De Incarnatione Christi (Concerning the Incarnation of Christ)
In John’s Gospel there are texts of Scripture (and in one sense this is true of all of Scripture) that are just worthy of our attention and consideration due to their content without jumping to finding some practical application. This is indeed true of John 1:14. Here we have a concise but profound declaration concerning the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. What practical application does the incarnation of Jesus Christ have for your daily living? There is tremendous application but not in terms of some kind of immediate self-help, make your life better and more fulfilling kind of application.
There is indeed a whole bunch of application and meaning but the text is not telling you to do something, or offering you encouragement, providing direction or giving you comfort. Rather it is presenting to you the truth about Jesus Christ. This in itself is worthy of your attention and reflection. You and I need to know him better. This is the case if you are to worship him, love him, and follow him. The application comes as your heart and mind are overwhelmed with the infinite glory of who the Word is. It matters to Him that you take this wonderful text to heart and ponder its truth. So it has huge bearing on your faith in Jesus Christ and on your worship of him.
John affirms the complete deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. He does so in verses 1-3. Now John affirms the full humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Verse nine tells us that The Word came into the world. Verse 14 tells us how or in what manner the Word came into the world. The Word who was in the beginning (eternal), with God and who was God and through whom all things were created, that Word became flesh. He came into the world by becoming a human being! He became one of us.
John in affirming the historical reality of the incarnation of the Word uses a strong word to make his point. The Word became flesh. The Word did not just seem to be a man, he was like all men and women made of flesh and blood. The incarnation of the Word was not a loss or subtraction of his full deity or glory. Rather the Word takes on a new nature without losing his deity. In the secret place of his virgin mother’s womb he was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and nine months later was born into the world that he created. “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate deity!” Now if there was no incarnation of the Son, the Word, there would have been no cross and resurrection. If the Word had not become flesh there would have been no salvation. You would still be in your sins and under the just and deserved wrath of God. Talk about application. That is one to consider.
So this teaching is not to be taken lightly. Granted none of us can plumb the depths of this mystery but we must not ignore its reality. Here is another application: “Since therefore, the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things…he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest…to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted…who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin so he is able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses” Hebrews 2:14-18; 4:14-16. Without the incarnation of the Word there would be no salvation.
His human nature (both body and soul and not just body) veiled his full deity. In his human nature he set up camp among us. This is what John means when he next says: and he dwelt (tabernacle) among us. The verb points to the Old Testament tabernacle, where the glory of the Lord dwelt and into whose presence Moses would enter and there meet with God face to face. John teaches that his human nature was the tent for his deity. God actually dwelt among men and women as a man. He set up his tent for a time among us. This does not mean that when he ascended he laid aside his human nature, rather at the resurrection his human nature was transformed and glorified. He will always be the God-Man. It only means that as the God-Man his sojourn among people on this earth was for a short time.
Next John gives further validation to the reality of Christ’s incarnation by stating that “We beheld his glory.” The word “beheld” is never used of seeing visions. John includes himself among a company of men and women who actually laid their eyes upon the Word incarnate. They saw him but they did more, they seriously contemplated, studied and considered what they saw. For nearly three years John and others were with Him. He actually dwelt among them. They were his companions and disciples.
This is what John is describing in 1 John 1:1-2: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-- the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.”
John does not say simply that we saw him but rather we saw his glory. This glory that was his was not simply his fame or virtue that made him noticeable. This glory is the very glory that he had eternally shared with God. It is the glory of his deity that shined through his flesh in terms of his miracles, his teaching but especially in his humiliation, death and resurrection. In beholding his glory John and others were seeing God. So this word glory points to the glory of the Lord that filled the Old Testament tabernacle and temple. Here was that very glory being manifested with even greater clarity and wonder in the Word incarnate.
Finally, John tells us that this glory was that of the only begotten from the Father. The glory was that of the only one of the Father or the unique one of the Father. This One was as the creeds proclaim the Only Begotten Son of the Father. This does not mean that the Father created the Son or the Word. For we already know that the Word is eternal like the Father (John 1:1). There never was a moment in eternity past when the Father was not the Father of the Son, or the Son was not the Son of the Father. The Word is the eternally begotten Son of the Father. There is some debate over the meaning of the term begotten. It is used elsewhere in the NT to describe an only child or a child who is in some way unique. For example Isaac is called Abraham's only begotten son (Hebrews 11:17). Yet we know that Abraham had other sons including Ishmael. So in what sense was Isaac Abraham’s only begotten son? He was the son of promise. The Word is also the unique Son of God in contrast with believers who are God's sons by the grace of adoption (Romans 8:14-17). Yet the early church saw here a concept that is described in the Nicene Creed. Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of the Father in that he was eternally begotten and not made and as such fully reflects what the Father is like. So the Son is equal to the Father regarding deity but distinct from the Father in his person.
This one who is from the Father and possessed a glory that was full of grace and truth. The point is that here is the Word incarnate whose very glory is that of God and he has come to offer the world both grace and truth. There is no depletion of grace and truth with him. He is full of grace and truth. This is indeed good news for sinners. For we need both grace and truth if we are to be forgiven, made right and restored to God. This is our greatest need. Nothing that presses us is greater than knowing that we have been reconciled to God. This is not something we can accomplish. It is a gift from God given to those who willingly receive it in the person of the Word made flesh who is indeed full of grace and truth. So do you know anything of this reality? Have you become a recipient of Him who is full of grace and truth? Here is the main application for us all this Advent Season.