New Testament Teaching
Let us begin by stating the obvious. Only in the New Testament do we read of Jesus as someone who is alive and taking part in the affairs of human beings living on the earth. And, equally importantly, it is only in the New Testament that we read about the God of heaven being described over and over again as “Father”, a term which is extremely rare in the Old Testament Scriptures.
That does not mean that there is no mention of Jesus in the Old Testament. As the coming Jewish Messiah, much is made of the fact that God would send a Saviour and Deliverer. But the Jewish Scriptures only speak of Jesus in the sense of looking forward to his Coming.
He is not spoken of as already existing, but as someone who would exist one day, when the time was right. Let us look at this more closely.
From the time when Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden through to the end of the Old Testament there are repeated prophecies about the future coming of Jesus. Here are some of them.
Old Testament Prophecies
In the Garden of Eden a ‘Seed’ – a descendant of Eve – was promised, who would overcome sin and reverse the problem introduced into the world by Adam and Eve when they disobeyed God.
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15 ).
In Psalm 22, David wrote about Jesus, using many phrases that pointed forward quite explicitly to the crucifixion. For example “they pierced my hands and my feet” and “They parted my garments among them”.
Once the prophet Isaiah met wicked King Ahaz and made one of the most famous prophecies of the Old Testament. He said that a virgin would one day bear a son:
”Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14 ).
The prophet Micah predicted that a ruler would come from the town of Bethlehem to reign over the people of Israel , adding something of much interest to our theme.
“You, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to me the One to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2). This ruler, he says, has been planned from the beginning of time. We will come back to this point later.
Zechariah predicts the entry into Jerusalem by Jesus, an event that occurred just before Jesus was crucified just outside that very city. He too speaks of Jesus as a king but we know from the events themselves that this prophecy is fulfilled when Jesus is about to suffer his greatest trial (see Zechariah 9:9 and Matthew 21:4-5).
None of the men who wrote these things met Jesus. They did not hear his voice; they did not see him crucified; they do not claim that he existed in their time. They all expected him to appear in the future, at a time to be decided by God himself.
Mortality of Jesus
There is an even more important reason for limiting the existence of Jesus to New Testament times. It has to do with the fact that Jesus came into this world to bring salvation to all people. They had become a mortal race because Adam and Eve disobeyed God and the removal of the curse could only be done if another human being could obey Him perfectly. Jesus came to do this.
For that to really happen it had to be possible for Jesus to be tempted as other humans were, and it had to be possible for him to disobey. That is exactly what happened. His temptations were absolutely genuine and so were his accomplishments.
“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Jesus perfectly obeyed his Father and salvation for mankind was accomplished. Jesus rose from the dead and became immortal – the first to rise from the dead never to go back into the grave again.
Exalted by God
The notion that Jesus had lived as a spirit before he was born takes away the power of his triumph over sin and death and the Bible knows nothing of such an idea. Indeed it carefully explains that Jesus was rewarded for his faithful obedience by his Father, who exalted him to sit at His right hand in heaven because he had been faithful. He was not returning to somewhere he had been before, but was being elevated to a new status and position by and with his Father:
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted him and given him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).
Although he was the Son of God, because God was his Father, Jesus was born a man, lived a life serving others, and was willing to go to the cross – all in obedience to his Father. Then, and only then, did God exalt him and give him a name above every name. It is only at this stage in the plan of salvation that Jesus is given the greatest honour. Again the idea that he had existed before his birth does not fit in with these Bible truths.
In the next article in this series we look at those passages that are sometimes said to teach something quite different about the nature and work of the Lord Jesus.