What better question to pose to Immanuel than “What are you doing here?” As Christians we speak a lot about who we believe Jesus to be and we should. But why has Jesus come from heaven to earth? In a series of posts, I am going to seek to simply let Jesus answer this question for himself. Most people with a little Bible knowledge are aware of the “I am” statements of Jesus in John’s Gospel, statements which display to us who Jesus is, but it seems most people are far less familiar with Jesus’ “I have come statements” in Matthew, Mark, and Luke (these three Gospels are called the Synoptic Gospels–this is simply because of their similarities) which display to us why Jesus came to earth.
It is important that we understand both who Jesus is and why He came to earth. In fact, even in calling Jesus Immanuel at the begging of this post, I was making a statement about who I believe Jesus to be. “Immanuel” means “God with us”–meaning that Jesus is God with us (Isa. 7:14; 8:8; Matt. 1:25). Though reigning in heaven above, God has in some sense come down to us, to be with us, to dwell with us, speak to us, live for us, and finally die and rise again for us. However, I believe that all of these acts were not ultimately for us. I believe that Jesus came to earth, lived, walked, died, and rose again ultimately for the glory of God. Similarly, you and I were created to glorify God–to know Him, love Him, enjoy Him, and worship Him. However, we have utterly failed to live up to the purpose for which we were created. Jesus has not failed–He alone has lived up to the purpose for which He came to earth.
In anticipation of the cross, Jesus prayed to the Father, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come into this hour. Father, glorify your name” (John 12:27-28). I think the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation, his taking on of human flesh, was ultimatly to glorify God.
It is important that we speak of Jesus “having come” to earth rather than “becoming” or “having been created.” He was not created, but there was a point in time in which He took on human flesh. Before He took on human flesh, He was with the Father for all eternity. He is the great “I Am” of Exodus 3:14 (John 8:58). Jesus and the Father are one (John 10:30; 17:11). In fact, Jesus actively created the World alongside the Father and everything “was created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16).
In fact, Jesus’ “I have come” statements imply a prior existence in heaven. These statements refer to having come from the heavenly sphere to earth. In each of Jesus’ “I have come” statements, we see the formula of “I have come” + a purpose statement, i.e. “in order to seek and save the lost” or “not to abolish the law or the prophets but to fulfill them” (Luke 19:10; Matt. 5:17).
Some scholars have argued that these “I have come” statements simply state where Jesus physically traveled from, i.e. from Galilee to Samaria or some such location. There are two major problems with such an interpretation.
First, it would be absolutely absurd to say something like “I have come from Galilee to seek and save the lost” or better yet “I have come from Samaria to cast fire on the earth and would that it were already kindled” (I made up thes locations, the latter is taken from Luke 12:49). Jesus’ “I have come” statements all have far-reaching implications–cosmic, world transforming, paradigm shifting implications like “casting fire on the earth” and fulfilling the whole of the law and prophets!
Secondly, there is no human Old Testament figure or early Jewish figure who spoke with the forumula of “I have come” + a statement of purpose in the cosmic way that Jesus does. None of the Old Testament prophets started their prophetic ministry by proclaiming to Israel, “I have come in order to . . .” Where we do find this “I have come” + purpose formula is proceeding from the mouths of angels (Daniel 9:22-23; 11:2; Numbers 22:32). Each of these angels, Gabriel in Daniel and the Angel of the Lord’s Host in Numbers are speaking of having come from heaven in order to inform/help Daniel and Joshua respectively. This “I have come” + purpose formula is also found in some early Jewish literature and each time it is used by angelic beings but never by humans.
So when Matthew, Mark, and Luke cite Jesus’ “I have come” statements, they are implying that Jesus, like these angels, has come from a prior existence in heaven to earth in order to do certain things. So each of these statements will reveal to us the many interrelated reasons why God the Son took on human flesh and left His heavenly abode to dwell with us for a time.
I want to look at 10 such statements in the Synoptic Gospels (Matt., Mark, and Luke). In two of the statements Jesus says, “The Son of Man came to . . . ” rather than “I have come to . . . .” “Son of Man” is a significant designation that Jesus gives to himself with important Old Testament precedent. In my next post, I will look at two questions asked by demons of Jesus, which also utilize a very similar formula to the “I have come” + purpose formula. In fact what the demons fear that Jesus has come to do, has far reaching implications and reveal some of the cosmic implications of Christ’s coming.
These posts are going to be theological in nature and they are going to stretch what you think about Jesus and why He came. They may be tough to understand, so feel free to ask questions–I am not an expert in the feild of gospel studies by any means, but I will do my best to answer any questions you might have.
Finally I should mention that the idea for this series of posts came from Dr. Simon Gathercole’s book, The Pre-existent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. You can also download or stream lectures by Dr. Gathercole on Jesus’ preexistence at Southern Seminary’s website, just scroll down to the 2004 Gheen’s Lectures–if you want to download them, just click on the link and select “save target as” or “save link as.”