The Divine Word
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 came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (1:1–5)
The opening section of John’s gospel expresses the most profound truth in the universe in the clearest terms. Though easily understood by a child, John’s Spirit-inspired words convey a truth beyond the ability of the greatest minds in human history to fathom: the eternal, infinite God became a man in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The glorious, incontrovertible truth that in Jesus the divine “Word became flesh” (1:14) is the theme of John’s gospel.
The deity of the Lord Jesus Christ is an essential, nonnegotiable tenet of the Christian faith. Several lines of biblical evidence flow together to prove conclusively that He is God.
First, the direct statements of Scripture affirm that Jesus is God. In keeping with his emphasis on Christ’s deity, John records several of those statements. The opening verse of his gospel declares, “the Word [Jesus] was God” (see the discussion of this verse later in this chapter). In John’s gospel Jesus repeatedly assumed for Himself the divine name “I am” (cf. 4:26; 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, 8). In 10:30, He claimed to be one in nature and essence with the Father (that the unbelieving Jews recognized this as a claim to deity is clear from their reaction in v. 33; cf. 5:18). Nor did Jesus correct Thomas when he addressed Him as “My Lord and my God!” (20:28); in fact, He praised him for his faith (v. 29). Jesus’ reaction is inexplicable if He were not God.
To the Philippians Paul wrote, “[Jesus] existed in the form of God,” possessing absolute “equality with God” (Phil. 2:6). In Colossians 2:9 he declared, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” Romans 9:5 refers to Christ as “God blessed forever”; Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 call Him “our God and Savior.” God the Father addressed the Son as God in Hebrews 1:8: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom.” In his first epistle John referred to Jesus Christ as “the true God” (1 John 5:20).
Second, Jesus Christ receives titles elsewhere in Scripture given to God. As noted above, Jesus took for Himself the divine name “I am.” In John 12:40 John quoted Isaiah 6:10, a passage which in Isaiah’s vision refers to God (cf. Isa. 6:5). Yet in verse 41 John declared, “These things Isaiah said because he saw His [Christ’s; cf. vv. 36, 37, 42] glory, and he spoke of Him.” Jeremiah prophesied that the Messiah would be called “The Lord [YHWH] our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6).
God and Jesus are both called Shepherd (Ps. 23:1—John 10:14); Judge (Gen. 18:25—2 Tim. 4:1, 8); Holy One (Isa. 10:20—Ps. 16:10; Acts 2:27; 3:14); First and Last (Isa. 44:6; 48:12—Rev. 1:17; 22:13); Light (Ps. 27:1—John 8:12); Lord of the Sabbath (Ex. 16:23, 29; Lev. 19:3—Matt. 12:8); Savior (Isa. 43:11—Acts 4:12; Titus 2:13); Pierced One (Zech. 12:10—John 19:37); Mighty God (Isa. 10:21—Isa. 9:6); Lord of lords (Deut. 10:17—Rev. 17:14); Alpha and Omega (Rev. 1:8—Rev. 22:13); Lord of Glory (Ps. 24:10—1 Cor. 2:8); and Redeemer (Isa. 41:14; 48:17; 63:16—Eph. 1:7; Heb. 9:12).
Third, Jesus Christ possesses the incommunicable attributes of God, those unique to Him. Scripture reveals Christ to be eternal (Mic. 5:2; Isa. 9:6), omnipresent (Matt. 18:20; 28:20), omniscient (Matt. 11:27; John 16:30; 21:17), omnipotent (Phil. 3:21), immutable (Heb. 13:8), sovereign (Matt. 28:18), and glorious (John 17:5; 1 Cor. 2:8; cf. Isa. 42:8; 48:11, where God states that He will not give His glory to another).
Fourth, Jesus Christ does the works that only God can do. He created all things (John 1:3; Col. 1:16), sustains the creation (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3), raises the dead (John 5:21; 11:25–44), forgives sin (Mark 2:10; cf. v. 7), and His word stands forever (Matt. 24:35; cf. Isa. 40:8).
Fifth, Jesus Christ received worship (Matt. 14:33; 28:9; John 9:38; Phil. 2:10; Heb. 1:6)—even though He taught that only God is to be worshiped (Matt. 4:10). Scripture also records that both holy men (Acts 10:25–26) and holy angels (Rev. 22:8–9) refused worship.
Finally, Jesus Christ received prayer, which is only to be addressed to God (John 14:13–14; Acts 7:59–60; 1 John 5:13–15).
Verses 1–18, the prologue to John’s presentation of the deity of Christ, are a synopsis or overview of the entire book. John clearly defined his purpose in writing his gospel in 20:31—that his readers “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing [they] may have life in His name.” John revealed Jesus Christ as “the Son of God,” the eternal second person of the Trinity. He became a man, the “Christ” (Messiah), and offered Himself as a sacrifice for sins. Those who put their faith in Him will “have life in His name,” while those who reject Him will be judged and sentenced to eternal punishmnt.
The reality that Jesus is God, introduced in the prologue, is expounded throughout the book by John’s careful selection of claims and miracles that seal the case. Verses 1–3 of the prologue teach that Jesus is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father; verses 4–5 relate the salvation He brought, which was announced by His herald, John the Baptist (vv. 6–8); verses 9–13 describe the reaction of the human race to Him, either rejection (vv. 10–11) or acceptance (vv. 12–13); verses 14–18 summarize the entire prologue.
The prologue also introduces several key terms that appear throughout the book, including light (3:19–21; 8:12; 9:5; 12:35–36, 46), darkness (3:19; 8:12; 12:35, 46), life (3:15–16, 36; 4:14, 36; 5:21, 24, 26, 39–40; 6:27, 33, 35, 40, 47–48, 51, 53–54, 63, 68; 8:12; 10:10, 28; 11:25; 12:25, 50; 14:6; 17:2, 3; 20:31), witness (or testify; 2:25; 3:11; 5:31, 36, 39; 7:7; 8:14; 10:25; 12:17; 15:26–27; 18:37), glory (2:11; 5:41, 44; 7:18; 8:50, 54; 11:4, 40; 12:41; 17:5, 22, 24), and world (3:16–17, 19; 4:42; 6:14, 33, 51; 7:7; 8:12, 23, 26; 9:5, 39; 10:36; 11:27; 12:19, 31, 46–47; 13:1; 14:17, 19, 22, 27, 30–31; 15:18–19; 16:8, 11, 20, 28, 33; 17:5–6, 9, 11, 13–16, 18, 21, 23–25; 18:36–37).
From the first five verses of John’s gospel prologue flow three evidences of the deity of the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ: His preexistence, His creative power, and His self-existence.
The Preexistence of the Word
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. (1:1–2)
Archē (beginning) can mean “source,” or “origin” (cf. Col. 1:18; Rev. 3:14);or “rule,” “authority,” “ruler,” or “one in authority” (cf. Luke 12:11; 20:20; Rom. 8:38; 1 Cor. 15:24; Eph. 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Col. 1:16; 2:10, 15; Titus 3:1). Both of those connotations are true of Christ, who is both the Creator of the universe (v. 3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2) and its ruler (Col. 2:10; Eph. 1:20–22; Phil. 2:9–11). But archē refers here to the beginning of the universe depicted in Genesis 1:1.
Jesus Christ was already in existence when the heavens and the earth were created; thus, He is not a created being, but existed from all eternity. (Since time began with the creation of the physical universe, whatever existed before that creation is eternal.) “The Logos [Word] did not then begin to be, but at that point at which all else began to be, He already was. In the beginning, place it where you may, the Word already existed. In other words, the Logos is before time, eternal.” (Marcus Dods, “John” in W. Robertson Nicoll, ed. The Expositors’ Bible Commentary [Reprint; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2002], 1:683. Emphasis in original.). That truth provides definitive proof of Christ’s deity, for only God is eternal.
The imperfect tense of the verb eimi (was), describing continuing action in the past, further reinforces the eternal preexistence of the Word. It indicates that He was continuously in existence before the beginning. But even more significant is the use of eimi instead of ginomai (“became”). The latter term refers to things that come into existence (cf. 1:3, 10, 12, 14). Had John used ginomai, he would have implied that the Word came into existence at the beginning along with the rest of creation. But eimi stresses that the Word always existed; there was never a point when He came into being.
The concept of the Word (logos) is one imbued with meaning for both Jews and Greeks. To the Greek philosophers, the logos was the impersonal, abstract principle of reason and order in the universe. It was in some sense a creative force, and also the source of wisdom. The average Greek may not have fully understood all the nuances of meaning with which the philosophers invested the term logos. Yet even to laymen the term would have signified one of the most important principles in the universe.
To the Greeks, then, John presented Jesus as the personification and embodiment of the logos. Unlike the Greek concept, however, Jesus was not an impersonal source, force, principle, or emanation. In Him, the true logos who was God became a man—a concept foreign to Greek thought.
But logos was not just a Greek concept. The word of the Lord was also a significant Old Testament theme, well-known to the Jews. The word of the Lord was the expression of divine power and wisdom. By His word God introduced the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 15:1), gave Israel the Ten Commandments (Ex. 24:3–4; Deut. 5:5; cf. Ex. 34:28; Deut. 9:10), attended the building of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:11–13), revealed God to Samuel (1 Sam. 3:21), pronounced judgment on the house of Eli (1 Kings 2:27), counseled Elijah (1 Kings 19:9ff.), directed Israel through God’s spokesmen (cf. 1 Sam. 15:10ff.; 2 Sam. 7:4ff.; 24:11ff.; 1 Kings 16:1–4; 17:2–4., 8ff.; 18:1; 21:17–19; 2 Chron. 11:2–4), was the agent of creation (Ps. 33:6), and revealed Scripture to the prophets (Jer. 1:2; Ezek. 1:3; Dan. 9:2; Hos. 1:1; Joel 1:1; Jonah 1:1; Mic. 1:1; Zeph. 1:1; Hag. 1:1; Zech. 1:1; Mal. 1:1).
John presented Jesus to his Jewish readers as the incarnation of divine power and revelation. He initiated the new covenant (Luke 22:20; Heb. 9:15; 12:24), instructs believers (John 10:27), unites them into a spiritual temple (1 Cor. 3:16–17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21), revealed God to man (John 1:18; 14:7–9), judges those who reject Him (John 3:18; 5:22), directs the church through those whom He has raised up to lead it (Eph. 4:11–12; 1 Tim. 5:17; Titus 1:5; 1 Peter 5:1–3), was the agent of creation (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2), and inspired the Scripture penned by the New Testament writers (John 14:26) through the Holy Spirit whom He sent (John 15:26). As the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ is God’s final word to mankind: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1:1–2).
Then John took his argument a step further. In His eternal preexistence the Word was with God. The English translation does not bring out the full richness of the Greek expression (pros ton theon). That phrase means far more than merely that the Word existed with God; it “[gives] the picture of two personal beings facing one another and engaging in intelligent discourse” (W. Robert Cook, The Theology of John [Chicago: Moody, 1979], 49). From all eternity Jesus, as the second person of the trinity, was “with the Father [pros ton patera]” (1 John 1:2) in deep, intimate fellowship. Perhaps pros ton theon could best be rendered “face-to-face.” The Word is a person, not an attribute of God or an emanation from Him. And He is of the same essence as the Father.
Yet in an act of infinite condescension, Jesus left the glory of heaven and the privilege of face-to-face communion with His Father (cf. John 17:5). He willingly “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.… He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:7–8). Charles Wesley captured some of the wonder of that marvelous truth in the familiar hymn “And Can It Be That I Should Gain?”:
He left His Father’s throne above,
So free, so infinite His grace!
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
John’s description of the Word reached its pinnacle in the third clause of this opening verse. Not only did the Word exist from all eternity, and have face-to-face fellowship with God the Father, but also the Word was God. That simple statement, only four words in both English and Greek (theos ēn ho logos), is perhaps the clearest and most direct declaration of the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ to be found anywhere in Scripture.
But despite their clarity, heretical groups almost from the moment John penned these words have twisted their meaning to support their false doctrines concerning the nature of the Lord Jesus Christ. Noting that theos (God) is anarthrous (not preceded by the definite article), some argue that it is an indefinite noun and mistranslate the phrase, “the Word was divine” (i.e., merely possessing some of the qualities of God) or, even more appalling, “the Word was a god.”
The absence of the article before theos, however, does not make it indefinite. Logos (Word) has the definite article to show that it is the subject of the sentence (since it is in the same case as theos). Thus the rendering “God was the Word” is invalid, because “the Word,” not “God,” is the subject. It would also be theologically incorrect, because it would equate the Father (“God” whom the Word was with in the preceding clause) with the Word, thus denying that the two are separate persons. The predicate nominative (God) describes the nature of the Word, showing that He is of the same essence as the Father (cf. H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament [Toronto: MacMillan, 1957], 139–40; A. T. Robertson, The Minister and His Greek New Testament [Reprint: Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978], 67–68).
According to the rules of Greek grammar, when the predicate nominative (God in this clause) precedes the verb, it cannot be considered indefinite (and thus translated “a god” instead of God) merely because it does not have the article. That the term God is definite and refers to the true God is obvious for several reasons. First, theos appears without the definite article four other times in the immediate context (vv. 6, 12, 13, 18; cf. 3:2, 21; 9:16; Matt. 5:9). Not even the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ distorted translation of the Bible renders the anarthrous theos “a god” in those verses. Second, if John’s meaning was that the Word was divine, or a god, there were ways he could have phrased it to make that unmistakably clear. For example, if he meant to say that the Word was merely in some sense divine, he could have used the adjective theios (cf. 2 Peter 1:4). It must be remembered that, as Robert L. Reymond notes, “No standard Greek lexicon offers ‘divine’ as one of the meanings of theos, nor does the noun become an adjective when it ‘sheds’ its article” (Jesus, Divine Messiah [Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presb. & Ref., 1990], 303). Or if he had wanted to say that the Word was a god, he could have written ho logos ēn theos. If John had written ho theos ēn ho logos, the two nouns (theos and logos) would be interchangeable, and God and the Word would be identical. That would have meant that the Father was the Word, which, as noted above, would deny the Trinity. But as Leon Morris asks rhetorically, “How else [other than theos ēn ho logos] in Greek would one say, ‘the Word was God’?” (The Gospel According to John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979], 77 n. 15).
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, John chose the precise wording that accurately conveys the true nature of the Word, Jesus Christ. “By theos without the article, John neither indicates, on the one hand, identity of Person with the Father; nor yet, on the other, any lower nature than that of God Himself” (H. A. W. Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Hand-Book to the Gospel of John [Reprint; Winona Lake, Ind.: Alpha, 1979], 48).
Underscoring their significance, John restated the profound truths of verse 1 in verse 2. He emphasized again the eternity of the Word; He already was in existence in the beginning when everything else was created. As it did in verse 1, the imperfect tense of the verb eimi (was) describes the Word’s continuous existence before the beginning. And as John also noted in verse 1, that existence was one of intimate fellowship with God the Father.
The truth of Jesus Christ’s deity and full equality with the Father is a nonnegotiable element of the Christian faith. In 2 John 10 John warned, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching [the biblical teaching concerning Christ; cf. vv. 7, 9], do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting.” Believers are not to aid heretical false teachers in any way, including giving those who have blasphemed Christ food and lodging, since the one who does so “participates in [their] evil deeds” (v. 11). Such seemingly uncharitable behavior is perfectly justified toward false teachers who deny the deity of our Lord and the gospel, since they are under God’s curse:
There are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! (Gal. 1:7–9)
Emphasizing their deadly danger, both Paul (Acts 20:29) and Jesus (Matt. 7:15) described false teachers as wolves in disguise. They are not to be welcomed into the sheepfold, but guarded against and avoided.
Confusion about the deity of Christ is inexcusable, because the biblical teaching regarding it is clear and unmistakable. Jesus Christ is the eternally preexistent Word, who enjoys full face-to-face communion and divine life with the Father, and is Himself God.
The Creative Power of the Word
All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. (1:3)
Once again John expressed a profound truth in clear language. Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, created everything that came into being. John underscored that truth by repeating it negatively; apart from Him nothing (lit., “not even one thing”) came into being that has come into being.
That Jesus Christ created everything (cf. Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2) offers two further proofs of His deity. First, the Creator of all things must Himself be uncreated, and only the eternal God is uncreated. The Greek text emphasizes the distinction between the uncreated Word and His creation, since a different verb is used here than the one used in verses 1 and 2. As noted in the previous point, John used a form of the verb eimi (“to be”), which denotes a state of being, to describe the Word in verses 1 and 2; here, speaking of the creation of the universe, he used a form of the verb ginomai (came into being). That Jesus is the Creator also verifies His deity, because God is portrayed throughout the Bible as the Creator (Gen. 1:1; Ps. 102:25; Isa. 40:28; 42:5; 45:18; Mark 13:19; Rom. 1:25; Eph. 3:9; Rev. 4:11).
By stressing the role of the Word in creating the universe, John countered the false teaching that later developed into the dangerous heresy known as Gnosticism. The Gnostics embraced the philosophical dualism common to Greek philosophy that held that spirit was good and matter was evil. They argued that since matter was evil, the good God could not have created the physical universe. Instead, a series of spirit beings emanated from Him until finally one of those descending emanations was evil and foolish enough to create the physical universe. But John rejected that heretical view, strongly affirming that Jesus Christ was the Father’s agent in creating everything.
The present world, however, is radically different from God’s original good creation (Gen. 1:31). The catastrophic results of the fall not only affected the human race, but also the entire creation. Jesus therefore will one day redeem not only believers, but also the material world as well, as Paul noted in Romans 8:19–21:
For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
When the curse is lifted during Christ’s millennial reign,
The wolf will dwell with the lamb,
And the leopard will lie down with the young goat,
And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little boy will lead them.
Also the cow and the bear will graze,
Their young will lie down together,
And the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra,
And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain,
For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
As the waters cover the sea. (Isa. 11:6–9)
The wolf and the lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox; and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain, says the Lord. (Isa. 65:25)
The Self-Existence of the Word
In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (1:4–5)
Displaying yet again his Spirit-inspired economy of words, John in these two brief verses summarized the incarnation. Christ, the embodiment of life and the glorious, eternal Light of heaven, entered the sin-darkened world of men, and that world reacted in various ways to Him.
As noted earlier in this chapter, the themes life and Light are common in John’s gospel. Zōē (life) refers to spiritual life as opposed to bios, which describes physical life (cf. 1 John 2:16). Here, as in 5:26, it refers primarily to Christ having life in Himself. Theologians refer to that as aseity, or self-existence. It is clear evidence of Christ’s deity, since only God is self-existent.
This truth of God’s and Christ’s self-existence—having life in themselves—is foundational to our faith. All that is created can be said to be “becoming,” because nothing created is unchanging. It is essential to understand that permanent, eternal, non-changing being or life is distinct from all that is becoming. “Being” is eternal and the source of life for what is “becoming.” That is what distinguishes creatures from the Creator, us from God.
Genesis 1:1 establishes this fundamental reality with the statement, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Because it is the most important truth in the Bible, it is the one most assaulted. Unbelievers know that to be rid of creation is to be rid of a Creator. And to be rid of God leaves men free to live in whatever way they want, with no judgment.
The whole universe falls into the category of “becoming” because there was a point when it did not exist. Before existence it was the self-existent eternal being—the source of life—God, who is pure, self-existent being, pure life, and never becoming anything. All creation receives its life from outside, from Him, but He derives His life from within Himself, depending on nothing for His life. There was a point when the universe did not exist. There was never a point when God did not exist. He is self-existence, life, “I am who I am” (Ex. 3:14). He is from everlasting to everlasting. Acts 17:28 rightly says: “In Him we live and move and exist.” We cannot live or move or be without His life. But He has always lived and moved and been.
This is the purest ontological description of God—and to say Jesus is the life is to say the most pure truth about the nature of God that He possesses. And, as in verse 3, He then is the Creator.
While as the Creator Jesus is the source of everything and everyone who lives, the word life in John’s gospel always translates zōē, which John uses for spiritual or eternal life. It is imparted by God’s sovereign grace (6:37, 39, 44, 65; cf. Eph. 2:8) to all those who believe savingly in Jesus Christ (1:12; 3:15–16, 36; 6:40, 47; 20:31; cf. Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:9–10; 1 John 5:1, 11–13). It was to impart spiritual life to sinners who “were dead in [their] trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1) that Jesus came into the world (10:10; cf. 6:33).
While it is appropriate to make some distinction between life and light, the statement the life was the Light halts any disconnect between the two. In reality, John is writing that life and light cannot be separated. They are essentially the same, with the idea of light emphasizing the manifestation of the divine life. The life was the Light is the same construction as “the Word was God” (v. 1). As God is not separate from the Word, but the same in essence, so life and light share the same essential properties.
The light combines with life in a metaphor for the purpose of clarity and contrast. God’s life is true and holy. Light is that truth and holiness manifest against the darkness of lies and sin. Light and life are linked in this same way in John 8:12, in which Jesus says: “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” The connection between light and life is also clearly made in the Old Testament. Psalm 36:9 says: “For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light.”
“The light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4) is nothing more than the radiating, manifest life of God shining in His Son. Paul specifically says: “God … is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (v. 6). So light is God’s life manifest in Christ.
In addition to its connection to life, light carries its own significance, as seen in the contrast between light and darkness, which is a common theme in Scripture. Intellectually, light refers to truth (Ps. 119:105; Prov. 6:23; 2 Cor. 4:4) and darkness to falsehood (Rom. 2:19); morally, light refers to holiness (Rom. 13:12; 2 Cor. 6:14; Eph. 5:8; 1 Thess. 5:5) and darkness to sin (Prov. 4:19; Isa. 5:20; Acts 26:18). Satan’s kingdom is the “domain of darkness” (Col. 1:13; cf. Luke 22:53; Eph. 6:12), but Jesus is the source of life (11:25; 14:6; cf. Acts 3:15; 1 John 1:1) and the Light that shines in the darkness of the lost world (8:12; 9:5; 12:35–36, 46).
Despite Satan’s frantic, furious assaults on the Light, the darkness did not comprehend it. Katalambanō (comprehend) is better translated “overcome.” Even a small candle can drive the darkness from a room; the brilliant, glorious Light of the Lord Jesus Christ will utterly destroy Satan’s realm of darkness. Since He came into the world, “the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining” (1 John 2:8).
The thrust of this verse, then, is not that the darkness failed to understand the truth about Jesus; on the contrary, the forces of darkness know Him all too well. In Matthew 8:29 some demons “cried out [to Jesus], saying, ‘What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?’ ” In Peter’s house in Capernaum, Jesus “cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was” (Mark 1:34). Luke 4:41 records that “demons also were coming out of many, shouting, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But rebuking them, He would not allow them to speak, because they knew Him to be the Christ.” In Luke 4:34 a terrified demon pleaded, “Let us alone! What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” The demons not only know the truth about Christ, but they also believe it. “You believe that God is one,” wrote James, “You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder” (James 2:19).
It is because they understand with total clarity the judgment that awaits them that Satan and the demons have tried desperately throughout history to kill the life and extinguish the Light. In the Old Testament, Satan tried to destroy Israel, the nation from which the Messiah would come. He also tried to destroy the kingly line from which the Messiah would descend (2 Kings 11:1–2). In the New Testament, he prompted Herod’s futile attempt to kill the infant Jesus (Matt. 2:16). At the beginning of His earthly ministry, Satan vainly tried to tempt Jesus to turn aside from the cross (Matt. 4:1–11). Later, he repeated the temptation again through one of His closest followers (Matt. 16:21–23). Even Satan’s seeming triumph at the cross in reality marked his ultimate defeat (Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14; cf. 1 John 3:8).
Similarly, unbelievers are eternally lost not because they do not know the truth, but because they reject it:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (Rom. 1:18–21)
(For a further discussion of this point, see the exposition of 1:9–11 in chapter 2 of this volume.)
No one who rejects Christ’s deity can be saved, for He Himself said in John 8:24, “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.” It is fitting, then, that John opens his gospel, which so strongly emphasizes Christ’s deity (cf. 8:58; 10:28–30; 20:28), with a powerful affirmation of that essential truth.
Introducing John’s Gospel
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The Gospel of John has blessed the hearts of God’s people through the centuries. It has been called “God’s love letter to the world.” Luther wrote of it, “This is the unique, tender, genuine chief Gospel. … Should a tyrant succeed in destroying the Holy Scriptures and only a single copy of the Epistle to the Romans and the Gospel according to John escape him, Christianity would be saved.” Luther must have especially loved the Gospel because he preached on it for many years from the pulpit of the parish church of Wittenberg.
Some of the most widely known and best-loved texts in the Word of God are from this Gospel—John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”; John 6:35: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty”; John 10:11: “I am the good shepherd”; John 11:25: “I am the resurrection and the life”; John 15:1: “I am the true vine.” There is the beloved fourteenth chapter: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back, and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.… I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:1–4, 6).
Because of these and other passages, it is not surprising that the Gospel of John has been a source of blessing to untold generations of God’s people. It has probably been the means by which more persons have come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord than any other single portion of Scripture.
A Unique Gospel
But the Gospel of John is merely one of four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—all of which tell of the life of Jesus Christ on earth. So we need to ask: What makes this Gospel unique? What makes John different? As one begins to read it, he soon notices some very obvious differences. Because of their similarities, Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the synoptic Gospels; the three look at the life of Christ from similar viewpoints and employ similar and, at times, even identical language. John stands apart.
In the first place, John omits many things that either one or more than one of the synoptic Gospels include. John gives no account of Christ’s birth. There is no mention of his baptism, although John clearly presupposes a knowledge of Christ’s baptism on the part of his readers. The institution of the Lord’s Supper is not included. There is no ascension. What is perhaps most striking of all, there are no parables, those pithy sayings of Jesus that occupy such a prominent place in the other accounts of Christ’s teachings.
At the same time John shows a detailed knowledge of things that the other Gospels omit. For instance, John reports on an early ministry of Jesus in Judea. He indicates that the duration of Christ’s ministry was close to three years, not one year, which is the impression one gets from reading the synoptic Gospels. John alone speaks of the changing of the water into wine at Cana. He alone tells of Nicodemus, of the woman of Samaria, of the raising of Lazarus. Only in John do we find the great discourses spoken by Jesus to his own disciples during the final week in Jerusalem.
It is probably because John is so different (and so spiritual) that some scholars have attacked this book strongly. Otherwise, it seems strange that this Gospel, which has been such a blessing to Christian people, should become the outstanding example among the New Testament books of what a section of God’s Word can suffer at the hands of the higher critics of the Scriptures. One would have thought that the historical accuracy and apostolic authorship of John would have been defended stoutly. But this has not been the case until recently. Instead there had been a generation of scholarship (not so many years ago) that thought that John was not at all reliable. In this period all but the most conservative scholars said that the Gospel must have been written at least 150 or even 200 years after Christ’s death. Many placed it in a literary category of its own as being something very much like theological fiction.
Today this is no longer true. There has been a remarkable change in the scholarly climate surrounding John’s Gospel, with the result that it is becoming increasingly inadequate to deny the Johannine authorship. A new claim is even being made for the reliability of the Gospel as history. Moreover, this claim has come about, not because the scholarly world itself is becoming more conservative but because the evidence for the reliability of John has simply overshadowed the most destructive of the academic theories. Thus today men of such academic stature as Oscar Cullmann of the University of Basel, Switzerland, and John A. T. Robinson of England argue that the Gospel may well embody the testimony of a genuine eyewitness, as it claims. And some, like the late Near Eastern archaeologist William F. Albright, are willing to date the book in the a.d. 60s, that is, within thirty or forty years of Christ’s death and resurrection.
At this point someone may say, “What has produced such a turnabout in the ways these men view the Gospel?” It is a good question. The answers to it are significant.
First, many ancient manuscripts and parchments of John or parts of John have been discovered, and these have pushed back the dating of the book. For a long time, before the great harvest of archaeological discoveries in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the earliest copies of the fourth Gospel were from the fourth century, about a.d. 325 to 340. While this was much more impressive than any manuscript evidence for other ancient writings—for instance, the earliest manuscripts of Homer’s verses were written about 2,000 years after his death—nevertheless, it gave scholars liberty enough to date John so late that it could not have been written by anyone who knew Jesus or even by anyone who could have known those who had known him.
The discovery of more ancient manuscripts has changed this. One ancient scrap of papyrus, which was originally found in Egypt as part of the wrapping of a mummy and is now part of the papyrus collection at the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England, alone destroys these theories. This piece of papyrus contains just a few verses of John 18 (vv. 31–34, 37, 38). But it dates from the first quarter of the second century—in other words, less than one hundred years after Christ—and thus shows that John’s Gospel had been written early enough to have had a copy pass to Egypt to be used there and then to be discarded by the year a.d. 125. This is conclusive evidence for a fairly early dating of the Gospel.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
The second major factor in a reassessment of the dating and historical accuracy of John’s Gospel has been the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. These were uncovered in 1947 and the years immediately following, but the impact of their discovery is continuing even now as the scrolls are being unrolled, assembled, translated, and published.
Before the scrolls were discovered, scholars evaluated the differences between John and the synoptic Gospels in a way that was highly unfavorable to John. For instance, they noticed the unique language of John’s Gospel, with its contrasts between light and darkness, life and death, the world below and the world above, and so on. They noticed that the contrasts were generally lacking in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. “Well,” they said, “it is obvious that the first three Gospels are Jewish and reflect a Jewish setting. But it is also obvious that John’s work is not. John’s Gospel must come from a Greek setting. Therefore, we must seek the origin of these unique terms not in the actual speech of Jesus of Nazareth but in Greek thought and particularly in Hellenistic Gnosticism.”
Then the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. These revealed a whole world of nonconformist Judaism that had simply not been known to scholars previously. The home of the scrolls was Qumran, not far from Jerusalem, in the very area where John placed the earliest events of Christ’s ministry. And what was most significant, the literature revealed the same use of the so-called Greek terms (logos, light, darkness, life, death) that are found in John’s Gospel and actually provided a far closer parallel to them.
One scholar, A. M. Hunter of Aberdeen University in Scotland, writes of these discoveries: “The dualism which pervades the Johannine writings is of precisely the same kind as we discover in the Dead Sea Scrolls.” John A. T. Robinson writes: “I detect a growing readiness to recognize that this [the historical background of John’s gospel] is not to be sought at the end of the first century or the beginning of the second, in Ephesus or Alexandria, among the Gnostics or the Greeks. Rather, there is no compelling need to let our gaze wander very far, either in space or time, beyond a fairly limited area of southern Palestine in the fairly limited interval between the crucifixion and the fall of Jerusalem.” He adds that the Dead Sea Scrolls “may really represent an actual background, and not merely a possible environment, for the distinctive categories of the Gospel.”2
The historical trustworthiness of John’s Gospel is also supported by John’s accurate knowledge of the geography of Palestine. This has been vindicated increasingly by archaeological discoveries.
To be sure, John mentions many places that are also mentioned by the synoptic Gospels, so critics could say that these were only known secondhand from their writings. For instance, John could hardly tell the story of Jesus without mentioning Bethsaida (1:44; 12:21), the praetorium (18:28, 33; 19:9), Bethany (11:18), and so on. But John also speaks accurately of Ephraim (11:54), Sychar (4:5, which is probably to be identified with Shechem at Tell Balatah), Solomon’s Porch (10:23), the brook Kidron, which Jesus crossed to reach Gethsemane (18:1), and Bethany beyond Jordan, which John carefully distinguished from the other Bethany near Jerusalem (1:28). All of these places are now known, and John himself has again and again been demonstrated to be accurate.
Two archaeological discoveries are particularly interesting. In 5:2, John mentions a pool called Bethesda that, he says, had five porches. For years no one had even heard of this pool. What is more, since John’s description made it sound like a pentagon, and since there had never been any pentagon-shaped pools in antiquity, the existence of this pool was thought by many New Testament scholars to be doubtful. Now, however, approximately fifty to seventy-five feet below the present level of the city of Jerusalem, archaeologists have uncovered a large rectangular pool surrounded by four covered colonnades and having an additional colonnade crossing it in the middle somewhat like a bridge. In other words, there was a pool with five porches, as John said. It is conclusive evidence of John’s accurate knowledge of the city of Jerusalem as it was before its destruction by the Roman general Titus in a.d. 70.
The second archaeological discovery involves the probable identification of Aenon near Salim, which John mentions in 3:23, as having “plenty of water” in the Jordan valley. It was obviously the place where John the Baptist found adequate water for his baptizing.
These three lines of evidence—the evidence of the manuscripts, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the knowledge of ancient geography—are also supported by other lines of discoveries. There has been an attempt to show that the author of the fourth Gospel (whoever he may have been) must have spoken in Aramaic because, according to those who are experts in this field, Aramaic idiom underlies John’s Gospel. Careful study of the text has convinced other scholars that the material preserved by John may be as old as Pauline theology or the traditions preserved by the Synoptics. Thus, a better knowledge of the author of the fourth Gospel and his times has succeeded in pushing scholars away from the critical postures they once held, and has caused them to admit not only the possibility of apostolic authorship but to speak even more surely of an early and very reliable tradition that underlies and is in fact preserved in the writing of the Gospel.
What does this have to do with a study of what is obviously a spiritual Gospel? Just this: John himself insists upon the reliability of the things about which he writes. Take 1 John 1:1, 3 as an example. There John writes, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. … We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” In other words, John says that he is writing to them about a person whom he has heard, seen, and touched. Hence, he is writing about something objectively true that will bear the brunt of historical investigation.
John sounds the same note in the Gospel: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30–31).
There are always people who will say that faith is something that must be entirely divorced from evidence. But that is not stated in the Bible. Faith is believing in something or someone on the basis of evidence and then acting upon it. In this case, John has provided evidence for the full deity of Jesus so that readers, whether in his age or ours, might believe it and commit their lives to Jesus as their Savior.
In John’s Gospel we have an accurate record of things that were said and done in Palestine almost 2,000 years ago by a Jew named Jesus of Nazareth and that are presented to us as evidence for his extraordinary claims. If one will believe this and approach the record honestly with an open mind, God will use it to bring that person to fullness of faith in the Lord Jesus as God’s Son and his Savior. This was John’s purpose in writing his Gospel. It is my primary purpose in writing these studies.
What will happen in your case? It all depends on whether or not you open your mind to John’s teaching. Sometime ago I was talking to a young man who was very critical of Christianity.
“Have you investigated the evidence?” I asked him.
“What do you mean? How does one do that?” he asked.
“Go home this week and begin to read John’s Gospel,” I answered. “But before you begin, take a moment to pray something like this: ‘God, I do not know if you exist or, if you do, whether you hear me. But if you exist and if you hear me, I want you to know that I am an honest seeker after truth. If this Book of John can really speak to me and show me that Jesus is the Son of God and is God, I ask you to prove that to me while I read it. And if you prove it, then I will believe in him and serve him forever.’ ” I told him that if he did that, God would speak to him and that he would be convinced that all the things that are written about Jesus of Nazareth in this book are true and that he is the Son of God and our Savior.
The young man went home. I saw him a week later, and I asked, “Did you read the book?”
He answered, “Well, I have to admit that there are other things to which I give a higher priority.”
Here is another case. A Christian at the University of Pennsylvania entered into a series of Bible studies in John’s Gospel with a young woman who was not a Christian. The two young women went through several chapters where Jesus is declared many times to be God, but none of it clicked with the non-Christian. Suddenly, in the midst of a study of the third chapter of John, and after many weeks of study, the inquiring non-Christian exclaimed, “Why, I see it! Jesus Christ is God! He is God.” That was the turning point, and several weeks later she became a Christian.
That is what we are looking for in the following studies of John’s Gospel. Moreover, as that happens, we will also look for a strengthening and encouraging of believers in the service of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and our Lord.
Jesus Christ is God
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
What do you think of Jesus Christ? Who is he? According to Christianity this is the most important question you or anyone else will ever have to face. It is important because it is inescapable—you will have to answer it sooner or later, in this world or in the world to come—and because the quality of your life here and your eternal destiny depend upon your answer. Who is Jesus Christ? If he was only a man, then you can safely forget him. If he is God, as he claimed to be, and as all Christians believe, then you should yield your life to him. You should worship and serve him faithfully.
If you are one who has never answered this question personally or if you have assumed (perhaps without much investigation) that Jesus was only a man, then the Gospel of John was written particularly for you. It was written for those who do not yet believe that Jesus Christ is God, to lead them to that conclusion.
I do not know which literary critic once said, “A novel without a purpose is like a life without a career. In order to be a story it must have something to say.” But, whoever the author may have been, the statement itself is a correct one. What is more, it is as correct for biblical literature as it is for works by purely human authors. In one sense the Gospel of John has the same purpose as each of the other three Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke. That is, John wishes to present to the reader the earthly life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew who was born under the reign of Herod the Great and who died when Pontius Pilate was the Roman procurator in Judea. In another sense, however, John has a purpose that is distinctly his own. That purpose is to show that Jesus Christ is God. That is his thesis.
To some extent, Matthew’s Gospel portrays the Lord Jesus primarily as the Jewish Messiah. In fact, it is possible to argue that everything that goes into his account of Christ’s life supports that theme. Mark’s purpose is to reveal Jesus Christ as God’s servant. Luke deals with Christ’s humanity. John, however, reveals Jesus as the eternal, preexisting Son of God who became man in order to reveal the Father and to bring men access into eternal life through his historical death and literal resurrection. How do we know that? We know it because John says so. He writes, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30–31).
Arthur W. Pink, one of the great students of this Gospel, has written, “In this book we are shown that the one who was heralded by the angels to the Bethlehem shepherds, who walked this earth for thirty-three years, who was crucified at Calvary, who rose in triumph from the grave, and who forty days later departed from these scenes, was none other than the Lord of Glory. The evidence for this is overwhelming, the proofs almost without number, and the effect of contemplating them must be to bow our hearts in worship before ‘the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ’ (Titus 2:13).”
It is not surprising, therefore, when we turn from the end of John’s Gospel to the beginning, that we find John presenting there the thesis that Jesus Christ is God.
I think that John would have done very well in one of our universities today. When you write a paper in a university the best way to do it—although you can be more subtle than this—is to say in your opening paragraph what it is that you are setting out to prove, then prove it, and when you get to the end, sum it all up and say, “See, I did it. It’s just what I said I would do at the beginning.” That is exactly what John does. He starts out in the first two verses stating that Jesus Christ is God. He proves it in twenty-one chapters. Then, when he gets to the end he says that the things written in his book were written so that you and I, his readers, might know that Jesus Christ is God and that we might believe on him.
At the beginning he says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning” (John 1:1, 2). We know from verse 14 that the Word is Jesus, for in that verse John says that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Thus, we find John to be saying that Jesus existed from the beginning, that he was with God in the beginning, and that he was God. In other words, the opening verses of the Gospel contain a full statement of Christ’s divinity.
These verses teach three things about the divinity of Jesus Christ.
The first statement is that Jesus existed “in the beginning.” In other words, Jesus was preexistent. He was “before” all things. There are several ways in which the phrase “in the beginning” is used in the Bible. In 1 John it is used of the beginning of Christ’s earthly ministry. John writes, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life” (1 John 1:1). In the first verse of the Book of Genesis the phrase is used of the beginning of creation: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The use of the phrase in John’s Gospel goes beyond even that, however, for John says that when you begin to talk about Jesus Christ you can do so properly only when you go back beyond his earthly life—back beyond the beginnings of creation—into eternity. That is where Jesus Christ was.
Moreover, this is found wherever the Bible speaks in detail about Christ’s person. The author of the Book of Hebrews looks back to the beginning when he says, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe” (Heb. 1:1–2). The Book of Revelation reveals Jesus to be the “Alpha and Omega… the First and the Last” (Rev. 1:8, 17). Paul writes that before Jesus became man he was “in very nature God” and had “equality with God” (Phil. 2:6). These statements all point to the preexistence of Jesus as one important aspect of his divinity.
The second statement is that Jesus Christ was with God. This is an affirmation of Christ’s separate personality, and it is a very subtle statement. John wishes to say, and indeed he does say, that Jesus is fully God. He reports Jesus as saying, “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). But John is aware also that the Trinity is involved here, that there is a diversity within the Godhead. Thus he also expresses this truth in his statement.
The final phrase is a declaration that Jesus is fully divine, for John says, “and the Word was God,” or literally, “and God was the Word.” This means that everything that can be said about God the Father can be said about God the Son. In Jesus dwells all the wisdom, glory, power, love, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth of the Father. In him, God the Father is known. John then sums up his teaching by saying, “He was with God in the beginning” (v. 2). With these words the highly emphatic and unequivocal statement of the full divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ is ended.
Knowledge of God
At this point we need some practical applications. What does it matter to say that Jesus Christ is God?
First, to say that Jesus Christ is God is to say that we can now know the truth about God. We can know what he is like. The counterpart to this statement is that apart from Jesus Christ we really cannot know him. Is God the god of Plato’s imagination? We do not know. Is he the god of Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher? Is he the god of other philosophers? Is he the god of the mystics? The answer is that apart from Jesus Christ we do not know what God is like. But if Jesus Christ is God, then we do know, because to know the Lord Jesus Christ is to know God. There is no knowledge of God apart from a knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, and there is no knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ apart from a knowledge of the Bible.
One of the saddest stories in the Word of God concerns this theme. It is in John’s Gospel. Toward the end of his ministry, Jesus explained carefully that he was going away from the disciples but that he was going to prepare a place for them and would one day return. The disciples were depressed at the thought of his leaving them. He went on to say that if they had really known him, they would have known the Father. At this point Philip, who was one of the disciples asked him, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us” (John 14:8). In other words, Philip was saying, “If I could just see God, I would be satisfied.” How sad! The disciples had been with Jesus for almost three years and now were nearing the end of his ministry. Still they had not fully recognized that Jesus is God and that they were coming to know God through him. Jesus then had to answer by saying, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (v. 9).
If you want to know what God is like, study the life of Jesus Christ. Read the Bible! The things recorded there of Jesus Christ are true. What is more, if you read them, you will find that the Holy Spirit of God, who is the Spirit of truth, will interpret and explain them to you.
Always Like Jesus
The second practical application of the truth that Jesus Christ is God is that God was always like Jesus. William Barclay, who knew this truth, writes, “If the Word was with God before time began, if God’s Word is part of the eternal scheme of things, it means that God was always like Jesus. Sometimes we tend to think of God as just and holy and stern and avenging; and we tend to think that something that Jesus did changed God’s anger into love, and altered God’s attitude to men. The New Testament knows nothing of that idea. The whole New Testament tells us, and this passage of John especially tells us, that God has always been like Jesus.”
Does Jesus Christ hate sin? Yes! So God has always hated sin also. Does Jesus Christ love the sinner? Yes! Therefore, God loves him also. Barclay says, “What Jesus did was to open a window in time that we might see the eternal and unchanging love of God.” In fact, God so hates sin and so loves the sinner that in eternity he planned the way in which he would redeem the race. We read the Old Testament and we find God saying, “There must be an atonement for sin.” We read the accounts of Christ’s life and death, and we find God saying, “There is the atonement for sin.” We come to our time and as the Word of God is preached we find God speaking to our hearts and saying, “That was the atonement for sin. Believe it and be saved.” God has always been like Jesus.
An Acceptable Sacrifice
Third, the truth that Jesus Christ is God means that his death on the cross was significant. It means that in this way he himself became the one sufficient and acceptable sacrifice for man’s sin. If you or I were to be so foolish as to make a statement that we would die for another man’s sins and then were somehow to lose our lives, in terms of sin our death would mean nothing. We are sinners. If we were to die for sin, or pretend to do it, the only sin we could die for would be our own. But Jesus had no sin. Being God, he is sinless. Hence, when he died, he died for the sins of others, in their place; he removed forever the burden of sin from those who believe on him.
Finally, because Jesus Christ is God, it means that he is able to satisfy all the needs of your heart. God is infinite. Jesus is also infinite. Therefore he is able to satisfy you out of that inexhaustible immensity.
There is a story that illustrates this truth. Do you remember the verses in Ephesians in which Paul prays that the Christians to whom he is writing might “have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:18–19)? These verses speak of the four dimensions of God’s love—breadth, length, depth, and height—and they say that out of that fullness God is able to satisfy the one who comes to him. During the Napoleonic period in Europe some of the emperor’s soldiers opened a prison that had been used by the Spanish Inquisition. There were many dungeons in the prison, but in one of them the soldiers found something particularly interesting. They found the remains of a prisoner, the flesh and clothing all long since gone and only an ankle bone in a chain to tell his story. On the wall, however, carved into the stone with some sharp piece of metal, there was a crude cross. And around the cross were the Spanish words for the four dimensions of Ephesians 3:18–19. Above was the word “height.” Below was the word “depth.” On one side there was the word “breadth.” On the other there was the word “length.” Clearly, as this poor, persecuted soul was lying in chains and was dying, he comforted himself with the thought that God who in himself contains the breadth, length, depth, and height of all things was able to satisfy him fully. He is able to satisfy you fully whatever your need or your longing.
“Who is This?”
This is John’s thesis. We are going to see the evidence for it as we go on in these studies. But even here we must raise the question with which we began and which is above all questions: What do you think of Jesus Christ? Who is he?
This was the question that was raised all through Christ’s earthly ministry. When Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey on what we call Palm Sunday the people turned to one another and asked, “Who is this?” (Matt. 21:10). The disciples asked the question after Jesus had stilled the storm on the Lake of Galilee: “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41). Herod asked, “I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?” (Luke 9:9). When Jesus forgave the sins of the paralytic, the scribes and Pharisees asked themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21).
This is the question. Is Jesus only a man? If he is, you can afford to forget him. Or is he God? If he is God, then he demands your belief and your total allegiance. Do you believe that Jesus is God? You should be able to say with doubting Thomas, in the story that is really the spiritual climax of the fourth Gospel, “My Lord and my God.” To draw back from making that confession is to perish. To believe it is to enter into eternal life.
Jesus Christ is Man
John 1:1, 14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
The last study looked at the first two verses of John’s Gospel, the verses that declare so unequivocably that Jesus is God. We now want to skip ahead to the verse that goes with them and that says in equally certain terms that Jesus is man. That verse is John 1:14. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus is God. Jesus is man. Properly understood, these are the two most important truths to be made about Christ’s person.
A Biblical Doctrine
It is not only in John’s Gospel that we encounter such teaching, of course. These themes are found throughout Scripture. What is more, although they are very profound they are taught in the most natural way and in a totally artless manner.
Take the three places where God the Father describes the Son’s nature by means of two complementary verbs. In the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah, in a verse that is always much quoted at Christmastime, we read, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6). This verse teaches that the Messiah was to be One who was always God’s Son but who would become man at a particular point in history. Hence, as a child he is born, but as a Son he is given. In Romans 1:3–4 the same teaching occurs. There the apostle Paul writes, “… regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.” Jesus was made the seed of David, according to the flesh. But he was declared always to have been God’s Son. Finally, in Galatians 4:4–5 we read, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” As a son, Jesus Christ was sent. Hence, he was always God. Nevertheless, he was made under the law. He became man. The Bible is never hesitant to put the twin truths of the full deity and the true humanity of Jesus Christ together.
What we have taught didactically in these verses is also taught by illustration in various events in Christ’s ministry. For instance, in the next chapter of John’s Gospel we find the Lord Jesus Christ at a wedding (John 2:1–11). Few things could be more truly human than that. Yet, when the wine is exhausted and the family about to be embarrassed, Jesus makes new and better wine of the water that had been standing around in the great stone waterpots that were used for the Jewish washings and purifications. Nothing in the whole chapter is more clearly divine.
On another occasion the disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee from Capernaum to the land of the Gadarenes while Jesus, who was exhausted from the day’s activities, was asleep in the boat. A storm arose that was so intense it frightened even these seasoned fishermen. They awoke Jesus, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” And Jesus stilled the storm. What could be more human than our Lord’s total exhaustion in the boat? But what could be more divine than his stilling of the winds and waves, so that the disciples came to worship him saying, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (Matt. 8:23–27)? The same twofold nature of the Lord Jesus Christ is illustrated throughout the Gospels right down to the accounts of his death and resurrection. Nothing could be more human than his death by crucifixion. Nothing could be more divine than the darkening of the sky, the tearing of the veil of the temple, the opening of the graves of the saints buried near Jerusalem, and the final triumphant rending of the tomb on that first Easter morning.
We must not make the mistake of thinking of Jesus as being merely a divine man or, on the other hand, of being merely a human God. Jesus is the God-man; and this means that he is fully and uniquely God as well as being perfectly man. He is God with us, God for us, God in us. As man he is the One who has experienced all the trials, joys, sufferings, losses, gains, temptations, and vicissitudes of this life. All this is involved in these two important verses of John 1.
Able to Die
Why are these truths important? Or, more particularly, since we discussed the divinity of Jesus Christ in our previous study, why is the humanity of Jesus Christ important? There are several reasons.
First, the incarnation made it possible for Jesus Christ to die. This is easy to see. It is what the author of Hebrews is thinking of when he writes, “Because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, “Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, O God” ’ ” (Heb. 10:4–7). A body made it possible for Jesus Christ to die.
It is always difficult to find an adequate illustration of the incarnation itself. But it is not so hard to find an illustration of this aspect of it. A body was the vehicle of Christ’s earthly ministry. Take a man who is called by God to do medical missionary work in a distant corner of Africa. His person and his willingness are one thing. But his training is another. Thus, the man will submit to years of training, gaining medical knowledge and at times even a bit of seminary training, so that to his person and original intention he adds that which is necessary for him to do the work. It is exactly what Jesus Christ did. In the beginning, in the eternal counsels of God, before there was a world or a lost race of men, Jesus foresaw all human history and knew that he was to redeem the race. Thus, in the fullness of time, in the days of Herod, he assumed a body so that he could offer up that body as the perfect sacrifice for man’s sin.
This is what we find throughout Scripture. The very name “Jesus” looks forward to an act of saving significance. For the angel said of Mary, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Jesus himself spoke of the suffering that was to come (Mark 8:31; 9:31), linking the success of his mission to the crucifixion: “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). At several places in John’s Gospel the crucifixion is spoken of as that vital “time” for which Christ came and to which his ministry inflexibly proceeded (John 2:4; 7:30; 8:20; 13:1; 17:1).
Moreover, the death of Jesus is in a real sense the theme of the Old Testament also. The Old Testament sacrifices prefigure Christ’s suffering, and the prophets explicitly foretell it. Paul teaches that Abraham was saved by faith in Christ (Gal. 3:8, 16). Jesus taught the downcast Emmaus disciples that the Old Testament foretold his death and resurrection: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). In the light of these texts it is not wrong to say that the most important reason for the incarnation of Jesus is that it made it possible for him to die. This death was the focal point of world and biblical history.
Able to Understand
There is also a second reason why it was important for the eternal Son of God to become man. The fact that Jesus Christ took upon himself all that men are and know and experience also made it possible for him to be touched with the feelings of our infirmities, as the author of Hebrews says. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:15–16). Jesus knew and experienced (in a way that we can understand) what it meant to be man.
J. B. Phillips, the translator who stands behind one of the modern paraphrases of the New Testament and some of the Old Testament books, tells how he was impressed with the deeply human nature of Christ’s sufferings as he went about his task of translating the Gospels. He says, “The record of the behaviour of Jesus on the way to the cross and of the crucifixion itself is almost unbearable, chiefly because it is so intensely human. If, as I believe, this was indeed God focused in a human being, we can see for ourselves that here is no play acting; this is the real thing. There are no supernatural advantages for this man. No celestial rescue party delivered Him from the power of evil men, and His agony was not mitigated by any superhuman anaesthetic. We can only guess what frightful anguish of mind and spirit wrung from him the terrible words ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ But the cry ‘It is finished!’ cannot be one of despair. It does not even mean ‘It is all over.’ It means ‘It has been completed’—and the terrifying task of doing God’s will to the bitter end had been fully and finally accomplished.”
It is this suffering that enables us to know that Jesus experienced all that we experience—the weariness, disappointments, misunderstandings, and the pain of this life—and so is able to understand and help all those who are his own and are so tempted.
Third, by becoming man Jesus has also provided us with an example of how the life that is fully pleasing to the Father should be lived. Being what we are, this is most important.
I often have been asked by people who are concerned with the state of the church today why it is that so many of the young men who go to seminary (even a good seminary, for that matter) come out of it without much of a message and without much of an ability to lead the churches they eventually serve. This is good questioning. As I have thought about it, I have come to feel that one of the main reasons is that they lack an adequate example of what the Christian ministry can be. They have never had contact with a strong church or with an intelligent preaching ministry that is Bible-centered and faithful to the great themes of the gospel. So, lacking an example, they wander about in their approach and fail to provide strong leadership.
Now, what is true for the ministry is true for other fields also—business, law, medicine, scholarship, and so on—and it is true spiritually. Thus, Jesus became man in order to go through all sorts of situations with all sorts of people in order that we might be provided with a pattern upon which our Christian life can be constructed.
Do you remember ever having seen a sampler? I mean those patterns of needlework containing the alphabet by which children of a generation or two ago used to learn to read and write. That is what Christ is for us. He is our sampler, our example. We are to pattern our attempts to write out the Christian life on him. I find it interesting that Peter uses the word for “sampler” or “copybook” when he says, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). In other words, by means of Jesus Christ’s becoming man God wrote the characters of love and righteousness large so that we by his grace might copy them.
The Value of Life
The fourth reason why the incarnation was important is that through it God sanctified the value of human life in a way that had not been done previously. Before the coming of Jesus Christ, life in the ancient world was cheap; and it seems that, with the departure from biblical values and biblical principles that we see about us, life is becoming increasingly cheap today.
What makes life cheap? War makes it cheap. There is plenty of war today. The continuing reports of battle deaths numb us as to the destiny of the individual. The same thing is true of traffic deaths or deaths as the result of crime. Moreover, I personally believe that the laws that have legalized abortion have also had this effect and will have it increasingly in years ahead.
What will offset this cheapening of human life? Only the values that Christianity brings! Christianity values life, first, because God gave it and, second, because the Lord Jesus Christ sanctified it by assuming a full human nature by means of the incarnation. Jesus Christ became like you.
Does that mean anything to you personally? It should make you thankful. It should lead you to bow down before the Lord Jesus Christ and worship him deeply as your Savior. Martin Luther was a great expositor of John’s Gospel, as I mentioned in the opening chapter, and at this point in his commentary he tells a story from folklore that illustrates this principle. He says that there was once a stubborn and unspiritual man—Luther called him “a coarse and brutal lout”—who showed absolutely no reverence for any of the great truths of Christianity. When the words “And was made man” were sung in church, this man neither crossed himself nor removed his hat, both of which were common practice in the Roman church of that day. When the creeds were recited the man would not kneel. Luther says, “Then the devil stepped up to him and hit him so hard it made his head spin. He [the devil] cursed him gruesomely and said: ‘May hell consume you. … If God had become an angel like me and the congregation sang: “God was made an angel,” I would bend not only my knees but my whole body to the ground! … And you vile human creature, you stand there like a stick or a stone. You hear that God did not become an angel but a man like you, and you just stand there like a stick of wood!’ ” The story is fictional, of course. Yet it does make the point. Apart from the grace of God we all stand before the most tremendous truths of God’s Word as impervious blocks of stone. Yet we should respond to them.
Do we respond? Do you? You should lift up your heart and also your voice in praise of a God who can come from the infinite distance and glories of heaven down to a world such as ours in order that he might redeem us and lead us back to himself. The incarnation is the second greatest truth in the Bible. The greatest is that this God who became man could also love us enough to go to the cross and die for us personally.
God Has Spoken
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
Toward the end of his short but valuable book, The Idea of Revelation in Recent Thought, Professor John Baillie of Edinburgh University, Scotland, tells of a complaint he once received about Christianity. The man making the complaint was a legal representative of one of the American universities. He said, “You speak of trusting God, of praying to him, and doing his will. But it’s all so one-sided. We speak to God, we bow down before him and lift up our hearts to him. But he never speaks to us. He makes no sign.”
The man who spoke these words was wrong in his viewpoint, of course, as true Christians know and as Professor Baillie points out. Still he was speaking for millions of people who would like to have a sure word from God but who have not heard it and doubt that God has spoken. God has spoken, but they have not heard him. Thus, they consider the heavens to be silent and God to be unconcerned.
The problem would not be so bad from man’s viewpoint if he were not curious. But men are curious. They want to know. A man begins to hunt out knowledge as a child, examining his surroundings. As he grows older his surroundings grow larger, but still he retains his curiosity. Some men devise theories to explain the phenomena that they and others have observed. Some devise myths or philosophies or make scientific statements to explain the workings of the natural world. Some observe the sky by eyesight; others build telescopes. Still others send space probes to investigate what even their best telescopes are unable to reveal to them. Man is always exploring, questioning, trying to understand. He never grows out of the child’s questioning “Why?”
It is the same in the spiritual life. Man has always wanted to know about God and to understand his purposes with men. The universality and diversity of the world’s religions prove this. But when we turn our minds to God, apart from God’s self-revelation, our minds are baffled. We can devise theories, but in the realm of metaphysics there is no data on which to operate. Men see effects, but they cannot see the cause. They see natural phenomena, but they cannot observe the phenomena of the spiritual world. The Reformers observed this and were led to speak of the deus absconditus, the hidden God. They knew that man is finite and sinful and that no exercise of will, no stretching of his mind will lift him up the towering ladder of understanding to explore the mind of God.
The Bible also recognizes this. One of Job’s comforters asks, “Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?” (Job 11:7). The answer is that this is impossible. Thus, men would forever remain in ignorance, were God not to take steps to disclose himself to man. A motion picture by Ingmar Bergman of Sweden speaks about half of this problem. It is called The Silence. It portrays the plight of three characters who do not hear the voice of God and who believe that God is silent. The truth, however, is that God is not silent. God has spoken. And he has spoken in terms that are perfectly clear and that, therefore, remove all human excuses for failing to know and worship him.
This leads to a study of one of the most important words in the opening chapter of John’s Gospel. We have already mentioned it several times in the preceding studies. In English it is the word “word” itself. In Greek it is the word logos. It occurs in verses 1 and 14. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” This term refers to Jesus Christ, for he is the one who became flesh and dwelt among men. Still we must ask (and indeed biblical scholars have been asking ever since the Gospel was written), why is Jesus Christ called “The Word”? What is the significance of this title? The answer has to do with God’s revealing of himself.
To understand this term, we need to ask what meaning it would have had for those to whom the Gospel of John was first written. For instance, what meaning would it have had for a person of Jewish background who was just beginning to hear and understand the gospel?
The first verses of this Gospel, including the term “Word,” would refer a Jewish person to the first words of the Book of Genesis where we are told that in the beginning God spoke and all things came into being. In other words, to the Jewish mind Jesus would somehow be associated with the creative power of God and with the self-disclosure of God in creation. We can get a feeling for what this would have meant to a Jew by imagining ourselves to be reading a book that began “When in the course of human events” and included the words “self-evident” and “inalienable rights.” Clearly the author would be trying to remind us of the Declaration of Independence and of the founding principles of the American republic.
We need to add to this, however, that the idea of “word” would also have meant more to a Jewish mind than it does to us today. To the Jew a word was something concrete, something much closer to what we would call an event or a deed. A word spoken was a deed done. This way of thinking resulted from the Jew’s Old Testament theology. What happens when God speaks? The answer is that the thing is instantly done. God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light (Gen. 1:3). God said, “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11). Thus, the Jew would be somewhat prepared for the thought that the Word of God could somehow be seen and touched as well as heard and that the “Word” might somehow find expression in a life. It would not be entirely strange for a Jew to learn, as the author of Hebrews puts it, that “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1–2).
In a very brief way, then, we have seen what the description of Jesus Christ as the “Word” might have meant to a Jew. But we must remember that the Jews were not the only ones who would be reading John’s Gospel. The Gospel would also be read by Greeks and by those who spoke Greek and were influenced by Greek thought. What would the word logos mean to them?
For the Greeks, the answer to this question is found, not in religion but in philosophy. Almost 2,600 years ago, in the sixth century b.c., a philosopher by the name of Heraclitus lived in Ephesus. He was the man who said that it is impossible to step into the same river twice. He meant that all of life is in a state of change. Thus, although you step into the river once, step out, and then step in a second time, by the time you have taken the second step the water has flowed on and it is a different river. To Heraclitus, and to the philosophers who followed him, all of life seemed like that. But, they asked, “If that be so, how is it that everything that exists is not in a state of perpetual chaos?” Heraclitus answered that life is not a chaos because the change that we see is not mere random change. It is ordered change. And this means that there must be a divine “reason” or “word” that controls it. This is the logos, the word that John uses in the opening verse of his Gospel.
However the logos also meant more than this to Heraclitus. For once he had discovered, as he thought, that the controlling principle of matter was God’s logos, then it was only a small step for him to apply it also to all the events of history and to the mental order that rules in the minds of men. For Heraclitus, then, the Logos became nothing less than the mind of God controlling this world and all men.
By the time John came to write his Gospel, the age of Heraclitus was nearly seven hundred years in the past. But the ideas of Heraclitus had been so formative for Greek thought that they had survived, not only in his own philosophy but also in the philosophy of Plato and Socrates, the Stoics, and others who had built upon it. They were discussed by many persons much as we discuss the atomic theory or evolution today. The Greeks knew all about the Logos. Therefore, it was with a stroke of divine genius that John seized upon this word, one that was as meaningful to the Greeks as it was to the Jewish people, and said by means of it, “Listen, you Greeks, the very thing that has most occupied your philosophical thought and about which you have all been writing for centuries—the Logos of God, this word, this controlling power of the universe and of man’s mind—this has come to earth as a man and we have seen him.”
Plato, we are told, once turned to that little group of philosophers and students that had gathered around him during the Greek Golden Age in Athens and said to his followers, “It may be that some day there will come forth from God a Word, a Logos, who will reveal all mysteries and make everything plain.” Now John is saying, “Yes, Plato, and the Logos has come; now God is revealed to us perfectly.”
Do you believe it? John is declaring that the unknown God of the Greeks, the hidden God of the Middle Ages, the silent God of the twentieth century, is neither unknown, hidden, nor silent. He is fully revealed in Jesus. “It is true that no one has ever seen God at any time. Yet the divine and only Son, Who lives in the closest intimacy with the Father, has made Him known” (John 1:18 Phillips).
A Previous Revelation
This is a natural stopping point for our study, of course, but we cannot really stop here. For the point John is making is not only that Jesus is the revelation of God, but that Jesus was always active in revealing God. Hence, even before the incarnation, there was no excuse for failing to believe.
This is seen first of all in the emphasis John places upon Christ’s role in creation. Creation reveals God, and Jesus was God’s agent in creation. Thus, John can say, “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (v. 3). What has God revealed about himself in creation? Paul answers by saying, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). This means that when Jesus Christ began by revealing God in creation he revealed him in two important aspects—his existence and his power—and that these are sufficient to condemn all men for their failure to bow down and worship him.
We know the force of this verse from things in our own experience. When we see a leaf blowing down the street, we do not attribute powers of self-motivation to the leaf. We assume that a power equal to the effect is behind the leaf and has put it in motion. We call that power wind. When we examine a watch of fine Swiss workmanship, we do not assume that the steel and glass and small bearings possess the ability of organizing themselves into a watch. We posit the existence of a watchmaker. So it should be in the realm of nature. Jesus intended that we should recognize God’s existence and power through nature.
But nature is not enough. For one thing, no one has ever come to an obedient faith in the God of creation through nature. For another, the revelation of God in nature is not specific in terms of God’s plans, and it is not personal. Hence, Jesus Christ was also active in revealing God through Scripture. It may be true that God has revealed his existence and his power in nature, but it is equally true that this is all he has revealed there. Men may recognize the power of God, but if they would know his plans, they must consult the Bible.
You will remember that when the apostle Paul preached the gospel to the men of Athens, he preached to men who had the knowledge of God through nature but did not know who he was. An altar in Athens was inscribed, “To the unknown God.” Other altars that have been discovered since are even more indefinite; they say, “To whomever it may concern.” How wonderful that this form of address need never be made by anyone. For Paul, who was instructed in the Scriptures and knew the God whom the Greeks worshiped ignorantly, proclaimed, “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23). He went on to show that God, the creator of the world, was no blind deity, to be worshiped blindly, but a personal God who has willed that all men should live in harmony with one another and come to know and worship him. “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (v. 30).
The First and the Last
Preeminently, however, Jesus has revealed God through the incarnation, and it is there that God is known personally. God has spoken to men indirectly through his creation and directly through the Scriptures, but there is a more wonderful truth than this. God has spoken to man personally through Jesus Christ. Jesus is his best and greatest word to lost men. If we know God’s power in creation and his plans in the Scriptures, we know his personality in the Son. As we look to Jesus we see God himself. “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” We discover a God of infinite love and perfect holiness, possessing a desire wonderful enough and a power adequate enough to save rebellious men and women from sin.
Do you believe that? Have you found the fullness of God’s glory in Jesus? If you have not yet found it, let me caution you that Jesus is not only the first and most important and all-inclusive word of the Father, he is also God’s last word. You will not find God apart from him. If you do not receive him, the last word you will hear from him will be the word of your judgment. Jesus said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13). He will either say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matt. 25:34), or he will declare, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matt. 7:23).
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)
The Gospel of John is one of the world’s true treasures. It contains many of the sayings most memorable and blessed to God’s people. John is so simple that children memorize their first verses from its pages and so profound that dying adults ask to hear it as they pass from this world. It is said that John is a pool safe enough for a child to wade in and deep enough for an elephant to drown in. Martin Luther wrote, “This is the unique, tender, genuine, chief Gospel.… Should a tyrant succeed in destroying the Holy Scriptures and only a single copy of the Epistle to the Romans and the Gospel according to John escape him, Christianity would be saved.”
According to John
This Gospel does not specify its author’s name. Nonetheless, we can be sure of its composer, from both internal and external evidence. John claims to be written by an eyewitness and disciple of Jesus (John 21:24). We know from the other Gospels that the disciples closest to Jesus were Peter, James, and John. Of these, only John is never named in this Gospel, which is hard to explain apart from the author’s modesty concerning himself. In his place we are told of a Beloved Disciple who is evidently both the author and the apostle John. The early church affirms this view. Irenaeus, the second-century bishop who knew people who had personally known John, attests that John “the disciple of the Lord” wrote this Gospel in Ephesus, and his view is backed up by every other ancient document that addresses this subject.
We do not know exactly when John wrote his Gospel, traditionally thought to be the last of the four Gospels. Some scholars place John’s Gospel before the destruction of the temple in a.d. 70, since it often mentions the temple. But the consensus holds that John wrote perhaps as late as the a.d. 90s, and no earlier than a.d. 80. In addition to the evidence from early Christian writers, numerous details in the text suggest a late-first-century date, including John’s ignoring of the Sadducees, a previously important Jewish sect that virtually disappeared after the fall of Jerusalem, and his emphasis on the exclusion of believers in Christ from the synagogues. Moreover, John’s highly developed Christology seems to fit best in conflict with an incipient Gnosticism, which appeared only in the later years of the first century. Finally, while John often mentions the temple, his Gospel nonetheless gives little attention to matters related to its fall and the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70, so that it is hard to imagine John’s writing this book in the years shortly before or after that epochal event.
According to church tradition, John’s purpose in writing his Gospel was to provide material missing from the other three Gospels and to complement them with a “spiritual gospel.” According to Irenaeus, John also wanted to combat heresies that were rising, especially those that denied either the full deity or the full humanity of Christ.5 Moreover, as Christianity spread beyond its original Jewish bounds, it seems that John wrote to make the gospel more accessible to the Greek mind. But John himself tells us his main purpose in John 20:31: “These [words] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” This is why, when people ask for a place in the Bible to learn about Jesus, the most common Christian answer is: “You should read the Gospel of John.” It is a treasure provided by God himself, as the Spirit moved the Beloved Disciple to show us Jesus as Savior and divine Son so that we might believe and be saved.
Jesus the Divine Word
John differs from the other Gospels in many ways, among them the manner by which he begins his account of Jesus. Like the other Gospel writers, he wants us to understand that Jesus is God made flesh—the very God who became truly man. Matthew and Luke approached this by explaining the virgin birth. But John’s prologue gives a theological explanation for Jesus’ coming into the world, beginning with his eternal origin before the creation of all things.
John starts: “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). This mirrors the way in which the Old Testament began: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). John places Jesus where we expect God: “In the beginning, God”; “In the beginning was the Word.” The subject of this Gospel, the man Jesus who lived and died and rose again, is thus identified as God. Mark Johnston writes, “Without apology or qualification, John goes back in time beyond Bethlehem where Jesus was born, and Nazareth where he was conceived, indeed back beyond the beginning of time itself, and allows us a glimpse of a glorious person who has an eternal existence.”
John 1:1 teaches Jesus’ deity in three respects, beginning with his eternal being: “In the beginning was the Word.” When the creation “was made,” Jesus—here designated as “the Word”—already “was.” This was an important statement in the church’s fight with the earliest heretics. Consider Arius, for instance, whose heresy articulated ideas that began percolating during John’s life and prompted the Council of Nicaea in a.d. 325. Arius maintained that Jesus, though certainly godlike in many ways, was nonetheless less than God. Arius argued that Jesus was a created being, however glorious and close to God. But John tells us, instead, that when time and creation began, Jesus already “was.” Leon Morris explains: “The Word existed before creation, which makes it clear that the Word was not created.… The Word is not to be included among created things.”
If the Word already was in the beginning, then either he must have been with God or he must have been God. John teaches both. His second statement is that “the Word was with God.” This tells us that the Word is a person who has a relationship with God.
In the creation account of Genesis 1, we read “And God said” nine times. It was by God’s Word that he brought creation into being. John now tells us that this Word is a person who was “with God.” This statement sheds light on Genesis 1:26, which reads, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image.’ ” God was speaking to the Word. John clarifies in verses 2–3: “He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” So the Word is God’s executor in creation, the agent who accomplishes God’s will. God said, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3), and the Word made light. All through the Bible, it is God’s Word that does God’s will. Psalm 33:6 teaches, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made.” Psalm 107:20 says, “He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.” So the Word who made creation also brings God’s salvation.
With this in mind, we see that John wants us to understand not only the eternity of the Word but also the personhood of the Word. The Word is a person, the companion of God himself. This warns us against another perennial heresy, namely, that which denies the distinct personhood of the various members of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity states, “In the unity of the Godhead there are three persons …: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.” It is hard for us to understand how there can be only one God but three distinct persons in that God, but verses such as this cause us to believe it. When John speaks of the Word, he means God the Son, Jesus Christ, who eternally lives in relationship with and does the will of God the Father. Some people would deny that these are distinct persons, instead seeing Father and Son as different modes of the one, undifferentiated God. But while one person can be by himself, he is never with himself; John insists that the Word is a distinct divine person: “the Word was with God.”
Third, verse 1 makes a straightforward statement that the Word not only is a companion to God but is himself divine. Secular voices as diverse as conspiracy-theory novelist Dan Brown, in his best seller The Da Vinci Code, and liberal New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman assert that Christians never considered Jesus to be God until the Council of Nicaea in the fourth century. But here, in clear language, the apostle John writes, “And the Word was God.” He repeats this claim in John 1:18, saying that the One “who is at the Father’s side” is himself “the only God.” Likewise, at the Gospel’s end, when the resurrected Jesus appears to doubting Thomas, the disciple falls before him and cries, “My Lord and my God!” (20:28). That is the Christian confession. John wants us to know from the beginning of his Gospel that Jesus Christ, the Word, is God.
Because it states Christ’s deity so plainly, John 1:1 has long come under attack, beginning with Arius. His argument, used by Jehovah’s Witnesses today, was that John does not teach that Jesus is God but rather that Jesus is a godlike creature. He is divine, but not a deity. This is based on the fact that in this final phrase of verse 1, John places a definite article (“the”) before “Word” but not before “God.” Literally, they argue, John says, “The Word was a God,” but not the God.
What is our reply? First, it is clear throughout the Gospel that John intends for us to identify Jesus as God. Our teaching of Christ’s deity does not depend on this verse, and what John says elsewhere clarifies his meaning here. Consider, for instance, the indisputable assertion of deity in John 1:18, which describes Jesus as “the only God, who is at the Father’s side.” Second, if John meant that Jesus was divine but not a deity, there was a perfectly good Greek word (theios) that he did not in fact use. The word he did use (theos) means “God” and not “godlike.” Third, while the Arian and Jehovah’s Witness argument might convince novices in New Testament Greek, in fact Greek grammar does not demand a definite article for both nouns when they are joined in this way. It is common for one definite article to serve for both nouns, and so the grammatical argument is simply wrong (see John 1:49; 8:39; and 17:17 for noteworthy examples). Fourth, there is an obvious reason for John’s construction. His point is to identify the Word both as God (meaning God the Father) and also as distinct from God. If he had written, “The Word was the God,” that would be identifying Jesus with God in a way that would render them indistinguishable. His point is clearly to specify Christ’s deity while also distinguishing him from God the Father.
Martin Luther stated, “This text is a strong and valid attestation of the divinity of Christ.… Everything depends on this doctrine. It serves to maintain and support all other doctrines of our Christian faith. Therefore the devil assailed it very early in the history of Christendom, and he continues to do so in our day.” As we begin his Gospel, John wants us first to realize Christ’s deity and his relationship to God the Father, insisting on Jesus’ divine sonship for our salvation. Jesus is God the Executor doing the will of his Father, God the Ordainer, within the perfect harmony of the Trinity. As A. W. Pink put it, “The One who was heralded by the angels to the Bethlehem shepherds, who walked this earth for thirty-three years, who was crucified at Calvary and who rose in triumph from the grave, and who forty days later departed from these scenes, was none other than the Lord of Glory.”11
Jesus the Saving Word
Jesus is the Divine Word. But John wants us to understand not merely Jesus’ person but also his work. He wrote this Gospel “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31). Christ means “Messiah,” or “Savior.” Jesus the Divine Word came into the world to be the Saving Word.
We are going to find that John employs words powerfully, often selecting a term that has at least a double meaning. There is no better example than his use of “the Word” to describe Jesus. The Greek is Logos, one of the most significant terms in Greek philosophy. By using this word, John built a bridge from the Greek philosophical world to the Jewish thought-world of the Bible.
One of the earliest Greek philosophers was Heraclitus (6th c. b.c.). He thought about the fact that things constantly change. His famous illustration was that you can never step twice into the same river; it is never the same because the water has flowed on. Everything is like that, he said. But if that is true, how can there be order in the world? His answer was the Logos, the Word or reason of God. This was the principle that held everything together in a world of change. There is a purpose and design to the world and events, and this is the Logos.
The Logos fascinated Greeks from Heraclitus onward. What keeps the stars in their courses? What controls the seasons? Order and purpose are revealed everywhere in the world. Why? The answer is the Logos, the divine logic: the Word. Plato said, “It may be that some day there will come forth from God a Word, a Logos, who will reveal all mysteries and make everything plain.” In a stroke of divine genius, John seizes on this word and says, “Listen, you Greeks, the very thing that has most occupied your philosophical thought and about which you have been writing for centuries—the Logos of God … has come to earth as a man and we have seen him.”
This means that Jesus is the One who gives meaning to life in this world. People today are living without purpose or meaning, which is why our affluence fails to content us. We are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26), and only as we know God and do his will do we find meaning and joy. Speaking in Greek terms, John says that Jesus is the Logos, the Word, who bears to us the mind and heart of God. Later in this prologue, John says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Life does not make sense until we meet Jesus. Peter realized this, and when Jesus asked if he was going to go elsewhere, Peter replied for us all: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (6:68).
Jesus the Word also comes as the Answer to the great problems of life. Psychologist Erich Fromm has written that we are faced with three unsolvable dilemmas, existential problems that plague all of us. First is the dilemma of life versus death. We want to live, but we all die. Jesus answers that problem, giving eternal life to all who believe on him. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life.… Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26).
The second of Fromm’s dilemmas is the dilemma of the individual and the group. Jesus is the answer to that problem too, for He has come to break down all walls and to make of His followers one new man which is His mystical body (Eph. 2:14–16). The last of Fromm’s dilemmas is that arising from the conflict between our aspirations and our actual achievements. We all fall short of what we would like to be and believe ourselves intended to be. Is there an answer? Yes, Jesus is the answer to that problem also, for He promises to make us all that God created us to be in the first place. We are to be conformed to Christ’s image.
But our greatest problem is that we are alienated from God by our sins. Our guilt has placed us under his wrath, with no way of saving ourselves. For this, above all, Jesus is the Word who reveals and also achieves our only answer. He came to die for our sins that we might be reconciled to God. Jesus said, “The Son of Man must be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:15).
The great industrialist Henry Ford once experienced a breakdown on his assembly line that no one could fix. In desperation he called Charlie Steinmetz, the mechanical genius who had designed and built Ford’s plant. Steinmetz showed up, tinkered for just a few minutes, and threw the switch, and everything started running again. Days later Ford received a bill for $10,000, an exorbitant sum in those days. He wrote back, “Charlie, don’t you think your bill is a little high for just a little tinkering!” So Steinmetz sent back a revised bill: “Tinkering—$10. Knowing where to tinker—$9,990.”
Likewise, Jesus knew how to fix this broken world, because he made it. But he came not just to do a little tinkering. Jesus fixed the world by shedding his own blood for our sins. Instead of presenting us with a bill, he offers us the free gift of eternal life through faith in him.
Jesus, God’s Word for Us
Jesus is the Divine Word and the Saving Word. But most important for us, Jesus is God’s Word for us.
Because Jesus is the eternal Word of God—and because, as John 1:14 tells us, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”—we can know God. This flows from John’s description of Jesus as “the Word.” We all reveal ourselves though our words, and in Christ, God’s speech is most eloquent. Hebrews 1:1–3 reminds us that in the past, “God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, … the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” This is Jesus’ own testimony in the Gospel of John. He said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30); “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9). If you want to know what God is like—and this is the greatest of all questions—you need only learn about Jesus Christ.
Because Jesus is the living Word of God, and because God never changes, then God always was and is like Jesus—always Christlike! God is holy, the way that Jesus is shown to be holy in this Gospel. God is compassionate and caring, sovereign and mighty, just as Jesus reveals in this book. But most of all, Jesus reveals God’s love for us. “What Jesus did was to open a window in time that we might see the eternal and unchanging love of God.” This is what the greatest verse in John—and perhaps in the whole Bible—says: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). “We have seen his glory,” John says, “glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). If you want to see the glory of God, in his holiness and compassion and might and especially in his love, you will find it only in the face of Jesus Christ.
If that is true, if Jesus is the living Word who reveals God to us, then his coming is the most important thing ever to happen in this world. In worldly terms, Jesus accomplished nothing. But God’s Son did not come to build a financial or military empire, or to leave a record in the fading pages of worldly glory. Instead, he came to show the way to God that he himself would open for us by his death on the cross for our sins. Since he is God, and since he came to save lost sinners, what he did demands our fervent attention and heartfelt faith.
Finally, if Jesus is the Divine and Saving Word, then nothing is more important for us than our relationship to him. When the new millennium began a few years ago, surveys were taken as to who had been most influential in the previous thousand years. But no one can doubt who has most dominated all of history. Mark Johnston writes, “Even a complete atheist is forced at least to wonder what it was that made practically every nation in the world act in unison as the clocks struck midnight in the passage from 1999 to the year 2000. What was the great anniversary that inspired such celebration? The answer: the celebration of the anniversary of the coming of Christ.”
Do you see who Jesus is and perhaps admire him, yet remain indifferent? Jesus, the Word, who “in the beginning [was] with God,” and “was God,” and who came into the world to be God’s Savior for us, calls for our faith. He calls us to believe not merely in him but on him. As one writer puts it, “We are called to worship him without cessation, obey him without hesitation, love him without reservation, and serve him without interruption.” John said, “These [things] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). Jesus warned, “Unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (8:24). But he added, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (8:31–32).
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). John 1–11 (pp. 13–24). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 13–37). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Phillips, R. D. (2014). John. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (1st ed., Vol. 1, pp. 5–14). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.