In our last blog post on Islam, we looked at some of the teachings in the Qur’an concerning who Jesus (or, as Islam names him, Isa) is. Consider this statement in the Qur’an: “Behold, the angels said: ‘O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah” (Surah 3:45).
Nevertheless, Islam does not honor Jesus in confessing Him to be the eternal, only begotten, incarnate Son of God. Islam denies that Allah has a son, thus destroying the very possibility of an Incarnation.
In witnessing to a Muslim neighbor, the subject of the Incarnation simply must be addressed. Without the Incarnation, there is and can be no salvation. The Muslim must be brought to see this, and, at the very least, you must explain to him what the Incarnation is. Often, Muslims deny and reject what they do not understand. Still, we must remember that only the Holy Spirit by the Word can reveal the truth to a sinner. Your calling as a Christian witness is accurately to bring the Word, while leaving the fruit to Him “that bloweth where He listeth” (John 3:8).
We begin with the sublime passage of John 1:1-3, 14:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made…And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
In these verses, John presents Jesus not as the Son of God, but as the Word of God. The Word means the Logos, from which the word logic is derived. The Logos is the perfect revelation or the speech of God. Nevertheless, the Logos is not an abstract concept, but a person, an active person with intelligence and will.
The Logos is divine—not merely like God, but God: “The Word was God” (v. 1). As God, the Logos is not a creature, but the Creator: “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (v. 3). If the Word, Logos or Son of God is the Creator, He cannot be a creature. (In the Bible, creature and Creator are the only two categories of being). Moreover, as divine, the Logos is eternal, for “in the beginning was the Word” (v. 1) and “the same was in the beginning” (v. 2), and one who is the Creator of all things (v. 3) must be eternal. In addition, as the divine Son of God, the Logos has the glory of God (“the glory as of the only begotten of the Father” [v. 14]). Remember the meaning of “only begotten” from an earlier blog post.
The Logos is also personally distinct from God. In John 1:1 we read, “The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Not only is the Word (Logos) God, but He is also with God. This fits, of course, with the teaching of the Trinity by which Christians confess that God is three distinct persons in one divine being or essence. The relationship between God (the Father) and the Logos (the Son) (this passage does not mention the Spirit) is described with the preposition “with”—“the same was in the beginning with God” (v. 2). The word “with” could be translated with “towards,” which expresses close fellowship. In verse 18, John writes, “the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”
At this point, the Muslim may object, and his head might be spinning. (Maybe yours is too!). However, ask your Muslim neighbor to be patient. It is important that he sees what the Christian scriptures actually teach before he brings his objections and questions. (By presenting these things to him, you are clearing away many misconceptions about Christianity, so proceed slowly, patiently, and prayerfully).
That, dear reader, is the Jesus of the Bible—the eternal, divine Creator, the Son of God, who, although personally distinct from the Father and dwelling in the Father’s bosom, is fully and truly God.
That Jesus became incarnate.
Only that Jesus became incarnate.
The Father did not become incarnate. The Holy Spirit did not become incarnate. The angel Gabriel did not become incarnate. The Son of God, the divine Logos, He became incarnate.
The Incarnation of the Son of God is the great wonder of God by which God became man. John 1:14 explains it thus: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” The important word in verse 14 is “flesh.” (We get our word “Incarnation” from the Latin for “flesh’). In the Bible, the word “flesh” refers to human nature with respect to its frailty. “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field” (Isaiah 40:6).
“The Word was made flesh” (John 1:14). This means that the Son of God became human—He adopted, assumed or took on a human nature.
That human nature is, first, physical or material. (God is not physical or material, but spiritual). Therefore, the Son of God has a real human body with all the physical organs that we do. To make that concrete, Jesus had real human blood, which He shed on the cross; Jesus wept real human tears at the grave of Lazarus, His friend; Jesus perspired with real human sweat and experienced real human tiredness so that His real human body required real human sleep; and when Jesus suffered physically real human pain receptors in His real human skin sent messages to His real human brain, so that He experienced the real human sensation of pain.
And remember, the Word (the eternal, divine Creator, the Son of God, who, although personally distinct from the Father and dwelling in the Father’s bosom, is fully and truly God) became flesh. That is the wonder of wonders, a wonder of God’s grace!
The human nature is, second, psychological or spiritual. Humans are not only physical, material bodies, but we have also human souls. Jesus had full human psychology, which means that He had a human soul, a human mind, and a human will. Jesus experienced human sorrow, human joy, and even human surprise. Jesus, as a human, began as a tiny baby in the womb of His mother, and He grew and developed physically and psychologically as we do. Luke 2:40 says, “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.” Luke 2:52 adds, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”
This means that the Word (the eternal, divine Creator, the Son of God, who, although personally distinct from the Father and dwelling in the Father’s bosom, is fully and truly God) became everything that we are, and experienced everything that we experience—birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, work, play, joy, sorrow, pain, suffering, and death.
There is only one exception to that—Jesus did not experience sin, for He has no sin. He is the spotless Son of God. Peter writes of Him, “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” (I Peter 2:22).
We need to clear up a few further misconceptions about the Incarnation.
First, when the Son of God became incarnate—when the Word “was made flesh” (John 1:14)—He did not cease to be the Son of God, that is, He did not cease to be divine. The Muslim is tempted to object that the Incarnation means that the infinite God became finite, or that the eternal God became temporal, or that the omnipotent God became weak and helpless, or that the immutable God became changeable. Strictly speaking, that is incorrect. The infinite, eternal, omnipotent, immutable Son of God, who is fully divine, took to Himself a human nature that is finite, temporal, weak and changeable. The human body and soul of Jesus is finite, but Jesus, the Son of God, is not finite.
Second, in the Incarnation, the two natures of Jesus remain distinct. This was something settled at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 (which, I remind you, was some 119 years before Mohammed’s birth):
We, then, following the holy fathers, all with one consent teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ…one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ.
This means, for example, when Jesus fell prostrate before the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, He did so as the Son of God in the human nature. When Jesus had to eat His necessary food, or when Jesus was tired, or when Jesus experienced pain or sorrow, He did so as the Son of God in the human nature.
But we need to write further blog posts to explain further that relationship between the human and divine in Jesus Christ, as well as to explain how and why Jesus the Son of God became a real human being.
Suffice to say that the human nature of Christ—with the Incarnation by which Jesus assumed that human nature—is necessary for our salvation.
This post was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland.