Analyzing Jesus Prehuman Existence in light of the Synoptic Gospels
It is a commonly held belief among skeptics, specifically anti-Trinitarians, that the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) present a very low Christology in comparison to the later, more developed Christology of the Johannine corpus. It is asserted that most of the scriptural proofs which orthodox believers produce to support Christs Divinity or his prehuman existence stem primarily from the Gospel of John since Christians rarely cite from the first three Gospels.
The aim of this current article will be to focus on the testimony of the Synoptic Gospels in order to challenge this assertion. We will be looking at specific statements which are found within the Synoptics that speak of Christ coming or being sent to accomplish a specific task and compare them in light of certain passages which are found throughout the Holy Bible, especially within the Pauline and Johannine corpus. The purpose for doing this is to show how the Synoptics clearly testify to the preexistence of Christ since they employ language that is reminiscent to what the Holy Bible says concerning God and angels coming or being sent from heaven to perform specific functions. We will further see that these statements are strikingly similar to the preexistence passages found throughout the writings of the Apostles Paul and John.
Coming/Sending in the OT
The Holy Bible often speaks of God or angels coming or being sent from heaven to carry out certain tasks, as the following examples testify:
"And the angel of the LORD said to him, Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me." Numbers 22:32
"Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, Are you for us or for our enemies? Neither, he replied, but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come. Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, What message does my Lord have for his servant? The commander of the LORD's army replied, Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy. And Joshua did so." Joshua 5:13-15
"The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away." Isaiah 35:1-10
"See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young." Isaiah 40:10-11
"The LORD has made proclamation to the ends of the earth: Say to the Daughter of Zion, "See, your Savior comes! See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him."" Isaiah 62:11
"While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God for the holy hill of my God; while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. He came and he said to me, O Daniel, I have now come out to give you wisdom and understanding. At the beginning of your supplications a word went forth, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly beloved; therefore consider the word and understand the vision." Daniel 9:20-23
"And he said to me, O Daniel, man greatly beloved, give heed to the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you. While he was speaking this word to me, I stood up trembling. Then he said to me, Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, so I left him there with the prince of the kingdom of Persia and came to make you understand what is to befall your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come. Then he said, Do you know why I have come to you? But now I will return to fight against the prince of Persia; and when I am through with him, lo, the prince of Greece will come." Daniel 10:11-14, 20
"Up! Escape to Zion, you who dwell with the daughter of Babylon. For thus said the LORD of hosts, after his glory sent me to the nations who plundered you, for he who touches you touches the apple of his eye: Behold, I will shake my hand over them, and they shall become plunder for those who served them. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me. Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the LORD. And many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you." Zechariah 2:7-11
"And the angel answered him, I am Gabriel, who stand in the presence of God; and I was sent (apestalen) to speak to you, and to bring you this good news." Luke 1:19
"In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent (apestale) from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary." Luke 1:26-27
The reader should have no problem seeing that the above citations presuppose that God and the angels came down from heaven to accomplish a specific function. After all, when God or an angel is said to come to carry out a mission it is pretty clear that this means that they came from or out of heaven.
We shall shortly see how the Synoptics use similar language in reference to Christ coming or being sent to perform a certain task.
Coming/Sending in the NT
Before we venture into the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke we will first turn our attention to the writings of Paul and John to see what they have to say about Christs heavenly preexistence. We will look at texts which not only presuppose that Jesus existed before he became a man but that also speak of his being sent by God. This will further solidify the fact that when the Synoptic Gospels use similar language that this is a clear indication that the writers were also operating under the same assumption that Christ came forth from heaven.
Christological Preexistence in the Pauline Corpus
The blessed and inspired Apostle spoke of God sending forth his Son to be born of a woman, language which inarguably establishes the Sons prehuman existence:
"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth (exapesteilen) his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth (exapesteilen) the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba! Father!" Galatians 4:4-6
Pauls reference to God sending forth the Spirit further corroborates Jesus heavenly preexistence since the Apostle uses the same language for the Son being sent by God. Hence, just as the Spirit being sent presupposes that he already existed with God we are to likewise understand that the Son too was with the Father in heaven before his birth from a woman.
Evangelical scholars Robert M. Bowman, Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski, in their seminal work on the Deity of Christ, wonderfully sum up the evidence which establishes that Paul clearly presupposed Christs prehuman existence in this specific reference:
"The most natural way of understanding these statements is that Gods Son existed before becoming a human being. This is especially clear in Galatians 4:4-6, where four elements converge to express this idea: (1) the statement that God sent forth his Son; (2) the description of this Son as born of a woman; (3) the contrast between Jesus as Gods (apparently natural) Son and believers as those who have received adoptions as sons; (4) the parallel statement that God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son. [Liberal NT scholar James G.] Dunns approach to this passage is to argue that neither of the first two elements on its own proves preexistence. This argument, however, does, not take adequate stock of how the two elements work together: God sent forth His Son, born of a woman. The third element the contrast between Jesus as Gods Son and believers as Gods adopted sons combined with these other elements further suggests a heavenly origin for Jesus.
"What really clinches the conclusion that the Son is being spoken of as a preexistent person is the fourth element the parallel statement in verse 6 that "God sent forth the Spirit of His Son." The implication is clear: first God sent forth his Son from heaven to redeem people, and then he sent the Spirit of his Son from heaven to dwell within them. This is practically the theology of the Gospel of John in a nutshell, and it appears in one of Pauls earlier epistles! " (Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ [Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI 2007], Part 2: Like Father, Like Son: Jesus Shares the Attributes of God, Chapter 7. Jesus Existed Before He Was Born!, p. 89; comments within brackets ours)
Here is another verse that assumes the Sons heavenly preexistence:
"For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh," Romans 8:3
Bowman and Komoszewski note:
"The same pattern emerges in Romans 8:3, where we have (1) the statement of God sending his own Son, (2) the qualification that the sending was in the likeness of sinful flesh, and (3) the contrast between the Son who comes in our likeness and the mass of (mere) human beings whom he saves by doing so (see v. 4).
"The first element includes the seemingly redundant own indicating that this was not a member of a larger class of sons of God but someone to whom the designation applied uniquely. As commentator John Murray noted, In the language of Paul this corresponds to the title "only begotten" as it appears in John (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9), and, we may add, to the description beloved found in the Synoptic Gospels.
"The second element, in the likeness of sinful flesh, involves a cumbersome locution if Jesus was no more than a human being
"The third element, the contrast between Gods Son and his other sons, is immediately apparent from the second element and receives extensive elaboration in the rest of Romans 8, including a discussion of the status of believers as adopted sons of God. It is true that Paul is not articulating or defending a doctrine of the preexistence of the Son. Rather, he presupposes the Sons preexistence as he articulates his message of what this divine Son has done for us by becoming a man and suffering death on our account." (Ibid., pp. 89-90)
Paul further wrote that Jesus came from heaven and set aside his riches to become poor for our sakes:
"Thus it is written, The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven." 1 Corinthians 15:45-49
"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich." 2 Corinthians 8:9
Pauls claim that Christ became poor presupposes a time in which Jesus was rich, and yet this could not refer to his earthly life since he wasnt a wealthy man who gave up his earthly possessions. Rather, in light of Pauls reference to Jesus being from heaven we are to understand that this refers to an act of the preincarnate Christ, e.g. the Lord relinquished his heavenly splendor and glory for a season when he was sent forth to be born of a woman in order to take the role or form of a servant. Paul basically reiterates this precise point in the following Christian hymn, known as the Carmen Christi:
"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though being in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." Philippians 2:6-8
Hence, these Pauline texts provide additional corroboration that the Son-being-sent passages presuppose and emphatically affirm Christs preexistence.
Christological Preexistence in the Johannine Corpus
This Gospel is filled with references to Jesus being sent or coming down from God/heaven:
"For God so loved the world that he GAVE his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent (apesteilen) the Son INTO the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved (sothe) through him." John 3:16-17
"He who comes (erchomenos) from above is above all; he who is of the earth belongs to the earth, and of the earth he speaks; he who comes (erchomenos) from heaven is above all." John 3:31
"So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, You know me, and you know where I am from? But I have not come (elelutha) of my own accord. He who sent (pempsas) me is true, and him you do not know. I know him, for I come from him, and he sent (apesteilen) me. Jesus then said, I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent (pempsanta) me." John 7:28-29, 33
"Jesus answered, Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from (elthon) and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from (erchomai) or where I am going." John 8:14
"Jesus said to them, If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came (exelthon) from God and I am here. I came (elelutha) not of my own accord, but he sent (apesteilen) me." John 8:42
"Jesus said, For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind." John 9:39
"do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent (apesteilen) INTO the world, You are blaspheming, because I said, I am the Son of God'?" John 10:36
"She said to him, Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming (erchomenos) INTO the world." John 11:27
"I have come (elelutha) as light INTO the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If any one hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come (elthon) to judge the world but to save (soso) the world." John 12:46-47
"Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come (exelthen) from God and was going to God," John 13:3
"In that day you will ask in my name; and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came (exelthon) from the Father. I came (exelthon) from the Father and have come (elelutha) INTO the world; again, I am leaving the world and going to the Father. His disciples said, Ah, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure! Now we know that you know all things, and need none to question you; by this we believe that you came (exelthes) from God. Jesus answered them, Do you now believe?" John 16:26-31
"for I have given them the words which thou gavest me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came (exelthon) from thee; and they have believed that thou didst send (apesteilas) me." John 17:8
"As thou didst send (apesteilas) me INTO the world, so I have sent them into the world." John 17:18
"You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. He who commits sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." 1 John 3:5, 8
"By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come (eleluthota) in the flesh is of God," 1 John 4:2
Lest a person deny that these Johannine texts are affirming Jesus prehuman existence, contrast the use of anabaino (ascend) and katabaino (descend/come down) in the following verses:
"No one has ascended into heaven (anabebeeken eis ton ouranon) except he who descended from heaven (ho ek tou ouranou katabas), the Son of Man." John 3:13
"For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven (ho katabainon ek tou ouranou) and gives life to the world For I have come down from heaven (hoti katabebeeka apo tou ouranou), not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me." John 6:33, 38
"So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, I am the bread that came down from heaven (ho katabas ek tou ouranou). They said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, "I have come down from heaven (Ek tou ouranou katabebeeka)"?" John 6:41-42
"This is the bread that comes down from heaven (ho ek to ouranou katabainon), so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven (ho ek to ouranou katabas). If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." John 6:50-51
"Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending (anabainonta) to where he was before?" John 6:62
With these specific citations that speak of the Spirit coming down from heaven:
"And John bore witness: I saw the Spirit descend from heaven (to pneuma katabainon ek ouranou) like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, "He on whom you see the Spirit descend (to pneuma katabainon) and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit."" John 1:32-33
And the angels ascending to and descending from heaven:
"And he said to him, Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending (anabainontas kai katabainontas) on the Son of Man." John 1:51
As well as with this one from Matthew:
"And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven (angelos gar kyriou katabas ek ouranou) and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it." Matthew 28:2
It should come as no surprise that even liberal NT scholars admit that Johns Gospels presents Jesus as God Incarnate, as the Divine preexistent Son who came down from heaven. Bowman and Komoszewski write:
"It is worth noting that even Dunn acknowledges that the Gospel of John teaches that Jesus was God revealing himself as a man. He simply views Johns presentation of Jesus as one of many formulations in the New Testament and urges that it not be treated as the only correct formulation. Similarly, Karl-Josef Kuschel, in his lengthy book critiquing the doctrine of Christs preexistence, asserts, There is no doubt that the Gospel of John, in contrast to the Synoptic Gospels [sic] and Paul [sic], contains a series of statements about preexistence. Even if we assume, solely for the sake of argument, that none of the earlier New Testament authors spoke of Christs preexistence, unless they denied it we should still accept Johns clear witness on the matter and add it to what we learn about Christ from the rest of the New Testament.
"In actuality, John is hardly alone in teaching that Jesus existed as a divine person prior to his becoming a human being. This is, in fact, precisely what the Apostle Paul taught." (Bowman & Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in his Place, p. 82)
With the foregoing in perspective we can now move on to the Synoptic Gospels.
The Evidence for Christological Preexistence in the Synoptic Gospels
We begin by examining some passages which speak of Jesus coming.
"And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come (elthes) to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." Mark 1:23-24
"But He said to them, Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth (exelthon)." Mark 1:38 NKJV
"And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came (elthon) not to call the righteous, but sinners." Mark 2:17
"For the Son of man also came (elthon) not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:45
"John's disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, Are you the one who was to come (erchomenos), or should we expect someone else? When the men came to Jesus, they said, John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, "Are you the one who was to come (erchomenos), or should we expect someone else?" At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me." Luke 7:18-23
"I have come (elthon) to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came (paregenomen) to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division;" Luke 12:49-51
This last passage is rather interesting when we compare it with specific OT passages which speak of God coming down from heaven to destroy by fire:
"Then the LORD said, Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know." Genesis 18:20-21
"Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven." Genesis 19:24
"Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting. When they came out and blessed the people, the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. Then fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces." Leviticus 9:23-24
"Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD." Leviticus 10:1-2
"And the cloud of the LORD was over them by day, whenever they set out from the camp. And whenever the ark set out, Moses said, Arise, O LORD, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you. And when it rested, he said, Return, O LORD, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel." Numbers 10:34-36
"And the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes, and when the LORD heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. Then the people cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the LORD, and the fire died down. So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the LORD burned among them." Numbers 11:1-3
"While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you. Job 1:16
Jesus language of coming to bring fire on the earth is strikingly reminiscent and seems to be a deliberate allusion to what the above OT texts say of Yahweh coming and consuming his enemies with fire.
Another text that adopts OT language of Yahweh coming to perform a specific task is the following:
"For the Son of man came (elthen) to seek and to save (sosai) the lost." Luke 19:10
Jesus statement recalls the following Ezekiel passage:
"For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep." Ezekiel 34:11-12, 22
Here are some verses which speak of Christ being sent.
"Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent (aposteilanta) me." Mark 9:37
"He HAD still one other, a beloved son; finally he sent (apesteilen) him to them, saying, They will respect my son. But those tenants said to one another, `This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours. And they took him and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard." Mark 12:6-8
Notice how strikingly similar the language of Mark 12:6 is to John 3:16, i.e. the owner of the vineyard [God] had a beloved Son whom he sent.
"but he said to them, I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent (apestalen) for this purpose." Luke 4:43
"He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent (aposteilanta) me." Luke 10:16
Summary Analysis of the Synoptic Corpus
The readers can clearly see that the Synoptic Gospels use, for the most part, the same verbs such as (ex)erchomai and apostello that are found in both the Pauline and Johannine corpus in reference to Christ coming or being sent to accomplish a specific purpose. The Synoptic Gospels also concur with the statements found in the writings of John regarding Christs purpose in coming, i.e. to save people and to destroy the works of evil. All of this strongly supports that the Synoptics hold to and affirm preexistence Christology.
Corroborating Evidence for Preexistence Christology in the Synoptics
There is additional evidence that the Synoptic writers held to Jesus prehuman existence, some of which include the following:
"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight," John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." Mark 1:1-11
Mark starts off his Gospel by stating that Johns advent in the wilderness fulfilled the predictions of Isaiah and Malachi, the two prophets that spoke of God sending someone ahead of him to prepare for his glorious appearance:
"A voice cries: In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken." Isaiah 40:3-5
"Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts." Malachi 3:1
Accordingly, Marks Gospel portrays Jesus as the Lord who was to be revealed by the Baptist. In other words, John was sent to prepare the people for the appearance of the Lord God who so happens to be Jesus Christ according to Mark and the other Gospel writers! (Cf. Matthew 3:1-17, 11:1-10; Luke 3:1-6, 15-18; John 1:5-9, 14-15, 19-36)
Thus, Jesus being identified as the Lord God who was to come provides further corroboration that the coming and being sent for a purpose passages are to be viewed as statements of preexistence, that the Synoptic Gospels confirm the fact of Christ existing before he came to the world as a man.
There is additional substantiation that these Gospel writers believed that Jesus is the human appearance of Yahweh God. For instance, Jesus performs certain functions and assumes specific roles which the Hebrew Scriptures assign to Yahweh. We limit ourselves to three examples, the first of which relates to the OT teaching that Yahweh forgives sins and heals sicknesses:
"then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive and act; deal with each man according to all he does, since you know his heart (for you alone know the hearts of all men) When they sin against youfor there is no one who does not sinand you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy, who takes them captive to his own land, far away or near; and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their conquerors and say, We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly; and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their enemies who took them captive, and pray to you toward the land you gave their fathers, toward the city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your Name; then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people, who have sinned against you; forgive all the offenses they have committed against you, and cause their conquerors to show them mercy; for they are your people and your inheritance, whom you brought out of Egypt, out of that iron-smelting furnace." 1 Kings 8:39, 46-51
"Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed." Psalm 103:2-6
"O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins." Psalm 130:7-8
This next reference is rather interesting:
"Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea." Micah 7:18-19
The obvious answer to this rhetorical question is that there is no other god who can forgive sins since Yahweh alone is the God who can do so. Yet Jesus is such a God according to the Synoptic Gospels!
"And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, My son, your sins are forgiven. Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone? And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven," or to say, "Rise, take up your bed and walk"? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins --he said to the paralyticI say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home. And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, We never saw anything like this!" Mark 2:5-12
Here, Jesus performs the very functions that the above OT references ascribe to Yahweh, namely, forgiving sins, healing diseases, and knowing what people were thinking in their hearts! And:
"She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuelwhich means, God with us." Mathew 1:21-23
Again, Jesus comes to do for his people what the Psalmist in 130:8 says Yahweh does, i.e. redeeming his people from their sins!
Our second example deals with Gods sovereign control over the seas and winds:
"By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas; the one who by his strength established the mountains, being girded with might; who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples, so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs. You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy." Psalm 65:5-8
"Let the heavens praise your wonders, O LORD, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones! For who in the skies can be compared to the LORD? Who among the heavenly beings is like the LORD, a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him? O LORD God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O LORD, with your faithfulness all around you? You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them." Psalm 89:5-9
"Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw the deeds of the LORD, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits' end. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of men! Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders." Psalm 107:23-32
The Psalmist also speaks of awakening God from his sleep in order to come to the aid of his people:
"Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our belly clings to the ground. Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!" Psalm 44:23-26
Contrast the above statements with following passage:
"On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, Let us go across to the other side. And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, Peace! Be still! And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith? And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?" Mark 4:35-41
Jesus control of the elements is strikingly similar to what the above OT texts say concerning Yahwehs rule over the winds and the seas. It is little wonder that the disciples were astonished at Jesus, wondering what manner of man he was.
Finally, the OT Scriptures refer to both true and false prophets who prophesy in the name of Yahweh and even provides criterion to distinguish one from the other:
"The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die. The LORD said to me: What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks IN MY NAME, I myself will call him to account. But a prophet who presumes to speak IN MY NAME anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death. You may say to yourselves, How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD? If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him." Deuteronomy 18:15-22
"Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are saying to you, You shall not serve the king of Babylon, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you. I have not sent them, declares the LORD, but they are prophesying falsely IN MY NAME, with the result that I will drive you out and you will perish, you and the prophets who are prophesying to you." Jeremiah 27:14-15
"For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you IN MY NAME; I did not send them, declares the LORD." Jeremiah 29:8-9
"And if anyone again prophesies, his father and mother who bore him will say to him, You shall not live, for you speak lies IN THE NAME OF THE LORD. And his father and mother who bore him shall pierce him through when he prophesies." Zechariah 13:3
Amazingly, not only does Jesus claim that he will personally send forth prophets he also says that there will actually be both true and false prophets who will prophesy in his own name!
"And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished? And Jesus began to say to them, See that no one leads you astray. Many will come IN MY NAME, saying, "I am he!" and they will lead many astray." Mark 13:3-6
"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. Not everyone who says TO ME, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy IN YOUR NAME, and IN YOUR NAME drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!" Matthew 7:15-23
"Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town," Matthew 23:34
It is apparent from our study of the coming/sent passages which are found all throughout the Synoptics that these authors believed that Jesus life didnt begin on earth, but that he existed in heaven from whence he came. The Synoptic writers make other claims which corroborate that they all believed that Jesus is Gods preexistent Divine Son who was sent from heaven to accomplish a specific task, specifically, the redemption of Gods people.
In fact, the language employed by these authors is strikingly reminiscent of what we find in the writings of Paul and John. The only main difference between the statements found in the Synoptics regarding Jesus coming and being sent with what is found in John is that the latter Gospel simply makes more explicit what is already implicit in the other Gospels. As Bowman & Komoszewski noted concerning Johns repeated statements to Jesus coming from and returning to heaven:
"The Gospel of John contains numerous statements about the Son being sent and that imply his preexistence As McCready says in his study of the preexistence of Christ, These statements from John differ from similar ones in the Synoptics only in being more explicit. John 13:3 and 16:28, which frame the Upper Room Discourse (John 13-16) prior to Jesus prayer, are especially significant. In these statements John (13:3) and Jesus (16:28) assert that Jesus came from God the Father into the world and was about to leave the world and go to God the Father. The verbal contrast between coming and going makes it clear that Jesus was returning to the Fathers side from where he had come." (Ibid., p. 90, 91; bold and italic emphasis ours)
They also hit the nail on the head when they say:
"Although these statements by Jesus about being sent by the Father and about his having come do not explicitly affirm his preexistence, they strong imply it. For one thing, Jesus links his having been sent, or his coming, with works of divine significance He came to bring salvation to some and judgment to others As Douglas McCready points out in his excellent overview of the subject of Christs preexistence, When the language of "having come" is linked with what Jesus came to accomplish the salvation of the world or its judgment something more than an earthly origin seems necessary. What these and many other examples show is not that Jesus is also an angel, but that, like the angels, he came from heaven for a specific purpose. That Jesus is not an angel is evident in that he did not come simply to bring a message (although he did, of course, teach). Rather, Jesus described his mission as bringing redemption for some and judgment for others and as being cosmic or worldwide in scope. The way he expresses this mission makes it clear that he understood himself to come from heaven, and therefore that he preexisted in heaven before becoming a man." (Ibid., pp. 85-86, 87; bold and italic emphasis ours)
This means that no matter what Gospel a person turns to, no matter how early the teaching, one will not find a mere human Jesus emerging from tradition of the earliest Christian communities. All of the available and earliest evidence conclusively shows that the first Christians believed and proclaimed that Jesus is Gods preexistent Divine Son who came down from heaven and entered into the world in order to accomplish the salvation of his people.
1. The Preexistent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, And Luke (Paperback) by Simon J. Gathercole, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, September 19, 2006.
2. Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity by Larry Hurtado, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, September 15, 2005.
3. Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ by Robert M. Bowman, Jr. & J. Ed Komoszewski, Kregel Publications, 2007.
For a helpful review of the books by Hurtado, Bowman and Komoszewski we recommend the following links: 1, 2
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