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Joy-Full Fellowship (Part 6): The Incarnation

With a smirk befitting someone about to deliver the authoritative word on a subject long puzzled over, the apostle John reaches for his pen to begin inscribing his gospel account (or so I can at least imagine). Going from 0 to 60 in record time, he opens: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word was with God—and so differentiated. The Word was God—and so identified. Here we have the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, equal in power and glory with the Father, and who with the Father and the Spirit are one God. Later we learn from John that before the world existed and its foundation was laid, the Word both possessed glory with the Father and was unreservedly loved by him (17:5, 24). The Father and Son (and the Spirit), in other words, have eternally existed in perfect, complete, interpenetrating, joy-full fellowship.

Furthermore, John divulges that this Word was at work in the beginning as the instrument of creation, for “without him was not any thing made that was made.” But the world of his making was plunged into deep darkness and so incited his coming into it as the true light for a new work of redemption.

Remember the biblical thread that we have been pulling on that runs the full gamut of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation: the triune God’s desire to dwell with his people in joy-full fellowship. We have considered the blueprints for this in the Garden, as well as the disastrous effects of Adam’s fall that led to separation and exile. Yet, the Lord in his grace and mercy maintained his pursuit of his people even in the face of sin, rebellion and death. He met with the patriarchs temporarily at altars; he dwelled in the midst of Israel’s camp in the tabernacle as they pilgrimaged through the wilderness; and he resided in the temple that Solomon built bringing about a glorious transformation to Jerusalem. But, as Isaiah and Ezekiel and the rest of the prophets make known, all of this anticipated something superior, something far greater, something eschatological.

With that in mind, the apostle John makes plain to us that something: “The Word became flesh and tabernacled [σκηνόω] among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). As you can probably already recognize for yourself at this point, these words resonate with vocabulary reminiscent of the tabernacle and temple being filled with the glory of God (cf. Exod. 40:34-35). Inciting wide-eyed wonder, John reveals the mystery hidden from ages past: the Son of God enfleshed in history as the place of joy-full fellowship between God and man. Truly he is Immanuel—God with us.

The tabernacle and temple were only shadows of God’s presence in Jesus Christ throughout the Old Testament (Heb. 9:11); he is the temple toward which they looked and anticipated (cf. 2 Sam. 7:12-14; Zech. 6:12-13).[1] Jesus spoke of his own body as the temple (John 2:19-21) and Paul spoke of Jesus as the new temple as well (Col. 1:19; 2:9). He has taken over the function of the temple as God now dwells in him and forgiveness is found in him. “He would be the end-time temple-builder by raising it up in the form of his body, in line with OT prophecies that predicted that the Messiah would build the latter-day temple.”[2]

The contact point between heaven and earth is no longer the temple, but Jesus Christ himself. The alters, the tabernacle and the temple—all good, but temporary, anticipatory and sub-eschatological realities of the Old Testament—have been rendered obsolete with the arrival of what is permanent, final and eschatological, namely, the incarnate Word (Heb. 8:13). True worshippers must come to him if they are to worship the Father in spirit and truth (4:20-24).

Jesus is the great high priest of the heavenly tabernacle, not made with hands, who by his atoning sacrifice passed through the holy place, the greater and more perfect tent, into the holy of holies itself. (Note the reappearance of the ark in Revelation 11:19.)

The earthly sanctuary was merely a shadowing down of the heavenly. The entry of Christ into the sanctuary signifies his heavenly rule and assures our participation in the present benefits of the new covenant and their consummation at the eschaton. According to Geerhardus Vos, as our sympathetic high priest, Jesus “does not merely send, but actually brings men near to God.” He goes on,

The priest himself must approach God first. Therefore the representative element must be included in the conception; the priest brings men to God representatively, through himself. Secondly, in the priest, the nearness to God is not merely counted as having taken place for the believer, as a mere imputation. Rather, so close is the connection between the priest and the believers that a contact with God on his part at once involves also a contact with God for them. The contact with God is passed on to them as an electric current through a wire. Thirdly, a priest does not content himself with establishing contact only at one point; he draws the believers after himself, so that they come where he is.[3]

While the high priest of the tabernacle representatively brought the people near to God as he bore their names on twelve stones (Exod. 28:21; 39:14), Christ really brings us into the joyfully charged presence of God by his Spirit. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

The new creation has begun in Christ, “so that he is God’s tabernacling presence of the new creation, which is to expand further until it is completed at the very end of the age in the whole cosmos becoming the temple of God’s consummate presence.”[4] The new creation is inaugurated in his resurrection which entitles him to dispense the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39) by whom he comes to dwell in the church.

In our next article we will consider the significance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the way in which Peter understands Psalm 16:11 to be fulfilled in him (Acts 2:22ff). We will also tie this in with something we have alluded to in this article: Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17 that the glory and love he had with the Father before the world existed would be conferred upon his people.

[1] Cf. G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 632.

[2] Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 633.

[3] Geerhardus Vos, The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews, 94.

[4] Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 633.


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