Now was His incarnation from spirit into flesh only temporary? Was the sacrifice and suffering confined to six hours on a cross of crucifixion? We will venture into things about which we have only glimpses of revelation.
When we speak of future things, we invariably reach into a realm of speculation where we consider things that are sometimes outside the realm of revelation. We are encouraged to walk through doors of little revelation, but our speculations must be guided by our conclusions that we reap from what is clearly revealed on the subject in the Bible. For this reason, we must not make dogmatic conclusions beyond what the Scriptures would indicate on any subject of which there is only brief statements of revelation. Our speculations must not contradict clear statements of Scripture.
Neither should our speculations of future things be conclusions that would contradict that against which we have struggled to overcome or control in this present life as disciples of Jesus. We must not conclude that we will enjoy a carnal future when all our Christian life we have sought to live beyond that which is carnal. Too many speculators of the future have assumed they would receive carnal power or possessions in the future, when in the Christian life, our aspirations have always been to think and behave with a spiritual mind that is above the carnal. God will not bring into existence in our future that which is contrary to that from which He has asked to refrain in this life.
With these thoughts in mind, the Holy Spirit would have us think of things in the future in reference to what is coming. It is for this reason that the Scriptures speak of the things to come. After concluding revelation concerning things in reference to the final appearance of Jesus with the souls of those beloved saints who have passed on before us, the Spirit encouraged, “Therefore, comfort one another with these words” (1 Th 4:18). The words that He used to convey the future coming of Jesus were comforting in the fact that Jesus was actually coming again. However, what will transpire when He appears, or His presence when He is revealed, is left to our imagination.
After the resurrection, and when the disciples saw Jesus for the last time outside Jerusalem, He had for the previous six weeks shown Himself alive in His resurrected body (At 1:3). The incarnate body that had become flesh (Jn 1:17), and was previously crucified on a cross, buried in a tomb, and then resurrected on the third day, was in their presence (Mk 16:6,7). He appeared to the disciples with a body that was “flesh and bones” (Lk 24:39). The same incarnate body that had gone into the tomb sat there in their presence and ate food with them after the tomb.
In view of Paul’s statements concerning our own “new habitation” that is yet to come, we would conclude that the resurrected body of Jesus was the same body after the resurrection, but evidently changed. We do not know all the details. Now in reference to our future resurrected body, the Holy Spirit revealed through Paul a mystery that “we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed” (1 Co 15:51). “The trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Co 15:52). This perishable body in which we now dwell will be changed into a body that will not perish (1 Co 15:53). “We know that if our earthly house [body] of this tent is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands that is eternal in the heavens” (2 Co 5:1).
It is not our primary desire, therefore, to die and be without a body before the Lord. “For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, so that mortality may be swallowed up by life” (2 Co 5:4). It is not our final desire to be disembodied, and thus without presence. We seek to be embodied, and in our new spiritual body in which we will be with the Lord, who Himself is in some way possibly embodied in a spiritual at this very time. We are not sure.
We yearn to understand the nature of the heavenly body that is to come in order to better understand the resurrected body of Jesus. We wonder concerning our new habitation because of one statement that the Holy Spirit made in 1 John 3:2:
Beloved, now we are the children of God, and it has not yet been revealed what we will be. But we know that when He appears, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is.
It is important to notice that when Jesus comes again, “we will be like Him.” We will “see” Him when He comes, and thus the coming will not be in spirit, for spirits cannot be seen with human eyes. Therefore, we must not forget that John revealed that we will see Him “as He is.” John was writing at least two decades after the ascension of Jesus. He used the present tense to explain the present existence of Jesus at the time He wrote. As Jesus is now, then in the same bodily form we will see Him in His coming.
Since we will be like Jesus when He comes, then according to what Paul revealed in 1 Corinthians 15 and 2 Corinthians 5, we conclude that in some way He is like us as we will be in our new habitation. The only means by which we can in some way speculate concerning the nature of the resurrected body of Jesus in which He now is, and with which He will be when He comes again, is to understand how Paul explained we will be when we are resurrected. As we will be, so Jesus came forth from the grave changed, but still in some way as we will be according to the explanations that the Spirit has given concerning our future “spiritual body.” Now the Spirit goes into detail in 1 Corinthians 15:
All flesh is not the same flesh. But there is one flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fish, another of birds. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies. But the glory of the heavenly is one and the glory of the earthly is another (1 Co 15:39,40).
The Spirit continues to help us understand that we will be bodily changed into something different at the resurrection: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown perishable. It is raised imperishable” (1 Co 15:42). Our natural body in which we now dwell “is sown a natural body. It is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body and there is a spiritual body” (1 Co 15:44). Here is the point of the Spirit in reference to the necessity of the changing of our present body: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Co 15:50). And so we would conclude the same concerning the resurrected body of Jesus.
However, our speculations here must be cautioned by what Jesus said of His own body immediately after the resurrection. He stated that He was still in a body of flesh and bones (Lk 24:39). It was this body that ascended out of their sight. Therefore, when we consider His presence as to what form He now has, and the form by which He will be revealed when He comes again, we must conclude that somewhere between the ascension and the final coming He will be as we will be in our spiritual body that is to come. We would not conclude that He must remain in the bodily form in which He was at the time of the ascension. That is really not our business to know. But we do know what John stated, that He will come in a bodily form that we can recognize.
John said that at His coming we will see Him as He presently is (1 Jn 3:2). Jesus will not appear from heaven as a spirit, the form in which He was with the Father in eternity before the incarnation. He gave up being in spirit as the Father when He was made in the flesh of man (Ph 2:6,7). He gave up the form of God in order to take on the incarnate nature of our earthly body. Jesus reassured His disciples that His body could sit in their presence before a plate of food (Lk 24:42). He was resurrected with a body to which Mary could lovingly cling (Jn 20:17). But in the final resurrection we will be made into the spiritual body in which He will be revealed.
In order to reassure His disciples of His resurrection, Jesus “showed them His hands and His feet” (Lk 24:40). The body that appeared in their presence was the same body that they had laid in the tomb three days before. The resurrection of His incarnate body was proven true by the flesh and bones that stood before them on that memorial occasion. John later wrote of the encounter that he and the other apostles had with the resurrected Jesus who ministered the word to them between the resurrection and ascension:
That which was from the beginning, that we have heard, that we have seen with our eyes, that we have looked [Gr., gazed] upon and our hands have handled, we proclaim concerning the Word of Life (1 Jn 1:1).
This was the same body that six weeks after the resurrection “was taken up and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (At 1:9). His was a bodily resurrection, and thus, we suppose that His was a bodily ascension. And since we will see Him as He presently is when He comes again, we assume it will be a bodily coming in a spiritual body, for we will actually see Him (1 Jn 3:2). He will not come as a spirit in the clouds. The Holy Spirit says that we will actually be able to behold Him with the physical eyes of this body in which we now dwell.
In what body form Jesus now dwells is certainly left to our speculation. We do know that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven. We do know that this physical body will be changed when that kingdom comes. We do know that we will be changed to be like He presently is. And thus, we conclude that at His ascension, Jesus did not return to be in the form of God as He was before the incarnation. It is with this conclusion that we conclude that the incarnational sacrifice was forever. Jesus too will reside in a bodily presence with which He is now clothed, and with which we will be clothed in our resurrection.
And why would all this speculation be so important to consider? It is important because of what John wrote in 2 John 7: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess that Jesus Christ is coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.” We know that the Greek word for “coming” in the text can also be translated “presence.” If we would use this translation, the statement of John would be speaking of the existing presence of Jesus. Because it is translated with the word “coming,” we assume that John is speaking of the final coming of Jesus as he did in 1 John 3:2. But if we keep the bodily ascension in mind when we consider the statement of 2 John 7, then we would conclude that Jesus is presently in the body with which He ascended, and with which He will come again. There would be no change in bodily presence from resurrection to final coming, and then, into eternity. At least we are not told that when Jesus ascended out of the sight of the disciples that He reverted to a spiritual form. It could be that He did, but it seems that the Holy Spirit was revealing through the pen of John, who witnessed the ascension, that in some way Jesus continues in the bodily form that He had at the ascension, and with which He will come again in the future.
John also mentioned that Jesus “is coming in the flesh.” We must consider that since flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God to come, then John was actually using the present tense to refer to the incarnation. In other words, he was emphasizing the “presence” of Jesus in His incarnate body of His earthly ministry.
At the time John wrote, there was the beginning of a Gnostic heresy that denied the incarnation. The Gnostics assumed that Jesus was only an apparition of the disciples’ minds, or a spirit that indwelt a human body of the man Jesus for the duration of the ministry. At the cross, this “spirit” (the Christ), went back to be with the Father when Jesus made the statement, “Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit!” (Lk 23:46). The man Jesus subsequently died and was buried, and is still somewhere in a tomb in Palestine.
What John argues is that Jesus the Son of God did come in the flesh of man. The incarnation was true and real. And to deny the incarnation is to deny the sufficiency of the sacrifice of the cross. The Gnostics, therefore, were cutting the heart out of the gospel.
Whether John was at the time of His writing referring to the incarnation of the past, or to the final coming of the future, his use of the present tense remains valid in reference to the Son of God initially giving up and leaving the form of God when He was incarnate in the womb of Mary (Ph 2:5-8). Jesus was incarnate into the flesh and blood of man. His flesh and blood were resurrected. His flesh and blood ascended in a cloud out of the sight of the disciples. And with a changed bodily form, the same into which we will be changed, He is coming again. From the ascension to the final coming there was a change to His incarnate body, for we will be like Him, and He like us. But in the resurrection we will all have been changed into our spiritual body. We must conclude, therefore, that Jesus will come in a bodily form that we can see with our eyes. Paul referred to this spiritual body as a mystery, and thus it indeed is.
If the incarnate body of Jesus came from the grave, stood with the disciples from the time of the resurrection until the time of the ascension, and then was received up into heaven bodily, the emphasis of John in 2 John 7 in some way indicates an incarnation that was forever. And when we speak of the total sacrifice that the Son of God made for us, the sacrifice was far beyond the cross. It was forever! This may reveal a more profound meaning to the Hebrews 2 text. Jesus was incarnate to be lower than angels, but was incarnate in the flesh of man in order to dwell among His sanctified brethren forever. “For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Hb 2:11).
We are overwhelmed by these conclusions. His eternal sacrifice is incomprehensible to finite minds. It is a sobering conclusion that brings an eternal meaning to His promise that He would build His ekklesia (assembly), die for the redeemed with incarnate blood, and then deliver this sanctified body of justified believers into eternal dwelling in the presence of God. With these conclusions, we are beginning to comprehend the sublime heart of God that was not only revealed on the cross, but also in the incarnation. The incarnation was not temporary, and the sacrifice on the cross was not for only six hours outside Jerusalem on Calvary. The incarnation extended deeper and longer. The Hebrew writer continued,
Therefore, since the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise partook of the same, so that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage (Hb 2:14,15).
Our fear of death will only be terminated with the death of our last enemy, which is death (1 Co 15:26). This will be realized only at the sound of the last trumpet when Jesus is announced from heaven. It will be then that death is swallowed up in the victory of the saints over death (1 Co 15:54-57). When we speak of the church (assembly – ekklesia) of Christ, we must think beyond this world. We must think into eternity where Jesus will dwell among His people who will reside in their spiritual bodies. It is then that we will have a truly personal relationship with Jesus in the bodily form in which He presently dwells.
This was the eternal heart of God that was revealed through the sacrifice of the eternal incarnation. The offering of the incarnate body sanctified the ekklesia. The resurrection of the incarnate body gave hope to the ekklesia. The final return of the incarnate body will call the ekklesia into eternal dwelling in the presence of God. In this sacrifice we are eternally justified and sanctified, and made fit for eternal dwelling.
[Next lecture in series: September 1]