In Matthew’s Gospel, we read that Jesus asked His disciples, “‘who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God'” (Matthew 16:15-16).
Peter’s answer gave us a response that all Christians can agree with, but not all Christians agree about the identity of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. Did Christ pre-exist? And if so, who was He?
Jesus answers that question in the Gospel of John.
In John Chapter 5, the Pharisees wanted to kill Jesus, because He claimed that God was His Father, making Himself equal to God. But Jesus answered them, saying He was not equal to God, but rather He was “the image of the invisible God”; “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner” (John 5:19).
He said to them, “You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form” (John 5:37).
His implied message was that He was the one they heard speak as God, and the one who appeared to them as God. He was the image of the invisible God, and the speaker of His words; He was “The Word” in the Old Testament.
In John Chapter 8, Jesus made a surprising statement to the Pharisees: “Unless you believe that ‘I AM,’ you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).
When the Pharisees questioned Him, saying, “who are you,” He explained the meaning of “I AM”: “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM, and that I do nothing of Myself;
but as the Father taught Me, I speak these things” (John 8:28).
Jesus gave them three significant truths:
- He was “He WILL BE ELOHIM” the Angel or “Messenger of God” who appeared to Moses, their promised King and Redeemer,
- He was “the express image of the invisible God”—“I do nothing of Myself”—and
- He was “the Word,” He speaks the words of God—“as the Father taught Me, I speak these things.”
Finally, when Jesus said, “before Abraham was I am (I exist)” (John 8:58), the Pharisees took up stones to kill Him.
In John Chapter 10, Jesus said to them, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Here, He imitated the wording of the greatest commandment, the “Shema,” recited daily by the Jewish people:
Sh’ma, Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai, Ecḥad
Hear, O Israel: YHVH our Elohim (“I”), YHVH (“the Father”), are one.
Jesus had already told the Pharisees that He was “I AM”—and now He was hinting that He was “YHVH (He WILL BE) ELOHIM.” He was the ELOHIM who appeared as the image of the invisible God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as a man, and as an Angel.
In John 14:9, Jesus said to Phillip, “he who has seen Me, has seen the Father,” declaring Himself to be the image of the invisible God. After He resurrected, Thomas said to him, “my Lord and my God,” recognizing Jesus as the ELOHIM of Israel. This was the climax of John’s Gospel that began with “in the beginning God was the Word.”