THE PREEXISTENT CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-9-79 10:50 a.m.
This morning, if God will help, I pray that the Word can be honored, that we might realize somewhat of the glory and the majesty that came to reality in the birth of the Christ Child in Bethlehem [Matthew 1:20-21]. The title of the sermon is The Preexistent Christ. It is actually a message on the meaning of the incarnation, what happened. And I pray that you will listen this morning, not only with your heart, but also with your mind; The Preexistent Christ.
On page 1,238, or John 1:1, the beloved disciple begins his story of the incarnation with a paean of praise, one of the most beautiful hymns of poetry in all human literature. And this is the way he begins it:
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.
All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made.
The apostle there, writing in the latter part, possibly, of the first Christian century, adopts in a Christian usage a Philonian, Alexandrian Greek word, and a philosophical Greek word. He uses the word logos, which by this time had come to have a deep philosophical meaning: “In the beginning was the logos, and the logos was with God, and the logos was God” [John 1:1]. Logos, in the philosophical world, in the Alexandrian theological world, as used by Philo, who was a contemporary of Christ, logos meant thought, idea, purpose, reason.
We have it that same way in our language. We have taken the word bodily into English, and we use it in the same context and with the same meaning: logical, a logician, logistics; all of those words refer to mind and to thought. We have an endless number of words ending in ” – ology”: zoology, theology. All of those words refer to the thinking process that reveals to us truth. That’s one of the meanings in Greek philosophy of the word logos, and he uses it here to refer to the preexistent Christ.
The word logos also refers to “revelation, to manifestation, to activity. So, he is describing the preexistent Christ as not only the God of purpose, of thought, of idea, of reason, but he also uses the word logos to refer to the God of manifestation, the God of revelation, the God of action, which is the only God that we know. The manifestation of the invisible God is the preexistent Christ: “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God” [John 1:1]. And He made all things that are made [John 1:3].
Now we are going to look at these christophanies, the manifestations of Christ before His birth in Bethlehem. In the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of John, beginning at verse 36, the Gospel writer identifies a glorious and marvelous person in the Old Testament. This is what he says in verse 36:
These things spake Jesus…
And though He had done so many miracles, yet they believed not on Him;
That the prophecy of Isaiah might be fulfilled, .
Then he quotes, in verse 40 [John 12:40]; Isaiah 6:10. Now you look at the next verse, 41: “These things said Isaiah, when he saw the glory of Jesus, and spake of Him” [John 12:41]. So I turn to the sixth chapter of Isaiah, and there I read of the majesty and the glory of Jesus in a christophany, in a theophany: the preexistent Christ. And this is the vision:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple.
Above that throne stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face in reverence, with twain he covered his feet in humility, and with twain he did fly.
And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His effulgence, His iridescent brightness, His glory, the garments of God.
And the posts – the foundations of the building – moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with the shekinah glory of God.
John says that, when Isaiah saw that glorious and majestic Person called the Lord, he saw Jesus preincarnate, the preexistent Christ. This is a christophany, a theophany, an appearance, a manifestation, a revelation of God. In the Old Testament there are many of these christophanies, these theophanies, these manifestations of God, the Logos from eternity.
I will not speak of Melchizedek. There are many who think, in this fourteenth chapter of Genesis, verses 18 through 20, there are many who think that Melchizedek is a christophany, a theophany, a pre-manifest appearance of the Lord Jesus. Melchizedek: his name means “king of righteousness”: melek, zedek; “Melchizedek, King of Shalom, King of Peace, King of Salem, brought forth bread and wine before Abraham. And he blessed Abraham . . . and Abraham gave him tithes of all” [Genesis 14:18-20]; a part of the worship and devotion of God, to give the Lord a tenth of all we possess. There are many who say this is a preexistent Christ: Melchizedek. Many think that.
Another one that many identify as a christophany is that glorious being, the majesty that Jacob saw in the dream of the ladder that leaned against heaven, and the angels ascending and descending [Genesis 28:12]. And when Jacob awakened, he was afraid, and he said, “How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God. This is the gate of heaven [Genesis 28:16-17]. And he called the place the house of God, Bethel” – beth, house; El, God – Bethel [Genesis 28:19].
And here again, Jacob said: “If Thou wilt bless me, and bring me back to my home . . . surely of all that I have I will give the tenth unto Thee” [Genesis 28:20-22], a sign, a token of our worship of the true God. There are many who say that this is a christophany, this great, majestic being who appeared to Jacob in that ladder that leaned against heaven [Genesis 28:12]; that is the preexistent Christ.
Now we shall not follow one way or another, though they could be christophanies. They could be manifestations of the preexistent Christ. But we’re going to find His manifestations here in the pages of the Old Testament where He is identified as such.
Now the first: in the thirty-second chapter of Genesis, Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a Man with him until the breaking of the day [Genesis 32:24]. “And when He saw that He prevailed not against him” – Jacob is obstreperous, and incorrigible, and stubborn, and hard; many a man is like that, his will against God is difficult to break. “And when He saw that He prevailed not against him,” so stubborn the will of Jacob, “this Man who wrestled with him touched the hollow of his thigh and crippled him” [Genesis 32:25]. And when He was about to leave, and Jacob left there crippled, he cried, saying, “Bless me. Help me. Take pity upon me” [Genesis 32:26].
And the Man said, “What is your name?”
And Jacob replied, “My name is Jacob”: deceiver, supplanter, cheater.
And that Man replied, “Thy name shall be called no longer deceiver, supplanter, cheater, Jacob. Thy name shall be called Israel: Israel, a prince of God . . .” [Genesis 32:27-28].
“And Jacob said to Him, Who are You? What is Your name?”
“And the Man replied, Why do you ask? And He blessed him there” [Genesis 32:29].
And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: “For,” he said, “I have seen God face to face” [Genesis 32:30].
It was a preexistent Christ. This is a christophany, a manifestation of God.
“And Jacob passed over from Penuel, and the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh” [Genesis 32:31].
A man can’t be used of God in his pride and in his self-will and in his self-sufficiency. A man can be used of God only when he’s broken and humble and halts upon his thigh. This is a manifestation of the preexistent Christ. This is a christophany.
Again, in the third chapter of the Book of Exodus:
Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father-in-law . . . on the back side of the desert at Horeb – at Sinai.
And the Angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and the bush burned, but it was not consumed.
Moses said, I will turn aside, and look at this great sight . . .
And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here I am.
And the Lord said . . . Take off your shoes from off your feet, for the place whereon you stand is holy ground.
Who is this? He is called “the Angel of the Lord” [Exodus 3:2]. But when the Angel of the Lord speaks, it says the Lord spoke; “God called unto him” [Exodus 3:4].
Who is this Angel of the presence, this Angel of the Lord, who is called Jehovah and Elohim, the Lord God? This is a manifestation of the preexistent Christ. This is a christophany. It is a theophany. It is a preexistent manifestation, a preincarnate manifestation, of the Lord Christ.
I turn again to Exodus 24, beginning at verse 9:
Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel:
And they saw the God of Israel – “but no man can see God, and live” [Exodus 33:20] – they saw the God of Israel; and there was under His feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire, and as it were the body of heaven in its clearness.
And upon the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand – had He stretched forth His hand, they would have died – they saw God, and did eat and drink.
What is that? Whom did they see? They saw the preexistent Christ. They saw the Logos, the manifestation and the revelation of God.
I turn again. Exodus 33, beginning at verse 18:
And Moses said, O Lord, I beseech Thee, show me Thy glory.
And the Lord said, I will make all My beauty and goodness and glory and effulgence pass before thee . . .
But My face you cannot see . . .
, I will hide you in a clift of the rock, and cover you there with My hand.
And after the majesty and the glory and the effulgence and the beauty and the goodness pass by, “I will take away Mine hand, and thou shalt see the afterglow, the twilight, of the glory of the manifestation of God: but My face shall not be seen” [Exodus 33:20].
So God took Moses and hid him in a clift of the rock, and covered him there with His hand until His majesty and beauty and effulgent brightness passed by. Then, God took away His hand, and Moses saw the afterglow, the twilight, of the glory of God [Exodus 33:22-23].
Who is this? This is the preexistent Christ. This is the Logos. This is the preincarnate Jesus. And I love when you sing that song:
He hideth my soul
In a cleft of the rock
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my soul
In the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand.
[“He Hideth My Soul,” Fanny Crosby]
A christophany, a theophany, a manifestation of the Logos, the preexistent Christ.
I turn the pages of the Bible, again, to chapter 5 of the Book of Joshua. Beginning at verse 13 – Joshua 5:13:
And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a Man over against him with a sword drawn in His hand; and Joshua went unto Him, and said unto Him, Are You for us, or against us?
Are You a friend or a foe? Are You with us, or for our adversaries?
And that Man replied, Nay; but as Captain of the host of the Lord am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto Him, What saith my Lord unto His servant?
And the Captain of the Lord’s host said unto Joshua, Take your shoes from your feet; for the place whereon you stand is holy ground . . .
I’ve heard that before. That’s what that Angel of the Lord said to Moses in Horeb, before the burning bush, “Take your shoes from off your feet, the place whereon you stand is holy ground” [Exodus 3:3, 5]. And Joshua bowed in worship before this One who is called the Captain of the host of the Lord [Joshua 5:14].
Too bad there’s a separation there of a chapter, for in the second verse down, it is the Lord, this Captain of the hosts of Israel – it is the Lord that speaks unto Joshua [Joshua 6:2]. That’s the Lord. Who is that Captain of the hosts of the armies of Israel? [Joshua 5:14]. That’s the preexistent Christ. This is a christophany. It’s a theophany. It’s a manifestation of God. This is the preincarnate Jesus, whom in the Old Testament we know as Jehovah, in the New Testament we know as Jesus.
Look once again. In the first chapter of Ezekiel, Ezekiel sees a vision of the glory of God, and in the vision appear four cherubim [Ezekiel 1:1-5]. And in that glorious description of the wheels and the Spirit of God [Ezekiel 1:21], in the moving of the cherubim, it closes with a vision of the Lord God Himself. Beginning at verse 26:
And above the firmament that was over their heads – the heads of the cherubim – was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone; and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it – seated upon it.
And I saw as the color of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of His loins even upward, and from the appearance of His loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about.
As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard His voice speak unto me.
God is clothed in iridescent brightness. God is clothed in garments of glory and beauty. That’s what the word shekinah refers to. Shekinah refers to the glory of God, the brightness of His garments. And, when you read in the New Testament that He is coming with clouds, that’s not mist, visible moisture. He is coming with clouds: “Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him” [Revelation 1:7]. That is the shekinah of God, the garments of the glory of the Lord, when He comes. When He comes, He will come clothed in iridescent brightness and beauty. And this is a christophany, this is a theophany, this is a vision of the preexistent Christ. And when Ezekiel saw Him and fell down to worship Him, he describes the beauty and the glory of His garments, and he calls Him the Lord [Ezekiel 1:27-28].
Now in the New Testament you will find words that unconsciously reflect this great doctrinal truth that in Bethlehem, the Logos, the manifestation of God, became incarnate [Matthew 1:23-25]. In Bethlehem, this Angel of the Lord before whom Moses and Joshua and Ezekiel fell down in worship, there He becomes flesh, incarnate [Luke 2:1-7].
And in the Bible, in the New Testament, there are words that are used that are an attempt on the part of the Gospel writers to reflect that manifestation and declaration of God in Christ Jesus. And they will use these words almost unconsciously, it seems to me. They are not studied words. They are not words that are with great toil and effort grasped after and seized upon, but they are words that come naturally and unconsciously as they describe the meaning of the manifestation of this preexistent Christ in the incarnation in Bethlehem [Matthew 2:1, Luke 2:4-7].
Now we’re going to look at two or three of them. Here’s one: in that first chapter of John, John seemingly loved to use the word monogenes. Now look at it: “And the Word was made flesh,” John 1:14, “and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Now, there’s that word. When I read it, it just reads right along. And, yet, there is a word that is marvelous, and he uses it seemingly unconsciously: monogenes, translated “only begotten” – the glory of the only begotten of the Father [John 1:14].
Now, look at verse 18. He uses it again: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” [John 1:18]. It just is so natural: monogenes, translated “only begotten.” John seemingly loved that word.
We all know John 3:16: “God so loved the world, that He gave His monogenes Son, His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
What is monogenes? Monogenes refers to the unique, only, and unlike Son of God. He is not an angel. There are many angels. He is not a man. There are many men. He is monogenes, the one and only – and, unlike all others, this revelation of God, this manifestation of God, this Logos that became flesh: “And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the monogenes of God” [John 1:14].
Now, I want you to look again at another word. You read this in Philippians 2:5: “Let this mind be in you, which was in Christ Jesus.” Now, he’s going to just talk right along. There’ll be no striving and grasping for a word to describe. It will be a natural, an almost unconscious, description:
Let this mind be in you, which was in Christ Jesus:
Who, being in the morphe of God –
being in the form of God, the morphe of God –
thought it not a thing to be seized upon to be equal with God;
But poured Himself out –
He willingly gave up all the prerogatives of deity, the preexistent Christ,
And was made in the likeness of a man –
and a slave at that –
And became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Now, look at that word: “Who, being in the morphē of God” [Philippians 2:6]. The morphē of God – this preexistent Christ, in the morphē of God; what is the morphē of God, the “form” of God? What the apostle means is, using it unconsciously – what the apostle refers to is that in Christ are summed up all of the characteristics of God, the “form” of God [Philippians 2:6].
It’s like this. A piece of metal that is a sword is a sword because of its form. It is the form of the metal that makes it a sword. The form is the sword. That is, it’s not a shovel or it’s not a plowshare. The form of it makes it a sword.
Take a dipper. It is the form that gives it meaning: a dipper. The form of it makes it a dipper. It’s not a saw. It’s not a hammer. It’s a dipper. The form of it gives it its meaning.
So he says of the Lord Jesus, the preexistent Christ: “He was in the form of God” – the morphē of God [Philippians 2:6]. All of the characteristics that make God God are in Him. He is not a man. He is not an angel. He is not a created being. He is in the form of God. All that God is, He is. He is the voice of the eternal silence. He is the effulgent brightness of the God that men could not bear to look upon. He is the manifestation of the face of the Father that no man could see, and live [Exodus 33:20]. When we see Jesus, we see God.
Another word that he used almost unconsciously: in Colossians 1:15, this Lord Jesus, Paul writes,
. . . He is the eikon of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation:
For by Him were all things created . . . in heaven, in earth, visible and invisible…
He is before all things, and by Him all things consist – hold together
For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell.
There’s another word just unconsciously used: “He is the eikon, the image of the invisible God” [Colossians 1:15].
Would you see God? Look at Jesus. Would you know how God walks? Watch Jesus walking. Would you know how God talks? Listen to Jesus talking. Would you know God’s heart? Look at the pity and mercy and grace of our Lord Jesus. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn, the Creator of all existence and being: the preexistent Christ [Colossians 1:15-16].
And would you look once again in Hebrews 1? As the author begins his letter:
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
Hath in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds;
Who, being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person, upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had made atonement for our sins, He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;
Look at those words, just almost unconsciously used; but how they describe the glory of our preexistent Lord. He, “being the brightness of His effulgence, iridescence, and the express image of His essence, person” [Hebrews 1:3].
“The express image”: the word “express image,” being the express image of God’s person, that’s the translation of one Greek word. And, you have it spelled out in English, exactly as it is in Greek, charakter, character. A charakter would be, according to the etymological derivation of our word character; a charakter would be something that you would incise in, on a monument, say: a charakter cut into a monument.
And that’s the original meaning of the word: a character. An engraver would incise it, would cut it. And so, he says here that Jesus is the exact image, He is the exact duplicate of the person of God, exactly [Hebrews 1:3]. Like the image of a king on a coin. He is the exact image of God.
Charakter: the “express image.” Whatever is a characteristic of God is a perfect characteristic of the preexistent Christ and of Jesus incarnate. Whatever God is, He is. And He bears in Him all the brightness and the effulgence and the iridescent glory of the Lord God [Hebrews 1:3].
That’s why, when we read in the New Testament, say, in the eighth chapter of John, the Lord Jesus would say: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I AM” [John 8:58] – that goes back to the preexistent Christ, the christophany, when God the Christ appeared to Moses in Horeb and spoke to him out of the burning bush, and Moses said, “What is Your name? When I go down to Egypt and they say, What’s the name of the God who sent you? What shall I say?” [Exodus 3:13].
And the Lord replied, “You tell them My name is I AM THAT I AM” [Exodus 3:14].
That is the preexistent Christ.
And the Lord said, “Before Abraham was, I AM” [John 8:58].
Or take again, the seventeenth chapter of the Book of John. In the high priestly prayer, the Lord will say, “Glorify thou Me with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was” [John 17:5]. That is the preexistent Christ.
And in the last invitation that closes out the Bible, “I Jesus have sent Mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the Bright and the Morning Star” [Revelation 22:16]. The Root and the Offspring of David; He is David’s Lord. He is David’s God. He was before David, “I am the Root and the Offspring.” He was incarnate in the lineage and in the family of the life of the prince of the house of David; the preexistent Christ. And that was the basis upon which He made that final invitation, the next verse: “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come” [Revelation 22:17]. Let the passerby repeat the glad refrain: “Come, come to Jesus.” Let the visitor in our congregation this holy and heavenly hour, let them repeat that glad welcome, “Come.” Come to Jesus. “And whosever will, let him take the water of life freely” [Revelation 22:17]. This is the Root and the Offspring of David. This is the preexistent Christ, and the incarnate Jesus in Bethlehem [Matthew 1:23-2:1; Luke 2:7], who died for our sins according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3]; who was raised for our justification according to the Scriptures [Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:4], and whom someday we shall see in all the effulgent beauty of His glory. What marvel, what wonder, what grace God hath poured out upon us! Now may we stand together?
Our Lord in heaven, we feel today in Thy presence that we ought to undo the latchet of our shoes, the place whereon we stand is holy ground. Behold, we have taken upon ourselves to name Thy name, to preach Thy Word; we who are but dust and ashes. But Lord, take the feeble effort, so small and so weak compared to the glory and wonder and infinitude of the majesty of God. Take it, Lord, and magnify Thy name in our midst and in our souls. And we pray that today His Holy Spirit will bring to our wonderful Lord Jesus these who have found refuge and hope in Him.
In a moment we shall sing our hymn of appeal, and with our heads bowed and in this moment of quiet prayer, make the decision now in your heart. “I this day take the Lord Jesus as my Savior, for all that He said He was, and for all that He promised to be, to forgive my sins [1 John 1:9], and to write my name in the Book of Life [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:15]; to be my friend in the pilgrimage through this world.” Or to put your life in the fellowship of our dear church, or to follow the Lord in baptism [Matthew 3:13-17], or to answer a call of the Holy Spirit, make that decision now in your heart. And in a moment when we sing, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, “Here I am, preacher. This is my whole family. We are all coming,” or just a couple or just one somebody you.
And our Lord, as we wait, as we pray, as we sing, may God send us these the Spirit hath called and chosen this holy day, in Thy saving, keeping name, amen. While we sing.
I. The Logos
A. Definition of the
B. Manifestation of the
invisible God is the pre-existent Christ
C. Christophanies –
manifestations of Christ before His birth in Bethlehem
1. In the vision
of Isaiah (John 12:36, 40-41, Isaiah 6:1-4)
2. Melchizedek (Genesis
3. Jacob (Genesis
28:12, 16-17, 22, 32:24-30)
4. Moses (Exodus
5. Moses, Aaron
and the seventy elders (Exodus 24:9-11)
6. Moses in the
cleft of the rock (Exodus 33:18-22)
7. Joshua and the
Captain of the host (Joshua 5:13-15)
8. In the vision
of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:26-28, Revelation 1:7)
II. New Testament words that reflect the
truth of the Incarnation
(John 1:14, 18, 3:16)
1. The “only
begotten” of the Father
2. The unique,
only, and unlike Son of God
1. The “form” of
2. All the
characteristics of God are in Him
(Colossians 1:15-17, 19)
1. The image of
the invisible God
1. The “express
image” of God
2. Whatever God
is, He is (John 8:58, Exodus 3:14, John 17:5)