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Who and What Was Jesus Christ Before His Human Birth?


As the accompanying article shows, the One who became Jesus Christ was clearly God, along with God the Father, before His human birth. But a careful study of Scripture shows that He was more than just another divine being who was previously unknown. Scripture repeatedly tells us that no one has seen God the Father at any time. For example, the apostle John makes this quite clear in John 1:18: “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” 

John had just explained in this chapter that he was a personal eyewitness of “the Word” who became flesh as Jesus Christ, so this cannot refer to Him. The “God” whom no one has ever seen at any time thus has to be referring to the Father. 

John repeats this exact same statement in 1 John 4:12: “No one has seen God at any time.” 

We also see two such explicit statements from Jesus Christ Himself. Notice John 5:37: “And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form” (emphasis added throughout). 

And just to be clear, Jesus again says that no one has ever seen the Father in John 6:46: “No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father” 
(New International Version). 

Here Jesus plainly says that no one has seen the Father except the One who is from God—this referring to Himself. He alone has seen the Father. 

No human being has ever seen the Father. Yet in the books of the Old Testament period we’re told that a number of people did see God. They include Abraham (Genesis 12:7; 15:1; 18:1), Isaac (Genesis 26:2, 24), Jacob (Genesis 28:13; 32:30; 35:9-10), Moses (Exodus 3:6; 33:11, 21-23), Aaron and the 70 elders of Israel (Exodus 24:9-11), Joshua (Joshua 6:2) and Gideon (Judges 6:14).

Nearly all of these are described as face-to-face encounters. Two involved eating a meal with God, and Jacob literally wrestled with God.

So whom did these individuals see when they saw God? The only way we can make sense of this is to understand that no man had seen God the Father at any time.

What they saw as recorded in these many passages, and at other times when God appeared to individuals, was the Word who was God  (John 1:1), the One who was born in the flesh as Jesus of Nazareth. With this understanding there is no contradiction. The Bible doesn’t contradict itself, as “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).What Scripture reveals is that Jesus was the One who interacted with the patriarchs and prophets and the people of Israel as theLORD or God on behalf of the Father. They never saw the Father, but only the Word or Spokesman of God, who came to reveal the Father (John 1:18). 

The One who appeared and spoke to people as God was the One who became Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself clearly said this, and the people who heard Him knew that was exactly what He meant. Notice this in John 8:57-58, where Jesus was in a heated debate with some of the Jews who opposed Him, and He said that Abraham rejoiced to see His day.“ 

Then the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you,
before Abraham was, I AM.’” 

Here Jesus specifically told them of His divine identity—that He existed before Abraham, and then that He was the God who had interacted with people during the Old Testament period.
Whom did He specifically claim to be?

We find the answer in Exodus 3:13-14, where God appeared to Moses at the burning bush and told Moses that He would deliver the Israelites from their enslavement in Egypt.

“Then Moses said to God, ‘Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they say to me, “What is His name?” what shall I say to them?’ And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.”’”

And 15 centuries later, what did Jesus say about who He was? Going back to what we just read in John 8:58, “Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’”

And notice what happened immediately after Jesus said these words: “Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by” (John 8:59).

The Jews who heard Jesus say these words knew exactly what He meant—that He was claiming to be the “I AM” who had interacted with Moses. And how did they react? They immediately took up stones to stone Him to death for claiming to be God!

The New Testament writers understood who and what Jesus Christ was and applied prophecies of “the LORD”—Israel’s God—to Jesus Christ.

For example, the apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:7-8: “To you who believe, He [Jesus Christ] is precious; but to those who are disobedient, [He is] . . . ‘ a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.’” He is quoting Isaiah 8:13-14, which foretold that “the LORD of hosts” would be a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.

The apostle Paul applies several Old Testament passages about the LORD to Jesus Christ. For example, Joel 2:32 says, “And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” In Romans 10:9-13 Paul applies this prophecy to Jesus Christ.

And in a prophecy that is so obvious that we tend to read right over it, Isaiah 40:3 foretold the coming of “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the des-ert a highway for our God.’”

This is a prophecy of John the Baptist. But for whom was he to prepare the way? It tells us plainly that John was to prepare the way for “the LORD.” How was this prophecy fulfilled? Read Matthew 3:3: “For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the LORD. . .”’” (see also Mark 1:2-3 and Luke 3:3-4).

John was to prepare the way for the com-ing of whom? The coming of the LORD. And who was the LORD John prepared the way for? Jesus Christ.

Although there are a number of such examples, we’ll note one more that specifically identifies Jesus Christ as “the Rock” who accompanied Israel at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. Notice 1 Corinthians 10:1-4: “Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed [or accompanied] them, and that Rock was Christ” (see also verse 9).

These are not all the scriptures pertinent to this subject, but they are enough to clearly demonstrate that the One who interacted with human beings in the Old Testament period as God on behalf of the Father was the One we know today as Jesus Christ.

—Scott Ashley • March-April 2018

©2018 United Church of God, an International Association
Used with permission.

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