1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.10 Hewas in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did notknow him.11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of theflesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen hisglory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He whocomes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”)16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given throughMoses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
John 1:1-18 ESV
Many moons ago, my wife and I were looking for our first home. We found a house that we thought would be a good fit for our family, and so we made an offer contingent on an inspection. As I followed the home inspector around, I began to notice a few things I had not seen before. There were four different types of flooring. Some windows were new, some were old. Each bathroom was extremely different (one had a sunken tub – talk about a hazard). Some rooms were modern, some were quite dated. I realized that making this house a home was going to take a great deal more work then I ever imagined. Not to mention there was a plumbing leak in the slab, so we passed on the house.
It was instructive to me, though, in understanding that a house is not simply a collection of rooms. There must be some decorative continuity. In a well-organized and designed home, you should be able to walk into the foyer, and get a good feel for how the rest of the house will look. In the gospel of John, the first 18 verses of the book function as it’s foyer. John lays themes that he will come back to again and again throughout the rest of his gospel. John has masterfully put his gospel together, much like a master craftsmen builds and designs a home. He has some key themes he wants us to understand, and so he puts them right upfront for us to inspect so that we might fully appreciate them as we move further into gospel.
John has major themes in the Prologue that recur throughout the rest of the gospel: 1) The Nature of Jesus 2) The Nature of Man 3) The Nature of Salvation. There are, to be sure, more themes than this, but to some degree they all work to support these main three.
Jesus is Divine, Eternal, and Creator of The World
“In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was GOD!” These are some of the most loved words of the Christian Gospel. John does something in these verses, and the next 4 that follow, that make clear that Jesus was Divine, Eternal, and is the God of creation. The words, “In the Beginning” should immediately draw your mind back to Genesis and God’s creation of the universe. In that Beginning, God, by his word, created all that came into being. John now tells us that this Word was Jesus, and that He existed from the beginning just like the Father.
More than this, he tells us this Word was God, and yet distinct from God. How can this be? John unfolds this in the chapters to come, and shows us the full reality of the Holy Trinity in this Gospel. Yet we already begin to see a major element of John’s teaching regarding the Trinity. The persons are so close in unity that they are all rightly called God. So Jesus’ works are the works of the Father, and yet He is not the Father.
Also notice two other things when it comes to his existence. John asserts that Jesus “was” at the beginning, and he asserts that we “were made.” It may seem like a small point, but John is subtly telling us there is a difference between Jesus and Us. John is further clarifying for us by the use of these words that Jesus always was, and we were not.
John also tells us “in Him was life.” To have life in and unto yourself is a Divine attribute. If you have life in and unto yourself you are not a creature, but a self-existing being. You are divine. We do not have life unto ourselves. We must be granted it from our creator. His life, that is the light of men, is what animates us.
Jesus is the True Light
This light of men also does what all light does – it illuminates and shows a path before us. This is the Word of psalm 119:105 lighting our path and guiding us to God. Later in chapter 8 Jesus is going to tell us He is the “light of the world.” In that setting we will see how he is claiming to be the very God who was the Pillar of fire for the nation of Israel that guided them to the promise land. Jesus, being the true light of the world, will guide His people to eternal life with the Father.
Light also has a judging quality to it, in that it shows things as they really are. Jesus is the light of men because what we make of him exposes us to what we really are. You are shown to be either a lover of the light, or a lover of darkness based on this. John lays this out in chapter 3.
This theme of light and darkness is important to John. In 1:5 we should also hear echos of Genesis 1 where, through His Word, God command there to be light and there was. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Again we should see reminders of creation, but also hear that with the arrival of Jesus, the final victory over Darkness by God has begun. That has profound impact on all of humanity. What you make of this light will determine your destiny.
John also tells us that the whole reason for John the Baptist coming was that he might testify to the “True Light” and the whole world believe because of his testimony. Indeed his testimony was not just that Jesus was “the light”, but also that He existed before John ever did, even though John was born before Jesus. We will deal with John the Baptist more in depth later, but his arrival as a witness to Jesus’ divinity and eternal existence is an important element of the Christian gospel. This proclamation is so important that all the Gospels deal with him and his testimony.
Jesus is Greater than all that came before
John introduces an idea by declaring Jesus to be the “true light” that would be easy to take as a contrast between true and false lights. However, after reading the whole Gospel one begins to see that John wasn’t contrasting true and false. He meant Jesus was the real light as opposed to the shadow that has come before. The shadow being the light of the law of Psalm 119, and the pillar of Fire in the desert. While they were all true and glorious revelations about the Father, yet they were still only shadows of what was to come.
This is how I believe that John wants us to read the section on Moses as well in verses 16 & 17. John, right after telling us that Jesus is full of grace and truth says “For from His fullness we have all received grace, upon grace. For the law came through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John is not trying to set-up a contrast between Law and Grace. Indeed, I believe that John is teaching that the law given through Moses was grace, and Jesus’ advent on earth to die for our sins was a greater grace on top of it. John’s point is the grace that comes through Jesus was greater than the grace that came through Moses because it was not the shadow of grace but true grace itself.
Also notice another subtle way that John signals that Jesus is greater than Moses. Look at the verbs. Moses received the Word of God on stone tablets, the law. It was “given” through Moses. However, now the Word of God has “come” in the person of Jesus and true grace comes with him. John is holding up the supremacy of Christ for those who still cling to Moses that they might see and believe.
Jesus came in the Flesh
Every December christians around the world celebrate the truth of John 1:14 -“The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. We have beheld his glory.” While this may seem like a small thing to an outsider, for those who believe, it is everything. This eternal, divine, creative word that brings light to all, made Himself a man so that he might die for us. Jesus wasn’t just a spirit, or simply an enlightened holy man, He was God himself in human flesh so that He might die in our place.
To John’s jewish audience would have seen even more than we commonly do. The word John uses for dwelt could woodenly be translated “pitched his tent” or “Tabernacled” among us. This should immediately bring our minds back to the Exodus where God pitched the tent of meeting where he would meet with Moses, and His glory descended upon it. John is saying that this very same God who lead the Israelites through he wilderness took on flesh to live among us. It also calls to mind the promises of the Prophets like Zechariah 2 that God would live again among his people.
John also leaves no room for those who might claim that Jesus was not fully human either. In the greco-roman world there was an idea of duality between spirit, and flesh. Many would preach flesh is bad and spirit is good. (Many have misunderstood Paul to be teaching this.) The idea that God would taken on flesh was abhorrent to those who hold such thoughts. It would be distasteful too to the Jewish mind as well, but for other reasons. That the God who created the world would become flesh and take on all of its weaknesses was truly mind boggling, and many would stumble over this teaching.
When John writes, “we have beheld his Glory”, he is grounding his testimony in things that he has seen, and he testifies to. He is an eyewitness to the incarnation. John makes it explicit in John 21:24 that he means for you to take this book as his testimony as an eyewitness to these events. In doing so John is making clear that this is not some made up story or myth, but these are true events that are grounded in history.
Why is any of this important? We will delve into this more in the next post on the Prologue when we deal with the nature of Salvation, but for now what we need to see is that, for John, saving faith ultimately is about what you believe about Jesus. If you get one of these points wrong you will miss the true gospel, and your faith will be on a shaky foundation. So what you believe about who Jesus is and who He revealed himself to be, is of utmost importance to your soul.
If Jesus is not the eternal, divine creator of the world He can not recreate you into his likeness. If Jesus was not the true light, then we will all continue to stumble in the darkness. If Jesus was not greater than Moses then we all are condemned. If Jesus did not truly come in the flesh, as a man, then our sins are not forgiven. We must have this Jesus that John describes to us, or we are lost.