Jesus in the Flesh (2)

“The Word became flesh…” (John 1:14). This was jarring truth for many in the early days of Christianity. In fact, as far as we can tell the first heresy the church had to deal with was Docetism which denied the physical reality of the Lord Jesus. This was a common heresy among the Gnostics who tended to identify physical reality as evil or illusory. And just in case we think that denying Jesus’ fleshly humanity is not serious, consider that John wrote that it was “anti-Christ” to claim that Jesus had not come in the flesh (1 John 4:3; 2 John 7).

The term “Docetism” comes from the Greek word dokeo which means “I seem.” So Docetism maintains that Jesus only seemed to have taken on flesh and blood. It is ironic that the apostle John has been accused of being so interested in the deity of Christ that he downplays His humanity. This, however, is a ridiculous charge. The Jesus of John’s Gospel is a real, historical, touchable, fleshy human. It is John who tells us that as Jesus hung on the cross His side was pierced and from Him flowed blood and water (19:34). Clearly, Jesus was no apparition. He did not merely seem to be a flesh and blood human. Truly, Jesus was the Word made flesh.

Jesus’ physical makeup was that of a human. He sweat when he was hot. He tired when his body was taxed. He had need of food, water, and physical rest. He possessed a central nervous system which sent signals from his brain to his extremities. When battered he knew all the physical pain that any other human would experience. Jesus’ DNA was human. He inherited half of his chromosomes from his mother. What is profoundly unique about Jesus’ humanity however is that half of His DNA was supplied miraculously by the working of the Holy Spirit.

Scottish theologian Donald MacLeod writes:

“Through His mother, too, the Lord’s humanness is given specificity and particularity. He was not ‘humanity’. He was a first-century Jew, rooted in the culture of His people. But it is equally true that through His mother (through the umbilical cord) He was keyed in to the life-stream of the human race and to the whole created order. In the incarnation of God the Son, as we have already seen, the redemptive process has entered not merely the world of the spirit but the world of matter. That link with matter never has been, and never will be, severed. The resurrection body of the Lord is the Omega Point of the material creation: the point at which the skill and wisdom and power and artistry of God find their supreme expression” (A Faith to Live By, 135).

It was a man, not a mere disembodied spirit who bore our sins and drank the cup of God’s wrath upon the cross. Roman spikes were driven through real wrists and feet. The Christian faith is not an abstract idea. It is not defined by mystical experience. The Christian faith is rooted in historical fact and biological reality. The Word became flesh.