Why the Incarnation?
The story of the Incarnation begins with the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden. Through their disobedience, the corruption of nature and the penalty of death entered the world, as God had warned (Genesis 2:16, 17; 3:1-20).
A penalty demands a payment and in this case, death required the sacrifice of the living as its payment. This is why God instituted animal sacrifices. It was a way to temporarily satisfy the penalty until the “fullness of time” when a permanent solution could be provided (Hebrews 10:1-4; Galatians 4:1-7).
The animal sacrifices were temporary because the penalty could only ultimately be paid by a representative of the offending class – another human being. However, that human being, like his animal counter parts, needed to be uncorrupted (without blemish; sinless). But that was a problem for Man. Due to the Fall, all of nature, including Mans, had become infected with corruption and in the grip of Death. There was no way that Man would be able to pay the high price of an uncorrupted sacrifice since he was corrupted.
In this state, there is nothing that Man can do to rescue and reconcile himself back to his Creator. But is there something the Creator can do? Almost.
While Death requires an uncorrupted Man as its ultimate payment, God is incorruptible, though He is also immortal and not Man. Therefore, God qua God is not able to fulfill the requirement either.
What was needed was a God-Man hybrid. The ability to live a sinless, incorruptible life while also being mortal and thus offering up oneself as a sacrifice.
“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 came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being…. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1-3, 14)
“Although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5b-8)
No one else is capable of paying the cost on Man’s behalf, which is what led Jesus to say: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6)
The early Church Father, Athanasius (296-373 AD) sums it up thusly:
What, then, was God to do? What else could He possibly do, being God, but renew His Image in mankind, so that through it men might once more come to know Him? And how could this be done save by the coming of the very Image Himself, our Savior Jesus Christ? Men could not have done it, for they are only made after the Image; nor could angels have done it, for they are not the images of God. The Word of God came in His own Person, because it was He alone, the Image of the Father Who could recreate man made after the Image. (On the Incarnation, paragraph 68)
Why the incarnation?
There was no other way.
“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29b, NASB)
- There is a larger theological debate regarding the extent of corruption to Man’s nature. Two broadly competing views are: (1) Man’s nature was thoroughly corrupted and thus became intrinsically evil due to the Fall, and (2) Man’s nature was perverted by evil, yet it is still intrinsically good. These two views represent extreme points on the spectrum and there are mediating positions in between. This post will not deal with these issues.