The Holy Spirit knew that there would eventually come the skepticism of the Gnostics the latter part of the first century, which theology would be formalized gnosticism in the second century. Since God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all, the Gnostics erroneously assumed that the revelation of God through Jesus Christ meant that Jesus Christ was only a phantom. There could be no such thing as an incarnation because God could have no contact with evil flesh. Those who would teach such would be of those about whom John later wrote: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess that Jesus Christ is coming in the flesh” (2 Jn 7). They would not confess that Jesus Christ is now what He was after the incarnational resurrection.
Jesus’ final coming in the flesh of man is foundational in defining the gospel. There could have been no cross if He had not first come in the flesh. The Gnostics, therefore, denied the gospel by denying the eternal incarnational sacrifice of the Son of God. The Gnostic’s denial encourages us to reaffirm the prerequisite for the truth of the gospel. There could have been no gospel if there were truly no incarnation, which incarnation was in some way eternal, for He is coming in the flesh, into which flesh we will become like He now is (1 Jn 3:2).
We must conclude that the gospel (good news) was first revealed through the incarnation of the transcendent God who came into the physical world of our existence:
- An unending incarnational existence: Now we have come to a necessity that explains the superlative, “God so love the world” (Jn 3:16). The gospel revelation began on earth with an unending incarnational birth in Bethlehem that will extend to the final coming of Jesus in the flesh of a glorious body. The incarnation would continue even into eternity wherein Jesus will dwell among His brethren in the presence of God. The gospel necessitates the incarnation of the One who was originally in eternity in the form of God (Jn 1:1,2,14). If Jesus were only a man, then there is no such thing as the gospel. If there were no incarnation, then there would have been no offering. His sacrificial offering demanded His incarnation in the flesh of man. So, the Gnostics were wrong.
- Eternal (sufficient) atoning sacrifice: Since it was not logical or possible that created animals could possibly atone for sins against the eternal God (Hb 10:1-4), then there had to be a volunteer from God to repair the damage our sin created in our fellowship with God. That which was in the form of God, the Son, had to make the eternal gospel journey from the presence of God to the our presence on earth, and eventually to a sacrificial cross (See Ph 2:5-8). There was no other way.
We must conclude that the incarnation of the Son of God moves our understanding of the gospel beyond the cross alone. The fact that God the Son gave up being in the form of God in the spirit assumes the suffering that all of us in the flesh confront throughout our own lives. His suffering in the flesh began in a manger in Bethlehem and extended to the first driven nails through His flesh on the cross. When we speak of the incarnation, therefore, we understand that the sacrifice was more than the cross. This explains what John meant when he identified the deceiver as the one who denied the incarnation. We thus understand that the gospel sacrifice of the incarnation went far beyond His few hours on the cross.
His was an extreme love for us in that He was willing to be eternally incarnate in the flesh in order to transition us from our present flesh into that gloriously transformed flesh in which He now exists (See Ph 3:21; 1 Jn 3:2). (For more research on this subject, consult Book 73, chapters 1-3, The Gospel of God’s Heart, Biblical Research Library, www.africainternational.org.)
Comprehending the incarnational journey of the Son of God from the form of God in the spirit to the flesh of man is most difficult to comprehend (Ph 2:5-11). In fact, from a human perspective it is incomprehensible, for we are not God. But the more we understand our sin, and our inability to live without sin, the more we begin to catch a small glimmer of hope in understanding the awesome love of God.
Understanding that the eternal God who existed in spirit would contemplate venturing out of eternal, spirit dwelling into our sin infested world is stunning. It is overwhelming. It is humbling. It knocks all pretentiousness out of our souls. It moves our hearts to the declarative question, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rm 7:24).
In the preceding question, it was as if Paul—the self-confessed chief of sinners—could now understand the revelation of the Spirit that poured forth from the tip of his fingers on a quill while he scribbled the inspired words of the Romans manuscript. We assume that his hands were quivering in thanksgiving as he inscribed these thoughts. A tear may have smudged the ink as he followed with an outburst of gratitude: “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rm 7:25).
The heart that is not emotionally overwhelmed by the eternal incarnational coming of the Son of God into the flesh of man is certainly a heart that is beyond submission. It is a heart that has disqualified itself from dwelling in the eternal presence of the God of sacrificial love. It is a heart that does not know God.
- The resurrectional ascension and reign: The resurrection of Jesus was necessary to validate the purpose of the cross. The cross would have no power if there were no hope of eternal living for all those who would fall prostrate before the incarnational offering of the Son of God. The resurrection proved Jesus to be the Son of God (Rm 1:4,5). It also proved that those who obey the gospel will have life eternal as a result of their obedience to the gospel for the remission of sins (At 2:38).
The ascension was necessary in order to prove that the supposed resuscitated Jesus did not wander off into obscurity and die, as some Gnostics of the second century claimed. Reigning at the right hand of God, precluded ascension, and ascension precluded true resurrection from the dead. All of this is good news. It is gospel.
The cross alone would be meaningless if it were not for the resurrection. The resurrection could be questioned without the ascension. And the ascension would be meaningless without somewhere for Jesus to be in reference to our existence in the midst of Satan here on earth. This is all gospel, for the sacrifice of the incarnate Son of God solved our reconciliation with God for eternity. His resurrection solved our fatalism in believing that this world is all there is. The ascension solved our wonder as to where He went. And His reign solves our anxiety problem that no matter what transpires in this life, Jesus is still King of kings and Lord of lords with authority over all things (Mt 28:18; 1 Tm 6:15). This is great news! This is gospel!
[From a forthcoming book, by Roger E. Dickson, on the gospel of the incarnate God.]