THE LIVING WORD John 1:1–18
“No one has ever seen God, but God the only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known” (John 1:18).John introduced the ultimate mystery. God had somehow taken on human nature and become flesh.
In both Testaments “word” is a pivotal and complex concept. The Greek logos appears over 300 times in the New Testament, with a variety of meanings. Jesus’ identification as the “Word” has great theological significance. As the Word, Jesus is the expression of God’s person and character in the world: the One who reveals the Father. And as the Word, Jesus is also the powerful, active presence of God in the world: the One with ultimate authority over all natural and supernatural forces, able through infusions of grace not only to make alive but also to transform the inner nature of human beings to fit them for fellowship with God. While theologians tend to wax eloquent over the philosophical implications of logos, as we read John’s Gospel we can have a simpler, more direct meaning in mind. Jesus, the Word of God, is the One through whom we hear God’s voice. He is the One in whom we meet God, and welcome God into our lives.
The “Word”—the Creator and source of our life—preexisted with and as God (1:1–5). John the Baptist announced His coming (vv. 6–9), yet when He arrived His own people rejected Him (vv. 10–11). But all who do receive Him become children of God (vv. 12–14). He is the source of grace, the Son who, being God, reveals the Father to mankind (vv. 15–18).
Understanding the Text
“In the beginning was the Word” John 1:1–2.
Like the first verses of Genesis, John 1:1–2 catapult us back beyond the origins of time, into the mystery of God Himself. Christians have affirmed the New Testament’s teaching that the One God of the Old Testament exists in three Persons: God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. John launched his Gospel with a powerful statement that the Man Jesus is God the Son, the eternal Word through whom God has always expressed Himself (see DEVOTIONAL). “In Him was life” John 1:3–5. In John’s Gospel “life” sometimes indicates biological vitality, but more often indicates spiritual life. John often described the life he spoke of as “eternal.” The life available to us in Christ has a supernatural quality and power, as well as endless extent. It is this eternal life which Christ offers that shines in our world as a bright light. Like a beacon to a lost traveler, the light shining in Jesus offers all men hope. Not only hope for life after death, but hope for a rich and meaningful life here and now. “The darkness has not understood it” John 1:5. The specific intent of the Greek verb, katelaben, has been much debated. Is it simply saying that men in darkness haven’t realized the nature of the shining light? Or does the word mean “overcome,” as in other passages in John? (6:17; 8:3–4; 12:35) Soon John would develop his theme of a basic conflict between good and evil, darkness and light. The world of men is not just ignorant of the character of the light, but hostile to it! An invisible war rages on Planet Earth. God and Satan are in perpetual conflict, and knowingly or not every human being takes sides. The light shed by the Son’s offer of eternal life makes the issues of the war more clear, and challenges everyone to take sides. How good to know that no matter how hostile men and women may be, they can never overcome Christ’s light. “A man who was sent from God” John 1:6–9. Luke told the Baptist’s background; John emphasized his mission. The fact that he was “sent from God” established his authority. His mission was summed up in the word “witness” (v. 8). Throughout this Gospel John would assemble evidence that established Jesus as the Son of God. The Baptist was the first witness, identifying Jesus for the Jewish men and women of the first century. Today too God sends men and women to witness of His Son. While Jesus Himself is the light, you and I must give testimony about the benefits of coming to Him for eternal life. “The right to become children of God” John 1:10–13. These verses, like much of John’s writing, are packed full of information. The “world” in verse 10 is first earth itself as the environment for life, and second a sinful social order which refused to acknowledge the Creator. While Jesus’ own people and nation would not receive Him, He continues to hold out the divine offer of eternal life to individuals. Those who do receive Him are given the right to become sons of God. The verses clarify two issues. First, are all human beings God’s children? While all human beings are His creations, and objects of His love, John reminds us that not all are spiritually related to God. Only the special gift of eternal life in Christ changes our nature, so that we become God’s tekna; His “born ones” who by spiritual rebirth share His divine nature. Second, what does it mean to “believe”? John began his explanation by equating “believe” with “receive.” New life in Christ is offered as a gift. Just as one who reaches out and takes a gift shows by his accepting it that he believes in the reality of the gift and the trustworthiness of the person who offers it, so in receiving Christ as Saviour, we demonstrate belief in the gift and in the trustworthiness of God the Giver. How simple it is. We hear the Gospel’s Good News, our heart welcomes Christ, and in a grand supernatural transaction we are forgiven and flooded with new life. We become God’s children, born anew by an act of God Himself. “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” John 1:15–17. The Law of Moses established a standard of righteousness for humankind. Jesus revealed God’s gracious attitude toward all mankind. Looking at the Law we see what we should be, and feel ashamed. Looking at Jesus, we realize God loves us despite our sins, and rejoice. “God the only Son” John 1:18. The essence of Deity is unseen because our eyes cannot detect Him. So God took on a form that we could see. “Only” here has the essential meaning of “unique.” Jesus is the Son of God in a way that we can never be, for He preexisted time itself. We become God’s children. Jesus is and has always been God’s only Son.
No Greater Love (John 1:1–2)
“Three gods! You’ve got three gods!” That misunderstanding of Christian faith is common in both Muslim and Jewish circles. And yet Christians claim, “No. We have one God, the God of the Old Testament, who is shown in the New Testament to exist in three Persons.” It’s nonsense to many, of course. And yet as we read John’s first verses, we see that this is just what the Bible teaches. The Word, a few verses later on identified as the Son incarnate, Jesus Christ, was there in the beginning. He was with God. And He was God. Many attempts have been made to find an analogy that will help us better grasp the mystery of the Trinity: the Three-in- Oneness of Scripture’s one God. All fall short. The Trinity remains a mystery. Perhaps the best suggestion though was made in the fourth century of our era by Saint Augustine. Augustine argued that God must be a Trinity, for God is love. Before the Creation of the world, God must have had someone to love, and some way to convey love. It follows, Augustine taught, that there must be Three within the oneness of God: a Father to love, a Son to be the object of that love, and a Holy Spirit to convey and express love. What a thought. Before God created, God was a Person who loved. Because He existed as a Trinity, God has always been able to express that love fully within His own being. And yet God’s love is so great that it overflowed beyond His own self. In love God created the world and populated it with persons in His own image. In love God gave those persons freedom of choice. And, in love, God sacrificed the Son He loved to preserve all who believe from the disastrous and eternal consequences of the choices they have made. The Gospel of John is not only the Gospel of belief and faith, as most empha-size. John is the Gospel of unimaginable love.
Considering who Jesus is can deepen your love for Him.
“Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and myself founded empires; but on what foundation did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded an empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.”—Napoleon Bonaparte