The Preexistent Christ
December 9th, 1979 @ 8:15 AM
Christ, Christophany, Incarnation, Jesus, Shekinah, Theophany, Word of God, 1979, John
THE PREEXISTENT CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-9-79 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Preexistent Christ. It is a little different type kind of a message, and I pray that it will be meaningful to you. I want you to listen not only with your heart, but also with your mind. As a beginning text, on page 1238, John 1:1:
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 any thing made that was made.
In this beautiful paean of praise comprising the first eighteen verses of the first chapter of John, the apostle uses a philosophical word. By the time that John wrote this Gospel, possibly in the latter part of the first Christian century, the word logos, “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God,” by the time John wrote this Gospel, that word logos had come to be a philosophical term. We use it that way today. The idea that lies back of the use of the word logos is first expression, action; and then thought and idea and purpose. And when John uses the word logos he is speaking of the God of purpose, and also of the God of action, the One that moves, the One that does, the One who reveals Himself; the God that we know in creation and in redemption. We use that word philosophically even in our language: logos meaning “thought and idea.” We take the word bodily into our language in a logician, “logic, logical” referring to a thought process, how our mind works, “logical.” And we take it into our combination of endless words, “ologies”: zoology, a study of life; theology, a study of God; all of those many, many “ologies.” We use the word philosophically. John does here: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” [John 1:1]; idea, thought, expression, action, the God who moves, and whom we feel in our souls, and whose mighty handiwork we see in the universe around us.
Now the purpose of this message today is the presentation of the Child who was born in Bethlehem. Who is He? And where did He come from? And according to the Word of God, which we shall see, the Child who was born to the virgin Mary [Luke 1:26-35] is this Logos, this God of purpose and God of revelation and God of action. He did not begin in Bethlehem. Our lives begin when we are born; but the life of the Child of Mary was from the forever [John 1:1-2]. He had no beginning; He is God incarnate, God made flesh [John 1:14].
In looking at that, we’re going to look at the preexistent Christ. And we’re going to look at Christophanies, theophanies, the appearances of that Christ, of that Lord God, before the days of the New Testament. Now, the apostle John writes in the twelfth chapter of his book, “These things spake Jesus . . . And though He had done so many miracles before them, they did not believe on Him: That the saying of Isaiah could be fulfilled, when He said” [John 12:36-38], and he quotes Isaiah 6:10 [John 12:40]. Then the next verse, John 12:41, “These things said Isaiah, when he saw the glory of Jesus, and spake of Him.” Well, let us turn back to the sixth chapter of Isaiah and see what John describes as being the glory of Jesus that Isaiah saw. And here is a Christophany; here is an appearance of the preexistent Christ. Isaiah 6, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw also 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 adoration, “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,” and John says, “is the Lord Jesus Christ. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” [Isaiah 6:1-3]. John says that Isaiah saw the glory of the preexistent Christ [John 12:41]; “the whole earth is full of His glory. And the very foundations of the temple moved at the voice of them that cried; and the house was filled with smoke, with the shekinah glory of God” [Isaiah 6:3-4]. The apostle John says that when Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up [Isaiah 6:1], that he saw the preexistent Christ, the Logos, the thought and the purpose and the expression of God, the God who reveals Himself [John 12:41].
Now, when we look through the Old Testament, it is surprising in how many instances we find the appearance of that wonderful and marvelous Being, these Christophanies, these theophanies, these appearances of God. Now, we will not mention Melchizedek. Melchizedek, his name means “king of righteousness,” Melchizedek, the king of Salem, the king of Shalom, the king of peace [Hebrews 7:2], he brought forth bread and wine before Abraham. And he blessed Abraham, and said, “Blessed be Abraham of the Most High God. And Abraham gave him tithes of all” [Genesis 14:18-20]. There are many who say that is a Christophany; it is the preexistent Christ.
Nor shall we mention the incomparable, beautiful, marvelous dream of Jacob, when he was on his way to Haran [Genesis 28:10-11]. A ladder from heaven to earth, and the angels ascending from earth to heaven [Genesis 28:11-12]; and he says, “This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven” [Genesis 28:17]. And he called the name of that place, “the house of God,” Bethel” [Genesis 28:19]. And he said, “If this Lord God that I have seen will take care of me, and bring me back home, of everything that I have I will surely give the tenth unto Thee” [Genesis 28:20-22]. There are those who would say that is a Christophany; that is an appearance of the preexistent Christ. But whether that is true or not, with the case of Melchizedek and with the case of the Lord that appeared to Jacob in that vision of the ascending angels on the ladder, here are places in the Bible where He is positively identified as the Lord God, this preexistent Christ.
Now the first one: Genesis 32:24-32, “And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a Man with him until the breaking of the day.” And when Jacob in his stubbornness, in his obstreperousness, in his incorrigibility, when he wrestled against this Man, why, that Man touched the hollow of the thigh of Jacob and crippled him. And Jacob thus humbled and crippled, cried, saying, “Do not leave me like this. Bless me, have pity upon me, have mercy upon me.” So the Angel says, “What is your name?” And he says, “My name is Jacob,” supplanter, deceiver; and that Somebody said:
You shall be no longer called supplanter, deceiver; you are going to be called Israel, prince of God.” And Jacob said, “Who are You? What is Your name?” And He said, “Why do you ask? And that Angel blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of the place Penuel: For he said, I have seen God face to face. And he passed from Penuel, and the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his hip.
A broken man; God can’t use us in our pride and our self-sufficiency, our own adequacy, God uses us only when we are bowed. God uses broken things, crippled things. Sometimes we say, “How harsh God is to us. Look at this hurt, or sorrow, or frustration, or disappointment, or illness, or death”; that’s what we say. God says, “It’s the blessing, it’s the touch of the hand of the Lord upon us.” And he halted upon his thigh. Who was that Man talking and blessing and humbling Jacob? Who was He? The Bible says it is Christ the Lord; it was the preexistent Christ [Genesis 32:30]. This is a Christophany; an appearance of the Logos.
We turn the page again. Now these instances that I am following are these that are identified as the Lord God, Christophanies. “Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father-in-law at the mountain of Horeb [Exodus 3:1]. And the Angel of the Lord,” and He appears every once in a while in the story of the people of God:
The Angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I am going to see this great sight . . . And when the Lord . . .
Why, up there in the previous verse it says “the Angel of the Lord” [Exodus 3:2], then in the next verse it says, “And when the Lord saw that he turned aside, God” [Exodus 3:4] – and there’s a note here in this Criswell Study Bible that is about as pertinent as anything you’ll read in the whole spectrum of this commentary. I suppose the whole modern theological world believes the documentary hypothesis that the Bible is a coalition, a collection of a whole bunch of things that were gathered together. And the biggest premise upon which that criticism is based is this: that there are passages in the Bible that use the word Yahweh, Jehovah, and then there are passages in the Bible that use the word Elohim. And so there is a document that they say is a Yahweh document, and then there is a document that they say is an Elohim document. God had nothing to do with it, it’s just these different things that men wrote, and somebody put them together and they call it the Bible! The whole theological world believes that! And that has been the disintegration of the modern evangelical faith.
Now you look at this: “And when the Lord,” that’s Jehovah, “And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, Elohim, God called to him out of the midst of the bush” [Exodus 3:4], in the same sentence. These are not documents that use Jehovah here and Elohim there, and the Bible is just a patched up, mixed up thing of a whole bunch of things that men have written; this is the revelation of God! And in the same sentence you’ll find both: He is called Jehovah, Yahweh; He is called Elohim, God. And it is here. And then He is identified as “the Angel of the Lord”:
The Angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire,And when Jehovah saw that he turned aside to see, Elohim – God – called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses. And he said, Here I stand –
and whoever that is, the Angel of the Lord, said to him –
Take your shoes off, take your shoes off, the place whereon you stand is holy ground
Who is that? Who is this? Who is this Angel of the Lord? This is a Christophany; it is a theophany, it is the preexistent Christ, the God who moves, who acts, who reveals Himself. We know Him in His incarnation by the name of Jesus [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:30-31].
Let’s look once again. In the twenty-fourth chapter of Exodus, beginning at verse 9:
There went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: And they saw the God of Israel –
What an amazing statement! And they saw the God of Israel –
there was under His feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in it’s clearness. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel He laid not His hand –
had He laid His hand they would have died –
They saw God, and did eat and drink.
Whom did they see? “No man hath seen God at any time” [John 1:18], whom did they see? This is a Christophany, it is a theophany; they saw the preexistent Christ [Exodus 24:11]. They saw the Logos of heaven [John 1:1]. Look again, in the thirty-third chapter of Exodus, from verses 18 to 23:
And Moses said to the Lord God, Show me, I beseech Thee, Thy glory. And the Lord said, I will make all My tov, –
all My beauty and glory and goodness –
pass before thee,But you cannot see My face: for no man can see the face of God, and live. I shall hide thee in this cleft of the rock, with My hand, I will cover thee with My hand, and I shall pass by all the glory of the Lord.
And then I will take away My hand, and you can see the twilight glow of the glory of God.
I love 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”; Francis J. Crosby
Whom did Moses see in the afterglow, when God took away His hand from the cleft of the rock? This is a Christophany; this is a theophany; this is the preexistent Christ [Exodus 34:6].
We turn once again to Joshua, Joshua chapter 5, as he enters the land of Canaan, beginning at verse 13:
It came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and, behold, there stood a Man over against him with a sword drawn in His hand: and Joshua went unto Him, and said, Are You a friend or foe? Are You for us or against us? And He said, Nay, but as the Captain of the host of the Lord am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship Him, 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 off your feet; for the place whereon you stand is holy ground.
I’ve heard that before, haven’t I? “Take your shoes off of your feet; the place where you stand is holy” [Exodus 3:5], and the second verse of the next chapter – it’s too bad there’s a chapter heading there – “says that is the Lord” [Joshua 6:2], that is the Lord. That Captain of the host of the children of Israel who is standing before Joshua and before whom Joshua bows in worship [Joshua 5:13-14], who is that? That is the preexistent Christ. That is a Christophany; this is a theophany.
May we turn just to one other? In Ezekiel, chapter 1, beginning at verse 26: “Above the firmament,” first chapter of Ezekiel begins with that marvelous vision of the cherubim, those living creatures, and the Spirit of God is in those cherubim [Ezekiel 4:5-24]. And then, as he describes that incomparable vision, he sees the throne of the Lord, and this is it:
And above the firmament that was over their heads 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.
And I saw as the color of amber, as the appearance of fire round about 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 He spake unto me.
Who is this glorious One who is clothed in iridescent effulgence, the brightness of the shekinah? [Ezekiel 1:26]. Who is that? This is the preexistent Christ. Glory, effulgence, iridescent beauty, brightness, shekinah, describes the garments of God [Psalm 104:1-2]. And that’s what this passage is: it is describing the garments of the Lord Christ on His throne in heaven whom we later know incarnate as Jesus [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:30-31].
Now, I want you to follow me as I point out in the last part of this message, as I point out how almost unconsciously the New Testament writers will use words that refer to that glory of the blessed Lord Jesus. “Before the world was,” “before the foundations of creation were laid,” words in the New Testament that just,they have no meaning to us unless we understand their reference to those Christophanies, this preexistent Christ. All right, let’s take the first one. John the apostle apparently loved the word monogenes, translated “only begotten.” He will say in John 1:14 “And the Word,” this Logos, this preexistent Christ, “The Word, the Logos, was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the monogenes, of the Lord, of the Father, full of grace and truth.” All right, look at it again, verse 18, “No man hath seen God at any time; the monogenes Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” [John 1:18]. All of us know John 3:16, “God so loved the world – that He gave His monogenes Son – His only begotten Son.” What does that mean, monogenes? Monogenes means “the one and the unlike and the unique.” Not an angel, not He; not a man, not He; this Child born in Bethlehem is the monogenes, the unique, and only, and unlike Son of God [John 3:16]. He is the preexistent Christ.
Let’s take another word. In the passage that you read in Philippians 2:
Let this mind be in you, which was in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the morphe of God, thought it not a thing to be seized – to be held onto – to be equal with God: But made Himself of no reputation, poured Himself out, humbled Himself, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and being made in the likeness of a man . . . This pre-existent Christ, He bowed before the will of God, and became obedient unto death for us.
Now the word is, “Who, being in the morphe of God, being in the form of God” [Philippians 2:6]. What is that, the morphe of God? It refers to the Christ of preexistence. Morphe would mean that in Christ all of the characteristics of God were in sum total, all of them, the morphe of God. It is like this: a piece of metal assumes the morphe of a sword by its characteristics. That is, it’s not a shovel, it’s not a plow; the morphe makes it a sword. A dipper, a dipper has a meaning and a purpose by its form. It’s not a saw, it’s not a hammer; the form of the dipper makes its purpose and meaning. That’s what he means when he says, “The Lord Jesus was before creation in the morphe of God” [Philippians 2:6]. All of the purpose and characteristics and meaning that make God God are in Christ; He is in the morphe of God.
Let us take another word used here in the Bible. In Colossians 1:15, Paul writes that this Jesus is “the eikon of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation: And He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together, consist” [Colossians 1:17]. What is that, “He is the eikon, the image of the invisible God”? [Colossians 1:15]. That’s the Logos, that’s the preexistent Christ, that’s the God who moves and acts and reveals Himself; that’s the only God that we know. That’s the only God that there is. He is the eikon of the invisible God. He is the voice of the eternal silence. He is the effulgence of the glory of the Lord that no man could bear. He is the declaration of the Father that no man hath seen; Jesus, the preexistent Christ incarnate; the eikon of the invisible God.
Let’s take just one other. Hebrews begins:
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners –
in all kinds of ways and all kinds of days –
spake to our 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 purged sins for us, in our behalf –
sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.
Now look at that word, “Being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His substance, of His essence, of His person” [Hebrews 1:3]. “The express image” translates one Greek word, and you have it in English: it is spelled out in English exactly as it is in Greek, character, character, “Who being the brightness of His glory, and the character,” translated, “the express image of His person,” character. What does the Greek word character mean? Character is that incising of a chisel in a monument, a character. It is the impress; it is the dye that is used to make an image such as on a coin. And the Lord Jesus, the author of Hebrews says, is the express image, the exact likeness; every characteristic of God is impressed in the body and life of our Lord Jesus, all of it. Every characteristic of God is impressed upon Him. Just like you’d take soft clay and press it, that’s the word character. So everything of God is found in the life, and ministry, and love, and grace, and mercy, and deeds of the Lord Jesus Christ. Would you know God? The Bible says look at Jesus [John 14:8-9; Colossians 2:9]. Would you know how God thinks? Look at Jesus. Would you know what God says? Look at Jesus. Would you know what God is like toward us? Look at Jesus. He is the express image, the character of the invisible God, of the essence and purpose of our Lord [Hebrews 1:3].
And that explains so many things in our Bible. The Lord Jesus will say in the eighth chapter of the Book of John, the Lord Jesus will say, “Verily, verily I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I Am” [John 8:58]. What an astonishing sentence! “What’s Your name?” said Moses to this Angel that appeared unto him in the bush. And He said, “My name is I Am That I Am” [Exodus 3:14]. And Jesus will say, “Before Abraham was, I Am,” the pre-existent Christ [John 8:58]. Or look again, in the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of John, the high priestly prayer of our Lord, “Lord, glorify Me, Father glorify Me with the glory which I had with Thee, before the world was,” the preexistent Christ [John 17:5]. Or finally, look at the last invitation in 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, the Bright and the Morning Star” [Revelation 22:16]. How could He be the Root of David, the progenitor of David, and the Son of David? But He is. He is the Lord of David, and He is the Son of David. That is, He is the preexistent Christ and born in the lineage and in the family of the king of Israel.
Dear God! What an overwhelming and wonderful thing God has done when He left His throne in glory and poured Himself out [Hebrews 10:5-14]. All of the prerogatives of deity He gave up and was born as a little child, and grew up under all the trials that you and I could ever know [Matthew 1:23-25; Philippians 2:6-8; Hebrews 4:15]. And having suffered for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3, 2 Corinthians 5:21], ascended back up into heaven [Acts 1:9-10], why? That He might be a faithful High Priest, tried in all points as we are, though He without sin; that He might sympathize with us in all of our weaknesses and sorrows and afflictions. “Wherefore,” the author of Hebrews says, “come boldly to the throne of grace, that ye may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” [Hebrews 4:14-16]. That, God did for us. What a friend we have in Jesus; come boldly, ask, you’re welcome. This is the God revealed to us, and we know Him in the love and grace and mercy of the blessed Jesus [John 10:30].
What joy and what gladness and what gratitude and thanksgiving overwhelms our soul when we think of the gift of the Lord in the coming of the Christ Child in Bethlehem; the incarnation of God, the preexistent Christ [Matthew 1:20-2:1; Luke 2:1-16].
Now may we stand together?
Our Lord in heaven, if Moses hid his face, saying, “I cannot look upon the countenance of God” [Exodus 3:6]; and if Joshua took off his shoes in the presence of the Captain of the hosts of Israel [Joshua 5:14-15]; and if Isaiah cried, “I am undone, for I am a man full of sin; I have seen the face of the Lord of hosts” [Isaiah 6:5]; dear God, how we are humbled in Thy presence today. Behold! We have taken upon ourselves to speak about Thee and to preach about Thee, and now to pray unto Thee, we who are but dust and ashes. And in Thy presence we unloose our shoes; the place where we stand is holy ground. God is here. And out of the depths of our souls, O God, do we thank Thee, and praise Thee for the goodness and grace that led Thee down from heaven to our earth [Hebrews 10:5-14], here to suffer all of our afflictions and trials [Hebrews 4:15], to die our death [1 Corinthians 15:3], to pay the penalty for our sin, and now to offer unto us the glory of an eternal life in Thy dear name [Acts 4:12].
And while our heads are bowed and our people stand in silent witness and prayer, in a moment when we sing our hymn of appeal, “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come,” out of that balcony, a family, a couple, or one somebody you, down one of those stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, into one of these aisles and down to the front, “Pastor, I want to take Jesus as my Savior.” Or, “I want to follow Him in baptism. I want to belong to His church.” As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, on the first note of that first stanza, make the decision and come. And our Lord, we thank Thee for the sweet harvest we can lay at Thy dear feet this precious moment, amen. While we sing, down a stairway, down an aisle, you are so welcome, come.