Another way in which John’s Gospel affirms Christ’s divine prehuman existence is in its contrasting Jesus as the true living bread from heaven with the manna which Jehovah rained down upon the Israelites during the Exodus:
“Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, you seek Me not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for that food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For God the Father has set His seal on Him.’ Then they asked Him, ‘What shall we do that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’ Therefore they said to Him, ‘What sign do You show then, that we may see and believe You? What work will You perform? Our fathers ate manna in the desert. As it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”’ Then Jesus said, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread FROM HEAVEN, but My Father gives you the true bread FROM HEAVEN. For the bread of God IS HE WHO COMES DOWN FROM HEAVEN and gives life to the world.’ Then they said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread always.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me shall never hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst. But I told you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. All whom the Father gives Me will come to Me, and he who comes to Me I will never cast out. FOR I CAME DOWN FROM HEAVEN, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who has sent Me, that of all whom He has given Me, I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.’ The Jews then murmured about Him, because He said, ‘I am the bread which came down from heaven.’ They said, ‘Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, “I have come down from heaven”?’ Jesus therefore answered them, ‘Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who has sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.’” John 6:26-44
The reason why such a contrast is important is that the Hebrew Scriptures expressly affirm that the manna was not taken from the earth, but was actual bread that physically came down from God’s heavenly abode:
“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Indeed, I will rain bread FROM HEAVEN for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain amount every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not. And it shall come to pass that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in, and it will be twice as much as they gather daily.’ So Moses and Aaron said to all the children of Israel, ‘At evening, you shall know that the LORD has brought you out from the land of Egypt. And in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because He hears your murmurings against the LORD. And what are we that you murmur against us?’ Then Moses said, “This will happen when the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening and bread in the morning to satisfy, for the LORD hears your murmurings which you murmur against Him. And what are we? Your murmurings are not against us, but against the LORD.’… When the layer of dew evaporated, on the surface of the wilderness there lay a small flaky thing, as fine as the frost on the ground. When the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, ‘What is it? (man hu)’ For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, ‘This is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat.’… The house of Israel named it manna, and it was like coriander seed and was white, and its taste was like wafers made with honey. Then Moses said, ‘This is what the LORD has commanded, “Fill an omer of it to be kept for your generations to come, so that they may see the bread that I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you forth from the land of Egypt.”’ Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take a pot and put an omer full of manna in it, and place it before the LORD, to be kept for generations to come.’ As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the testimony, to be kept.” Exodus 16:4-8, 14-15, 31-34
“You gave them bread FROM HEAVEN for their hunger and brought water out of the rock for them for their thirst. You told them to enter in order to possess the land which You had sworn to give them.” Nehemiah 9:15
“Yet He had commanded the skies above AND OPENED THE DOORS OF HEAVEN, and He rained down manna upon them to eat and gave them the grain OF HEAVEN. Man ate THE FOOD OF MIGHTY ANGELS; He sent them bread in abundance. He caused an east wind to blow in the heavens, and by His power He brought out a south wind. He rained meat on them as dust, and winged birds as the sand of the sea; and He let them fall in the midst of their camp all around their habitations. So they ate and were satisfied, for He gave them their own desire;” Psalm 78:23-29
“The people asked, and He brought quail, and satisfied them with abundant bread OF HEAVEN.” Psalm 105:40
This is why the Israelites didn’t know what it was, and why they even named it man hu, which literally means “what is it?” (https://biblehub.com/hebrew/4478.htm). Here, again, is the verse in question:
“When the people of Isra’el saw it, they asked each other, “Man hu? [What is it?]” because they didn’t know what it was. Moshe answered them, “It is the bread which Adonai has given you to eat.” Exodus 16:15 Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
“And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat.” Authorized King James Version (AKJV)
And when the Bnei Yisroel saw it, they said one to another, Mahn hu (What is it?) For they knew not mah hu (what [is] this). And Moshe said unto them, This is the lechem which Hashem hath given you to eat. Orthodox Jewish Bible (OJB)
Therefore, one cannot simply dismiss this as metaphorical language, denoting that this bread that the Israelites ate was given by God, as opposed to having been literally sent down from God’s heavenly abode, where he visibly appears seated on his throne in the presence of the host of heaven:
And he said, ‘Hear, therefore, the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside Him on His right hand and on His left. The LORD said, “Who will persuade Ahab so that he will go up and die at Ramoth Gilead?” And one said this, and another said that. Then a spirit came forth and stood before the Lord and said, “I will persuade him.” The LORD said to him, “How?” And he said, ‘I will go and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And He said, “You will be successful and persuade him. Go forth, and do so.” Now therefore, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all your prophets here, and He has spoken evil concerning you!’” 1 Kings 22:19-23
“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphim. Each one had six wings. With two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. One cried to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.’ The posts of the door moved at the voice of him who cried, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am undone because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of Hosts.’ Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar in his hand. And he laid it on my mouth, and said, ‘This has touched your lips, and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.’” Isaiah 6:1-7
“I watched until the thrones were cast down and the Ancient of Days was seated, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head like the pure wool. His throne was like the fiery flame, and its wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came out from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The judgment was set, and the books were opened.” Daniel 7:9-10
In a similar fashion, Jesus himself actually, personally, literally came down out from the Father’s presence in heaven and entered into this world by becoming a flesh and blood human being through his virginal conception and birth from his blessed mother by the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Matthew 1:18-25; 2:1-12; Luke 1:26-35; 2:1-7).
This is brought out more clearly in the following passage:
“‘I have told you these things in proverbs. But the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in proverbs, for I will speak to you PLAINLY about the Father. On that day you will ask in My name. I am not saying to you that I shall ask the Father on your behalf. For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world. As I said, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.’ His disciples said to Him, ‘Yes! Now You are speaking PLAINLY and with NO FIGURE OF SPEECH. Now we know that You know everything and do not need anyone to question You. By this we believe THAT YOU CAME FROM GOD.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe? Listen, the hour is coming. Yes, it has now come that you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave Me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with Me. I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.’” John 16:25-33
Christ expressly states that he is no longer communicating in a figurative manner, but plainly about his coming from the Father to enter into the world and his leaving the world to go to the Father. As a result of his speaking plainly, the disciples finally realize that he knows all things and are now convinced that he did indeed come from God.
Moreover, just as Jesus’ going to the Father was actual, personal, literal, etc., so his coming down from the Father in heaven to enter into the world must also have been actual, personal, literal. In other words, if Jesus’ ascension to the Father was an actual personal ascent, then his descending from heaven must have also been an actual personal descent. The only difference is that Jesus descended from heaven as a Spirit to become flesh, and then returned to heaven in that very flesh body that he took on, a physical body that became immortal by his resurrection from the dead:
“Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ Then the Jews said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will YOU raise it up in three days?’ But He was speaking concerning the temple of His body. Therefore, when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them. And they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.” John 2:19-22
“Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I received this command from My Father.” John 10:17-18
“But Thomas, one of the twelve, called The Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail prints in His hands, and put my finger in the nail prints, and put my hand in His side, I will not believe.’ After eight days His disciples were again inside with the doors shut, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came and stood among them, and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and look at My hands. Put your hand here and place it in My side. Do not be faithless, but believing.’ Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen, and have yet believed.’” John 20:24-29
“Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death has no further dominion over Him. For the death He died, He died to sin once for all, but the life He lives, He lives to God.” Romans 6:8-10
“who becomes a priest not by a law pertaining to ancestry, but by the power of an endless life… And the former priests were numerous because they were hindered from serving because of death. But He, because He lives forever, has an everlasting priesthood. Therefore He is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, because He at all times lives to make intercession for them. For such a High Priest was fitting for us, for He is holy, innocent, undefiled, separate from sinners, and is higher than the heavens.” Hebrews 7:16, 23-26
“When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though I were dead. Then He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, though I was dead. Look! I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.’” Revelation 1:17-18
One cannot take one part of the verse literally while allegorizing the other part. If the ascension was a personal one, then the descent from the Father’s heavenly presence must have been personal as well, and not merely a plan in God’s mind which became a reality when Christ was created in his mother’s womb.
A Unitarian Objection Refuted
One way in which unitarian heretics seek to deny Jesus’ personal prehuman existence in heaven is to cite the following texts, which speak of the Son of Man descending or returning to heaven:
No one has ascended to heaven except He who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man who is in heaven. John 3:13
“Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before?” John 6:62
The unitarian argues that Jesus couldn’t have literally been a Son of Man in heaven since this title refers to Christ’s humanity which he took from his blessed virgin mother. Therefore, one shouldn’t take statements where Jesus is said to have come down from heaven literally.
The problem with this assertion is that it erroneously assumes that our Lord was claiming to have already been the Son of Man while in heaven, as opposed to his merely speaking retrospectively.
In other words, Christ wasn’t saying that he already was the Son of Man before he came down from heaven. Rather, the reason why the Lord identified himself in this manner is because those with whom he was speaking saw a man standing before them. And since the Jews were seeing a flesh and blood human being before their eyes, it only makes sense that Jesus would refer to himself by the identity he had now assumed by having become flesh.
As such, the point of Jesus wasn’t that he existed as a human being while in heaven, but was simply stating that the Person whom the Jews saw standing before them as a man had come down from heaven and would return there.
It would be similar to saying that king David killed Goliath, even though he wasn’t a king at that time. Or that the Apostle Paul persecuted the church of Christ, despite the fact that he wasn’t even a believer when he did so, and therefore hadn’t even been commissioned as an apostle yet.
The fact is that the plain statements of John’s Gospel proclaim that the Person of Christ eternally existed with God the Father and was with him in heaven before he came down to the earth:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God (pros ton Theon), and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God (pros ton Theon). All things were created through Him, and without Him nothing was created that was created. In Him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. The light shines in darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it… The true Light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was created through Him, yet the world did not know Him… The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, the glory as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:1-5, 9-10, 14
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten 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 that the world through Him might be saved… He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all.” John 3:16-17, 31
“He said to them, ‘You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins. For unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins… I am telling what I have seen with My Father, and you are doing what you have seen with your father.’… Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I came from God and proceeded into the world. I did not come of My own authority, but He sent Me… Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day. He saw it and was glad.’ Then the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old. Have You seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM.’ Then they took up stones to throw at Him. But Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple. Going through their midst, He passed by.” John 8:23-24, 38, 42, 56-59
“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands and that He came from God and was going to God (pros ton Theon),” John 13:3
“And now, O Father, glorify Me in Your own presence with the glory which I had with You before the world existed… For I have given them the words which You gave Me. They have received them and certainly know that I came from You, and they have believed that You sent Me… Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, that they may see My glory which You have given Me. For You loved Me before the creation of the world.” John 17:5, 8, 24
No amount of hermeneutical gymnastics will ever be able to refute these clear, emphatic inspired declarations to the eternal prehuman existence and essential Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s beloved Son.
Jesus Christ: The God of the Patriarchs and Prophets (https://answeringislamblog.wordpress.com/2020/01/17/jesus-christ-the-god-of-the-patriarchs-and-prophets/)