Christology Series: Christ's Preexistence and Deity
Now this is eternal life—that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent.
Who is Jesus Christ? This question elicits a lot of mystery and confusion. Some say Jesus was only a regular human—maybe a wise man or a prophet. Others say he is a created being, like an angel. Still, others say Jesus is God but not human. While others say he is both fully God and fully human. Who exactly is Jesus? Scripture teaches that our eternal destiny depends on how we answer this question (1 John 4:2-3, Rom 10:9-10); therefore, it behooves us to reflect on this question and answer it correctly. In this study, we’ll consider what the Bible says about Jesus Christ, so that we may enjoy the eternal life, which only comes through him (John 3:16, 17:3) and also know, worship, and serve him in a more excellent manner.
Christ’s Preexistence and Deity
Scripture does not teach that Christ came into existence at his birth or that he was a created being, as some errantly teach. He always existed. Many Scriptures teach this: Micah 5:2 says: “As for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, seemingly insignificant among the clans of Judah— from you a king will emerge who will rule over Israel on my behalf, one whose origins are in the distant past.” Micah predicted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and that he would be the future king of Israel. However, Micah says that he had existed from “the distant past” or “ancient times” (NIV). Isaiah 9:6 says: “For a child has been born to us, a son has been given to us. He shoulders responsibility and is called: Extraordinary Strategist, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah predicted that a child would be born who would be called “Everlasting Father,” which means that this person, though born in time, had existed forever. In fact, Jesus said something similar about himself in John 8:58, which caused him to be mocked. He said, “… I tell you the solemn truth before Abraham came into existence, I am!” When Christ said this, it was not just a reference to his preexistence, but also his deity. When God introduced himself to Israel during their slavery in Egypt, he introduced himself by the name “I Am” (Ex 3:14) and so did Christ. Christ has always existed, since he is God.
As mentioned, not only has Christ always existed, he has eternally existed as God. This is the central aspect of Christ’s person, which many have questioned, struggled with, and denied. Certainly, his deity and eternality are hard to fathom. Yet, this is exactly what Scripture teaches: The author of Hebrews gives God the Father’s testimony about his Son, in Hebrews 1:8, saying, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and a righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.” In the context, the author of Hebrews argues for the greatness of Christ by comparing him to angels. He does this by quoting God’s words about the Son in Psalm 45:6. God the Father calls the Son, “God,” which God never said about an angel.
In addition, John 1:1-3 says,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. The Word was with God in the beginning. All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.
John gives Jesus the title, “the Word,” which means that Christ is the communication of God—the way we get to know more about God and his will. Then John says that “the Word” was “with God,” “was fully God,” and also that the Word created all things. This is a clear declaration of Christ’s deity.
Paul makes the same declaration about Christ in Colossians 1:15-16:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him—all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers—all things were created through him and for him.
Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God, and he is the Creator of the earth. When God the Father, created the earth, he did it through the Son and for the Son (Col 1:16).
Likewise, Peter said this about Jesus in 2 Peter 1:1, “From Simeon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ, have been granted a faith just as precious as ours.” Peter didn’t just call Jesus, “Savior,” but also “God.”
Further evidence for Christ’s deity is the fact that Jesus’ contemporaries commonly called him “Lord.” When they did this, they were employing a term (Kurios) that was used over 6814 times in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, to refer to God.[i] Wayne Grudem said this about the use of the term:
Therefore, any Greek-speaking reader at the time of the New Testament who had any knowledge at all of the Greek Old Testament would have recognized that, in contexts where it was appropriate, the word “Lord” was the name of the one who was the Creator and Sustainer of heaven and earth, the omnipotent God.[ii]
Consequently, when the angels announced Jesus’ birth by saying, “Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11), they were saying that Jesus was the Lord God.
Finally, evidence for Christ’s deity is the fact that he accepted worship. In John 5:23, Christ said: “The one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” Essentially, that means if we don’t worship Jesus, we can’t worship God. Also, in John 9, after healing a blind man, Christ asked him if he believed in the Son of man (v. 35). After Christ revealed himself as the messiah, the man responded with, “‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him” (v. 38). In addition, after revealing himself to Thomas after his resurrection, Thomas said to Christ, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). The blind man’ and Thomas’ responses are especially amazing considering they were monotheistic Jews, who believed that only God deserved worship and worshipping anything or anyone else brought God’s judgment (Ex 20:4-6). Daryl Aaron said this about their worship of Jesus:
In historical context, what they did was absolutely revolutionary. And Jesus did not rebuke them. If thinking that he was God had revealed a terrible misunderstanding, Jesus could have taken the opportunity to say, “Hold on! Don’t worship me! Worship only God” (as, for instance, Paul and Barnabas did, and as angels repeatedly did). Jesus accepted worship because he is God and is worthy of it.[iii]
With all that said, though Scripture teaches Christ’s preexistence and deity, it also teaches that Jesus is “distinct” or separate from God. When talking to unbelieving Jews, Christ said this about himself in John 10:35-36:
If those people to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’ (and the scripture cannot be broken), do you say about the one whom the Father set apart and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?
In calling himself “Son of God,” Christ was not only emphasizing his equality with God but declaring that he was distinct from God. We get a great picture of this distinctness at his baptism. Matthew 3:16-17 says:
After Jesus was baptized, just as he was coming up out of the water, the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my one dear Son; in him I take great delight.”
Clearly, in this passage, God the Father is separate from the Son, as God declares his pleasure in the Son. Also, the Holy Spirit is distinct as he falls on the Son.
In addition, Scripture also teaches Christ’s unity with God: In John 10:30, Christ said, “The Father and I are one.” Also, in John 10:38, he said: “…I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”
Jesus is God, and yet distinct from God, and at the same time unified with him. This is the doctrine of the Trinity, as the Holy Spirit is also distinctly God and yet unified with them. It is a mystery, which does not make perfect sense to us, but it is repeatedly taught in Scripture.
Daryl Aaron’s comments on the importance of Christ’s deity for the church historically are a helpful conclusion to this section of our study:
It is no surprise that from very early on, believers have contended for, fought for, and died for this teaching—the deity of Jesus Christ. In a nutshell, the doctrine is that Jesus Christ is fully God (not half God or one-third God) and eternally God (he did not become God at some point in time). Anything less has been considered heresy.[iv]
One of the reasons this doctrine is so crucial is that if Jesus is not fully God, there is no salvation to be found in his death. The sacrifice that would be sufficient for the many sins of the many people had to be a sacrifice of infinite value. No human being could provide this kind of sacrifice; only God himself could. This is why the early Christians were so appalled at the deity of Jesus being denied. They knew his deity was absolutely vital for their salvation.[v]
How should we apply Christ's preexistence and deity? Since Jesus is eternally God (Is 9:6), we should worship and pray to him, even as we do the other members of the Godhead. In John 14:14, Christ taught his disciples to pray to him, when he said, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” Likewise, in Revelation 22:17, the Spirit and the church pray to Christ, asking him to return, and others are encouraged to pray the same way. “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say: ‘Come!’” Finally, in Revelation 5:11-14, all the inhabitants of heaven and earth worship Christ for his great sacrifice:
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels in a circle around the throne, as well as the living creatures and the elders. Their number was ten thousand times ten thousand—thousands times thousands—all of whom were singing in a loud voice: “Worthy is the lamb who was killed to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature—in heaven, on earth, under the earth, in the sea, and all that is in them—singing: “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be praise, honor, glory, and ruling power forever and ever!” And the four living creatures were saying “Amen,” and the elders threw themselves to the ground and worshiped.
Since Christ died for us, delivering us from sin and death and giving us his righteousness so we can dwell and rule with him, we should worship and serve him eternally—for he is worthy of all honor, glory, and power! Thank you, Lord!
What stood out most in the reading and why?
What are some common misconceptions about Christ’s origin?
What are some support verses for the pre-existence of Christ before his birth?
What are some support verses for Christ’s deity?
If somebody asked you to explain the Trinity, how would you explain it?
Why should people worship and pray to Jesus? Use Scripture to support.
What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?
[i] Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 544). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.
[ii] Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 544). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.
[iii] Aaron, Daryl. Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day: How can I know God?
[iv] Aaron, Daryl. Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day: How can I know God? Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
[v] Aaron, Daryl. Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day: How can I know God? Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.