the Redeemer of
Man." Many of his arguments are a delight to read and satisfying
to both heart and mind. But there were some questions he did
not address. Moreover, the answer which he did give, and which
most of us would give, is not by any means the only reason
why the Eternal Son of God became Man and dwelt among us.
There are in fact a number of reasons
beyond the redemption of man, of which the following three are
worthy of special attention in the present context, and surprisingly
all three of them required embodiment.
(1) He came to reveal God to man.
(2) He came to reveal man to God.
(3) He came to reveal man to himself.
this chapter I want to address only the first two, and then deal
with (3) in the next chapter.
He Came to Reveal God to Man
The renowned British historian, Arnold Toynbee, was
one day discussing man's knowledge of God with a close friend
named Dr. Edwyn Bevan. During the conversation Bevan said to
him, "Man's vision of God is like a dog's vision of his
master. The dog by instinct, habit, and association, comes to
know his master in a limited manner. But to know him fully the
dog would have to forsake his canine nature for a human nature."
Now, I have no knowledge of how
the conversation proceeded from that point, but it naturally
started me thinking about the Incarnation in that light. Of course,
for the dog to become a man is a reversal of the situation in
which God became man. For we have, in the first instance, the
lesser becoming the greater whereas in the latter case we have
the greater becoming the lesser, the infinite becoming the finite.
Bevan does not here refer to the possibility of the man becoming
a dog in order to understand his faithful pet, though it seems
the natural alternative to raise for discussion.
But does Bevan's solution really
solve the problem of communication in any case? Suppose the dog
becomes a man, would he not then of necessity cease being
a dog? The dog who has become a man is no longer a dog! If
he ceases to be a dog, what good is he to the man as interpreter
of a dog's thoughts? In the very act of becoming a man he loses
all contact with his former canine nature. On the other hand,
to go halfway and become half a dog and half a man is to be neither
dog or man, and in this kind of neutrality such a creature cannot
wholly reveal the dog to the man or the man to the dog.
The difficulty becomes a very practical
one when anthropologists or missionaries employ a native interpreter.
The interpreter must already have escaped his own culture in
part and immersed himself
in the alien culture of the anthropologist or missionary in order
to be a good interpreter. How can he become a good interpreter
without adulterating his understanding of his own culture
in the process of learning to interpret it in terms of the alien
culture? He is no longer "pure" native. Who knows thereafter
how much of what he tells his inquirers is genuinely native and
how much is unconsciously adopted from the alien culture?
If there is no real solution at
all by this route to the problem of communication, wherein does
the answer lie? What form must such a 'bridge' between God and
man take which does not surrender one or other nature? Can you
build a bridge with the two ends in the middle? How can God possibly
become man while yet remaining God? How did it come about that
the Son of God could really become the Son of Man without ceasing
to be what He was before? It would seem to be a sheer impossibility
for the man to become a dog and remain a man. How, then, did
God become a Man while remaining God?
The answer lies perhaps in this:
that the nature of God and the nature of man as
originally created, shared a certain fundamental compatibility,
which man and dog do not share despite the real companionship
that may exist between them.
Because man was originally made
in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27), his nature was
compatible with the divine nature, thus making it possible for
the divine nature in the Person of the Son of God to be fashioned
in the likeness of man (Philippians 2:7) while at the same time
retaining the precise image of the Father (Hebrews l:3). For
this reason the Son of Man was able to mediate to us the capacity
to partake of, even in our present state, something of the divine
nature (2 Peter 1:4). *
* As, in the Incarnation, God partook of the
nature of man without ceasing to be God, so, when redeemed. man
may now partake of the divine nature without ceasing
to be man.
duality of his nature constantly broke through to his companions
and to his critics, causing the former to worship and the latter
to condemn. On one occasion He had healed a man "with an
infirmity of thirty and eight years" on a Sabbath day (John
5:59). When accused by the Pharisees of breaking the law
by "working" on a holy day, Jesus replied, "My
Father works hitherto, and so do I" (verse 17).
This was seized upon at once as
blasphemy by the Pharisees who took up stones to stone Him. When
He asked them why it was blasphemy, they replied, "Because
yhou, being a man, makes yourself God." They argued thus
because Jesus had said not merely that God was his Father but
that God was his very own Father. For this is how the
Greek actually reads.
In point of fact, the Pharisees
were doubly in error! For it ought not to have been said of Him
that He, being a man, was making Himself God. Quite the reverse:
it was rather that He, being God, had made Himself man!
over three years the disciples had walked with the Lord, rubbed
shoulders with Him, seen Him daily performing wonders worthy
of God Himself, while at the same time responding to the ordinary
circumstances of life precisely as any other man would have done.
He was often tired, sometimes hungry and thirsty, and in a multitude
of ways humanly vulnerable, so that He had, occasionally, to
escape from the crowd to protect Himself. Everything conspired
to place the stamp of common humanity upon Him, and yet out of
that common humanity there kept breaking through something that
shook the disciples and made them wonder what kind of Person
He really was.
One day, feeling hungry like any
other person might, and seeing a fig tree a little way off which
was displaying the characteristics of a tree bearing fruit despite
the fact that it was not the season, He went eagerly towards
it with every expectation of finding something to eat. Both his
natural hunger and his
reasonable expectations were normal to any man. However, He was
disappointed: there was no fruit on the tree. Humanly speaking,
He had been deceived.
For reasons which are not altogether
clear, though perhaps because He desired to make the point for
the disciples that a false witness was to be condemned, He simply
decreed that the fig tree should no more bear fruit thenceforth.
His power to do this was quickly confirmed, since by the very
next morning the tree had already withered to the amazement
of Peter (Mark 11:21).
Here was a striking case of what
looks like a contradictory co-existence in one person of a human
nature subject to hunger and surprise, with a divine power over
inanimate forms of life that was absolute.
This kind of juxtaposition was
observed so frequently by the disciples that it dawned upon them
they were indeed in the presence of some One quite different
from and yet strangely the same as themselves. He seemed to be
sometimes limited in his knowledge and at other times omniscient.
On one occasion Philip said to Him, "Lord, show us the Father
and we'll be satisfied." Perhaps they were always asking
Him questions. Jesus replied to him, "Have I been so long
a time with you and yet you have not recognized who I am, Philip?
He that has seen Me has seen the Father; and how can you say
then, 'Show us the Father?' " *
Thus by repeated demonstrations
of the reality of his dual nature, human and divine, He had been
* Theodoret (393458) in one of his Dialogues
says this to one of his (fictitious) antagonists: "How
then was it possible for the invisible nature to be seen without
a body? Or do you not remember those words of the Apostle in
which he distinctly teaches the invisibility of the divine NATURE?
He says 'Whom no man bath seen nor CAN see' (1 Tim. 6:16)?"
Theodoret is speaking of the divine NATURE, and strictly speaking,
the nature of nothing is visible until it is objectified
in some way.
Leo I the Great (400461) wrote:
"The Son of God therefore came down from his throne in heaven
without withdrawing from his Father's glory, and entered this
lower world, born after a new order by a new mode of birth. After
a new order, in as much as He is invisible in his own nature,
and He became visible in ours [i.e., in HUMAN terms, and
showed God to be person-al]; He is incomprehensible and He willed
to be comprehended; continuing to be before time He began to
exist in time."
in his Person the invisible
Father in heaven whom man could not otherwise have seen. These
sudden juxtapositionings of the human and the divine in the Lord
Jesus Christ were constantly being displayed, but with such simplicity
that the disciples were only surprised at the striking elements
in the latter because they had no difficulty whatever in accepting
the reality of the former.
Take the familiar case of the terrible
storm that arose on the Sea of Galilee, when Jesus fell asleep
on a pillow in the stern of a small fishing boat. The event is
noted by all three Synoptic Gospels, a circumstance which suggests
that it left a profound impression upon them all. Mark 4:35-41
provides one of the simplest accounts.
There is a wonderful correspondence with life in the Word of
God. No matter how weary a man might be, it is doubtful if he
could sleep very soundly in the bow of such a small vessel
on a choppy sea, and he would be subject to almost constant wetting
by the spray. So we are told that He was asleep in the stern.
In modern vessels with a stern post rudder such a place to
sleep would be most inconvenient for the helmsman, but in those
days there were no such rudders, only a board over one side to
steer with. It was called a steer-board and gave rise to our
On this occasion, while
the Lord had fallen into a deep sleep there had arisen a great
storm. Most small hill-bound inland seas and lakes are subject
to such sudden storms, and all too frequently they are remarkably
violent. The Great Lakes of Canada and the United States are
notorious for their wicked behaviour. Ocean sailors who know
these lakes are very respectful of them.
Over 6000 ships are recorded to
have sunk in these lakes, and these ships were by no means small.
In one single terrible night (November 9, 1913) over 30 ships
were wrecked, 10 of which sank without a trace with all hands
lost. The roster of wrecked vessels included ships of 269 feet
in length, 270, 440, 452 and 524 feet, and most of them steel-hulled. (99) This was on Lake Huron
which can be vicious
99. Ratigan, WIlliam, Great Lakes: Shipwrecks
and Survivals, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1960, p.131
because it is shallow,
though Lake Superior can be even more disastrous for the crew
because the water is so cold. On that one memorable night waves
of 60 and 70 feet in height crashed over and swept across the
decks and wiped them clean of bridge, deck housing, funnel, and
crews in their stern quarters everything. Winds can be
cyclonic and in this case persisted for 16 hours without a break,
making man and his machinery utterly helpless.
Many travellers in the Middle East
have observed the same sudden violence on the Sea of Galilee
despite its small size (6 miles x 12 miles). Evidently the storm
to which Mark 4 refers was such a storm, so sudden as to take
even the experienced fishermen by surprise. They were very soon
in real danger of sinking and yet the Lord slept on. How
human was such a total weariness as this!
The disciples awoke Him in desperation
and appealed to Him: "Master, do you not care that we perish?"
What did they really expect Him to do?
Without a word of rebuke to them,
He arose and, instead, rebuked the wind and the sea, saying,
very simply, "Peace, be still"! And the wind ceased,
we are told, and there was a great calm. The sudden silence must
have been almost shattering. Then, and then only, did He rebuke
the disciples for their lack of faith, for was He not with them
in the boat? They in their turn must have been exceedingly relieved
but also truly fearful, for they said to one another, "What
kind of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?"
What kind of a man indeed, if He was not also God? But then we
know; He was acting as the Lord of the Old Testament, since
this storm is described in Psalm 107:2330. It is here recorded
in extraordinary realism.
They that go down to the sea
in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works
of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep. For He commands and
raises the stormy wind, which lift up the waves thereof. They
mount up to
the heavens, they go down again to the
depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to
and fro, and stagger like a drunken man and are at their wit's
Then they cry unto the Lord in
their trouble, and He brings them out of their distresses. He
makes the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.
Then are they glad because they are quiet.
So He brings them unto their desired
haven [i.e., home again].
was a prophetic forecast of this very storm, for it was the same
Lord who with absolute authority stilled the waves by a single
word of command.
Here we have, then, at one moment
the Lord Jesus asleep as only a terribly tired man could sleep
for it is impossible to imagine that He was pretending;
and the next moment the same Lord is commanding the winds and
the waves to cease and they obey so instantly and so literally
that the disciples are truly amazed and ask themselves What kind
of man is this.
Let us take
one more instance of the same juxtaposition of truly human and
truly divine behaviour in a single individual. The details are
given in John 11:144.
Lazarus, after a terminal illness
that seems to have been very brief, died and was buried in a
garden tomb in Bethany. This Lazarus and his two sisters, Martha
and Mary, were all three of them particularly loved by the Lord,
as John 11:5 makes clear. If the Lord did have a 'home' on earth,
it was with these dear people. Nevertheless, He did not at once
respond to their call to come to their help, and He arrived too
late to save Lazarus from death although it is clear that
He could have done so.
When He did arrive, Lazarus was
already four days dead and buried, and the process of putrefaction
had begun. Almost at once it would seem, Jesus inquired where
they had laid him, thus displaying the natural ignorance of any
man in such a circumstance.
Then together they walked towards the burial place, and as they
walked Jesus Himself was overcome by the grief of his two beloved
friends and could not restrain his own tears.
We thus have, once again, two clear
evidences of a truly human nature marked by limitations of knowledge
and incomplete emotional control. But the moment they reached
the tomb the divine nature asserted itself. He commanded those
who stood by to roll away the stone.
At this command, Martha at once
protested! What terribly disfigured spectre would the light of
day reveal in that place of death and decay? Current means of
embalming did little to preserve the body. The thought of exposure
must have horrified her: "Oh no! Lord, by now he's . . .he
. . . the odour, Lord! He has been dead four days already."
We do not know how the Lord reassured
Martha and Mary but without hesitation He signalled to those
who stood by the stone to proceed, and they had soon complied
with his command. Then Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Lazarus,
And he that was dead came forth
from the tomb, wrapped hand and foot and head separately,
as was customary. And there he stood in the opening of the tomb,
his face and his body still concealed. Imagine the fearful look
that Martha and Mary must have cast towards this apparition.
And imagine their even greater terror when Jesus said, "Unwrap
him and set him free."
What would they see beneath those
wrappings? Some kind of ghastly travesty of a human face fit
only for a horror movie: or the face of a dear soul as they had
known him before his illness? Whatever they might have hoped
before, was now almost certainly over-balanced by what it was
natural to expect after so long in the grave.
We are not told what did happen
when they recovered their brother, healed, made whole, and alive
again! Nor are we told what the Lord Himself did afterwards.
Did He walk
back with the three
of them to the house? And what could they talk about on the way?
The curtain is discreetly drawn, for Scripture never concerns
itself with the satisfaction of mere curiosity. For the present,
that was the end of the matter.
He who had only shortly before
told Martha that He was the resurrection and the life, a claim
which only God could make, and later had wept, which only man
does, had now proven that his higher claim was true. He was indeed
the Son of God and the Son of Man: not two Sons but having
two Sonships in his one Person.
Thus in the
Lord Jesus Christ we see a manifestation of the nature of God,
God "objectified," the invisible made visible. From
this revelation we see, above all, that God is personal: not
some mighty force, but a Person. We observe the reality of this
person-hood in the very range of reactions of the Lord Jesus
Christ. The Lord was hungry in the wilderness (Matthew 4:2);
thirsty on the cross (John 19:28); bone-tired at noon beside
Jacob's well (John 4:6); asleep on a pillow on a stormy sea (Mark
4:38); overcome with grief, (John 11:35); tortured in body with
frightful wounds at the hands of Pilate's soldiers (John 19:13);
and physically exhausted (Matthew 27:32) by his suffering on
the way to "the place of the skull." All these were
evidences of a truly human Person in a perfect body unmarred
in any way by sin. And yet this same human Person could command
plants to wither, storms to cease, loaves to multiply, water
to become wine, and the dead already putrefying to come forth
If God the Father is revealed here, then how wonderfully personal
our Father in heaven really is. You might say He is almost human!
Indeed, more human than we are. It is not surprising perhaps
that Karl Barth could write a book on The Humanity of God.
How otherwise could He have created man in his own image?
Thus was fulfilled one purpose
of the Incarnation: a
revelation of the personal
nature of God and a demonstration of his great concern for man.
God also is touched with the feeling of our infirmity, even while
He is truly angry at our sin just as the Lord Jesus was
on many occasions (Mark 3:5), even in those whom He loved (Mark
The Revealing of Man to God.
Does it really
make sense to speak of something that had to be revealed to God?
Could there possibly be such a need? Above all, is there anything
hidden from God that He should need a Man to reveal it to Him?
Surprisingly, there is indeed. And it all hinges on embodiment!
What had to be revealed to God
was the nature of human temptation. It is that form of
temptation to which the vulnerabilities of human embodiment have
exposed man. Such temptations cannot possibly be experienced
by a purely spiritual being such as God is. Yet these demands
of the body are enormous.
God cannot ever have known by experience
temptation due to hunger, or thirst, or physical pain, or weariness
of the flesh, even less the fear of physical death which plagues
man for most of his life.
How, then, was God to judge man
who is subject to so many temptations that acquire much of their
force from the demands of the flesh? As we have noted, many of
these demands do not stem from sinful flesh per se,
but rather from the mere fact of bodily existence even in a house
as perfect as was the body of the Lord. He, too, suffered from
hunger and thirst and pain and fatigue. Even in his perfect body
these could have been and in some cases we know they were
avenues of attack by Satan.
It was Satan who tempted the Lord
to appease his hunger in the wilderness: and unless He was
hungry, there could have been no temptation. But this was
true also in the matter of thirst, as we have already seen.
But as for the Father in heaven,
how could He ever
know what drives man
to do some of the things he does to steal because starving,
to fight because of thirst, to lie because of unbearable torture,
to fail in prayer because of sheer fatigue, to drink when the
body makes demands beyond the spirit's bearing, and to over-indulge
because the appetite is stronger than the will.
Our lives are neither purely spiritual
nor purely physical so that there is often a conflict between
the two and we are torn between different kinds of impulse in
ways which can never be experienced even by an angel. And what
about the temptations which arise from our bondage to time and
to place simply because we cannot wait?
Because we belong in a physical
world as well as a spiritual one, a purely spiritual being knows
only half of what we are subject to by way of temptation. Is
it not therefore only proper that the Father should send his
Son to share our experience in the fullest way possible short
of involvement in our sinful nature and its potential? Is it
not reasonable that He would seek to "know" through
his Son how our very physical existence contributes to our fallenness?
And then having received his Son back again unspoiled by sin
as man has been but only made even more mature in his manhood
by the things He experienced (Hebrews 5:8), to delegate to Him
the office of Judge of Man, in his own stead?
In the old days when society
was highly stratified by a class structure, one of the provisions
of the law was that a man ought if possible to be tried and judged
only by his peers. It was held to be unfair for a man in a certain
situation in life to be judged by someone who could not know
anything about that kind of life by experience, and would therefore
be largely ignorant of the nature of the condemned man's temptations.
Of course the justice of the class system can indeed be called
into question to begin with. But the idea did have a measure
of fairness about it, given the realities of social structure
at the time.
In scientific circles today, we
feel that the value of a
man's work can only
be fairly judged by someone in a position to assess it knowledgeably,
and not by one who has no such background experience or competence.
We call this a system of "peer review." It is, of course,
like all else that man does, far from perfect in its operation;
but anything else could be considered entirely unjust.
Since God cannot be tempted
at all (James 1:13), and thus cannot know by experience
even the meaning of being tempted except by observing its effect
upon the individual himself and on others, how could his judgment
of human behaviour be entirely just? Perhaps it would be better
to say, How could any such judgment be seen to be just
if the Judge Himself knows nothing personally of what temptation
means under such conditions? A just trial demands that it not
only is fair, but also seems fair to those who witness
the proceeding. Will the Judge of all the earth do less than
we attempt to do?
At any rate,
whatever the divine 'rationale,' this at least is clear: all
judgment has been assigned to the One who became Man without
ceasing to be God. As the Lord said plainly: "The Father
judges no man, but has committed all judgment unto the Son .
. . and has given Him authority to execute judgment also"
(John 5:22,27). That is to say, not merely to pass judgment but
also to carry it out. And why this delegated authority? Again
the answer is straightforward: "Because He is the Son
of Man" (verse 27). That is the specific reason, because
He is the Son of Man.
Paul fully confirms this fact in
Romans 8:34, "Who is he that judges? It is Christ who died,
yea rather, who is risen again, who is even at the right hand
of God; who also makes intercession for us." Thus the very
One who is the Saviour is also to be the Judge and to
plead our case!
And again in Acts 17:31 we find
the same insistence that it is not merely One who lived and died
as a man but who was also raised as a man that is to be
the world's Judge. "Because
(God) hath appointed
a day in which He intends to judge the world in righteousness,
by that MAN whom He has ordained: whereof He has given assurance
unto all men, in that He has raised Him from the dead."
In 2 Corinthians 5:10 Paul writes
that we, the children of God, are also to come before the judgment
seat of Christ that we may be declared worthy of praise for the
good that we may have done, and thankfully see our failures removed
from the record through his mercy and for his own name's sake.
And Paul again lays emphasis on the fact that it is a judgment
of "things done in the body," done by us not as spiritual
beings but as embodied beings.
This emphasis was often underscored
by Tertullian whom we have already quoted in another connection.
In his treatise, "On the Resurrection of the Flesh"
(chap. xiv), he observed:
Thus it follows that the fullness
and perfection of the judgment consists simply in representing
the interests of the entire human being. Now since the entire
man consists of the union of two natures [i.e., both the physical
and the spiritual], he must therefore appear in both, since it
is right that he should be judged entirely; nor, of course, did
he pass through life except in his entire state.
As therefore he lived, so also
must he be judged, because he has to be judged concerning the
way in which he has lived. For life is the cause of judgment
and it must undergo investigation in as many natures as it possessed
when it discharged its vital functions.
therefore concludes that the flesh ought not to have any share
in the sentence, either for praise or for blame, if it had no
share in the cause of it. Since it clearly is to come into judgment,
then obviously it did have a share in the cause.
Now since the Father has
never experienced embodiment, accordingly it was essential for
the Son, if He was to become our Judge, to experience human embodiment
because that embodiment
plays such a part in the causes of our condemnation. He was therefore
incarnate for this reason also: that He might reveal man to God,
manifesting and communicating to his Father the nature of embodiment
as it bears upon the nature of human guilt.
Just how the Father shared in the
experience of the manhood of the Son has never been adequately
spelled out, though many attempts have been made. Was it by a
kind of empathy, such as moved the Lord to tears beside the tomb
of Lazarus in spite of the fact that He knew He was about to
undo the cause of it all?
All we can say is that the Father
has committed all judgment to the Son because He was tempted
as an embodied human being and therefore understands the human
situation in a way that the Father never could. It would seem
therefore that the Father has, as it were, withdrawn from that
office in fairness to man and committed judgment to the only
One who could exercise it justly.
It would be hard indeed for us
to conceive of a way more just and fair. Could there be a
more excellent way? In Him was the pure essence of manhood and
the pure essence of deity. And He placed Himself voluntarily
in the position of experiencing the worst that the world could
do. He thus becomes the perfect Judge between fallen man and
a righteous God.
The true bridge
between Bevan and his dog could not take the form of a human
spirit in a dog's body nor a canine spirit in a human body. Somehow
no such bridge is possible, because the dog was not created in
the image of the man. It would be neither dog nor man but a monster.
But man was created in the image of God and thus God could
and did become man by human embodiment while yet retaining his
divine nature. It is clear that a human body did not make this
amalgam in any way inappropriate. Thus the Lord Jesus as Son
of God and Son of Man can stand in fairness as the Judge of men.
Among those to be judged in fairness because of this
shared image is, of course, Adam himself, the first human being.
Unless the Lord was made in the image of Adam and not
merely in the image of we who are Adam's descendants, He cannot
fairly judge Adam's temptations. Adam's body therefore cannot
possibly have been the kind of primitive, barely human, body
that evolutionary theory demands for the first man. The body
of the First Adam as created must have been in every way homologous
in form and function to the body of the Last Adam.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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