In the Flesh (Part 2 of 2)
Now let’s pick up where we left off, describing exactly what it meant for God to come in the flesh.
The Fulfillment of Prophecy. In the incarnation, God’s covenant promises find their fulfillment. The promise that God would be with His people is brought to pass with the coming of Immanuel (Matt. 1:22-23), “God with us.” Likewise, in Christ we find the “latter days” seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15) who brings all of the miraculous birth stories found In the Old Testament to their crescendo. Just think about it. In God’s mysterious working in history, a major mark of His work was providing “miracle” babies for women who could have no children (ex: Sarah and Rachel in Genesis, Samson’s mom in Judges, and Hannah in 1 Samuel). When we find that the Holy One of God was born from young Jewish bride-to-be who had never had sex we’re totally floored! This is the ultimate “miracle” baby! But a second reflection and we realize that this is God’s calling card: It had to be this way!
When Christ was in the womb of the Virgin Mary, He was filled with the Spirit, a foretaste of the Spirit poured out on all people in the New Covenant (cf. Jer. 36).
A New Humanity. For Christ to serve as a substitute for His people, he could not bear the guilt and corruption of Adam (i.e. He could not be stained by Original Sin). One that Himself needs redemption cannot act as the sinless sacrifice for others. So, in the incarnation there is both continuity and discontinuity. There is continuity because (as mentioned earlier) he does not break the natural chain of motherhood, causing an ex nihilo new creation. God doesn’t hit the “reset button,” but instead works from within the already existing structures of the world He created (motherhood).
Yet, there is discontinuity because Christ does not have a natural father, and is conceived by the Holy Spirit. Because of His conception and empowerment by the Spirit, Christ is an obedient Son to the Father. He cannot sin because He lives to do the will of the Father, and in fact always does so. The trials and temptations that Adam (in Gen. 3) and Israel (in their wilderness wandering) underwent, Christ also passes through, but unlike them, He is successful and obedient where they failed (cf. Rom. 8:3, John 3:6a).
One the consequences of the incarnation (among others) is that Christ introduces into the fallen world a new way of being human, the Son way. Christ is the image of God par excellance, and the redeemed are to be conformed to His image. While we are children by adoption, and Christ is God’s eternal Son. We are to bear the image of the “man from Heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49). This filial bond between Jesus and the Father is extended to Christ’s brothers (Heb. 2).
In closing, unless Christ assumes a fully human nature, humanity cannot be saved. Just as sin entered the world through one man (Rom. 5), so the resurrection of the dead comes through a man…Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 15).