BEFORE ABRAHAM: PROVING CHRIST’S ETERNAL EXISTENCE
By Sam Shamoun | Go to Source
In this post I will refute the unitarian perversion of John’s Gospel in their crusade to deny the eternal existence of Jesus. I will show how the Evangelist affirms the uncreated nature of Christ in clear and unambiguous language that only those blinded by their presuppositions and/or human traditions do not want to accept.
I begin with our Lord’s claim that he and Abraham personally saw each other, even though the latter had been dead for nearly two thousand years at the time Jesus made this remarkable assertion:
“‘Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day. He saw it, and was glad.’ The Jews therefore said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old! Have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Most certainly, I tell you, before Abraham came into existence, I AM. Exodus 3:14’ Therefore they took up stones to throw at him, but Jesus was hidden, and went out of the temple, having gone through the middle of them, and so passed by.” John 8:56-59 World English Bible (WEB)
The Jews correctly understood the implications of Christ’s statements, which is why they were left baffled as to how a Jewish man who wasn’t even fifty years old could possibly have seen their ancestor who had lived centuries ago.
Note that Christ doesn’t correct them by claiming that they were misinterpreting his words. Rather, his response shows that they actually got the point since he did in fact see Abraham which explains how he could have known the patriarch’s reaction to having seen his day. Where the Jews were wrong was in thinking that Jesus was not yet fifty, seeing that he was much older than that.
How old you may be wondering?
So old that Jesus was already existing long before Abraham was born since, unlike the patriarch who came into being, Christ’s existence is uncreated and therefore transcends time and space!
A more emphatic declaration of Jesus’ uncreated existence can hardly be found!
Nor is this the only time our Lord employed the expression “I AM” to denote his divine prehuman existence, as having existed in heaven prior to his coming into the world:
“‘Even in your law it is written that the testimony of two men can be verified. I testify on my behalf and so does the Father who sent me.’… He said to them, ‘You belong to what is below, I belong to what is above. You belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world. That is why I told you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I AM,[m] you will die in your sins.’ So Jesus said [to them], ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me.’… Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and am here; I did not come on my own, but he sent me.’” John 8:17-18, 23-24, 42
New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE)
This brings me to the next saying of Jesus:
“‘Most certainly I tell you, we speak that which we know, and testify of that which we have seen, and you don’t receive our witness. If I told you earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended out of heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven.’” John 3:11-13 WEB
These words of our Lord make no sense if Christ didn’t literally come down from heaven as a divine Person to become flesh, since Jesus is speaking of things that he has personally seen while in heaven, which is why he alone is qualified to speak about heavenly matters. However, if all he meant by this statement was that he was commissioned from heaven to preach the words that God sent him to proclaim then this could be said of anyone. I.e., all the prophets and apostles were commissioned by heaven to proclaim the revelation made known to them by the Holy Spirit:
“Now these are the last words of David. David the son of Jesse says, the man who was raised on high says, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the sweet psalmist of Israel: ‘Yahweh’s Spirit spoke by me. His word was on my tongue. The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spoke to me, ‘One who rules over men righteously, who rules in the fear of God,’” 2 Samuel 23:1-3
“You gave also your good Spirit to instruct them, and didn’t withhold your manna from their mouth, and gave them water for their thirst… Yet many years you put up with them, and testified against them by your Spirit through your prophets. Yet they would not listen. Therefore you gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands. Read full chapter Nehemiah 9:20, 30 WEB
“But as for me, I am full of power by Yahweh’s Spirit, and of judgment, and of might, to declare to Jacob his disobedience, and to Israel his sin.” Micah 3:8 WEB
“In these days, Peter stood up in the middle of the disciples (and the number of names was about one hundred twenty), and said, ‘Brothers, it was necessary that this Scripture should be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who was guide to those who took Jesus.’” Acts 1:15-16 WEB
“how that by revelation the mystery was made known to me, as I wrote before in few words, by which, when you read, you can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the children of men, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit,” Ephesians 3:3-5 WEB
“Concerning this salvation, the prophets sought and searched diligently. They prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching for who or what kind of time the Spirit of Christ, which was in them, pointed to, when he predicted the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that would follow them. To them it was revealed, that they served not themselves, but you, in these things, which now have been announced to you through those who preached the Good News to you by the Holy Spirit sent out from heaven; which things angels desire to look into.” 1 Peter 1:10-12 WEB
This in turn would make the Lord’s claim about no human being having ever ascended into heaven to come back down with its mysteries absolutely meaningless since, per the unitarian interpretation, Jesus himself was never personally in heaven and therefore had no firsthand knowledge of its secrets. Like the other inspired emissaries, Christ only knew whatever the Holy Spirit made known to him about heavenly realities.
There are other places in John’s Gospel where Jesus is said to be and/or have come down from heaven:
“He who comes from above is above all. He who is from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all.” John 3:31 WEB
“Jesus therefore said to them, ‘Most certainly, I tell you, it wasn’t Moses who gave you the bread out of heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world… For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. This is the will of my Father who sent me, that of all he has given to me I should lose nothing, but should raise him up at the last day. This is the will of the one who sent me, that everyone who sees the Son, and believes in him, should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.’ The Jews therefore murmured concerning him, because he said, ‘I am the bread which came down out of heaven.’ They said, ‘Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How then does he say, “I have come down out of heaven”?’… ‘This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, that anyone may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down out of heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. Yes, the bread which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’” John 6:32-33, 38-42, 50-51 WEB
It is vitally important to keep in mind that John never speaks of a mere human agent coming down from heaven. Though the Evangelist does refer to God sending emissaries into the world, these agents are never said to have come down from heaven. Rather, John is clear that these humans were from the world and had been chosen out of it to be God’s inspired vessels:
“There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. The same came as a witness, that he might testify about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but was sent that he might testify about the light.” John 1:6-8 WEB
“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. But because you are not of the world, since I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” John 15:18-19 WEB
“I revealed your name to the people whom you have given me out of the world. They were yours, and you have given them to me. They have kept your word… I have given them your word. The world hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that you would take them from the world, but that you would keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world even as I am not of the world… As you sent me into the world, even so I have sent them into the world.” John 17:6, 14-16, 18 WEB
The only places where the inspired Apostle speaks of individuals of/from heaven is in reference to Beings that actually dwell/originate from there, e.g., the Holy Spirit, angels, God the Father etc.:
“John testified, saying, ‘I have seen the Spirit descending like a dove out of heaven, and it remained on him.’” John 1:32 WEB
“He said to him, ‘Most certainly, I tell you all, hereafter you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’” John 1:51 WEB
“‘Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it and will glorify it again.’ The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ Jesus answered and said, ‘This voice did not come for my sake but for yours.’” John 12:28-30 NABRE
Hence, this simply reinforces the fact that the Evangelist does not believe that Christ is a mere human being, since he emphaticaly bears witness to Jesus’ heavenly prehuman existence.
The following provides further proof for Jesus’ actual prehuman existence in heaven before becoming flesh:
“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he came from God, and was going to God (pros ton Theon),” John 13:3 WEB
“‘I have spoken these things to you in figures of speech. But the time is coming when I will no more speak to you in figures of speech, but will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in my name; and I don’t say to you that I will pray to the Father for you, for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me, and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father, and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world, and go to the Father (pros ton Patera).’ His disciples said to him, ‘Behold, now you are speaking plainly, and using no figures of speech. Now we know that you know all things, and don’t need for anyone to question you. By this we believe that you came from God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe?’” John 16:25-31 WEB
In plain unambiguous language, Christ affirms that he personally came down from the Father to enter into the world and was leaving the world to go to the Father. This places the unitarians in a dilemma since none of them deny that Jesus literally went to be with the Father in heaven where he currently dwells in his glorified physical body.
Therefore, since Christ’s ascent to the Father is literal then this means his descent must be actual and literal as well. I.e., Jesus was existing as an actual Person when he came down from the Father out of heaven, since he went to be with his Father as an actual Person, not merely as an idea in God’s mind. The only difference is that Christ wasn’t existing in the flesh when he came into the world. Rather he would have existed as Spirit since he only took on flesh when he condescending to be born from his blessed virgin mother.
Now compare the foregoing with the prologue:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God (pros ton Theon), and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God (pros ton Theon).” John 1:1-2
The prologue uses the same language used by Christ and the Evangelist in reference to Jesus’ physical ascension to the Father.
Since no unitarian would deny that the use of pros in connection to Jesus’ going to the Father refers to the Son entering into a personal face-to-face relationship with the Father, just as the following texts prove,
“That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we saw, and our hands touched, concerning the Word of life (and the life was revealed, and we have seen, and testify, and declare to you the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father (pros ton Patera), and was revealed to us); that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us. Yes, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:1-3 WEB
“My little children, I write these things to you so that you may not sin. If anyone sins, we have a Counselor with the Father (pros ton Patera), Jesus Christ, the righteous. And he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.” 1 John 2:1-2 WEB
This means they have no sound exegetical grounds to deny that the employment of the same terminology in respect to the Word’s communion with God before the creation of all things proves that the Word is an eternal, living Person who became the man Christ Jesus.
John’s inspired language shows that the Word is not merely an idea or plan in God’s mind that became realized when Jesus came into existence at his conception in his virgin mother’s womb.
Here’s the final proof from John’s Gospel affirming that Christ is an eternal divine Person who became human:
“Now, Father, glorify me at your own side with the glory I had at your side before the world existed… for the words which you have given me I have given to them, and they received them, and knew for sure that I came from you… Father, I desire that they also whom you have given me be with me where I am, that they may see my glory, which you have given me, for you loved me before the foundation of the world.” John 17:5, 8, 24 Evangelical Heritage Version (EHV)
Christ speaks of being loved by the Father and dwelling in the same glory alongside the Father from before the creation of the world. Jesus further states that this is the same glory that he was going to receive once he ascends to dwell by the Father’s side.
Again, no unitarian denies that the risen Jesus dwells in heaven alongside the Father as an actual Person. Therefore, no unitarian can deny the fact of Christ existing by the Father’s side as a distinct Person from before the world’s creation, if they want to remain exegetically consistent.
The Evangelist gives us an idea of what Jesus’ prehuman glory looked like:
“Jesus had done many miraculous signs before the people, but they didn’t believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of the prophet Isaiah: Lord, who has believed through our message? To whom is the arm of the Lord fully revealed? Isaiah explains why they couldn’t believe: He made their eyes blind and closed their minds so that they might not see with their eyes, understand with their minds, and turn their lives around—and I would heal them. Isaiah said these things because he saw Jesus’ glory; he spoke about Jesus.” John 12:37-41 CEB
John cites Isaiah 6:10 and claims that Isaiah spoke those words because he had seen Jesus’ glory.
Yet when we turn to the context of that particular verse something amazing occurs:
“In the year that king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each one had six wings. With two he covered his face. With two he covered his feet. With two he flew. One called to another, and said, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is Yahweh of Armies! The whole earth is full of his glory!’ The foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. Then I said, ‘Woe is me! For I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of Armies!’… I heard the Lord’s voice, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for US?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am. Send me!’ He said, ‘Go, and tell this people, “You hear indeed, but don’t understand. You see indeed, but don’t perceive.” Make the heart of this people fat. Make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their heart, and turn again, and be healed.’” Isaiah 6:1-5, 8-10 WEB
The prophet beholds the visible glory of Jehovah God Almighty with his very own physical eyes, which was the very glory of Jesus according to John!
A comparison of John’s Greek text along with the Greek version of Isaiah, which would have been the translation employed by John’s predominately Gentile readers, brings this point out more clearly:
“And it came to pass in the year in which king Ozias died, [that] I saw the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne, and the house was full of his glory (tes doxes autou)… And one cried to the other, and they said, Holy, holy, holy [is the] Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory (tes doxes autou)… and I have seen with mine eyes (eidon tois ophthalmois mou) the King, the Lord of hosts.” Isaiah 6:1, 3, 5 LXX
“Isaiah said these things when he saw his glory (hoti eiden ten doxan autou), and spoke of him. Isaiah 6:1
” John 12:41 WEB
Isaiah saw Jehovah’s glory when he appeared in a visible bodily shape seated on the throne. And yet, remarkably, John states that the Jehovah whose glory Isaiah beheld was actually the prehuman Christ!
In other words, the Evangelist is proclaiming that Jesus is the Jehovah God whom the prophet saw with his very own physical eyes.
In fact, the Apostle makes it clear that no one can ever perceive and/or behold God apart from the agency of God’s only-begotten Son
“No one, hath seen, God, ANY TIME: An Only Begotten God, The One existing within the bosom of the Father, He, hath interpreted [him].” John 1:18 Rotherham Emphasized Bible (Rotherham)
“No one AT ANY TIME has seen God. The only-begotten (uniquely-born) God [other MSS: Son], the One continuously existing, [moving, directed and leading] into the Father’s place of safety and intimacy (bosom; breast; chest; folds of a garment; inlet or bay), that One interprets and explains by unfolding and bringing [Him] out.” Jonathan Mitchell New Testament (JMNT)
Therefore, if we are to assume that Holy Bible is consistent with itself–an assumption which unitarians embrace–then Christ must have been the God who appeared visibly not just to Isaiah, but to all the other prophets of God:
“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, Yahweh appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty. Walk before me and be blameless.’… When he finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.” 17:1, 22 WEB
“Yahweh appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day… The men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, but Abraham stood yet before Yahweh… Yahweh went his way as soon as he had finished communing with Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.” Genesis 18:1, 22, 33 WEB
“Abraham went up early in the morning to the place where he had stood before Yahweh.” Genesis 19:27 WEB
“God spoke to Moses, and said to him, ‘I am Yahweh. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty; but by my name Yahweh I was not known to them.’” Exodus 6:2-3 WEB
“He said, ‘Brothers and fathers, listen. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran,’” Acts 7:2 WEB
Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up. They saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was like a paved work of sapphire stone, like the skies for clearness. He didn’t lay his hand on the nobles of the children of Israel. They saw God, and ate and drank.” Exodus 24:9-11 WEB
“Micaiah said, ‘Therefore hear Yahweh’s word. I saw Yahweh sitting on his throne, and all the army of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left.’” 1 Kings 22:19 WEB
“I saw the Lord standing beside the altar, and he said, “Strike the tops of the pillars, that the thresholds may shake; and break them in pieces on the head of all of them; and I will kill the last of them with the sword: there shall not one of them flee away, and there shall not one of them escape.” Amos 9:1 WEB
John’s point is emphatically clear. Anytime a person in the OT beheld God it is because it was the Son who had come to make God known to them. There’s simply no honest way around this biblical fact.