Perhaps you have wondered, like me, why God had to send Jesus to us as a human—as an ordinary, blue-collar, working-class man. A simple man. A man who sweat, felt hungry, needed haircuts, and had a mom. If Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected still wrapped in divinity, but not in humanity, would it have accomplished the same thing?
Why is the incarnation of Christ such a non-negotiable tenet of the Christian faith? And what difference does it make?
The answer is arguably much deeper than you think. And believe it or not, the answer is linked tightly to existential matters, like the reason for our purpose in being. I’m pretty excited to share some of my thoughts with you, so hang on tight!
Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.
On the sixth day of the creation of our solar system, “God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness’”—why?—“‘so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground’” (Genesis 1:26).
Ah, there is immediately a hint at the reason for our existence.
“So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground’” (1:27-28).
I imagine God carefully fashioning the man out of the clay from the ground, and then the woman from the man’s side, and breathing His creative breath into their lungs. Their eyelids flutter open! They gasp His wind deeply into their new lungs. And then I imagine God kneeling down between them and lovingly placing His hands on their heads. He is blessing them, as Scripture tells us. He is consecrating them, gracing them, empowering them for the task He is about to give, a two-fold assignment.
He says, “Be fruitful and increase in number.” Now, at first glance, that is a physical command. The man and woman are to have—and enjoy—lots and lots of sex and have lots and lots of children. They are to fill the earth with more of their kind. However, as we research the whole of the Word of God and study overarching truths, especially from a Christological perspective, we can go back to individual verses and find deeper layers. In fact, any good Bible teacher will tell you to do that. We mustn’t pull random verses out of the context of the whole Word of God. Anyway, as we look closer at the first leg of the man and woman’s assignment, we find a deeper layer. This command is not only physical but has a spiritual meaning!
Look at it this way. God made a human in His image and then told him, “Now I want you to follow My example, My pattern. You go and make more Image-bearers. Colonize the planet with people who look like you, as you look like Me.” It may bring to your mind the “follow me as I follow Christ” verse (1 Corinthians 11:1), which is a great connection to make.
There was also a Part B to the assignment God gave the man and woman, which we will learn is so closely related to Part A that they really must always be taught and expressed linked together. God said, “Subdue the earth. I’m putting you two in charge over all living creatures and the earth itself.”
At face value, the man and woman were instructed to carefully steward over and protect the earth, which is valuable still today. I do want to point out how fascinated I am that the human couple needed to subdue the earth. The original Hebrew word conveys that the man and woman needed to conquer, tame, overpower, or discipline the earth. And immediately upon creating him, God places the man in a garden “to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15, emphasis mine). Contrary to some creation theories, Eden was not a perfect oasis—except maybe in the sense that God would regularly spend time there with the man and woman. Really, the best way to think of Eden is as a sort of training ground. As the man and woman cut their teeth on Eden, they would expand their reach and ultimately subdue the entire globe.
Now, as “be fruitful and increase in number” has spiritual meaning, so “subdue the earth” has spiritual meaning. It is more than a ‘go-green’ initiative. Take a look at what the psalmist has to say about it: “The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth He has given to mankind” (Psalm 115:16). According to this verse, God is unquestionably sovereign, totally in charge over space and time, presiding in goodness and glory over galaxies upon galaxies as far out as our imagination can take us. But there is one blip in His entire domain that He has delegated out: earth. And to whom has He delegated the dominion of earth? Mankind.
In a very, very real sense, the man and the woman were God’s representatives on earth. (See 2 Corinthians 5:20 for a New Testament application, which I will get into shortly.) They were to bring the un-subdued earth under their authority, as they remained under God’s authority. Ergo, the earth was ultimately to be an extension of God’s dominion, rule, and kingdom, monitored and executed by the man and woman. God was trusting a precious responsibility to His fresh-appointed ambassadors. I can see the angels of Heaven leaning over their balconies and wondering amongst themselves, “Will the man and woman succeed in this outrageous assignment? Will the earth be part of God’s perfect kingdom?”
We have no idea how much time passed, but while the man and woman were still subduing Eden, they were tempted to sin. And they caved.
It was as if they traded their incredible birthright for a mere bowl of soup. They handed over the “keys of the kingdom,” if you will, to the devil and his demonic hordes—yes, they forfeited their authority through their disobedience. That’s how Satan became the “prince of this world,” as Jesus identifies him in John 14:30. That’s why John was able to truthfully write in 1 John 5:19 that “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” Where the man and woman’s dominion was intended to bring goodness and beauty across the earth, Satan’s dominion brought ruin, malevolence, destruction, torment, famine, poverty, disease, divorce, mental illnesses, and ultimately death in all its forms.
I can just imagine the devil gleefully sneering, “Yes, God may have command of the highest heavens, but earth will forever be a stain in His kingdom! It’s the one place where He’s not in charge—I am!”
What a terrible, terrible calamity. And since we never find anywhere that God removed His delegation of earth to humanity, we can conclude that it remained man’s assignment to subdue the chaos of earth—even in the face of the ugliness of sin. We see this throughout the Old Testament as God gave the Law to Moses and spoke through the prophets of old: He revealed that the way to make things right again was for man to pull himself out from under the slavery of having to sin—that is, a life lived perfectly. Yet, no man was strong enough to be perfect. No man was able to win back the keys of the kingdom and turn everything right-side up. It seemed impossible. Thousands of long, painful years drudged on, and all of creation remained under the destruction of Satan’s reign.
But God had a plan all along—a plan that surprised creation. Since it was man’s responsibility to bring earth and its inhabitants under the rule of Heaven, the only way to rescue His beloved creation was for God to become a man Himself.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:1, 14). Those powerful sentences describe Jesus Christ! The Scriptures abundantly teach us that Jesus, as part of the eternal and victorious Triune Godhead, always was. He is thoroughly God, and He has never ceased being God. Modern Christianity has, in my opinion, done an excellent job of promoting this truth. For your understanding in my overall point, I am going to emphasize the human-ness of Jesus Christ for the rest of this piece, but please let me make it abundantly clear now: Jesus is divine. Jesus is God. In fact, confessing that He is God is integral to salvation. But, yes, Jesus was fully human, too. It seems one of the first heresies the early Church fought was that Jesus was not quite a human, so we find verses that double down against that, like 1 John 4:2, 2 John 7, and Hebrews 2:17. It’s a notion we have dubbed the ‘incarnation.’ In that supernatural turn of events at the first Christmastide, Jesus garbed Himself in flesh like an ordinary man and was born to us as a human baby. Even there in the straw, Jesus was 100% God and 100% man. And this Man had come to confront Satan, bind him up, and oust him from his illegitimate throne—to subdue the earth.
Yes, “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8). He came to reverse the curse! He came to undo everything wicked Satan had set in motion!
Now, Jesus was tempted in all the ways that other people of His era were. He was confronted with the same conflicts of the same culture—yet He never once sinned. When other men lusted after a woman, Jesus turned His eyes away. When other men had ugly political motivations, Jesus practiced submission and peace. When other men were violent or sinfully sexual, Jesus used the parts of His body as “instruments of righteousness” (Romans 6:13).
And not only did Jesus abstain from sin, He showed us what it was like to be truly human—to behave and live and function in the way God intended mankind to behave and live and function. Jesus said, “I do nothing on My own” (John 8:28), and “By Myself I can do nothing” (John 5:30), in reference to His total dependence on the Father and execution of the Father’s will. It was not in His divinity that He did marvelous things on earth, but in His submission to the Father and openness to the Spirit’s empowerment. He relied on the power of the Holy Spirit in every way that we need to daily, to communicate with the Father in prayer, to discern and interpret spiritual matters, to perform miracles, and more (John 3:34, Matthew 3:16, Luke 4:1, 14, Isaiah 61:1-2 prophetically referring to Christ and Luke 4:21 for its fulfillment, Matthew 12:18, Acts 10:38, Romans 8:11, Romans 1:4, 1 Timothy 3:16, and 1 Peter 3:18, to name a few). Because Jesus healed cancers not in His own divinity while on earth but by the Spirit’s power, we can heal cancers by the Spirit’s power. Because Jesus decimated demonic strongholds by the Spirit’s power, we can decimate demonic strongholds by the Spirit’s power. He restored outcasts to dignity, always kept the Father’s voice on His radar, and grew in favor with men—and so can we. Jesus demonstrated what human life could—and ought to—look like!
But perhaps most important of all, where Adam failed, this second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45) succeeded. Where Adam sinned, Jesus was perfect through and through! He completely satisfied the demands of the Law in His submission to the Father. Only He was strong enough to never once live under the slavery of sin. And when the time was right, Jesus yielded His life to a cold, lonely, and unfair death.
Upon His crucifixion, I imagine that darkness prematurely rejoiced. I can nearly see Satan huffing his sigh of relief, probably with bad breath, “Whew, that was a close one, but it’s over now. We killed Him.”
But the family of faith knows what happened three days later!
What seemed like defeat was actually the beautiful culmination of a sinless life. Because He lived as a sinless man, Jesus’ victory earned back the dominion of earth! It’s as if He marched up the gates of hell and shouted with a lion’s roar, “Listen to Me, Satan! You have assaulted My people long enough, and now your reign of terror is over! Because of My sinless life and obedience to Father God, I have earned back all power and authority” (see Matthew 28:18, Philippians 2:8-11)! And like Moses demanded of ungodly Pharaoh, Jesus erupted with faith and force, “Let My people go!”
This is why it is written: “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:8-11), and why Jesus said, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17-18). Elsewhere it is written: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. He is the head over every power and authority” (Colossians 2:9-10).
Truly, “having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15)!
And now, what does Jesus do with that authority? What does Jesus do with the keys of the kingdom?
He announced, “All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to Me”—we just discussed that! He knocked Satan off his counterfeit throne and seized the power again—“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
In other words, He said, “Satan doesn’t have authority on earth anymore. He has no legal claim to assault My people a single day longer. I have the authority on earth now. This earth is My kingdom, as it should have been all along. Now… let’s get on with the original assignment, shall we? What are you waiting for? Go fill the earth with Image-bearers, with God-worshipers!” Oh, how it all comes full circle!
Let’s dig in a bit more. In Matthew 16, Jesus had a fascinating dialogue with Peter and said, “I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven” (verses 18-19).
Most Catholics believe that Jesus built His church on Peter the Rock, which is in part why they recognize him as the first pope. Other traditions believe that Jesus built His church on Peter’s confession that Jesus was the true Son of God, born to save people from their sins. There are a number of interpretations that, in my small opinion, are not mutually exclusive. But notice the jaw-dropping prophecy Jesus declares: “Hell cannot, will not win!” Yes, darkness may have reigned supreme, or thought it reigned supreme, for a few thousand years since the first Adam’s fall, but no more. Death does not have the final say! The Church of Jesus Christ absolutely cannot lose! We are guaranteed victory!
And wait—to whom did Jesus say He was going to give the keys of the kingdom? That’s right, to Peter! To a man. The way it was originally intended! When did Jesus restore the keys, the authority, the responsibility back to humanity? After His resurrection, when He clapped His hands and told mankind to get on with our assignment! We just read about it in the Great Commission!
Peter and the apostles had a little foretaste of their soon-coming reinstated authority before the death and resurrection of our Lord. Luke 9:1-2 says, “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, He gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” What is He doing? He’s filling them with power to subdue the earth (proclaim that the earth is under God’s domain as part of His kingdom) and to make Image-bearers (share the Gospel and expect life-transformation). And “when the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done” (verse 10).
“That’s great for Peter and the apostles,” you may say, “but surely they are in a special league.”
Well, later, Jesus appointed seventy-two ministry leaders to do the same! “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of Him to every town and place where He was about to go. He told them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field… When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” …Whoever listens to you listens to Me; whoever rejects you rejects Me; but whoever rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me’” (Luke 10:1-2, 8, 16). You can read more about the details of their ministry tour in Luke 10.
Get this! “The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name’” (Luke 10:17). Incredible! They were actually operating in their God-given authority! And then Jesus responded, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from Heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in Heaven” (10:18-20). While He was interceding for their ministry, Jesus had a vision of Satan toppling out of his so-called position of authority and down under their feet! God’s people were regaining their original position—and Satan was “regaining” his! And then He declared that His followers will never lose! Oh, yes! The powers of hell are forever subject to God’s regenerated people as we are filled with God’s power! And then Jesus reminded His followers that while they were busy subduing the earth, they were not to forget that an important part of their original assignment was to make Image-bearers!
“Well, sure,” you say, “that’s true for Peter and the apostles. And that’s true for the seventy-two. But I’m not a ministry leader. I don’t really have that authority, do I?”
You most certainly do! Every believer in Christ has that authority—and that responsibility! Go take a stroll through the Book of Acts, and be reminded again at the glorious, holy assignment the followers of Jesus have! The Lord Jesus Himself commented, “Very truly I tell you, whoever”—whoever!—“believes in Me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). Both you and me fall in the category of “whoever.” Just look at the ordinary men and women throughout history who stepped into our collective assignment and changed the world: Charles Finney, Dwight Moody, William Seymour, John Wesley, Billy Graham, Smith Wigglesworth, Kathryn Kuhlman, and Reinhard Bonnke, to name only a very few. Let us say like the first believers, even if we must say it with shock and awe, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name!”
Friends, I pray that your heart is stirred to passionate, throbbing, vibrant life again! The humanity of Christ represents an unmitigated, paradigm-shifting reality for us. Yes, the Gospel is more than you think it is! And yes, salvation is not about minding your manners and playing nice with your friends. Life in Christ, our assignment from Heaven—should you dare to accept it—is much more adventurous and faith-filled than you may have ever dreamed!