The Incarnation


The Christian doctrine of the Trinity states that God is three equal persons who share one Being. These persons have named themselves Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If we turn to Scripture to discover who Jesus is, we find that He is the divine person who, since before the foundation of the world, has dwelt as the Son in the bosom of the Father (John 1:2, 18). We find also the assertion that during Jesus' life on earth, He was a man of flesh and blood fully like other men except that He was without sin (John 1:14). Therefore, the person of Jesus was, and still is, a union of two natures, one human and one divine. This miraculous union, allowing God to exist as a man, is known as the Incarnation—a term derived from the teaching of Scripture that in Jesus, God was made flesh (John 1:14).

Many passages in the Old Testament teach that God in one of His persons would become a man.


Isaiah's Oracle


In his prophecy that a virgin would conceive the child whose name, Immanuel, means, "God with us" (Isa. 7:14), Isaiah opened the truth wide enough for eyes of faith to see that Christ would be God. Hardly two chapters later in the book that bears his name, the same prophet opened the truth still wider with the bold pronouncement,

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

How could Isaiah imagine that the coming child-king would be God Himself? Many utterances of this prophet demonstrate that he believed in a God who far transcends the created universe.

Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?

Isaiah 40:12

The question is rhetorical. The answer Isaiah obviously intends is, God. But what god does he mean?

Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding.

Isaiah 40:28

Thus, he means the God who is everlasting, who is the creator of all and yet unwearying in His power, and who is unsearchable in His understanding.

But though Isaiah understood how exalted God is, he states in Isaiah 9:6 that God would become a human child. He implies even that God would be born of a woman. In so prophesying, he defied the narrow conceptions of his own people, both in his day and throughout history. The many hints sown in Jesus' teaching and ministry that He was God in the flesh were extremely troubling to the Jews. In reaction to idolatry, they had made God so remote and monistic that they believed He must be one person. They could not conceive of a divine man as anything but a second God. The doctrine of the Incarnation curdled their monotheistic convictions. It is surely a historical wonder that the Jewish followers of Jesus not only accepted His claims concerning Himself, but also transmitted these claims to the whole world. In the natural course of things, they would have muted any aspect of His teaching that, to fellow Jews, might seem polytheistic. But without apology or qualification, they forthrightly declared Jesus to be the unique Son of God (Acts 3:13, 26).

One of the names Isaiah gives to the coming child is Everlasting Father. The name poses a hard riddle, since the term "Father" is generally reserved for the first person of the Trinity. Why does Isaiah apply this term to the divine person generally known as the Son? The Hebrew phrase "Everlasting Father" can be alternatively translated "Father of everlasting" (1), and the word for "everlasting" is not the more common olam, but rather ad. The approximate sense of this word is "unending duration" or "advancing time" (2). So, Isaiah's name for Christ is best understood as "Father of advancing time," an allusion to His role as creator and sustainer of the universe. The fabric of the universe He created includes time, although this seems merely the setting rather than the substance of our experience.

All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

John 1:3

16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:

17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

Colossians 1:16-17

David's Oracle


A psalm of David furnishes another foreglimpse of the Incarnation.

The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.

Psalm 110:1

The psalm as a whole leaves no doubt as to the identity of the second Lord.

2 The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.

3 Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth.

4 The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.

5 The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath.

6 He shall judge among the heathen, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies; he shall wound the heads over many countries.

7 He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head.

Psalm 110:2-7

The second Lord would gain mastery of the world and judge its peoples (vv. 5-6). Thus, He must be the figure known elsewhere in prophecy as the Branch or Messiah.

In His last confrontation with the Jewish leaders who bitterly opposed Him, Jesus rebuked them for ignoring Psalm 110. He asked,

35 . . . How say the scribes that Christ is the son of David?

36 For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool.

37 David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son? . . .

Mark 12:35-37

Jesus pointed out that David refers to the second Lord, the Lord who would overthrow His enemies, as "my Lord." That is, the Messiah would be David's Lord. Yet, other prophecies plainly teach that the Messiah would be David's descendant. Why would a father call his own offspring "Lord"? As a rule, honor goes to the ancestor, not to the progeny. A father who knelt before his son, or even a grandson many generations removed, would be acting contrary to nature, unless, of course, the offspring were a uniquely exalted person. The precedence that David concedes to his own son therefore implies that his son is not just the Lord of David, but even the Lord of all. He must be very God.

Notice that Psalm 110 carefully distinguishes between two Lords. The Lord who speaks in verse 1 is chief in authority. Hence, He must be God the Father. Since the second Lord is God also, the psalm provides telling evidence that the Godhead is not without distinctions, but consists of separate persons.

Answer to an objection. Critics dispute the traditional view that the psalm is David's vision of Christ. They maintain that a later poet wrote it as a retrospective celebration of David's military victories in the days of Israel's glory. They say that the poet uses "Lord" in verse 1 only as a term of honor for David, the mighty king. Admittedly, the word so translated is Adon (v. 1), which in Scripture often denotes a human lord or master. Admittedly also, kings were customarily addressed as "my lord."

The critical interpretation of the psalm lacks merit, however.

  1. The psalmist identifies the second Lord as a "priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek." David was not a priest. Nor did anyone imagine that he was a priest, much less a priest forever.
  2. The perpetual priesthood of the second Lord is evidently an aspect of His perpetual authority as ruler and judge. A writer in later times would not have assigned David this role. He would have known from several other prophecies that the ruler and judge of the earth throughout eternity would not be David himself, but David's Branch.
  3. Although verse 1 is vague concerning the identity of Adon, subsequent verses show clearly who He is. He appears in verse 5 as "the Lord," or Adonai, a common name for God. Never does the Old Testament grant the title Adonai to a mere man. Yet, Adon in verse 1 and Adonai in verse 5 are the same person. Both sit at the right hand of God. Furthermore, what Adonai accomplishes (vv. 5-7) is what Adon was given to do (vv. 1-3).

Other Oracles


The Incarnation is a recurrent theme of Old Testament prophecy. Two more oracles will be considered briefly.

But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

Micah 5:2

Notice that Micah identifies the future ruler of Israel, the Christ, in two ways: as a man who would be born in Bethlehem and as "he . . . whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." In other words, Christ would be both man and God.

Zechariah also taught that Christ would be God in the flesh.

8 In that day shall the LORD defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and he that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of the LORD before them.

9 And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.

10 And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.

Zechariah 12:8-10

The two preceding verses reveal that the speaker in verse 10 is God, and the Hebrew word translated "pierced" refers to a literal bodily wound. It is evident that God could not suffer such a wound unless He took the form of a man. The prophecy foresees Christ's death on a cross, where His hands and feet would be pierced by nails and His side would be pierced by a sword.

Footnotes

  1. Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah: The English Text, with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965), Isaiah, 1:338-339.
  2. Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon with an Appendix Containing the Biblical Aramaic (n.p., 1906; repr., Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1979), 723.