The religious leaders of Israel were the enemies of Jesus. These were men who considered themselves to be wise and intellectual. They were the most learned, well educated men of the nation and looked down on the general populous as uneducated peasants. Oddly enough, the ordinary people they abused with their authority also looked up to them as leaders and spiritual guides. These men were revered.
One of the reasons these wise and learned leaders hated Jesus was that he reversed these traditional roles. Jesus gave power to the little people, to the ordinary man, to a fisherman, or a despised tax collector, or to a spurned prostitute. He taught the ordinary people how to think for themselves. Soon, simple folk were challenging these leaders, showing them up as hypocrites.
Jesus did not revere these men, because he knew that what matters to God isn’t your education, nor the power of your brain but the depth of your heart. Jehovah can give you more learning and more intelligence, but it’s up to you to change your heart. That’s free will.
It was for this reason that Jesus said the following:
“I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, because this was Your good pleasure.” (Matthew 11:25, 26) That comes from the Holman Study Bible.
Having received this power, this authority from Jesus, we must never throw it away. And yet that is the tendency of humans. Look what happened in the congregation in ancient Corinth. Paul writes this warning:
“But I will keep on doing what I am doing, in order to undercut those who want an opportunity to be regarded as our equals in the things of which they boast. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:12, 13 Berean Study Bible)
These are the ones that Paul called the “super-apostles”. But he doesn’t stop with them. He next rebukes the members of the Corinthian congregation:
“For you gladly tolerate fools, since you are so wise. In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or exalts himself or strikes you in the face.” (2 Corinthians 11:19, 20 BSB)
You know, by today’s standards, the Apostle Paul was an intolerant man. He sure wasn’t what we would call “politically correct”, was he? Nowadays, we like to think that it doesn’t really matter what you believe, as long as you’re loving and do good for others. But is teaching people falsehoods, loving? Is misleading people about the true nature of God, doing good? Does truth not matter? Paul thought it did. That is why he wrote such strong words.
Why would they allow someone to enslave them, and exploit them, and take advantage of them all the while exalting himself above them? Because that is what we sinful humans are prone to do. We want a leader, and if we cannot see the invisible God with eyes of faith, we will go for the highly visible human leader who seems to have all the answers. But that will always turn out bad for us.
So how do we avoid that tendency? It’s not so simple.
Paul warns us that such men cloak themselves in garments of righteousness. They appear to be good people. So, how can we avoid being fooled? Well, I would ask you to consider this: If indeed Jehovah is going to reveal truths to infants or little children, he has to do it in a way that such young minds can understand. If the only way to understand something is to have someone wise and intellectual and well educated tell you it is so, even though you can’t see it for yourself, then that isn’t God talking. It’s okay to have someone explain things to you, but in the end, it has to be simple enough and obvious enough that even a child would get it.
Let me illustrate this. What simple truth about the nature of Jesus can you gather from the following Scriptures all from the English Standard Version?
“No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” (John 3:13)
“For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (John 6:33)
“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (John 6:38)
“Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” (John 6:62)
“You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.” (John 8:23)
“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58)
“I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.” (John 16:28)
“And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” (John 17:5)
After reading all of that, would you not conclude that all of these Scriptures show that Jesus existed in heaven before he came to earth? You would not need a university degree to understand that, would you? In fact, if these were the very first verses you ever read from the Bible, if you were a complete newbie to Bible study, wouldn’t you still arrive at the conclusion that Jesus Christ came down from heaven; that he existed in heaven before coming to be born on earth?
All you need is a basic understanding of the language to arrive at that understanding.
Yet, there are those who teach that Jesus did not exist as a living being in heaven prior to being born as a human. There is a school of thought in Christianity called Socinianism which, among other things, teaches that Jesus did not pre-exist in heaven. This teaching is part of a nontrinitarian theology that dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries, named after the two Italians who came up with it: Lelio and Fausto Sozzini.
Today, a few smaller Christian groups, like the Christadelphians, promote it as doctrine. It can be appealing to Jehovah’s Witnesses who leave the organization in search of a new group to associate with. Not wanting to join a group that believes in the Trinity, they are often drawn to nontrinitarian churches, some of which teach this doctrine. How do such groups explain away the scriptures we’ve just read?
They attempt to do that with something called “notional or conceptual existence”. They will claim that when Jesus asked the Father to glorify him with the glory he had before the world existed, he wasn’t referring to actually being a conscious entity and enjoying glory with God. Instead, he is referring to the notion or concept of the Christ that was in God’s mind. The glory he had before existing on earth was in the mind of God only, and now he wanted to have the glory God had envisioned for him back then to be granted to him as a living, conscious being. In other words, “God you envisioned before I was born that I would enjoy this glory, so now please give me the reward you have preserved for me all this time.”
There are many problems with this particular theology, but before we get into any of them, I want to focus on the core issue, which is that the word of God is granted to babes, infants, and little children, but is denied to wise, intellectual, and learned men. That doesn’t mean that a smart and well-educated human cannot understand that truth. What Jesus was referring to was the proud heart attitude of the learned men of his day which clouded their minds to the simple truth of God’s word.
For example, if you were explaining to a child that Jesus had existed before being born a human, you would use the language that we’ve already read. If, however, he wanted to tell that child that Jesus was never alive before being born a human, but that he did exist as a concept in God’s mind, you wouldn’t word it that way at all, would you? That would be very misleading to a child, would it not? If you were trying to explain the idea of notional existence, then you would have to find simple words and concepts to communicate that to the childlike mind. God is very capable of doing that, yet he didn’t. What does that tell us?
If we accept Socinianism, we must accept that God gave his children the wrong idea and it took 1,500 years before a couple of wise and intellectual Italian scholars came up with the true meaning.
Either God is a terrible communicator, or Leo and Fausto Sozzini were acting as wise, well educated and intellectual men often do, by getting a little too full of themselves. That is what motivated the super-apostles of Paul’s day.
You see the basic problem? If you need somebody who is more learned, more intelligent and more intellectual than you to explain something basic from Scripture, then you’re probably falling prey to the same attitude that Paul condemned in the members of the Corinthian congregation.
As you probably know if you’ve been watching this channel, I don’t believe in the Trinity. However, you don’t defeat the Trinity teaching with other false teachings. Jehovah’s Witnesses try to do that with their false teaching that Jesus is just an angel, the archangel Michael. Socinians try to counter the Trinity by teaching that Jesus did not pre-exist. If he only came into existence as a human, then he could not be part of the Trinity.
The arguments used to support this teaching require us to ignore several facts. For example, Socinians will refer to Jeremiah 1:5 which reads “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
Here we find Jehovah God had already purposed what Jeremiah was to be and do, even before he was conceived. The argument Socinians are trying to make is that when Jehovah purposes to do something it is as good as done. So, the idea in God’s mind and the reality of its realization are equivalent. Thus, Jeremiah existed before he was born.
Accepting that reasoning requires us to accept that Jeremiah and Jesus are notionally or conceptually equivalent. They have to be for this to work. In fact, Socinians will have us accept that this idea was widely known and accepted not only by first century Christians, but by the Jews as well who recognized the concept of notional existence.
Granted, anyone reading Scripture would recognize the fact that God can foreknow a person, but it’s a huge leap to say that foreknowing something is equivalent to existence. Existence is defined as “the fact or state of living [of living] or having objective [objective] reality”. Existing in God’s mind is at best subjective reality. You are not alive. You are real from God’s point of view. That is subjective—something outside of you. However, objective reality comes when you yourself perceive reality. As Descartes famously stated: “I think therefore I am”.
When Jesus said at John 8:58, “Before Abraham was born, I am!” He was not speaking about a notion in God’s mind. “I think, therefore I am”. He was talking about his own consciousness. That the Jews understood him to mean just that is evident by their own words: “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” (John 8:57)
A notion or concept in the mind of God cannot see anything. It would take a conscious mind, a living being to have “seen Abraham”.
If you are still persuaded by the Socinian argument of notional existence, let’s take it to its logical conclusion. As we do so, please bear in mind that the more intellectual hoops one has to jump through to make a teaching work only carries us farther and farther from the idea of truth that is revealed to babes and little children and more and more toward truth being denied to the wise and learned.
Let’s start with John 1:1-3.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through Him all things were made, and without Him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:1-3 BSB)
Now I know the translation of the first verse is hotly disputed and that grammatically, alternate translations are acceptable. I don’t want to get into a discussion of the Trinity at this stage, but to be fair, here are two alternate renderings: “
“and the Word was a god” – The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Anointed (J. L. Tomanec, 1958)
“So the Word was divine” – The Original New Testament, by Hugh J. Schonfield, 1985.
Whether you believe the Logos was divine, God himself, or a god apart from God the father of us all—an only begotten god as John 1:18 puts it in some manuscripts—you are still stuck with interpreting this as a Socinian. Somehow the concept of Jesus in the mind of God in the beginning was either a god or godlike while existing only in the mind of God. Then there is verse 2 which complicates things further by stating that this concept was with God. In the interlinear, pros ton refers to something “in proximity to or facing, or moving towards” God. That hardly fits with a notion inside of God’s mind.
Additionally, all things were made by this notion, for this notion, and through this notion.
Now think about that. Wrap your mind around that. We are not talking about a being begotten before all other things were made, through whom all other things were made, and for whom all other things were made. “All other things” would include all the millions of spirit beings in heaven, but more than that, all the billions of galaxies with their billions of stars.
Okay, now look at all this through the eyes of a Socinian. The notion of Jesus Christ as a human who would live and die for us to be redeemed from the original sin must have existed in God’s mind as a concept long before anything was created. Therefore, all the stars were created for, by, and through this concept with the sole goal of redeeming sinful humans who had yet to be created. All the evil of the thousands of years of human history cannot really be blamed on humans, nor can we really blame Satan for creating this mess. Why? Because Jehovah God conceived of this notion of Jesus the redeemer long before the universe came into existence. He planned the whole thing from the start.
Doesn’t this rank as one of the most human egocentric, God dishonoring doctrines of all time?
Colossians speaks of Jesus as the firstborn of all creation. I’m going to do a little textual emendation to put this passage in line with Socinian thought.
[The notion of Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, [this concept of Jesus] is the firstborn over all creation. For in [the Jesus notion] 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 [the notion of Jesus] and for [the notion of Jesus].
We have to agree that “firstborn” is the first one in a family. For instance. I am the firstborn. I have a younger sister. However, I have friends who are older than I. Yet, I am still the firstborn, because those friends are not part of my family. So in the family of creation, which includes things in heaven and things on earth, visible and invisible, thrones and dominions and rulers, all these things were made not for a being that pre-existed all of creation, but for a concept that was only going to come into existence billions of years afterwards for the sole purpose of fixing the problems that God preordained to happen. Whether they want to admit it or not, Socinians must subscribe to Calvinist predestination. You can’t have one without the other.
Approaching this final scripture of today’s discussion with a childlike mind, what do you understand it to mean?
“Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8 World English Bible)
If you gave this scripture to an eight-year-old, and asked her to explain it, I doubt she would have any problem. After all, a child knows what it means to grasp at something. The lesson the Apostle Paul is giving is self evident: We should be like Jesus who had it all, but gave it up without a moment’s thought and humbly assumed the form of a mere servant so that he could save us all, even though he had to die a painful death to do so.
A notion or a concept has not consciousness. It is not alive. It is not sentient. How can a notion or concept in the mind of God consider equality with God to be something worth grasping at? How can a notion in God’s mind empty itself? How can that notion humble itself?
Paul uses this example to instruct us about humility, the humility of the Christ. But Jesus started out life only as a human, then what did he give up. What reason would he have for humility? Where is the humility in being the only human begotten directly by God? Where is the humility in being the chosen of God, the only perfect, sinless human every to die faithfully? If Jesus never existed in heaven, his birth under those circumstances made him the greatest human that ever lived. He is in fact the greatest human who ever lived, but Philippians 2:5-8 still makes sense because Jesus was something far, far greater. Even being the greatest human who ever lived is nothing compared to what was before, the greatest of all God’s creations. But if he never existed in heaven before descending to earth to become a mere human, then this whole passage is nonsense.
Well, there you have it. The evidence is before you. Let me close with this one last thought. John 17:3 from the Contemporary English Version reads: “Eternal life is to know you, the only true God, and to know Jesus Christ, the one you sent.”
One way to read this is that the purpose of life itself is coming to know our heavenly Father, and more, the one whom he sent, Jesus Christ. But if we start out on the wrong footing, with a false understanding of Christ’s true nature, then how can we fulfill those words. In my opinion, that is in part the reason that John also tells us,
“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, refusing to confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.” (2 John 7 BSB)
The New Living Translation renders this, “I say this because many deceivers have gone out into the world. They deny that Jesus Christ came in a real body. Such a person is a deceiver and an antichrist.”
You and I were born human. We have a real body. We are flesh. But we did not come in the flesh. People will ask you when you were born, but they will never ask you when did you come in the flesh, because that would me you were elsewhere and in a different form. Now the people John is referring to did not deny that Jesus existed. How could they? There were still thousands of people alive who had seen him in the flesh. No, these people were denying the nature of Jesus. Jesus was a spirit, the only begotten God, as John calls him at John 1:18, who became flesh, fully human. That is what they were denying. How serious is it to deny that true nature of Jesus?
John continues: “Watch yourselves, so that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be fully rewarded. Anyone who runs ahead without remaining in the teaching of Christ does not have God. Whoever remains in His teaching has both the Father and the Son.”
“If anyone comes to you but does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your home or even greet him. Whoever greets such a person shares in his evil deeds.” (2 John 8-11 BSB)
As Christians, we may differ on some understandings. For instance, is the 144,000 a literal number or a symbolic one? We can agree to disagree and still be brothers and sisters. However, there are some issues where such tolerance if not possible, not if we are to obey the inspired word. Promoting a teaching that denies the true nature of Christ would seem to be in that category. I do not say this to disparage anyone, but only to clearly state how serious this issue is. Of course, each one must act according to his or her own conscience. Still, the correct course of action is vital. As John said in verse 8, “Watch yourselves, so that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be fully rewarded.” We most definitely want to be fully rewarded.
Watch yourselves, so that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be fully rewarded. Anyone who runs ahead without remaining in the teaching of Christ does not have God. Whoever remains in His teaching has both the Father and the Son.”
“If anyone comes to you but does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your home or even greet him. Whoever greets such a person shares in his evil deeds.” (2 John 1:7-11 BSB)