By Marco van Putten
In the Bible a strict separation between the spiritual and the physical is taught (Mt 16:17; 1 Cor 15:50). Some people even think that there is a dimming of God or the He withdraws Himself while history unfolds. God would keep Himself hidden for Creation and specifically for man (Is 45:15). The spiritual taking distance from the physical. But this pessimist view is only true in part, since in the Bible it becomes clear that God involves Himself with man and the He lets Himself be found by them (Is 55:6). But it is true that according to the Bible God generally keeps Himself hidden and withdrawn from man. This is, however, to be understood as beneficial for man than otherwise. Hence, God is a consuming fire to man (Ex 24:17; Dt 4:24; Hb 12:29). Humanity would long since have been perished if God would have continuously shown Himself to them in His full glory. Rabbis have made clear that God, in his withdrawal, gives a positive signal. He encourages man to take their responsibility in observing Torah. But all these statements make the fact that the Lord Jesus became Man rather conflicting with the Bible than confirming it. To call that fact unique is therefore out of place. It would be right to call it even strange and incomprehensible.
The pre-existence of the Lord Jesus
For Israelites it was and is blasphemous to hear people say that the Lord Jesus existed with God before He became a Man. According to the Bible there are angels, the sons of God (Job 38:7), in God’s presence. They represent the armies of God commanded by the archangels. Special is the ‘Angel of God’ (Gn 22:11), of which some think that he represents the Lord Jesus. But that thought is, often without realizing it, blasphemy since the Lord Jesus is not an angel (first fact; Hb 1:5). He is ‘above’ the angels. This already states the first fact about the original state of the Lord Jesus. He is closer to God than any creature.
But the Lord Jesus is also the heavenly equivalent of Adam on earth (1 Kor 15:45). Both are called God’s Son (Lc 3:38; Jh 10:36). The Lord Jesus distinguishes thus from God, the Father, by being His Son (second fact). However, there has to be a strong relationship between the Lord Jesus and the angels, because through Him God made the Creation (Hb 1:2). Therefore He originally had authority over the angels. In the Bible there is nowhere written anything about any direct relationship between Adam and the angels, but that he originally had authority over the creatures (Gn 2:19). The ‘heavenly’ creatures were created for the Lord Jesus (Mt 13:41). Just like the ‘earthly’ creatures for Adam (Gn 1:28). It seems obvious that the Lord Jesus thus already existed before the angels were created, but thus also before Adam (third fact; Jh 17:24). First the heavens were created and only afterwards the earth.
The Lord Jesus was Witness of these things which man has never seen (Job 38:4-7) and also of the whole sacred history until He became Man (Jh 8:58). The pre-existence of the Lord Jesus has given Christianity however the dubious compulsion ‘to read into’ the Old Testament (OT) His pre-existence, despite no explicit reference exists. Even in the New Testament, in which this is explicitly stated, it has little focus. This should be seen as a hint from God that He wants people not to focus on that. In the Bible the focus is on God, the Father.
Becoming a Man
Gods becoming a man is a pagan thought, since in paganism heaven is central. The fact that God made the Lord Jesus into a Man is very understandable from a pagan point of view (Acts 14:11). Strict monotheists find it blasphemous, since for them it would mean polytheism. Unless, however, the Lord Jesus becoming a Man is well defined. It must mean He pre-existed (Jh 3:13; Ef 4:10). He was not a man who God later adopted as Son, like some might think. The definition about how He became a Man points to an important difference with paganism.
In paganism gods become a man suddenly. Unannounced. Comparable the way angels appear in the Bible. This is so since, according to paganism, no one can understand the intentions and doings of the gods. Suddenly a man appears on earth to do something and that man also suddenly disappears again. Later it seemed that this was a god. The Lord Jesus however had a normal birth, grew up, died and was buried. Still, there are examples in paganism of gods becoming a man that have a very similar life like the Lord Jesus. In paganism woman become pregnant of gods. The child that then is born soon proves to be a demigod with superhuman characteristics. Often, ages before the birth of a demigod, the coming of the demigod was preordained by oracles. Also, the birth of the Lord Jesus was a fulfillment of ancient prophecies. Just as with the Lord Jesus, the life of a demigod is often incomprehensible for people. They have direct contact with the spiritual world (Ef 6:12; Col. 2:15). Demigods finally die a hero’s death on behalf of humanity, but then almost only by the hand of other (demi)gods since no man can kill them. The Lord Jesus also died for humanity, but apparently through the torture of the Romans. However, in the Bible it is said that it was effectively His heavenly Father Who killed Him (Is 53:5, 10; Mt 27:46; Gal 3:13). Pagan gods are immortal and likewise the Lord Jesus rose from death. These are facts which on the surface seem to match.
The difference, however, becomes quite clear in the daily life of the Lord Jesus as a Man. That deviates fundamentally from that of the ancient pagan demigods. It starts with the fact that He became equal to man (fourth fact; Fp 2:7; Hb 2:17). However, one of the most important differences between demigods and normal people is their physical strength. The Lord Jesus however didn’t excel in physical strength, but only in religious abilities which any man could develop. He even called upon His followers to become as pious as He was. He went even further by declaring that His followers would be able to do even greater wonders then He did (Jh 14:12). Pagan demigods, however, emphasize their divinity and make clear that no one is able to become like them. Their bravery and heroism was central. However, the Lord Jesus was not honored by man and He also didn’t seek that. Instead, He was despised and hated by most people (Jh 1:11; 15:18). He let Himself be ridiculed, insulted and humiliated and He didn’t resist it (Acts 8:32). Finally, He was condemned to be tortured to death, which He patiently underwent (Is 53:3; Lk 17:25). After His resurrection He remained 40 days upon the earth before He went back to heaven. He even then said that He would return, but still as a Man (fifth fact; Acts 1:3).
Claiming that the way the Lord Jesus became a Man is unique seems quite wrong and also questionable. Incarnation of gods was already a commonly known phenomenon in paganism for a very long time. Long before the Lord Jesus became a Man. But His incarnation also seems to conflict with the Bible and is therefore understandable rejected by monotheists. But that doesn’t mean that He becoming a Man cannot be explained by the Bible. His daily life as a Man was far from pagan, but perfectly complying with the Bible. And not only that. God made His Son redeem the man (Adam), His original son (Lk 3:38), from within man itself (Rm 5:15; 8:3) and therefore his vital redemption came wholly in a human way (1 Cor 15:46).
Since the first man Adam fell away from God, man was confronted with death (Gn 2:17; Rm 5:12). From then on the focus was on continuing life through a woman (Gn 3:16). Therefore the New Adam, the Lord Jesus, was not created again from the earth, like the first man Adam, but came forth from a woman (Gal 4:4). The renewing of man would come from the inside and not from the outside. However, that Christianity deems the Lord Jesus becoming a Man unique is related with all kinds of artificial, non-Biblical dogma’s to keep with the frame of monotheism. However, His preexistence in heaven, Him becoming a Man on earth, His ascension to heaven, He being there until today and His return to earth as human Messiah points unto a rather different direction. These facts run unmistakably out of the tracks of strict and pure monotheism.
A sober rethinking of Him becoming a Man is, however shocking, necessary for a right appreciation of it. In the Bible He is described as a Separate Person, distinct from God, the Father of Creation. The Lord Jesus is the true Son of God. But it doesn’t end with the facts about what kind of Man He was. In Him being a Man, in His teaching, He spelled out that God wants that all man will become children of God just as He was (Jh 1:12). Therefore He became a Man. Only stating that His becoming a Man is unique, is a caricature on which thus the uniqueness of Christianity cannot depend. The proper statement should therefore be: The way the Lord Jesus was a Man, is a unique revelation of being a true Son of God.