What did God accomplish through the incarnation (that apparently could not have been accomplished any other way)?
A careful study of the metanarrative of the Bible would yield three main objectives of God throughout Scripture that come together in the person and work of Jesus: revelation (God’s self-disclosure), redemption (of a lost humanity), and restoration (of all creation). The incarnation appears to be the profound intervention of God in our broken world to bring these three goals to a climax.
For this article I must limit myself to only one of these points … revelation, God’s self-disclosure in His Son!
The Father Revealed in the Son
The prologue to John’s Gospel (1:1-18) tells us that the Word (who was deity), Jesus, became flesh and dwelt (pitched His tent, His tabernacle) among us so that “we beheld His glory” (the glory of the Son who reveals the Father). The God who had once dwelt with His people in a tent and veiled His glory in fire and smoke came to walk among us in human flesh to reveal Himself fully.
“No man has seen God at any time, but the only-begotten God (Jesus) … He has made Him known” (John 1:18)! This statement is the pinnacle of John’s introduction to his gospel. It is the key to understanding and appreciating all that follows. The eternal God is revealed in all that follows, both in the words AND the works of Jesus (words and works that Jesus will insist are not His own, but the Father’s who sent Him).
Both in the Words AND in the Works of Jesus
We tend to focus our attention on the things that Jesus taught (and they certainly demand our attention), but we should also pay attention to what is revealed of the nature of God in the things that Jesus did. We see God revealed in both. His approach to a broken woman at a well in Samaria and the offer to her of living water — this is the Father revealed in the Son! So perfect is this revelation of God in Jesus that when Thomas begs, “Show us the Father,” Jesus responds, “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” If you want to know what God looks like, look at Jesus — “He has made Him known!”
What God had shared of Himself in history, recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament), was amazing, but it was incomplete. As a Jew, John held the Hebrew Scriptures in highest regard as the authentic and trustworthy witness to God’s nature and will. John, in fact, uses the Hebrew Bible (and its authority) to demonstrate Jesus as the ultimate embodiment and fulfillment of all that the Old Testament promised.
John saw the gift of Torah through Moses as a tremendous expression of God’s care for His people. He does not place a “BUT” between “the law (Torah) was given through Moses” and “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John doesn’t disparage the Torah, but he does emphasize the (greater) revelation of grace and truth that comes through Jesus, the fullness of grace which we have offered to us in God’s Son. God had blessed humanity with Torah through Moses, but in the Word become flesh He came to bless us even more.
It is interesting that the verb used in John’s statement, “he has made Him known,” exegesomai, is the one from which we get our word “exegesis.” Exegesis is the task of taking a message couched in one language, translating it, and then unpacking its meaning for an audience in another language. As a pastor for nearly forty years, I spent a great deal of my time translating and exegeting texts from one language (and context) to another in order that my congregation could grasp the meaning of God’s word. The incarnation of Jesus is the exegesis of God. In the life and ministry of Jesus recorded in our New Testament, what God is really like is translated and unpacked before us. Without the incarnation we would be unable to truly grasp the nature of God.