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Questions On Doctrine


The Incarnation and the "Son of Man"



What do Adventists understand by Christ's use of the title "Son of man"? And what do you consider to have been the basic purpose of the incarnation?


The Inspired Word and the Incarnate Word, or the Word made flesh, are twin pillars in the faith of Seventh-day Adventists, in common with all true Christians. Our entire hope of salvation rests on these two immutable provisions of God. Indeed, we consider the incarnation of Christ to be the most stupendous fact, in itself and its consequences, in the history of man, and the key to all the redemptive provisions of God. Everything before the incarnation led up to it; and all that follows after grows out of it. It undergirds the whole of the gospel, and is absolutely essential to the Christian faith. This union of the Godhead with humanity—of the Infinite with the finite, the Creator with the creature, in order that Divinity might be revealed in humanity—passes our human comprehension. Christ united heaven and earth, God and man, in His own Person through this provision.

Furthermore, at His incarnation Christ became what He was not before. He took upon Himself a human


bodily form, and accepted the limitations of human bodily life, as the mode of existence while on earth among men. Thus Deity was wedded to humanity in one Person, as He became the one and only God-man. This is basic in our faith. The vicarious atoning death of Christ on the cross was the inevitable outgrowth of this primary provision.

Again, when Christ identified Himself with the human race, through the incarnation, the eternal Word of God entered into the earthly relationships of time. But from thenceforth, ever since the Son of God became man, He has not ceased to be man. He adopted human nature, and when He returned to His Father, He not only carried with Him the humanity which He had assumed at the incarnation, but He retained His perfect human nature forever—thenceforth eternally identifying Himself with the race He had redeemed. This has been well expressed by one of our most prominent writers, Ellen G. White: "In taking our nature, the Saviour has bound Himself to humanity by a tie that is never to be broken. Through the eternal ages He is linked with us."—The Desire of Ages (1940), p. 25.

I. The Son of God Becomes the Son of Man

Through the incarnation, the majesty and glory of the Eternal Word, the Creator and Lord of the universe (John 1:1-3), was veiled. And it was then that the Son of God became the Son of man—a term used more than eighty times in the New Testament. Taking humanity upon Himself, He became one with the human race that He might reveal the fatherhood of God to sinful man, and that He might redeem lost mankind.


At His incarnation He became flesh. He hungered and thirsted and was weary. He needed food and rest and was refreshed by sleep. He shared the lot of man, craving human sympathy and needing divine assistance. Nevertheless, He ever remained the blameless Son of God.

He sojourned on earth, was tempted and tried, and was touched with the feelings of our human infirmities, yet He lived a life wholly free from sin. His was a real and genuine humanity, one that must pass through the various stages of growth, like any other member of the race. He was subject to Joseph and Mary, and was a worshiper in the synagogue and Temple. He wept over the guilty city of Jerusalem, and at the grave of a loved one. He expressed His dependence upon God by prayer. Yet all the while He retained His deity—the one and only God-man. He was the second Adam, coming in the "likeness" of sinful human flesh (Rom. 8:3), but without a taint of its sinful propensities and passions. (See also Appendix B.)

The first time the title "Son of man" appears in the New Testament it is applied to Jesus as a homeless wanderer, without a place to lay His head (Matt. 8:20); the last time as a glorified, returning King (Rev. 14:14). It was as the Son of man that He came to save the lost (Luke 19:10). As Son of man He claimed authority to forgive sins (Matt. 9:1-8). As Son of man He sowed the seed of truth (Matt. 13:37), was betrayed (Matt. 17:22; Luke 22:48), was crucified (Matt. 26:2), rose from the dead (Mark 9:9), and ascended to heaven (John 6:62).


It is likewise as Son of man that He is now in heaven (Acts 7:56) and watches over His church on earth (Rev. 1:12, 13, 20). Moreover, it is as the Son of man that He will return in the clouds of heaven (Matt. 24:30; 25:31). And as Son of man He will execute judgment (John 5:27) and receive His kingdom (Dan. 7:13, 14). That is the inspired record of His role as Son of man.

II. Miraculous Union of the Divine and the Human

Christ Jesus our Lord was a miraculous union of the divine nature with our human nature. He was the Son of man while here in the flesh, but He was also the Son of God. The mystery of the Incarnation is expressed clearly and definitely in the Holy Scriptures.

"Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh" (1 Tim. 3:16). "God was in Christ" (2 Cor. 5:19). "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:14).

What a wonderful truth! This has been referred to by Ellen G. White as follows:

He clothed His divinity with humanity. He was all the while as God, but He did not appear as God. He veiled the demonstrations of Deity which had commanded the homage, and called forth the admiration, of the universe of God. He was God while upon earth, but He divested Himself of the form of God, and in its stead took the form and fashion of a man. He walked the earth as a man. For our sakes He became poor, that we through His poverty might be made rich. He laid aside His glory and His majesty. He was God, but the glories of the form of God He for a while relinquished.—The Review and Herald, July 5, 1887.

The more we think about Christ's becoming a babe here on earth, the more wonderful it appears. How can it be that the helpless babe in Bethlehem's manger is still the divine Son of God? Though we cannot understand it, we can believe that He who made the worlds, for our sakes became a helpless babe.


Though higher than any of the angels, though as great as the Father on the throne of heaven, He became one with us. In Him God and man became one, and it is in this fact that we find the hope of our fallen race. Looking upon Christ in the flesh, we look upon God in humanity, and see in Him the brightness of divine glory, the express image of God the Father.—The Youth's Instructor, Nov.21, 1895.

The Creator of worlds, He in whom was the fulness of the Godhead bodily, was manifest in the helpless babe in the manger. Far higher than any of the angels, equal with the Father in dignity and glory, and yet wearing the garb of humanity! Divinity and humanity were mysteriously combined, and man and God became one. It is in this union that we find the hope of our fallen race. looking upon Christ in humanity, we look upon God, and see in Him the brightness of His glory, the express image of His person.—Signs of the Times, July 30, 1896.

In both His natures, the divine, and the human, He was perfect; He was sinless. That this was true of His divine nature there can be no question. That it was so of His humanity is also true. In His challenge to the Pharisees of His day, He said, "Which of you convinceth me of sin?" (John 8:46). The apostle to the Gentiles declared that He "knew no sin" (2 Cor. 5:21); that He was "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" (Heb. 7:26). Peter could testify that He "did no sin" (1 Peter 2:22); and John the beloved assures us that "in Him is no sin" (1 John 3:5). But not only did His friends emphasize the sinlessness of His nature; His enemies also declared it, Pilate was forced to confess that he found "no fault" in Him (Luke 23:14). Pilate's wife warned her husband to have "nothing to do with that just man" (Matt. 27:19). Even the devils were compelled to acknowledge His Sonship and hence His deity. When commanded to come out of the man they had possessed, they retorted, "What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God" (Matt. 8:29). Mark's gospel gives "the Holy One of God" (Mark 1:24) 


Ellen G. White has written:

He took "the nature, but not the sinfulness of man."—Signs of the Times, May 29, 1901. "We should have no misgivings in regard to the perfect sinlessness of the human nature of Christ."—The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 1131.

Why did Christ take human nature? This has been well expressed as follows:

Laying aside His royal robe and kingly crown, Christ clothed His divinity with humanity, that human beings might be raised from their degradation, and placed on vantage-ground. Christ could not have come to this earth with the glory that He had in the heavenly courts. Sinful human beings could not have borne the sight. He veiled His divinity with the garb of humanity, but He did not part with His divinity. A divine-human Saviour, He came to stand at the head of the fallen race, to share in their experience from childhood to manhood. That human beings might be partakers of the divine nature, He came to this earth, and lived a life of perfect obedience.—Ellen G. White in The Review and Herald, June 15, 1905. (Italics supplied.)

Christ took upon Himself humanity, that He might reach humanity. . . . It required both the divine and the human to bring salvation to the world.—The Desire of Ages, p. 296.

Taking humanity upon Him, Christ came to be one with humanity and at the same time to reveal our heavenly Father to sinful human beings. He was in all things made like unto His brethren. He became flesh, even as we are. He was hungry and thirsty and weary. He was sustained by food and refreshed by sleep. He shared the lot of man, and yet He was the blameless Son of God. He was a stranger and sojourner on the earth—in the world, but not of the world; tempted and tried as men and women today are tempted and tried, yet living a life free from sin.—Testimonies, vol. 8, p. 286.

We emphasize again that in His human nature Christ was perfect and sinless.


In this respect, something of vital import must be considered. The Sinless One, our blessed Lord, voluntarily took upon Himself the burden and penalty of our sins. This was an act in full counsel and cooperation with God the Father.

God "laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:6). "When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin . . ." (verse 10).

And yet, this was a voluntary act of our blessed Saviour, for we read:

"He shall bear their iniquities" (verse 11).

"He hath poured out his soul unto death" (verse 12).

"Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24).

As a member of the human family He was mortal, but as a God He was the fountain of life to the world. He could, in His divine person, ever have withstood the advances of death, and refused to come under its dominion; but He voluntarily laid down His life, that in so doing He might give life and bring immortality to light. . . . What humility was this! It amazed angels. The tongue can never describe it; the imagination cannot take it in. The eternal Word consented to be made flesh! God became man! It was a wonderful humility.—Ellen G. White in The Review and Herald, July 5, 1887. (Italics supplied.)

Only the sinless Son of God could be our substitute. This our sinless Redeemer did; He took upon Himself the sins of the whole world, but, in doing so, there was not the slightest taint of corruption upon Him. The Holy Bible, however, does say that God "made him to be sin for us" (2 Cor. 5:21). This Pauline expression has puzzled theologians for centuries, but whatever it means, it certainly does not mean that our Immaculate Lord became a sinner. The text states that He was made


"to be  sin." Hence it must mean that He took our place, that He died in our stead, that "he was numbered with the transgressors" (Isa. 53:12), and that He took the burden and penalty that was ours.

All true Christians recognize this redemptive act of Jesus on Calvary's cross. There is an abundance of scriptural testimony to this fact.

The writings of Ellen G. White are entirely in harmony with the Scriptures on this point.

The Son of God endured the wrath of God against sin. All the accumulated sin of the world was laid upon the Sin-bearer, the One who was innocent, the One who alone could be the propitiation for sin, because He Himself was obedient. He was One with God. Not a taint of corruption was upon Him.—Signs of the Times, Dec. 9,1897. (Italics supplied.)

As one with us, He must bear the burden of our guilt and woe. The Sinless One must feel the shame of sin. The peace lover must dwell with strife, the truth must abide with falsehood, purity with vileness. Every sin, every discord, every defiling lust that transgression bad brought, was torture to His spirit. . . . Upon Him who had laid off His glory and accepted the weakness of humanity the redemption of the world must rest.—The Desire of Ages, p. 111. (Italics supplied.)

The weight of the sins of the world was pressing His soul, and His countenance expressed unutterable sorrow, a depth of anguish that fallen man had never realized. He felt the overwhelming tide of woe that deluged the world. He realized the strength of indulged appetite and of unholy passion that controlled the world.—The Review and Herald, Aug. 4, 1874.

Entire justice was done in the atonement. In the place of the sinner, the spotless Son of God received the penalty, and the sinner goes free as long as he receives and holds Christ as his personal Saviour. Though guilty, he is looked upon as innocent. Christ fulfilled every requirement demanded by justice.—The Youth's Instructor, April 25, 1901. (Italics supplied.)

Guiltless, He bore the punishment of the guilty. Innocent, yet offering Himself as a substitute for the transgressor. The guilt of every sin pressed its weight upon the divine soul of the world's Redeemer.—Signs of the Times, Dec. 5, 1892. (Italics supplied.)

All this He bore vicariously. He took it upon His sinless soul and bore it on the cruel cross.


There is another aspect of this question which needs to be emphasized, and that is, that Jesus not only took and bore the "iniquities of us all," he took and bore something else, something, however, which was intimately associated with our sins.

"Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows" (Isa. 53:4). "A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (verse 3).

Matthew refers to this passage:

"Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses" (Matt. 8:17).

The Weymouth translation reads:

" 'He took on Him our weaknesses, and bore the burden of our diseases.' "

And the Twentieth Century gives: " 'He took our infirmities on himself, and bore the burden of our diseases.' "

As He bore (Gr. phero—LXX) our iniquities (Isa. 53:11) so He bore (Gr. anaphero) our weaknesses (Matt. 8:17, Weymouth).

But let us observe further what is implied in this. Notice the words used to express the thought, both in Isaiah 53 and Matthew 8. He bore our griefs, our sorrows, our infirmities, our sicknesses. The original words are also translated pains, diseases, and weaknesses.

On this note the following in the writings of Ellen G. White:

He was subject to the infirmities and weaknesses by which


man is encompassed, "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses." He was touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and was in all points tempted like as we are. And yet He "knew no sin." He was the Lamb "without blemish and without spot." . . . We should have no misgivings in regard to the perfect sinlessness of the human nature of Christ.—Signs of the Times) June 9, 1898. (Italics supplied.)

He was unsullied with corruption, a stranger to sin; yet He prayed, and that often with strong crying and tears. He prayed for His disciples and for Himself, thus identifying Himself with our needs, our weaknesses, and our failings, which are so common with humanity. He was a mighty petitioner, not possessing the passions of our human, fallen natures, but compassed with like infirmities, tempted in all points even as we are, Jesus endured agony which required help and support from His Father.—Testimonies vol. 2, p. 508. (Italics supplied.)

He is a brother in our infirmities, but not in possessing like passions. As the sinless One, His nature recoiled from evil. He endured struggles and torture of soul in a world of sin. His humanity made prayer a necessity and privilege. He required all the stronger divine support and comfort which His Father was ready to impart to Him, to Him who had, for the benefit of man, left the joys of heaven and chosen His home in a cold and thankless world.—Ibid., p. 202. (Italics supplied.)

It could hardly be construed, however, from the record of either Isaiah or Matthew, that Jesus was diseased or that He experienced the frailties to which our fallen human nature is heir. But He did bear all this. Could it not be that He bore this vicariously also, just as He bore the sins of the whole world?

These weaknesses, frailties, infirmities, failings are things which we, with our sinful, fallen natures, have to bear. To us they are natural, inherent, but when He bore them, He took them not as something innately His, but He bore them as our substitute. He bore them in His perfect, sinless nature. Again we remark, Christ bore all this vicariously, just as vicariously He bore the iniquities of us all.


It is in this sense that all should understand the writings of Ellen G. White when she refers occasionally to sinful, fallen, and deteriorated human nature. We read that Jesus took "our nature" (The Desire of Ages, p.25); He "took upon Himself human nature" (The SDA Bible Commentary, vol.5, p.1128); He "took the nature of man" (The Desire of Ages, p.117); He took "our sinful nature" (Medical Ministry, p.181); He took "our fallen nature" (Special Instruction Relating to The Review and Herald Office, p. 13, May 26, 1896); He took "man's nature in its fallen condition" (Signs of the Times, June 9, 1898).

All these are forceful, cogent statements, but surely no one would designedly attach a meaning to them which runs counter to what the same writer has given in other places in her works. Notice the setting in which these expressions are used.

He took "the nature but not the sinfulness of man."—Signs of the Times, May 29, 1901.

He took "man's nature in its fallen condition," but "Christ did not in the least participate in its sin."—The SDA Bible Commentary, vol.5, p.1131.

"He is a brother in our infirmities, but not in possessing like passions."—Testimonies, vol.2, p.202.

In "identifying Himself with our needs, our weaknesses, and our feelings, . . . He was a mighty petitioner, not possessing the passions of our human, fallen natures."—Testimonies, vol.2, pp. 508, 509. (Italics supplied.)


"We should have no misgivings in regard to the perfect sinlessness of the human nature of Christ."—The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 1131. (Italics supplied.)

The Son of God "became like one of us, except in sin."—The Youth's Instructor, Oct. 20, 1886. (Italics supplied.)

"Not a taint of corruption was upon Him."—Signs of the Times, Dec. 9, 1897. (Italics supplied.)

It will be noted in the statements quoted above that while the writer mentions that Jesus took our nature, He Himself was not sinful, but sinless.

Whatever Jesus took was not His intrinsically or innately. His taking the burden of our inherited weakness and failings, even after four thousand years of accumulated infirmities and degeneracy (The Desire of Ages, pp. 49, 117), did not in the slightest degree taint His human nature. "He took upon His sinless nature our sinful nature."—Medical Ministry, p. 181. "We should have no misgivings in regard to the perfect sinlessness of the human nature of Christ. "—The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 1131.

"He voluntarily assumed human nature. It was His own act, and by His own consent."—The Review and Herald, July 5, 1887.

He voluntarily subjected "Himself to all the humbling conditions of man's nature" (Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 458), and "took upon him the form of a servant" (Phil. 2:7); He "took on him the seed of Abraham" (Heb. 2:16), that He was made "to be sin for us" (2 Cor. 5:21) and that He was made in all things "like unto his brethren" (Heb. 2:17).


All that Jesus took, all that He bore, whether the burden and penalty Of our iniquities, or the diseases and frailties of our human nature—all was taken and borne vicariously. just as bearing vicariously the sins of the whole world did not taint His perfect, sinless soul, neither did bearing the diseases and frailties of our fallen nature taint Him in the slightest degree with the corrupting influences of sin.

Let us ever remember that our blessed Lord was sinless. "We should have no misgivings in regard to the perfect sinlessness of the human nature of Christ."—The SDA Bible Commentary, vol.5, p.1131.

In treating upon the humanity of Christ, you need to guard strenuously every assertion, lest your words be taken to mean more than they imply, and thus you lose or dim the clear perceptions of His humanity as combined with divinity. His birth was a miracle of God, . . . "That holy thing which shall be born of thee [Mary] shall be called the Son of God." . . . Never, in any way, leave the slightest impression upon human minds that a taint of, or inclination to, corruption rested upon Christ, or that He in any way yielded to corruption. He was tempted in all points like as man is tempted, yet He is called "that holy thing." It is a mystery that is left unexplained to mortals that Christ could be tempted in all points like as we are, and yet he without sin. The incarnation of Christ has ever been, and will ever remain, a mystery. That which is revealed, is for us and for our children, but let every human being be warned from the ground of making Christ altogether human, such an one as ourselves; for it cannot be.—The SDA Bible Commentary, vol.5, pp. 1128, 1129.

What a wonderful Saviour is Jesus our Lord!

III. Could Christ Have Sinned?

On this aspect of this vital question there is diversity of opinion in the Christian church at large. Some feel that it was impossible for Jesus to sin; others that it was possible. We join with the latter in our understanding


of this matter and, as in many other phases of Christian doctrine, eminent scholars in the church through the centuries have expressed themselves much as we do. Our position on this is well expressed by Ellen G. White:

Many claim that it was impossible for Christ to be overcome by temptation. Then He could not have been placed in Adam's position; He could not have gained the victory that Adam failed to gain. If we have in any sense a more trying conflict than had Christ, then He would not be able to succor us. But our Saviour took humanity, with all its liabilities. He took the nature of man, with the possibility of yielding to temptation. We have nothing to bear which He has not endured. . . . In man's behalf, Christ conquered by enduring the severest test.—The Desire of Ages, p. 117. (Italics supplied.)

That revered and honored theologians in the past have held the same view is evident. Note the following:

Had He been endowed from the start with absolute impeccability, or with the impossibility of sinning, He could not be a true man, nor our model for imitation: His holiness, instead of being His own self-acquired act and inherent merit, would be an accidental or outward gift, and His temptation an unreal show. As a true man, Christ must have been a free and responsible moral agent: freedom implies the power of choice between good and evil, and the power of disobedience as well as obedience to the law of God.—Phillip Schaff, The Person of Christ, pp. 35, 36.

If the truth . . . —viz., that the force of temptation was strong enough to create the consciousness of a struggle—be overlooked, then the whole curriculum of moral trial through which Jesus passed on earth degenerates at once into a mere stage performance. . . . In modern times this doketic view finds no acceptance; theologians of all schools being agreed that the forces of evil, with which the Son of Man fought so noble a fight, were not shadows, but substantial and formidable foes.—Alexander B. Bruce, D.D., The Humiliation of Christ, p. 268.

Whenever we attribute, in a proper manner and in the sense of Scripture, all the moral elements of man to Jesus, we are not to disjoin from them the freedom which is the power of choosing between good and evil; and for this very reason we are to admit it as conceivable, that be might at some time have been influenced


to a departure from the will of God. Unless this be supposed, the history of the temptation, however it may be explained, would have no significantly; and the expression in the Epistle to the Hebrews "he was tempted in all points as we" would be without meaning.

As Jesus was a complete man, this susceptibility and this possibility must be supposed to coexist in Him. Did they not thus coexist, he would cease to be an example of perfect human mortality.—Karl Ullmann, An Apologetic View of the Sinless Character of Jesus (1841), p. 11.

We must not understand by the term [sinlessness of Jesus] an absolute impossibility of sinning but only the actual fact of not sinning, and, what is in a rational and free nature inseparable from this fact, the highest moral perfection and holiness.—Ibid., p. 13.

IV. The Purpose of the Incarnation

As to the purpose of the incarnation, the answer appears in the texts supporting the following six points, which summarize the reasons for His coming to earth in human form.

1. He Came to Reveal God to the World.—See John 1:14, 18; 3:1-36; 17:6, 26; 1 John 1:2; 4:9.

2. He Came to Bring God and Man Together.— See John 1:51 (compare Gen. 28:12); Matt. 1:23; 1 Peter 3:18.

3. He Came to Identify Himself With Man by Name.—He is called "Son of man" some seventy-seven times in the Gospels, such as in Luke 19:10.

4. He Came to Bear the Sins of Mankind.—See Isa. 53:6, 11; John 1:29, margin; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 3:5.

5. He Came to Die in Our Stead.—See Isa. 53:5-10; Matt. 26:28; Acts 20:28; Rom. 4:25; 5:6-10; 1 Cor. 15:3; Gal. 1:4; 1 Tim. 2:6; Heb. 2:9; 1 Peter 1:18, 19; 2:24; 3:18.


6. He Came to Destroy the Devil and His Works.—See John 12:31; 16:33; Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8.

V. An Unfathomable Mystery

In considering a subject of such transcendent and vital importance as the incarnation of Christ, we must ever remember that there are many aspects of it that we can never fathom. Even when we catch a glimpse of the truth, human language seems altogether inadequate to express the wonders and the beauties of the matchless and inimitable mystery of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Ellen G. White has written:

In contemplating the incarnation of Christ in humanity, we stand baffled before an unfathomable mystery, that the human mind can not comprehend. The more we reflect upon it, the more amazing does it appear.—Signs of the Times, July 30, 1896.

Even though this is true, there are, thank God, some phases of the truth that have been revealed. And what has been made known in the Word of God is for us to study. The same author has written the following on this point:

When we want a deep problem to study, let us fix our minds on the most marvelous thing that ever took place in earth or heaven—the incarnation of the Son of God.—Manuscript 76, 1903.
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