The Pre-Existent Christ
May 4th, 1986 @ 10:50 AM
THE PRE-EXISTENT CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-4-86 10:50 a.m.
It is a joy for us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas to welcome the uncounted multitudes of you who share the hour with us on radio and on television. This is the pastor delivering the second message on the Gospel of John. We have set ourselves in these immediate days to expound the most wonderful piece of literature ever penned, the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John. And let us read together the first four verses, John chapter 1, verses 1 through 4. And the title of the message today is The Pre-existent Christ, John 1:1-4. Now on radio and television, with us in the sanctuary, let us read it out loud together, John 1: 1-4, 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.
Are we idolaters? An idolater is someone who worships something other than the great high and only God. The apostles worshiped Jesus Christ. We worship Jesus Christ. Are we idolaters? Do we worship something, someone, somebody other than God? We are idolaters if Jesus is not God. And that is the address of the message today; the deity of Christ, The Preexistent Christ.
There are five words in the New Testament that delineate, that present, that depict, that outline the deity of our Lord. And the first one is in the text you have just read, “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.” The logos was a Greek philosophical term current in the Greco-Roman Empire in the days when John wrote this Gospel. The logos had a twofold meaning: one, it referred to idea, to concept, to purpose, to program, to thought. Second, the word logos philosophically referred to the action of God, the creation of God, the activity of God, the expression of God, the manifest God.
What John writes here in the beginning of his Gospel, he addresses to the Hellenistic Jew, the Greek-speaking Jew represented by Philo of Alexandria, who wrote a book on the logos. He addresses the Hellenistic Jew concerning his speculation concerning the theocratic work of the Lord God. And he addresses the philosophizing Greek who is speculating about the infinite and the finite. And he is saying to the Hellenistic Jew, “The logos that you describe and seek,” and he is saying to the philosophizing Greek, “The intermediary who touches the finite from the infinite is a human being, He is God incarnate.” In the fourteenth verse of this first chapter, he writes: “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” [John 1:14]. And he writes in his introductory words in the first epistle of John, “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,” the logos of life [1 John 1:1]. John says this logos—the expression of God, the Creator, the great, moving, unseen Force that lies back of this universe—that is the Christ. He is the logos, who was from the beginning.
The second word that describes the deity of our Lord is also used by John. In this marvelous passage of the fourteenth verse, “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” [John 1:14]. Then in the eighteenth verse, he repeats that same word, “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].
And all of us since children have known John 3:16, and that same word is used again, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.” Only begotten, monogenes: mono refers to one—to aloneness, to uniqueness, to separateness, to unlikeness—mono, one. I looked in the dictionary last night just out of curiosity to see how many of our English words are built upon mono. I counted one hundred twenty-eight, like “monogamy” or “monopoly.”
Mono, the great dissimilar, the great unlike: mono-genes—genesis, the creation, the generation, the beginning—monogenesis, monogenes. He is separate and apart from all of the creation of God. We, whether we are human beings or whether we are angels in heaven, we have a time when we were not. We have a time when we began to be, we have a time when we were created. Not He, not the logos, not the Son of God. He was never created. There was never a time when He was not. In the beginning He was, and forever He is monogenes, unique, dissimilar, unlike, the great One alone in the universe [John 3:16].
All other faiths and all other religions and all other philosophies are like stalagmites. They come up from the ground of being, from the things of this earth, and reach up trying to struggle toward the truth of God. Christianity, the faith of our Lord, is like a stalactite. It reaches down from heaven toward the earth, and in Christ both of them meet in one solid pillar, the stalactite reaching down from heaven to earth and the stalagmite reaching up from the ground of the things of earth and being toward heaven. And they meet together in that tremendous one solid Being called Jesus the Christ, the incarnate God [Colossians 2:9], monogenes, the great dissimilar, the great unlike, the unique and alone Jesus Christ, God [John 3:16].
The third word that is used to describe the deity of our Lord is in Philippians 2, [verse 6]. “Jesus,” Philippians 2, verse :
Jesus Christ, who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery, thought it not a thing to be grasped—
to be seized—
to be equal with God: but poured Himself out, made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man.
“Jesus Christ, who being in the morphē of God [Philippians 2:6],” the form of God—form in the sense that what it is, is described by the form of it. Like a sword is a sword because of the form of it. The steel is made into a thrusting instrument, and it is a sword, the form of it makes it a sword in contradistinction, say, to a shovel. This is a sword. A dipper is a dipper because of the form of it. The quintessence of its shape is what it is. It’s not a saw or it’s not a hammer. It’s a dipper. The form of it makes it. Same thing about a wheel, the form of the wheel describes its identity, its function, and its use. I can also say, being a literalist in the Bible, the meaning of ‘baptism’ is found in its form. We are buried with the Lord in the likeness of His death, and we are raised with the Lord in the likeness of His resurrection [Romans 6:3-5]. And the meaning of baptism is found in its form. And if you break the form—such as sprinkling water on your head or pouring water on you—it has no meaning. The meaning is in the form of it.
So it is in the meaning of the personality and being of Christ. He is in the form of God, the morphē of God [Philippians 2:6]. And all of the characteristics that are of God are the characteristics that are found in the Son. He is in the morphē of God.
Another word that describes the deity of our Lord is found in Colossians 1, verse 15:
Jesus Christ who is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation: for by Him were all things created, things that are in heaven, that are in earth, visible and invisible . . . He is before all things, and by Him all things consist—hold together.
The Word, He is the eikon, the “image” of the invisible God [Colossians 1:15]; the eikon. An eikon is a visible image of the real thing—God, in the case and instance of Jesus our Lord. When you see Him, you see God. Philip: “He that hath seen Me,” said the Lord addressing the apostle, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” [John 14:9]. To see Jesus is to see God. To follow the Lord Jesus is to follow God. To serve the Lord Jesus is to serve God. To believe in the Lord Jesus is to believe in God. To love the Lord Jesus is to love God. To study at the feet of the Lord Jesus is to study at the feet of God. To preach the Lord Jesus is to preach God. He is the image, the eikon, of the invisible God.
There was a man who was straining and trying to look at those old and beautiful mosaics at the top of the baptistery in St. John Lateran Cathedral in Rome. Isn’t that unusual? All of those old and ancient cathedrals had beautiful baptisteries, just as we have in our sanctuary. And they baptized their converts, they immersed their converts; they buried and raised their converts. He was looking up, straining and trying to follow the form of those beautiful mosaics in the top of that baptistery. And while he was there looking up, somebody touched him, and he looked to see, and it was a guide who had a mirror and placed it in his hands, and the sojourner, the visitor, looked in the mirror. And there he saw perfectly those gorgeous mosaics in the ceiling of the baptistery. That is the meaning of eikon.
He is the exact image of the Lord God. And when you see the Lord Jesus Christ, you see God. He is the eikon, the image of the invisible God [Colossians 1:15]; and in the first chapter of the Book of Hebrews, “Jesus Christ who being the brightness of God’s glory, and the expressed image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power” [Hebrews 1:3]. The “expressed image,” the word is charakter, charakter; isn’t that unusual? Exactly as you spell it in English, it is spelled in Greek. It’s a Greek word that we have taken out of the Greek language and made an English word of it. Charakter, translated here, “the expressed image” [Hebrews 1:3]. Charakter is the Greek word for the impression made by a dye or an engraver, charakter.
And the author of Hebrews begins his glorious, glorious epistle with the avowal that Jesus Christ is the exact impression, the exact character of God invisible. If you seek the image, the impression, the being, the character of Almighty God, you find it in Jesus Christ. He is God manifest in the flesh [1 Timothy 3:16]. He is the Lord Almighty incarnate in human form [Matthew 1:23; John 1:14].
Now, if such a thing is true—if Jesus is God Almighty, incarnate in the flesh—then He is the Lord God of the Bible, all of it, from beginning to the end of it. Could such a thing be true? Is such a thing presentable in the Word of God? Is it a revelation in God’s Book? The answer is a resounding affirmation, “Yes!” The Lord God of the Bible from the beginning of it to the end of it is the same Almightiness, the same God, able Creator. He is the same, and His name—in human manifestation and carnation and incarnation—is Jesus Christ our Lord [Colossians 2:9].
Listen to the apostle John as in chapter 12, verse 41, he says: “When Isaiah saw the Lord” [John 12:41], in the sixth chapter of Isaiah, “When Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple . . . and above Him were the seraphim crying, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts’: the whole earth is full of His glory” [Isaiah 6:1-3], John says in John 12:41, that when Isaiah saw the Lord Jehovah high and lifted up, he saw the Lord Jesus Christ. It was a theophany. It was a Christophany, it was an appearance of the Lord God before His incarnation as a Babe in Bethlehem [Matthew 1:20-2:1; Luke 2:8-16]. Now that same revelation of Christophany, of theophany, of the pre-existent Christ is avowed and presented again and again and again throughout the entire Word of God. John begins it in the verses that you just read, “In the beginning was the logos,” the monogenes, the incarnation and manifestation of the invisible God, “And all things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made” [John 1:1-3]. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” [Genesis 1:1]. And John says that great Lord God, who in the beginning created the heavens and the earth, is the logos, the monogenes, the image, and the incarnation, and the character of the invisible God. That was the Lord Christ, who in the beginning created all things that we see in heaven and in earth [John 1:3].
In the third chapter of that same Book of Genesis, in verse 8, it says that in the cool of the evening, Adam and Eve heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden [Genesis 3:8]. That was the Lord Christ walking in the garden in the cool of the day. So, throughout the Word of God, these Christophanies, these theophanies, occur again and again and again. At the River Jabbok, all night long Jacob wrestled with an Angel [Genesis 32:24]. And as it began to break toward the day, Jacob said, being unable to prevail, “Bless me before You leave.” And the Angel said to him, “What is your name?” And he replied, “My name is Supplanter, Cheater, Jacob.” And the Angel said, “No longer will thy name be Jacob, but it will be Israel, for as a prince of God—Israel [Genesis 32:29-30], a prince of God—thou has prevailed.” And He touched the thigh of Jacob, and thereafter he hobbled on his thigh. He had wrestled with God, and he named the place Peniel, the face of God [Genesis 32:24-30]. And the Angel identified Himself as the Lord God of Israel. That is a Christophany, that is a theophany, that is an appearance of the Lord Christ before His incarnation in Bethlehem [Matthew 1:20-2:1; Luke 2:8-16].
In the beginning of the Exodus, the Book of Exodus, Moses turns aside on the back side of the desert at Horeb and sees a bush that burns unconsumed [Exodus 3:1-3]. And as he watched the miracle of the unconsumed yet flaming bush, the Angel of the Lord speaks to Moses out of the bush. And He says to him, “I am the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob” [Exodus 3:6]. And the Lord God says to Moses, “These are the things that God hath anointed and chosen for thee” [Exodus 3:7-10]. In the Book of John, the Lord says, “Before Abraham was, I AM” [John 8:58]. That is the name of the Lord God who spoke to Moses out of the burning bush. “What is Your name speaking to me?” And He said, “My name is Yahweh, Jehovah. I AM THAT I AM” [Exodus 3:13-14]. That is a theophany. That is a Christophany. That is an exhibition of the Lord God before His incarnation in Bethlehem.
In that same Book of Exodus is a marvelous recounting of Moses and Aaron and the seventy elders as they are guests of the great Lord God in glory. And Moses describes Him with the pavement of sapphire beneath His feet [Exodus 24:9-10]. And they did eat and drink, and lived [Exodus 24:11]. That is a Christophany. That is a theophany. That is a manifestation of the Lord Christ before the day of His human incarnation.
Once again in the beautiful duet sung by Dan Beam and his sweet companion; they sang here in a beautiful, beautiful way. And the reason for the song and the inspiration of it lies in a Christophany, it lies in a theophany. The wonderful lawgiver Moses said to Jehovah God, “Let me look upon Your glory. Let me see You in all of Your fullness and goodness.” And the Lord Jehovah says to him, “No man can see My face, and live, but I will hide you in a cleft of the rock, and I will let all of My glory pass by. And after I have passed by, I will take My hand from the cleft of the rock, and you can see the afterglow of My being” [Exodus 33:18-23]. So Moses was shut up in a cleft in the rock and covered there with God’s hand. And after His glory had passed by, He took away His hand, and Moses saw the afterglow of the goodness and grace of the Lord God [Exodus 33:23]. That’s a beautiful song:
He hideth my soul in a cleft in the rock
That shadows a dry, thirsty land.
He hideth my life in the depths of His love
And covers me there with His hand.
[“He Hideth My Soul,” Fanny Crosby 1890]
That’s a theophany, that’s a Christophany, that’s God manifest before His incarnation in human flesh.
In the Book of Joshua, before the battle of Jericho, Joshua sees, standing by the city, a Warrior with His sword drawn. And Joshua comes up to Him and says, “Are You for us, or for our enemies?” And the Warrior replies, “Nay; but as the Captain of the host of the armies of Israel am I come. Take off your shoes: for the place whereon you stand is holy ground” [Joshua 5:13-15]. That is a Christophany, it’s a theophany; it’s a manifestation of the living Lord Jehovah Christ before His incarnation. So it is in all of the Word of God.
I just received last week a word from Zondervan Publishing House that, within these immediate days, they would be sending me the Book of Ezekiel, through which I have preached; took me about two years to preach through that wonderful prophecy. No book has been published on Ezekiel in a hundred years, but it intrigued me—the glorious prophecy—and it begins with a description of the Lord God Jehovah. There in all of the fullness of the grandeur of heaven; that is a Christophany. That is a theophany; it is a vision of the Lord Christ before His incarnation. So, all through the Old Testament, you will find that same logos, that same monogenes appearing from time to time to time. He is the Lord God of heaven and earth [Deuteronomy 4:39], and He is the God of Israel [1 Kings 8:23].
Now, is He thus today? Since His incarnation, does He still appear? Do we still, from time to time, see that same wonderful Lord God Christ, God incarnate, the logos, the monogenes, the character, the eikon, the morphē? Do we see Him today? After His marvelous and miraculous life, after His crucifixion and death [Matthew 27:32-50], after His resurrection [Matthew 28:1-7], and after His return to glory [Acts 1:9-10]; these are the things that are written in that same Bible. Stephen, stoned, looked up as he was dying, and his face shone like the sun, reflecting the brightness of the glory of God, and he saw the Lord Jesus Christ standing—the only place in the New Testament where Jesus is pictured in heaven as standing [Acts 7:55-56]. Everywhere else He is always pictured as seated at the right hand of the throne. He is standing there. He sees the Lord Jesus standing to receive the soul of His first martyr.
As the story continues, Saul of Tarsus in bitterness of spirit is on the way to Damascus to hale into prison those that call upon the name of the Lord Jesus and as he nears the city of Damascus, suddenly there appears before him a figure, above the brightness of the glory of heaven itself [Acts 9:1-3]. And he falls down before that intervening and interdicting figure and asks, “Who art Thou?” And that glorious figure replies, “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecuteth,” the incarnate Son of God appearing to Saul of Tarsus [Acts 22:6-8].
In that same New Testament, John—pastor of the church at Ephesus, a hundred years of age—is exiled by Domitian, the Roman Caesar, to the lonely Isle of Patmos; there to die of exposure and starvation. And while he is on the Isle of Patmos, on the Lord’s Day, on Sunday, in the Spirit of worship, he hears behind him a voice as of a trumpet. And he turns to see the voice that speaks unto him, and turning, he sees the Lord Christ, glorified, walking in the midst of the seven lampstands, in the midst of His churches—this church [Revelation 1:9-13]. And the Lord says to him—when John falls at His feet as one dead and the Lord lays His right hand upon him as He did in the days of His flesh— “Fear not; I am the Alpha and the Omega; I am the Beginning and the End; I am He that was dead and is alive; and I, I have the keys of Hell and of Death” [Revelation 1:17-18]. These are manifestations of the living God, whose name is Jesus Christ our Lord.
Do we have any record that He ever appears again? In the life of the great illustrious predecessor of this pulpit, George W. Truett, there’s not a more dramatic chapter in the record of his life than the story of his hunting trip when accidentally he shot the chief of police of the city of Dallas. And the man died from the blood poisoning, the infection from that wound. And when the policeman died, the great pastor was plunged into an indescribable despondency and shut himself up and away, thinking never to preach again. And while he was in those days of despair and despondency, three times in a nighttime did the Lord Jesus appear to him, calling him again into the ministry of the Word and the grace of the Son of God—a Christophany, a theophany, an appearance of the living Christ.
I visited by the bed of an old and precious saint of God; one of the dear members of this precious church. As I spoke to him, he said to me, “There appeared to me last night the living Lord, my Savior Himself. And He is opening for me the door into heaven.” I asked that sainted, precious, fellow member of our dear church, “What did He look like? What was He like? You saw the Lord Himself last night, what did He look like?” And he replied to me, “He looked as I had always pictured Him and as I had always thought of Him—the Lord Jesus, but,” he said, “far more glorious than I could ever have imagined.” And soon he went to be with the Lord.
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]
This is the living Lord God, the same yesterday, and today, and forever [Hebrews 13:8]; the Lord God of the beginning, who created heaven and earth [John 1:1-3]. The Lord God of the triumphant consummation, whom we shall see as the King of all creation [Revelation 4:2-5]. And the same Lord God who walks with us now, who is our dearest and closest friend, to whom we pray and to whom we commit our lives and our souls.
This is the doctrine of John. This is the purpose of his book, to present the deity of Jesus our Lord. And this is our comfort and hope; He is our Savior and our God [Jude 1:25]. Now may we pray?
Our Lord in heaven, how could we ever exalt Thee enough on our knees, adoring Thee, worshiping Thee, praying to Thee. Lord, may we find in Thee all of the answers we seek in the questions in life, all of the strength that we desperately need for the pilgrimage of the way. And may we love Thee as we grow in Thy image, in Thy likeness, following in Thy presence. And our Savior, bless the great congregation that listened to this exposition of the diety of our Lord Christ. And may we find infinite encouragement in His creatorship, in His rulership, and finally and ultimately, in the glorious triumph He brings when He comes back to earth again [2 Thessalonians 2:8].
And in this moment when our people pray, a family you to give your life to the Lord, would you come and stand with us? A somebody you, to accept Jesus as your Savior, would you out of that—you down that aisle, down one of these stairways, “Pastor, today God has talked to me, called me, spoken to me, and here I stand.” To put your life in the will of God in some special call or service, or to come for prayer as the Lord shall press the appeal to your heart, make that decision now. And as we stand and sing our song, on the first note of the first stanza, come. And may the angels that attended the ministry of our Lord [Matthew 4:11], and may the angels that may bear us someday home to heaven [Luke 16:22], may those same glorious angels attend you in the way while you come. A thousand times, welcome.
And thank You, precious Savior, for Your presence with us and for the promises of hope You bring for the resurrection and the life and for the heaven beyond [John 11:25]. We love You, Lord, and do give ourselves to Thee in Thy wonderful, worthy, and precious, and living name, amen.
Now brother Denny, let us stand and sing our hymn. And while we sing it, God bless you as you come. While we wait, while we pray just for you.