Monday, June 25, 2012

A Study of Early Christianity: He Became Human

He Became Human – “was made man”
                Israel expected a deliverer, a messiah. As the “fullness of time” neared (during the intertestimental period) messianic expectation increased, as is demonstrated by the popularity of the concept in the literature of the time. Some even expected two messiahs (the Essenes). Perhaps the most prominent form messianic hope of the first century took was Davidic. According to this hope, a king would come and usher in a golden age of blessing prior to the end of the world.[1] Though their Scriptures spoke of one like a “son of man” who would be universally served in an eternal kingdom, though their own prophet told them that they would “pierce” God, the Jews still did not anticipate that God would take on flesh and dwell among us (Daniel 7:13-14; Zechariah 12:1-10; Psalm 22:6; cf. Revelation 1:7).
It is really no wonder that God’s people did not know that Emanuel, the child who was to be born, the son who was to be given, would also be “The mighty God” and “The everlasting Father” (Isaiah 7:14; 9:1-7). It is almost too wonderful to be true. That God became flesh is perhaps the most amazing mystery of the Christian faith (1 Timothy 3:16). Jesus was with God and was God from the beginning (John 1:1; Philippians 2:6-8). When the fullness of time came he became flesh, born of a virgin (John 1:14; Galatians 4:4; Luke 1:26-35).
The immensity of this mystery did not hinder the church from believing and teaching the incarnation from its very birth. Even while the New Testament was still being written we find that the church had already been celebrating the incarnation long enough that the mystery had been incorporated it into Christian liturgy.[2] That Apostolic tradition was not neglected by the Christian leaders of the next generations. They continued to confess quite clearly that Jesus was God in flesh.[3] To say anything less was to be a deceiver (2 John 1:7). “There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first passible and then impassible, even Jesus Christ our Lord.”[4]  

[1] Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of early Christianity (W.B. Eerdmans, 1987), 438.
[2] Many believe that Paul’s words about the incarnation found in Philippians chapter 2 and 1 Timothy 3:16b were passed down to him in the form of worship songs. Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 40–43. William D. Mounce, Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 46, Pastoral Epistles (ed. Ralph P. Martin and Lynn A. Losie; Thomas Nelson, 2000).
[3] “…Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David according to the flesh, being both the Son of man and the Son of God…” Ignatius to the Ephesians XX, ANF I p. 58; Ig. Smy. I, ANF I p. 86; “The holy, pre-existent Spirit, that created every creature, God made to dwell in flesh, which He chose.” Hermas VI, ANF II p. 35; “…carefully preserving the ancient tradition, believing in one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, by means of Christ Jesus, the Son of God; who, because of His surpassing love towards His creation, condescended to be born of the virgin, He himself uniting man through Himself to God…” Iren., Ag. Heresies IV, ANF I p. 417; “…the Son of God – of Him who made the universe – assumed flesh, and was conceived in the virgin’s womb…” Clem. of Alex., The Stromata XV, ANF II p. 509; Tert., ANF III p. 708
[4] Ignatius, Epistle to the Ephesians VII, ANF I p. 52; I followed Lightfoot’s translation in replacing  possible and impossible with passible and impassible.