What Child is This?
Tony Cooke

Of all the people who know that Christmas marks the birthday of Jesus Christ, I wonder how many of them know—I mean, really know—who Jesus actually is. What made his birth special, and why all the fanfare? The Gospel accounts written by Matthew and Luke tend to focus on the observable aspects of Jesus’ birth: Joseph and Mary, their lineages, the manger, the angels, the shepherds, and the wise men.

All of that is vital, but I’d like to base this article on two simple verses in John’s Gospel. John’s presentation of Jesus does not begin with the earthly, but provides an eternal, transcendent perspective of Jesus.

John 1:1, 14 (NKJV)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…

There are some profound mysteries in those two simple verses, and yet they are not mysteries that have been hidden from us. Rather, they are mysteries that have been wonderfully revealed to us, so that we, too, can come and worship him.

1. The Pre-Existence of Jesus

In the beginning was the Word (John 1:1a).

The Son of God did not begin existing when he was born in Bethlehem. Rather, he existed from eternity past with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Long before Jesus appeared in the manger, he existed eternally and was vibrantly active throughout time. As a matter of fact, John 1:3 states, “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.”

There is an Old Testament passage that not only predicts the exact location where Jesus would be born, but also refers to his eternal pre-existence.

Micah 5:2 (NKJV)
2 “But 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 are from of old,
From everlasting.”

Many notice the location, Bethlehem, but they miss the end of the verse that says his “goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” This tells us that while Jesus was born and became human in Bethlehem, he had also been very active long before appearing on this earth as a baby. This may sound very mysterious, but something Jesus prayed toward the end of his earthly life gives us insight into his pre-existence.

John 17:5 (NLT)
5 Now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began.

Jesus knew that his life had not begun in Bethlehem, and that he had existed eternally with his Father, “before the world began.” The pre-existence of Jesus comes front and center later when Jesus was clashing with the religious leaders of his day.

John 8:56-58 (NLT)
56 Your father Abraham rejoiced as he looked forward to my coming. He saw it and was glad.”
57 The people said, “You aren’t even fifty years old. How can you say you have seen Abraham?”
58 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I AM!”

In this amazing statement, Jesus boldly declares that before Abraham lived on this earth, that he himself already existed. In the Greek, Jesus said egō eimi, which means, “I exist.” In other words, Jesus was not saying that he was born before Abraham lived, but “that He never came into being at all but existed before Abraham had a being; in other words, existed before creation, or eternally.”[1]

2. The Trinity

…and the Word was with God (John 1:1b).

The “Word,” was with God. This clearly implies that there was more than one person, and this intimates the idea of the Trinity. Though the Holy Spirit is not mentioned by name in this verse, he is seen in countless verses throughout the Bible, and we begin to get the idea that there is both unity and plurality in the Godhead.

We begin to see this as early as Genesis 1:26 where God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” Notice the plurality there. But the very next verse emphasizes the unity of God, “So God created man in His own image” (Genesis 1:27). We also see this unity/plurality element in the calling of Isaiah. He writes, “Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”

It may be a mystery to us, something beyond our mental comprehension, but throughout Scripture we see this perfect teamwork between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as they work cooperatively and collaboratively for our salvation. The typical pattern we observe is that the Father plans, the Son performs, and the Spirit perfects.

3. The Deity of Jesus

“…and the Word was God” (John 1:1c).

This “Word” was not only pre-existent with the Father and the Holy Spirit, but he himself was God. It should be clear by now that Jesus was and is the most unique person in the universe. Paul tells us that Jesus was “in very nature God,” but that He “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped” (Philippians 2:6, NIV). Similarly, we are told that “in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body” (Colossians 2:9, NLT).

The prophets of the Old Testament prefaced their messages with the phrase, “Thus says the Lord.” Jesus, however, came saying, “Verily I say unto you.” He was the Lord! Men of God and angels always refused to be worshipped in Scripture, but Jesus was often worshipped and never rejected it (Matthew 2:2, 11; 8:2; 9:18, 15:22, etc.). When Christians sing, “Oh come let us adore him, Christ the Lord,” they are rightly acknowledging Jesus’ Deity.

4. The Humanity of Jesus

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

Jesus had always existed along with the Father and the Spirit, and he himself was God. However, a miracle happened when Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and was born of a young virgin named Mary. Nothing like this had ever happened, and nothing like this will ever happen again.

After Paul said that Jesus was God, he proceeded to say that “he gave up his divine privileges” and that “he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being” (Philippians 2:6-7, NLT). By his life, Jesus demonstrated what it means to live and walk in a covenant with the Father, and through his death and resurrection, Jesus made it possible for us to have a relationship with God as well.

Hebrews 2:14-16 (NLT) makes perfectly clear why the Eternal Son of God had to become human.

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.

Thank God that Jesus is everything the Bible says he is. And thank God that he was willing to come and lay his life down for us that we might live! The “rest of the story” is that even though he died for our sin, he rose from the dead and is alive forevermore.

Before closing, let me share a couple of verses from Charles Wesley’s famous hymn, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”

Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of Earth
Born to give them second birth

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate deity
Pleased as man with men to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel

Concluding Thought

When we speak of things such as pre-existence, the Trinity, and the Incarnation (God taking on flesh), it can really challenge our brains. Keep in mind that we don’t figure God out; rather, God reveals himself to us. Peering into the profound things that God has revealed about himself should never cause us to become haughty, thinking that we have figured out something so complex.

Our response to divine mysteries should always be that of worship, awe, and wonder—never pride. Thomas à Kempis asked, “What good is it for you to be able to discuss the Trinity with great profundity, if you lack humility, and thereby offend the Trinity?”

O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

[1] Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, vol. 2 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 145.