The Truth that gradually dawned upon the apostles must have awed them. God did not merely speak to them; He did not reveal Himself in dreams and visions. God was with them, in the flesh, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
No wonder it took much time and teaching, including the working of many miracles, to pry open their minds to accept this truth. John writes in retrospect (I John 1:1-2):
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life -- the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us ...
John has much to say in his first epistle concerning one’s belief in this event. Some were calling into question the genuineness of God’s appearance in flesh, and John challenges them with his eyewitness testimony.
John, probably the only apostle still living when he wrote, was eminently qualified to speak to the reality and consequences of such an incarnation. He gives no quarter in this debate:
- "Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?" (2:22)
- "Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either." (2:23)
- "Every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist." (4:3)
- "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." (5:1)
- "Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (5:5)
How frustrating it must have been for John to eat with Jesus, travel with Him, see His mastery over nature and hear words of which even His enemies said, "No man ever spoke like this Man!" (John 7:46) And then he heard some Gnostic philosopher sniff: "It just isn't possible that the pure and sinless creator would come in a body of sinful flesh."
So John belabors the point in His epistle that Jesus' incarnation was God’s greatest gift to man. John says, "And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin" (I John 3:5).
God's plan to defeat transgression required coming, not merely an edict or pronouncement issued from heaven. Because death was the penalty for sin, full payment required death. Though Gnostics, Jews and many others recoiled at that notion, it was precisely the purpose of God.
The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is a slain Lamb (Rev. 5:6, 9). Jesus spoke to all skeptics when he chided the disciples: "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?" (Luke 24:25-26)
John further notes, "And in Him there is no sin." This explains how the author of Hebrews can say of Jesus:
For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people's, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. ... We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. ... After He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, [He] sat down at the right hand of God. (Heb. 7:26-27; 10:10, 12)
So Jesus came. He came to live among men and die for men. And in that life and death He draws men unto Himself by the manifested love and grace of that sacrifice (John 12:32-33). To deny this either as a factual occurrence or to live as if it has no impact on us is to:
- Deny God's only solution for sin (I John 3:5). God invested forgiveness only in His incarnate Son, Jesus Christ.
- Deny God’s love for man (I John 4:9). The greatest expression of God’s love for us was to offer His Son in our place.
- Deny the testimony of the apostles (I John 4:14). They are God’s chosen witnesses of this wonderful life lived on our behalf.
John summarizes: "And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son" (I John 5:11).
Life on the earth is not eternal. It will end. The ONLY way to prepare to leave it with any hope hereafter is to invest in the life and death of Jesus. It is God’s way.