This is the third in a series of articles on the Incarnation. Previously: Jesus as the God-Man
So far in this series, we have established that the Incarnation means the eternal Son of God took on human flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. As such, Jesus is one person in two distinct but undivided natures: human and divine.
In addition, we’ve explored how these two natures work together as the eternal Son of God adds sinless humanity to His deity via the miracle of the virgin birth.
In this article, we summarize 10 essential truths about the Incarnation. They help us form a framework for better understanding the person and work of Christ. They also help establish a foundation for exploring the thornier issues related to the Incarnation.
These truths are drawn from a number of sources, including the systematic theologies of Wayne Grudem, Charles Hodge, and Lewis Berkhof, and are summarized in God Among Sages by Kenneth Samples.
1. Jesus Christ is one person possessing two distinct natures: a fully divine nature and a fully human nature. Thus, Jesus of Nazareth may rightly be called the God-Man.
2. Christ is the same person both before and after the Incarnation. As the writer of Hebrews notes, He is the same “yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8). The difference is that before the Incarnation, Jesus had but one nature (divine). In the Incarnation, He added a human nature, one that exists together with the original divine nature, which did not and will not disappear.
Rev. 14:14 – Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and One like the Son of Man was seated on the cloud, with a gold crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand. (HCSB)
One like the Son of Man
Seated on the cloud is “One like the Son of Man.” He wears a gold crown on His head and wields a sharp sickle in His hand. There is little doubt that this is Jesus, who calls Himself the Son of Man more than 80 times in the Gospels. The name is not exclusive to Jesus in scripture. For example, the Lord calls Ezekiel “son of man” more than 90 times, and the angel Gabriel once refers to Daniel by the same moniker. But there is no doubt that in specific contexts “Son of Man” refers to the second person of the Godhead.
The Son of Man clearly is a divine being in Dan. 7:13, and Jesus’ claim to be the Son of Man who will come on the clouds of heaven (Matt. 26:64) is sufficient testimony to convict Him of blasphemy and condemn Him to death in the eyes of Caiaphas. It’s important for us to understand that in preferring to call Himself “Son of Man” rather than “Son of God,” Jesus is communicating His incarnation. He is neither denying His deity nor exalting His humanity; rather, He is demonstrating that He is one person with two natures: divine and human.
As Ron Rhodes writes, “First of all, even if the phrase ‘Son of Man’ is a reference to Jesus’ humanity, it is not a denial of His deity. By becoming a man, Jesus did not cease being God. The incarnation of Christ did not involve the subtraction of deity, but the addition of humanity. Jesus clearly claimed to be God on many occasions (Matthew 16:16, 17; John 8:58; 10:30). But in addition to being divine, He was also human (see Philippians 2:6-8). He had two natures (divine and human) conjoined in one person” (found at http://christiananswers.net/q-eden/son-of-man.html).
The name “Son of Man” is found almost exclusively in the mouth of Christ in the New Testament. The apostles and other writers avoid the term, with a couple of exceptions. In Acts 7:55 Stephen exclaims, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” And, of course, in Rev. 14:14 John sees “One like the Son of Man” seated on a white cloud.
The early church fathers are of the opinion that Jesus uses the expression “Son of Man” out of humility and to demonstrate His humanity. Others think He adopts the title so as not to offend His enemies until His hour is at hand. Then, associating this lowly title with Dan. 7:13 and tying it to His deity forces the hands of both His accusers and followers to acknowledge Him as Messiah or reject Him as a pretender. At last, this title is “capable of being applied so as to cover His Messianic claims – to include everything that had been foretold of the representative man, the second Adam, the suffering servant of Jehovah, the Messianic king” (The Catholic Encyclopedia, “Son of Man”).
Rev. 14:3 –They sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders, but no one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. (HCSB)
They sang a new song
John records in verse 3, “They sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders, but no one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.” Is this the same “new song” that the elders sing in chapter 5? And why are its melody and words limited to the 144,000?
Some commentators argue that the song here is different from the elders’ song in Revelation 5 because no one can learn it except the 144,000. Others contend it is the same song, which the elders, who represent both Old and New Covenant believers in Revelation 5, are able to teach the 144,000 in Revelation 14.
We are given the words to the elders’ song in Revelation 5: “You [the Lamb] are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals; because You were slaughtered, and You redeemed [people] for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10). Perhaps these are the same words of the “new song” in Revelation 14, which those redeemed from the earth sing before heaven’s throne.
In any case, it appears this “new song” is a song of redemption, and the reason it’s confined to the 144,000 is because they are redeemed people. Unbelievers cannot legitimately sing this song because they have not experienced the salvation purchased with Christ’s blood. They may mouth the words, but their lip-synching will never exalt them to heavenly portals or entitle them to join the heavenly choir of equally vile sinners who have been wonderfully transformed by the blood of the Lamb.
The woman is depicted as “pregnant” in verse 2. She cries out in labor and agony to give birth. Perhaps this is a summary description of Israel’s tortuous path to the virgin birth. God’s people have experienced slavery in Egypt, captivity in Assyria and Babylon, the destruction of their great city and temple, and a legacy of wicked leaders and false prophets. That the nation of Israel exists at all by the time of Roman rule is a miracle unto itself. But now the agonies of childbirth are about to give way to the joy of experiencing a most unique miracle as God becomes flesh in Jesus of Nazareth.
Despite his most sinister efforts, Satan is unable to destroy God’s people or prevent the birth of their Messiah. John describes it simply: “But she gave birth to a Son – a male who is going to shepherd all nations with an iron scepter” (v. 5). This reference is taken from the Greek translation of Ps. 2:9 – “you will shepherd [rule] them with a rod of iron.” The Hebrew text renders it, “[Y]ou will smash them with a rod of iron.” Either way, the emphasis is on the reign of a king.
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. But every spirit who does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist; you have heard that he is coming, and he is already in the world now. You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:1-4 HCSB)
The Bible not only warns believers about false prophets; it describes them in graphic ways:
- Ravaging wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15; see also Acts 20:29).
- Deceitful workers (2 Cor. 11:13).
- Springs without water, mists driven by a whirlwind (2 Peter 2:17).
- Dreamers who defile their flesh, despise authority, and blaspheme glorious beings (Jude 1:8).
- Liars (Rev. 2:2).
- Antichrists (1 John 2:18).
How do we define a false prophet? Simply put, a false prophet is one who preaches, teaches, or foretells events contrary to the Word of God, yet claiming God as his or her source. As believers, we can guard our hearts from the teachings of false prophets by obeying three commands of the apostle John:
1. Do not believe every spirit. Kenneth Wuest’s translation of 1 John 4:1 puts it this way: “Stop believing every spirit.” The term “spirit” refers to those who claim to have divine gifts for service, according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary. We should beware. Jesus warns us of miracle-working false messiahs and false prophets (Matt. 24:23-4). Paul says Satan masquerades as an angel of light, and his followers disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:14-5). Paul further cautions against “deceitful spirits” and “the teachings of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). And he warns that the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine, but turn aside to myths (2 Tim. 4:3-4). We should be like the Bereans who greeted Paul and Silas. Acts 17:11 says “they welcomed the message with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (emphasis mine).
2. Test the spirits. The Word of God is the yardstick by which all claims of truth must be measured. Here are a few markers. True prophets:
- Are 100 percent accurate when they speak in the Lord’s name (Deut. 18:21-2).
- Exalt God, not themselves or false gods (Deut. 13:1-4).
- Tell the whole truth, not tickle the ears (Ezek. 13:22-3; 2 Tim. 4:3-4).
- Proclaim salvation by grace through faith (Gal. 1:8-9).
- Set lifestyle examples (2 Peter 2:1-3).
3. Know the Spirit of God. In his first epistle, John challenges the views of the “antichrists” about who Jesus is. The most important question Jesus ever asked – and the question upon which every person’s eternal destiny hangs – is, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15). Peter answered correctly, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” (Matt. 16:16). Believers need to know who the real Jesus is:
- The eternal Son of God, Creator and sovereign Lord (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16-18; 2:9-10; Heb. 1:3).
- Virgin born (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-25).
- Full deity and full humanity in His incarnation (John 1:14).
- Sinless Savior whose death paid our sin debt (1 Cor. 15:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:21).
- Raised and ascended in the flesh; seated at the right hand of the Father as our Mediator and Intercessor; and returning Lord who will appear visibly and physically one day (John 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Tim. 2:5-6; Heb. 4:15-16; Rev. 19-22).
John’s words are simple and effective. Christians are people of faith – not a blind, ignorant faith, but a reasonable faith based on the evidence God has given us in creation, Scripture, and in the Person of His Son. While there have always been false prophets, and while there will continue to be those who fleece the flock rather than feed it, we can guard our hearts – and protect our families and our churches – from false teachings if we follow John’s commands: Don’t believe every spirit (that is, every person claiming divine gifting); test the spirits (according to Scripture); and know the Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit’s teaching about the real Jesus as revealed in the Bible).
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips