And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14a)
The Son of God did not simply appear to be human, nor did He merely possess a human body, but the Son of God actually became a human. However this is not how the Apostle John was inspired to write it. John did not say the Son of God become a human—though this is truly the case—but the beloved Apostle was moved to write that the Son of God became flesh! This is doubly astounding. First, as just stated, the eternal Son literally became flesh, permanently taking into Himself flesh and blood, eternally to be identified as the human named Jesus. Second, God’s Son became flesh. This is hardly the word one would expect in this ever-so-brief Christmas story. To become “flesh” would not only be perceived as undignified, it would also be linked to nastiness and death.
Going all the way back before Noah’s flood God bemoaned: My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh…[Gen 6:3]. Thus in short order God identified man’s fallenness with the word “flesh”. Saint Peter echoes this universal “fleshy” nature of humanity: All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls… [1 Peter 1:24]. No one can escape this fallen condition of the flesh.
In the New Testament “flesh” would be used as a technical term to describe man’s fallen, depraved nature. Thus the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans: For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin….For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh [7:14,18]. When Saint John wrote that the Son of God (the Word) became flesh, he is identifying the extent to which the Christ would humble Himself. As flesh Christ came purposely to be identified with man’s sinfulness—with our fallen flesh. So Holy Scripture describes how God the Father would make His fleshly Son to be sin: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God [2 Cor 5:21]. The Word-made-flesh ultimately pointed to sin dying on the cross.
Relative to this, Christ is identified with the curse that fell upon mankind through Adam. Being under this curse, we each are facing—because of sin—the final earthly stroke of the curse, the death of our bodies. Of this curse falling upon the Word made flesh Saint Paul was inspired to write: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” [Gal 3:13]. God’s Son became flesh, and this incarnation then conveys how Jesus could become our curse on the tree of the cross.
So finally and appropriately the “fleshy” Christ would enter the tomb. The Greek word for flesh is sarx and the Greek word for tomb is sarcophagus…literally “flesh eater”. So the enfleshed Son of God would enter what for you and me is the “flesh eater” (sarcophagus), for in our graves our flesh is consumed as it returns to dust; however, His ever-so-powerful resurrection shows that Christ’s tomb cannot devour Him. Though He is indeed flesh, yet His is perfectly righteous and death has no consuming power over Him. Saint Paul explains Christ’s resurrected immortality: We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. [Rom 6:9].
From His incarnation onward, the Son of God has never ceased being the enfleshed Son of God, and yet this flesh is now to be recognized as immortal! He will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. Christ Jesus has so transformed flesh that now it is sanctified into eternity. It is no coincidence that this verse just quoted (Rom 6:9) is one of the climactic verses in Paul’s powerful explanation of the meaning of Baptism. Our flesh, baptized into Christ, is so united with Christ that our flesh has also been transformed! We perceive this transformation only by faith now, but on the last day we will perceive it with sight when, like the Savior, our bodies will rise from the grave. And then we will have—though we cannot comprehend it—immortal bodies. Truly this is why the Word (Son of God) became flesh!