We must be very clear about what we mean when we use the word “gospel.” We have previously stated that the gospel is not the Holy Spirit inspired record of either the event that revealed the gospel, nor is the gospel the event itself. Forgiveness and redemption are heavenly transactions where the God of the universe forgives the sin of every individual who responds to His love offering of forgiveness and redemption. The event that unleashed this powerful concession on earth was the atoning sacrifice that was made at the cross by our Lord Jesus Christ. With obsessive interest, therefore, we work our way through the Spirit’s record of how the God of heaven reveal on earth His plan of eternal reconciliation. It all began on earth with the fertilization of a chosen seed of a chosen woman by the Holy Spirit. And when the Seed was fully developed as a child in the womb of the woman, their was both a cry from the Seed in a barn in Bethlehem that eventually ended with a cry from a cross outside Jerusalem.
1. The gospel revealed by the incarnation: The imperfect Greek tense is used when John revealed, “In the beginning was the Word” (Jn 1:1). John again made use the continuous action in past time of this verb when he added, “The Word was with God” (Jn 1:1). Before the Word was revealed on earth, He was in continuous existence with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in eternity, in spirit form (Jn 4:24; Ph 2:6). So John continued with the imperfect tense when he declared, “The Word was God” (Jn 1:1).
It is necessary to understand that Mary, who was with child by the Holy Spirit, was pregnant with the incarnate Word of God in her womb. From eternal existence as God, “the Word was made flesh” through the medium of Mary (Jn 1:14). And now in the context of John 1, the verb tense changes. In order to explain this profound truth of God coming in the flesh of man, John used the aorist tense. This is the expression of a onetime event in past history. “The Word became flesh,” would be the best translation of the Greek phrase.
The announcement of this incarnational conception and birth was first announced on earth to shepherds: “The angel said to them, ‘Do not fear, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that will be to all the people” (Lk 2:10). And so the saga of the incarnate God in the spirit began to unfold on earth through a babe in a barn. The first revelation of the gospel of the incarnate Son of God initiated the eternal gospel plan of God to bring His creation into eternal dwelling with Him. Without the incarnation, there would have been no good news from God. Gospel, therefore, had to be demonstrated, not simply declared from heaven.
2. The gospel revealed at the cross: If we preach the cross, without obsessing over the incarnation, then the gospel of the cross is greatly minimized, if not denied. In other words, if there were no incarnation, then the cross could be misunderstood to be only the execution of a spiritually zealous Rabbi of the Jews. Much of the world believes this.
But the One who was nailed on that cross outside Jerusalem two thousand years ago was not just a man named Jesus who was from Nazareth. It was God in the flesh. This is the conclusion that John wanted us to make by the time he finish the document of John: “These are written [about Jesus] that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ [Messiah], the Son of God” (Jn 20:31). If we do not reach this conclusion concerning who was crucified on the cross, then the teaching that the cross was a sacrificial atonement for our sins is simply wishful thinking. The gospel of the cross, in other words, makes no sense unless there was an incarnation of the Son of God into the flesh of man.
3. The gospel revealed through the resurrection: If it were possible for the Son of God to terminate His own existence in the flesh, and then make His way on back to heaven as He eternally existed in the spirit before the incarnation, then the suffering and sacrifice of the cross would have been for only six hours. In fact, the two criminals who were crucified with Him would have suffered more than Jesus because they were still alive after Jesus died. They had to suffer the breaking of their legs in order to speed up their deaths (Jn 19:31-33).
There had to be more to the sacrifice of the incarnate Son of God than the cross alone. This sacrifice was certainly revealed through the resurrection. Now consider this for a moment. If the incarnation were somehow permanent, then a whole new door of revelation opens to us in reference to comprehending the awesomeness of the gospel. The resurrection would not simply have been a disturbance of Jesus’ peaceful sleep in physical death. It was a resurrection into a new existence wherein He continued to be lower than God but not in the form of God (Ph 2:6).
It is not surprising, therefore, that Paul began the letter of Romans with a focus on the power of the resurrection. In the initial chapter he reminded his readers first of the incarnation of the One who would be “born of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Rm 1:3). This was a prophecy of the incarnation. But then Paul continued this thought by revealing that God’s “Son Jesus Christ our Lord” was “declared to be the Son of God with power … by the resurrection from the dead” (Rm 1:4). Paul thus introduced the extremity of the gospel of the incarnation in the resurrection of the One who would continue to demonstrate grace throughout eternity.
In other words, if there were no true incarnation into the flesh of man, then the resurrection from the dead would have no meaning. Also consider the fact that the gospel of the grace would be weak if His resurrection somehow restored Him to the “form of God” that He enjoyed before the incarnation (Ph 2:6). There would thus be little power in a resurrection that was not truly an incarnate bodily.
Resurrection assumed incarnation, and thus resurrection assumes that there was a continuation of the which was incarnate. Resurrection would have no meaning if Jesus was raised in the form of God in which He participated with Deity throughout eternity. On the contrary, the resurrected Jesus said to His disciples, “A spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Lk 24:39). Though after His resurrection from the tomb it was no longer “flesh and blood” into which He was initially incarnate. It was “flesh and bones” in which He would dwell among his brethren.
Now continue the subject of the resurrection beyond the resurrection. The resurrection would mean little if Jesus could simply discard his “flesh and bones,” and then ascend on into heaven. If He had done this, then this act would be problematic in reference to what John continued to reveal in another letter. In the letter of 1 John, John wrote, “It has not yet been revealed what we will be” (1 Jn 3:2). Therefore, when Jesus comes again, it seems that we will not be as the “flesh and bones” that Jesus was after His own resurrection and at the time of the ascension. “Flesh and bones” was revealed to the apostles immediately after the resurrection, but one of those apostles, John, later confessed in the 1 John letter that “it has not yet been revealed what we will be.” The resurrected “flesh and bones” of Jesus was necessary to prove that the incarnate Son of God was resurrected, but His “flesh and bones” do not reveal what we will be, though we will be like Him. And being like Him is being like something.
Paul reminded the Corinthians, “Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no more” (2 Co 5:16). In other words, we no longer know Christ according to how He was revealed in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In John’s previous statement, it seems that he is also saying the same as Paul. We do not know Christ now according to “flesh and bones” into which He was resurrected.
There seems to be more in store for all of us when Jesus comes again than “flesh and bones.” John explained, “But we know that when He appears, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is” (1 Jn 3:2). What we will be is a mystery for we do not know how He is now at the right hand of God. We do know, as Paul explained, that it is an attack against the gospel of the resurrection to say that we ourselves will not experience a bodily resurrection (1 Co 15:12). If there is no resurrection of our body, then the gospel of the resurrection is false (1 Co 15:13). This would make our preaching of the gospel of the resurrection fruitless because there would be no power in a fruitless hope of a resurrection (1 Co 15:14-19).
For the Corinthians, Paul began to explain the mystery of the resurrection and our dwelling with the resurrected Jesus when He comes again. Christ was the firstfruit of our own resurrection that will occur in the last day (1 Co 15:23). This will be at the time of the consummation of all things in reference to how we now dwell, as well as to how Christ will dwell with us through eternity (See 1 Co 15:24-28).
Now with what body will we be raised will give us some thoughts concerning that body with which Jesus will come. So we reason from John’s statement in 1 John 3:2 back to the limited revelation of the body about which Paul described in 1 Corinthian 15. Paul spoke of an earthly body going into the tomb, but a heavenly body coming forth at the time of our resurrection (1 Co 15:40). It is “sown” in the earth as an earthly body that can deteriorate away, but raised as a body that can dwell for eternity (1 Co 15:42). The natural body will give way to the spiritual body (1 Co 15:44). The body to come, as Paul explains, is the same as the body that went into the tomb, but it is changed. It is changed because “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Co 15:50).
So we have difficulty understanding that which is beyond the physical world, which indeed will be our spiritual and heavenly body. For this reason Paul considers all that we will be to be a mystery (1 Co 15:51). So in reviewing what John stated as to what Jesus will be when He appears a second time, we can only conclude that John indeed agreed with Paul that such is a mystery. The best commentary we have on the matter is 1 Corinthians 15. We can conclude that Jesus will not appear as a spirit. He will be in some bodily form that is tangible, for in such a body will we be raised.
So the gospel of the incarnation, cross and resurrection take on a more significant meaning when we study and preach these three together. If the incarnation were only a brief moment of thirty-three years in a ministry on earth, but was concluded at the ascension, then we might question the sacrifice of the incarnation. But if the resurrection establishes the fact that Jesus would remain in an eternal existence in the “flesh” of a spiritual body as we will be when He comes again, then the sacrifice of the eternal Son of God in the spirit becomes quite incredible for us to even begin to comprehend. Regardless of the limitations of our comprehension, however, at least one thing must be generated in our hearts. We must be thrown to our knees in eternal gratitude for the love of God that moved Him with such great as to do such a deed for us. And truly it is as Paul humbly wrote in a doxology, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out” (Rm 11:33).
[Next in series: March 23]