Lukan Christological Preexistence

More Evidence for the Deity of Christ from the Third Gospel

Sam Shamoun

The purpose of this article is to supplement my discussion on Luke’s Christology (*), whether Luke believed that Jesus already was or only became God’s Son during his virginal conception. Here, I intend to provide further evidence that Luke believed that Jesus is a preexistent Divine Being who came down from heaven.

Luke records Zechariah’s prayer where he speaks of God visiting his people to redeem and further mentions the sunrise or anatole who visits from on high:

"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people (hoti epeskepsato kai epoieesen lutrosin to lao autou) and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, … And you, child [John the Baptist], will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high (epeskepsato hemas anatole ek hypsos) to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’" Luke 1:68-69, 76-79

The word translated as sunrise, anatole, literally means rising such as in the rising of the sun. By extension it can also refer to the rising of a plant since the Greek version of the OT, otherwise known as the Septuagint (LXX), used this precise word to translate the Hebrew tsemach or Branch, an OT title for the coming Davidic Messiah:

Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up to David a righteous branch (anatoleen dikaian), and a king shall reign and understand, and shall execute judgment and righteousness on the earth. In his days both Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell securely. And this is his name, which the Lord shall call Him, Josedec among the prophets." Jeremiah 23:5-6 (Sir Lancelot C.L. Brenton’s English Translation; source)

Hear now, Joshua the high priest, you and your neighbors that are sitting before you—for they are diviners; for behold, I bring forth My servant The Branch (anatoleen). For as for the stone which I have set before the face of Joshua, on the one stone are seven eyes: behold, I am digging a trench, says the Lord Almighty, and I will search out all the iniquity of that land in one day. Zechariah 3:8-9 (Source)

and you shall say to him, Thus says the Lord Almighty; Behold the man whose name is The Branch (anatole); and He shall spring up from His stem, and build the house of the Lord. And He shall receive power, and shall sit and rule upon His throne; and there shall be a priest on His right hand, and a peaceable counsel shall be between them both. Zechariah 6:12-13 (Source)

Here is how the Jews explained the foregoing texts (all bold and capital emphasis ours):

… ‘Behold the days are coming,’ says the Lord, ‘when I will raise up for David a righteous Messiah, and he shall reign as king, and prosper, and shall enact a righteous and Meritorious law in the land. In his days they of the house of Judah shall be delivered, and Israel shall live in security. And this is the name which they call him: "May vindication be accomplished for us by the Lord in his day."’ (Targum Jonathan, The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation, Samson H. Levy (New York: Hebrew Union College, 1974), pp. 68-69)

Say unto him: Thus says the Lord of Hosts saying: ‘Be hold the man whose name is "The Messiah." He is destined to be revealed and to be anointed, and he shall build the Temple of the Lord. He shall build the Temple of the Lord, and he will bear the radiance, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and there shall be a high priest on his throne, and there be a counsel of peace between the two of them.’ (Ibid., p. 99)

R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in the name of R. Johanan: Three WERE CALLED BY THE NAME OF THE holy One, blessed be He, and they are the following: The righteous, the Messiah and Jerusalem. [This may be inferred as regards] the righteous [from] what ha just been said. [As regards] the Messiah - it is written: And this is the name whereby he shall be called, The Lord is our righteousness (Jer. XXIII, 6) (The Babylonian Talmud, Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein, Editor (London: Soncino Press), Seder Nezekin, Volume II, Baba Bathra 75b, p. 303)

God will call the king Messiah after His own name , for it is said of the king Messiah This is his name whereby he shall be called: The Lord our righteousness (Jer. 23:6). (The Midrash on Psalms, William G. Braude, Translator (New Haven: Yale, 959), Yale Judaica Series, Volume XIII, Leon Nemoy, Editor, Book One, Psalm 2.2)

The Rabbis say, "This King Messiah, if he is from the living, his name is David. Ife he is from the dead, his name is David…" Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said, "His name is Branch. " (Berakoth 2.4)

The above shows that Luke’s readers, who were familiar with the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, would have seen a connection with Luke’s anatole and the Messianic Branch referred to in the OT. Luke’s audience would have concluded that the visiting anatole refers to the coming Davidic Messiah, whom Luke has already identified as Jesus:

"In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’ And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God.’" Luke 1:26-35

What makes this all the more interesting is the fact that the anatole is said to be visiting from on high, meaning from heaven, which suggests that this entity is coming down from heaven. That this is a heavenly visitant can be seen from how the phrase "from on high" is used in the following passage:

"And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high (ek hypsos)." Luke 24:49

The power that Jesus says would come from on high refers to the promise of the Father to send the Holy Spirit:

"In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’" Acts 1:1-8

"Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 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 2:30-33

Thus, the power that the apostles were to receive from on high refers to the Holy Spirit’s descent upon them from the very presence of the Father out of heaven:

"But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me." John 15:26

The Septuagint uses the phrase in a similar manner:

And the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were discovered, at the rebuke of the Lord, at the blast of the breath of His anger. He sent from above (ek hypsous) and took me; He drew me out of many waters 2 Samuel 22:16-17 (Source)

For He has looked out from the height of His sanctuary (ek hypsous hagiou autou); the Lord looked upon the earth from heaven (ek ouranou); Psalm 101:20 [Hebrew: 102:19] (Source)

MEM. He has sent fire from His lofty habitation (ek hypsous autou), He has brought it into my bones: He has spread a net for my feet, He has turned me back: He has made me desolate and mourning all the day. Lamentations 1:13 (Source)

The foregoing helps us see that, by saying that the anatole visits from on high, Luke intended to communicate to his readers that the Messiah is a heavenly figure, a being that comes down out of heaven to visit the people. To put it another away, the Messiah according to Luke isn’t merely a human figure but a preexistent heavenly Being that came down to be conceived from the virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit in order to receive a human nature.

Moreover, elsewhere in Luke’s Gospel Jesus is identified as the one who comes to redeem God’s people, specifically Israel:

"Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.’… And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak OF HIM to all who were waiting for the redemption (lutrosin) of Jerusalem." Luke 2:25-32, 36-38

"That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?’ And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?’ And he said to them, ‘What things?’ And they said to him, ‘Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that HE was the one to redeem (lutrousthai) Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.’ And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." Luke 24:13-27

"And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’" Luke 2:10-11

"For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." Luke 19:10

"God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins." Acts 5:31

"Of this man's offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised." Acts 13:23

In light of the above it is very hard not to see that Luke was portraying Jesus as the God who came to visit his people from on high in order to redeem them from their sins.

Luke wasn’t the only author who believed this about Christ since other NT writers taught essentially the same thing, and even used similar language to communicate the same point:

"For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom (lutron) for many." Mark 10:45

"For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom (antilutron) for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time."

"waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem (lutroseetai) us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works." Titus 2:13-14

In this last text, Paul identifies Jesus as the Savior God who came to redeem a people of his own. Matthew echoes Paul’s statements:

"‘She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save HIS people from their sins (autos gar sosei ton laon autou apo ton harmation auton).’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)." Matthew 1:21-23

Jesus, according to Matthew, is the God who came to be with his people in order to save them from their sins.

There is another Lukan text which supports preexistence. In confronting the religious establishment Jesus posed a question regarding the Messiah’s ancestry:

"But he said to them, ‘How can they say that the Christ is David's son? For David himself says in the Book of Psalms, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool." David thus calls him Lord, so how is he his son?’" Luke 20:41-44

Here is how the Septuagint renders this particular Psalm:

The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit on My right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool." The Lord shall send out a rod of Your strength out of Zion: rule in the midst of Your enemies! With You is dominion in the day of Your power, in the splendors of Your saints; I have begotten You from the womb before the morning. The Lord has sworn and will not relent, "You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek." The Lord at Your right hand has dashed in pieces kings in the day of his wrath. He shall judge among the nations, He shall fill up the number of corpses, He shall crush the heads of many on the earth. He shall drink of the brook in the way; therefore shall He lift up the head. Psalm 109 [Hebrew: 110]:1-7 (Source)

The Hebrew of Psalm 110:3 does not help clarify the meaning at this point since the Hebrew text is actually unclear. It is the Septuagint translation which clarifies the meaning or, at the very least, helps us understand what some Jews thought the Hebrew meant.

This may explain why the official Catholic version of the Holy Bible, the New American Bible (NAB), adopted the Septuagint reading for Psalm 110:3:

"Yours is princely power from the day of your birth. In holy splendor before the daystar, like the dew I begot you."

3 [3] Like the dew I begot you: an adoption formula as in Psalm 2:7; 89:27-28. Before the daystar: possibly an expression for before the world began (Proverbs 8:22). (Source)

Evidently, the translators of the Septuagint believed that this text supported the view that not only was David’s Lord already existing at the time this particular Psalm was composed, but that he was also there with God before the creation of the world!

The Psalm basically concurs with the theology of the Fourth Gospel which quotes Jesus as saying:

"And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed… Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world." John 17:5, 24

With the foregoing in perspective we can more fully appreciate Jesus’ point: By appealing to this particular Psalm the Lord wanted to call attention to the fact that the Messiah is more than a human descendant of David, he is also his sovereign Lord. Moreover, the context of the Psalm provides the reason why the Messiah is David’s Lord, and therefore greater than his human ancestor; the former is a preexistent Divine figure that was there with God even before David came into being!

This is quite similar to Jesus’s claim of being greater than Abraham:

"‘Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.’ The Jews said to him, ‘Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, "If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death." Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, "He is our God." But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.’ So the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham came into being/existence (prin Abraam genesthai), I AM (ego eimi).’ So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple." John 8:51-59

Christ explains why he is greater than Abraham and how he was able to see the patriarch, despite the fact that the latter had been dead for approximately two thousand years: Jesus has always existed because, unlike Abraham who was created, he is timeless!

In a similar manner, Jesus is David’s Lord, and therefore greater than the latter, because he has existed even before the world began, implying that he is a Divine Being.

And, seeing how Psalm 109:3 speaks of the preexistence of the Messiah, it shouldn’t surprise us to find certain Church fathers quoting this particular text to support Jesus’ prehuman existence and eternal generation from the Father.

For instance, the second century apologist Justin Martyr, in a debate that he had with a Jew named Trypho, wrote:

Chapter 32. Trypho objecting that Christ is described as glorious by Daniel, Justin distinguishes two advents.

And when I had ceased, Trypho said, "These and such like Scriptures, sir, compel us to wait for Him who, as Son of man, receives from the Ancient of days the everlasting kingdom. But this so-called Christ of yours was dishonourable and inglorious, so much so that the last curse contained in the law of God fell on him, for he was crucified."

Then I replied to him, "If, sirs, it were not said by the Scriptures which I have already quoted, that His form was inglorious, and His generation not declared, and that for His death the rich would suffer death, and with His stripes we should be healed, and that He would be led away like a sheep; and if I had not explained that there would be two advents of His,—one in which He was pierced by you; a second, when you shall know Him whom you have pierced, and your tribes shall mourn, each tribe by itself, the women apart, and the men apart,—then I must have been speaking dubious and obscure things. But now, by means of the contents of those Scriptures esteemed holy and prophetic amongst you, I attempt to prove all [that I have adduced], in the hope that some one of you may be found to be of that remnant which has been left by the grace of the Lord of Sabaoth for the eternal salvation. In order, therefore, that the matter inquired into may be plainer to you, I will mention to you other words also spoken by the blessed David, from which you will perceive that the Lord is called the Christ by the Holy Spirit of prophecy; and that the Lord, the Father of all, has brought Him again from the earth, setting Him at His own right hand, until He makes His enemies His footstool; which indeed happens from the time that our Lord Jesus Christ ascended to heaven, after He rose again from the dead, the times now running on to their consummation; and he whom Daniel foretells would have dominion for a time, and times, and an half, is even already at the door, about to speak blasphemous and daring things against the Most High. But you, being ignorant of how long he will have dominion, hold another opinion. For you interpret the 'time' as being a hundred years. But if this is so, the man of sin must, at the shortest, reign three hundred and fifty years, in order that we may compute that which is said by the holy Daniel— 'and times'—to be two times only. All this I have said to you in digression, in order that you at length may be persuaded of what has been declared against you by God, that you are foolish sons; and of this, 'Therefore, behold, I will proceed to take away this people, and shall take them away; and I will strip the wise of their wisdom, and will hide the understanding of their prudent men;' and may cease to deceive yourselves and those who hear you, and may learn of us, who have been taught wisdom by the grace of Christ. The words, then, which were spoken by David, are these: 'The Lord said unto My Lord, Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool. The Lord shall send the rod of Your strength out of Sion: rule also in the midst of Your enemies. With You shall be, in the day, the chief of Your power, in the beauties of Your saints. From the womb, before the morning star, have I begotten You. The Lord has sworn, and will not repent: You are a  priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. The Lord is at Your right hand: He has crushed kings in the day of His wrath: He shall judge among the heathen, He shall fill [with] the dead bodies. He shall drink of the brook in the way; therefore shall He lift up the head.' (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Chapter 63. It is proved that this God was incarnate.

And Trypho said, "This point has been proved to me forcibly, and by many arguments, my friend. It remains, then, to prove that He submitted to become man by the Virgin, according to the will of His Father; and to be crucified, and to die. Prove also clearly, that after this He rose again and ascended to heaven."

I answered, "This, too, has been already demonstrated by me in the previously quoted words of the prophecies, my friends; which, by recalling and expounding for your sakes, I shall endeavour to lead you to agree with me also about this matter. The passage, then, which Isaiah records, 'Who shall declare His generation? for His life is taken away from the earth,' Isaiah 53:8—does it not appear to you to refer to One who, not having descent from men, was said to be delivered over to death by God for the transgressions of the people?—of whose blood, Moses (as I mentioned before), when speaking in parable, said, that He would wash His garments in the blood of the grape; since His blood did not spring from the seed of man, but from the will of God. And then, what is said by David, 'In the splendours of Your holiness have I begotten You from the womb, before the morning star. The Lord has sworn, and will not repent, You are a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek,' — does this not declare to you that [He was] from of old, and that the God and Father of all things intended Him to be begotten by a human womb? And speaking in other words, which also have been already quoted, [he says]: ‘Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of rectitude is the sceptre of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness, and hast hated iniquity: therefore God, even your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness above Your fellows. [He has anointed You] with myrrh, and oil, and cassia from Your garments, from the ivory palaces, whereby they made You glad. Kings' daughters are in Your honour. The queen stood at Your right hand, clad in garments embroidered with gold. Hearken, O daughter, and behold, and incline your ear, and forget your people and the house of your father; and the King shall desire your beauty: because he is your Lord, and you shall worship Him.' Therefore these words testify explicitly that He is witnessed to by Him who established these things, as deserving to be worshipped, as God and as Christ. Moreover, that the word of God speaks to those who believe in Him as being one soul, and one synagogue, and one church, as to a daughter; that it thus addresses the church which has sprung from His name and partakes of His name (for we are all called Christians), is distinctly proclaimed in like manner in the following words, which teach us also to forget [our] old ancestral customs, when they speak thus: 'Hearken, O daughter, and behold, and incline your ear; forget your people and the house of your father, and the King shall desire your beauty: because He is your Lord, and you shall worship Him.'" (Source)

Another father named Clement of Alexandria said:

Chapter 1. Exhortation to Abandon the Impious Mysteries of Idolatry for the Adoration of the Divine Word and God the Father.

You have, then, God's promise; you have His love: become partaker of His grace. And do not suppose the song of salvation to be new, as a vessel or a house is new. For "before the morning star it was;" and "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." John 1:1 Error seems old, but truth seems a new thing. (Exhortation to the Heathen; source)

Chapter 9. "That Those Grievously Sin Who Despise or Neglect God's Gracious Calling."

… "Awake," He says, " you that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light," Ephesians 5:14 —Christ, the Sun of the Resurrection, He "who was born before the morning star," and with His beams bestows life... (Source)

Thus, Jesus the Messiah is David’s Lord because he is the Divine Son who existed with God even before the world began!

And, now, to summarize the Lukan data supporting Christ’s prehuman existence:

The preceding makes it rather evident that Luke, in full agreement with the rest of the Gospels and NT books, intended to present Jesus as Deity in the flesh, as the preexistent Son of God who came down to earth to redeem mankind.

For more on the issue of Luke’s Christology as well as the NT witness to the preexistence of God’s Son we recommend the following articles:>

We also highly recommend the following book:

The Preexistent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, And Luke (Paperback) by Simon J. Gathercole, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (September 19, 2006).

The author defends the premise that the synoptic Gospels, i.e. Matthew, Mark and Luke, have a very high Christology since they all affirm the preexistence of Christ. This book proved quite helpful in producing our paper since most of the information found here was gleaned from it. Must reading for any serious student of Christology.

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