Pre-Existence of Christ
Most Christological scholarship agrees that the gospels portray Christ as pre-existing his earthly incarnation. John famously makes this claim by referring to Jesus as the Word (John 1:1), and subsequently asserting that the Word became flesh while still manifesting divine glory (v 14).
Jesus himself upset the Pharisees by claiming to have existed before Abraham (John 8:58). Not only this, but in the same statement He claimed equality with God, who designated Himself the I AM in early Old Testament discourse with Moses (Exodus 3:14).
The idea however raises difficult Christological questions pertaining to the ontology of the pre-incarnate Christ, and His heavenly identity. Theologically, however, it is essential to the validity of the message of the gospel; only God could be an efficacious substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of humankind.
The Nativity of Christ
Christ is pictured as having been born of a woman (Matthew 1:16), as all humans are. The nativity concerns His conception, birth and the circumstances surrounding both. His conceptions is shown to have been or spiritual cause. In Luke 1: 28 – 31 angel Gabriel relates this to Mary. As for the means of the conception, Gabriel reveals that it will be the result of the activity (overshadowing, KJV) of the Holy Spirit (v 35).
The birth of Jesus Christ is presented as a natural, biological parturition. Mary comes to term in due time, and gives birth naturally to baby Jesus. The circumstances surrounding the birth, however, retain a supernatural aspect. A star guides the Magi (Matthew 1:9), angels heralded the event (Luke 2:8 – 14) and the birth event itself is circumstantially compelled to occur in Bethlehem in fulfilment of prophecy (Micah 5:2).
Divine Enfleshment – The Incarnation
The incarnation of Christ refers to the specific ontological and existential reality into which Christ is conceived and born as a human being. Its concerns are the ontology of His being: He was flesh and blood (John 1:14, Romans 8:3, Philippians 2:6 – 8), He was capable of yielding to temptation (Matthew 4:1 – 3), of experiencing physical pain and suffering (Luke 22:15, 44, Matthew 27:46) and death (Mark 15:37).
The incarnation literally refers then to the taking up by Christ of human attributes. It derives form the etymological Latin root carnus meaning flesh. It is the enfleshing of Christ.
Again, the concept of Christ’s incarnation raises Christological difficulties. What was the nature of the flesh? Was it wholly human? If so must it not have had the full complement of male and female genotypes? Was it predisposed to sin as all other human flesh is, as a result of the fall of Adam? Or did Christ have an unfallen nature though human? Indeed it has presented extreme Docetist views that Christ may only have had the appearance of humanity, and that his flesh body was actually a phantasm, a spiritual substance resembling human flesh. Questions also emerge on several divine attributes. Did Christ retain omniscience or at least ready access to it? Did He retain a memory of His heavenly glory or did He merely learn of it from Scripture?
Soteorologially, though, and perhaps more importantly, the incarnation of Christ is pivotal to the efficacy of His substitutionary sacrifice. Just as only God could sufficiently atone for sin, only a man could sufficiently demonstrate that the law is “keepable”, and thereby exonerate the charges of tyranny against God in the context of the Great Controversy.
Servant-King – The Condescension
That God became a man is the most extreme form of condescension possible in the universe. When understood as a title, “God” entails a position of command, ownership and respect unmatched in any other role of the Universe. “God” is the apex of supremacy attainable by any being. Lucifer coveted this station, but Christ had it.
The condescension, then, is Christ’s desceinding (Latin descendere), to be with (Latin com) us, as revealed in His name Immanuel. Yet the condescenscion is not only one of company or association (John 1:11), but also of nature and stature.
In John 4:6 Jesus is seen to have become tired. In His former glory this would not have been possible (Isaiah 40:28, Psalm 121:4). He is shown to have had become hungry in Matthew 4:2.
Jesus is pictured as a servant (Luke 22:27) to his disciples. He is shown to be subservient, even in distress, to the abuse of men, verbal (John 8:41, Luke 7:34) and physical (Matthew 27:27 – 31).
Whatever philosophical difficulties are posed by the pre-existence, nativity, incarnation and condescension of Christ, none is more difficult than the task of bringing a legitimately won salvation to a fallen, degenerate race. This is the great achievement of Jesus; the great accomplishment of the Son of man, which must above all other questions, be our wonder and our study.