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THE GOD OF JESUS: PART TWENTY-TWO

Did Jesus Pre-exist?

 

       We have examined dozens of Scriptures and Scriptural passages that show there is one God whose name is YHWH and who is identified as Father throughout Scripture.  We have seen that Jesus, as the Son of this God, is not co-equal with this God but was begotten by this God at a specific time in history for a specific purpose which He effectively fulfilled.  Upon such fulfillment, Jesus was elevated by this God to the highest place in the universe, next to God Himself. 

       Trinitarian theology teaches the Son has always existed as a distinction of a Trinitarian God of Father, Son and Spirit.  Trinitarians will point to a number of Scriptures that it is felt give evidence to the pre-existence of the Son.  Let us consider these Scriptures.  

        John 13:3: Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.

       John 17:4-5: I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world (Greek kosmos) began.

       John 17:24: Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

       John 3:13: No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven--the Son of Man.

       John 6:33: For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."  Verse 35: Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life.

      John 6:38: For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.

     John 6:46: No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.

    John 6:51: I am the living bread that came down from heaven.

    John 6:62: What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!

    John 20:17: Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, `I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

       These statements by Jesus appear to say He had glory with the Father and was loved by the Father before the world began.  While these statements don’t say anything about the Son being God, they appear to indicate He pre-existed. 

       I believe I have established through our discussion to this point that the Son is not God as God is God.  The Son is not co-equal, co-eternal and of the same substance as the God identified as YHWH and Father throughout Scripture.  If the Son did not eternally exist, was the Son created by God at some point in eternity past prior to his birth some 2000 yeas ago?   The fourth century theologian Arius taught that the Son was created at some point in the distant past before the creation of the universe.  This teaching led to much controversy and resulted in formulation of the Nicene Creed and the eventual formulation of the Doctrine of the Trinity which sees Jesus as having always existed as God in a Trinitarian relationship of Father, Son and Spirit. 

       To this very day there are religious groups who believe the Son pre-existed, not as an eternal god, but as a created Being.  Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the archangel Michael became Jesus.  They conclude this based on associations between Jesus and Michael found in Scripture.  Let’s look at these associations presented by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

       1 Thessalonians 4:16:  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 

       Since Michael is identified in Scripture as an archangel (Jude 1:9) and Jesus is seen as coming down from Heaven with the voice of the archangel, it is believed Jesus is Michael.  Michael, however, is not mentioned in the 4:16 passage.  Paul doesn’t identify any particular archangel.  Paul speaks of the voice of the archangel.  No definition is provided as to what that means.  Using this passage to prove Christ is Michael is highly speculative.  The main Scriptural passage used to establish Michael as Christ is found in Daniel.

       Daniel 12:1: At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people--everyone whose name is found written in the book--will be delivered. 

       This passage is believed to parallel statements made in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24) as to conditions extant at the return of Christ and consequently it is believed the prince spoken of in Daniel 12 is the Christ that is seen returning in the Olivet Discourse.  Michael, however, is not mentioned in the Olivet Discourse and is only mentioned twice in the entire NT (Jude 1:9, Revelation 12:7).  Neither reference shows Michael to be Christ.  Sound evidence for Michael being Christ is completely lacking in Scripture which makes the validity of this perspective extremely unlikely. 

       In what respect is the human Jesus to be seen ascending and descending heaven as indicated in several of the passages quoted above?  Scripture speaks of Jesus coming down from heaven.  Jesus did come down from heaven in so much as the heavenly Father personally begat Jesus in the womb of Mary.  He ascended to the Father after completing His Father’s mission and received the honor and glory that had been ordained for him since before creation.

       As discussed in Chapter Thirteen, the Scriptures indicate Jesus was crucified from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8).  Paul speaks of the grace that was given to us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time (2 Timothy 1:9).  Jesus speaks of the Kingdom having been prepared for us since the creation of the world (Matthew 25:34).  Paul told the Ephesian Christians that God chose us in him (Jesus) before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). 

       As previously discussed, there is found in Scripture a good deal of proleptic language.  This is language that treats things that have not as yet happened as though they already did happen.  Please review my discussion of this linguistic technique in Chapter Thirteen.  Let’s now look more closely at some of the Scriptural passages cited from the Gospel of John.

       John 13:3: Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.

       The NIV translation of John 13:3 gives the impression that Jesus was returning to the Father.  The word “returning” is translated from the Greek hupago which means to withdraw oneself, depart or simply to go somewhere.  There is nothing in the definition of hupago that means to return to somewhere you were before.  The KJV translates it as “went.”  The NKJV and RSV translate it as “going."  The Greek for “had come” is exerkomai, which means to come forth or proceed.   Jesus had proceeded from the Father in so much that God directly facilitated His human birth.  Now Jesus was about to depart from the world and go to be with His God and Father.  

       John 20:17: Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, `I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

       The NIV translation incorrectly uses the word “return” in place of “ascend” in their rendering of John 20:17.  Most translations use the word “ascend” which is the correct translation of the Greek anabaino which means to go upward.  There is nothing in the meaning of this Greek word that suggests returning to where you were before.  The word simply means to go up and is used in this manner some eighty-one times in the NT narrative.          

       Do Scriptures that speak of Jesus being sent by God and coming down from heaven prove the Son pre-existed?   John 1:6 records that John the Baptist was sent from God.  This doesn’t mean John the Baptist pre-existed because God sent him.  In a prophecy about John, the prophet Malachi quotes God as saying: “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes” (Malachi 4:5).  Does this mean John, as represented by Elijah, was sent from heaven to earth?  In John 6:31 it is recorded that God gave Israel manna bread from heaven.  Did this bread actually come down from heaven?  The accounts of this manna bread in the OT indicate it simply appeared each day on the ground.  It came from heaven only in the sense that it was God who facilitated its daily appearance on the ground and not that it literally descended each day from heaven. Let's take a closer look at Jesus' discussion of manna as it relates to John 6:62.

       John 6:62: What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!

       What does Jesus mean when He asks His disciples what if they see Him ascend to where he was before?  Is Jesus saying that where He was before was in heaven with God the Father?  Is Jesus saying He literally came down from the heavenly realm and was going to be ascending back to the heavenly realm? 

       Jesus made it clear in John 5:26 that He had life because the Father has granted Him life and not because He has eternally existed. Jesus said, “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself.”  Jesus made this statement within the context of discussing eternal life as John 5 shows.  Jesus was speaking of the eternal life the Father would grant Him through resurrection from the dead. 

         In John 6:27 through John 6:68 Jesus repeatedly alludes to resurrection from the dead and eternal life coming through Him.  Jesus states in John 6:35 and 48 that He is the bread of life.  He goes on in verse 49-51 to speak about how the Israelites ate manna in the desert and yet they died.  He contrasts this with He being the bread that came down from heaven that if a man eats of it he will not die.  He speaks of this bread being his flesh which He will give for the life of the world.  In verse 53-56 Jesus speaks of His followers need to eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to gain eternal life.    

       Jesus spoke of Him being the bread of life in response to the statement made to Him that, “Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.' (John 6:31).”  This appears to be a reference to Exodus 16:4, ‘Then the LORD said to Moses, "I will rain down bread from heaven for you.’”

       It is evident the manna given to Israel didn’t literally come down from the heavenly realm where God resides but came down with the dew that descended to the ground over night. Numbers 11:9: “When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down.”  The manna came from heaven only in the sense that God, who resides in heaven, was the one who performed the miracle of providing manna to Israel for forty years.  Jesus tells the people that He is the true manna sent from the heavenly realm by God. 

       Throughout these passages in John chapter 6, Jesus is speaking metaphorically.  Jesus was not literally bread that came down from heaven and He wasn’t advocating the literal eating of His flesh and the literally drinking of His blood. Why then should it be concluded that He is literally speaking of coming down from heaven?  Jesus came down from heaven in the same manner the manna came down from heaven. Just as God the Father facilitated the appearing of manna in the desert, God the Father facilitated the life of Jesus through His miraculous birth in Bethlehem.

       Jesus was the human fulfillment of what the Old Covenant animal sacrificial system pictured.  In order for this fulfillment to take place, Jesus had to be totally human and not human and divine.  Just as the animals under the Old Covenant system had their blood shed, Jesus also had His blood shed.  Jesus was the totally mortal sacrifice for sin. Jesus is alive today because the Father granted Him immortality through resurrection from the dead and not because Jesus already possessed immortality as the intrinsically eternal God. An intrinsically eternal God cannot die. Jesus lives because of the Father and clearly said so in the concluding remarks of His polemic about He being the bread of life.

       John 6:57-58: Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever."

       When people read John 6:62, the tendency is to assume Jesus is speaking about his ascension to the Father as recorded in Acts 1:9.  However, the context of John 6:27-68 is not dealing with the ascension of Jesus to the Father.  This entire passage of Scripture is dealing with resurrection to eternal life.  Jesus makes it clear that His life comes from the Father and our life comes through Jesus.  As already covered in this book, our resurrection to eternal life comes about as a result of Jesus’ resurrection to eternal life.  Therefore, it is appropriate that we understand John 6:62 in that context. 

       The Greek word translated “ascend” in John 6:62 is anabaino and means to “go upward” as previously discussed.  In Matthew 5:1 and 14:23 it is used to show Jesus climbing up a mountain.  In Matthew 3:16 it is used to show Jesus coming up from under the water at his baptism.  In Matthew 13:7 it is used to show a plant growing up out of the ground. In Luke 19:4 it is used to show Zacchaeus climbing a sycamore-fig tree to see Jesus.  While anabaino is used to speak of Jesus going up to heaven in John 20:17, it would appear out of context to use it in such manner in John 6.   

       When Jesus asks His disciples about seeing Him go up to where he was before, He may be alluding to His being raised from the dead to once again being alive. The Greek anabaino can mean to rise and is rendered that way several times in some translations of the NT. This would certainly be more in line with the context of John 6 which is largely dedicated to a discussion of resurrection to life through Jesus.  It is instructive that in Acts 1:9 where Jesus is seen as taken up into heaven, the Greek word translated “taken up” is not anabaino but epairo which means “to lift up.”   

       In Acts 7:37, Stephen speaks of God sending a prophet like Moses which is an allusion to the sending of Jesus.  In Exodus 3:12 it is recorded God sent Moses and yet Moses did not pre-exist.   OT Scripture speaks of God sending his servants the prophets (Jeremiah 7:25).  Where these servants in heaven with God before being sent to earth? 

       While it is true there are dozens of Scriptural passages in the NT that say Jesus was sent by God, it is also true that it was a common Hebrew and Aramaic idiom to say that something or someone came down from God or down from heaven when God was the cause.  This doesn’t mean there was a literal coming down but an identification of God as the cause or source of a particular occurrence.  Even though the NT was written in Greek, the thoughts and idioms are often Hebrew or Aramaic as this was the language spoken by the people.  

       In John, chapter six, Jesus used a great deal of figurative language.  He said He was living bread that came down from heaven.  He said His followers had to eat His flesh and drink His blood.  After hearing these things, it is recorded that many of His disciples no longer followed Him.  It is apparent they concluded Jesus was not creditable.  Jesus then asked the twelve if they too were going to leave.  Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).

       It is instructive that the twelve saw Jesus as the Holy One of God.  Never do we read of anyone relating to Jesus as coming down from heaven as God.  Never do we see Jesus called God the Son.  Even if one were to conclude that statements saying Jesus was sent by God and came down from heaven meant Jesus was a pre-existent Being, such statements would not be evidence that Jesus, as the Son of God, is God.  Jesus said, “Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me”(John 6:57).  This statement, as do so many others found in the NT, clearly shows Jesus received His life from the Father which, as pointed out in Chapter Twelve, precludes Jesus being ontologically one with the Father.

      The few Scriptural passages that appear to indicate pre-existence for the Son must be considered within the broader context of the many Scriptural passages that show the Son had His beginning as the human Jesus nearly 2000 years ago in a small town called Bethlehem.  The Scriptures reveal Jesus to be the Son of God and not God the Son. Jesus is seen as the fulfillment of prophecies pointing to a son of Abraham and David becoming a savior to Israel.  Scripture shows Jesus became the Son through His supernatural birth and not that He eternally existed as God the Son who became incarnated into the human Jesus. 

       Luke said the “holy one that will be born will be called the Son of God.”  Jesus is called the Son of God because He was directly conceived by God.  The conception of the Son was in the plans of the Father from the beginning.  Jesus is proleptically seen as having glory with the Father, a glory that is realized upon His crucifixion, His resurrection and His ascension to the Father after the Father raised Him from the dead.

       It is apparent from the Scriptures that it was after His crucifixion and resurrection that Jesus was to receive a certain glory. After His resurrection Jesus appeared incognito to several of His disciples as they were walking to a village called Emmaus.  In talking to them He says, “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" (Luke 24:26).  Jesus sees Himself entering His glory after suffering the ordeal of the crucifixion.  Peter confirmed this in His Pentecost sermon when he said; “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus” (Acts 3:13).

       In John 7:38-39, Jesus teaches that those who believed on Him would receive the Spirit and instructs that the Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified.  His glorification is seen as occurring at a point future to the time He was addressing His followers. 

       The word glory, in both the Hebrew and the Greek has a wide range of meaning.  It can mean to express or receive honor and praise.  It can mean to be exulted and exhibit splendor and brightness. The NT Scriptures show Jesus expressed and received glory in the form of honor and praise during His earthly ministry.  

       The transfiguration of Jesus appears to reveal to us what kind of glory Jesus would manifest after His resurrection and ascension to the Father. In the transfiguration, Jesus’ clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. It’s recorded that seeing Jesus in this manner was to see Jesus in His glory (Luke 9:29-32).

       Luke 9:32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.

       In Revelation chapter one, Jesus is seen in glorious splendor in that His head and hair are seen as being white like wool, as white as snow.  His eyes are described as being like blazing fire. His feet are described as being like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice like the sound of rushing waters. His face is described as being like the sun shining in all its brilliance.  

       In John 17:5, in Jesus’ prayer to the Father before he was about to be crucified, He said this: “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world (Greek kosmos) began).”   It would appear that the glory Jesus is asking for is the splendor type of glory as seen in the transfiguration and the Revelation.  As we see in Daniel 7, this is apparently the type of glory Jesus is given by the Father subsequent to His resurrection and ascension.

       Daniel 7:13-14:  "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.      

       In His prayer to the Father the night before He was to die, Jesus asks the Father to glorify Him in the Father’s presence with the glory He had with the Father before the world began. Taken at face value, Jesus appears to be asking the Father to restore to Him a glory He had with the Father before the world began. John 17:5 is often used as a proof text to show Jesus pre-existed.  The giving of glory to Jesus in Daniel 7 is seen as a restoration of a glory the Son gave up when He became the incarnate Jesus.

       If Jesus pre-existed the creation of the world, He must have existed during the time between the creation of the world and His birth as Jesus.  Depending on your view of the age of the world, this would have been at least thousands of years and maybe millions of years.  Why does Jesus seemingly skip multiple thousands of years of glory and request to be given glory he had before the world began rather than request the glory be restored that He supposedly gave up when He left heaven to enter earth as a human?  

       Now it could be argued that Jesus is simply reflecting on His having glory going back into the distant past and that He uses the phrase “before the world began” to highlight such distant past.  On the other hand, one can also argue that Jesus is speaking of the existence of His glory being in the possession of the Father before the world began and not that He (Jesus) personally existed before the world began?  Such a conclusion is very much in harmony with the proleptic language we see in Scripture.  As already discussed, proleptic language is the use of a word or phrase to describe a future event as if it has already occurred.

       For example, it is recorded in Revelation 13:8 that the Lamb (Jesus) is seen as slain from the time of the earth’s creation.  Yet Jesus wasn’t actually crucified until the first century A.D.  Paul writes to Timothy that grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time (2 Timothy 1:9).  Yet this grace was not made effective until the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus speaks of the Kingdom having been prepared for us since the creation of the world (Matthew 25:34).  Yet entrance into the Kingdom appears to first become available upon the completion of the Christ event.  Paul told the Ephesian Christians that God “chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4). This didn’t come to fruition until the first century.  Paul told the Ephesians they were seated with Christ in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6).  These Ephesians were not literally seated in heavenly places.  In Romans 4:17, Paul instructs that God calls things that are not as though they were.

       Roman 4:17: As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations."  He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed--the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.

       It is instructive that in His prayer, Jesus asks the Father to glorify Him with the glory He had with the Father before the world began.  In making such a request we have to assume Jesus did not at the time He made this request possess such glory.  Yet, in John 17:24, Jesus again alludes to having been given such glory because of being loved by God before the creation of the world. 

       John 17:24: Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

       In this passage, Jesus speaks as though he already has splendor glory and it’s just a matter of it being manifested. 

       Peter wrote that Jesus “was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake” (1 Peter 1:20, NIV). The Greek word proginosko, translated “chosen,” means “to know beforehand or be foreordained and is rendered as such in most other English translations.  According to Peter, God knew before the creation of the world that Jesus would be who He was and do what He did.  This would include the glory that would be given to Jesus at the completion of His work on planet earth. 

       Does foreknowing or foreordaining equate with pre-existing?  Paul told the Romans God foreknew (proginosko) those he predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he (the Son) might be the firstborn among many brothers (Romans 8:29). Does foreknowing those predestinated to be conformed to the likeness of Christ mean they all pre-existed?  In Jeremiah 1:5 it is recorded that before God formed Jeremiah in the womb God knew him.  Does this mean Jeremiah pre-existed as a living, conscious Being? 

       It is apparent from the Scriptures that God’s overall plan and purpose for mankind was completely spelled out in God’s mind from before the creation of the world.  The writer to the Hebrews says as much when writing about the salvation that is in Christ.  In Hebrews 4:3 the writer says “his (God’s) “work has been finished since the creation of the world.”

       It is to be noted that in John 17:5, Jesus does not ask the Father to restore glory He once had.  Jesus asks the Father to give Him glory He had with the Father.  Having glory with the Father could simply mean the Father was in possession of glory that was preordained to be given to Jesus upon completion of the work God gave Jesus to do. 

       My son could ask me to give him the inheritance I had in store for him from before the time he was born. My grandchildren could ask me for the college fund I set aside for them from before the time they were born.  

      Scripture shows that it is after His ascension to His God and Father that Jesus is given the glory that was ordained for him from the beginning.  From the beginning God’s plan and purpose was to facilitate salvation for the human creation through an anointed human savior.  Jesus was God’s human agent who is seen as a descendant of Abraham and David. While it is evident Jesus’ birth came about as the result of supernatural intervention, it is also evident Jesus was born of a human mother and has a human genealogy (Matthew chapter one and Luke chapter three). 

       Scripture shows that from before creation of the world, God ordained that a sinless human would shed his blood in death to atone for the sins of the world.  Israel was given a sacrificial system to prefigure this atonement. Jesus fulfilled what the Old Covenant sacrificial system prefigured.  The Hebrew Scriptures provide many references to the coming of an anointed savior.  Not a one of these references show this anointed savior  existing as a supernatural Being before appearing on planet earth as a human Being.  A comprehensive reading of the Greek Scriptures will reveal the same thing.  

       Jesus is alive today not because He was alive prior to his human birth.  Jesus is alive today because God the Father raised Him from the dead.  Jesus is the first human to be born from the dead to eternal life.  He is the first fruits of all those who had died.  Because of what Jesus accomplished, He was granted the power, authority and glory that had been ordained for Him since before the creation of the world.

PART TWENTY-THREE