In our last study we looked at the importance that Jesus Christ “was born of the seed of David.” That connected Jesus to both His position as the promised Messiah who would rule from the throne of His father David, and to God’s promise to Eve that her Seed would bruise (crush) the head of the seed of the serpent and God’s promise to Abraham concerning his Seed. Today, we will look at what being born “according to the flesh” means to Jews and Gentiles.
One of the beautiful things about Paul’s letter to the Romans is that he presented a powerful argument for Christianity to every part of society. We’ll learn more about the Roman Church in future studies, but we can already see in these first sentences of Paul’s letter that he is reaching out to the interests of everyone.
The Greek for “according to the flesh” is kata sarka. The word kata is – “a preposition denoting motion or diffusion or direction from the higher to the lower” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Zondervan Publishing, 1978). Paul used the word kata with the accusative (sarka), so it carries the idea of coming down upon. The word sarka translates as “physical, material flesh.”
It’s important to remember that Paul is still writing his first sentence to the Romans. Paul said he was “separated to the gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh … ” Christ’s physical (flesh and bone) birth to the Virgin Mary is critical to the Gospel of God. In fact, to remove Christ’s physical birth from the Gospel would render it powerless and useless. That, of course, cannot be done because the “flesh” of Christ is sine qua non to His purpose in coming to earth to save His people from their sins.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14
“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
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life.” 1 John 1:1
“By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.” 1 John 4:2-3
Let’s look at that last statement for a minute. God’s eternal plan for His Son was that He “come in the flesh.” Why? Because sin spread through flesh and through flesh sin had to be stopped. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12)
God began demonstrating the disease and the cure for sin through the flesh of animals, but it was only a picture of what Christ would do. The Jews’ practice of animal sacrifices was a “shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things” (Hebrews 10:1). In fact, the animal sacrifices offered continually year after year were a constant reminder of the people’s sins – “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). So, what was the meaning of the complex system of animal sacrifices in Judaism? It was about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.
“Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: ‘Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure.’ Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come—In the volume of the book it is written of Me—To do Your will, O God.’” Hebrews 10:5-7
Do you see it? God the Father and God the Holy Spirit prepared “a body” for God the Son so that He could do the Will of His Father. That hearkens back to the great words of Luke 1 – “And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
Mary wondered how she could become pregnant when she did “not know a man.” Gabriel’s answer came directly from Heaven. God the Father’s eternal plan had been that God the Son would become “flesh” and sacrifice His body and blood so that sinful human beings could be “sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).
This is a brilliant plan! The Eternal Son of God needed a human body in order to be a “sacrifice” for the human race. How could He do that and still be God? God the Spirit came “upon” Mary and God the Father “overshadowed” her so that the “Holy One” who would be born to her would be both human and “the Son of God.” Jesus was (and is) fully God and fully human.
I don’t want us to miss the power of Paul’s statement to the Romans – “born of the seed of David according to the flesh.” Jesus Christ is the Seed God promised to Eve and Abraham. Those promises were central to the overarching covenant (testament) God made to them. As the writer of Hebrews explained – “For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives” (Hebrews 9:16-17).
The covenants God made with men were made with blood – “not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood” (Hebrews 9:18). When Moses spoke the Law to the people of Israel, “he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you” (Hebrews 9:19-20). After that, Moses sprinkled blood on the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry – “And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22).
Jesus accomplished something that no one else in the universe was able to do and He did it through His “flesh” – “so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:28). And, just as Paul told the Romans that the “gospel of God” promised through the Old Testament prophets concerned Jesus Christ, the writer of Hebrews quotes Jesus as saying, “In the volume of the book it is written of Me.” The “volume of the book” refers to the same prophets. Everything in the Hebrew Bible points to the coming of Christ in the flesh.
Let’s go back for a moment to something we quoted from 1 John 4. It will help us understand what has been a continual problem in the history of the Church concerning the doctrine of the Jesus Christ coming “in the flesh.”
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” 1 John 4:1-6
John wrote those words in his first letter because there were already people opposing the apostolic teaching that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh. John called it “the spirit of the Antichrist.” That spirit, John said, “is now already in the world.” We know that the “spirit” behind any false doctrine taught by false prophets is Satan. Satan is the enemy of God and His people. Satan wants the world to believe that Jesus Christ did “not” come in the flesh, and his campaign against that vital teaching of the Church has been relentless.
We’ll look at the history of that “false doctrine” from the 1st century AD to the present day, and how Christians can answer those claims, in the next part of our study on Romans – The Gospel of God.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”