The Spirit manifest in the flesh
As we mentioned in the Preface, the “all but unanimous” Pre-Nicene belief was that Christ was the Spirit of the Old Testament “Who was manifest in the flesh.”
Justin Martyr, in Chapter 33 of his First Apology in 150 A.D., wrote:
It is wrong, therefore, to understand the Spirit and the power of God as anything else than the Word, who is also the first-born of God, as the foresaid prophet Moses declared; and it was this which, when it came upon the virgin and overshadowed her, caused her to conceive, not by intercourse, but by power.
In discussing “pre-Nicene theology,” in his Book Early Christian Doctrines, the Trinitarian theologian J.N.D. Kelly wrote “the all but unanimous exegetical tradition of Luke 1:35 equated ‘the Holy Spirit’ and ‘the power of the Most High’. . . with Christ Who, pre-existing as spirit or Word, was to incarnate Himself in her womb.”1
This was the explanation of the Apostle Paul and the Apostle John.
It is interesting to compare Christ and John the Baptist in Luke Chapter 1. John would be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb (v. 15); but Christ was the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, who was manifest in the flesh, and so no description is made of Christ being filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. Rather, on His baptism, the Spirit of God (Matthew 3:16) descended on Him. He was the first to receive the Spirit of God. In the Old Testament, the Spirit of Christ was in the prophets, but in the kingdom of God, “the dwelling of God is with men.”
But if the Spirit of Christ was in John the Baptist, then how did the Spirit of Christ appear in the man Christ Jesus? The Spirit of Christ did not become a man, but was “manifest” in a man. The Spirit was “found in appearance as a man.” In the Old Testament, the Spirit appeared as an Angel, but at the same time the Spirit was in the prophets. In the New Testament, the Spirit appeared as Christ, but at the same time, was in John the Baptist.
The concept of “manifest in the flesh” is a difficult one, as Paul admitted:
“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:
‘Ὃς Who was manifested in the flesh,
justified in the Spirit,
seen of angels,
was preached among the Gentiles,
believed on in the world,
taken up into glory.”
1 Timothy 3:16
Christ was “fully man” and fully “the Spirit” manifest in the flesh. And, as we mentioned, the Spirit was not only in the man Christ Jesus. Just as the Spirit was not only the Angel of YHVH. The Spirit of Christ can be in more than one place at a time.
Jesus breathed His Spirit into His disciples, saying, “receive the Holy Spirit.” His Spirit was in His disciples and was in John the Baptist.
But the Spirit was able to “empty Himself” (Philippians 2:7) in the man Jesus Christ. Jesus grew up as a normal man. This is the “great mystery” Paul referred to.
Jesus demonstrated His “dual nature” as “the Son of Man”
In the next chapter, we will study Jesus’ statement “what if you see the Son of man ascend to where He was before?”
Some might say that since Jesus wasn’t a man before, you cannot say “the Son of man” was in heaven before.
But just as the expression “only begotten Son” prefigured Christ’s resurrection as the first Son of God (Acts 13:33), the expression “Son of Man” prefigured the Spirit of Christ as a man.
Christ was prophetically called the Son of Man in the Psalms:
Restore us, O God;
Cause Your face to shine,
And we shall be saved!
Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand,
Upon the Son of Man whom You made strong for Yourself.
Psalms 80:3, 7, 17, 19
God’s “face” or “presence,” beginning with Genesis 4:14, refers to Christ, “the Son of Man” at God’s right hand.
Jesus demonstrated his dual nature as the Spirit of ELOHIM and the Son of Man, in the Gospel of Mark.
When the scribes questioned whether a man could forgive sins, Jesus healed a paralytic before them, saying, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins.” (Mark 2:10). The judgment of all mankind has been assigned to “the Son” by God (John 5:22). This was prophetically spoken of the Spirit of Christ, the Angel, in Exodus 23:20–23. Christ’s dual nature as the Spirit and as the Son of Man gave Him the power to forgive sins. He later breathed His Spirit into His disciples, saying, “receive the Holy Spirit, if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them” (John 20:22-23).
Later, in the same chapter of Mark, Jesus said to the scribes, “the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath,” for “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28). By healing on the Sabbath day, Jesus proved to the Pharisees that God had made the Sabbath for man as a blessing, and not as a burden. But Jesus had another meaning; His Spirit was truly “the Lord of the Sabbath.” Christ was YHVH ELOHIM, the LORD of the Sabbath. As we read in the commandment, “the seventh day is the Sabbath of YHVH your ELOHIM” (Exodus 20:10). The seventh day is the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. This was understood by the early Church.
The expression “Son of Man” emphasized that Christ is not God
In the second century, many became confused and began to believe that Christ was “fully God” and “fully man.”
But, in fact, Christ was “fully man” and fully the Spirit of Christ “who was manifest in the flesh.”
The expression “Son of man” emphasized that Christ is not God.
This expression first appeared in the Book of Numbers, where we find the Bible’s meaning:
God is not a man, that He should lie,
Nor a son of man, that He should repent.
Has He said, and will He not do?
Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?
As this verse says, only God is inherently perfect. Jesus Himself said, “only God is good” (Mark 10:18). Only God is inherently good and completely incapable of a lie. But Christ made Himself perfect through the obedience, and imitation, of the Father.
How do we understand “manifest in the flesh”?
Perhaps the best illustration of “manifest in the flesh” is in Philippians 2:6–8.
Paul began, “Ὃς Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.”
The first thing we note is that the subject of this verse is “Ὃς Who.” Just as in 1 Timothy 3:16, “Ὃς Who was manifested in the flesh.” Paul used the generic “Who.”
The Spirit of Christ is neither male nor female. The masculine form of “Who” describes a person of any gender, as opposed to the neutral ὅ, which means “it.”
Paul told us the Spirit of Christ, in the Old Testament, was “in the form of God.”
If we remember from Chapter 8, Paul, in Acts 28:35, identified the Lord of Hosts who appeared to Isaiah, as “the Holy Spirit,” the Spirit of Christ.
The Spirit of Christ was previously in the form of God, as the image of the invisible God, as the YHVH of the Armies, above whom stood the seraphim, each with six wings and with two covering his face.
But though He was in the form of God, “He emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself” (Philippians 2:7-8).
The expression “He emptied Himself” explains many things. The man Jesus Christ was not born with the Spirit’s power and knowledge.
The Spirit of ELOHIM, being the firstborn of creation, had a complete knowledge and understanding of this world, and divine power to do the will of the Father. But somehow, the Spirit of Christ “emptied Himself” in Christ, to become the spirit of a man. Jesus Christ was able to “grow in wisdom and stature”(Luke 2:52) like any man. The power of God only came after His baptism.
The Spirit of Christ was only “found in appearance as a man”; He did not become a man. The Spirit of Christ was only “manifest in the flesh,” meaning that the Spirit continued to exist elsewhere. Just as the Spirit did not become an Angel in the Old Testament, but only appeared as an Angel.
The Book of Revelation gives us a wonderful illustration of “manifest in the flesh.” The Spirit of Christ appears in several forms in Chapter 1, including the Son of Man and the Ancient of Days. In the fifth Chapter of Revelation, the Spirit of Christ is manifest as the Son and the image of the invisible God on the throne. In Revelation 14:14–20, the Son of Man watches the Rider on the White Horse (the Body of Christ) treading out the wrath of God. Throughout the Book, we see “different” Angels, which are all the Spirit of Christ in different appearances. The final chapter of Revelation is the most dramatic, where the Spirit of Christ as the Angel of God speaks as God, and as the Angel of God and as the Son of Man, changing His identity from one phrase to the next.
Made alive in the Spirit
When Jesus gave up His last breath, He said to God, “‘into Your hands I commit My spirit’, and He breathed His last” (Luke 23:46). The word “spirit” and “breath” are the same in Greek, and Hebrew. Into the hands of God, He committed, “the breath of the Spirit of life” (Genesis 7:22).
One Man had to die for all, “the seed” of a woman as prophesied to Eve in Genesis 3:15. Paul said, “for since by man (Adam) came death, by Man (Christ) also came the resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:21).
The Apostle Peter told us that Christ was “made alive in the Spirit,” in which He preached to the spirits in Sheol:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit, in which also He went and preached to the spirits in prison.1 Peter 3:18-19
When He resurrected, He retained both His human body and His soul. This fulfilled the word of the Psalms: “For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption” (Psalms 16:10).
After His resurrection, Christ showed His uncorrupted body to Thomas, to confirm that He was not just a Spirit, but was still a man: “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:39).
Christ regained all His power when He resurrected
After Jesus resurrected, the Spirit of Christ was no longer “emptied” in Christ. Jesus could appear in rooms and places without having to walk there. It was not until after His resurrection that Jesus breathed His Spirit into His disciples, saying, “receive the Holy Spirit.” This is another proof that Christ was no longer emptied of the Spirit’s power.
- J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 1958, 5th rev. ed., London, p. 144. ↩