From Eternity to Bethlehem
Two thousand years ago, a baby, whose name was Jesus, was born in Bethlehem of Judea. The world has never been the same. Times change. Habits change. Nations forget their history. They never forget Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus really was born, lived, died, resurrected and ascended. These are historical facts. However, there is a sense in which we need to be careful as we speak of Jesus Christ as an "historical person." You see, the Person who was (is) Jesus, not only lived as an historical Person, but He has always existed.
Some 700 years before Jesus was born, the prophet Micah stated: "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 old, from everlasting" (Micah 5:2). Observe that this One described as coming from Bethlehem to be Ruler in Israel is One whose "goings forth are from long ago from days of eternity" (NASV). E. B. Pusey wrote: "Here words, denoting eternity and used of the eternity of God, are united together to impress the belief of the Eternity of God, the Son" (70).
Here we have the existence of the Messiah before His birth in time and space. He who would be born in Bethlehem was already in existence-during it, before it, and through all eternity. Jesus who was from everlasting, the Ancient of Days, became the infant of days!
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:1-3). Here are some of the most profound verses in all the Bible. They take the reader from Bethlehem (John 1:14) back to eternity. The term was (verse one) is from the Greek word en and, “used in all three clauses of this verse, is expressive in each case of continuous timeless existence” (Bernard, John 2). It is descriptive of continuous action in past time. In other words, in the beginning He already existed and had been existing before the beginning.
As to designation, John says He was the Word-the Word behind which there is thought, purpose and reason. As to relationship, John says He was with God. This involves working with interaction. As to His nature and essence, John says He was God. Here is deity and equality with God (cf. Philippians 2:5-6). As to His relationship with the physical world, John says that everything came into existence through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into existence. The Greek construction here shows indirect agency. The Father was the direct agent, and the Word (Who became Jesus of Nazareth) was the indirect agent (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:13-17; Hebrews 1:2). Before Bethlehem-when the morning stars serenaded the advent of the infant Earth-He placed His signature on every page of creation. Before He rested on the bosom of a mother without an earthly father, He rested on the bosom of the Father without a mother (Lee, Top Ten 112).
One of the great statements in the Sacred Scriptures, which implies the marvelous, glorified, pre-existent state of our Lord prior to Bethlehem, is the following: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor . . .” (2 Corinthians 8:9). When was Jesus rich? Certainly not at Bethlehem or thereafter on Earth. He was born in a borrowed stable, rowed the Sea of Galilee in a borrowed boat, fed the multitudes with borrowed food, rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed beast, ate His last meal in a borrowed room, and was buried in a borrowed tomb! As Bernard states concerning the aforementioned statement by Paul: “There is nowhere in St. Paul a more definite statement of his belief in the pre-existence of Christ before His incarnation” (Second Corinthians 87).
He was rich in glory with the Father (John 17:5) before all things (Colossians 1:17), when He made all things (John 1:3), when, as the Rock, He followed Israel and gave her spiritual drink (1 Corinthians 10:4), and when He inspired the revelation of the prophets who spoke of Him (1 Peter 1:10-12). But then came Bethlehem-and He became poor that through His poverty we might become rich. Milton (qtd. in Lee, Grapes 11) wrote:
That glorious form, that light insufferable,
And that far-beaming blaze of majesty,
Wherewith he wont at heaven’s high council-table,
To sit the midst of trinal unity.
He laid aside, and here with us to be,
Forsook the courts of everlasting day,
And chose with us a darksome house of clay.
— John Milton
“And the word became flesh” (John 1:14). The word became in this verse is a verb denoting the commencement of human existence in time. It is contrasted with the verb was (John 1:1) which is a verb of continual timeless existence.
THE WORD BECAME FLESH... He who had eternal pre-existence became what He was not in eternity, viz. flesh. He came down from the heights of Deity to the depths of humanity (cf. Philippians 2:5-7; Hebrews 1:8; 2:17). He who was the Ancient of Days became the infant of days. He created the angels (Colossians 1:16), but was made a little lower than the angels (Hebrews 2:9). He could say, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58), yet He was born two thousand years after Abraham. He made woman from the side of man (Genesis 2:22; John 1:3), but was wrapped in swaddling cloths by a woman's hands and laid in a manger “because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).
His birth into the world by a virgin was a translation as well as an incarnation. It was a transfer of His Person from an eternal existence beyond time and space to an existence measured in time and space. In fact, so significant is this event that the date lines of all nations are bent around His manger cradle. History is HIS-STORY! “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).
Bernard, J. H. A. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Gospel According to St. John. 1928. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1958.
- - -. The Expositor's Greek Testament: The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Vol. 3. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1903. 5 vols.
Lee, Robert G. Grapes from Gospel Vines. Nashville: Broadman, 1976.
- - -. Top Ten of Robert G. Lee. 1971. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976.
Pusey, E. B. The Minor Prophets. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1885.