Jesus Christ: Who is He? Part 5

Jesus Christ: Who is He?

(Part 5)

Richard Hollerman

 

The Pre-Birth Existence

of Christ

How far back in history can we trace the existence of Jesus Christ?  We know that Jesus was born of Mary, a Galilean virgin, but did our Savior exist before this?  Some people just assume that Christ’s history began about 2,000 years ago in Israel, but is this an unfounded and incorrect assumption?

A number of answers have been offered to this crucial subject.  Some ultra-liberal Protestants would even doubt that our Lord had a pre-existence.  Others may say that He began at His conception in Nazareth, nine months before His birth.  There are some religionists, such as the Watchtower Witnesses and others, who believe that Jesus (in His pre-incarnate) form) was created by a special act of God before anything else was created (they like to refer to “wisdom” in Proverbs 8:22-31).  Traditionally, Jesus is thought to be eternal in nature since He is God and one with the Father.  He had no origin for He always has been.

Various fairly conservative groups also deny Christ’s pre-existence and claim that He had His origin only 2,000 years ago.  For instance, Victor Paul Wierwille of The Way International maintained that Jesus did not exist before His birth.  The Christadelphians also reject Christ’s pre-existence.  For instance, Duncan Heaster, a Christadelphian, reasons that “the Son of God did not exist before his birth.”  He continues, “The whole record of the virgin birth makes a nonsense of the claim that Jesus preexisted as a person before His birth. . . [It] is merely a continuation of the old pagan idea that the gods came to earth.”[1] Further, the Church of God (of the Abrahamic Faith) also rejects the idea that He existed before His conception and birth.  Alva G. Huffer, the group’s theologian, affirms, “Jesus did not exist as a person until He was born at Bethlehem.”[2]

United Pentecostalism (and other Apostolic groups) would say that Jesus, before the incarnation, was only a single divine Person who was known as the Father when Jesus was on earth.  David K. Bernard, one of their chief spokesmen, explains: “From the beginning, God’s Word—His mind, reason, thought, plan—was with Him. . . . God’s Word is not a distinct person any more than a man’s word is a different person from him.  Rather, God’s Word is the sum total of His mind, reason, thought, plan, and expression, which is God Himself, just as a man’s mind is the true man himself.”[3]  This shows that, according to Apostolic teaching, Jesus as a distinct person from the Father, didn’t exist before His birth.  God the Father (whom they call “Jesus”) was alone.

Is there any truth in these denials or are they all false? Let’s consider this by posing the question Paul asked, “What does the Scripture say?” (Romans 4:3).  Consider the following passages.

 

John 1:1-3.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”

According to John 1:14, the “Word” in this passage (v. 1) is Jesus Christ, in His pre-earthly form.  Verse 1 states that the Word (who later was given the name, “Jesus,” in Matthew 1:21-25) was “with God” in “the beginning.”  This means that before creation, Jesus already existed in the presence of God.  John adds that “He was in the beginning with God” (v. 2).  Then, in verse 3, we see that “all things came into being through Him,” that is, all of creation has its origin through Christ in His pre-birth form. This plainly speaks of His existence before birth—even before creation!

John 8:58.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.”

This verse shows that Jesus existed before Abraham was born in about 2100 to 2000 BC.  Significantly, in this statement Jesus suggests His timeless existence and it may be a reference to Exodus 3:14 where God Himself says that His name is “I am who I am.”  The Greek of John 8:58 is the same as the Greek of the Septuagint in Exodus 3:14.  Before Abraham, Jesus existed.  The term in John 8:58 is ego eimi, which is a present active indicative form, meaning “I am.”[4]  Clearly, Jesus existed before His birth as a baby in Israel 2,000 years ago.

John 17:5.  “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”

Just before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed to the Father and asked that He glorify the Son with the same glory that He had “before the world was.”  This shows that He had personally been with the Father before creation!  Back in the stretches of eternity, God the Father and the “Word” (Jesus) enjoyed divine glory.  He was not just a plan, a thought, a reason, or an idea—but a conscious personality who enjoyed divine glory. This also is a clear reference to His pre-existence, as a conscious person.

John 17:24.  “. . . they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”

The Lord Jesus again refers to His pre-creation existence with God the Father.  Here he speaks of the Father’s love for Christ, the Word, before the foundation of the world.  The fact of love shows that this speaks of Christ’s personal existence rather than just a thought, plan, or idea.  He experienced eternal existence continued through time.  The Father and Jesus, the Word, enjoyed a profound love relationship before creation!

1 John 1:1-2.  “What was from the beginning, what he have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at the touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested to us.”

John speaks of Christ’s incarnation, presumably to combat false teachers who denied His full humanity (cf. 1 John 4:1-6; 2 John 7).  But what else does John say?  Christ was “from the beginning” of the world, then “the life [Christ] was manifested” in His birth.  Similar to the prologue of John’s Gospel (1:1-18), we again see a reference to Christ’s pre-creation existence.

John 1:30. “After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before Me.”

These are the words of John the baptizer as he saw Jesus coming to him.  We know that John was born about six months before Jesus, his cousin (cf. Luke 1:24-26), thus John was not speaking about Christ’s physical existence, but he had reference to Christ’s spiritual existence before birth.

Philippians 2:6-7. “. . . He [Christ] existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”

A complete view of this passage would need to include verses 5-11, but the section above shows enough for our purposes.  In this deeply-significant passage about Christ’s incarnation and sacrificial death, Paul says that Jesus (before birth) “existed in the form of God” and then “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant” in the incarnation.  This shows that the Lord Jesus pre-existed His birth as a human being, but He—in deep humility—was willing to become a man and even suffered death on a cross.  This speaks of His personal existence and choice to come to earth for our salvation.

Colossians 1:16-17.  “By Him [Christ] all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

Obviously, if all things were created by Christ in the beginning, He had to exist before all things He created.  Some would say that Jesus merely was in the mind, or thought, or plan of God—but a thought or a plan cannot create all things in the universe.

John 3:17.  “God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” “As the living Father sent Me. . .” (John 6:57; cf. 3:16).  “He who sent Me is with Me” (8:29).  God “sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). “The Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world” (v. 14).

These passages show that God “sent” the Son into the world, and this would indicate that the Son existed before He was sent.  If someone were to say, “I sent my daughter to the market,” this would indicate that the daughter existed before she went to the market.

John 3:19. “The Light has come into the world.”  “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). “God has sent His only begotten Son into the world” (1 John 3:9).

The fact that Jesus “came into the world” suggests that He existed before He was sent.  He existed in heaven.

John 6:33.  “The bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” “I have come down from heaven” (v. 38). “This is the bread which comes down out of heaven” (v. 50; cf. vv. 41, 42, 51, 58).

These verses explicitly state that Jesus “came down out of heaven,” which necessarily means that He was in heaven and pre-existed His birth.

Hebrews 10:5. “Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me.”

These words of Jesus appear to be uttered by Him as He came from heaven and was being given a body or made flesh on earth (see also Hebrews 10:7 and John 1:14).

Micah 5:2b. “His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.”

This prophecy of the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem suggests that Jesus existed before His birth in that town.  The NET Bible has, “whose origins are in the distant past,” which also indicates Christ’s pre-birth existence.

John 6:62. “What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?”

Christ’s words here would mean that Jesus had an existence before He came to this earth.  “Where He was before” must be a reference to heaven.

John 16:28. “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again and going to the Father.”

Christ says that before He came into the world, He came forth from God the Father.  Where was this?  Where had He been prior to His birth?  Surely He has reference to heaven, the dwelling place of God.  The Lord continued by saying that after His death and resurrection, He would be leaving the world and going to the Father.  He went back to heaven where God dwells, and this is the very place that He had been before His birth.

2 Corinthians 8:9. “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”

We know that Paul is saying that Jesus “became poor” in the incarnation.  But notice that before He was poor, He “was rich.”  This can only be a reference to the riches of His glories in heaven—before He was incarnated.

1 Corinthians 10:4. “[Israel] all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.”

The “Rock” was a common Old Testament term for Yahweh God (Deuteronomy 32:4, 15, 18, 20-31) and Paul says that Christ, as the Rock, was with Israel in spiritual form.  This would have been about 1,400 years before His birth.

Revelation 22:13. “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

These phrases are used of Christ elsewhere in Revelation and the same phrases are used for the Lord God (cf. Revelation 1:8, 17; 2:8; 21:6).  Evidently they signify that both God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are from eternity past and will live into eternity future.

 

What about Supposed Christophanies?

Another line of evidence might speak of Christ’s pre-birth activity.  Some would say the Jesus was absent in the Old Testament era or that He hid Himself.  While it is true that little is mentioned of Him directly and explicitly during the Old Covenant era, we might see a glimpse of Christ in the appearances of God during that time.  Scripture says that God hasn’t been seen or can’t be seen:

 

·      “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” (Exodus 33:20).

·      “No one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18).

·      “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father” (John 6:46).

·      “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).

·      “. . . whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Timothy 6:16).

·      “No one has seen God at any time” (1 John 4:12).

But if no one can see God or has seen God, how do we explain the appearances of One who is identified as “God” or “Yahweh” in the Old Testament?  How do we account for the fact that Stephen said, “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham” (Acts 7:2)?  Generally these are called theophanies, a term that refers to “any temporary, normally visible, manifestation of God.”[5]  It can be argued that since God the Father has not been seen, but certain people did see One who was identified as God, this would lead us to think that these appearances were of the pre-incarnate Christ.  Thus, they would be called christophanies, and not just theophanies.[6]  Let’s look at a few of these incidents.

1.    Genesis 18:1ff.  This records the visit of the “three men” to Abraham (v. 2).  The text says that “the LORD [Yahweh] appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre” (v. 1).  We know that two of the “men” were later called “two angels” (19:1), but what about the LORD or Yahweh who appeared to Abraham, and even ate a meal (18:3-8)?  Yahweh is identified as the One who spoke with Abraham (vv. 13, 14, 17, 20, 22, 26, 33).  If this wasn’t Yahweh God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ (since He hasn’t been seen), who was this Person called “Yahweh”?  This could be a pre-incarnate appearance of the Lord Jesus and, if so, it is significant that He is called “Yahweh.”

 

2.    Exodus 23:20-23.  Yahweh God spoke to Moses and gave him instructions for Israel (Exodus 20:22).  Yahweh then said, “I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared.  Be on your guard before him and obey his voice; do not be rebellious toward him, for he will not pardon your transgression, since My name is on him.  But if you truly obey his voice and do all that I say. . . . For My angel will go before you and bring you in to the land” (23:20-23a).  Who is this “angel” who has Yahweh’s “name” on him?  Who is this one whom Israel must obey and who will bring Israel to the Promised Land?  Who is the one who can “pardon transgressions”?  Could this be a reference to Christ Jesus?  It would seem that this “angel” (Messenger) was the “presence” of God (see Exodus 33:14): “In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them” (Isaiah 63:9). (See also Exodus 32:34; 33:2-3.)  Obviously, this was not a regular angel, for we know that Christ is not an angel but is above angels (Hebrews 1:4-14).

 

3.    Genesis 48:15-16. Jacob said, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads.”  Notice that “God” in verse 15 seems to be identified as the “angel” of verse 16.  God and angel are parallel.

 

4.    Genesis 16:7-14.  This is the account of Hagar’s departure from Abraham and Sarah.  The record says that “the angel of the LORD found her” (v. 7) and spoke with her (vv. 9-12).  Was this only an angel?  The record answers: “Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, ‘You are a God who sees’; for she said, ‘I have even remained alive here after seeing Him?’” (v. 13).  This seems to identify the angel of Yahweh as Yahweh and God Himself (v. 13).

 

5.    Genesis 22:11-18.  This is the account of the offering of Isaac by Abraham.  God had given Abraham instructions on offering his son (vv. 1-2), then at Moriah, the “angel of the LORD” spoke to him to save the boy from Abraham’s knife (v. 11).  The angel says a remarkable thing: “My Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies.  In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (vv. 16-17).  Although this was the voice of the angel, the words are clearly the words of Yahweh God. He is the one who will multiply Abraham’s seed and He is the one whom Abraham obeyed in offering Isaac (vv. 1-2).  Galatians 3:8, 16 would give evidence that it was God Himself who made this promise to Abraham.

 

6.    Genesis 31:11-13.  “The angel of God” spoke to Jacob in a dream and said, “I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar, where you made a vow to Me” (v. 13).  The angel speaks as though He were God Himself.

 

7.    Genesis 28:12-17.  This is the account of Jacob’s dream at Bethel, where he saw angels ascending and descending on a ladder that reached heaven, then “the LORD [Yahweh] stood above it and said, ‘I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac’” (v. 13).  When Jacob awoke, he said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it” (v. 16).  The Lord Jesus makes reference to this incident when He said to Nathaniel, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51).  This may possibly point to Christ’s identification of Himself as Yahweh in Genesis 28 in Jacob’s dream.

 

8.    Genesis 32:22-32.  This is the account of Jacob’s wrestling with “a man” during the night (v. 24).  This personality said to Jacob, “. . . you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed” (. 28).  Then Jacob replied, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved” (v. 30).  The fact that Jacob saw a man whom he called “God” might lead us to think that this was a theophany or christophany.

 

9.    Exodus 6:2-4.  “God spoke further to Moses and said to him, ‘I am the LORD; and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, LORD [Yahweh], I did not make Myself known to them.  I also established My covenant with them.”  This passage says that God “appeared . . . as God Almighty,” but again we face the perplexity of explaining how God appeared to these fathers when He cannot be seen.  This does seem to rule out a representative “angel” as the means of communication; it was God Almighty who appeared.

 

10. Exodus 24:9-11. This record says that Moses and 73 other men “saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire as clear as the sky itself.  Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank.”  This clearly says that they “saw” the God of Israel, who also is identified as Yahweh (v. 12).  How could they see God who cannot be seen?  Was it the pre-incarnate Christ?

 

11. Joshua 5:13-6:5.  A “man” appeared to Joshua (5:13) but the text then says that “the LORD [Yahweh] said to Joshua” (6:2), which seems to identify the man as God.

 

12. Judges 6:11-18.  This account is of “the angel of the LORD” appearing to Gideon.  He said, “The LORD is with you” (v. 12), but then we read, “The LORD looked at him” and “the LORD said to him” (vv. 14, 16).  This seems to identify the angel of Yahweh as Yahweh Himself.  Could this be another appearance of Christ?

 

13. Judges 13:2-23.  This is a very full account of the Lord appearing to Manoah and his wife, the parents of Samson.  First, in v. 3, a personality is called “the angel of the LORD,” then the wife of Manoah said, “A man of God came to me and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome” (v. 6). Again, in v. 9, this personality is called “the angel of God” (cf. also vv. 13, 15, 16, 17, 18, 21).  The “angel” said, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” (v. 18). In vv. 21-22, we read, “Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD.  So Manoah said to his wife, ‘We will surely die, for we have seen God.’”  Could it be that this “angel of Yahweh” was God—Yahweh Himself? Manoah said that they had “seen” God, thus could it have been a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ?

 

14. Isaiah 6:1-7.  Isaiah said, “I saw the Lord, sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple” (v. 1).  Seraphim said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD [Yahweh] of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory” (v. 3). Isaiah then replied, “My eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (v. 5).  Could it be that the Yahweh that Isaiah saw was Christ, in His pre-incarnate form?  John makes reference to this portion of Isaiah, including quoting Isaiah 6:10, then comments, “These things Isaiah said because he saw His [Christ’s] glory, and he spoke of Him” (John 12:41, cf. vv. 37-41).  This reference is not certain, but it does seem like the apostle identifies Jesus as the “Yahweh” of Isaiah 6.

You will note that these appearances are described in different ways.  Sometimes a “man” appeared, at other times an “angel of Yahweh” appeared, and at other times, “God” or “Yahweh” appeared.  Who did appear?  We cannot be dogmatic about this matter of the pre-incarnate appearances of a “man” or “the angel of Yahweh” who is sometimes identified as God or Yahweh, but we think that it is worth considering. 

If these suggestions are true, that the one who appeared was a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ, this data would be another line of evidence for Christ’s pre-incarnate existence and work.  The line of reasoning would be this: God the Father was not seen for it was impossible to see Him (cf. John 1:18), but Someone was seen who was known as both “God” and “Yahweh.”  Could this Someone be a pre-incarnate manifestation of the Lord Jesus, the Word of God?  If so, this seems to identify Jesus, in His Pre-incarnate form, as both “Yahweh” and “God”—but in saying this we are not suggesting that Jesus was God the Father.

There is an abundance of evidence that Jesus did exist prior to His coming in the flesh 2,000 years ago in Israel.  More than that, He was the creator and maker of this earth and all the universe!  Those who would assert that Jesus had not existence until He was either conceived in Nazareth or born in Bethlehem are dreadfully mistaken.

 



[1] The Real Christ, pp. 59, 357, 62. The same author ridicules the idea of Christ’s pre-existence, by saying that “at one moment there were three beings in heaven, and one of them then became the child in Mary’s womb, leaving just two in heaven.  We are therefore left to conclude from the ‘pre-existence’ belief that Christ somehow came down from heaven and entered into Mary’s womb.  All this complex theology is quite outside the teaching of Scripture” (Bible Basics, p. 220).

[2] Systematic Theology, p. 241.   

[3] The Oneness View of Jesus Christ, p. 36.

[4] Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, p. 116.

[5] “Theophany,” The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible. 

[6] Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, pp. 209-210.


 

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