The Pre-Existent Christ
May 4th, 1986 @ 8:15 AM
THE PRE-EXISTENT CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-4-86 8:15 a.m.
As you know, the pastor has given himself to the exposition of the Gospel of John. And today we speak of the first few verses of the Gospel of John, and the message is entitled The Pre-Existent Christ. Just for a moment, read out loud with me those first four verses, John chapter 1, John chapter 1, reading the first four verses. Let us all read it out loud together. John chapter 1, verses 1-4. Now, together:
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.
In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
We added a verse. That’s good.
Why are we not idolaters? An idolater is someone who worships something other than Almighty God. The apostles worshiped Jesus. We worship Jesus. We bow down in His presence. Why are we not idolaters? The answer is found in the being and the character of Jesus our Lord.
And there are five words – two in John, two in Paul and one by the author of Hebrews – that describe the deity of Jesus our Lord. The first word is logos. And you just read it. “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos 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.” Logos: in the day when John wrote those words, logos was a philosophical Greek word current all over the Greco-Roman Empire. It had a twofold meaning: one, logos referred to idea, to concept, to purpose, to design, to thought. The second meaning: it referred to expression, to activity, to creation.
The Hellenistic, the Greek-speaking Jew, such as Philo of Alexandria, used the word logos – he wrote a book about it – to refer to the activity of God, the creative energy of God. The Jewish philosopher used the word logos to refer to that intermediary, how pure essence of almightiness could come in contact with impure materiality. John begins his Gospel with the avowal to the Hellenistic Jew who is speculating about theocratic revelation and to the philosophizing Greek who is seeking to answer how infinitude can touch finiteness. John says the Logos is a Man. He is in human form. In the fourteenth verse of this first chapter, John says, “And the Logos was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” And he expatiates upon that in his first epistle: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled” [1 John 1:1], the Logos of life. The Logos to John is a human being. His name is Jesus.
The second word to describe the deity of our Lord is in verse 14 and verse 18 of the first chapter and John 3:16. “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth,” only begotten. Verse 18, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.”
And all of us since childhood have quoted John 3:16: “God so loved us that He gave His only begotten Son,” to die for us – monogenes, translated “only begotten.” Mono refers to one; the great dissimilar, the great unlike, the great unique.
Last night, I just took a notion to look up in the dictionary how many English words are built upon that word mono. I counted one hundred twenty-eight in the English dictionary like “monogamous” or “monopoly.” Mono – mono,” one; genesis, genesis, generation. “He is the unique in generation.” All of us human beings, all of the angels, there was a time when they were not. There was a time when they were created. There was a time when we began to be. Not so with the “only begotten,” the monogenesis, the Son of God. There was never a time when He “was not” – always, back, pre-existent, and forever.
The religions and the philosophies of the world are like stalagmites. They reach up from the ground of being, from the floor of things, trying to find the truth. Christianity is like a stalactite. It reaches down to earth from heaven. And in Christ Jesus, you have the stalagmite reaching up and the stalactite from heaven reaching down. You have them meeting in a solid pillar. He is the God-Man, the monogenes, the unlike, the great dissimilar, the great forever and forever One.
The third word describing the deity of Christ, Philippians 2, verse 6:
Jesus Christ, who being in the form of God, thought it not a thing to be held onto – to be grasped, to be equal – with God:
But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
Let this mind be in you, which was in Christ Jesus:
Who being in the morphe of God – the form of God.
[Philippians 2:6-7, 5-6]
Morphe refers to the form of the thing that makes it what it is. A piece of steel is a sword when it is formed into a certain way. The form makes it different, say, as from a shovel. The form of the dipper makes it what it is in contrast, say, to a saw or to a hammer. The form of a wheel makes it what it is in function and in use.
If I could depart for just a second, the form of baptism makes it what it is. If you change the form, it isn’t that any longer. The form of baptism is a burial and a resurrection. And when you change the form to sprinkling or pouring, it has no meaning. The meaning is found in the form.
So it is with the personality and the character of Jesus Christ. The form of God is in Jesus and Jesus is in the form of God. All of those characteristics that make God, God are in Jesus our Lord, the morphe of God.
A fourth word from the apostle Paul is found in Colossians 1:15:
Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creation:
For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven and earth, visible and invisible – whether it be up or down, around – all things were created by Him, and for Him:
And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist – all things hold together.
He is the eikon, the icon, the image of the invisible God. Would you see God, then look at Jesus? He said to Philip, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” [John 14:9]. He is the eikon of God.
There was a man who was stretching and straining to look at those beautiful mosaics in the ceiling of St. John Lateran baptistery in Rome. Those ancient cathedrals have baptisteries, such as we have. All of them did. He was straining to look at those mosaics. And because of the structure and the darkness, he was having trouble. And while he was straining to look, he turned and saw a man putting something in his hand. It was a guide. And the guide had placed in his hand a mirror. And he looked down in the mirror and saw perfectly the mosaics, ancient and darkened in the top of that baptistery.
The eikon of God, Jesus is the eikon of God. He is the exact reproduction of the likeness of God. When you look at Jesus, you see God.
And the last and fifth descriptive word is in the first chapter of Hebrews, [verse] 3, “Jesus who being the brightness of God’s glory, and the express image of His person, upholding all things by the word of His power.” The word “expressed image,” we have taken that word and spelled it out alphabetically, exactly in the English language. The Greek word is charakter, character, character. In Greek, the word charakter refers to the impression made by a dye or by an engraver. In the person of Christ, there is the exact imprint and impress of Almighty God.
These words express the deity of the human Jesus, our Lord. worshiping Him, worshiping God; seeing Him, seeing God; loving Him, loving God; obeying Him, obeying God; learning of Him, learning God; He and the Father God are one.
Now if that is so, if that is true, then Jesus is the Lord God of all the Scriptures, from the beginning to the end. Could that be true? Nothing else is true. We call the revelation of God in the Old Testament; we call them “Christophanies”; we call them “theophanies.” And that is a presentation of divine revelation.
For example – and we’re going to look at it in the little remaining minute that we have – in John chapter 12, verse 41, John refers to the glorious revelation, the vision of Jehovah God in Isaiah chapter 6: “In the day that King Uzziah died, I saw also the Lord – the Lord Jehovah – I saw the Lord high and lifted up.” Then he describes the glory of the Lord Jehovah: the seraphim crying, “Holy, Holy, Holy” [Isaiah 6:1-3]. An in John chapter 12, verse 41, John says, “Isaiah saw the Lord Jesus.” It was a “theophany.” It was a “Christophany.” When John says, Isaiah saw the Lord Jehovah; he says he saw the later incarnate Jesus, the Son of God. That was the Lord Jesus that John saw.
In this passage that begins the Gospel of John, he says, “In the beginning was the logos – translated here, Word – the Word was God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made.” The Lord Jesus Christ, the Logos, is the great Lord God Jehovah that created this whole universe.
So when I go back through the Old Testament, those revelations of God that I read in Holy Scriptures, those revelations are about Jesus, the incarnate Son, the Christ our Savior. In the beginning, He created all things – the Logos, the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ – that was Jesus, creating all of this universe.
In the third chapter of the Book of Genesis, in verse 8, the first parents, Adam and Eve hear the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. That was the Lord Jesus walking through the garden in the cool of the day. All of the revelations of God in the Old Testament are the revelations of Christ Jesus our Savior.
The Book of Exodus begins while Moses is in Horeb on the back side of the desert tending a flock, he sees a bush burning unconsumed. And pausing to see the miracle of an unconsumed flaming bush, the Angel of the Lord speaks to him. And the Angel of the Lord says to Moses, “I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and Jacob” [Exodus 3:1-2, 6]. And in the Book of John, Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I AM” [John 8:58]. That is the Lord Jesus Christ speaking to Moses out of the burning bush.
In the Book of Exodus, is described one of the most marvelous Christophanies that you could imagine. Moses and Aaron and the seventy elders are guests of the Lord God in heaven. And they look upon the glory of the great Creator [Exodus 24:9-10]. That was a Christophany, a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the same Book of Exodus, Moses says to the Lord Jehovah, “Let me see You and Your glory.” And the Lord says to Moses, “No man can see My face, and live. But I will hide you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover thee there with My hand. And after I pass by, I will take My hand away, and you can see the afterglow of the presence of God” [Exodus 33:18-23]. That was the glory of the pre-existent Christ. In the Book of Joshua, Joshua, before the battle of Jericho, sees standing before him, a full armored soldier with his sword drawn. And Joshua, coming up to Him, says, “Are You for us or for our enemies?” And that Soldier replies, “Nay, as the Captain of the host of the armies of Israel am I come. Take off your shoes from off your feet, for the place whereon you stand is holy ground” [Joshua 5:13-15]. That was a Christophany. That’s a vision, a theophany, of the pre-existent Christ.
In the Book of the prophet Ezekiel, in the first chapter, it begins with an incomparable, glorious vision of the glorious, great God Jehovah who stands above the cherubim. That is a Christophany, a theophany, a previous revelation of Jesus Christ before He became incarnate in flesh. Jesus is the Lord God of the whole Bible. He made all things; He sustains all things; in Him all things consist. And when we bow down and worship the Lord Jesus, we worship God.
Now, has He ceased to exist? He came and manifested Himself in the flesh. Has He ceased to exist? The same Lord God who created the world in the beginning, who guided the fortunes of Israel through all the providences of life, who came to be incarnate, in the flesh, in the Babe of Bethlehem, who wrought mighty miracles, who was raised from the dead, and who ascended back into heaven; that same Lord God is the Lord God who appears to us in these generations since. When Stephen was stoned to death, he looked up. And as he reflected the glory of the vision of the Lord God above him, his face shining like the sun, he saw the Lord Jesus [Acts 7:55-56], the only place in the New Testament in heaven where He is pictured standing; the Lord Jesus is standing to receive the soul of His first martyr. That’s Jesus, our Lord God.
As Paul, with letters and authority from the chief priests of Jerusalem, journeyed to Damascus to hale into prison those that called upon His name, there suddenly stood in the way, a Figure above the brightness of the sun. And falling before Him, the persecutor of Tarsus says, “Who art Thou?” And He replies, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest, the Lord God of heaven and earth” [Acts 9:1-4].
When John was on the isle of Patmos, thinking in exile thus to be by himself, he heard a great voice as of a trumpet. And turning to see, he saw the Lord God, Jesus, standing in the midst of the seven golden lampstands – His churches, His people – and He fell at His feet as dead. And that glorious Lord put His right hand upon him, as He had many, many times in the days of His flesh, put His right hand upon him and said, “Fear not, I am Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last: and I, I have the keys of life and of death, of hell and of eternity. What you see, write in a book” [Revelation 1:9-19].
Has He ceased to exist? Are there Christophanies and theophanies today? There’s not a more gripping story I’ve ever read than in the life of my great predecessor George W. Truett. In an accident, on a hunting trip, he wounded the chief of police of the city of Dallas. Blood poison took his life, and the man died. And Truett thought never to preach again, having killed a man. And in the depths of his despair, three times there appeared to him, the Lord Christ, calling him again into the ministry of the glorious gospel of the saving Son of God.
I sat by the bed of a sainted man, just before God opened the door for him into heaven. And he said to me, “Pastor, last night, Jesus, Jesus appeared to me.”
I said to him, “What did He look like?”
And he replied, “Pastor, He looked as I thought He would look, as I have pictured Him all of my life; only more glorious. I can’t describe the glory of the Lord as He appeared to me and opened the door into heaven.”
My latest sun is sinking fast,
My race is nearly run,
My strongest trials now are past,
My triumph is begun.
O come, angel band,
Come and around me stand.
O bear me away
On your snowy wings.
To my immortal home.
O bear me away
On your snowy wings.
To my immortal home.
[“My Latest Sun is Sinking Fast”; Jefferson Hascall, 1860]
We are not idolaters. We worship the living God, and He has manifested Himself to us in the form, in the charakter, in the monogenes, in the Logos; Jesus Christ our Lord. That’s the way John begins his Gospel, and every syllable thereafter adds to the glory of His saving name.
Today we’re going to sing us a song, and while we sing the song, you wonderful young people, some of you have assignments that have been given you at the entrances of our sanctuary, while we sing this song, you are free to appear where you have been assigned. And in the great throng that crowd our sanctuary today, to give your heart in faith to the blessed Savior, to come into the fellowship of our church, to come to answer a call of God in your heart, to come for prayer or for encouragement, as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, in this moment when we stand and sing this appeal, come. In the balcony round, in the press of people on this lower floor, on the first note of the first stanza, that first step will be the most preciously meaningful you’ve ever made in your life. And a thousand times welcome. And may the angels that one day bear us to glory, attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
W. A. Criswell
I. Five words that express His deity
A. Logos (John
philosophical word carrying double meaning
2. John addresses
Hellenistic Jew and philosophizing Greek (John 1:14)
B. Monogenes –
“only begotten” (John 1:14, 18, 3:16)
C. Morphe –
“form” (Philippians 2:6)
1. The meaning is
in the form
D. Eikon –
“image” (Colossians 1:15-17, John 14:9)
E. Charakter –
“exact impression” (Hebrews 1:3)
II. He is Lord God of the Bible, beginning
A. Appearances of
pre-existent Christ throughout the Word (John 12:41)
1. At creation
(John 1:1-3, Genesis 1:1)
2. In the garden
of Eden (Genesis 3:8)
3. Wrestling with
Jacob (Genesis 32:24-30)
4. In the burning
bush (Exodus 3:6, 13-14, John 8:58)
5. Moses, Aaron,
seventy elders (Exodus 24:9-11)
6. Moses in the
cleft of the rock (Exodus 33:18-23)
7. Joshua before
Jericho (Joshua 5:13-15)
prophecy (Ezekiel 1)
B. New Testament
appearances after His ascension
1. Death of
Stephen (Acts 7:56)
2. Saul on the
road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-4)
3. John on the
isle of Patmos (Revelation 1:17-18)
C. In our day