+ Dr. Daniel Lee introduces 1, 2, and 3 John, emphasizing how important it is to our Christian life and faith that Jesus became incarnate in vulnerable and humble flesh.
Daniel D. Lee is assistant provost for the Center for Asian American Theology and Ministry and assistant professor of theology and Asian American ministry at Fuller. Serving in various leadership roles since 2010, he has been the key force behind Fuller’s Asian American Center and the Asian American Initiative before that.
“The witness of 1, 2, and 3 John is that Jesus came in the flesh, in the body, in the way that we can see, experience, and touch. . . and that God, that embodied God, has implications for our lives.” – Daniel D. Lee
Dr. Daniel Lee introduces 1, 2, and 3 John, emphasizing how important it is to our Christian life and faith that Jesus became incarnate in vulnerable and humble flesh.
I’m Dr. Daniel Lee. I serve as the assistant provost of the Center for Asian American Theology and Ministry. And I also teach as the assistant professor of theology and Asian American ministry as well. I’ll offer some reflections on first, second, and third Epistles of John.
These letters talk about what it means that God is light and God is love as they’re facing heretical teachings. And one of the teachings they were actually struggling with was kind of a particular form of gnosticism. They basically focused on Jesus as as the Word, the eternal Word, but not Jesus as coming in the flesh.
So this is how the letter starts out: talking about the one that they have heard, they’ve seen with their eyes, and the hands of whom they have touched and handled. That is the one they’re talking about. When we realize that Christ’s body mattered, Christ’s flesh mattered, the concrete living out and the kind of life that Jesus lived mattered in the incarnation, then we can take more seriously how our flesh matters.
I mean that can be simple as just how we think about our bodies in discipleship. When we think about the Sabbath, Sabbath is not a—and keeping the Sabbath in the fourth commandment—is not a spiritual act only. It is a physical, concrete act as well. While we eat, when we sleep, you know, how we have sex, all that, all that’s wrapped up in our discipleship. And that actually, we think about our gospel that way, because we think about Jesus that way. How we think about the Incarnation, how we think about who Jesus is in the body, makes a big difference about how we live our lives in our bodies as well. So we start with that. The idea of an incarnate God. The idea of God who came in the flesh.
Another theme that comes out of these letters is this idea of the Antichrist. And I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and how many times throughout church history people have obsessed about who the Antichrist is. When we look at the text, it says anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ is an antichrist. Does that mean anyone who’s not a Christian can become the Antichrist? Well actually, the letters are talking about something more particular. We’re talking about Jesus in the flesh, who has died this gruesome death. That that Jesus is the Christ. And that was a stumbling block.
That was a stumbling block in the early church, and that was a stumbling block throughout history, because we don’t want a God that actually is that weak. We want a God that actually comes and comes in power, that comes with honor, that comes with glory and prestige. We don’t want a weak God. We don’t want a God who rules in humility, and foolishness, and weakness. And what we see in these letters is a reminder. The fact that that is not who Jesus is. And the spirit of the Antichrist comes when we deny the weak, and vulnerable, and humble Jesus to be the Christ.
I think it’s easy to forget what the confession “Jesus is the Christ” means. It’s so familiar for us that we don’t realize that that itself is a profound statement. Jesus was born in the flesh, who lived a life and died, was crucified. That is the Christ. That is savior of the world. How would we take that seriously in its scandal? That suffering, and humility, and powerlessness—in the incarnational sense—is part of the gospel. That the flesh that Jesus takes up, the body that Jesus takes up, is part of the gospel. That’s the profound truth of these letters. The witness of 1, and 2, and 3 John is that Jesus came in the flesh, in the body, in the way that we can see, experience, and touch that God. And that God, that embodied God, has implications for our lives.