The Incarnation; Hypostatic Union I
John Lesson #007
June 24, 1998
In verses 14-18 we deal with the relationship of the logos to humanity, specifically to what makes a human being a human being.
John 1:14 NASB "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." The first phrase is very important. The verb "became" is ginomai [ginomai] is for coming into existence, it is in the aorist active indicative which means it refers to something that happened in past time, and it means to change a state, to come into existence in flesh form. The verb emphasizes coming into a new state without leaving the old state. The emphasis here is that the logos did not become something and lose everything He had before, but that He took on something, He added something. He took on humanity, specifically flesh.
Why is it that John uses the word "flesh"? He doesn't say the Word became human, or that the Word became a man, took on a body; he said specifically that the Word became flesh. One of the most important principles in interpreting Scripture is understanding that the Bible must always be interpreted in the time in which it was written. When John wrote this Gospel there was a new ideology or philosophy that was developing in that part of the world called Gnosticism. It had its roots in Platonism and it really affected the early church in many different ways over the next two or three churches. In Platonism one key element is that anything material is evil by its very nature. So one of the ways this came across was that God could not become a man and take on a real flesh and bone body because then God would be united with something that was inherently evil.
From neo-Platonism there was the rise of asceticism. Asceticism says that says anything associated with the material body is essentially evil—eating, drinking, sex, because it has to do with the physical body. So we have to divorce ourselves from the physical body as much as possible to be spiritual, and that is asceticism. It has its roots in this very false philosophy of Platonism and neo-Platonism. And it had a tremendous impact. It gave rise in the church to concepts of celibacy and asceticism and monasticism, all of the idea that have become part of certain branches of Christianity all have their roots in the impact of Platonism and neo-Platonism in early forms of Christianity. So when John says the Word became flesh he is saying, Look, he became flesh and blood. Over in 1st John he says: "we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life." They were witnesses, this was not just some spirit that just materialized for them to look at. He became an actual flesh and blood human being.
One of the interesting implications is that when God decided to communicate to His creation He doesn't communicate by becoming an animal, like in Egyptian mythology there are all of the various gods that are represented as animals. He becomes a man. Why? Because the universe was made for man, from Genesis 1:2 until Genesis 1:26 everything that God does in those six days of restoration. Man is the crowning focus of creation. That tells us something about the uniqueness of man, the significance of man, why humanity as humanity is important; because every single human being is created in the image and likeness of God. Even though that image has been marred and distorted because of sin every human being still has value and significance because they are in the image of God. That is why murder is a capital crime, because it is somebody who is taking the life of a creature who is in the image and likeness of God. So when God decided to communicate to His creatures He became a man. This shows something about how important mankind is.
The doctrine of the hypostatic union
The word "hypostatic comes from the Greek word hupostasis [u(postasij]. If refers to the substantial nature of something, its essence, its actual being, the thing that makes something what it is. The hypostatic union is the theological term that describes the union of two natures: undiminished deity and true humanity in the one person of Jesus Christ. His undiminished deity and true humanity are inseparably united and will never again be divided. These natures are inseparably united without loss or mixture of separate identities. In other words, the deity of Christ does not bleed over into the humanity of Christ; the humanity of Christ does not bleed over into the deity of Christ: two natures; one person. They are inseparably united without loss or mixture of separate identities, without loss or transfer of properties or attributes, the union being personal and eternal. It is wrong to say that Jesus did X from His humanity and Y from His deity. The reason that is wrong is because the one person did it.
When we talk about this in terms of nature, the unity of two natures, what we mean by nature is that combination, the unique combination of attributes, qualities and characteristics that make something what it is and not something else. So a divine nature is that unique combination of attributes, qualities and characteristics which are unique to God; in other words, the essence of God.
Biblical documentation: Isaiah 9:6 NASB "For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." The interesting thing here is that Isaiah wrote this prophecy about 500 years before Jesus was born. And this is only one of hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament that predicts certain things about the Messiah: that He would be a Jew, He would come from the tribe of Judah, he would be born in the city of Bethlehem, and many other prophecies. If we were to take twenty of these prophecies and work out the probability that somebody would suggest that these twenty things would happen to one person when they were born at some time in the distant future, it would be the probability of filling the entire state of Texas with silver dollars four feet deep. Then mark one of those silver dollars with a red X and just randomly throw it out there and stir the pot and blindfold somebody. The chances that they are going to pick that marked silver dollar on the first try is identical to the probability of these twenty prophecies being fulfilled eventually in one person. It doesn't happen by chance. This is one of those prophecies.
"A child will be born" indicates humanity. So Isaiah predicts regarding the Messiah that he is going to be a child, "a son," a male child, so it gets a little more specific; "And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." If we look at two of the terms, the names given to this child, it shows full deity. Remember that to a Jew in the Old Testament a name represents the essence of something. Many times a child would be given a birth name but when they were older they would be given another name that reflected who they were as a person. Examples: Isaac ("laughter"); Jacob (Israel). "Mighty God, Eternal Father" is poorly translated in our Bible. The first name is El Gibbor, Mighty God. So this child, this human being that is born is going to be called "Mighty God." That means He is going to have all of the attributes and characteristics of God. Secondly, "Eternal Father." The Hebrew is very difficult: abi [my father] ed [eternity], "my father it eternity." This is a title given to this child, and it is a very poetic way of saying He is eternal. He has this quality of eternal life. And what does that mean? It means He is God because only God has eternal life. This is the same point that John makes in John 1:1.
Another prophecy in the Old Testament is Daniel 7:13 NASB "I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him." If we study poetic imagery in the Old Testament clouds are used as a metaphor for the chariot of God. God comes on the clouds of heaven. In other words, riding on the chariot of God, meaning the one who ride the chariot of God must be God, so that emphasizes deity. One like a Son of Man. Notice it doesn't say a Son of Man, it says like a Son of Man. He is like a Son of Man because He has all the attributes of humanity. But He is only like because He also has all of the attributes of deity. He is undiminished deity and true humanity united in one person forever.
So from these two passages we know that from the Old Testament it was prophesied that the Messiah was going to be true humanity and undiminished deity. Why is this important? It is important the substitute, the Saviour, had to be fully human in order to die as a substitute for the human race. God as God could not die for the human race because the substitute had to be similar. He had to be of identical substance with man in order to die for man. And He had to be God, because if he was just a man then He could only die for one man. But as God he is infinite, and so His death would have infinite value so that it could apply to all men. 1 Timothy 4:10 NASB "…the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. That is why the Scripture says that there is no other name under heaven, given among men, whereby you must be saved. Acts 4:12.