Ascension & Advent, Space & Time

ascensionYesterday was Ascension Sunday, when Christians remember Jesus’s ascension. Hymns on Ascension Sunday tend to focus on Jesus’s reign in heaven, how his crown of thorns has become a crown of stars of light – that kind of thing. But, there’s an undeniable tension with the ascension. In Luke’s ascension account in Acts 1 (of the gospel writers, only Luke shows any interest in the ascension), the disciples are looking into the sky, and two mysterious Men in White appear:

“Galileans,” they said, “why are you standing here gazing into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into the sky, will come back in the same way you’ve seen him go into the sky.”

So, basically, don’t stand around looking up. Why? Because this same Jesus will return. This isn’t about the sky, or heaven. This is about down here. And there’s the tension. The ascension leads to a temporary, intermediate state; Jesus will return. There ought to be a strong, powerful link between Ascension Sunday (and Ascension Day, always on the preceding Thursday) and the season of Advent. It’s a link that’s there in the Apostles’ Creed:

He ascended to heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

The goal of Jesus’s work is not his ascension, or even his ‘heavenly session’, but his reign over the fullness of God’s Kingdom on earth. As Paul writes about the Return of Jesus to earth, in 1 Corinthians 15:24-27, he puts it this way, citing a psalm or two:

Then, the goal: when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he has put everything under his feet.

And when it comes to citing psalms on Ascension Sunday, we often read Psalms 24 and 47. These psalms, we understand, were originally associated with the triumphal and joyful entry of the Ark of the Covenant into the Temple. Christians have a very long tradition of associating them with the ascension, as an expression of the triumph of Jesus. However, as we heard in the parish church this morning, these psalms rightly ought to point to something else too: to the truest and fullest entry of God’s presence into his temple, at the return of Jesus the Messiah to this earth. Understood in this way, singing and reading these psalms will help to supply that powerful link between Ascension and Advent.

Another question raised by the Ascension, and also addressed in the parish church this morning, is: “Where is Jesus?” That’s also part of the tension of Ascension Sunday. In the account of the event, Jesus goes up into the sky. Of course, that would have made perfect sense to the original readers, and the writer, of the account, as well as to the observers of whatever it was that actually happened. But how on earth can we reconcile that with modern cosmology?

Asking “Where is heaven?” seems a fairly pointless question. Any answer surely has to posit that it’s not a part of our reality, the reality of the visible creation. It must be in some sense another dimension. On the other hand, asking “Where is Jesus?” isn’t actually a pointless or stupid question. It’s more cogent, and difficult to answer, than we might imagine – at least for those with an orthodox view of Jesus Christ, and of humanity.

Human bodies (whether pre- or post-resurrection) belong on earth, in this dimension, not in heaven (wherever heaven is). Ordinarily, the lives of human beings as whole human beings, in mortality or immortality, are lived entirely on earth. We affirm the real humanity of Jesus as well as his divinity. How can a human body that is very much a part of this visible creation, and belongs in it, exist in some other dimension? There’s mystery here, for sure. But it’s clear, to me at least, that whatever the disciples saw that day was an accommodation to their understanding of the cosmos. With the understanding we have now of the cosmos, of space and time, there might be other avenues to follow as we ask “Where is Jesus?” Perhaps.

The mysterious Men in White fundamentally link the Ascension and Return of Jesus. In their message, the intervening period is de-emphasised (as in the Apostles’ Creed). The Ascension and Return are two adjacent acts in the drama of Jesus as King on Earth. Perhaps, and I mean perhaps, the question of “Where is Jesus ?” is better-framed as “When is Jesus?” In the future, in space and time, Jesus is here on earth, reigning in the creation with all his holy ones, who have been redeemed by his life, death and resurrection. In our present time, Jesus is not physically present at all. But he has not left us bereft. He himself has come to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit, also designated as the Spirit of Christ (more mystery). This is what we’ll be remembering on Pentecost Sunday, in a week’s time. Where is Jesus? Not with us. Yet with us, always, even until the very end of the age.

Subordinationism, the Incarnation of the Servant, and Love

So, there’s a web-skirmish (I think someone called it) about Subordinationism. Subordinationism is the idea that within the eternal trinity of God, the second person of the trinity (the Logos, Word or Son) is eternally subordinate to the first person (the Father). Plenty of good stuff has been written in response to the subordinationist position put forward by Wayne Grudem and others, including this excellent article by Professor Donald Macleod. I just want to make a couple of points on the importance of the incarnation when it comes to understanding Jesus’s sonship. And then one more on the question of why it was that the Son became Mediator.
The incarnation of the Son is critical in this debate. The NT title ‘Son of God’ has a strong Messianic background – it’s a title designating Jesus as God’s chosen King. The background is found in OT texts like 2 Sam 7:14, Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 89:26-27. The NT data point us first to the incarnational Sonship of Jesus as the Messiah, the incarnate Servant of the Lord. It’s therefore helpful to think of two aspects of Sonship: divine and eternal sonship, and incarnational or Messianic sonship. And, of course, these are intricately linked. The Messianic relationship of Jesus to the Father as Son of God is rightly used to inform the eternal relationship of the divine second person to the divine first person within the Trinity. The pre-existence of the Logos invites this; the Logos becomes flesh and Jesus speaks of God as Father, and himself as Son. Jesus speaks of the glory he had with the Father before the world began (John 17:5). Perhaps one of the NT data for this movement from incarnate sonship to eternal sonship is in Romans 1:3-4, where Paul seems to write of the Son having an identity wider than simply his human descent, and where ‘son’ seems to indicate more than simply the Messianic Son of God:

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 1:3-4 ESV)

Why is this important to the subordination argument? Because we need to recognise that we learn about the nature of the relationship between Father and Son through the incarnation. The Logos becomes human as the Servant of the Lord, the human Messiah.
So, in the first place, the submission of the Son to the Father in our NT texts (e.g. John 8:28; 14:28; 1 Cor 15:28) is the submission of the Son as Messiah. It is the submission of fulfilling the covenants with Abraham and David as the Servant of the Lord, and of serving the Covenant of Grace as Mediator and Redeemer, not an eternal or ontological submission of the kind proposed by the Subordinationists.
In the second place, I want to consider the nature of submission as an aspect of love. When Jesus speaks about love, it is mutual submission, mutual service (e.g. Mark 10:43-45; John 15:12). When Paul writes about the nature of love, he casts it in the same way (Eph 5:21). This is not subordination, which is a one-way submission. If God is love (1 John 4:16), if the mysterious total unity of the trinity of three persons is, at least in part, understood in terms of a powerful mutual love, then the submission and service of the Son within history is, to my mind, reciprocated in the service of the Father to the Son. This seems to me to be a logical outcome of a co-equal trinity. And the same holds true for the Holy Spirit. In the work of redemption, there is a mutual enacting of love in service between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each play a role as divine persons who are also one God, in order to fulfil the purpose of the one God. The Son’s service is unique, since he is the divine person who becomes human. Yet, the Father serves the Son in directing and empowering his work, whether in his life, death or resurrection. Since the Father does not become incarnate, this work is less visible, less-obvious in history.
Lastly, if the eternal Son is not subordinate to the Father, why was it that the Son became Mediator, and became incarnate? A list of reasons is given here by Dr Mark Jones. I just want to add to the list (and put at the top of the list) another reason conspicuous by its absence. It’s this: the Son becoming Mediator cannot be understood aside from his role in Creation. The prophetic and priestly mediatorial role of the Son is rooted in this (now it may be that you want to subsume the work of creation under the ‘mediatorial role’, but as a biblical theologian that would seem odd to me). In the relationship of God with the created cosmos, each person of the Trinity has a particular role in acting as the One Creator. Perhaps this is clearest in the prologue to the Gospel of John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made… (John 1:1-3 ESV)

Paul also sets out the same truth in Colossians 1:16. The eternal Son is the one through whom and for whom all things were made. The Father does not charge the Son to create – there is no subordinationism here. In the words of Bavinck, ‘while the creation is a work of the whole Trinity…it also stands in a peculiar relation to the Son’ (RD 2:423). It is the Logos that becomes flesh, not because he is eternally subordinate to the Father, but because he has a special relationship with creation. The ‘world’ (in Greek, kosmos) language of John 1 is picked up again in John 3. The world, made through the Son, is to be saved through the Son:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17 ESV)

Plenty of web-skirmishes come and go, but the reason I bit on this particular one is because it involves something I’ve thought about for a long time, and have been speaking on in the last couple of weeks. The particular advocates of Subordinationism who are in the spotlight at the moment (Grudem and Ware, mostly) use Subordinationism within the trinity of God to argue that the subordination of women to men is essential to a true understanding of human relationships. As I mentioned, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be created male and female as the Image of God for a good long while, and I just don’t see what Grudem argues for in the biblical texts. And, I don’t see any ground for it in a supposed eternal subordination of the Son to the Father.

Did Isaiah See Jesus? John 12 and Isaiah 6

isaiah2Over the past few weeks I’ve heard a number of times the view that when Isaiah saw the vision in the temple (recorded in Isaiah 6), it was Jesus he saw. This idea is based on John 12:41. Now, there’s no nice way to say this: statements like that are theologically illiterate. They make me worry about what people are being taught in church.  Jesus was born in Bethlehem, of a virgin named Mary – that is surely basic to the Christian creed. Before that Jesus didn’t exist.  The logos did the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God – but Jesus didn’t. In the words of the Confession:
The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon Him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man. (WCF 8:2)
It is the incarnation of the logos, the addition to the nature of the logos of a human nature (a human body and soul) that brings Jesus the person into being. The logos has an eternal divine nature, and so has always existed. But the logos is not Jesus. The name Jesus (or Yeshua, as Jesus’ family and friends would have called him – Joshua to you and me) was given to him at his birth. Jesus is a human being. Jesus did not exist before his birth. Isaiah did not see Jesus in the temple.

Only marginally better, but in my opinion usually misunderstood, is the term ‘the pre-incarnate Christ’. Some may argue that what Isaiah saw in his vision was the pre-incarnate Christ. But again, Christ – or Messiah – is a title bestowed upon a human being. It is not a title of the logos, it is a title of Jesus. Jesus is the Messiah. The logos is not the Messiah. The terms ‘pre-incarnate Jesus’, or ‘pre-incarnate Messiah’ might be used to mean the logos, but are somewhat misleading, if not given careful definition. There can be no simple identification of the logos as the pre-incarnate Jesus, or the pre-incarnate Messiah. There was a pre-incarnate logos – and that expresses the most important point, and therefore is the term which ought to be used. A whole mythology has grown up about where Jesus (or Christ) can be found in the OT – standing on the banks of the Jordan with Joshua, wrestling with Jacob, sitting in Abraham’s tent. Even if we allow that the logos is meant, it is far from clear that the logos could be manifest in isolation from the Trinity (apart from in the person of Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God).

Why does all this matter? Some would say that it is needless theological precision. I beg to differ. Too many Christians believe that Jesus has always existed. That, in a nutshell, is a denial of the incarnation. If Jesus is actually a spiritual being who slotted into a human ‘shell’, then he is not actually human (it’s the old Apollinarian heresy). To cut to the chase, you can see the theological fallout from this mistake in the effective silence about resurrection, and about the worth of embodied human existence, and in the almost ubiquitous impression that Christians give that we are solely looking forward to a spiritual existence in heaven. If a pre-existent Jesus wrapped himself in a human ‘shell’, then logically Jesus can be raised without that ‘shell’ and still be Jesus. Which perhaps explains why many Christians haven’t really taken on board that the resurrected Jesus has a human bones-and-flesh body now. The incarnation is the affirmation of human existence – God’s statement of intent to redeem it, body and soul. John wrote: the logos became flesh; not Jesus became flesh.

Anyway, back to John 12. The only option that is available is that Isaiah saw the logos in the temple, but that’s not what John 12:41 says.  The claim that John 12:41 says that Isaiah saw Jesus in the temple is just not true. The Gospel quotes first from Isaiah 53, a passage about the Servant of the Lord. Then from Isaiah 6, the vision in the temple. Both quotations are used to show that the unbelief of the people in Isaiah’s day is fulfilled in their rejection of Jesus the Messiah. These ‘things’ Isaiah said (that’s Isaiah 53 as well as Isaiah 6) because he ‘saw his glory and spoke of him’. That just means that Isaiah foresaw the glory of the Messiah’s day (in the Servant Songs and in Isaiah 7, 8, 9, which follow closely on the temple vision) and that his words are fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah’s life. So, the assumption that the words ‘saw his glory’ refer to the temple vision has very little basis! In addition, there is only a tenuous textual connection: although the Septuagint of Isaiah 6:1 refers to the glory of the Lord in the temple, John’s citation from Isaiah 6 is closer to the Hebrew text, which does not mention God’s glory in 6:1. In the Hebrew text of the temple vision in Isaiah 6, the only reference to glory, on the lips of the angelic beings who speak of the glory of God which fills the whole earth.

[Note: this post was originally posted in June 2012, and slightly modified in March 2016 to acknowledge the LXX reference to glory in Isaiah 6:1].

Whatever You Did for the Least of These

Saint_Martin_Tours On the Wednesday night of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland last week there was a discussion on mercy ministries (or practical care for those in need). During the discussion reference was made to Matthew 25. In that chapter, God’s people are confused when Jesus says to them at the judgement that they saw him hungry and gave him food; saw him thirsty and gave him water. Jesus says to them:

Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me. Matt 25:40

Those words, and those preceding them (‘when I was in prison you visited me’, etc.) often cause consternation because it is the deeds of those who showed kindness that are the basis of the Father’s judgment. The words are not easy to understand. ‘When I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink…’ Do these words mean that Jesus is present in everyone? Or do they only refer to good things done to other Christians? Is it all good deeds, or only those things that are done to Christians that matter in the judgement? I think the answer lies somewhere in between.
The New Testament teaches the truth of the identification of Jesus Christ with his people through the concept of union with Christ. The apostle Paul often portrays Christians as being ‘in Christ’. And this ties in with the words of John 15, where Jesus speaks of himself as a vine and of all Christians as being incorporated into him as branches, either fruitful or unfruitful. When we meet one another’s needs as Christians, we are showing kindness to Christ himself.
There’s a great story about Martin of Tours, a Roman soldier who was a Christian back in the 4th century, when Christians were in the minority. Walking in Amiens one day, Martin encountered a beggar by the side of the street in the freezing winter conditions. Martin stopped and used his sword to cut his large, thick officer’s cloak in half, giving a now ragged-edged half to the beggar to keep him warm. That night, Martin had a dream. In it, Jesus appeared wearing a ragged-edged military cloak. ‘Who gave you that cloak?’ asked one of the angels. ‘My friend Martin gave it to me,’ replied the Lord. It’s a moving story and a great illustration of Matthew 25.
I don’t know if the beggar in the story of Martin of Tours believed in Jesus when Martin met him, but if he didn’t perhaps it was Martin’s simple kindness as a Christian soldier that showed him the way to faith. Those who we do good to might not yet be identifiable as Christians, but the very act of kindness that we do might be the reason why they come to follow Jesus in faith. It is entirely possible that the one receiving a cup of water, or food, or clothes, or a visit is not a Christian when they receive from us, but at the judgement they will be counted as ‘one of the least of these’ because the kindness they received helped to bring them to faith. In that case our kindnesses were to Christ because they were to one of his own.
Does Matthew 25 give any basis for the church organising mercy ministries? I believe it does. A right understanding of Matthew 25 motivates mercy ministry to all.

Thoughts on Christian Identity: God’s Presence

davinci2God’s presence with the Christian is a fundamental part of Christian Identity. In 1 Corinthians 6:19, the apostle Paul writes:

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you?

Earlier in his letter (3:16), Paul has written something similar, but he emphasises there the teaching that corporately the Christians can be described as a temple of God. This thought is also found in Ephesians 2:19-22 where the whole Church is being built as a temple on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, but where the readers of the letter are also ‘being built together into a dwelling of God.’

But, getting back to 1 Corinthians 6, it is something more personal here. It is the body (the context shows the physical, human body of the individual is in view) that is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Paul does not write: your soul is a temple of the Holy Spirit. We might have thought that more likely. But, it is your body that is the temple. What are we to make of this? How does it impact how we think of ourselves as Christians?

Paul is using a metaphor. In the Old Testament, the God of Israel dwelt amongst his people in a tent, and then in a temple. These structures were outposts of a lost Eden in the fallen world (the tabernacle and temple both contained garden & creation imagery). The temple spoke of the re-instatement of that pre-Fall, perfect connection between God and humans. Theologically, humans cannot be human in the truest sense without the restoration of a lost dimension to their lives. That dimension is their living experience of the presence of God in their lives. That is what gives ‘true life’. Saying ‘presence’ might be confusing. Really, the idea is one of God’s influence on us, not coercively, but in partnership with us. A kind of enabling, but with a deeply personal component too – which is why ‘presence’ is ultimately the right word. It’s not merely a ‘spiritual’ thing. Because of the fundamental co-existent connection between the spiritual and the physical, both aspects of our person are involved in God’s presence.

If the presence of God in our body seems an odd concept, think about this: when you have an idea, an insight, or an intuition, where does it come from? From stored experiences in cells of your brain; from firing synapses and intercellular chemistry bringing experiences, memories and knowledge together (of course, I’m no expert on brains, but no-one on the planet really understands how this stuff really works!). Yes, of course that’s true. But, when we accept that the ‘spiritual’ and physical are intimately connected, we realise that through the Holy Spirit, God himself is influential in these processes. So, God can give insight. He can bring motivation to action. He can bring about answers to prayer when someone is praying for help and there’s a knock at their door. When we respond to reading God’s word, what is that? When we worship in Church and feel a deep-seated peace, or a rising up of joy, what is that? I don’t think a purely materialist perspective on these things is adequate. And, of course, when our knowledge, experience, etc. are formed by our interaction with God’s word and our interaction with God himself through prayer and worship, then all of this forms a rich tapestry of God’s presence in our bodies.

Obviously, I’m not saying that Paul thought of it in these terms – two thousand years ago the human body was a bigger mystery than it is today. But I am building this on the fact that Paul saw it as entirely appropriate to describe God the Holy Spirit as being ‘present’ in our bodies.

Through faith in Jesus Christ, God is present in us. What is lost to humanity – due to the entry of sin into the human psyche and the alienation of God from humans – is restored! But not only is God present, but in some sense so is the human Jesus Christ himself, who is the incarnated logos, the second ‘person’ in the divine Trinity (when we think of the connection between God and humans, the fact that God has become a human is extremely important, but no space here for that!). In John’s gospel we find the same idea expressed in a striking manner.

I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper…the Spirit of truth…; you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you… In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you…. Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. John 14:17-23

Does the way we imagine Christianity reflect this? Does our relationship with God reflect this? When we are praying, do we imagine we are praying to someone far off? And what about our relationship with Jesus? Are we talking to a Jesus lost in the past, or somewhere off in heaven? Talking to someone who doesn’t understand, or know about your life, your hopes, fears, sins, joy? In Jesus Christ, the Father truly has embraced the prodigal! And Paul’s main purpose in writing what he does in 1 Corinthians 6 is ethical. When we face temptation, shouldn’t the real presence of God in our bodies act as some kind of restraint? And give us real hope for choosing the right path? Our God, our Lord and Master Jesus is present in us through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus the Messiah and Creation

landscapeThere’s a lot that could be written about Jesus and Creation. What is the relationship of Jesus to the creation? It is complex. As the pre-incarnate logos, all things were created through him. As the incarnate logos, he has become part of the creation, taking matter as part of his being. The entry of the creator into his creation is critical to any biblical theology of creation. When the logos became flesh, he was born as Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the promised figure who would bring salvation.

In Ephesians, Paul tell us that God’s purpose is:

to bring together all things in the Messiah, both things in heaven and things on earth. Ephesians 1:10

The root of the Greek word (ἀνακεφαλαιώσασθαι) I’ve translated as ‘bring together’ (as does the NIV) really brings the idea of integration, but the prefix ανα- focusses that in on restoration. That restoration is not only a ‘spiritual’ restoration, but one which embraces the created world, the earth. Andrew Lincoln points out in his Ephesians Commentary (Word) that interpreters who believe that Paul is here teaching a view similar to the Gnostics, that there will be a dissolution of the cosmos and an end to time, misunderstand Paul fundamentally:

Such an interpretation does not take seriously the letter’s close associations with Colossians…and posits a total break with Paul’s gospel with its hope of the redemption, not the dissolution, of the created order. 33

The associations with Colossians that Lincoln mentions is a reference to the ‘hymn’ of Colossians 1, which links Jesus as the Son to creation and restoration, with the cross being the ground of that hope. The same phrase is repeated there: God is reconciling all things to himself through Jesus’ death on the cross, ‘whether things on earth or things in heaven’. The way the world is today is a result of the entry of sin into the created order; it’s a result of the fallen-ness of human beings. Jesus the Messiah has come into the world, has died and has been raised to life to bring the restoration, not only of human beings, but of the whole of the creation.

Only when our proclamation of the gospel makes that clear are we proclaiming the gospel that Paul believed and taught.

Did Isaiah See Jesus? John 12 and Isaiah 6

isaiah2[A slightly revised version of this post can be found here]

Over the past few weeks I’ve heard a number of times the view that when Isaiah saw the vision in the temple (recorded in Isaiah 6), it was Jesus he saw. This idea is based on John 12:41. Now, there’s no nice way to say this: statements like that are theologically illiterate. They make me worry about what people are being taught in church.  Jesus was born in Bethlehem, of a virgin named Mary – that is surely basic to the Christian creed. Before that Jesus didn’t exist.  The logos did the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God – but Jesus didn’t. In the words of the Confession:

The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon Him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man. (WCF 8:2)
It is the incarnation of the logos, the addition to the nature of the logos of a human nature (a human body and soul) that brings Jesus the person into being. The logos has an eternal divine nature, and so has always existed. But the logos is not Jesus. The name Jesus (or Yeshua, as Jesus’ family and friends would have called him – Joshua to you and me) was given to him at his birth. Jesus is a human being. Jesus did not exist before his birth. Isaiah did not see Jesus in the temple.
Only marginally better, but in my opinion usually misunderstood, is the term ‘the pre-incarnate Christ’. Some may argue that what Isaiah saw in his vision was the pre-incarnate Christ. But again, Christ – or Messiah – is a title bestowed upon a human being. It is not a title of the logos, it is a title of Jesus. Jesus is the Messiah. The logos is not the Messiah. The terms ‘pre-incarnate Jesus’, or ‘pre-incarnate Messiah’ might be used to mean the logos, but are somewhat misleading, if not given careful definition. There can be no simple identification of the logos as the pre-incarnate Jesus, or the pre-incarnate Messiah. There was a pre-incarnate logos – and that expresses the most important point, and therefore is the term which ought to be used. A whole mythology has grown up about where Jesus (or Christ) can be found in the OT – standing on the banks of the Jordan with Joshua, wrestling with Jacob, sitting in Abraham’s tent. Even if we allow that the logos is meant, it is far from clear that the logos could be manifest in isolation from the Trinity (apart from in the person of Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God).
Why does all this matter? Some would say that it is needless theological precision. I beg to differ. Too many Christians believe that Jesus has always existed. That, in a nutshell, is a denial of the incarnation. If Jesus is actually a spiritual being who slotted into a human ‘shell’, then he is not actually human (it’s the old Apollinarian heresy). To cut to the chase, you can see the theological fallout from this mistake in the effective silence about resurrection, and about the worth of embodied human existence, and in the almost ubiquitous impression that Christians give that we are solely looking forward to a spiritual existence in heaven. If a pre-existent Jesus wrapped himself in a human ‘shell’, then logically Jesus can be raised without that ‘shell’ and still be Jesus. Which perhaps explains why many Christians haven’t really taken on board that the resurrected Jesus has a human bones-and-flesh body now. The incarnation is the affirmation of human existence – God’s statement of intent to redeem it, body and soul. John wrote: the logos became flesh; not Jesus became flesh.
Anyway, back to John 12. The only option that is available is that Isaiah saw the logos in the temple, but that’s not what John 12:41 says.  The claim that John 12:41 says that Isaiah saw Jesus in the temple is just not true. The Gospel quotes first from Isaiah 53, a passage about the Servant of the Lord. Then from Isaiah 6, the vision in the temple. Both quotations are used to show that the unbelief of the people in Isaiah’s day is fulfilled in their rejection of Jesus the Messiah. These ‘things’ Isaiah said (that’s Isaiah 53 as well as Isaiah 6) because he ‘saw his glory and spoke of him’. That just means that Isaiah foresaw the glory of the Messiah’s day (in the Servant Songs and in Isaiah 7, 8, 9, which follow closely on the temple vision) and that his words are fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah’s life. The assumption that the words ‘saw his glory’ refer to the temple vision has no basis. In addition, there is no textual connection: Isaiah never says that he saw the glory of the Lord in the temple. The account of the temple vision in Isaiah 6 only contains one reference to glory, on the lips of the angelic beings who speak of the glory of God which fills the whole earth.