NOTE: Please remember that at various points in the course we will be asking you to study your way through different lists of passages on your own. The purpose of these worksheet assignments will be to supply you with necessary background material and context needed to make accurate and objective conclusions. We will help by providing you with special worksheets to assist in your research. Just do the best you can and don’t worry if you have difficulty doing it the first time or two. We will go through each verse with you so that you will be able to see the point of the passage.
In our last few lessons we looked at a general view of what the Bible is and how to study it. The rest of the material of this course will be devoted to a study of material found in the Bible that speaks about Jesus Christ. As we travel along the way we have tried very hard to apply the ideas and principles of Bible study which you have learned so that aside from learning new facts about Jesus, you will gain more experience in studying the Bible for yourself.
To help you gain a better picture of how the various findings of our study fit into place, we are going to make extensive use of a type of illustration called a TIMELINE which, as its name implies, is a simple line which represents the passing of time. The earlier time begins on the left end of the line and the later times are seen as one moves to the right. On this timeline we will mark different events in history that are an important part of our study so that you can see how each event fits together with other events of that period of history. The timeline represented below provides a general view of the entire history of the universe—from THE BEGINNING down through history until THE END of time.
Our study begins with an incident that happened during the life of Jesus. (Please read John 8:57-58 and remember to begin reading a few verses back so that you will be able to see the overall context of what is happening.) In this scene, Jesus was explaining to the religious leaders that he had come to them from the Father and that even their very famous ancestor, Abraham, looked forward to Christ’s coming. When Jesus mentioned the name of Abraham, the people seemed to think that Jesus was saying that he actually KNEW Abraham personally. They reacted to this by pointing out to Jesus that he was not even 50 years old and so how could he possibly know Abraham? To this, Jesus made a very surprising reply, “Before Abraham was born, I existed.” This astonished the crowd. By judging the reaction of the people it seems that they thought he was crazy! After all, they KNEW Jesus was the son of Mary and Joseph, and they also knew that he was born in the small town of Bethlehem some 30 years earlier. Suppose you were taking a history class in school and one day your teacher began class by saying, “Napoleon Bonaparte was my good friend and we used to sit for hours discussing his views on the topic of revolution.” Wouldn’t you also think he was crazy?
The situation we see in John chapter 8 is very interesting! Don’t you think? What was Jesus saying here? He hinted to the people that he seemed to have some sort of PRE-EXISTENCE. In other words, Jesus seemed to be saying that he was alive long BEFORE he was born in Bethlehem! This claim made the people feel upset and it invites us to look deeper into the origin of Jesus. Where did he come from and when did his time begin?
Let us begin by reading Luke 2:1-7 and taking note of the background and context. What significant detail do we learn about Jesus from this passage? It records the historical fact that Jesus—the man who we know was crucified on a cross some 30 years later—was not a living and breathing human being before Luke chapter 2! This is a fact and cannot be denied because the birth and childhood of Jesus were HISTORICAL FACTS! Local people saw Jesus as a baby and they saw him as a boy growing up. It was these two facts of history that stood behind the objections of the crowd in John 8. They KNEW him, and so how could Jesus possibly expect anyone to accept the idea that he was actually alive during the time of Abraham? And yet Jesus seemed to be implying that very thing when he said, “Before Abraham was born, I existed.” If you will refer back to the timeline above, you will see that Abraham lived some 2,000 years before Jesus walked on the earth! Considering this fact, it was no wonder the people were upset. This seeming contradiction creates a problem, which we will need to investigate further.
The origin of Jesus Christ has been a source of controversy for centuries and there have been many attempts throughout history to explain where he came from. During the 4th Century (the 300s) there was a fellow, named ARIUS, who came up with the theory that Jesus originated as the very first thing that God created “in the beginning”. The text of the Bible tells us in several places that Jesus was “born” from God. Arius took this wording to mean that Jesus was “brought into existence” by God. Since he believed that Jesus was “born” from God then he could not have existed before the Creation like God did. Therefore, according to Arius’ theory, Jesus was a created being—the first of God’s creations! Arius’ belief, known as ARIANISM, became very well accepted among the people. For several decades during his time, his theory was the “official belief” of Christianity. Some time later, things changed and most people abandoned Arius’ idea in favor of other explanations.
In the 16th Century (the 1500’s), another idea, called SOCINIANISM, became very popular. This idea stated that Jesus came into existence at birth, just an ordinary man, and that he had no pre-existence at all. It goes on to state that because Jesus was perfectly obedient and succeeded in his mission, God transformed him into a God. If we simplify the idea it basically means that Jesus began his existence as an ordinary human, just like you and I. He lived and died as a human being. Then, after his death and because he was successful in his mission, God changed Jesus into a God! This is very different from the idea of Arius. While Socinianism had some believers, this explanation also was ultimately rejected because it did not include a pre-existence.
In our time today, there are many different views circulating about the origin and existence of Jesus. For example, the JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES group believes that Jesus was God’s first creation. In this way they are very similar to ARIANISM. However, they teach that Jesus was actually Michael the Archangel living in a human body. They believe that Michael was the first thing God created. They teach that Michael assumed a human existence—in the form of Jesus Christ—and that he accomplished his assigned task as Jesus Christ. After his assignment was complete he returned to his original existence as Michael back in heaven—where he remains to this day.
Another interesting idea from our time comes from the MORMON CHURCH (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). They believe that before his birth Jesus was one of the millions of “pre-existent spirits”—which also included all people living today and even the demons! They believe that Jesus’ spirit came into a body when he was born in Bethlehem and at the end of his life he became a God. They also believe that you and I came to exist here in our bodies in the same way and that we, like Jesus, can also become Gods.
If we compare these ideas are they the same? The existence of these conflicting views, and seeing how popular some of them are TODAY, shows how important this topic really is. Where DID Jesus come from? What DID Jesus mean in John 8? There is a need for us to study the Bible and see what evidence comes out that might help us to unravel all the confusion.
As is usually the case when major confusion is found in religion, much of the problem here has come about because of people misusing passages from the Bible. Do you remember our discussion about CONTEXT in Bible study back in Lesson 4?
(Please keep in mind that our goal in this lesson is not to prove or disprove anything regarding Jesus being God. We are only seeking to determine what Jesus was saying when he made the statement, “before Abraham was I existed”.)
If you remember back to our lesson about “How To Study The Bible”, we learned that conclusions are made by locating and combining the information from the passages which have something to say about our topic. What we need now are passages from the Bible that have some information about Jesus’ origin. We have provided you with a supplementary assignment, which is titled “Worksheet for Lesson 5”. It includes a list of verses that speak about the origin of Jesus. Take each verse and read it carefully. Put the verse into context—as we have learned to do from our past discussions—and use the space on the worksheet to record your findings. Remember that in this lesson, we are looking for specific TIME references about Jesus and his origin. After you finish your own research then return here and we will go through the verses together and compare notes.
Welcome back. We hope that you were able to complete your assignment. There will be other worksheets for you to research through later in the course. We will now go through the verses together and see how you did.
The first passage in the worksheet is Micah 5:2.
“2 But you Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are the smallest town in Judah. Your family is almost too small to count. But the “Ruler of Israel” will come from you for me. His beginnings are from ancient times, from the days of eternity.”
The first thing we must investigate is whether this passage ought to be in a list of passages that apply to our study about Jesus. This is accomplished in a two step process. The first is looking for any clues that might make a connection between what it says and Jesus. This passage seems to predict that someone will be born in Bethlehem and that the origin of this person is described as being “from the days of eternity”. “Bethlehem” seems to be a key word in the passage. Moving backward and forward in the passage does not seem to be able to give us any help. However, when you consider the fact that this same phrase if found in the New Testament book of Matthew it suddenly becomes very important. When he introduces Jesus to his readers in Matthew 2:6 he quotes this and indicates that it was speaking about Jesus. The fact that Matthew quotes the Micah passage is the proof we need to apply it to our study. Therefore, Jesus was the person being spoken of, the one who would 1) be born in Bethlehem and 2) have an origin from ancient days! The passage has to mean that the origin of Jesus would predate his birth in Bethlehem. In more simple terms, the point here seems to be that Jesus was alive before his birth in Bethlehem!
The next verse in the worksheet is John 1:1-3 and 14.
“1 Before the world began, the Word was there. The Word was there with God. The Word was God. 2 He was there with God in the beginning.3 All things were made through him. Nothing was made without him.”
and then verse 14…
“14 The Word became a man and lived among us. We saw his glory—the glory that belongs to the only Son of the Father. The Word was full of grace and truth.”
This is a difficult passage to understand when one first looks at it because the main character being mentioned here is someone who is called “the WORD” by the writer. He says that this WORD person: 1) was with God in the beginning; 2) that he also was God; and 3) that he created everything that was created. This is interesting because the writer is definitely speaking of a male person because he used the word “he”, but who is this person he calls “WORD”? To get the context all we need to do is continue reading down to verse 14 of the chapter and there we receive information that helps us discover the identity of the person. We find that the Word is actually Jesus, because Jesus fits the description, “the son who came from the father”. So, what do we learn about the origin of Jesus from this passage? The time reference here is “in the beginning”. The context surrounding the reference “the beginning” would seem to mean the Creation beginning. This is because of the reference to the things that were made by the Word. The beginning was definitely a long time before Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem!
Next in the list we look at John 1:30.
“30 This is the one I was talking about. I said, ‘A man will come after me, but he is greater than I am, because he was living before me—he has always lived.’”
This is a very important passage because of the identity of the person speaking. If you go back to verse 29 you will find that the speaker is John “the Baptist”. According to what we learn from Luke chapters 1 and 2, John “the Baptist” is an older relative of Jesus. We know that the mother of John and the mother of Jesus were related. (See: Luke 1:36) The main point we learn from these chapters is that John was born before Jesus was born. Yet, in John 1:30, John “the Baptist” looks at Jesus and makes a very clear statement that Jesus “ranks before me because he WAS living before me”. In speaking these words, John seems to be pointing out that he believed that Jesus existed before he did! This would be a historical impossibility because everyone who knew both John and Jesus KNEW that John was older than Jesus. Therefore, John must have been speaking about a pre-existence of Jesus!
The next passage is John 3:13 and 31.
“13 The only one that has even gone up into heaven is the one who came down from heaven—the Son of Man”
“31 The one (Jesus) that comes from above is greater than all other people. The person that is from the earth belongs to the earth. That person talks about things that are on the earth. But the one that comes from heaven is greater than all other people.”
If you look carefully at verses 10 through 13 and then at verses 31 through 36, you will find numerous statements which help us identify that it is Jesus who is being referred to in these passages. Both sections mention him as having come down to the earth FROM HEAVEN. To say that a person CAME FROM a certain place means that he first existed IN THAT place before leaving to go to the new location. This statement about Jesus implies that he was alive in heaven before coming down to the Earth.
This same idea is mentioned in John 6:41-42.
“41 The Jews began to complain about Jesus. They complained because Jesus said, “I am the bread that comes down from heaven.” 42 The Jews said, “This is Jesus. We know his father and mother. Jesus is only Joseph’s son. How can he say, ‘I came down from heaven?’”
The context of this passage is pretty clear. The Jews seem to think that Jesus is saying that he was alive in heaven and that he came down from there. From what they are saying it seems pretty clear that the idea of Jesus coming down from heaven was something that was being taught in public. Of course, Jesus was not crazy and thus, again, we find evidence that Jesus experienced a pre-existence before coming down to the earth.
The next passage in the worksheet is John 16:27-28.
“27 No! The Father himself loves you. He loves you because you have loved me. And he loves you because you have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father into the world. Now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”
Again, the context here is very clear. Jesus reveals the entire picture to us. He states that he came from the Father, arrived here on the earth, and is about to return to the Father. This provides us with even more evidence showing that Jesus was alive, in heaven, before he was alive on the earth!
Next we have John 17:5.
“5 And now, Father, give me glory with you. Give me the glory I had with you before the world was made.”
This is perhaps the earliest time reference. In a conversation with the Father, Jesus mentions his being with the Father “before the world was made”.
Another passage in our worksheet is Philippians 2:5-11.
“5 In your lives you must think and act like Christ Jesus. 6 Christ himself was like God in everything. Christ was equal with God. But Christ did not think that being equal with God was something he must keep. 7 He gave up his place with God and agreed to be like a servant. He was born to be a man and became like a servant. 8 And when he was living as a man, he humbled himself by being fully obedient to God. He obeyed even when that caused him to die. And he died on a cross. 9 Christ obeyed God, so God raised Christ to the most important place. God made the name of Christ greater than any other name. 10 God did this because he wants every person to bow for the name of Jesus. Every person in heaven, on earth, and under the earth will bow. 11 Every person will confess, ‘Jesus Christ is Lord.’ When they say this, it will bring glory to God the Father.”
This passage explains more detail about what Jesus mentioned in John 16:27-28. Jesus is first described as having “equality” with the Father. Then it says that he “gave up” that position in order to “be born” on the earth. Then, after accomplishing a mission, he returned to heaven. (This passage will be very important for future lessons in this course.)
The passage in Philippians, together with the one found in John 16, show the full cycle of Jesus’ existence.
Our last verse in the worksheet list was Revelation 22:16. We are going to look at this passage from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible because it has a very literal translation of the original sentence found in the text.
“16 I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
Jesus is speaking in this passage. (He was the one who gave the message of the Book of Revelation.) In this closing statement, he describes himself as being both the “root” and the “offspring” of David. In speaking this way, Jesus is using the word root in a figurative way. In context, the word “root” refers to the ancestor of a person. It is the opposite of the word offspring, which refers to a descendant of a person. To better understand what Jesus is saying here it might help if you think of the illustration of a tree. A tree gets its origin from its roots. A tree then produces its fruit as its offspring. In this statement, Jesus seems to be saying that he is both the root and the fruit of David! He claims to be both the ancestor of David and the descendant of David! How can this be? We know that Jesus physically lived on the earth hundreds of years after David died and so how could Jesus claim to be David’s root (living before David) AND offspring (living after David)? The evidence from our study of this lesson is here for you to consider. You must draw your own conclusion.
As we finish this lesson let’s take an inventory of the evidence and see what conclusion we can draw.
Jesus was not an ordinary fellow, as far as his origin is concerned because even though he was born into the world just like you and I, Jesus was alive long before he was born to his parents, Mary and Joseph! The evidence that we found traces the origin of Jesus back before the time of “the beginning”. In fact, we did not find any indication that there was ever a time when Jesus DID NOT exist! As a closing thought, before you go to answer the test questions for this lesson, please read carefully the statement made about Jesus in Hebrews 13:8.
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