NOTE: I will be turning the superscripts into active links in a future release. For now, it is necessary to scroll to the bottom of the page to see the footnotes.
The subject of the preincarnate existence of Christ, and His preincarnate works, is an important subject which is frequently neglected in the teaching ministry of the local church. It is important for four reasons. First, His preexistence is a necessary attribute. If Christ did not exist prior to His incarnation, then He cannot be God. Second, it is important that the Christian have a firm knowledge of the preincarnate Christ in order to avoid being tossed to and fro by the winds of false doctrine which Satan is constantly blowing our way through the vehicle of the false cults. Third, it gives the Christian a greater appreciation of the unity of the Scriptures. And fourth, it gives the Christian a greater arpreciation of certain passages of the Bible.
As stated above, it is essential that the preexistence of Christ be proven in order to prove His deity. In this section, the fact of Christ's preincarnate existence will be established.
Micah 5:2 states that Israel's Messiah would come from Bethlehem, and He is described as He "whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." This states not only His preexistence but the fact that He has existed from eternity.
The term "from everlasting" is, according to A.R. Fausset, "the strongest assertion of infinite duration of which the Hebrew language is capable."1 The term is also used in Psalm 90:2 and Proverbs 8:22,23.
In Isaiah 9:6, Israel's Messiah is described as the "everlasting Father" or, as it is better rendered, "Father of eternity". This also points to His existence from eternity past.
The New Testament abounds with evidence for Christ's preexistence. Some of the evidence is implied, but other evidence is directly asserted. Also, His preincarnate works imply preexistence. It would be unnecessary to cite every bit of evidence here, but hopefully enough will be cited to be convincing.
In John 1:14, it is written that "the Word became flesh." Now that He became flesh implies that He was not always flesh, i.e., that He existed before His incarnation. In John 3:13, Jesus said that He came down from heaven. Mortal men do not come down from heaven! This implies a previous existence. In John 17:18, we see that the Father sent Him into the world. In Hebrews 2:14 we read that He partook of flesh and blood. All of these things imply that He existed prior to His incarnation.2
There are five passages cited by Chafer which are direct assertions of Christ's preexistence.
The first is John 1:1-4,14. In v.1 we read, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." It was later that "the Word became flesh (v. 14)." If the Word was with God before He became flesh, than He obviously existed before His incarnation.
The second is John 6:33-62. There is no need to examine this whole passage. For our purposes, it will suffice just to look at v. 62, where Jesus said to His disciples, "What if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?"
The third is John 8:58, where Jesus said to the Jews, "Before Abraham was, I am." Jesus is obviously stating here that He existed before Abraham.
The fourth is John 17:5, where Jesus was praying to the Father and said, "And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was." This, too, is an obvious assertion of Christ's preexistence.
The fifth is Phil. 2:6, where Paul, speaking of our Lord, says, "Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God." This passage is one of the most difficult to interpret, but for our purposes all we need see is that there was a time, before He took on the form of a man, that Christ existed in the form of God. This, too, is an obvious assertion of Christ's preexistence.
As we shall see later, Christ's works include creation, the preservation of the universe, and the sustaining of the children of Israel in the wilderness. In order for Christ to have done these things, which happened prior to His incarnation, He had to have existed.
On the basis of the evidence from both Old and New Testaments, anybody who honors the testimony of Scripture must conclude that Jesus Christ has existed from "the beginning" along with God the Father.
Theophanies appear on many occasions in the Old Testament. There is overwhelming evidence to support the idea that an Old Testament theophany is a preincarnate appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ. Below, some of these theophanies will be discussed, and evidence will be given to support the idea that they are appearances of Christ.
This angel appears on numerous occasions throughout the Old Testament. And yet it is clear that He is something more than other angels.
The Angel of the LORD is often identified as Jehovah. We can see this in Gen. 16:7-13, when He spoke with Hagar, and in Gen. 22:11-18, when, after the offering of Issac, He confirmed His covenant with Abraham. We see Him again identified as Jehovah in Judges 6:11-24. And here we'll notice something else which is significant. We see the Angel of the LORD accepting worship, which an ordinary angel wouldn't do. Only Jehovah is to be worshipped.
While the Angel of the LORD is identified as Jehovah, He is also distinguished from Jehovah. In Gen. 24:7, we read of Jehovah sending his angel. Zech. 1:12-13 is the clearest revelation of the distinction, for there we see the Angel of the LORD speaking with Jehovah.
One who believes in the Trinity will have no difficulty with the idea that the Angel of the LORD is identified as Jehovah and yet distinct from Him. This would mean that He is one of the members of the Trinity. Walvoord gives four reasons why the Angel of the LORD should be identified as the second person of the Trinity.
First, the second person is the visible God of the New Testament. The Father has been heard, but never seen. The Spirit has been seen only in the form of a dove, and only in one instance. But Christ, indwelt by the fullness of the Godhead, walked among men, visible and touchable. It therefore seems logical to conclude that the Angel of the LORD would be the second person of the Godhead.
Second, the Angel of the LORD no longer appears after the incarnation of Christ. It seems logical to conclude that the reason why He appears no longer is because in the New Testament He appears as the incarnate Christ.
Third, both the Angel of the LORD and Jesus Christ were sent by the Father. In the Trinitarian relationship, it is the Father Who sends the other two persons.
Fourth, the Angel of the LORD could not be either the Father or the Spirit. He could not be the Father because John 1:18 tells us that "No man hath seen God at any time." He could not be the Spirit, since the Spirit is immaterial. Therefore, He must be the Son.
Some of these same arguments will apply to the other theophanies which will be discussed below.
In Genesis 18, three men appear to Abraham. It is apparent that one of them is Jehovah (the other two are probably angels), since the text actually says so (v. 13). Furthermore, He knows of Sarah's laughter within herself, and we see Abraham praying to Him. Like the Angel of the LORD, this is a physical manifestation of Jehovah, and must therefore be a preincarnate appearance of Christ.
In Joshua 5:13-15, we read of a man whom Joshua meets near Jericho. The man identified Himself as "captain of the host of the LORD." He accepted Joshua's worship, and told Joshua to remove his shoes because he was on holy ground, just as Moses had to do when the Angel of the LORD spoke to him from the burning bush (Ex. 3). This demonstrates the deity of the Captain, which leads us to the conclusion that this is another preincarnate appearance of Christ.
Time and space do not permit a discussion of every preincarnate appearance of Christ. But we would do well to mention just a few more here, such as the pillar of fire and the cloud that guided Israel in the wilderness, the man who wrestled with Jacob (Gen. 32), the man who appeared to Daniel near the Tigris River (Dan. 10, cp. Rev. 1:13-16), and perhaps the writer with the inkhorn of Ezekiel 9.
Christ was not idle during the ages before His incarnation. Micah 5:2 tells us that His "goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." In this section, we're going to take a look at some of these "goings forth."
Christ's work in creation is plainly revealed in the New Testament. In John 1:3 we read, "All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made." In Col. 1:16, we read, "By him were all things created," and in Heb. 1:10, "And, Tnou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands." Therefore, His work in creation is obvious.
Christ is said to be the force which holds all things together. If He does that now, then He also did it before His incarnation. We read of His preservation of the universe in Col. 1:17 and Heb. 1:3.
As the Angel of the LORD, Christ was frequently involved in bearing messages to men. He was also involved in Revelation in other physical appearances.
Christ's work of deliverance before His incarnation can be seen in many instances. As the Angel of the LORD, He stopped Abraham when He was about to slay Issac. Also as the Angel of the LORD, He stood between the camp of Egypt and that of Israel while the Red Sea was parting. He was with Israel in the wilderness, and provided water from out of a rock on two occasions (Ex. 17, Num. 20, cp. I Cor. 10:4).
Christ, in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, guided the children of Israel in the wilderness.
Christ was involved, even before His incarnation, with man's salvation. Scripture does not give us a great amount of detail as to the nature of His saving ministry before the incarnation, but we are told in 2 Cor. 5:19 that "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them."
We have examined in this treatise Christ's preincarnate existence, His preincarnate appearances and His preincarnate works. It is hoped that this treatise has been convincing and profitable, and that the reader will find a fresh new appreciation of the unity of the Scriptures, and that the reader has gained a little more weaponry whereby to fight off cultic heresies related to the person of our Savior. Althouph the author does not encourage arguments with such people, it is nevertheless important that the believer be fully persuaded of his own beliefs.
1Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, IV, p. 600, according to Walvoord, p. 23.
2Chafer V, p. 33.
3lbid., pp. 33-38.
4According to Chafer V. pp. 33-34.
Berkhof, L. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1939.
Chafer, Lewis Sperry. Systematic Theology, Vol. V. Dallas, Dallas Seminary Press, 1948.
Feinberg, Charles Lee. The Prophecy of Ezekiel. Chicago, Moody Press, 1969.
Walvoord, John F. Jesus Christ Our Lord. Chicago, Moody Press, 1969.