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.
This is the second in a series of articles on the Incarnation. Previously: The doctrine of the Incarnation.
If Jesus is the God-Man, fully divine and fully human, how are we to understand the way in which these two natures work together?
Think about it. At times, Jesus exhibits the fullness of deity – demonstrating His sovereign control over nature, forgiving sins, receiving worship, and knowing the thoughts of human beings.
But He also displays the full range of humanity – getting hungry, growing tired, and, at times, not knowing certain things such as the time of His return.
So, when Jesus is walking the earth, is He partly divine and partly human? Does He toggle back and forth between deity and humanity? Or is He simply an extraordinary human who is able to exhibit divine powers?
Rev. 15:5 – After this I looked, and the heavenly sanctuary – the tabernacle of testimony – was opened. 6 Out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, dressed in clean, bright linen, with gold sashes wrapped around their chests.
The heavenly sanctuary was opened
In verse 5 John writes, “After this I looked, and the heavenly sanctuary – the tabernacle of testimony – was opened.” We last read about the heavenly sanctuary in Rev. 11:19 in connection with the sounding of the last trumpet. The previous uses of the word “tabernacle” – in Greek, skeyney – are revealing. In Rev. 7:15, the One seated on the throne will “shelter” the ones coming out of the great tribulation; that is, He will tabernacle (skeyney) with them – pitch His tent with them and spread His tent over them, providing His presence as comfort and security. In Rev. 13:6, the beast from the sea begins to blaspheme God’s name and His “dwelling – those who dwell in heaven.” Again, the word is skeyney, and here it refers to believers around the throne in heaven.
What a marvelous picture of God’s grace. He pitches His tent with us, and in redemption we are His temple. John writes of Jesus, “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us” (John 1:14). Literally, Jesus “tabernacled” with us, a reference not only to His incarnation but also to His presence in the ancient tabernacle and at the joyous Feast of Tabernacles (see Ex. 40:34-38; John 7:2). But equally amazing, He makes believers His dwelling place, abiding in us by way of the Holy Spirit (see John 14:16-18). The apostle Paul exhorts us to be ever mindful of our role as God’s sanctuary: “Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s sanctuary, God will destroy him; for God’s sanctuary is holy, and that is what you are” (1 Cor. 3:16-17).
Rev. 15:2 – “I also saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had won the victory over the beast, his image, and the number of his name, were standing on the sea of glass with harps from God.” (HCSB)
A sea of glass mixed with fire
We have encountered a sea of glass before. In Rev. 4:6, John records, “Something like a sea of glass, similar to crystal, was also before the throne.”
As noted in the commentary on chapter 4, the sea may correspond to the brass vessel before the sanctuary, where the priests wash in preparation for service. The sea of glass also appears in prophetic visions of God’s throne room. For example, in Exodus 24, Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and 70 of Israel’s elders see “something like a pavement made of sapphire stone, as clear as the sky itself” beneath God’s feet. And Ezekiel sees “[T]he shape of an expanse, with a gleam like awe-inspiring crystal” spread out over the heads of the living creatures (Ezek. 1:22).
The ESV Study Bible notes that the sea of glass “is the ‘floor’ of heaven and the ‘ceiling’ of the created universe, and its transparent tranquility shows heaven’s peace in contrast to earthly turmoil” (Rev. 4:6-8). Jurgen Roloff writes, “This glassy sea is the dome of the firmament, the heavenly ocean, which in ancient thought was considered to be transparent” (p. 182).
Matthew Henry adds this thought: “As in the temple there was a great vessel of brass filled with water, in which the priests were to wash when they went to minister before the Lord (and this was called a sea), so in the gospel church the sea or laver for purification is the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, who cleanses from all sin, even from sanctuary-sins. In this all those must be washed that are admitted into the gracious presence of God on earth or his glorious presence in heaven” (Rev. 4:1-8).
But there is a significant difference between the sea in Rev. 4:6 and Rev. 15:2: The latter sea is “mixed with fire.” Why?
Rev. 15:1 – Then I saw another great and awe-inspiring sign in heaven: seven angels with the seven last plagues, for with them, God’s wrath will be completed. (HCSB)
This chapter describes the preparation in heaven for the final set of judgments. Seven angels emerge from the “tabernacle of testimony.” They are dressed in clean, bright linen with gold sashes around their chests. One of the four living creatures gives each of the seven angels a bowl “filled with the wrath of God.” John informs us that with these final judgments “God’s wrath will be completed.”
John also views something like a sea of glass mixed with fire. Standing on the sea are those who have won victory over the beast. They have harps and sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb. The sanctuary is filled with smoke from God’s glory, and no one may enter until the last seven judgments are complete.
Why are these judgments depicted as bowls filled with God’s wrath? Why does one of the four living creatures give the bowls to the angels? What is the sea of glass mixed with fire? Why are the people standing on the sea and holding harps? What are the songs of Moses and the Lamb? Why is there a sanctuary in heaven, and why is it filled with smoke?
Let’s search for answers.