Did Jesus Exist in Heaven Before his Birth?

 

Many Christians believe that Jesus existed in heaven before his birth to Mary.

Some believe that he is ‘God the Son’, the second person of the Trinity. They say that he existed in heaven forever as a spirit being before his birth (they call this his incarnation, a word which means that he came down from heaven, was given a human body and appeared as a man on earth).

Other people believe that Jesus is not God but that he is a mighty angel who was created by God long ago. They too believe that Jesus lived in heaven for a very long time before his birth.

If these views are true then we should find evidence for them in the Bible. In particular we should expect to find passages that tell us;

·         That Jesus was present when the world was made.

·         That he was already alive when David was promised a son who would sit on his throne and rule forever.

·         That Jesus had a spirit nature and lived in heaven with his Father throughout the ages.

·         That the place of honour and glory he now enjoys, seated at the right hand of the throne in heaven, was one that he has always enjoyed.

We shall see that these views cannot be found in the Bible. What we do find is the following view of Jesus.

·         He is the Son of God who came into existence when he was born to Mary.

·         He lived and died in Israel 2000 years ago. In every aspect of his life he is described as a man. He experienced joy and sadness. He ate and drank with his friends, yet at other times he was hungry. He needed sleep but sometimes he spent all night in prayer to his Father. Finally he died a terrible death on the cross and the suffering and pain he felt are described for us as those experienced by a man.

·         He was raised from the dead by God and given immortal life. Only then did he ascend to heaven to be with his Father and only then was he given a position of power and authority above all the rest of creation. The Bible tells us that even the angels are now subject to his authority and he shares the glory and majesty of Almighty God himself.

·         Yet, even though he is now in heaven and has been honoured in this way, the Bible tells us he is still a man and subject to his Father who is still greater than he is. 

In the remainder of this booklet we shall look at Bible passages which support these statements.

 

The Creation of the Heavens and Earth

The beginning of the Bible gives us a clear picture of Almighty God as the powerful creator of all things. Indeed it commences;

‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’

Throughout Genesis chapter 1 we learn how God did this for, on a number of occasions we are told;

‘And God said … and it was so’

The world was made through the Word of God, he spoke and his mighty spirit power carried out his plan of creation perfectly so that he looked at all he had made and saw that it was ‘very good’. The Psalmist tells us of this power and how we should respond to it.

‘By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap; he puts the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.’                                                     Psalm 33:6-9

Throughout the whole of the Bible men acknowledged this great creative act of the Lord God and saw it as proof that he alone was God – he alone created the world and no-one else had the power to do this work; it is presented as proof that he is the true God. Look at these words of King Hezekiah, a great king of Israel, about 700 years before Jesus was born.

‘And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: "O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, who is enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.”           Isaiah 37:15-16

Nowhere in the Bible do we find any mention of Jesus being present at creation and being involved in this wonderful work. It is always presented as the work of God himself, a testament to his unique power and authority.

 

Let us make man in our Image

However, there is a passage in Genesis 1 that tells us that there were other beings present with God when he made the earth.

‘Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.’      Genesis 1:26-27

It is sometimes assumed from this passage that God is speaking to Jesus and therefore Jesus was present at creation. However, we have already seen that the Bible tells us that God alone is the creator of heaven and earth. Furthermore Jesus himself acknowledged this when he said;

‘He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate."                                            Matthew 19:4-6

Notice how relevant this is to Genesis 1:26. Jesus was talking about the creation of Adam and Eve and said that it was God who made them – he did not claim to be the one who was there with God, indeed we should note that the passage in Genesis does not mention Jesus by name. In fact his name is not mentioned at all in the whole of the Old Testament, rather we are told that God only declared it at his birth (Isaiah 49:1).

But if it does not speak about Jesus who does the verse speak about? The book of Job has some interesting things to say that help us. God challenges Job with the question ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the world?’ (Job 38:4) Job cannot answer because he was not there. In fact no man was there but then God tells us something else. He now asks Job;

“Who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”                                           Job 38:6-7

The New International Version gives this passage as:

‘Who laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy’

Here is a picture of creation at which the angels were present. When God said ‘let us make man in our image’ it was the angels who were there and who were involved. They were working for God, bringing into existence the world in which we live and it is their likeness that is referred to. No wonder then that when angels appeared later in the Bible they looked like men: it is because we look like angels!

 

The Firstborn of all Creation

However, some NT passages do seem to suggest that Jesus was indeed the creator and present when the world was made. One of these is Colossians 1:15-17;

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things”

It is always important to read around verses that are difficult to understand. In Colossians 1, Paul is writing to tell believers in the city of Colossae about the important position of Jesus as the Son of God. He says that it is through Jesus that all of God’s plans will be achieved; through him we have redemption, even the forgiveness of our sins (v14). However, if we believe that these verses tell us of Jesus the creator, forming the heavens and the earth at the beginning of time, then we have three major problems.

1.     He is the firstborn of all creation. But to be born, a man needs both a father and a mother. Adam was created by God but was not the firstborn man – that was Cain – born as the son of Adam and Eve. How could Jesus both exist before all the rest of creation and also be the firstborn man? At the very least the language used would not make any sense – and we know that God is always very precise in what he tells us.

2.     He is the creator of all things in heaven and earth. But if this refers to the creation in Genesis 1 then Jesus created God himself – for God is in heaven and it says that Jesus created all things in heaven!

3.     He is before all things. Again, if this refers to Genesis 1 then Jesus existed before God, yet we are told that;

‘I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things… he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,  who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen.’         1 Timothy 6:13-16 

4.     Rulers and authorities are made subject to him, yet it was only after his resurrection that Jesus claimed this position.

‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’ Matthew 28:18  

          Notice that, yet again, this is something given to Jesus. It is not his automatically; it is given to him by his Father who is a being superior to Jesus.

It is very important to read the Bible carefully and to test any ideas we may have against what the Bible actually says. Just by looking at the phrases discussed above we can see that it is impossible for the passage in Colossians 1 to refer to Jesus as the creator of the world as described in Genesis 1. He cannot be the creator of God himself, he cannot be greater than the Almighty; such ideas are blasphemous and have no part in our thinking about the Bible.

The answer to this difficult passage (Col. 1:15-17) is found later in the chapter.

‘And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” Colossians 1:18-19  

The apostle Paul is writing about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and the exalted position given to him by his Father at that time.

‘…Concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh  and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,’  Romans 1:3-4 

 

‘This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.  Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.  For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, "' The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand,  until I make your enemies your footstool.'  Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."   Acts 2:32-36  

Jesus is described as the firstborn from the dead because he was the first man to be resurrected by the power of God and then given eternal life. He now lives forever. Furthermore, he has been given power and authority by God over all that God created, he is the pre-eminent man; hence he is described as ‘being before all things’. This phrase does not mean that he existed before everything else but that, after his resurrection, he was made more important than everyone else. In Philippians 2 we read these words;

‘Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’           Philippians 2:9-11  

Note carefully what this passage tells us.

1.     ‘Therefore…’ this links this verse with what was written previously, Jesus was exalted because of his obedience to his Father, even though it meant dying a horrible death on the cross.

2.     It is God who exalted him, God who gave him a name above every name. This did not belong automatically to Jesus; he could not take this for himself. It was given to him after he had been raised from the dead.

3.     When men acknowledge this great position of the immortal Jesus, they give glory to God for it is he who has brought about salvation through his Son. Note how it is God who is the supreme being and who is superior at all times to Jesus in this passage.

Before his death Jesus was described as the ‘only Son’ of the Father; this was a unique position he occupied. However, after his resurrection he is never again described as being the only son but as ‘the first born from the dead’ or ‘the firstborn amongst many brethren’. Being a firstborn son implies that there are other sons in the same family with the same father and this is the wonderful point that Colossians is making. Jesus is the first man to be raised from the dead and given immortality – hence he is the firstborn and so he is described as the beginning of a new creation. When he returns to the earth, faithful disciples from all ages will be raised from the dead and be made immortal – just like Jesus (read 1 Corinthians 15:20-23) and will share the kingdom of God with him.

This wonderful promise – that through the death and resurrection of the ‘first born’ son many would be reconciled to God and would be able to call Him their Father – is shown in the way God is described in the Bible.

Although there are many names given for God only very rarely does the term Father occur in the Old Testament.  However, when we turn to the New Testament, we find that the Gospels often use the term ‘Father’ to refer to Almighty God.

For example, The well known prayer which Jesus taught his disciples begins with “Our Father”, but the prayer of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:5-11) begins with “O Lord God of heaven” and this is typical of the way God is addressed in Old Testament times. By freely using this new term, ‘Father’, the New Testament indicates to us that a change has taken place. Through Jesus, our relationship with the God of Heaven can change and we can freely address Him as Father.

Why does the Bible use such language? The Apostle Paul wrote in this way to draw a contrast between the first creation (described in Genesis 1&2) and this new creation which starts with Jesus Christ. The first creation was made very good but was spoiled by the sin of Adam and all who are descended from him. It is now so ruined by the wickedness and sinfulness of mankind that it is described as groaning to be delivered from the bondage of sin.

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”                                          Romans 8:22

How will it be delivered? Through childbirth! Once again we see language which leads us to the Jesus Christ, the man who was the first born from the dead and through whom a new creation can be formed. This will be a world not governed by sin but by righteousness.

But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”                              2 Peter 3:22  

Another NT passage to consider is Revelation 3:14

 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation”.

These words refer to Jesus but what do they mean? The discussion of the Colossian verses leads us towards the answer but again let’s use another verse to help us. Revelation 1:5 describes Jesus as:

“And from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.”

We can put these two verses side by side like this.

Rev 1:5

Rev 3:15

Jesus Christ

the Amen

the faithful witness

the faithful and true witness

the firstborn of the dead

the beginning of God’s creation

 

Once again we are being shown that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead began a new creation. The book of Revelation was written to give encouragement to those who believe in the return of Jesus Christ and the setting up of God’s Kingdom on earth. At that time they too will share immortality; they will be made like the Lord Jesus and so will become part of that new creation.

 

Jesus in the Old Testament

We have seen already that the name ‘Jesus’ does not appear in the Old Testament and was not revealed by God until the birth of his Son. Yet this does not mean that the OT is ignorant of Jesus, indeed the opposite is true. If we were to take away the parts of the Old Testament where reference is made to Jesus there would be many holes in the books of Moses, the Psalms and the prophets. It is possible to go further and claim that the very structure of the Old Testament would collapse if Jesus were taken out of it.

However, without exception every Old Testament passage that speaks of Jesus looks forward to his coming. He is referred to as the coming Jewish Messiah; he will be the deliverer of his people; he will come as a saviour. Not once is he spoken of as already being in existence, but as someone who would exist one day, at God’s appointed time. Many of the men who wrote about these things hoped they would see him but they were all disappointed. Indeed even the angels themselves were ignorant of the true work of Jesus that his Father had planned for him.

“Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”         1 Peter 1:10-12 

Once again we see the illogicality of believing in the pre-existence of Christ. If he really was there in the beginning, and was the creator of the world, why did the angels not know about him? Why, when they were sent with God’s words about the coming of a Messiah to the prophets did they long to look into them, to find out more? When the prophets received God’s words, they understood something of the plan of God’s salvation and wanted to find out more. But God told them that it was not for their time but for the future.

Let us look more closely at some of the things they wrote.

 

The Promise of Genesis 3:15

We find the first prophecy in the Bible in Genesis 3:15. These are words spoken by God to the serpent after Adam and Eve had sinned by eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

‘And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’  Genesis 3:15

After God had finished his creative work, he described it as very good. He then gave to Adam one law to obey and keep. He was forbidden to eat fruit from one tree in the Garden of Eden. By obeying God in this way, Adam would acknowledge the authority of God to rule over him. However, the temptation proved too great for them. Eve took fruit from the tree and ate it before giving some to Adam who ate also. In this way they disobeyed the commandment and committed the first sin. Their punishment was death for ‘the wages of sin is death’. Also, as a result death came upon all mankind.

“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned”          Romans 5:12   

So God spoke the words we need to consider to the serpent about its relationship with Eve. We can summarise what was said like this.

1.     Eve realised that the serpent had deceived her for it had changed the truth of God’s words into a lie.

2.     The serpent becomes a type, a representation, of the great power of sin throughout the rest of the Bible. It stands for all that is opposed to God, that tries to change his words, to suggest they are lies and take people away from his truth. The offspring of the serpent are those who are totally motivated by evil, they act as the serpent did and they oppose God’s laws. Jesus called the men who opposed him and who put him to death ‘serpent’s seed’. They were ruled by sin in their lives and they became his enemies.

3.     The offspring, or child, of the woman is Jesus. Only one child is mentioned here. He is called the seed of the woman because he is the only person who had a human mother, Mary, and no human father. He is the Son of God.

4.     Those who opposed Jesus (the serpent’s seed) killed him. This is what is meant by ‘strike his heel’. It was a small wound, one with no lasting effect because God raised Jesus from the dead. By his death Jesus crushed for ever the power of sin in the lives of men and women who believe in him. This was a mortal wound. It is described as ‘crush your head’. In the Bible, the idea of ‘the head’ is one of power and authority. Through his death Jesus would overcome, destroy this power and open up the way to eternal life. Through his death he ‘put away sin by his sacrifice’.

5.     The Bible tells us that ‘the sting of death is sin’. Sin is likened to a snake or serpent waiting to bite someone (on the heel). In Genesis 3:15, the descendant of the woman (Jesus) is likened to a man who sees this and prevents the bite of the serpent by crushing the head of the snake with his foot. So great is the blow he gives it as he stamps on it that his foot is bruised by the act.

This passage has been dealt with in some detail to show the remarkable prophecy it gives about the birth, life and death of Jesus, and what he accomplished. Yet, if he already existed at this time, why did God not mention it? None of the points in this verse make any sense unless they pointed forwards to a special man who would come into existence as the Son of God at his birth.

 

The Promise to David

In the book of 2 Samuel we find another remarkable OT prophecy about Jesus.

“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you.  And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever."                                                                          2 Samuel 7:12-16  

This clearly applies to the Lord Jesus Christ for God told David that ‘I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son’. But note that all that God says lies in the future. David lived about 1000 years before Jesus and none of this would happen in his lifetime, only after he was dead. Everything God says about his Son and his relationship with him is in the future at this time.

·       I will raise up your offspring after you,

·       Who shall come from your body,

·       I will establish his kingdom.

·       He shall build a house for my name,

·       I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.

·       I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

·       My steadfast love will not depart from him,

·       Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me.

·       Your throne shall be established forever." 

Old Testament Prophecy

Furthermore, David himself was also a writer and a prophet who wrote many things about the coming of Jesus. A very good example is Psalm 22, which uses phrases that point forward with great accuracy to the crucifixion. For example, “they have pierced my hands and my feet” (Psalm 22:16) and “they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” (Psalm 22:18).

The opening verse of the Psalm was spoken by Jesus whilst he was on the cross. He understood that David, living 1000 years before had written about this time of his suffering. For Jesus this was a source of encouragement and comfort. His Father had revealed details about the death of his son many years before he was born. It was all part of a great plan and purpose.

The prophecy of Isaiah contains many pointers that look forward to Jesus. Amongst them is one of the best known prophecies of the Old Testament.

Isaiah met king Ahaz on a particular occasion and gave him this message: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). When writing his record of the gospel Matthew made a direct reference to this verse when describing how Joseph should come to terms with the birth of Jesus Matt 1:22-23.

“All this took place to fulfil what the Lord has spoken by the prophet : ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”.

Isaiah lived approximately 700 years before Jesus’ birth and very clearly did not think of Jesus in any other way than a child who would be born in a miraculous way some time in the future. He had no knowledge or belief in a Jesus existing in heaven in his own day.

Another Old Testament prophet, Micah, predicted that a ruler would come from the town of Bethlehem to reign over the people of Israel. He adds something else that is very relevant to our theme.

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days”                      (Micah 5:2).

This ruler had been known about in ancient times, indeed we have seen that this started in Genesis 3 yet Micah looked forward to his coming from Bethlehem.

Zechariah predicted the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem riding on an ass. He wrote about this 400 years before the event took place. The New Testament records this entry and tells us it happened only a few days before the crucifixion of Jesus outside the walls of the city. The record of his entry presents him as a king but he does not become a king, instead he dies the cruellest of deaths.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).

Note how Matthew makes reference to this (Matthew 22:4-5)

None of the prophets who wrote these things met Jesus! They did not hear his voice; they did not see the crowds gathering round him. They were not present when he was crucified and they did not know anybody who was. They all expected him to appear in a time future to their own, a time to be decided by God himself.

The Birth of Jesus Christ

The birth of the Lord Jesus Christ is recorded for us in the Gospel records of Matthew and Luke. It is the second of these that we shall look at as it is the more detailed of the two. Luke tells us of the remarkable words of Gabriel. The angel sent from God, to Mary, telling her about the conception and birth of Jesus.

"Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.   He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."  And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"   And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy- the Son of God.”                                                             Luke 1:30-35 

Notice how everything the angel tells Mary is future, none of it has yet happened at this time. Just, for the sake of argument, suppose that Jesus did exist in heaven as a spirit being at this time, then…

·       He was not yet called Jesus.

·       He was not yet great.

·       He was not yet called the Son of God.

·       He was not yet holy.

·       He did not yet have any authority, he was not a king

We are left wondering what exactly this spirit being was! Of course it did not exist; here Gabriel is telling Mary of the coming into existence of a Son of God for whom she had been chosen as mother. Furthermore, the previous occasion on which we have met Gabriel in the Bible was in Daniel 9. At that time he had been sent by God to Daniel with a prophecy about the time of the coming of Messiah. Although it is very difficult to understand, it tells us of the time when the Saviour would come – at this time when he has appeared to Mary. But Gabriel does not say that the time has come for Jesus to come down from heaven and to change from a spirit being to a human from. He tells Mary that it is time for the very existence of Jesus to commence – he will be conceived in her womb and born as any child is born.

 

The Problem of John’s Gospel

Many of the difficult passages about the existence of Jesus are found in John’s Gospel and we need to look at some of them in detail. We should start by remembering why this Gospel was written – John himself tells us.

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”                                                                         John 20:30-31  

Note carefully what he said – his gospel is to help us understand and believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Not part of the trinity or a spirit being but the Son who was born to Mary, begotten by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is John who records more of the speeches of Jesus than the other Gospel writers and in particular, words spoken to the Jewish leaders who doubted him. To them Jesus explains his relationship with the Father and where his authority comes from.

 

The Word Made Flesh

John begins with the statement ‘In the beginning was the word’ and goes on to tell us that the word was God and made all things, later in verse 14 John wrote that ‘the word was made flesh’. We are also told in Revelation 19:13 that ‘The Word of God’ is a title of the Lord Jesus Christ. From these verses many deduce that Jesus existed in heaven from the very beginning and made the heavens and the earth.

We need to compare the opening words of John’s Gospel with the opening words of the Book of Genesis.

Genesis 1:1-4

John 1:1-5

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.

And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

 

And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light

In him was life; and the life was the light of men

And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness

And the light shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

Notice the similarities between the two. Each speaks of;

·         The beginning of the world

·         The work of God in creation

·         The way in which God made light to shine in darkness

·         The way in which God brought life into the world

And each tells us that God did these things through his word.

Genesis I tells us that on each of the six days ‘God said and it was so’. Right at the beginning of the Bible we are introduced to the power of the Word of God. God spoke and the world was created. His word is powerful and mighty and through it God will do all that he has promised. Look at these two passages for example:

“You have magnified Your word above all Your name.”       Psalm 138:2

“By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: 'To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.”                                                  Isaiah 45:23  

God’s word is the most important thing to Him. Through it he created the earth. It will always be true, no-one will be able to prevent it being accomplished. Through his word, the day will come when everyone on earth will acknowledge that He alone is God.

But the Genesis record is speaking of the physical creation that God made in the beginning. When we turn to John I, we find John speaking in similar language of the spiritual aspect of creation. He tells us of the plan and purpose of God for salvation and righteousness to fill the earth. He says that this was with God, in his mind, part of him, from the very beginning. He describes this as the ‘word’.

We need to understand what the Bible means by ‘word’. It is a Greek word ‘logos’. It means the innermost thoughts and purpose of God. Look at some other scriptures about God and his word.

Read Proverbs 8:12-30. This passage shows how God speaks of wisdom as something which lives. He describes it as ‘she’. It was there with him in the beginning. It is another way of speaking of his word - his wisdom. But no-one believes that there was a living creature or being called ‘wisdom’ with God at creation. We know that this is personification, a way of describing something which is abstract as a living being to give the reader an understanding of its importance and existence.

God is all-wise, this wisdom is part of him, indeed all wisdom comes from him and so Solomon, whose wisdom came from God, wrote these proverbs in this way. So it was when John began to write his Gospel. He did not write of a living being called ‘word’ who was there with God. He wrote that everything God did, he did through his word, his ‘logos’, his divine plan and purpose. What John is really telling us is that God worked to a plan from the beginning. The word that was there with him was his divine plan for the salvation of mankind.

Read Proverbs 2:22-31. When we read these verses it seems to suggest that Jesus was with God when he created the world but closer attention to the whole chapter tells us that it is not about Jesus but about wisdom, (see verse 3). Nowhere in the chapter is Jesus mentioned. It is telling us that God is wisdom and everything he has done has been with a purpose, according to this wisdom, according to his plan.

So important was this plan to God, it is described as being with him, part of him, ‘the word was God’.

In fact, when John says; ‘all things were made by him and without him was not anything made that was made,’ he takes his teaching a stage further. He tells us that God has done nothing that is not part of his ‘logos’, his word. How important it is therefore to learn about this ‘logos’, this word. It will tell us everything we need to know about God and about his plan and purpose for this earth.

This is the way in which John will reveal the Good News about salvation in his Gospel. He is going to tell us about the ‘word’, and he will do it in a particular way.

Once we see this, we can also see that it is absolutely essential for our salvation that we read and accept those things John will tell us because ‘In him (the ‘logos’, the word) was life, and the life was the light of men.

We read in Genesis that God formed the dust of the earth into the shape of a man and then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life so that it became a living creature called Adam. So we find in the Bible that God gives life through his word. It is described as ‘inspired’ and the word means ‘God breathed’.  

So now we can contrast the opening of Genesis and the opening of John further.

Genesis 1

John 1

God worked through his word - (‘God said… and it was so).

God worked through his word (his ‘logos’). Everything he did was part of this word.

God made light first.

All life came from God. This was the light of men

He breathed into the clay and made Adam a living creature.

He gave his word to men, it was inspired, God breathed. To those who accepted it, it brought the hope of life in the kingdom.

God set the sun and moon in place to bring light to the earth.

It illuminated the way to the kingdom for those who accepted it.

 

But John tells us this light shone in darkness. In a sense, this verse sums up all of the OT and the reaction of men and women to the word of God, spoken by the prophets and sent to them from the very beginning. God gave them his word to illuminate their lives and to guide them to his kingdom. But first Adam, and then all who came after him rejected God’s word.

Now, at the beginning of God’s new creation, he has chosen to speak to people by a different method.

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,” Hebrews 1:1-2 

His Son will reveal to people exactly what God is like. He will do this not just through words, which will always be God’s words and not his own, but through the way he lives. He will show the character of God, his mercy and compassion but also his righteousness, hating sin and anything which is contrary to the will of God. In order to help us understand how special this man, the Son of God, will be John describes him in this way.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John bore witness to him, and cried, "This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.’) And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.”      John 1:14-18   

So we see that the description of Jesus as the ‘Word made Flesh’ has nothing to do with an incarnation of a spirit being, rather it is a phrase used to tell us of the way in which all of God’s plans, held since before the beginning of the world, will now be realised in the life and sacrifice of his only son.

 

I came down from Heaven

In John 6 we read of a debate Jesus held with the Jews in which he said;

“For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.”                         John 6:33-38  

These words are often used to support the idea that Jesus physically came down from heaven where he had existed with God. A number of times in the chapter he says that God had sent him. The whole passage is difficult to understand – indeed, even his disciples found it hard (John 6:60).

Once again we need to read around the verses we are looking at to see the context. Jesus had just performed a great miracle by feeding 5000 men plus women and children with a handful of bread and fish. The people compared this with the feeding of Israel with Manna in the wilderness by Moses. Look at verse 31.

“Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread (the manna) from heaven to eat."                                John 6:31  

Obviously the manna did not physically originate in heaven with God. But it was God’s word which sent it. It was ‘bread from heaven’ that God had given (Exodus 16:15) and they were expected to see the glory of the Lord in its provision (Exodus 16:7).

But this is not the only thing that comes from God. He sends the rain from heaven (Genesis 8:2, Acts 14:17). Likewise he sends the snow (Isaiah 55:10). Yet we know that these things do not physically come from God but are created upon the earth by his power.

In James chapter 1:17 we read;

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

There is a famous hymn, based on this verse, which is sung in some churches at harvest time. It contains the words, ‘all good gifts around us are sent from heaven above’. When singing these words no-one believes that their crops come literally from heaven. The hymn is simply an expression of thanks to God for giving a harvest.

John Baptist was a man sent from God (John 1:6) as were all the prophets (2 Chronicles 36:15-16).

We do not believe that all these men physically came down from heaven; rather we understand that the word of God came to them and they were moved by the power of the Holy Spirit to speak his words. Indeed, the prophet Jeremiah was told that God’s words would be a fire in his mouth; such would be the force and power of them. So it was with Jesus, he said that the spirit of God was upon him to preach the Gospel (Luke 4:18) and he had to do this thing, this was the reason why he was sent (Mark 1:38).

Furthermore, in John 6 he is careful, as ever, to show his subordinate position to the Father. He is ‘The Son of Man’ (v53), he only has life because of the Father (v57), the Father gives him his disciples (v37), he does his Father’s will (v38, 39).

 

Jesus before Abraham

‘Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad. Then the Jews said to (Jesus), “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am”                                                          John 8:56-58

There are many other references to Abraham in John 8. It is a record of a dialogue Jesus had with the Pharisees. In verse 33 they boasted of their descent from Abraham. In verse 39 Jesus said that they should follow the ways of Abraham if they were truly his descendants. Because of this they asked an important question in verse 53. “Are you greater than our Father Abraham, who is dead?”

We have an advantage when considering this question because we know what happened to Jesus after this and that his death and resurrection established him as much greater than Abraham. But when the question was asked the Pharisees did not know what was to follow and Jesus sought to convince them that he really was their Messiah. There seems to be hostility in their question in verse 53 “Who do you make yourself?”

We need to think about the answer Jesus gave in verse 56 - “Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it and was glad”. How can this be? The Pharisees were dismissive, “You are not yet 50 years old, have you seen Abraham?” Note the way in which they changed the words of Jesus. He did not claim to have seen Abraham, but that Abraham saw his day. What could this mean?

In the Letter to the Galatians we are told that God could see in advance the way things would work out for the nations:

‘The scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the nations by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all nations shall be blessed”                                                             Galatians 3:8

God knew that Jesus would be born and that, through faith in him, all nations would then have the opportunity to be saved. This plan was given to Abraham through one of the major promises of God: “In you shall all nations be blessed” (Genesis 12:3) and, Paul says, this was the gospel preached to Abraham (Galatians 3:8). Note carefully the fact that this development was foreseen by God and was told to Abraham as something yet in the future, Paul adds that it happened “In the fulness of time”. (Galatians 4:4)

In John 8 therefore we are told that Abraham sees Jesus’ day – he looked forward to it as something that would happen in the future and, because he was given an understanding of the work of Jesus, he rejoiced in the knowledge that he would be there to see the purpose of God fulfilled when he would be raised from the dead and given his inheritance of the land of Israel for ever.

The Pharisees did not understand this so Jesus had to make it as clear as he could to them. When he said “Before Abraham was I am”, Jesus was gently explaining to them that he is more important than Abraham in the purpose of God. God built his whole plan of salvation around Jesus long before explaining any of it to Abraham. It was a matter of pre-eminence not of who physically existed first.

Note that John used this same idea earlier when speaking of John Baptist.

 “John bore witness of him, and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me’”.

 

I am from Above

John 8 should also be understood in a similar figurative way. Verse 23 Jesus states;

"You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.

Notice the comparison Jesus made between himself and the Jews who refused to believe in him as their saviour. Jesus knows God and keeps his word (v55). The Jews say they know God but are liars. They say they are free because they are descended from Abraham, however they are really slaves to sin and death because they reject the freedom Christ brings (v32-36). All these sayings are clearly about spiritual values. A man who loves this world is described as ‘from beneath’, or ‘earthly’ – he is ‘of this world’; he is ‘from below’. A man who has the love of God in his life and who keeps his commandments is ‘from above’ (1 John 2:15). Indeed, when we are baptised, and come out of the water, it is described as ‘being risen with Christ’ and, if we set our minds on heavenly, spiritual values then our life is ‘hid with Christ in God’ (Col 3:1-3). Obviously we are not there in heaven physically, but this is a way of describing our new lives in which we try to follow the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Once again we see that John describes Jesus as speaking profound spiritual truths in a way which tests his listeners and makes them stop and think about their lives and relationship with God. Jesus is indeed from above in the sense that his life was absolutely about Godly values, everything he said and did was ‘from above’, he could do nothing but what the Father showed him (John 5:19). So he could say ‘I am from above’.

Jesus the Man

When we come to the New Testament and look at the real Jesus who is described for us there, we see a man with whom we can identify. We are told that, ‘he had to be made like his brothers in every respect’ (Hebrews 2:17).  So we read of…

·       A boy who increased in wisdom as he grew and studied the Word of God.

·       A man who was hungry.

·       A man who was tired and exhausted by his work.

·       A man who felt emotions, compassion, anger, sadness; who wept at the death of a dear friend.

·       A man who was tempted in everyway as we are tempted and whose will was not always that of his Father.

·       A man who felt pain – and suffered the excruciating pain of his sacrifice on the cross.

·       A man who was hurt by the way he was despised and rejected.

·       A man who learned obedience through the things he suffered.

We are told that,

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”                                               Hebrews 4:15  

Every description of Jesus is one we can understand, he was like us, with our human nature; he was a man! Nowhere do we read about him being a spirit being who descended from heaven and took human form. In fact we can go further than this.

Although he is now in heaven and has been crowned with glory, majesty and immortality, he is still a man.

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all,” 1 Timothy 2:5-6  

When he returns from heaven in power and great glory to judge the earth and establish the Kingdom of God, he will still be a man.

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,  because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."         Acts 17:30-31 

Even at the end of his 1000 year rule, when he hands over a perfect earth to Almighty God, Jesus will still be a man – and subordinate to his Father.

“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For "God has put all things in subjection under his feet." But when it says, "all things are put in subjection," it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him.  When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.                             1 Corinthians 15:21-28  

But there is a more important reason for understanding the humanity of Jesus. It concerns the central purpose of his life – bringing salvation into the world. As we have seen, the curse of sin and death came into the world when Adam and Eve sinned. This curse could only be taken away if another human being was able to obey God perfectly, overcoming every temptation and avoiding sin. This was the challenge set before Jesus.

If his obedience was to be genuine and really happen then it had to be possible for Jesus to be tempted as other men and it had to be possible for him to disobey. He was therefore born into our world in exactly the same way as we are; he was flesh and blood just like us. (see Galatians 4:4) He was subjected to the same trials as we are. He felt pain, he experienced the appeal of fleshly things. His temptations are recorded for us early in the gospel records. They are absolutely genuine but we see him triumph over each one in turn by using his knowledge of the word of God.

These temptations intensify through the three years of his ministry until finally in the garden of Gethsemane he asked for the suffering of the cross to be taken away from him if at all possible. Yet, through suffering he was made perfect (Hebrews 2:10). When he realised that obedience to God must take him to the cross, he said to his Father, “Your will be done”. He overcame temptation completely so that on the cross he could cry ‘It is finished’.

If he was a spirit being who came down from heaven and simply acted the part of a man, then this makes a travesty of his life and sacrifice – if this was the case he was not tempted as we are and his victory over sin was not the great achievement that is portrayed. Alternatively we would have to believe that the spirit Jesus, who came down from heaven and took the part of a man, lost all memory of his former existence with God so that it did not help him in any way and that, in heaven he was not perfect for he was only made perfect through the things he suffered. This seems absurd. Indeed, the man Jesus knew he was the Son of God and found great comfort and help from the guidance and love of his Father, yet this did not take away from his human nature, inherited from Mary, which made him prone to temptation.

 

Exalted by God

In the previous section we have seen how careful the Bible is to describe Jesus as a man – and one who is like us – prone to temptation to sin. But he is not an ordinary man and we must get the balance right. He is the unique Son of God and took from his Father characteristics just as we take them from ours. People marvelled at his wisdom, he knew how to handle every situation he found himself in; he was full of grace and truth. Because of his overwhelming love for God, he was willing to die on the cross (John 14:31). In his life he showed people what the character of God was like, by the way he lived and God sent him saying, ‘they will reverence my son’. (Mark 12:6).

Because of his faithfulness to the Father, God has exalted Jesus and given him honour and glory above everything else in creation.

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11  

The name Jesus means ‘Yahweh is salvation’ and Paul tells us that in honouring the Son in this way, men will give glory to God (cf John 5:22) because through the Son they will be honouring and worshipping the Almighty.

In Revelation 5 we read how this honouring of the Son commenced on his ascension into heaven.

“Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands,  saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!"  And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!"  And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" and the elders fell down and worshiped.                                                     Revelation 5:11-14 

But we must go further than this. When Jesus was born he was called ‘Emmanuel’ which means ‘God with us’. As we have seen, his character was that of God himself and in his perfect life he showed us God’s laws and ways completely. However, when he returns, he will come not just with the moral glory of his Father but with the full weight of his power and majesty so that Isaiah described him as,

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”  Isaiah 9:6-7 

In the Kingdom Age he will still be the Son of God, the man Christ Jesus yet, in a way which is difficult for us to understand, he will fully be Emmanuel, ‘God with us’ and will show the glory of the Almighty to the world so perfectly that he will at that time be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

 

God knows in Advance

But why did God inspire passages that seem to suggest that Jesus did exist from the beginning of the world? We need to try and understand one aspect of his being. He knows the end of things before they begin and from time to time the Bible shows this to us.

“Known to God are all his works from the beginning of the world”   Acts 15:18

Examples of this are found when God speaks in advance about specific individuals who would perform particular acts:

In the kings period of the Old Testament after the death of Solomon 10 tribes broke away from the remaining 2 tribes and formed a separate kingdom. They also developed a separate way of worship under king Jeroboam. At this time a prophecy was given that a future king, called Josiah, would overthrow this false worship.

“And the man cried against the altar by the word of the LORD and said, "O altar, altar, thus says the LORD: 'Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and he shall sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who make offerings on you, and human bones shall be burned on you."     1 Kings 13:2 

This happened nearly 400 years later yet God spelled out in detail what his name would be and what he would do.

The work of Jeremiah the prophet was also spoken about before he was born.

“Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations”                                    Jeremiah 1:4-5

God knew about and planned the lives of such men well in advance. The same is true of Jesus Christ, but to a much greater degree. One New Testament passage in particular shows us this principle at work.  In the last book of the Bible, Revelation, the apostle John recorded the visions and signs given to him by the Lord Jesus Christ. One of the symbols used was that of a great beast who has power over the nations until his final downfall. We read of his dominance in Revelation 13:8

“All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”

This passage speaks of those who are under the power of the beast and of those who are not. The ones who are not are described as having their names written in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain. It is the description of the Lamb that we need to notice especially. He is said to have been slain from the foundation of the world.

What does this mean? It cannot be that he was slain at the foundation of the world. We know when the crucifixion of Jesus took place. We also know that God was able to predict to Adam and Eve, to David, to Isaiah and to many others that Jesus would come to die and bring salvation. The only way we can understand this verse in Revelation is to recognise that God knew from the very beginning that his Son would give his life as a sacrifice in a most painful way and this was part of his plan.

The great truth that arises from this is that God loved the world from the very beginning and put his plan in place at the very start of the creation. This plan was centred on Jesus Christ yet he would not appear immediately. He would only begin his existence when the time was right. That time was known to God from the beginning but it was only revealed when the angel appeared to Mary to tell her of the son that would be born to her.

“But when the fulness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those that are under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”                            Galatians 4:4-5

 

 

Andrew E. Walker

Christadelphian Bible Mission

Includes material from a Glad Tidings article by John Shemeld

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other Booklets related to this Topic

The pre-existence of Jesus is often linked to the idea that he is part of the trinity as God the Son. If the pre-existence of Jesus is false then the idea of the trinity is also false. This aspect is considered in more depth by the following titles:

 

1.     Is God a Trinity? (CBM Basic Bible Truth leaflet)

2.     Jesus – God the Son, or Son of God? (Fred Pearce, CMPA booklet)

3.     CBM Bible Postal Course – Lesson 16 – Father and Son

4.     Did Jesus really come down from heaven? (Alan Hayward, CALS booklet)

 

 

All quotations are taken from the English Standard Version, 2001