The Eternity Before Christmas 1222
The glory of Christmas is that it is not the beginning of Christ.
Long before that first Christmas, his story had begun — not just in
various prophecies, but in a divine person. Christmas may be the
opening of the climactic chapter, but it is not the commencement of
Christmas does indeed mark a conception and a birth. We rehearse
Mary’s magnificent song of submission, and the shepherds’ visit to pay
homage to her newborn son, and read she “treasured up all these
things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). For mere humans, no
doubt, such is the stuff of our origins. Prior to earthly beginnings,
we simply did not exist.
But it is not so with the Son of God. His “coming forth is from of
old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2). Unlike every other human birth,
Christmas is not a beginning, but a becoming. Christmas isn’t his
start, but his commission. He was not created; he came.
No other human in the history of the world shares in this peculiar
glory. As remarkable as his virgin birth is, his preexistence sets him
apart even more distinctively, even as he is fully human.
1. He existed before the incarnation.
Jesus Christ existed before he was made man at the incarnation. Jesus
himself made the claim, so stunning — and even offensive to first-
century Jewish sentiments, so offensive that “they picked up stones to
throw at him” — when he said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before
Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58–59).
True as it was, this jarring reality didn’t go over much better in
John 6. “‘What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he
was before?’ . . . After this many of his disciples turned back and no
longer walked with him” (John 6:62, 66).
“Unlike every other human birth, Christmas is not a beginning, but a
becoming. Christ was not created; he came.”
But those who were given eyes to see the glory didn’t turn back; their
number would eventually include Paul and the author of Hebrews.
Melchizedek, who lived a thousand years before Jesus, resembled the
Son of God by “having neither beginning of days nor end of life”
(Hebrews 7:3). And Israel’s wilderness generation “drank from the
spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1
Corinthians 10:4). Beyond that, four New Testament refrains join the
chorus that the person of Christ existed long before that first
Mark’s Gospel opens under the banner of Jesus as Yahweh himself come
to earth (Mark 1:1–3). He came from outside the created realm, into
our world, to bring God’s long-promised rescue. “The Son of Man came .
. . to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28; also Mark
10:45 and Luke 19:10). In John, the language of coming, as in John
6:62, is descending. “The Son of Man descended from heaven” (John
3:13). Mere humans don’t descend; they begin.
Again, Paul and Hebrews follow in the Gospel wake. “Christ came into
the world” (Hebrews 10:5), and in one of the most terse and potent
gospel summaries, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”
(1 Timothy 1:15). Related to coming is manifestation. “He was
manifested in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16). “He was foreknown before
the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times
for the sake of you” (1 Peter 1:20).
On its own, “becoming” wouldn’t necessitate preexistence. The key is
to ask what he was before he became. He was divinely rich, and became
humanly poor (2 Corinthians 8:9). He was in “the form of God,” then
took “the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:6–7). One who was
infinitely high, because he was God, became a little lower than the
angels, because he became man (Hebrews 2:9).
His “becoming” was not a ceasing to be what he had been previously,
but a “taking on” (Philippians 2:7) of human flesh and blood. The
fully divine Son added full humanity to his person.
He Was Sent
Prophets were sent without preexisting, but not so with God’s own Son.
He was sent from outside the world of flesh, into it, to redeem his
people. The context is fundamentally different when we’re talking
about sending the eternal Son, rather than mere human messengers.
In the parable of the tenants, the owner of the vineyard, at long
last, sent his “beloved son” (Mark 12:6), decisively distinct in
relationship from the other servants he had sent prior. “When the
fullness of time had come,” Paul writes in Galatians 4:4, “God sent
forth his Son, born of woman.” God didn’t take an already born human
and send him forth; he sent forth his own divine Son to be human.
Likewise, in the sacrifice of his Son, God did what we non-preexistent
humans could not do for ourselves: “By sending his own Son in the
likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh”
He Was Given
Finally, and perhaps most memorably, the preexistent Christ was given.
“God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). The
sacrifice of Christ loses all its force as an expression of God’s love
if Jesus did not preexist his incarnation.
The Mount Everest of biblical promises presupposes the Son’s
preexistence in saying that God “did not spare his own Son but gave
him up for us all” (Romans 8:32).
2. He existed before creation.
But not only did Christ preexist that first Christmas; he also
preexisted all creation. It’s difficult to imagine the New Testament
being any clearer on this account. When the Nicene Creed (A.D. 325)
confessed he was “begotten of the Father before all worlds,” it did so
on the firm foundation of Scripture.
John’s Gospel opens with the declaration,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word
was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made
through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.
Human flesh didn’t become the Word. The eternal Word became flesh. So
also, Colossians 1:16–17: By him all things were created, in heaven
and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or
rulers or authorities — all things were created though him and for
him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Christ was “foreknown” by God, not only before his incarnation, but
“before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20). And so he prays
in John 17:5, “Now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the
glory that I had with you before the world existed.”
3. He is pre-existent because he is God.
That Christ existed before his incarnation, and even before the
foundation of the world, is finally a function of his divinity. He is
first and last, Alpha and Omega (Revelation 1:8), because he is God.
As Donald Macleod notes, “No formal distinction can be made between
deity and preexistence” (Person of Christ, 57).
“Jesus is before, and he is better than, anything in the created
Christmas is far more than the celebration of a great man’s birth. God
himself, in the second person of the Godhead, entered into our space,
and into our frail humanity, surrounded by our sin, to rescue us. He
came. He became one of us. God sent God. The Father gave his own Son
for us and for our salvation.
Jesus Is Better
As a materialistic society marks its most material time of the year at
Christmas, the preexistence of Christ before all created things
reminds us of his priority and preciousness above every gadget and
gismo, every present and party, all the trees and trimmings, lights
and laughter, candles and cookies. Surely this is what his
preexistence means for us — priority and preciousness above and beyond
anything else not preexistent.
Jesus is before, and he is better than, anything in the created world.
And his preexistence calls to us with the quiet reminder that it is
only fitting for such a one to be the greatest Treasure in our hearts.