The word “incarnation” means “to be made in the bodily flesh of man.” This word can only be applied to God coming in the flesh of man, for God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have always existed eternally in the spirit. In reference specifically to Jesus, the Son of God, that which was in spirit in eternity was revealed in this world in the flesh of man, whom Joseph and Mary named “Jesus” (Mt 1:21).
The Holy Spirit gave us a commentary on this gospel journey of the Son of God in Philippians 2:5-11. This commentary begins with the following statement: “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus” (Ph 2:5). Before He explained the incarnational journey of the Son of God, the Holy Spirit first stated that everyone who would be a Christian must think and behave after the example of the incarnational sacrifice of the Son of God. The Spirit emphasized the importance of this thinking and behavior in reference to the continued transformation of our lives in response to the grace of God (See Rm 12:2).
In Philippians 2:6, the Spirit continued to explain, “Who [that is, the Son of God], being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God” (Ph 2:6). Jesus was previously in the nature of God. However, He did not consider this equality with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as the one God in spirit something to be continually grasped. He did not because all people of this world would continue dead in their sins if there were no incarnational offering for them (See Rm 3:10). Therefore, through His incarnational sacrifice, the Son of God was willing, on our behalf, to give up His eternal equality in spirit with the Father and Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit, through the apostle John, further informs us what happened through the incarnation of the Son of God into the flesh of man: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). The preceding Philippian 2:6 statement revealed that the Word initially “existed in the form of God.” So as one with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Word—this was Jesus in the flesh before He was born into this world—was God. He was one with God, and thus existed in the nature of God.
However, the Holy Spirit continued to explain through John, “He was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (Jn 1:2,3). The Holy Spirit revealed this work of the Son while He was in spirit with God before the creation: “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him” (Cl 1:16). In order words, the world and all mankind were created for the purpose of the Son of God. We were created in order that the love of God eventually be manifested in history through the incarnation of the Son of God (See Gl 4:4).
In the beginning when all things were created, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness” (Gn 1:29). In this statement God was not saying that the image of God before creation was physical as that which we see in man. If the Son of God were in any way physical in eternity, then there would have been no such thing as an incarnation of the Son of God into the flesh of men. We must remember that God is Spirit (Jn 4:24). He is not flesh. Therefore, the extent of the incarnation of the Son of God is in the fact that He, in the spirit, had to be revealed in this world in the same flesh into which He originally created humanity from dust of the earth (Gn 2:7).
The preceding is exactly what the Holy Spirit continued to reveal in the context of Philippians 2: “But He [the Son of God] made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant and being made in the likeness of men” (Ph 2:7). And in the incarnate form of the flesh of man, “He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Ph 2:8). If there were no incarnation, therefore, then there would have been no cross, for a spirit cannot be crucified. And if there were no incarnational offering for our sins, then all of us would be without any hope in this world.
Incarnation means that the Son of God took upon Himself that which would be able to suffer crucifixion. We would indeed have a shallow understanding of the cross, if we did not first comprehend the magnitude of the incarnational suffering of the Son of God on the cross.
The incarnational crucifixion of Jesus’ body on the cross was His destiny. It was His destiny from the time the very first word was spoken in reference to creating humanity in the beginning. Even before the Son of God created Adam and Eve, He knew that all people would sin (See Rm 3:10). Therefore, we would assume that before He spoke the first word to create, He had already planned to be incarnate in the flesh in order to suffer crucifixion for our sins.
We must keep in mind that we cannot fully understand the extent of the cross until we understand to the best of our ability the extremity of the incarnational sacrifice of the Son of God coming into the flesh of man. The extremity of the incarnation reveals the extreme love that Jesus has for us.
When we consider our own response to the gospel, therefore, we must understand that our obedience is not a matter of conforming to laws of obedience in order that we might legally, according to law, justify ourselves before God (See Gl 2:16). On the contrary, our obedience must be the result of our gratitude for what the Son of God did for us through His incarnation into our flesh in order to go to the cross for us. The Spirit explained this in the following statement of the apostle Paul: “For all things are for your sakes [that is, all things in reference to our salvation], so that the grace that is reaching many people may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God” (2 Co 4:15). It was by grace that God extended to us His Son who was destined to suffer on the cross. It is this grace that motivates us to respond with thanksgiving to our crucified Savior.
It was because of the love of God that the Son of God was incarnate into the flesh of man for our salvation (See Rm 5:8). This revelation of God in the flesh came as a result of the fact that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (Jn 3:16). When we understand this tremendous amount of love that was revealed through the incarnate Son of God for our behalf, then we are compelled to respond to Jesus’ gospel journey into this world.
Jesus’ love offering for us in His crucifixion for our sins inspires our love response to Him in preaching the message of the gospel to others: “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge that if one died for all, then all died” (2 Co 5:14). All of us must be compelled by the love and grace of God that was revealed through the incarnate Son of God. We cannot appreciate the gospel of the crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and sovereign reign of the Son of God, if we do not understand His incarnation into the flesh of man.