Does He Seem To You?

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. I John 4:1-3

Since Christ came, people have been struggling to explain Him based on their own world views, rather than on His. Their passions drive them to characterize Him in twisted ways so that He conforms to their beliefs. Some are secular humanists, some are followers of wayward prophets, some are deeply religious. Some insist that He simply must approve of their favorite sin because He is so loving. Some look at the world and insist He must be passive, watching the world helplessly wind down.

Around the time of the early church, there were some whose world view simply wouldn’t allow them to believe He came to earth as a man. So they decided He just seemed, kind of an airy mist. He was more a ghost than a person.

They were called Docetists, deriving from dokesis – “appearance” or “semblance”. The Greek word dokeo is “to seem.”

They simply could not believe that God would come to earth in fleshly form – in an actual physical body. He only appeared, like a fog. Docetists denied any physical association with Jesus, from His birth, the reality of His body, to His death.

The “Docetae” were a sect of one of the most prevalent heresies among the early church members, something called Gnosticism, the belief that spirit and flesh cannot coexist, because anything spirit is “pure good” and anything flesh is “pure evil” – so how could the two be combined in the person of Jesus Christ? Gnosticism is one of the most dangerous and pervasive heresies. Much Scripture is focused on combating the idea, which is one reason it is John’s first example of “anti-Christ” thinking in the text that introduces this post. The book, The Davinci Code is based on Gnostic beliefs and texts.

As Gnostics, Docetists simply could not or would not believe that God would come in the flesh, a human being born in a manger, killed on a cross. They could not stand the thought of Good Friday, God in flesh naked, writhing and bleeding for all to see. That was far too human.

So they did what a lot of people do – they made something up.

He only seemed, just a mist, He wasn’t really there.

I think there are two lessons to be learned from the mistakes of the Docetists, particularly around the Good Friday and Easter season.


The first calls to mind times when we as believers, knowing the truth of His reality, act as though He only seems. We get lost in our sin, as if He doesn’t see and know. He isn’t real to us, and we act accordingly. We let obedience, forgiveness and love float away. Our lives don’t truly represent Godliness, they just seem like they do. We know He is real, yet we act as though He is a harmless mist, like the stuff that blows out of our cars’ A/C vents on an August afternoon.

The second lesson is what we lose when we don’t embrace His coming in the flesh. He was fully God and fully human for a reason. And to rob Him of His humanness, which the Docetists were driven to do, lets death out of its prison as far as you’re concerned.

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them,fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Hebrews 2:14-18

He had to be made like you.

And because He was, you can be free.

This Good Friday, don’t take that from Him, or you.

Docetism is not properly a Christian heresy at all, as it did not arise in the Church from the misunderstanding of a dogma by the faithful, but rather came from without. Gnostics starting from the principle of antagonism between matter and spirit, and making all salvation consist in becoming free from the bondage of matter and returning as pure spirit to the Supreme Spirit, could not possibly accept the sentence, “the Word was made flesh”, in a literal sense. In order to borrow from Christianity the doctrine of a Saviour who was Son of the Good God, they were forced to modify the doctrine of the Incarnation. Their embarrassment with this dogma caused many vaccinations and inconsistencies; some holding the indwelling of an Aeon in a body which was indeed real body or humanity at all; others denying the actual objective existence of any body or humanity at all; others allowing a “psychic”, but not a “hylic” or really material body; others believing in a real, yet not human “sidereal” body; others again accepting the of the body but not the reality of the birth from a woman, or the reality of the passion and death on the cross. Christ only seemed to suffer, either because He ingeniously and miraculously substituted someone else to bear the pain, or because the occurence on Calvary was a visual deception. Simon Magus first spoke of a “putative passion of Christ and blasphemously asserted that it was really he, Simon himself, who underwent these apparent sufferings. “As the angels governed this world badly because each angel coveted the principality for himself he [Simon] came to improve matters, and was transfigured and rendered like unto the Virtues and Powers and Angels, so that he appeared amongst men as man though he was no man and was believed to have suffered in Judea though he had not suffered” (passum in Judea putatum cum non esset passus — Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. I, xxiii sqq.). The mention of the demiurgic angels stamps this passage as a piece of Gnosticism. Soon after a Syrian Gnostic of Antioch, Saturninus or Saturnilus (about 125) made Christ the chief of the Aeons, but tried to show that the Savior was unborn (agenneton) and without body (asomaton) and without form (aneideon) and only apparently (phantasia) seen as man (Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., XXIV, ii).