Christianity teaches the doctrine of the Trinity. It was gradually developed by post-apostolic church fathers over a period of about 250 years and made official at the Second Ecumenical Council, in 381. It means that God is three co-equal and co-eternal persons: the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. In nearly the next two centuries, church fathers developed this teaching further about how Jesus could be both man and God. It is called “the hypostatic union.” It means Jesus had two natures: a human nature and a divine nature. This teaching also includes the Incarnation. It means that Jesus, as the Logos-Son of God, eternally preexisted in heaven and came into the world to be born a God-man. The church ever since has asserted that the Incarnation is taught in the Bible and that it is mostly in the Gospel of John. Yet, the words Trinity, two natures, hypostatic union, and Incarnation are not in the Bible.
I was taught all of this and believed it for twenty-two years. Then one day, while I was alone in my office studying the Bible, I had a eureka moment about this subject that changed my life forever. I was reading in Jesus’ Olivet Discourse wherein he said of his yet future return, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mt 24.36 NRSV; cf. Mk 13.32). I had been taught—in accordance with the doctrine of the hypostatic union of the two natures—Jesus said that from the sole perspective of his human nature, since being God he certainly knew in his divine nature the time of his yet future return. I then exclaimed out loud to myself, “That makes Jesus look like a liar. He said he didn’t know, but he really did know.” I then decided that I must seriously look into this. I did, and I wrote a 600-page book about it entitled The Restitution of Jesus Christ. In it, I show that the Bible does not identify Jesus as God. I do so by thoroughly examining all of the critical, biblical texts on this subject while referencing the writings of over 400 scholars. It is my magnum opus.
So, let’s have a brief look at the Gospel of John to see if it teaches the Incarnation. As we do, we will focus primarily on the idea of Jesus “coming into the world” or him being “sent” into the world by God. This subject about his “coming” or being “sent” into the world occurs about forty times in this gospel. We first read therein of Jesus in this way, “in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (Jn 1.4-5). After that we soon read of him, “The true light was coming into the world” (v. 9). Does this refer to an Incarnation or Jesus’ public ministry, which he began at about age thirty (Mk 3.23). The next text suggests that it refers to his public ministry. For it says, “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him” (Jn 1.10-11).
Two chapters later we read in this gospel, “Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God” (Jn 3.1-2). So, Nicodemus, a great Torah teacher and not yet a disciple of Jesus, recognized that Jesus had “come from God.” But what did he mean? He surely did not believe that Jesus preexisted as God and came into this world by means of an Incarnation. Rather, Nicodemus meant that Jesus spiritually had come from God.
It was the same with John the Baptist. For we read in this gospel, back in its chapter one, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light,” referring to Jesus (Jn 1.6). Just as Nicodemus did not mean that Jesus preexisted and then came from God, so the Johannine author does not mean here that John the Baptist preexisted and therefore was literally sent from heaven to earth by God. No, it means God spiritually sent him.
Not long into Jesus’ ministry, only the Gospel of John reports that Jesus healed a man who had been lame for thirty-eight years (Jn 5.5-9). Since it was on the Sabbath day, “the Jews started persecuting Jesus because he was doing such things on the sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is still working, and I also am working.’ For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God” (vv. 16-18). Traditionalists (who believe Jesus is God) wrongly interpret this as being true, whereas the author only represents it as what those Jews believed. They were obviously mistaken because Jesus then gave a lengthy rebuttal in vv. 19-47. Therein, he says twice of himself, “the Son can do nothing on his own” and “I can do nothing on my own” (vv. 19, 30). No one who thought himself equal to God could say that. Jesus further explained in this context of his healing the lame man, “The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. And the Father who has sent me has himself testified on my behalf” (vv. 36-37). So, Jesus said he was, like John the Baptist, sent by God, and that is how he could do miracles.
Now let us fast-forward to the end of Jesus’ ministry, where this concept of Jesus coming into the world becomes most prominent. Right after the Last Supper, and therefore shortly before Jesus was arrested and crucified, Jesus told his disciples that he was about to leave this world (Jn 16.16-20). He then consoled them by saying, “the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father” (v. 28 ESV). Did Jesus’ disciples believe that he meant an Incarnation, that he had preexisted and came into the world at his birth? No! For they replied, “we believe that you came from God” (v. 30b ESV). Furthermore, he concluded these remarks by predicting, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (v. 33b ESV).
“The world” (Gr. ton kosmon) in these above texts therefore means the cosmos system that is opposed to the things of God. Jesus came into that world, this cosmos, at the time of his public ministry to be a light unto it because it was enveloped in spiritual darkness. That is what the Gospel of John means when it repeatedly says that Jesus came into the world.