CHRIST’S PREINCARNATE GLORY
by Bob Wheeler
This is the time of year when the Western world celebrates Christmas. But what exactly is it that we are celebrating? The snow and the sleigh ride? The candles and holly? Or is it the birth of the babe in Bethlehem? And more to the point, who exactly was this babe in Bethlehem?
If Jesus were just an ordinary human being His birthday would hardly be worth noting. There have been thousands of great men and women down through history whose birthdays we have entirely forgotten. But what the angel told Mary was extraordinary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35; NKJV). Jesus was no ordinary human being, and His birth marks a decisive turning point in history.
In a remarkable passage of Scripture the apostle Paul reflected on who Jesus was and His significance for us today. The passage in question is Philippians 2:5-11. Paul is urging the Philippian believers to treat each other with humility and love, and he points to Christ as the preeminent example. What Christ did in coming into the world was, in fact, unparalleled in history.
Let us begin by considering the position Christ was in before He came into the world. Our text tells us that He was “in the form of God” and was “equal with God” (Phil. 2:6). To understand what this means practically speaking consider the following. First of all, it meant that from all eternity Christ enjoyed uninterrupted communion with God the Father. John tells us that Jesus was “in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18), signifying a deeply close and personal relationship. Jesus Himself said that “the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does . . .” (John 5:10).
Moreover in heaven Jesus was fully recognized and honored as the Son of God. Jesus could pray in the garden, “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5). Even now in heaven every creature says “Blessing and honor and glory and power / Be to Him who sits on the throne, / And to the Lamb, forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13). God the Son occupied a position of preeminence second only to that of the Father Himself.
And, of course, it goes without saying that in heaven Jesus led an existence that was completely free from all the misery and woe that characterizes human life here on earth. There is no temptation or sin, sickness or disease, no poverty, no natural disasters, no pain or sorrow of any kind. God’s will is always done there (Matthew 6:10) and “neither moth and rust destroys” and “thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).
All of this Jesus enjoyed without interruption. And yet our text says that He “did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,” or, as it might be translated, “a thing to be grasped” (ASV, RSV, NASV, ESV). The idea here is that Jesus did not hang on to His position as a piece of prized booty, but was willing to forego all of it for our sakes. And this Paul cites as the preeminent example of selfless devotion to the greater good.
If Christ was willing to do that for us, shouldn’t we be willing to do as much for each other?