Wholly God Part III (1:19, 2:9)
After speaking at a recent conference, I was approached by an inquisitive man who asked for clarification concerning something I said about the incarnation of Christ. "Yes, you heard me correctly," I responded. "The incarnation of Christ never ends."
He was understandably befuddled. "I always just assumed," he replied, "that once we were all in heaven Jesus would somehow divest himself of his human nature and revert to his former mode of existence, like he was with the Father and Holy Spirit in eternity past."
I have to admit that the Bible isn't as explicit on this point as we might wish. But two things are to be noted. First, there is no text of Scripture that says, or even implies, that the Incarnation was temporary. Nowhere are we led to believe that John's amazing utterance in chapter one, verse fourteen of his gospel will ever be reversed or cease to be true. In other words, when "the Word became flesh" I believe he became flesh forever. If it were otherwise, given the momentous nature of this truth, one would expect some hint of it somewhere in Scripture.
You might say, "But Sam, that's an argument from silence. Isn't that a flimsy basis on which to build your case?" I suppose so, which brings me to my second point. There are a few texts that actually speak to this issue. One of them is our text in Colossians 2:9 (an obviously parallel passage to 1:19). There Paul declares of Jesus Christ, "in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (ESV). The NIV renders it, "for in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form."
Several things are worthy of note.
First, we see here yet again the incredible importance of affirming the revelation of God in Christ as "bodily". That is to say, God made himself known to us as and in the form of a human being. Jesus was not a ghost or a phantom or a make-believe human.
One of the fundamental errors of Gnosticism was its denial that God the Son assumed a true human nature: body, soul, spirit, flesh, blood, bones, skin, hair, etc. The Gnostics were Docetists. The latter term comes from the Greek word "dokeo" which means "to seem" or "to appear." Jesus, they argued only "seemed" to be human. When his contemporaries looked at him, he "appeared" to be like them, but was not literally, substantially, and essentially human.
Just how important is our affirmation that the incarnation entailed the literal assumption by God the Son of a truly physical body? How important is it that we affirm that he possessed (and possesses, as I'll shortly note) human nature in its totality? Let me be brief and to the point and simply quote the Apostle John: "every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This [i.e., the denial that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh] is the spirit of the antichrist" (1 John 4:2-3). Enough said.
Second, Paul wrote this statement in Col. 2:9 AFTER the resurrection, glorification, and exaltation of Christ to the right hand of the Father. Furthermore, we know that when Christ returns at the end of the age he will come in the same body in which he departed. So the incarnation most definitely lasts at least until the new heavens and new earth. As I said before, nothing in Scripture suggests it ends at any time thereafter.
Third, there are two things to note about Paul's use of the verb translated "dwells". In the first place, it is in the present tense (unlike the aorist tense used in Col. 1:19). The fullness of deity did not merely dwell in Christ in bodily form in the past, or for a momentary season in human history. The fullness of deity even now continues to dwell in him bodily, says Paul. And second, some render this word "resides", because the verb Paul uses (katoikeo) suggests a permanent, timeless presence rather than a mere sojourning or temporary abode (which would, more likely, have called for the use of the verb paroikeo). J. B. Lightfoot proposed that we translate it: "has its fixed abode" (157, 179). See also 2 John 7 (and its use of the present tense) as well as 1 Cor. 15:28.
Thus, the plenitude, or to use Paul's language, the "fullness," of the divine nature dwells in Christ bodily now and for eternity. Even now, and forever, Christ is not merely God. He is also man. He is God in bodily form. As I said: the incarnation never ends! Before the incarnation Christ was certainly the "fullness" of God, but not in bodily form. He has always been God (see Phil. 2:6), but he has not always been God, or the fullness of God, in bodily form.
We might, then, envision Jesus saying: "I am now what I always was: God (or Word). I am now what I once was not: man (or flesh or fullness of God in bodily form). I am now and forever will be both: the God-man."
In anticipation, with you, of eternity in the presence of the God-man,