The Missouri Baptist Convention, through its High Street Press imprint, has just released a new resource for personal or group study titled Jesus Before Bethlehem: What Every Christian Should Know About the Angel of the LORD.
Written by the MBC’s Rob Phillips, the 338-page book explores dozens of Old Testament appearances by a figure often identified as “the angel of the LORD.” This figure not only speaks for God; he speaks as God. He appears as a man, a voice from heaven, a flame within a thorn bush, and a divine presence in a pillar of cloud and fire – all of which come to us as Christophanies, or appearances of Jesus before Bethlehem.
The book addresses the question: What was Jesus doing prior to his conception in Mary’s womb? While we see the Father and the Holy Spirit actively engaged in human affairs across the pages of the Old Testament, the other member of the Trinity (Jesus) is foreshadowed in messianic prophecies but otherwise absent from the earth. Or is he?
Jesus Before Bethlehem is designed to show how the eternal Son of God has always taken a personal interest in those he created to be his imagers on earth.
When we talk about the “Incarnation,” we mean the eternal Son of God took on human flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. As such, Jesus is one person in two distinct but undivided natures: human and divine.
These two natures work together as the eternal Son of God adds sinless humanity to His deity via the miracle of the virgin birth, which we celebrate tomorrow.
Let’s briefly explore six key passages of Scripture that help us understand what it means when the apostle John writes, “the Word became flesh.”
John 1:14 – “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
The eternal Son of God always had a divine nature. He was with God in the beginning, and John makes it clear He was God (John 1:1). In the Incarnation, He added a real human nature and thus became both God and man.
The word “dwelt” may be translated “tabernacled.” Just as the divine presence was with ancient Israelites in the pillar of cloud and fire, the tabernacle, and the temple, Yahweh now manifested Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, the God-Man.
Rom. 1:3-4 – “concerning his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was a descendant of David according to the flesh and was appointed to be the powerful Son of God according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection of the dead.”
Paul recognizes Jesus’ humanity through His ancestry as a descendant of King David. His divine nature as the unique Son of God, however, is proven through His miraculous resurrection from the dead.
Rom. 9:5 – “The ancestors are theirs [Israelites], and from them, by physical descent, came the Christ, who is God over all, praised forever. Amen.”
Jesus’ human nature is linked to His Jewish lineage, and His divine nature makes Him “God over all.”
A few translations try to soften this clear claim of deity. The Contemporary English Version, for example, renders it, “I pray that God, who rules over all, will be praised forever!”
However, as Kenneth Samples points out in God Among Sages, “Contextually, this reference to ‘God over all’ applies to the person of Christ and is not a separate doxological reference to God.”
With respect to Jesus’ ancestry, we should note that Matthew and Luke list different genealogies. While much has been written about this, it may help to consider that Matthew is writing to a predominantly Jewish audience and thus follows the line of Joseph (Jesus’ legal father) through David’s son Solomon. Meanwhile, Luke has a broader audience in mind, so he follows the line of Mary (Jesus’ blood relative) through David’s son Nathan.
Phil. 2:5-7 – “Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity.”
This passage reflects a primitive Christian hymn. From all eternity, Jesus is of the same essence as God and thus is God. Even though, in eternity past, Jesus possessed the nature and prerogatives of deity, He did not cling to His privileged position at the Father’s right hand. Rather, He humbled Himself, adding sinless humanity to His deity and thus becoming the God-Man.
Col. 2:9 – “For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ.” As the NIV renders it, “all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”
In this passage, the apostle Paul responds to heretical views that later found their place in Gnosticism – namely, the categorical denial that Christ had come in the flesh. Paul emphatically states that Jesus is full divinity wrapped in human skin. The Incarnation is central to Paul’s writings here and elsewhere.
1 John 4:2– “This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God …”
The apostle John counters first-century Docetics, a heretical group that embraces the deity of Christ but denies His humanity, arguing that Jesus only appears to be human (from the Greek dokeo, “to seem”). John makes “God in the flesh” a true test of Christian orthodoxy, arguing that every true “spirit” – a person claiming divine gifting for service – upholds the doctrine of the God-Man.
These verses illustrate the significance of the Incarnation. As theologian Gerald Bray writes, “The Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father and fully equal to him in every respect, became a man so that he could unite us to himself, pay the price for our sins, and bring us back to God.”
Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet. In fact, they teach Jesus was one of the greatest of the 124,000 prophets Allah sent to mankind – second only to Muhammad, the final prophet of Islam.
The Qur’an mentions Jesus in more than 25 places, always with honor. Jesus is called the son of Mary, the Messiah, a servant of God, a messenger of God, a word from God, and a sign from God.
At the same time, the Qur’an denies the deity of Christ, as well as the elements of His saving work on the cross, including his death, burial, and resurrection.
But if Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet, we may rightly ask if Jesus ever prophesied about Himself. If so, did His prophecies come true? We have to go to the Bible for answers, for the Qur’an offers little in response.
This is the second in a two-part series on the whereabouts of Jesus between His death and resurrection.
In the previous column we addressed different views about where Jesus went between His death and resurrection.
Now, we briefly examine five New Testament passages that in some way touch on the subject. Keep in mind the most biblically faithful view: Jesus neither went to hell (Gehenna) nor to Hades (the temporary abode of the dead) but to heaven after His death.
Acts 2:27 – “Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption“ (KJV).
In this portion of Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, he quotes from Ps. 16:10, a psalm of David and a Messianic psalm that Peter applies to Jesus.
The word translated “hell” in the King James rendering of Acts 2:27 is the Greek term Hades, which is similar to the Hebrew word Sheol. In both cases, it is a flexible term that most often refers to the temporary abode of the dead but can mean “grave.”
The New International Version (NIV) translates this, “Because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.” This is preferable because the context emphasizes that Christ rose bodily from the dead as opposed to David, whose body is still there.
The Christian Standard Bible (CSB) renders this passage, “because you will not abandon me in Hades or allow your holy one to see decay.” This translation acknowledges that David’s soul went to Hades without assigning Jesus’ soul to the same place.
This is the first in a two-part series on the whereabouts of Jesus between His death and resurrection.
One of the more puzzling questions about the redemptive work of Christ is where His soul went between death and resurrection.
The Gospel writers confirm that Jesus’ body was placed in a tomb after His death, and remained there until His resurrection.
But what about the immaterial part of Jesus – namely His soul and / or spirit?
One view is stated in the Apostles’ Creed: “He [Jesus] descended into Hell; the third day He rose again from the dead.”
The meaning of this phrase is much debated. The traditional interpretation is that Christ went to the abode of the dead to preach the gospel to Old Testament saints in order to set them free for the full experience of heaven.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church embraces this view, as do many Protestants.
However, theologian Wayne Grudem points out that the troublesome phrase, “He descended into Hell,” is a “late intruder into the Apostles’ Creed that never belonged there in the first place and that, on historical and Scriptural grounds, deserves to be removed.”