What is the incarnation of Christ?

Last updated on March 14, 2022


The word ‘incarnation’ comes from the Latin translation of John 1:14, “The Word became flesh.” The incarnation does not mean that a man somehow became God, but rather that the Son of God came into the world as a man. 100% divine and 100% human (Philippians 2:5-8; Colossians 2:9).

We can see both natures clearly in Jesus’ earthly ministry: Jesus received worship that only God deserves and did things that only God can do, such as reading minds and forgiving sins. Jesus also had genuine human experiences, such as growing up, feeling hungry and thirsty, and even dying (Mark 15:37-39).

God’s plan

It may seem surprising that God would come to us as a man, let alone that He would die, but it was actually the outworking of God’s eternal plan. It was always God’s intention for a man to rule over creation from the very beginning of the Bible (Genesis 1:26; Psalm 8:3-9). Yet as Adam, the first man, discovered, with great power comes great responsibility. Adam’s sin carried the divine death penalty and brought the curse into the world (Genesis 2:17, Genesis 3:17-20; Romans 5:12).

However, God did not abandon His plan. When Adam fell for the devil’s lies, God promised that one day another man would be born who would overcome the devil (Genesis 3:15). Through this man, descended from Abraham through the tribe of Judah and the line of King David, every nation of the world would be blessed (2 Samuel 7:12-13). Yet this man would also be divine.

Prophets are foretelling the Messiah

Isaiah foretold the virgin birth of “Emmanuel” – “God with us”, prophesying that the “Mighty God” would Himself “reign on David’s throne… forever” (Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6-7). The prophet Daniel also foresaw the coming of “one like a son of man” who would reign forever and be worshiped by all nations, with all the rights and authority of God Himself (Daniel 7:13-14). This long-awaited divine-human ruler of all creation is Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10).

Born to the virgin Mary (Matthew 1:22-23, Galatians 4:4), of the line of Abraham, Judah, and David (Matthew 1:1-16; Romans 1:3), Jesus is both fully God and also fully man. Aware of His identity, Jesus frequently spoke of Himself as the “Son of Man” prophesied by Daniel. For this claim, He was sentenced to death for blasphemy (Mark 14:62-64). Jesus’ crucifixion was no shameful accident, but rather the pinnacle of the divine plan (Revelation 13:8).  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and the only way He could do this was by dying for our sins (1 Timothy 1:15; 1 John 4:10).

Death penalty

As the new head of humanity, Jesus, the “second Adam”, took full responsibility for our death penalty (Romans 5:14-19; 1 Corinthians 15:21-28) and suffered the punishment we deserved (Hebrews 2:9). As a result, through faith in Jesus, we can receive God’s promised blessing (Galatians 3:13-14). We may live as God’s redeemed children awaiting our family home in a liberated and perfected new creation (Romans 8:17-21; Revelation 21:1-4).

The incarnation is so essential to Christianity that Jesus taught His disciples to remember it regularly through the Lord’s Supper (Mark 14:22-24). The bread reminds us that Jesus’ physical human body was broken for us on the cross, and the wine reminds us that His real human blood was shed (1 Corinthians 11:23-26) as a “ransom” for many (Mark 10:45). Without the incarnation, salvation would be impossible, for “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” of sins (Hebrews 9:22; cf. Leviticus 17:11).  Without a human body, God would have had no blood to shed (Hebrews 10:5-10).

God doesn’t want to remain distant

By becoming man, God showed Himself to us more clearly than ever before or since (John 1:17-18, John 14:9; Hebrews 1:1-3). The incarnation reveals that God is not only all-powerful, but He is also truly humble and compassionate towards us, stooping down to make us great (Psalm 18:35). Rather than staying at a safe distance, God chose to enter first-hand into the pain and grief of life and death in a broken world.  He can now sympathize with us in our weaknesses (Hebrews 2:17-18, Hebrews 4:15). For “though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

The cost of our salvation

But why, we might wonder, should the cost of our salvation be so high – no less than the precious blood of God Himself (Acts 20:28)? And why, for that matter, would God be willing to pay such a price for us? The answer to these questions confronts us with a shocking but glorious truth about ourselves: we are more wicked than we ever realized… but we are more loved than we ever dreamed. This is the meaning of the incarnation of Christ.

How does this Bible explanation speak to you? Please share your thoughts below!

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