The Incarnation and God's Eternal Purpose

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
- John 1:1-5

By inspiration of the Holy Spirit the four gospel writers begin their accounts at different places in time. Matthew and Luke take us back to the miraculous conception and birth of Jesus. Mark waits to begin his gospel account with the launching of Jesus’ public ministry. John, on the other hand, begins before the foundations of the earth. In this way John immediately offers us an eternal perspective on Jesus. It is not as if the other gospel writers do not give us an eternal perspective. However, John’s interest is to introduce us to Jesus from above.

He begins by explaining that the One whom we would come to know as Jesus is, in a wonderfully mysterious way, a part of the eternal godhead. In fact the doctrine of incarnation presupposes the prior existence of Christ and His divine status. As Donald Macleod writes, “the New Testament presentation of the incarnation always starts from above, with the pre-existence and deity of Christ. Only then does it go on to tell us that this specific Person, God the Word, became flesh.”

John’s very first words, “In the beginning”, would have been a widely known phrase among the Jews of that day. They are, after all, the first words in the Bible; the first words of the books of Moses. As we will be revealed, John is writing about a new beginning so he uses words which recall the first beginning. He goes on to use other words that are prominent in Genesis 1 such as “light” and “life” and “darkness”. These verses form, in a way, the account of the new creation that is dawning in the Lord Jesus. And like the first creation this new creation is brought about not by some subordinate being. It is brought about through the agency of the very Son of God.

God the Son is referred to by John as “The Word.” It is a curious title to us. But to Jews of that day it would have resonated. “In the Old Testament God’s Word is his powerful self-expression in creation, revelation, and salvation” (Carson, 116). That is, through the power of His Word God creates, He reveals Himself, and He saves His people.

By taking on the title “the Word” God is demonstrating that it is in His very nature to reveal Himself. We reveal what we are thinking largely by what we say. And in Jesus God is speaking a living Word to us. God is not to be thought of as aloof or indifferent. He reveals Himself. He makes himself knowable. But He reveals himself as he chooses. God is sovereign in revelation as in all else.

Two things that we are told about the Word is that the Word was with God and was God from the very beginning, or arche which means origin. The context demands that we see this use of arche as referring to eternity. And so this Word, which became flesh in the person of Jesus, had existed in the embrace of the Father from all eternity.

Only Jesus can adequately reveal God to us because Jesus is the living Word of God who has been with God from all eternity. But we’re also told, just so that there is no confusion, that the Word “was God.” That is not to say that at some point he ceased to be God. It is merely emphasizing the fact that the Word has been God for as long as He has been with God: from all eternity.

The Word was not merely invested with divinity. The Word was, is, and ever shall be very God of very God. Keep in mind that John, a faithful Jew, would never have departed from strict monotheism; the belief in one God. So the Spirit is saying something very profound about God. Notice the strange literary structure. How can the Word be with God and be God at the very same time? Only the Trinity answers that question.

In practical terms what it means for Jesus to be the eternal Word of God is that only Jesus is capable of telling us the full truth about God’s character, God’s works, God’s decrees, and God’s plans. Siddhartha Gautama cannot tell us the truth about God. Muhammad cannot tell us the truth about God. Zoroaster cannot tell us the truth about God. Neither Joseph Smith, David Hume, Depak Chopra, or Christopher Hitchens can tell us the truth about God.

At twelve years old he was conscious of his mission. At that young age he lingered at the temple, his Father’s house, for three days, instructing the teachers of Israel and astonishing them with the depth and breadth of his knowledge. When his parents finally found him they rebuked him. His reply was stunning: “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Lk 2:43-49).

Jesus understood that he had been sent to be the living Word of God to men who had never seen God. As humanity was groaning under the weight of sin and guilt, God was sending his Son on a voyage. The timeless entered time. The living Word laid aside his glory to be conceived in a womb. The creator and owner of the universe became poor. The God who is Spirit took on flesh and blood. And this was essential to God’s eternal purposes. God did not come in human flesh for the purpose of being a good teacher or moral exemplar, although he certainly was those things.

Verse 5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” This is a reference to God’s salvation in Christ. It carries with it the idea of conflict and warfare. But notice also that the darkness is no match for the light. God’s eternal redemptive purpose is never at the mercy of the plans and purposes of Satan or sinful man.

Ironically the ultimate victory of the light over the darkness happened through what initially looked like the darkest moment in human history – the crucifixion of the Son of God. But in reality the cross was God’s greatest triumph over the darkness. And this was the eternal purpose for the incarnation. Ultimately, God came in flesh and blood so that he could bleed and die; so that he could carry the punishment for the sins of God’s people; for all those who believe. Jesus’ death was not incidental to his mission. It was His mission! It was decreed before the very creation of the world.