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The Incarnation of the Son of God

Article contributed by www.walvoord.com

[Author’s note: This article begins the study of the Son of God in the incarnate state with the consideration of the contribution of Messianic prophecy. Later articles will include a survey of the types of Christ in the Old Testament, the consideration of the incarnation itself, and a discussion of the person of the incarnate Son of God.]


The incarnation of the Son of God is one of the important lines of revelation in both the Old and New Testaments. The whole plan of the ages has the incarnation as its central and most important aspect. The incarnation is at once the revelation of God, the revelation of man, and the revelation of salvation in the plan of God, the scope of the revelation being so vast that any major aspect of it becomes itself an extensive field of study.

The plan of consideration here for the most part waives the discussion of critical schools of interpretation in favor of a more simple, Biblical approach. The apologetic for the doctrines considered hangs on the doctrine of the inspiration and infallibility of the Scriptures. Others have dealt with these problems.1 Assuming the Bible to be an accurate revelation in this field of doctrine as in others, the problem to be considered is the content and significance of Biblical teaching on the incarnation. As a background for the study of the incarnation itself, the field of Messianic prophecy and typology will first be investigated.

I. Messianic Prophecy

The Old Testament anticipations of the incarnation of the Son of God are commonly summed in the word Messiah. The English word is derived from the Greek Μεσσίας (Messias) which is a transliteration of the Aramaic form of the Hebrew משׁיח. The equivalent in the New Testament is Χριστός or Christ. In the Old Testament the adjective form of the Hebrew is used for priests (Lev 4:3, 5, 16; 6:22 ) and the noun form used for kings (Saul, 1 Sam 24:6, 10; David, 2 Sam 19:21; 23:1 ; Zedekiah, Lam 4:20). The term Messiah was used as a designation of the hope of the coming Savior and Deliverer by Daniel (cf. Dan 9:25, 26) and was used commonly by the Jews at the time of the incarnation to express this general idea (John 1:41; 4:25 ).

The field of Messianic prophecy is extensive, but certain features stand out. There are two principal types of Messianic prophecy. (1) Messianic prophecy was often general, i.e., in language only a Messiah could fulfill. An illustration of this is afforded in 1 Samuel 2:35, “I will raise me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in my heart and in my mind: and I will build him a sure house; and he shall walk before mine anointed for ever” (A.R.V.). The immediate fulfillment of the prophecy has Samuel in view, but the larger view anticipates the coming of the Messiah. (2) In many other passages the Messiah is identified by some specific term, and these can be called personal. In Isaiah 7:14, for instance, the Messiah is identified by the unusual term Immanuel, or God with us. The passage deals only and specifically with the Messiah. Both types of Messianic prophecy play an important part in the whole doctrine.

Messianic prophecy has its own peculiar characteristics which are shared only in part with other forms of prophetic revelation. (1) The language of Messianic prophecy is often purposely obscure. Only true believers in God who are taught by the Holy Spirit will be able to discern some passages as belonging to genuine Messianic prediction. It is necessary to have the entire content of the Scriptures in mind in interpreting such passages.

(2) Predictions regarding the Messiah are often given in figurative language. It does not necessarily follow that the meaning is uncertain, but the passages which are of this character require interpretation. When the Scripture speaks of “a shoot out of the stock of Jesse and a branch out of his roots” (Isa 11:1, A.R.V.), it clearly refers to the Messiah, but it is in figurative language.

(3) In Messianic prediction the future is often regarded as past or present. The great prophecies of Isaiah 53, for instance, are largely in the past tense. The Hebrew frequently uses the perfect for prophecy. As A. B. Davidson points out, “This usage is very common in the elevated language of the Prophets, whose faith and imagination so vividly project before them the event or scene which they predict that it appears already realized. It is part of the purpose of God, and therefore, to the clear eyes of the prophet, already as good as accomplished (prophetic perfect).”2 The use of the perfect tense in the Old Testament signifies, then, that the event is certain of completion, not that it is past. Messianic prediction in the past tense is in fact an emphatic future.

(4) Messianic prediction like many other forms of prophecy is often seen horizontally rather than vertically. In other words, while the order of prophetic events is generally revealed in Scripture, prophecy does not necessarily include all the intermediate steps between the great events in view. The great mountain peaks of prophecy are revealed without consideration of the expanse of valleys between the peaks. Old Testament prophecy often leaps from the sufferings of Christ to His glory without consideration of the time which elapses between these aspects. It is not unusual for great periods of time to separate prophecies closely related. An illustration of this is afforded in the quotation by Christ of Isaiah 61:1-2 in Luke 4:18-19. The Isaiah passage links the first and second comings of Christ without any indication of an intervening period of time. Christ in His quotation includes the aspects relating to His first coming but stops abruptly without including the reference to “the day of vengeance of our God” which refers to the second coming. The interpretation of Messianic prophecy, accordingly, has its own peculiar problems which are, however, not insuperable, but which require careful consideration and an understanding of the spiritual truth involved.

The Messianic Line: His Lineage

A well-defined line of prediction is provided in the Old Testament predictions concerning the coming of the Savior. The line begins with Adam and Eve and is traced through a constantly narrowing focus until all the important factors are revealed. The coming Savior will be the seed of the woman (Gen 3:15); in the line of Seth (Gen 4:25); through Noah (Gen 6-9 ); a descendant of Abraham (Gen 12:1-3). Subsequent revelation traces the lineage through Isaac (Gen 17:19), Jacob (Gen 28:14), Judah (Gen 49:10), through Boaz, Obed, Jesse, and David (2 Sam 7:12-13). From here on appeal is necessary to the New Testament genealogies of Matthew 1:2-16 and Luke 3:23-38.

The story of the lineage of the coming Savior is on the one hand a demonstration of the sovereign purpose and certainty of God’s will. On the other hand, the corrupting work of Satan is everywhere present throughout the history oif the lineage of Christ. Satan begins corrupting the newly created race by leading Adam and Eve into temptation and the fall (Gen 3:6). To fallen Adam and Eve God gave the protevangelium, the first indication of His plan of giving His Son as the Savior. The seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15). Satan’s continued work is manifest in the murder of Abel and the corruption by that act of Cain (Gen 4:8). God raises up a new seed in the birth of Seth (Gen 4:25).

The corruption of the human race and with it the line of the Messiah continues until the time of Noah. Here in the destruction of all except Noah’s family God purifies the race and preserves the godly seed (Gen 6-9 ). The subsequent defection of the race soon follows and God begins again in the selection of Abraham (Gen 12:1-3) through whom His purpose in regard to the Messiah is continued. The book of Genesis traces the narrowing line through Abraham’s descendants Isaac (Gen 17:19), Jacob (Gen 28:14), and Judah (Gen 49:10). The continued Satanic opposition to the godly line is manifest in the delayed birth of Isaac, the disinterest of Esau and the selection of Jacob in his place, and in the immorality that corrupted Judah. In sovereign grace, God nevertheless declares, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah…” (Gen 49:10). The prophecy of Jacob, while in language which is somewhat obscure, is nevertheless clear in its main import—the Messiah will come through Judah.

The story of Ruth and Boaz is another illustration of sovereign design in the lineage of the Messiah. With evident divine preparation, the line of David the King is linked with Judah. In few books of the Bible is the doctrine of providence illustrated more abundantly than in the book of Ruth.

The Old Testament picture of the lineage from David to Christ is by no means complete. This deficiency is more than met by the New Testament genealogies. Of particular interest are the dual lines of Joseph and Mary which connect with David. The genealogies are best explained by referring the genealogy of Matthew to Joseph and the genealogy of Luke to Mary. Thus interpreted, Joseph is seen to descend from David through Solomon and the line of the kings of Judah. Mary is found in the line from David through David’s son Nathan. This detail is a striking fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. To David God had promised both the continuance of his seed and his throne forever (2 Sam 7:12-16). To Solomon, David’s son, God promised that his throne and kingdom would continue forever, but the record is silent in the prediction concerning Solomon’s seed. This is given further light in the apostasy of the kings of Judah. Jehoiakim, king of Judah, is solemnly cursed because of his sin and the Scriptures declare: “He shall have none to sit upon the throne of David; and his dead body shall be cast out in the day to the heat, and in the night to the frost. And I will punish him and his seed and his servants for their iniquity…” (Jer 36:30-31). Coniah, his son (also known as Jehoiachin and Jeconiah), was carried off captive when Jerusalem fell and the line of the kings of Judah ends in him (cf. Jer 22:30). The problem is immediately apparent: How can God fulfill His promise to Davild if this line is cut off? The answer is that the kingly line of the Messiah is preserved through Nathan rather than through Solomon and his descendants. Hence, in the New Testament the legal right to the throne of David is passed through Solomon and Jehoiakim to Joseph and to Joseph’s legal son Christ. The physical seed, however, is passed through Nathan and Mary to Christ. Thus the promises to both David and Solomon are literally fulfilled in and through Jesus Christ. It is at once a striking illustration of the accuracy of the prophetic Word, God anticipating the defection of the kings of Judah and their curse, and at the same time a confirmation of the virgin birth. If Jesus had been the physical son of Joseph, He would have been disqualified by the curse upon Jehoiakim.

The records of Scripture provide, then, an accurate and indisputable record of the qualifications of Christ as the inheritor of the promises to David. All conservative scholars are agreed that Christ fulfills the anticipation of these prophecies, anid even unbelieving Jews anticipate that the coming Messiah will fulfill these prophecies. The genealogies of the Jews were, of course, destroyed in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The New Testament records are the only ones extant which provide authentic genealogies to identify the Messiah.

Prophecies of the Birth of Christ

The prophecies in regard to the birth of Jesus Christ are among the more transparent of the Old Testament predictions. The prophecies regarding the lineage of the predicted Savior in themselves anticipated His birth. The place of His birth was plainly revealed in Micah 5:2, and the passage is so clear that it was commonly known that Bethlehem was destined to be the birthplace of the Messiah. The scribes and the chief priests quickly informed Herod of this fact when the Magi came for direction to the King of the Jews.

Other aspects of the birth of Christ are also revealed in the Old Testament. Isaiah prophesied that His birth would be a sign: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa 7:14). The unwarranted attack of liberal theologians on this passage is in itself a confession of its important contribution. Here both the human aspect of the incarnation, conception and birth, and the divine are clearly revealed—”Immanuel” or God with us.

The date of birth of the coming Messiah seems also to be revealed within certain limits. According to Genesis 49:10, the Messiah was to come before the destruction of the Jewish government. This would seem to be identified with the destruction of Jerusalem at 70 A.D. and the complete end of all Jewish rule in Palestine for many centuries. The prophecies of Daniel 9:25 that sixty-nine weeks of seven years each would elapse before the Messiah should be cut off have been shown to culminate in the death of Christ. While the interpretation of the Daniel passage has occasioned much dispute, it is agreed by most scholars that a literal interpretation would bring us to the approximate time of the lifetime of Jesus Christ. While this revelation in the Old Testament apparently was not realized by the scholars before Christ, it is significant that the revelation was given and the fulfillment has been literal. There was in any case a widespread expectation among the generation in which Christ was born that the Messiah would come soon.

The prophecies of the Old Testament, then, outline with precision the main elements involved in His birth: the place, time, lineage, and supernatural character of His conception and birth.

Prophecies concerning the Person of Christ

In the nature of the Old Testament predictions, certain conclusions can be drawn relative to the Person of Christ. In a word, there is an entirely adequate testimony concerning both His humanity and His deity. The revelation is not with the same clarity or force as the presentation in the New Testament, but it is nevertheless clear in its main elements.

The humanity of the coming Savior is involved in practically all the Messianic passages. From Genesis 3:15, where the Messiah is described as the seed of the woman, to the predictions of the later Old Testament prophets, the Messiah is declared to be human. The testimony concerning His lineage, His connection with Israel, His predicted birth in Bethlehem, and His title as a son leave no room to doubt the intention of the revelation of His humanity. It was the uniform expectation of the Jews that the coming Deliverer would be a man, born of a Jewish mother.

The remarkable aspect of the predictions, however, is the recurring testimony to His deity. According to Isaiah 7:14, He was to be born of a virgin. The clear intent is to state that He was to be supernaturally conceived without a human father. He is declared in the same passage to be worthy of the title, “Immanuel”—God with us. In Isaiah 9:6-7, the chilid born and the son given is described as “Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” The predictions of His birth, in Micah 5:2, go on to describe the child to be born as one “whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” The expression is the strongest possible statement of His eternal existence before His birth. The combined testimony of these passages as well as many others leave no doubt that the Messiah when He came was to be both God and man in one person.

Dallas, Texas

(To be continued in the April-June Number, 1948)

This article was taken from the Theological Journal Library CD and posted with permission of Galaxie Software.

1 The work of B. B. warfield, Christology and Criticism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1929), in particular the first chapter on The Divine Messiah in the Old Testament, is an able résumé of the problems involved in higher criticism as bearing on Christology.

2 An Introductory Hebrew Grammar (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1930), pp. 156-157.