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John 3:12-13 (ESV):

12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

John 3:31-32 (ESV):

31 He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony.

In what sense did Jesus descend/come from heaven? Is Jesus implying that he already existed in heaven prior to his incarnation?

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The NT certainly asserts, using the precedents of the OT that Jesus existed before His incarnation.

We see this many times in the Bible, especially in the Gospel of John, such as:

  • John 1:1-3 - In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made, and without Him nothing was made that has been made.
  • John 1:14 - The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
  • John 1:15 - John testified concerning Him. He cried out, saying, “This is He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because He was before me.’ ”
  • John 1:18 - No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is at the Father’s side, has made Him known.
  • John 3:13 - No one has ascended into heaven except the One who descended from heaven—the Son of Man.
  • John 3:16, 17 - For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. [NOTE - God cannot send someone who does not exist!]
  • John 3:31 - The One [= Jesus] who comes from above is above all. The one who is from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks as one from the earth. The One who comes from heaven is above all.
  • John 6:38 - For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but to do the will of Him who sent Me.
  • John 8:38 - I speak of what I have seen in the presence of the Father
  • John 8:58 - “Truly, truly, I tell you,” Jesus declared, “before Abraham was [born], I am!"
  • John 13:1, 3 - It was now just before the Passover Feast, and Jesus knew that His hour had come to leave this world and return to the Father. Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the very end. ... Jesus knew that the Father had delivered all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was returning to God.
  • John 16:27, 28 - for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”
  • John 17:5 - And now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world existed. See also V24.

The same idea is taught in other places as well.

  • Phil 2:5-8 - Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross.
  • Col 1:16, 17 - For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
  • Heb 1:2, 3 - But in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature, upholding all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
  • 1 Peter 1:20 - He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.
  • Rev 22:13 - I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

We even find this same idea in Messianic prophecies of Jesus -

  • Micah 5:2 - But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come forth for Me One to be ruler over Israel— One whose origins are of old, from the days of eternity.

Thus, Jesus always existed, created the universe, was incarnated, died and rose to return to heaven. He certainly could not have been an angel before the incarnation because Heb 1:5 precludes this -

  • For to which of the angels did God ever say: “You are My Son; today I have become Your Father”? Or again: “I will be His Father, and He will be My Son”?

Further, John 3:16 says that the Father gave the Son, suggesting that Jesus was the Son at the time that God gave Him - when He was sent.

OT Epiphanes

We observe the clear statement several times in the NT that no human has ever seen God the father:

  • John 1:18 - No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
  • John 6:46 - No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. (See also Matt 18:10.)
  • 1 John 4:12 - No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God remains in us, and His love is perfected in us.
  • Isa 64:4 - From ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides You, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.

This last reference is significant because it says that people have seen God, that is The LORD, YHWH (V8), despite what the NT texts assert. Here are more examples:

  • Gen 18:1, 10 - Then the LORD appeared to Abraham by the Oaks of Mamre in the heat of the day, while he was sitting at the entrance of his tent. ... Then the LORD said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year, and your wife Sarah will have a son!”
  • Gen 32:30 - So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared."
  • Ex 3:5, 6 - “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then He said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
  • Josh 5:13 - 6:2 - And the LORD said to Joshua, “Behold, I have delivered Jericho into your hand, along with its king and its mighty men of valor. (V2)
  • Judges 6:14 - The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel from the hand of Midian. Am I not sending you?” [See also V16]
  • Eze 1 - the prophet's vision of God; many elements of which are repeated in Rev 4 & 5.
  • See also instances of the “Angel of the LORD” clearly being the LORD - Gen 16:7-13, 22:11-17, 32:24-30, 48:16, Ex 3:2-6, 32:34, Num 22:22-35, Josh 5:13-15, Judg 2:1-4, 6:11-23, 13:3-23, Isa 63:9, Dan 3:25, 28, Hos 12:4, 5, Zech 3:1-7, Mal 3:1, Rev 8:3-5, 10:1-10, 18:1, 20:1-4.
  • A closely related phrase, “Angel of God” who is clearly God as in Gen 6:13, 8:15, 9:8, 17, 15:13, 17:3, 4, 21:12, 16-21, 35:1, 10, Ex 4:3-8, 6:2, 23:20, 21, Deut 1:6, 1 Kings 12:22, etc. See also Acts 10:3, 4, Gal 4:14.

The very fact that the NT so confidently asserts that no human has seen God the Father, but many people have seen God/YHWH in the OT means the inescapable conclusion is such epiphanies were of the pre-incarnate Jesus as per John 8:58 – “Truly, truly, I tell you,” Jesus declared, “before Abraham was born, I am!

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  • One of the strongest arguments is the visible God and invisible God of the OT in my opinion. May 5 at 12:34
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Passages about Jesus as God's right shows he is now in heaven, but does come from heaven and from the Father mean he was literally in heaven before he was born?

This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. (Acts 2:32–33)

The presence of πάλιν in John 16:28 gives the sense of returning to the Father. Note the more frequent use of πάλιν in the Septuagint (LXX) is to with translating the Hebrew verb meaning return. That is also a common meaning in the New Testament when used with a word meaning come/go. Since leaving the Earth again doesn't make sense, πάλιν goes with going to the Father; thus returning to the Father. This gives the sense that since Jesus literally returned to the Father in heaven, he also literally came from heaven and descended to be born on Earth.

 ⸋ἐξῆλθον ⸀παρὰ τοῦ πατρὸς⸌ καὶ ἐλήλυθα εἰς τὸν κόσμον· πάλιν ἀφίημι τὸν κόσμον καὶ πορεύομαι πρὸς τὸν πατέρα.* (John 16:28, NA28)

 I came from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I am leaving the world and going to the Father.” (John 16:28, HCSV)

Note from the discussion at In John 16:28 shouldn't πάλιν go with πορεύομαι πρὸς τὸν πατέρα meaning "I'm returning to the Father." no matter how this verse is interpreted, it expresses the pre-existence of Christ.

Use of πάλιν in the LXX; שׁוּב is how a modern Hebrew translation translates πάλιν in John 16;28

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"...how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? (in John 3:12, ESV) along with "He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony" (John 3:32, ESV) also implies that Jesus was in heaven to witness things in heaven. "...he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man." (in John 3:13) also implies that the Son of Man, Jesus Christ was literally in heaven before his birth.

This is Jesus' strongest statement of his pre-existence:

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58, ESV)

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Most definitely and unequivocally, Jesus says that He existed in Heaven and descended from there, without, though, leaving the Father, for it is said that while He has descended He simultaneously has remained with the Father in Heaven (John 3:13) ("the Son of the Man who is in Heaven"). It is eternal and changeless theological 'momentum' that God-the Logos is from the beginning, i.e. eternally, with God-the Father (John 1:1-2), and this "with" (πρός) does not change even a tiny bit at the Logos' Incarnation, i.e. His coming to human history as the person of Jesus Christ.

Actually, when He says that He was/is in Heaven, He means the same Heaven in which the Father is (Luke 11:2), and in this Heaven there is no-one among the creatures, for even the highest of angels or archangels cannot say that they are on the same dimension with the Father, unless they commit the same act of a sacrilege committed by Satan. The Son says this, and that's why He is the only one also who knows the Father in a special way. What is this special and unique way? He knows the Father as the Father knows Him, i.e. absolutely (Luke 10:22; John 10:15). The mutuality and reciprocal entirety of knowledge is impossible to be interpreted in any other way than by acclaiming the Son's equal dignity, i.e. equal divinity with the Father, for which reason He is co-worshipped with the Father (John 5:23; Revelation 5:13).

And this is the meaning that the Son was/is with the Father in Heaven both before and after the Incarnation, for neither Father could ever have lost full knowledge of the Son, nor Son could ever have lost full knowledge of the Father, and therefore, He is always in Heaven with the Father, for what is Heaven if not knowledge of God, which is the same as being with God? - and the Son and the Father eternally know each other changelessly, thus both are one God in this unbreakable unity of mutual knowledge, which means that They have a mutual unity and sameness of divine Being as well. Later in theology this insight was expressed by term of unity of Godhead as the one οὐσία (essence) of God, while the distinction of the Knowers - as ὑποστάσεις (persons).

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Is Jesus implying that he already existed in heaven prior to his incarnation?

Yes, John declares his pre-existence in 1:18

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

How did Jesus reveal God?

By descending from heaven, Jesus took on human flesh. He descended from the Father in order to disclose Him so that humans could interact with the Son.

Proverbs 30:4 expresses similar ascending and descending ideas:

Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in His hands? Who has bound up the waters in His cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is the name of His Son--surely you know!

Note the Son's association with the creator who could do all these things in the rhetorical questions.

In what sense did Jesus descend/come from heaven?

Jesus, the Son of God, descended from the Father in heaven, by taking on human flesh.

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  • This Proverb is expressing that no one can do any of the things in verse 4. Can you explain how you see Jesus in this verse? Is it because you saw the word son in this verse?
    – Yeddu
    May 4 at 14:22
  • I added. Thanks.
    – Tony Chan
    May 4 at 14:30
  • What did you add Tony? I am new to this tool. Can you help me with my question to you?
    – Yeddu
    May 4 at 14:34
  • @YedduPrasad clicked on edited right above Tony Chan’s avatar May 5 at 12:36
  • I am still not able to understand how Tony saw Jesus here There are 5 things that Agur is saying are impossible for humans .... 1. Who has gone up to heaven and come down? No one 2. Whose hands have gathered up the wind? No one 3. Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak? No one 4. Who has established all the ends of the earth? No one 5. What is his name, and what is the name of his son? No one Looks like Tony uses a lot of Parallels, Mirror images, Typologies etc... But then you can prove anything based on Tanakh. There ere 25000 verses in Tanakh. Am I missing something here.
    – Yeddu
    May 5 at 12:51
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Just to clarify the idea that Jesus was the physical manifestations in the old Testament, (some even confidently proclaiming he is the Yahweh)

That seems to be stretching it. Yahweh is God. The Father Son and Holy Spirit = God. To delineate the distinctions of the economical trinity in the NT and try and pick out instance to match them up on the OT is unnecessary.

It seems clear, at least to me that when the Apostles say no one has even seen or heard God's voice - what he means is almighty all-encompassing Omnipresent God simply cannot be seen or heard. We have form and are obviously visible. God uses angels, visions, and manifestations until Jesus and even after(Christ's baptism, Transfiguration). Jesus is the only appearance or voice that is not a manifestation.

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  • Welcome to Bible Hermeneutics SE and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others.
    – agarza
    Sep 15 at 21:44
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In what sense did Jesus descend/come from heaven?

As with many things about Jesus (and the bible in general), we must be certain to grasp what is literal and what is figurative.

Did he literally come from 'heaven' to earth to be born as a child? No.

First, we should clarify who Jesus is so that the following comments make sense. Jesus is the human son born to Mary by the power of God's spirit in her to conceive. Before his birth/conception he was not. Jesus before his birth was one thing only. A prophecy

  • the logos is the source of Jesus. The word, will, wisdom of God.

1 John 1:1 states clearly, apart from the confusion John 1:1-3 has caused because of a fussed over translation/interpretation which somehow makes the logos a 'person'.1 John 1:1 is explored more here.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched--this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.

Can we seriously consider this persistent expression of the logos - a which to be an eternal God person? No; clear-headed and plainly read, this logos description accompanies John 1 introducing the logos, which became flesh.

There is no need for this logos to travel from God's heaven to enter Mary.

Luke 1:35, ‘He (Jesus) will be holy, and called the son of God’.

Jesus starts out sinless as sin is passed through the father - from Adam. Rom 5 There is no need to construct a pre-existence to arrive at some state of prior holiness. He is a man, who is holy/without sin and this qualifies him to be the perfect sacrifice - the Lamb of God.

1 Pet 1:18-20 you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 20 For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you.

God knew Jesus was going to come - He knew what he would have to do. Who else but God and perhaps the heavenly folk could 'foreknow'? He is not foreknown by men.

We see from the next verses, coming down, sent etc does not require a literal understanding.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, with whom there is no change or shifting shadow.James 1:17

John 6:38 ‘For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.’

Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. John 6:32

There came a man who was sent from God. His name was John. John 1:6

  • the odd idea that Jesus had to pre-exist to be sent is without merit. God sent His logos by His spirit to produce a child in Mary. This very action is a sending of God Himself into the world in this new child, embryo as His representative - filled with deity. Is God filled with deity? No, He just IS God. Jesus is 'filled with God' because he is not God. Col 2:9

Jesus was not of this world - why? Because he was without sin. That's it! Jesus told the disciples they too were not of this world. Why? Because they were his, therefore without sin leading to death - forgiven in grace and the sacrifice that would cover them - just as it covered the saints of OT retrospectively.

They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. John 17:5

We are falsely drawn to conclude Jesus 'Came from Heaven' literally as there are several verses from John with,

  • But now I am going back to the Father who sent me 16:5
  • I came from the Father... now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father." v 28
  • his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. 13:1
  • he had come from God and would return to God
  • I am returning to him who is my Father 20:17
  • I am going back to the Father 14:28

There is no words in the Gr. text for "returning" or "going back". They are all additions! Why did they add these? To propagate the theory that Jesus is more than a holy man - he had to be made out to be God too! These are not the clumsy additions of a careless scribe, but intentional efforts to rewrite the text with a bias.

How was Jesus from heaven?

Jesus, while on earth in the flesh, was the presence of God - the Immanuel. This does not make him God, but is the representative of God. Nothing in this world is 'of' God in a representative sense like Jesus was - holy sinless, beyond reproach in all things. The prophets, the tabernacle, temple were also representative, but they were only shadows of the one to come.

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come, He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made by hands and is not a part of this creation. Heb 9:11

Not part of creation? No, this creation is corrupted and under the law of sin and death - as high priest, Jesus is not - not anymore. Rom 6:9

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, because God was with him. Acts 10:38

His mission was to be as God on earth - if you have seen me, you have seen the Father. Of course this has little to do with 'seeing' with the eyes. This is about knowing the Father in ways not previously possible. He is invisible after all, so the point is seeing with the heart and mind who God is, through the example, life and works of His son.

if you knew Me, you would know My Father also. John 8:19

Jesus is indeed heavenly - being of God, as a human son, and sent, as a servant to God to transform, through his death, creation into a living and eternal glory of God.

There are many ways to discover that Jesus is not God. For those with eyes and hearts to see, the bible is filled with such instruction. And as 'not God', he certainly did not literally descend from heaven to become the son of God.

+++++++++++++++

We see in other answers lines like, "Jesus, the Son of God, descended from the Father in heaven, by taking on human flesh." No bible verse speaks this. The 'logos' became flesh, not Jesus. The unswerving need to speak a traditional dogma not remotely representing biblical truth is quite bewildering.

So desperate is the desire to maintain tradition, we see;

  • John 1:1-3 quoted as if it was, "in the beginning was Jesus". It is not. He was not, because he was not yet born.
  • "before Abraham was, I am". Totally ignoring Gal 3:16
  • there are so many, they are addressed elsewhere. Why are these misquoted and reimagined verses, read in isolation, used to defend tradition? Because it has become more important that the plain text God has provided.
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  • gotta love the DV's When the bible is read and expressed correctly, and no one cares to object with any biblical truth. The tide just might be turning and invoking ire is a good sign. When Christ spoke truth they wanted to stone him! Objecting with proof-texts is so last century.
    – steveowen
    May 6 at 0:04
  • 1
    I haven't downvoted, but I think I would be very interested in reading your comments about each of the other answers, particularly Dottatd's. May 6 at 0:08
  • that he starts with, "The NT certainly asserts, using the precedents of the OT that Jesus existed before His incarnation. We see this many times in the Bible, especially in the Gospel of John, such as: John 1:1-3" I wouldn't bother! Just the same old 'in the beginning was Jesus ' nonsense.
    – steveowen
    May 6 at 0:18
  • Maybe you should have UV an answer that presents the bible for what it DOES say! Isn't that why you ask so many questions?
    – steveowen
    May 6 at 0:27
  • 1
    How do you distinguish between what the Bible says and your interpretation of what the Bible says? May 6 at 0:30

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