(5-minute reading)

Prince of Preachers Charles Spurgeon writes:

“The most excellent study for expanding the soul is the science of Christ… Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity.”[1]

Reading: John 17:1-5.

“After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now, this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4 I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

 The First word standing out is the word “Before” [πρὸ -pro] which is a preposition in the Greek which could be used as:

“(a) of place: before, in front of, (b) of time: before, earlier than.”[2]

The second pair of words standing out are the words “with you” [παρὰ-para / σοί-soi] which is a prepositional Greek construction which means:

“Usage: genetive from; besides, in the presence of; acc: alongside of.”

A probable reading of John 17:5 (TPT) would be:

“So my Father, restore me back to the glory that we shared together when we were face-to-face before the universe was created.”

 Theologian Bernard Ramm noted that:

“It has been standard teaching in historic Christology that the Logos, the Son, existed before the incarnation. That the Son so existed before the incarnation has been called the pre-existence of Christ.”[3]

In the words of the Nicene Creed, Christ “came down from heaven, and was incarnate.”

Paul writes in Philippians 2:5-8 and simply do not hesitate to affirm that:

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

What did the earliest Christians believe about Jesus and His pre-existence?

The Apostolic Fathers do not give us a great deal of information on Christology proper. Hence, the information to be found on this particular aspect of the doctrine of Christ will also be scant. There are still, however, some interesting facts. Ignatius gives us one of the most eloquent statements concerning the early Church’s view of Christ in his letter to the Ephesians, 7:2:

“There is one only physician, of flesh and of spirit, generate and ingenerate (gennetos kai agennetos) God in man (en anthropo theos), true Life in death, Son of Mary and Son of God, first passible and then impassible, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The duality of the Lord’s nature (God/man) is clearly seen in Ignatius, and is repeated in his letter to Polycarp, 3:2:

“Await Him that is above every season, the Eternal, the Invisible, who became visible for our sake, the Impalpable, the Impassible, who suffered for our sake, who endured in all ways for our sake.”

Pre-existence is not just implied but clearly stated in this passage, attributing to Christ eternality, and seeing the incarnation as the point in time at which God broke into human history for the sake of man. It is significant that Ignatius calls Jesus Christ “God” 14 times in his letters.

Discussion of John 1, Colossians 1 and Philippians 2 was fairly limited in the early Fathers’ writings, most probably due to the fact that the Arian controversy was still future, and the church’s main enemy at that time was Gnosticism and docetism, neither of which would require a strong statement of the pre-existence of Christ, at least by itself.

Paul is attacking gnostic ideas in Colossians, but even the gnostics believed in some kind of pre-existence for Christ. Irenaeus exegeted John 1:1 against the gnostics in Book V of Against Heresies, chapter 18(24), and did as Paul did and pointed out that Jesus is the Creator not a part of the creation.

Why is this idea of the Pre-existing Son so important?

The pre-existence of Jesus is essential to our faith!

  1. Because Jesus is not a created being but Creator.

Prior to His earthly ministry, Jesus – along with God the Father (1Cor.8:6) and God the Holy Spirit (Gen.1:1-2; Job 33:4) – created our world (Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:1-2).

The prophet Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 44:24:

Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, “I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by Myself And spreading out the earth all alone.”

Jesus’ divine self was NOT created and never had a beginning. His divine life is original, unborrowed, and underived:

The Beloved Apostle John writes in John 1:1-4 that:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him, nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.”

James Dunn, in his book Christology in the Making, examines the development of this doctrine in early Christianity, noting that it is:

“beyond dispute” that in John 1:1–18, “the Word is pre-existent, and Christ is the pre-existent Word incarnate,”[4]

Paul writes in Colossians 1:15-17:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

How glorious! He is before all things uncreated, eternal, and divine. If Jesus was not the perfect representation of the Father’s being, we cannot know God the Father by nature and potency.

  1. A created being cannot be an adequate mediator.

I have heard Unitarians lament that Jesus was not necessarily Divine and He simply resembled the Father as His Viceroy being only man for the function of Kingship. This is NOT the reality of the Biblical Scriptures though. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:5 that:

For there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, Christ Jesus, Himself human.”

Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3:16 that:

“the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was proclaimed among the nations, was believed in throughout the world, was taken up in glory.”

The Heidelberg Catechism is quite helpful in its concise explanation. On question 16 we read:

Q:  Why must he be a true and righteous man?

A:   He must be a true man because the justice of God requires that the same human nature which has sinned should pay for sin. He must be a righteous man because one who himself is a sinner he cannot pay for others.[5]

Louis Berkhof in his Systematic Theology[6] writes,

“Only such a truly human Mediator, who had experimental knowledge of the woes of mankind and rose superior to all temptations, could enter sympathetically into all the experiences, the trials, and the temptations of man (Heb. 2:17, 18; 4:15-5:2) and be a perfect human example for his followers (Matt. 11:29; Mark 10:39; John 13:13-15; Phil. 2:5-8; Heb. 12:2-4; 1 Pet. 2:21). 

In short, the answer is Jesus had to be a man so that he could identify with us, suffering in our place and sympathizing with us in our weakness. The Heidelberg Catechism then adds with question 17:

Q:    Why must he also be true God?

A:    So that, by the power of his divinity, he might bear the weight of God’s anger in his humanity and earn for us and restore to us righteousness and life.

 In short, the answer is, Jesus had to be truly God so that he could satisfy God’s wrath and secure for us true righteousness and life. [7]

Erik Raymond[8] writes:

  • The Redeemer had to be truly human: in order to suffer and sympathize.
  • The Redeemer had to be truly divine: in order to satisfy and secure.

We can, therefore, say that a merely created being cannot be an adequate savior. Neither could a created man be an inadequate savior, he could not be truly representative of God.

3. A created existing being cannot adequately be representative of the eternal Father to us.

Jeremiah the Prophet mentions (42:8): 

“This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord.”

In John 3:13, He said:

No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man [Jesus Christ].”

Matthew writes that (11:27):

All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

 Theologian Gerald Bray mentions that;

“To be Christian is to believe that it is possible to know God. More than that, it is to believe that God has made it possible for us to know Him by revealing Himself to us… To believe in God, a Christian would say, is to know God, and if we know God, than it is inevitable that He will change our lives and become the most central part of our life experience.”[9]

John the Beloved Disciple wrote (14:8-10) (AMP)

“Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father and then we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time, and you do not know Me yet, Philip, nor recognize clearly who I am? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’ Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me?

 The author of Hebrews (1:3) mentions that Jesus is the:

“radiance of God’s glory and the [Charaktēr tēs hypostaseōs] exact representation of his being.”  

 Thomas Schreiner (2015:56-57) says that the Son reflects God’s glory and represents the nature and character of the one true God. Christ is the definition of God and Christianity finds the true picture of their God in the expressed person of Jesus Christ. Christianity gives us a ‘Christlike God’. Jesus exhausts the very definition of God through the revelation of His being. In Paul’s Doxological prayer to Timothy (2 Tim.1:12) he wrote:

“…I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.”

To the Philippians (3:10) he wrote:

“I want to know Christ”


There is simply no doubt Biblically that Jesus pre-existed His birth. The Son was made incarnate for the sake of our Salvation being the perfect example for humanity to follow. To denounce or belittle the reality of the incarnation is to be lost and Biblically inept. Without the transcendent Divine reaching out to the finite, we have no proximity or notion about Yahweh God. As John writes; The Son (theos) who was in the bosom of the Father revealed Him to us.” (John 1:18). Unless the Son fully expresses the reality of the One True God as Father, there is simply no way for Christians do honestly say what this Father is like. The incarnation of the Son is the culmination of revelation and the final action of the Father via His Divine Son, who was both a perfect mediator, truly man, truly Divine.



[1] From “The Immutability of God,” A sermon by Charles H. Spurgeon at New Park Street Chapel, Southwark. J. I. Packer quotes from this message in Knowing God.

[2] https://biblehub.com/greek/4253.htm

[3] Bernard L. Ramm, An Evangelical Christology: Ecumenic and Historic, 1983, reprinted by Regent College Publishing, 1993, ISBN 1-57383-008-9, p. 47.

[4] James D. G. Dunn, Christology in the Making: A New Testament inquiry into the origins of the doctrine of the Incarnation, 2nd ed, Eerdmans, 1996, p.239.

[5] The answer here is focusing on the need for a real human nature. Why? Because the penalty for sin requires suffering in body and soul. And only a human can do this (cf. Heb. 2:14; John 12:27). Jesus did not only share in our nature but also he had to identify with us in the experiences of the fall (Heb. 2:17-18). But it was essential that Christ himself did not sin in this identification with us. Otherwise, how could he pay for our sin?

[6] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 319.

[7] This answer focuses on the power coming from his divine nature. There is no way any mere human could bear and fully satisfy God’s wrath. By nature, this wrath is infinite in quality. In order to bear the weight of wrath, it is essential that the Savior be divine. But also, in order to satisfy this wrath, he had to offer a sacrifice of such a value that God would be pleased to accept it. Only Christ as God could bring a sacrifice of infinite and eternal value to God that he would propitiate heaven’s wrath. By virtue of his divine nature, he is able to earn for us eternal life and favor with God. Finally, the divinity of Christ means that he is able to be raised from the dead (after conquering it) and therefore apply the benefits he has earned for us.

[8] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/erik-raymond/must-jesus-human-divine/

[9] The Doctrine of God: Our knowledge of God, Pg.14.