When God Became Human
When one grows up in the British Commonwealth (as I did), one feels a certain right to begin a paper like this with an illustration involving the Queen. There must be some tangible pay off from such an upbringing. So I will claim my right here, and start with such an illustration.
The Queen of England arrives home, back to England, after an overseas trip. She gets picked up (as usual) in her black Rolls Royce. Situation normal. So far, so good. But then something strange happens. Instead of demanding that she be taken back to the palace, back to Buckingham, she tells her driver instead to take her to a certain poor neighborhood in London, to a rundown part of the city. As she arrives, she gets out of the car, walks to the door of a certain rundown house and rings the doorbell. A woman answers and upon seeing that it’s the Queen, almost collapses (who wouldn’t!). It’s the Queen! But the Queen seems unfazed. She simply introduces herself and then asks if she may come in for afternoon tea. She also asks if the lady might invite other neighbors to join them. The owner agrees. Would she dare refuse? The afternoon goes smashingly. It is filled with talk and laughter. Everyone wishes it would go on forever. The Queen is a hoot. But in the end, as suppertime approaches, she pipes up with an announcement. “I want you all to know,” she says, “that last week I bought the house next door. And I fully intend to live there, with all of you, the rest of my days. I will be moving in next week!” “Until then, I have a lot of packing to do,” she adds with a wry smile.
Why was the Queen’s visit, that fateful day, so important to her announcement? What did it matter? It was important because it showed that the Queen might actually do what she said she would do. It showed she was potentially serious about being in the neighborhood, perhaps even living there. If she could do one amazing thing, by coming for afternoon tea, why not imagine she would do another? Yes… maybe her promise could be true!
This story illustrates an important point that is often overlooked. Jesus did something incredible between his (first) incarnation and his ascension.
Of course he did something incredible the first time he came to earth. His name was announced in Matthew 1:23 as Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” God came to earth to live with us!
What came next? Jesus died, and afterward came out from the grave to ascended straight to heaven! Not precisely. He came back to earth, with the promise that he would come again (see, the Queen). Surely Jesus had had enough. He’d done the “human thing.” He’d been there, done that, got the T-shirt. Now he was off to bigger and brighter things, to be exalted to the right hand of the Father (Philippians 2:9-11). This was now where he belonged. Why bother stopping off on earth again? Apart from anything else, apart from any other reason, it proved that here, on earth, is where Jesus belongs…with us.
When we think of the incarnation, the amazing concept that God would come to live with us on the earth, we often see this (and rightly so) as that amazing moment when God identified with humans. He came to be present among us. But what about the resurrection? It is equally amazing when seen as a kind of second incarnation– something that represents an equally extraordinary move on God’s part and on the part of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to be present with us. The resurrection is equally amazing when seen as a kind of second incarnation– something that represents an equally extraordinary move on God’s part and on the part of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to be present with us. Click To Tweet
There is a short section at the start of Romans 7, which often gets glossed over quickly – mainly because it is confusing. Conservatives have regularly tried to answer away confusing elements in verses 1-4, while some non-conservatives have sometimes tried to use this to prove that Paul was incoherent.
In a much-overlooked paper by John Earnshaw, there comes (what I think is) a very helpful and coherent solution. In this paper, Earnshaw argues that the marriage analogy, where the woman is married to a first husband, who dies, actually describes our union with Christ, come to earth. Christ is Christians’ first husband. The passage then says that Christ’s death occurs (the death of the husband) so that “you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead” which is then also Christ! But this time, it is Christ raised from the dead.
I find Earnshaw’s argument persuasive, not least because of neat links back to Romans 6. In Romans 6, Christians die to the law by having Christ die for them. In a similar way in Romans 7, when it says that “you died to the law through the body of Christ” (7:4), this does not mean that we (the wife) died, but rather that through Christ’s death we too die to the law (same idea).
Why is all this important? If Earnshaw is right – and I think he is – then the emphasis becomes that our new state of belonging and identity as Christians is with regards the risen Christ. This is now our connection and identity!
The consequences of this are significant, as we realize that we are now, already, the bride of the risen Christ. Our goal is now to be who we are, in this role, and thus to “bear fruit to God” (7:4), i.e. the fruit of righteousness. Good works make sense as an outflow from this loving relationship.
What an amazing truth that God would say – “Here is my Son, who has come to be connected with you in your earthly existence, to be your savior and the one who redeems you!” But how equally amazing is that God would further say – “Here is my Son again, risen from the dead, come to be connected to you in your life here and now, to be your transformer and the one who enables you to please me!” These things are worth pondering.
It would be an honor to have the Queen live next door. In an escalated manner, it is a privilege unimaginable to have the Son of God come to earth and live among us. Amazing! But things are more amazing. The risen Christ has been incarnated again in his glorified self. And this is now our point of identity. It is not just that Jesus comes to dwell in time past, dignifying humanity. He comes to dwell in the present, through his Spirit (Romans 8), to transform us in a new and living relationship with him and with the Father, here and now (compare with 7:6).
 This article is John D. Earnshaw, “Reconsidering Paul’s Marriage Analogy in Romans 7.1-4,” New Testament Studies40 (1994), 68-88.