Who was he before he came to earth?
“Preexistence” in this case means before he existed as a human.
Here are the states of Christ:
We are in the first one, on the left. For an explanation of the entire image, click on this link:
Let’s introduce the concept with this quotation (Towns p. 118):
The eternality of Christ means he is not limited by time, has no beginning, and will have no end. The preexistence of Jesus Christ means he existed before his birth in Bethlehem. Because Christ existed before his earthly birth, his eternality gives him godlike qualities. This concept of preexistence and the proofs of eternality support the proofs of the deity of Christ.
The Bible gives some hints and some bold statements about his preincarnate or preexistent state.
If you would like to see the following verses in many translations and in their contexts, please go to biblegateway.com.
1.. The Son of God is eternal.
That means he existed before he was born and had no beginning and will have no end. God did not create him out of nothing. He is eternally uncreated, but generated—a Father-Son term that speaks of intimacy.
“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)
God is eternal, and Jesus was the second person within the Godhead. Therefore he is eternal.
2.. “God is love” (1 John 4:8 and 16).
Augustine (354-430 AD) comes up with this deep analogy: the lover, the beloved, and love.
At the baptism of Jesus, the Father says that he loves the Son, and at that very moment, the Spirit descends and rests on Jesus (Matt. 3:16-17). Augustine seems to say that the Father loves the Son, who receives his love and returns it, for example, in his willingness to obey the Father and die on the cross, while the Spirit communicates the love between them.
This image of a triad of love expresses how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit existed before the creation of time and the universe, and how the three persons will forever exist. It is into this love that the Trinity welcomes all believers and all who have received the love of God, through Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit. (The Trinity Books VIII.14; IX.2, and XV.10)
The verses “God is love” now take on a much, much deeper meaning.
In contrast, the strict unity of God seen in Islam or Judaism, for example, does not make sense in terms of the love of God, because divine love amounts to self-love, which is inadequate and deficient.
Back to Augustine. His analogy is profound, because we have all experienced love from a lover, and we have returned the same love. But it still does not adequately explain how the one God shares this divine attribute of love and all the other divine attributes in three persons. Our human love is but a poor reflection of divine love.
3.. He is the creator.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:3)
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. (Col. 1:16)
but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (Heb. 1:2)
And now he sustains creation:
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Col. 1:17)
4.. He was active in the Old Testament as the Angel of the Lord.
Jesus as a messenger is different from a created messenger, like Gabriel (Dan. 8:16, 9:21; Luke 1:19, 21) or Michael (Dan. 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 1:9; Rev. 12:7). Jesus is uncreated, but he served as the Angel of the Lord and was also called God or the LORD.
Here are some examples.
He ministered to Hagar
Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.” … She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” (Gen. 16:9-10, 13)
Note that the Angel of the Lord is called God in v. 13.
He was at the near-sacrifice of Isaac
But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” 13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” (Gen. 22:11-14)
Note that he is called LORD in v. 14.
He was at the burning bush
There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” 4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” 5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. (Exod. 3:2-6)
He is called LORD and God in vv. 4 and 5, above.
He encouraged Gideon
The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshingwheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” 13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” 14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” (Judg. 6:11-14)
He is called LORD in v. 14.
He communicated to Samson’s mother
God heard Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman while she was out in the field; but her husband Manoah was not with her. 10 The woman hurried to tell her husband, “He’s here! The man who appeared to me the other day!” 11 Manoah got up and followed his wife. When he came to the man, he said, “Are you the man who talked to my wife?” … He replied, “Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding.” 19 Then Manoah took a young goat, together with the grain offering, and sacrificed it on a rock to the Lord. And the Lord did an amazing thing while Manoah and his wife watched: 20 As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground. 21 When the angel of the Lord did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of the Lord. 22 “We are doomed to die!” he said to his wife. “We have seen God!” (Judg. 13:9-11, 19-22)
He is called LORD and God in vv. 18 and 22.
So how do I get know Jesus more deeply?
Jesus the Son of God is eternal, without beginning or end. He was active in the lives of Israelites before he was born. He appeared to or at least directed pagans outside of Israel—Scripture indicates as much. We can be sure that he is active in the Church’s life and in our lives specifically—each one of us. Those three attributes, ministries or activities he exercised were vital to us and our salvation—our very existence, whether one is saved or not.
ARTICLES IN “DO I REALLY KNOW JESUS?” SERIES
2. Do I Really Know Jesus? He Was the Preincarnate God
Augustine, The Trinity, trans. Edmund Hill, 1991.