John 1:1-18; Key Verse: Jn 1:14a, 18
"The Word became flesh..." "No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known." (NIV 2011) (The 1984 NIV says, "No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.")
What is God like? Who is God? How can I know God?
Purpose of the prologue. The prologue of John's gospel (Jn 1:1-18) attempts to answer these questions. Why did John write his gospel? He tells us in Jn 20:31: “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” The prologue introduces many of the major themes that John will address, especially this main theme that "Jesus is the Christ/Messiah, the Son of God." Several other key words that appear here and which are repeated throughout this gospel are "life," "light," and "glory." Although John wrote the prologue with the simplest vocabulary in the NT, the truths which the prologue conveys are the most profound.
Quote: Jesus speaks the word and is the Word; he gives life and is life. "As Jesus gives life and is life, raises the dead and is the resurrection, gives bread and is bread, speaks truth and is the truth, so as he speaks the word he is the Word." C.H. Dodd in oral tradition.
Human beings seeing God in a human being. Supremely, the prologue summarizes how the "Word" which was with God in the very beginning came into the sphere of time, history, tangibility--in other words, how the Son of God was sent into the world to become the Jesus of history, so that the glory and grace of God might be uniquely and perfectly disclosed. What made this possible was nothing less than incarnation, the "in-fleshing" of the Word so that his grace and truth could be seen by human beings in a human being (Jn 1:14). The rest of the book is nothing other than an expansion of this theme.
How priceless John's gospel is. J.C. Ryle (Anglican bishop of Liverpool, 1816-1900) says about John's Gospel: “The things which are peculiar to John’s Gospel are among the most precious possessions of the church of Christ. No one of the four Gospel writers has given us such full statements about the divinity of Christ as we read in these pages.” Indeed, John's Gospel is one of the world's treasures. 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 could be said that John is a pool safe enough for a child to wade in and deep enough for an elephant to swim in. (Gregory the Great [pope; 540-604] said this about the Bible in his commentary on Job.) 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.”
In John 1:1-18, the prologue, John says at least 12 things about Jesus:
- Jesus is eternal (Jn 1:1-2; Gen 1:1a).
- Jesus is the Word (Jn 1:1-2).
- Jesus is distinct from the Father (Jn 1:1).
- Jesus is God (Jn 1:1,18).
- Jesus is the Creator (Jn 1:3; Gen 1:1).
- Jesus is the life, the source of all spiritual life (Jn 1:4; 11:25; 14:6).
- Jesus is the light (Jn 1:4-5, 9).
- Jesus confronts and divides us (Jn 1:9-11,12-13).
- Jesus is God in our flesh (Jn 1:14).
- Jesus shares the Father's glory (Jn 1:14).
- Jesus reveals God's grace (Jn 1:14, 16, 17).
- Jesus is the only revealer of God the Father (Jn 1:18).
1. Jesus is Eternal (Jn 1:1a; Gen 1:1a): Jesus possessed the quality of eternality.
"In the beginning" reminds any Hebrew or reader of the OT of the opening verse of the Bible (Gen 1:1). John, with his opening words, is saying that the Word "was" already in existence. This refutes Arius who, speaking of the Word, said, "There was once when he was not." The Word already "was" "in the beginning" and is soon shown to be God's agent of creation (Jn 1:3-4), i.e. the originator of all things. The verb (was) highlights the eternal pre-existence of the Word, i.e., Jesus. Before the universe bgan, the Second Person of the Trinity always existed; He always was (Jn 8:58). Mark begins his Gospel with the same word (Mk 1:1), but is in effect saying, "Mark has told you about the beginning of Jesus' public ministry; I want to show you that the starting point of the gospel can be traced farther back than that, before the beginning of the entire universe."
2. Jesus is the Word (Jn 1:1a), the clearest and ultimate way God chooses to reveal and express himself (Jn 14:9).
The Word is God's ultimate self-disclosure of Himself in the person of His Son. 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.” What is meant by "Word"? John borrowed the use of the term "Word" not only from the vocabulary of the OT but also from Greek philosophy. The underlying term, logos, was used so widely and in such different contexts in first-century Greek. Logos was understood to be essentially an impersonal or abstract force. It was reason or logic or the rational principle by which everything existed and which brought order and harmony into the universe. It has no distinct personality, and can refer to inner thought, reason, even science. But John's logos by contrast are gathered in the person of Christ. It is analogous to God's Word in the OT, which is God's powerful self-expression in creation (Ps 33:6), wisdom, revelation and salvation (Ps 107:20). The personification of that "Word" makes it suitable for John to apply it as a title to God's ultimate self-disclosure, the person of his own Son. Strategically, the term "Word" serves as a bridge-word to reach not only Jews but also the Greeks. John choose this concept because both Jesus and Greeks were familiar with it. It was John's way of studying, understanding and contextualizing the gospel.
3. Jesus is Distinct from the Father (Jn 1:1b): With is a preposition that expresses proximity and relationship.
The Word is distinct and distinguishable from God. John says that "the Word was with God" (Jn 1:1b). The preposition "with" is pros, which commonly means "to" or "toward," which expresses a peculiar intimacy between the Word and God: the Word is oriented toward God, like lovers perpetually running toward each other. But pros may mean "with" when a person is with a person, usually in some fairly intimate relationship. That suggests that John is pointing out, rather subtly, that the "Word" he is talking about is a person, with God, and therefore distinguishable from God, and enjoying a personal relationship with him.
4. Jesus is God (Jn 1:1c-2,18): John unambiguously declares this.
The Word is God's own Self. The Word, as the Second Person of the Trinity, was in intimate fellowship with God the Father throughout all eternity. The "Word" does not by Himself make up the entire Godhead; nevertheless the divinity that belongs to the rest of the Godhead belongs also to Him. Thus, the Word was "with" God, God's eternal Fellow; the Word "was" God (Jn 1:1c), God's own Self. The Word had all the essence or attributes of deity, i.e., Jesus was fully God (Col 2:9). Even in His incarnation when He emptied Himself, He did not cease to be God but took on a genuine human nature/body and voluntarily refrained from the independent exercise of the attributes of deity. Here John describes some of the crucial constituents of a full-blown doctrine of the Trinity. John intends that the whole of his gospel shall be read in light of this verse.
Just in case you misunderstood what I just said. Jn 1:2 is simply a repetition of Jn 1:1, which is very condensed. So John wants to make sure that what he has already said is understood. In particular Jn 1:2 reiterates the middle clause of Jn 1:1 by working backward, and prepares the way for Jn 1:3.
5. Jesus is the Creator (Jn 1:3; Gen 1:1; Col 1:16-17; Heb 1:2): The Word that brought the world into being (Ps 33:6) has become incarnate in the person of Jesus.
Creator of all things expressed both positively and negatively. Jn 1:3 simply insists, both positively and negatively, that the Word was God's Agent in the creation of all that exists. Positively, "Through him all things were made" (Jn 1:3a); negatively, "without him nothing was made that has been made" (Jn 1:3b). John makes his point powerfully. Just as in Genesis, where everything that came into being did so because of God's spoken word, so here God's Word, understood in the prologue to be a personal agent, created everything. The pre-existent Christ creating everything as expressed in this prologue is a common theme in the NT (Col 1:16-17; Heb 1:2; Rev 3:14).
6. Jesus is the Life, the Source of All Spiritual Life (Jn 1:4-5; 11:25; 14:6): Life was in Jesus inherently, innately, un-derivedly.
Jesus gives life and light, and is Life and Light. "Life" and "light" are almost universal religious symbols. In John's usage they focus on the excellencies of the Word: "In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind" (Jn 1:4), which is parallel to Jn 5:26. Jn 1:4 and Jn 5:26 insist the Word/Son shares in the self-existing life of God. Later Jesus claims that he is both the light of the word (Jn 8:12; 9:5) and the life (Jn 11:25; 14:6). John uses the word "life" about 36 times in his gospel, far more than any other NT book. It refers not only in a broad sense to physical and temporal life that the Son imparted to the created world through His involvement as the agent of creation (Jn 1:3), but especially to spiritual and eternal life imparted as a gift through belief in Him (Jn 3:15; 17:3; Eph 2:5).
7. Jesus is the Light (Jn 1:4-5, 9)
Jesus the light reveals God. In Scripture, light and darkness are familiar symbols. Intellectually, light refers to biblical truth (Ps 119:105; Prov 6:23) while darkness refers to error or falsehood. Morally light refers to holiness or purity (1 Jn 1:5) while darkness refers to sin or wrongdoing (Jn 3:19; 12:35, 46; Rom 13:11-14; 1 Th 5:4-7; 1 Jn 1:6; 2:8-11). John uses the term darkness 14 times (8 in the gospel and 6 in 1 John) out of its 17 occurrences in the NT, making it almost an exclusive Johannine word.
Darkness cannot overcome or conquer the light. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (Jn 1:5). The "darkness" in John is not only absence of light, but positive evil (Jn 3:19; 8:12; 12:35, 46; 1 Jn 1:5, 6; 2:8, 9, 11). The light is not only revelation bound up with creation, but with salvation. Just as a single candle can overcome a room filled with darkness, so also the powers of darkness are overcome by the person and work of the Son through his death on the cross (Jn 19:11a).
8. Jesus Confronts and Divides Us (Jn 1:9-11,12-13)
The world did not recognize Jesus; his own did not receive him. "The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him" (Jn 1:9-11).
Three negations that cannot lead to a new birth. Jn 1:10-11 would be grim, but Jn 1:12-13 immediately soften the sweeping rejection of the Word by indicating that, as in OT times, there remains a believing remnant. "Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God" (Jn 1:12-13). The "name" is more than a label; it is the character of the person, or even the person himself. The entire expression does not guarantee that those who exercies such faith are genuine believers (Jn 2:23-25). But at its best, such faith yields allegiance to the Word, trusts him completely, acknowledges his claims and confesses him with gratitude. This is what it means to "receive" him, which results in the new birth. This new birth is nothing other than an act of God, and not the result of any human attributes (Jn 3:6).
9. Jesus is God in Our Flesh (Jn 1:14): Jesus became what He was not (a man), without ceasing to be what He was (God). Incarnation is not metamorphosis. Jesus was enfleshed. God was enfleshed.
God became man. In Jn 1:14 John tells us that God's Word, his Self-expression, has become flesh. This is the supreme revelation. The Word, God's very Self-expression, who was both with God and was God (Jn 1:1), became flesh: he took on our humanity, save our sin. God chose to make himself known, finally and ultimately, in a real, historical man. In brief, the Word became flesh means that God became man.
God chose to dwell among his people in the most intimate way. The Word made his dwelling among us means that the Word pitched his tabernacle, or lived in his tent, amongst us (Ex 25:8). It refers to the glory of God who made himself present in the tabernacle and the temple. The bright cloud of the presence of God settled on the tabernacle, and the glory of the Lord filled it (Ex 24:16; 40:34-35; similarly the temple, 1 Ki 8:10-11). (Shekinah means dwelling or settling and denotes the dwelling or settling of the presence of God, which is the visible manifestation of God.) In the OT, God met his people in the tabernacle, or temple, or he met Moses in the tent of meeting. Now, God has chosen to dwell amongst his people and manifest himself most clearly in a yet more personal way when the Word became flesh. The incarnate Word is the true shekinah, the ultimate manifestation of the presence of God amongst human beings, for this Word became a man.
10. Jesus Shares the Father's Glory (Jn 1:14): A Hebrew knows this one truth even if he knows no other truth: No one shares God's glory.
Jesus enjoyed glory before his incarnation and after his resurrection. Jesus' glory was displayed in his miraculous signs (Jn 2:11; 11:4, 40), and he was supremely "glorified" in his death and exaltation (Jn 7:39; 12:16, 23; 13:31-32). But even before Jesus began his public ministry, he enjoyed glory with the Father before the incarnation, and would return to take up that glory again after his resurrection (Jn 17:5, 24). Men seek their own glory (Jn 5:44; 12:43). By contrast, Jesus never sought glory for himself, but only God's glory (Jn 5:41; 7:18; 8:50). The glory displayed in the incarnate Word is the kind of glory God the Father grants to his one and only, best-loved Son. It is nothing less than God's glory that John and his friends witnessed in the Word-made-flesh.
11. Jesus Reveals God's Grace (Jn 1:14,16-17)
In Jesus, we receive grace in place of grace already given. Jn 1:14 describes the glory of God manifest in the incarnate Word as "full of grace and truth." John picks up on the term and says that is is from this fullness that we have received grace after grace. Jn 1:16-17 says, "Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" ( NIV 2011). Jn 1:16 is an enigmatic verse that has been interpreted and translated into English in various ways: "grace for grace" (KJV); "grace upon grace" (ESV, NASB, NRSV); "grace after grace" (Holman); "one blessing after another" (NIV 1984); "one gracious blessing after another" (NLT); "gift after gift after gift" (The Message). It appears that John is saying that the grace and truth that came through Jesus Christ is what replaces the law; the law itself is understood to be an earlier display of grace. Thus, the law, i.e. the law covenant, was given by grace, and anticipated the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ; not that he has come, that same prophetic law-covenant is necessarily superceded by that which it "prophesied" would come. The thought is not dissimilar to Mt 5:17-20. The flow of the passage and the burden of the book as a whole magnify the fresh "grace" that has come in Jesus Christ. That grace is necessarily greater than the "grace" of the law whose function, in John's view, was primarily to anticipate the coming of the Word.
12. Jesus is the Only Revealer of God the Father (Jn 1:18)
A sinful man seeing God would bring death. Jn 1:18 says, "No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known." John writes, as if to remind his readers that Moses himself was not allowed to see God (Ex 33:20). When Isaiah saw the Lord seated on the throne, it was so vivid and terrifying that he cried out, "Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips...and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty" (Isa 6:5). This expresses what is commonplace in Judaism and which is a consistent OT assumption that God cannot be seen, or, more precisely, that for a sinful human being to see God would bring death (Ex 33:20; Et 4:12; Ps 97:2).
Only Jesus has seen God (Jn 6:46), and only through Jesus can man see God (Jn 14:9). But the unique and beloved one, God (Jn 1:18b), has made him known (Jn 1:18c). What this means is that the beloved Son, the incarnate Word (Jn 1:14), himself God while being "in the bosom of the Father" (KJV) -- just as in Jn 1:1 the Word was simultaneously God and with God -- has broken the barrier that made it impossible for human beings to see God, and "has made him known" (Jn 1:18c).
Jesus is the exegesis of God. Jesus "is in closest relationship with the Father" (Jn 1:18b; 2011 NIV). The 1884 NIV says, "who is at the Father's side." The KJV says, "which (who) is in the bosom of the Father." This conveys an aura of intimacy, mutual love and knowledge. It is the intimacy that makes it possible for Jesus to know and speak about heavenly things (Jn 3:12-13; Mt 11:27). John declares that the incarnate Word made God known (ex?geomai). From this Greek term we derive "exegesis." This verb also means "to tell a narrative" or "to narrate" (Lk 24:35; Ac 10:8; 15:12, 14; 21:19). In that sense Jesus is the narration of God. To use the language of Paul, Jesus is the visible "image of the invisible God" (Col 1:15). The emphasis of the prologue, then, is on the revelation of the Word as the ultimate disclosure of God himself.
Only Jesus can make God known to man. Sin has caused man to never be able to feel close to God. Jesus, the Word, the Son is the only one who is inseparable from his Father. How would Jesus make God the Father known to fallen sinful man? This his incarnation, bird, life, death, resurrection and exaltation. To bring us close to the Father, he himself had to be viciously and brutally cut off for a time. This separation that happened on the cross was "only" for three days. But for Jesus who lives simultaneously in eternity past and present the three days are like forever. At the least, the three days are like 3,000 years. To make God known to man, Jesus paid an eternal price. What is God like? Who is God? How can I know God? God chose to reveal himself in the most personal and intimate way when God became a human being. This God is Jesus. I can know God crystal clearly through Jesus.
- Carson, D.A. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 1991. I. The Prologue (Jn 1:1-18). 111-139.
- Duncan, Ligon. Jesus Is God (Jn 1:1, 14-18). Sermon, Dec 3, 2006.
In "The John MacArthur Study Bible" (NASB, 2006), John MacArthur features six truths about Christ as the Son of God in the prologue:
- The eternal Christ (Jn 1:1-3).
- The incarnate Christ (Jn 1:4-5).
- The forerunner of Christ (Jn 1:6-8).
- The unrecognized Christ (Jn 1:9-11).
- The omnipotent Christ (Jn 1:12-13).
- The glorious Christ (Jn 1:14-18).
In "The God Who is There" (2010), by D.A. Carson; Chap 7: The God Who Becomes a Human Being, 101-120, Carson explains that unlike the other 3 gospels which begin with historical developments, John's Gospel begins by addressing what the coming of the eternal Son, the coming of God, means. From the prologue (John 1:1-18), we begin to sense the wonder and power of who this Jesus is and why he has come in 3 parts:
1. The Word is God's Self-Expression (John 1:1). 1:1 might say, "In the beginning was God's self-expression (for that is what "Word" suggests).
2. What the Word does (John 1:2-13)
- The Word creates us (Jn 1:3)
- The Word gives us light and life (Jn 1:4-5, 6-8)
- The Word confronts and divides (Jn 1:9-11, 12-13)
3. Who the Word is (John 1:14-18): The Word becomes Flesh (the incarnation, literally "the infleshing"). Five major themes from Exodus 32-34 are:
- Tabernacle and Temple (Jn 2:19-21).
- Glory (Ex 33:18-19; Jn 2:11, 12:23-33, 17:5).
- Grace and Truth (Love and Faithfulness) (Ex 34:6).
- Grace and Law (Jn 1:16-17)
- Seeing God (Jn 1:18, 14:9; Ex 33:18)
In a sermon "The Word Became Flesh," Tim Keller explains that:
- Jesus is the Word of God.
- Jesus is the Word made flesh/soft/vulnerable/killable.
- Jesus tabernacled among us, so we can see his glory.
In a sermon "The Word" (Jn 1:1-3), Richard D. Phillips (2007) writes:
Jn 1:1 was an important statement in the church’s fight with the earliest heretics. Arius, for instance, whose heresy prompted the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., maintained that Jesus, though certainly God-like 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 beings.”
The best-selling novel The DaVinci Code asserts that Christians never considered Jesus to be God until the Council of Nicaea in the 4th 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 in the bosom of the Father,” or as the English Standard Version puts it, “who is at the Father’s side,” is himself “the only God” (ESV). 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!” (Jn. 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.
“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.” Plato
In "Rediscovering Jesus" (Jn 1:1-18), Russel Smith writes:
John began his gospel with poetic imagery, referring to Christ as “the Word.” In the ancient world, “the word” was an image that was used differently by various religions. The Stoic philosophers used the term to signify a non-personal principle that ordered the universe, much like “the force” in the Star Wars movies. The Israelites, on the other hand, used the term to signify the creative power of God. Here John took this term that was used by other belief systems and redefined it to make the gospel more understandable. If John were writing in our day of Oprah-esque spirituality, he might have used the term “spirit.”
John was saying that God put on flesh (Jn 1:14) – this is what we call the “incarnation;” it’s one of the central elements of our faith. The force that unleashed a million suns, the power that set the planets in motion, the immensity that hand-carved every atom in existence and set them spinning, the very design for everything that is, was and will be – all of that was contained within a real, flesh-and-blood human body: a real body that got sunburned, that grew fatigued, that needed sleep and food and water; all that power within a body that could be cut and bleed and die; all that power within a man who loved and laughed and cried. Does anybody dare raise his hand and say, “I understand”?