Christmas is the celebration of when God the Son entered into our world as fully human (and still fully God) in the form of a human baby. But why is it so important that Jesus came as a human being?
The Scriptures introduced humans with these words:
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness. … So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:26–28)
Humans are given two commands as the image of God: be fruitful and subdue creation. This is the overall plot of the story of the Bible, that humans were created by God to rule creation as His image bearers; to multiply His image, and in doing so, multiply His glory across creation. Throughout Scripture, the glory of God and His image are connected. As Paul wrote, “[Man] is the image and glory of God. . .” (1 Corinthians 11:7).
Likewise, the psalmist writes of human beings:
What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet.” (Psalm 8:4–6)
So what happened?
Every good story also has a conflict that drives the plot forward. In the Bible, the story of reality, a plot is introduced in Genesis chapter 3 where Satan tempted humans to take control of their own destiny by becoming more than just the image of God. Satan tempts them to become equal to God, “. . . you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
The irony of Satan’s deception is than by seizing control of their own lives through tasting the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the first humans became less like God. The image of God in humans became marred and broken, and their relationship with God is destroyed. As proof of this point, the two functions of the image of God, multiplying and subduing, were cursed by God.
Through the woman God cursed multiplication, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children.”
Through the man God cursed dominion over the earth, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.” No longer would humans be able to render glory to God by multiplying and subduing creation as the image bearers of God.
As Paul wrote, “. . . for all have [missed the mark] and fall short of the glory of God. . .” (Romans 3:23).
Then, in a moment of foreshadowing within the story, God tells Satan that a human champion will be born who will completely defeat him and the curse at the climax of the story, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
But in the meanwhile, as a result of having submitting to Satan’s deception rather than submitting to God’s truth, dominion of the world system is given to Satan. Satan is called the “ruler” and “god of this world” in Scripture. Satan temporarily rules the fallen world system through deception and lies, hellbent on destroying humanity and keeping them from God.
Throughout the story of Scripture in the Old Testament, we see the curse on multiplication and dominion come to fruition. Childbearing is a double-edged sword. Children are a trouble and disappointment to their parents. Mankind fights both against the land for food, and against other men for dominion of the land. Try as hard as they may, humankind cannot overcome the curse on their multiplication and dominion.
In the second chapter of Hebrews, the author referenced Psalm 8:4-6, and then wrote: “In putting everything under [humans], God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them.” Humans work in vain trying to subjugate creation and create relationships, but they are no longer able to serve their original function as images of God and instead become pawns of Satan, destroying themselves and creation.
But then, the author of Hebrews also wrote, “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered” (Hebrews 2:9-10). Jesus is the human descendant of Eve foretold of in Genesis 3 who would crush the head of the serpent and overcome the curse.
The author of Hebrews went on to write, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. . . . For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:14-18).
Notice that Jesus has two purposes in coming as a human, that His death might make atonement for the sins of humans, but also that His life might free them from the bondage of sin and help them overcome temptation. This is important because for far too long we have taught in evangelical churches that Jesus only came to pay for our sins and thereby give us a free trip to heaven. Scripture however, is clear that Jesus also came to free us from the bondage of sin in the here and now. But how does He do that as a high priest?
If we read on in Hebrews, the author continues to explain Jesus’ role as a high priest: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:8-10).
The source of eternal salvation for whom?
As much as it goes against the grain of American Christianity, we have to recognize that Biblical Christianity requires that those who “believe” in Jesus must also be willing to imitate and obey Him as His disciple; or they do not believe in Him. You can call it legalism if you want, but you have to give an answer as to why Scripture and Jesus both agree that those who don’t obey Him don’t know Him.
The apostle John (who knew Jesus better than any of us) wrote: “We know that we have come to know [Jesus] if we keep his commands. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:3-6).
So, why is it so important that humans imitate and obey Jesus as His disciples?
And what does this have to do with why Jesus came as a human?
Multiple times in Scripture, Jesus is referred to as “the image of God.” Paul wrote: “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15) and, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (1 Corinthians 4:4).” The author of Hebrews wrote, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:3).
From there the math is simple. If humans imitate and obey Jesus (who is the perfect image of God) then they will become the images of God they were created to be as well; and ultimately, they will render unto God the glory that He is due. And thus, through both Jesus’ death and His life, humans can be restored to their original relationship to God.
In and through Jesus, the two lovers that were separated, God and humanity, are reconnected. Jesus as fully human and fully divine, is the perfect image of God that mankind failed to be. Through Him alone can humans regain their relationship with God as they are conformed to His image (Romans 8:29).
Jesus taught, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). The point of imitating Jesus is to become like Him, the image of God.
Jesus also taught, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8)
Therefore, it is only by imitating and obeying Jesus as His disciple, and by multiplying more disciples who do the same, that humans can render glory unto God as they were originally created to do. As a result, once again humans are commanded to be fruitful and multiply the image of God across the face of creation by making disciples of Jesus.
To this end, the majority of the books of the New Testament have either an allusion or a direct reference to believers being conformed into the image of Jesus and/or God.
- “You heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:21-24).
- “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
- “You have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:9-10).
This is the story of Scripture: God/Jesus rescuing His true love, His image bearers, from the deception and destruction of Satan; restoring them to their original purpose and station. This is why Jesus came as a human at Christmas.
Bonhoeffer wrote, “In Jesus Christ, God’s own image has come into our midst in the form of our lost human life, in the likeness of sinful flesh. God’s own image becomes revealed in Jesus’ teachings and deeds, in his life and in his death. In him God has created anew the divine image on earth.” (Discipleship, 284).
Like any good story, the Bible bookends. In the opening, we see God and humans in the garden in a perfect state. In the conflict, humans betray God, lose their ability to serve as His image, and are separated from Him. In the climax, Jesus the hero comes and rescues and redeems mankind; making a way for them to once again become the image of God they were originally created to be. And then, in the conclusion, as seen in the final chapter of Scripture, the last vision of humanity is of them free from the curse and once again bearing the image of God perfectly, ruling and reigning over creation in a relationship with Him.
As John wrote, “Then he showed me the river of the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the city’s main street. The tree of life was on each side of the river, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations, and there will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. Night will be no more; people will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, because the Lord God will give them light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:1-5).
This is why Jesus came as a human baby at Christmas. This is what He came to accomplish.
For King Jesus,
Curt Erskine for the Discipleship.org Team