Vol. 8, No. 6
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The pre-existence of Jesus Christ, as it is usually described, has to do with the one we know as Jesus Christ before his incarnation (i.e., when he took fleshly, bodily form through the Virgin Birth). Technically, though, the Second Person of the Godhead had not adopted the roles of Jesus Christ yet in his pre-incarnate state.
There was no Jesus, no Messiah, no Christ, no Son of God, no Only Begotten, before the reign of Augustus Caesar. The relation that was before the Christian era, was not that of a son and a father, terms which always imply disparity; but it was that expressed by John in the sentence under consideration [John 1:1]. The relation was that of God and the "word of God." This phraseology unfolds a relation quite different from that of a father and son-a relation perfectly intimate, equal, and glorious. (Alexander Campbell qtd. in Mosher 313)
The pre-existence of Jesus Christ is axiomatic given his participation with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the creation of the universe and all that is in it (Genesis 1:26-27; Colossians 1:15-17). The pre-existence or the pre-incarnate nature of Jesus Christ is also definitively taught in Scripture. "Any proper study of Jesus Christ must include not only His earthly span of some 33 years, but His eternal existence as well. The Bible plainly teaches that the Savior had an eternal existence prior to His earthly incarnation" (Jackson 1). Herein, you are cordially invited to "Come Meet Jesus as Pre-Incarnate God."
Old Testament Scripture teaches the pre-existence or pre-incarnate nature of the member of the Godhead we best know as Jesus Christ. The very creation in which the second member of the Godhead participated along with the Father and the Holy Spirit bespeaks of our Lord's pre-existence. The Godhead created the world (Genesis 1:26-27; Romans 1:20). Jesus Christ had an instrumental part within the Godhead in the creation of the world (1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:15-17; John 1:1-3).
Old Testament prophecy intimates the pre-existence of Jesus Christ. One of the most obvious prophecies that implies the pre-incarnate state of Jesus Christ is Micah 5:2--the virgin birth of eternal God into fleshly form.
When Micah prophesied concerning the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, he was careful to stress that Christ's goings forth are from of old, from everlasting. (Mic. 5:2). It is evident from the context that the Lord's eternal goings forth are put in contrast to His coming forth as a child in Bethlehem of Judea. It would be difficult to imagine the prophet's intention in using such terminology if they mean anything less than the eternal pre-existence of Christ. (Vestal 129)
One learns by comparison of Old and New Testament passages that Daniel 7:13-14 pertains to the Virgin Birth, the means by which God came to dwell on earth (cf. Isaiah 7:14; John 1:1-3, 14; Galatians 4:4); therefore, Daniel 7:13-14 implies the pre-existence of Jesus Christ.
The apostle Peter cites the prophets respecting the pre-existence or pre-incarnate nature of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:10-11). "The Spirit of Christ having been in the prophets, it follows that Christ existed during the times of the prophets, and this verse thus becomes an important text in support of the deity and pre-existence of the Lord Jesus" (Woods).
New Testament Scripture teaches the pre-existence or pre-incarnate nature of the member of the Godhead we best know as Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ himself affirmed his own pre-existence or pre-incarnate nature. An article in the ISBE quickly amasses biblical evidence from several passages in which Jesus Christ claims to have had a pre-existent or pre-incarnate state.
That He was of higher than earthly origin and nature, He repeatedly asserts. "Ye are from beneath," he says to the Jews (8:23), "I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world" (compare 17:16). Therefore, He taught that He, the Son of Man, had "descended out of heaven" (3:13), where was His true abode. This carried with it, of course, an assertion of pre-existence; and this pre-existence is explicitly affirmed: "What then," He asks, "if ye should behold the Son of man ascending where he was before?" (6:62). It is not merely pre-existence, however, but eternal pre-existence which He claims for Himself: "And now, Father," He prays (17:5), "glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was" (compare verse 24); and again, as the most impressive language possible, He declares (8:58 the King James Version): "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am," where He claims for Himself the timeless present of eternity as His mode of existence. In the former of these two last cited passages, the character of His pre-existent life is intimated; in it He shared the Father's glory from all eternity ("before the world was"); He stood by the Father's side as a companion in His glory. ("Person of Christ" emphasis added)
Wayne Jackson emphasizes some occasions on which Jesus claimed for himself a pre-existent (i.e. pre-fleshly) state. "The Master asserted His heavenly origin when in debate with the Jews He said, 'Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world.' (John 8:23). And shortly before His death, He could pray, 'Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.' (John 17:5)" (Jackson 2).
Roy H. Lanier, Sr. in his book, The Timeless Trinity for the Ceaseless Centuries, comments on John 16:28; compare Galatians 4:4. "Just as surely as his leaving the world and going to the Father means that he was first in the world before going back to the Father, so his coming from the Father to come into the world means that he existed with the Father in heaven before he came to the world by birth of Mary in Bethlehem" (Lanier qtd. in Mosher 311).
The apostle John distinctly taught the pre-existence or pre-incarnate nature of Jesus Christ. Most Bible students suppose that the Gospel According to John is the lone historian of the Gospel records that treats the pre-existence of Jesus Christ: "John is the only one of the gospels that gives us insight into Jesus' pre-existence" (Winkler 32); "John's Gospel teaches the pre-existence of Christ" ("Christology").
John's special use of the Greek word, "Logos," teaches the pre-incarnate nature of Jesus Christ (John 1:1-3, 14).
In the description of the incarnation given by the evangelist John there appears the term "Logos" in a sense new to the Scriptures, and among New-Testament writers peculiar to him. Some have maintained that it supplies an indubitable [unquestionable] ascription of personal existence to the Word, in some sense distinct from the personal existence of the supreme Father; that this Word is the Logos of the New Testament; and, consequently, that the phrase is a proof of a belief among the ancient Jews in the pre-existence, the personal operations, and the deity of the Messiah, "the Word who became flesh, and fixed his tabernacle among us" ("Incarnation")
…the repeated "with God" (verses 1, 2) compels us to distinguish the Logos from God; the words "became flesh" (verse 14) cannot be said of an attribute of God; and the Baptist's testimony, verse 15, in direct connection with this introduction (compare also such sayings of Christ as in chapters 8:58; 17:5), show clearly that John attributes personal pre-existence to the Logos. Similarly, every attempt to explain away this profound sense of Logos is inadequate, and most are ungrammatical. ("Logos")
Wayne Jackson forcefully makes the point respecting the relationship between John's use of "Logos" and the pre-existence of Jesus Christ.
There is an interesting contrast between the eternal existence of the LOGOS and the incarnate sojourn of the Son of God. "In the beginning was (a verb of continual timeless existence) the Word." Yet, "the Word became (a verb denoting the commencement of His human existence in time) flesh." In similar fashion, Christ Himself said, "Before Abraham was born (definite origin), I am (always existing)." (John 8:58). Thus, the LOGOS had a prehuman, timeless existence. (Jackson 1)
The apostle John recorded the words of John the Baptist at the baptism of Jesus, which affirmation implies the pre-existence of our Lord (John 1:15). "After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. [As a man John was six months older than Jesus, but Jesus was the eternal Word. The Baptist therefore asserts here the pre-existence of our Lord.]" (McGarvey).
In 1 John 1:2, the apostle avowed both the pre-incarnation and the incarnation of Jesus Christ. "This life had been with the Father prior to the incarnation and is thus eternal. Here is the first of four stages indicated in the sacred writings regarding the second person of the Godhead and points irresistibly to his deity: (1) his pre-existence in eternity as the Word prior to creation" (Woods).
Each passage where Jesus Christ is called God equates to him the same eternality as the other two members of the Godhead. Therefore, since Jesus Christ took a bodily form, these passages refer to his pre-existence or pre-incarnate nature (John 20:28; Acts 20:28).
The apostle Paul repeatedly taught the pre-existence or pre-incarnate state of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul taught that Jesus Christ, prior to his incarnation, had an earthly role (1 Corinthians 10:4, 9).
1 Cor 10:9 I have already supposed, in the note at 1 Cor 10:4, that Christ is intended by the spiritual rock that followed them: and that it was he, not the rock, that did follow or accompany the Israelites in the wilderness. This was the angel of God's presence who was with the church in the wilderness, to whom our fathers would not obey, as Stephen says, Acts 7:38 and 39. (Clarke)
1 Cor 10:4 The literal sense of that Rock was Christ is no more to be pressed than is the literal sense of "I am the true vine" (John 15:1). The was, rather than is, may, however, point to Christ's pre-existence (cf. 2 Cor 8:9; Gal 4:4). (Wycliffe)
The rock to which Paul referred here was clearly stated: "The rock was Christ." The miracle of Moses' bringing forth water from the rock in the wilderness (Exo. 17:5ff) provided literal water for Israel; but much more than that is in evidence here. As Marsh said, "The rock was Christ, not 'is' or 'is a type of'...and this is a clear statement of the pre-existence of Christ." (Paul W. Marsh qtd. in Coffman on 1 Corinthians 10:4)
The view preferred here is that Paul meant "Christ," the same being another reference to his pre-existence, and indicating that our Lord's pre-incarnation activity included that of shepherding the chosen people in the wilderness. (Coffman on 1 Corinthians 10:9)
Consider the significance of what Paul penned in 2 Corinthians 8:9.
By the Spirit, Paul was led to write concerning Christ, "though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor..." (II Cor. 8:9). If Jesus did not preexist in grandeur and glory before His birth, when was He rich? Certainly not while on earth! He was born in a borrowed stable, rowed the Sea of Galilee in a borrowed boat, fed the multitudes with borrowed food, rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed beast, ate His last meal in a borrowed room and finally was buried in a borrowed tomb. He once announced, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the heaven have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head" (Luke 9:58). (Jackson 2)
No passage more directly or more dramatically attests to the pre-existence or pre-incarnate state of Jesus Christ than Philippians 2:5-11.
In this context, with one majestic sweep of his pen, Paul embraces Christ's 1. Preexistence (equality with God), 2. Incarnation (made in the likeness of men), 3. Coronation (God highly exalted Him). … Similarly, the Hebrew writer notes: 1. He made the worlds-indicating His pre-existence. 2. He made purification of sins having been sent in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin (Rom 8:3)-this involves the incarnation. 3. He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Heb. 1:2,3). (Jackson 2 emphasis added)
How does the pre-incarnate role of Jesus Christ relate to other roles correctly ascribed to Jesus Christ? What was the pre-incarnate role of the member of the Godhead we best know as Jesus Christ? Jesus Christ participated in the creation (Genesis 1:26-27; John 1:1-3; Hebrews 1:2-3). Jesus Christ interacted with the Israelites in the wilderness wandering (1 Corinthians 10:4, 9). "Christ is represented in the passages by Paul and John as pre-existent before coming to the earth, and presiding over the Israelites in their journey through the wilderness. …Here he designates him as the one who accompanied Israel in the cloud through the wilderness, and gave them deliverances when they needed" (Lipscomb and Shepherd). "It is possible that Paul is saying that Christ was present with His people all along the wilderness journey and that He was sustaining them spiritually by every word that proceeded out of His mouth for their direction, protection, and encouragement" (Applebury 183).
What was the role of Jesus Christ after his incarnation? Jesus came "to seek and save" the "lost" (Luke 19:10). This was accomplished through his ministry, death on the cross, resurrection and Ascension (1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Mark 16:19). Jesus Christ became the world's Savior (1 John 4:14).
What is the role of Jesus Christ since his Ascension back to heaven? Jesus Christ is Mediator and Intercessor (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 7:25). Jesus Christ will come again to retrieve the saved (John 14:3). Jesus will come again to punish disobedient souls (Hebrews 10:29-30; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). Jesus will judge all humanity of all time (John 5:28-29).
Flavil Nichols concisely summarizes the pre-existence of Jesus Christ: "From all eternity in the direction of the past, Jesus Himself, in His pre-fleshly state, not only was 'in the form of' Deity (Phil 2:6), was 'with' Deity [the Father and the Holy Spirit], but He also (Himself) 'was' Deity (John 1:1-3). He had 'glory' with the Father 'before the world was' (John 17:5)-which He surrendered to be our Savior!" (25). More extensively stated, it is reasonable to deduce from Scripture the pre-existence or pre-incarnate nature of Jesus Christ (though we do not subscribe to a human spirit of Christ in addition to his divine spirit per the context of the citation).
1. Christ is represented as his Father's messenger, or angel, being distinct from his Father, sent by his Father, long before his incarnation... The appearances of Christ to the patriarchs are described like the appearance of an angel, or man really distinct from God; yet one in whom God, or Jehovah, had a peculiar indwelling, or with whom the divine nature had a personal union. 2. Christ, when he came into the world, is said, in several passages of Scripture, to have divested himself of some glory which he had before his incarnation. …(John 17:4,5; 2 Cor 8:9). ...Nor can it be said of Christ, as man, that he was rich, if he were never in a richer state before than while he was on earth. 3. ...that the soul of Jesus Christ should pre-exist, that it might have an opportunity to give its previous actual consent to the great and painful undertaking of making atonement for man's sins. ...The covenant of redemption between the Father and the Son is therefore represented as being made before the foundation of the world. ("Pre-Existence of Jesus Christ" emphasis added)
The Jewish people, who for centuries were the custodians of Sacred Scripture and before that the beneficiaries of Patriarchal oral instruction, were thoroughly convinced about the pre-existence of the Christ: "...The Jews uniformly maintained the pre-existence of the Messiah" ("Pre-Existence of Jesus Christ"). Everything carefully evaluated, we can be assured from the Bible of the pre-existence of Jesus Christ and his respective roles then and since: "Any view which fails to include the Divine preexistence of Mary's Son is certainly erroneous" (Jackson 2).
The first time Jesus Christ came to this earth, "God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:17). However, upon the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, our Lord will retrieve the saved or obedient and punish the disobedient (Hebrews 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). What will Jesus do with you upon his return (Mark 16:16; 1 John 1:9)?
Applebury, T.R. Studies in First Corinthians. CD-ROM. Joplin: College P., 1963.
"Christology." McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2000.
Clarke, Adam. Adam Clarke's Commentary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1996.
Coffman, James Burton. James Burton Coffman Bible Study Library. CD-ROM. Abilene: ACU P., 1989.
"Incarnation." McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2000.
Jackson, Wayne. "The Pre-Existence and Birth of Jesus." Spiritual Sword. 1.3. (1970): 1-4.
Lipscomb, David. A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles: First Corinthians. J.W. Shepherd, ed. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1987. CD-ROM. Austin: Wordsearch, 2005.
"Logos." McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2000.
McGarvey, J.W. and Philip Y. Pendleton. Four-Fold Gospel. Cincinnati: Standard, 1914. CD-ROM. Austin: Wordsearch, 2004.
Mosher, Keith. "The Pre-Existence of Jesus." Jesus Christ: The Gift of God's Grace and the Object of Man's Faith. Curtis A. Cates, ed. Memphis: Memphis School of Preaching, 1992. 310-317.
Nichols, Flavil H. "For He Himself Knew What Was in Man." CD-ROM. Spiritual Sword. 18.3 (1987): 25-26.
"Person of Christ." International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (ISBE). CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1996.
"Pre-Existence of Jesus Christ." McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2000.
Vestal, Mike. "The Triune Nature of God." The Godhead: A Study of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. CD-ROM. Southaven: Southaven Church of Christ, 1998. 119-139.
Winkler, Daniel. "The Life of Christ." CD-ROM. Spiritual Sword. 30.4 (1999): 29-33.
Woods, Guy N. A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles: Peter, John and Jude. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1991. CD-ROM. Austin: Wordsearch, 2005.
Wycliffe Bible Commentary. CD-ROM Chicago: Moody P., 1962.