CHRIST'S COMING IN FLESH
By Adolph E. Knoch
SEVERAL intimate friends of the late lamented Pastor Russell have assured me that he was an open-minded seeker after truth. They insist that he said "If any of you can find anything better, I would advise you to take it, for that is what I would do myself." Not only that, but, when his time predictions, in which he had the utmost confidence, and which he supposed were firmly founded on the Scriptures, failed, he himself lost the assurance of infallibility with regard to his other interpretations, which seems to pervade his writings.
When the dates of his predictions passed, it was absolutely necessary to abandon them for "something better." Their failure should have recalled his followers to the Scriptures, not only as to his time periods, but as to all of his teaching. A prophet who manifestly fails in one important matter, may be wrong in another. There may be "something better" which even he would receive had he the opportunity to revise his interpretations.
The teaching that Christ is not coming in flesh was not originated by Pastor Russell. John H. Paton, an early friend in whose home Pastor Russell visited, and whose book, "Day Dawn," was the inspiration for "Millennial Dawn," claimed to have invented it. He had predicted that the Lord would come in October, 1874. At first he was disappointed, but later, as he could find no flaws in his computations, he invented the theory that the Lord had come, but is an invisible Spirit.
The great weakness of the society is the fear of investigation. The leaders are afraid to allow their followers to read anything outside their own publications for fear they will find out their fallacies. As in Rome the church is the infallible interpreter of Scripture, so the volumes have superseded the Word of God.
All this, we feel, is contrary to Pastor Russell's own wishes. He realized his fallibility and endeavored to base his teaching on the Word of God in the original. It is to this that we invite your attention in the following series of articles.
One of the gravest errors of the end time, emanating from the spirit of antichrist, has to do with the coming of Christ in flesh. Indeed, this is the special test which is given to discover whether a spirit is of God. It points out the false prophets. We earnestly and graciously exhort all to consider this matter with the utmost care and concern, for it does not stand alone. It is a keystone question. If we are wrong here, the spirit of our theology is antichristian and we should revise all our beliefs to conform them to the Word of God.
All of the Lord's saints fail to grasp the full circle of truth, and all hold some error. This does not make all false prophets or ally them with the spirit of antichrist. So there is something sinister about this subject. To use a modern term, correctness, as to His coming in flesh is "fundamental." If we are wrong here it violates our whole position. It makes those who claim to be "Christian," antichristian. It transforms a prophet into a false prophet. It seems to be the keynote of the great apostasy of the end time. It is of superlative importance whether we believe Christ's coming is in flesh or deny it.
The apostle John, in his epistles, is concerned with Christ "after the flesh," for he is an Israelite, and is writing to the Circumcision. He opens his first epistle by referring to the actual flesh of Christ: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we gaze at, and which our hands handle..." Hence he gives a test for false prophets based on the flesh of Christ. "Beloved, be not believing every spirit; but be testing the spirits, if they are of God, seeing that many false prophets have come out into the world. In this you are knowing the spirit of God: every spirit which is avowing Jesus Christ having come in flesh is of God, and every spirit which is not avowing Jesus the Lord having come in flesh is not of God. And this is of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and is now already in the world" (1 John 4:1-3).
It is usual to miss the whole point of this passage by mentally substituting came for having come. All that many of us get out of it is the statement of a past event, which is now history, with no bearing on the present, Christ came in flesh. But this by no means exhausts the meaning of having come, which does not describe a past act, but a present condition. When John wrote, he was not simply insisting on the incarnation of Christ, but on the state to which it introduced Him, and that state as continuing to the time he wrote and to the time of antichrist.
The force of the perfect tense is not a subject of debate, for all are agreed. I have personally considered every occurrence of it in the Greek Scriptures, with a view to its best expression in English. Before giving examples, we will quote from a few, recognized works to show that it has a present as well as a past application. Bagster's Analytical Lexicon defines it thus, "The perfect conveys the double notion of an action terminated in past time, and of its effect existing in the present." Crosby's grammar makes it still more clear "The Perfect represents an action as complete at the present time." Winner, in his grammar of the New Testament Diction, says: "The Perfect is employed in strict accordance with its proper import, when the past is expressed with relation to the present." Curtius, in his grammar of the Greek Language, says: "by the Perfect the Greeks denote an action completed for and with reference to the Present." I have never seen or heard of a Greek grammar that did not teach that the force of the Perfect was in the present.
The definition in the CONCORDANT VERSION is as follows: "The complete or `perfect' tense denotes the state resulting from an action. The standard is I-HAVE-ED." This makes it easy for anyone who uses the CONCORDANT VERSION to test the matter, for the perfect tense is always-HAVE-in the sublinear. Note the difference in such statements as "I came to believe [in time past] and I have come to believe [in the present]. While the action of the perfect is in the past, the result is always in the present. Christ came in flesh proves nothing as to the present, but Christ has come in flesh is a most emphatic statement that He is in flesh at this time. When John wrote his epistle Christ was in flesh, and those who taught otherwise were false prophets. The same is true today.
A few examples should suffice to show this. In Acts 18:2 we have the perfect participle: "Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy..." Note that the action was past. He came. But the effect was present. So the coming of Christ in flesh, spoken of in this passage, is a past act, but a present state. This very passage contains a good example. "Many false prophets have come out into the world." John was not concerned with the mere act of their coming, but with the fact of their having come, and their present teaching.
In John's second epistle he refers to this matter again. "And this is love, that we may be walking according to His precepts. This is the precept, according as you hear from the beginning, that you may be walking in it, seeing that many deceivers came out into the world, who are not avowing Jesus Christ coming in flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Be looking to yourselves lest you should be destroying your work, but that you may be getting full wages."
It has been objected that the word coming here must be understood and translated as of past time because the previous verb is in the past tense. But this is neither grammar nor logic. The coming refers to Christ. The previous verb refers to the deceivers. We must first prove that Christ was one of the deceivers, before we can prove that His coming coincided with theirs. The word "coming" is not limited by any verb. It is a general statement, not confined to any time. Whoever denies Christ coming in flesh--at any coming--finds himself under the shadow of this awful scripture.
There is absolutely no possibility of confining this "coming" to our Lord's first advent. Should we, for argument's sake, follow out the false connection with the preceding verb, and insist that it refers to the past, even that does not prove it, for the coming can go no further back than the time when the many deceivers came out (2 John 7). These did not come out until after His resurrection. Falsely constructing it with the previous verb does not alter the case at all. It only shows the desperate lengths to which those are driven who deny His coming in flesh but wish to escape the stigma it entails and its condemnation of their position.
After giving the Diaglott version, "Jesus Christ did come in flesh," someone adds, "No Greek scholar, we believe, will ever be found to contradict this definition..." This is equivalent to saying that there were no Greek scholars among the Revisers, for they deliberately changed the Authorized Version "is come" to "cometh." Rotherham has "coming." Even the Diaglott, from which the false rendering is taken, has "coming" in its interlinear. Anyone who will construe a participle with a verb with which it has no connection is hardly entitled to be an authority in Greek grammar.
There is one example of the participle coming which ought to settle this matter finally. In the title, "Who is, and Who was, and Who is coming" (Rev.1:8) we have the word coming in the present tense, used independently of the previous verb, just as in the passage before us. We need hardly ask, Does this refer to His past coming? By no means. It is used long after that was past and must refer to His future unveiling.
This is confirmed and strengthened by the fact that the present participle, coming, in this exact form is always used in a future sense in the Scriptures. When a participle is used independently, as here, we must judge of its meaning from its context and usage elsewhere. Thus "The Coming One," though present, we refer to the future. So with the coming here. In its six previous occurrences the preceding verb fixes the coming as future. It is impossible to confine it to the past without ignoring its established usage. The passages in which erchomenon occurs are as follows:
till they should be perceiving the Son of Mankind
coming in His kingdom.
24:30 they shall be viewing the Son of Mankind
coming on the clouds of heaven
26:64 you shall be viewing the Son of Mankind...
coming on the clouds of heaven
Mark 13:26 then shall they be viewing the Son of Mankind
coming on clouds
14:62 you shall be viewing the Son of Mankind...
coming with the clouds of heaven
Luke 21:27 they shall be viewing the Son of Mankind
coming in a cloud.
Finally, note the negatives in both of these passages. They cannot condemn those who avow Jesus Christ coming in flesh in the past, present and future, as we do. There is not the slightest possibility that it may apply to us. Not so with those who try to confine it to the past. They must face the fact that the past tense is not once used in reference to this coming in flesh. The use of the perfect and present participle is absolutely inexplicable in a matter of such grave import, if the statement has no reference to the present or future.
We will now consider some of the prominent passages which deal with the flesh of Christ in resurrection, and with those which are put forth as evidence that He is a spirit being, without flesh and bones.
There seems to be a contradiction in the Scriptures as to Christ's resurrection state. Some passages seem to make Him a Spirit, others emphatically deny such a deduction. Like all such apparent discrepancies in the Scriptures, this vanishes when we look closely at the contexts. There is an elaborate effort to prove that He is not a spirit, which settles the matter. When He is called a Spirit, it is manifestly a figure of speech, intended to bring out a needed emphasis. As to fact, He is not a spirit. As to feeling, He is so preeminently spiritual, that He is figuratively called a Spirit.
We are asked to believe that the expression, "the last Adam a vivifying Spirit" (1 Cor.15:45), proves that Christ, in resurrection, had no body of flesh, for "a spirit has not flesh and bones." But let us observe the context. The subject of the passage is the body. "If there is a soulish body, there is a spiritual also. Thus also it is written, `The first man Adam became a living soul; the last Adam a vivifying Spirit.' But the spiritual is not first, but the soulish, thereupon the spiritual. The first man was but of the earth, soulish; the second Man is the Lord out of heaven" (1 Cor.15:44-47).
Let us apply the same reasoning to the statement "The first man, Adam, became a living soul." We immediately see that this is not true as to fact, for we know that Adam was not a soul in the exclusive sense that he had no flesh and no spirit. We must take the next statement in the same way. The last Adam is a vivifying Spirit in the same sense that the first man was a living soul. If the fact that Adam was a living soul did not preclude his having flesh and spirit, neither does the fact that Christ is a Spirit preclude His having flesh and a soul, as other scriptures plainly teach. This is a common figure of speech, often used in the Scriptures. It is called synecdoche of the part, in which a part of a thing is put for the whole, in order to emphasize its importance. We will confine our examples to such passages as speak of some part of man, yet must mean the whole. Not only was Adam called a living soul immediately after we are informed that he was composed of the soil of the ground and the breath of life, but soul is often used of men in both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. Genesis 12:5 speaks of the souls that they had gotten in Haran. The king of Sodom told Abram to take the goods and give him the souls (Gen. 14:21).
See also Gen.46:15,26,27; Ex.12:19; Lev.5:2,4; Joshua 20:3; Ezek.18:4,20; Luke 6:9; Acts 2:41; 7:14; Rom.13:1; 1 Peter 3:20. In fact the Authorized Version sometimes omits the word soul. Instead of Samson saying "Let my souldie with the Philistines," they make it "Let me die" (Judges 16:30).
Sometimes the head is used for the whole man (Psalm 7:16 (17); Prov.10:6), and the face (Gen.3:19), and the eyes (Matt.13:16), and the mouth (Prov.8:13), and the feet (Rom.3:15).
The most pertinent examples are those in which the flesh is used for the whole person. When we read that "All flesh had corrupted its way on the earth" (Gen.6:12), we do not conclude that this refers to special beings without a soul or spirit. The flesh is mentioned because it is most prominent in this corruption. "I will not fear what flesh can do unto me," (Psa. 56:4 (5)) brings before us man's weakness through lack of spirit. The following examples of this figure should be carefully considered:
Luke 3: 6
and all flesh shall be viewing the glory of God.
John 1:14 and the Word became flesh 17: 2 Thou givest Him authority over all flesh Acts 2:17 I shall be pouring out from My spirit on all flesh. 3:20 by works of law, no flesh shall be justified 1 Cor. 1:29 so that no flesh should be boasting before God Gal. 2:16 by works of law shall no flesh be justified Heb. 5: 7 in the days of His flesh 1 Pet. 1:24 All flesh is grass 3:18 put to death, indeed, in flesh, yet made alive in spirit
In most of these mankind, as a whole, is brought before us. In no case is literal flesh intended, yet it is always this part of man which is especially in view.
But we are especially interested in the two passages which speak of Christ as flesh John tells us that the Word became flesh (John 1:14). If we take this literally, then the Logos lacked both soul and spirit, which, may seem a "reasonable" deduction, but so utterly without foundation in fact that no one believes it. In Hebrews 5:7, we are referred to His sufferings, as "the days of His flesh." This is most expressive, for the flesh was the medium of His sufferings. But who would claim that He was this and nothing else?
Thus we see that our Lord was called flesh before His death and is called a Spirit after it. If we are prepared to say that He had no soul and spirit when He was "flesh," then only may we insist that, as a Spirit, He has no flesh and soul.
If, then, we come to this passage, dealing with the difference between a soulish and a spiritual body, and find Adam called a soul, it would be folly to conclude that he had no flesh. It is just as foolish to reason that, because our Lord is called a Spirit He has no flesh. The passage is concerned with a body. It answers the question, "With what body are they coming?" and contrasts the resurrection body with the soulish body, showing that you are not sowing the body which shall come to be. It takes for granted that Adam had a body. It calls it a soulish body because he was a living soul. It calls our Lord's body a spiritual body because He is a life-giving Spirit.
The same observation applies to the terms "spiritual body" and "soulish body." We know that a soulish body is flesh, and not soul, so also a spiritual body is flesh and not spirit. The adjectives "soul" and "spirit" give us its character. They do not change it to soul or spirit.
The disciples, when they first saw the Lord after His resurrection suppose they are beholding a spirit. If He is a literal spirit, without flesh, that was the time and place to make it known. He would have confirmed their impression if it were true. At least He would not have denied it and given them tangible proof of their mistake. We are asked to believe that He really was a spirit, but materialized for this and other occasions. If this were true, He would have told them so. He would not deceive them into believing that He was not a spirit. The word of God knows, nothing of "materializations." All such doings are the work of wicked spirits, and we have not words to express our loathing of the implication that our Lord was a sort of spiritual medium, and tried to deceive His disciples into believing that He was not. How many so-called "materializations" of demon possessed enemies of God and Christ, would allow the searching tests He proposed? "Handle Me and perceive, seeing that a spirit has not flesh and bones, according as you behold Me having." Not only that, but He asked for food, and ate part of a broiled fish in their presence. Let me repeat. "Materialization" is never mentioned in God's word. It is connected with the unholy spirits of demons. We may as well say that He is a demon as to accuse Him of their lawless acts. Besides this we make Him a liar and a deceiver, for He explicitly denies that He is a spirit, and gives every possible proof to the contrary.
That the flesh of Christ was actually raised from the dead is set beyond question by the prophecy of David which Peter quoted at Pentecost: "My flesh also shall be tenting in expectation." Peter explains this of His flesh, that it did not decay (Acts 2:26,31). This was spoken of the body of Christ in death soon after His resurrection by the foremost of the twelve apostles. Peter certainly believed that the flesh of Christ was raised from death.
The resurrection of Christ is put before us in three different aspects. As to His flesh, He was raised; as to His soul, He was roused; as to His spirit, He was vivified. Often, indeed, do we read of His resurrection, which speaks of His flesh (Acts 1:22; 2:31; 4:2,33; 17:18; Phil.3:10; 1 Peter 1:3; 8:21; and Matt.17:9; 20:19; Mark 9:9,31; 10:34; 16:9; Luke 24:7,46; John 20:9; Acts 2:24,32; 3:26; 13:34; 17:3, 31; 1 Thess.4:14). Indeed, He is the Resurrection (John 11:25). This word refers to the upstanding of the body, and is often used of it apart from death. Peter was awake and alive when he arose to go to Dorcas (Acts 9:39). When he arrived there, he said to the body "Rise!" (Acts 9:40).
Every time the resurrection of Christ is spoken of in the Scriptures there is a distinct stress laid on the fact that His flesh was raised as well as His soul roused and His spirit vivified. The release of the body from death can be spoken of as rousing, and this is often done, for all three of the terms used include the resurrection of the body. If the flesh were not raised, there certainly would be no need for a distinct term which has special reference to it.
We hope all who read this will realize how solemn and serious this matter is. I would shudder at the mere possibility of being a false prophet or of following one. I would dread the slightest suspicion that my belief was antichristian. As I do not deny Christ coming in flesh at any time, past or future, I am sure that I am not included in the awful consequences. If I believed that Christ is not coming in flesh in the future I would not rest until the matter is settled. Do not let men frighten you. Fear God. Do not allow a system of philosophy to deceive you. God's Word alone is truth. All that opposes it is error.
The latest development of this rejection of the coming of Christ in flesh is a denial that he will come at all. This is the logical deduction of the idea that He is Spirit and has no flesh. The leader of the Society has written: "The difficulty has been that many of the dear friends have thought that the Lord would have to leave and have to come down and stay on earth or near the earth in order to carry on his business...This work he could conduct from the Pleiades, as well as he could from New York City, because distance has nothing to do With a spirit being...It would be foolish to think that the Lord Jesus must be on earth and leave heaven...his location is not at all important or material, when we speak of his presence."
This ought to warn us as to the awful consequence of this teaching. It destroys everything. The Lord's, resurrection, His present humanity, His return--the most vital and essential doctrines in the Word of God--all vanish before this insidious error. The living, loving Christ of God vanishes into a nebulous mist, leaving open to receive His substitute, the antichrist.
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