Can God be God if the Incarnation is Permanent?
Early in my Christian life I believed that Jesus' humanity ceased to exist upon His ascension to heaven. I reasoned that the incarnation was only temporary for the purpose of accomplishing our redemption at Calvary. Once our redemption was secured through Christ's death, His humanity was no longer necessary and simply dissolved upon ascension. I believed it was in this manner that God was "all in all" (I Corinthians 15:28). While I have since come to believe differently concerning the duration of Christ's humanity, I know that there are many believers who continue to conceive of Christ's humanity as a temporary manifestation of God that has now ceased to exist. This article seeks to demonstrate the permanence of the incarnation from both a Biblical and theological perspective, and specifically deal with the common objections that Christ's glorification means the cessation of His human body, and that a permanent incarnation would limit God's ability to be God.
There are many Scriptures that bear witness to the fact that Christ's humanity continued beyond the ascension. Colossians 2:9 says, "For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." The Greek word katoikei, translated "dwells" is a present tense verb, indicating that the fullness of the Godhead was dwelling in Christ's body at the time of Paul's writing. Paul penned Colossians around AD 60-61, some thirty years after Jesus' ascension. It is clear that Paul believed Jesus still possessed a human body. I Timothy 2:5 seems to indicate that Jesus, the man, is still our mediator. Peter declared that Jesus has gone into heaven and is currently seated at the right hand of God, angels, authorities and powers being subject to Him (I Peter 3:21-22).
The author of Hebrews likewise declared the continuation of Jesus' human existence and mediatorial role saying, "Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25, italics mine). Jesus is said to have passed into the heavens as our great high priest (Hebrews 4:14-16). He is not said to have ceased to exist after passing into the heavens. Finally, Hebrews 9:15 declares, "And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance." The Biblical testimony is clear that Christ's humanity continues in heaven.
Christ's humanity was not a mere fleshly shell that God rented and used for a temporary amount of time. God did not just come to live in flesh as a man, but the "Word became flesh" (John 1:14). God incorporated human nature into His eternal being. In the incarnation humanity has been permanently incorporated into the Godhead. God is now a man in addition to being God. At the virgin conception God acquired an identity He would retain for the rest of eternity. His human existence is both authentic and permanent. Jesus' humanity is not something that can be discarded or dissolved back into the Godhead, but He will always and forever exist in heaven as a glorified man, albeit God at the same time.
If the incarnation is real, and God truly became a man, we must confess a continuation of Christ's humanity because genuine human beings do not simply cease to exist. Every genuine human being who has ever existed will live for eternity in one of two places: heaven, hell. If Jesus is truly man He cannot just pass out of existence. To believe that Christ's humanity ceased to exist upon ascension is to deny the reality and genuineness of His human existence, and hence a true incarnation of God.
Objection: Christ Discarded His Body at Glorification
Some argue that Jesus' glorification brought about an obliteration of His humanity. While glorification may enhance the nature of humanity, it does not change the nature of humanity. We will be glorified after the pattern of Christ (Phil 3:21; I John 3:1-2), and yet we have no reason to believe that our humanity will cease to exist. According to Paul the resurrection and glorification involves the perfecting and exalting of our human bodies (I Corinthians 15:42-54). If our glorification patterns Christ's glorification, then we must conclude that His glorification involved the exaltation of His human body as well. It must be understood that glorification is not the same as deification. Jesus did not cease being man upon His glorification. The glorification, rather, is the eternal exaltation of Jesus' humanity.
Objection: Jesus' Humanity Limits God
Some reason that if the incarnation will continue forever it would forever limit God's ability to be God; i.e. be omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. If Christ's eternal humanity causes one to question God's ability to be omnipresent or omniscient it reveals traces of a "Jesus Only" theology wherein the heavens are thought to be vacant while Jesus was here on earth, but became filled once again upon His ascension and the obliteration of His humanity. To put it in lighter terms, Jesus is viewed as a human ShopVac that sucked all of God out of heaven and into a human body, but at the ascension the ShopVac ceased to exist, releasing God to fill the heavens once again.
Such a view of the incarnation is not true to the Biblical data, for it presupposes that God can only exist in one way at one time: He either has to exist as God, or man, but could not exist as both God and man simultaneously. The Bible is clear that God continued to exist as God even after becoming man.
The incarnation was not God changing into a man and ceasing to be who He was in Himself. The incarnation, rather, is God coming to exist in a new manner as man, while continuing to exist in Himself as He always has. (For further reading see Avoiding the Achilles Heels of Trinitarianism, Modalistic Monarchianism, and Nestorianism: The Acknowledgement and Proper Placement of the Distinction Between Father and Son) God did not have to sacrifice His deity to become man. He merely incorporated a human existence into His one divine person. Because God continued to exist beyond the incarnation as He always had, God continued to be omniscient even while Jesus sojourned here on earth. Jesus' eternal humanity does not impose any more problems than did His earthly sojourn.
If we think Jesus’ eternal humanity means God cannot be God, then not only would we be forced to deny Christ's everlasting human existence, but would have to deny an incarnation altogether, because any sort of an incarnation would mean that God would have to cease being God for a time, and such is not possible in light of God's immutability.
The eternality of Jesus' humanity could not change God's essential nature. God could never cease being omniscient, for example, without ceasing to be who He is, God, and thus we know that while Jesus was here on earth, and even now when He is in heaven, God has been and continues to be omniscient. If we think that Jesus' eternal humanity means God cannot be God we would not only be forced to deny Christ's eternal human existence, but would have to deny an incarnation altogether, because any sort of an incarnation would mean that God would have to cease being God for a time, and such is not possible in light of God's immutability.
In conclusion, in His human manner of existence as the Son, God is not omniscient, but as He continues to exist beyond the incarnation in His divine mode of existence, God is omniscient. Because God remained omniscient in His divine mode of existence beyond the incarnation even during Christ's earthly sojourn, God can also remain omniscient in His divine mode of existence while Christ's glorified humanity dwells in heaven. Jesus does not have to cease being man for God to be God, because God is able to exist both in Himself as God, and as man simultaneously without compromising the genuineness of either mode of existence.
The Bodily Resurrection of Christ Defended
The Body is More than a Shell
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