In the beginning was the Word [Logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men […] the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not […] And the Word was made flesh, and tabernacled among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth
The Holy Gospel according to John, chapter 1
As we have already mentioned, God created mankind out of his infinite love in order to make us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) and bearers of his divine image and likeness. As such, the Church teaches us that the Creator’s union with his creation was always part of God’s eternal plan for the world.
The central message of the Christian faith is this loving act of God becoming flesh, taking on our human nature, and joining together humanity and divinity, the created and uncreated, in a single person: that of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ (Messiah) foretold by the prophets.
Son of God
When Jesus asked his disciples, “Whom say ye that I am?”, St Peter replied: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:15). Jesus confirms Peter’s words, and calls his confession the rock upon which his Church will be established (v. 18). But what does the term “Son of God” mean?
While a creature is different from its creator, natural offspring always belongs to the same nature as that which begets it: a human being gives birth to a human being, a mouse to a mouse, a dog to a dog, etc. Thus when we speak of Jesus as being the Son of God, we mean first of all that he is God in exactly the same way as the Father is God: he is “begotten, not created, of one essence with the Father”. The term “Son” also denotes equality of status in the sense that a son inherits all that belongs to his father (“All things that the Father hath are mine” – John 15:16), while simultaneously pointing to the fact that the one has his being in the other; they are not two separate deities of equal rank, but share one and the same divinity.
We must not, of course, suggest that the term has anything to do with sexual reproduction, which would be as absurd as it would be blasphemous. Moreover, the Father does not beget the Son in time, but rather from all eternity. The Son is “begotten from the Father before all ages”, and there was never a time when the Son did not exist.
When we confess Jesus Christ to be the Son and Word of God, we are confessing that he is the beginningless creator of the universe, the eternal I AM (YHWH) who appeared and spoke to the Prophets of the Old Testament.
True God and true man
There are many instances in the Gospels where Jesus Christ identifies himself as the eternal Word of God: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), “he that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (14:9), “I am in the Father, and the Father in me” (14:11), “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I AM” (8:58).
In the Divine Liturgy, we confess that this eternal Word of God became a human being “without change”. In other words, when we say that God became man (incarnate), we do not mean that his nature changed from divine to human, or that he became a mix of the two (a half-divine, half-human demigod). Rather, we mean that the Word of God, remaining exactly as he had always been in his divine nature, took on a second, human nature, like ours in everything except sin.
Thus, the single person of Jesus Christ is God in exactly the same way as the Father and the Holy Spirit is God, and human in exactly the same way that we are: with a human body, soul, will and operation.
Why is this important? Because if he is not at once entirely God and entirely human, then he does not truly belong to either category of being and is therefore unable to unite the two. At the same time, however, he must be a single person, otherwise there is no union. If Jesus the man is one thing and Jesus the God another, then we remain separated and the purpose of God’s creation remains unfulfilled.
The Church therefore rejects any notion of change, mixture or confusion with regards to the human and divine natures, while also rejecting any separation of the person (hypostasis). There is in Jesus Christ one hypostasis of the Word of God incarnate, and two natures: divine and human.
The Hebrew name Jesus (Yeshua) means “God saves”, and it is the Incarnation — God becoming a man and joining himself to our nature — that saves us from the consequences of the Fall, our separation from God through sin. In the Incarnation, God takes to himself every experience and aspect of human existence, and in so doing heals and sanctifies it.
The cause of our Fall was our disobedience, and the ultimate consequence was our enslavement to death, having cut ourselves from the source of Life. The Fall is therefore undone when Jesus Christ, “being found in human form, humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).
In his absolute obedience to the will of the Father, Jesus — as the new Adam — undoes the disobedience and self-will of the first Adam. On the Cross, he sacrifices himself for our sakes, voluntarily taking upon himself as a man the experience of our suffering and death. But because he is also divine, death could not hold him, and on the third day he rises from the dead, opening the door to resurrection for us all.
As we sing every day during the fifty days of Pascha (Easter): “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tombs bestowing life”.
“God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17). Therefore, Jesus does not come to destroy, but to heal and to transform. The Cross — the Roman instrument of shame and torture — is transformed into a symbol of glory, and even death itself is transformed into a passover from fallen life into life eternal. Rather than destroying the sinner, Christ takes upon himself the sins of the world, inviting all to share in his Kingdom through repentance and spiritual purification.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life — John 3:16