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John 1:1-18

The Gospel of John can be outlined quite simply. I don’t say that John had this outline in mind precisely, but his material falls broadly into this outline. The Gospel begins with the magnificent prologue. There follows from 1:19 to the end of chapter 12 what we might call “The Book of Signs.” In these chapters John tells of the Lord’s miracles and intersperses important discourses. Then follows the “Book of the Lord’s Passion” the account first of the Upper Room and then his trial and crucifixion. Chapter 20 is John’s account of the Resurrection and Chapter 21 concludes the book as an epilogue. We begin today with the Prologue.

Text Comment

v.1       The grammatical details would be too complicated to explain, but John’s language seems unmistakably to mean not that the Word came into being at the beginning, but that “in the beginning” the Word already was. We said last week that John’s use of “logos” or “Word” brilliantly served to bridge the gap between his Jewish and Gentile readers, for both of whom “logos” was an important word and concept. It was a term referring to the first principle of existence in Stoic philosophy, but it was also a common and very important idea in the OT where, often, the Word of God is simply God himself speaking: bringing the creation into being by his word, or delivering his people by his word, or coming to his prophets to disclose his truth and will.

v.2       For emphasis and clarity John repeats himself. This point is so important, he states it twice!

v.3       That the Son of God, the pre-existent Christ, created the world is a common NT doctrine. In Hebrews 1:2 we read of Christ, “through whom God made the universe.”

v.5       We will hear much more of this. In chapter 3 we will read that men love the darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil.

v.9       The idea of the Son of God, the truth and the light, coming into the world or being sent into the world will be a common theme in John.

v.14     For the first time since v. 1 the term “logos” appears. The term translated “One and Only” was rendered “only begotten” in earlier translations. But the idea is rather, “one of a kind, best-beloved” son. “We have seen…” introduces the eyewitness touch that we will find everywhere in John. The gospel is written by someone who was there and who saw!

v.15     John is going to use loads of present tense verbs when talking about things that happened in the past. John the Baptist did his testifying about Jesus, of course, long years before the Gospel was written. But by casting “testify” in the present, he is saying, as it were, that he can still hear the Baptist’s voice and wants you to hear it as it sounded then.

What we have before us is a brilliantly crafted introduction to the Gospel. And it serves as an introduction in two different ways. First, a large number of the principal themes of the Gospel are mentioned in the prologue by way of introduction. The key terms in John – life, light, witness, truth, world, glory, believe – are all here. One can make quite a long list of such terms or themes that are merely introduced, not explained, here in John 1:1-18, but which receive extensive treatment in the body of the Gospel. There is no doubt that the first 18 verses of the gospel are like an overture that introduces the themes that will be worked out in the main body of the piece.

Take just one example. There is the text we considered several weeks ago, on the Lord’s Day following Christmas day, vv. 10-13, which reports in summary form the rejection by Christ on the part of the generality of the people of Israel, the very people who were supposed to be looking for the Messiah, but, also, that there was a remnant of folk who responded to him in faith. This faith in Christ on their part was the product, so we read in v. 13, of the sovereign, gracious working of God in their hearts. Now the rejection of the Jews and the supernatural origin of faith in those who believe are primary themes in the Gospel as a whole. We think, for example, of the conversation in chapter 3 between the Lord and Nicodemus about the new birth, or the strongly predestinarian teaching in chapter 6, given to account for the fact that the people took offense at Jesus and his message, or the Lord’s reflection, in the face of the hostility of the Jewish leadership, on those who were his sheep and those who were not in chapter 10. And so it will be with other themes introduced in these verses.

But the Prologue serves as an introduction in a still more important way. It announces, as by a thunderous opening salvo, the great subject of the Gospel, how the Word of God, the Son of God, who was with God in the very beginning, came into the world, into time, indeed, into human life itself, to disclose to mankind the glory and the grace of God. That is what the Gospel of John is about and we are told this at the outset, in the Prologue.

And how superbly John crafted his introduction. You noticed perhaps that the Lord’s name, Jesus Christ, is not mentioned at all until the very end. We are forced to think about the identity of John’s subject. He is identified at the outset as the Word, and then we have pronouns, “he” and “him”, in the verses that follow. He is referred to as the light. John testifies to him. But, still, we have not learned who it is precisely that John is talking about. Not until the very end, the end of v. 17, do we hear the name Jesus Christ. It is a brilliant rhetorical device to lay emphasis on the identity of the One about whom such fabulous things have been said. This is what makes so striking the two separate references to John the Baptist and his testimony, first in vv. 6-8, then in v. 15. Everyone knew that John the Baptist was the forerunner of the Messiah, that he had baptized Jesus. We hear John’s witness to him, but still, there is no mention of his name. Who is this that we are speaking about? And, then, finally, at the very end, the name: Jesus Christ!

In the overture, after the opening thunder, it falls away, and then is a crescendo to the very end — the roll of drums, growing ever louder, ending in a crash of cymbals. And what is said about him, about this Jesus Christ, is that he is God!

That is the great disclosure, the great revelation, the great statement of this introduction, this prologue to the Gospel of John. The one who is to be the subject of the Gospel, the one John knew personally, is none other than the Son of God who is God himself. This point is made a number of times in the Prologue, evidence that it is the great subject and theme of this introduction.

  • It is made dramatically in the opening verse where the Word is both distinguished from God and identified with God.

I know that many of you, at one time or another, have had a Jehovah’s Witness tell you that the word “God” at the end of v. 1, in the phrase “the Word was God” is not preceded by an article and should be translated “the Word was a God.” That is, the Word was not The God, Jehovah, but a god, a lesser divine being. It would not be helpful for me to descend to the details of the rules of Greek Grammar governing this question. But, I can tell you this. No competent authority on the Greek language of the NT period takes the view that Jehovah’s Witnesses take of the syntax of John 1:1. And a similar thing may be said of the standard authorities on John’s Gospel, evangelical and non-evangelical alike.

C.K. Barrett, the English scholar, whose commentary on John’s Gospel has been a fixture for scholarship for a generation, writes this.

“The absence of the article indicates that the Word is God, but is not the only being of whom this is true; if [“the God”] had been written it would have been implied that no divine being existed outside the second person of the Trinity.” [130]

The way John wrote verse 1 then indicates both the deity of the Word and his separateness from God the Father. What is of supreme importance, of course, is that this statement of the deity of Christ is the opening statement of the Gospel. As Barrett goes on to say,

“John intends that the whole of his gospel be read in the light of this verse. The deeds and words of Jesus are the deeds and words of God; if this be not true the book is blasphemous.” [130]

You are familiar with the rhetorical device known as “inclusio” by which a writer makes a similar statement at the beginning and end of a section, or even an entire book, and by means of which he indicates to his reader his theme, his subject, or his emphasis. In our studies in Genesis and now in Samuel we are learning how often the device of “inclusio” is employed by biblical writers, all the more important and effective in a day before titles, chapter headings, tables of contents, or italic type.

Many students of John’s Gospel have pointed out that 1:1 together with 20:28 – Thomas’ confession of Jesus, “My Lord and my God” – form an inclusio for the whole Gospel. The book begins with the statement “Jesus is God” and it ends – or nearly ends – with the statement “Jesus is God”, and in between, though there is plenty of demonstration of Christ’s deity, there are no straightforward assertions as at the beginning and end. This makes the statement in 1:1 even more important. It is a statement of the grand theme of the Gospel: viz. that Jesus Christ is God.

  • Then Christ’s deity is confessed in a second way, in his being identified as the Creator of heaven and earth.

We have that already in the opening words of the Prologue, “In the beginning…” which take us back to the opening words of the Bible. But that Christ Jesus created the heavens and the earth is then explicitly said in v. 3. In Genesis 1:1 we read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In John 1:1-3 we read that “Jesus Christ created the heavens and the earth.” John is making Christ out to be God; it couldn’t be clearer and the Jews, of course, will not miss the implication. They will be infuriated precisely because a man is made out to be God, which is blasphemy in their view.

I should say, as an aside, that this is one reason, if not the first and most important reason, why Christians must reject evolution as a theory of the origins of life and why they should take such comfort in the growing body of evidence and argument against that impossible theory. The doctrine of creation and the doctrine of Christ go together in the Bible. He is the Creator. The Son of God spoke and brought existence into being. It was the Son of God who said, “Let there be light” and there was light. Take God out of creation – which is what evolution does, no matter what the claims made by so-called “theistic-evolutionists” – and you will eventually have to take him out of salvation too! Our Savior is no one else but our Creator. And who and what he is as our Savior is everywhere in the Bible determined by who and what he is as the Creator of all things.  We will learn later in chapter 1 that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. Here, already in v. 10, we have learned that he made that same world he has now come to save.

But we are not done.

  • Then, in the third place, John identifies Jesus Christ as God by identifying him with Yahweh, the God whose glory was revealed to Israel in the wilderness.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…” More literally, the phrase reads, “he pitched his tent among us.” For anyone familiar with the OT, the phrase would immediately call to mind the tent that Moses made where God met with Israel before the Temple was built. Remember what God told Moses in Exodus 25:8, “have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.” The Greek translation of “sanctuary” in Exodus 25:8 has the noun form of the verb that John uses here for “pitch his tent among us.” The implication of this way of speaking is unmistakable. God has chosen to dwell among his people as he has before, though this time in a yet more personal way. The Word coming in the flesh is another case of God pitching his tent and dwelling among us.

But, still, as we will see as we make our way through the gospel, while the glory of God was revealed in Jesus, his words and works, not everyone saw that glory. And that leads to the thought with which the Prologue closes in v. 18. In v. 14 John said, “We have seen his glory…” an obvious allusion to the incident in Exodus 33-34 when Moses asked to see the glory of God. He was not permitted to see that glory full force – “you cannot see my face,” God told him, “because no one can see God and live” –  but, remember, he was allowed to see the Lord’s after-effects or after-glow as he hid Moses in the cleft of a rock and passed by. And then, afterwards, Moses would go into the tent of meeting to speak with God, and when he came out his face would be shining, still reflecting the glory of God.

John picks up that same reference again in v. 18 and says that this one who is the Word, the Creator, now come in the flesh, has revealed God to us. Any Jewish reader would immediately get the point. Jehovah, Yahweh, has come down among men once more in Jesus Christ.

  • And, finally, in the fourth place, you have Christ’s deity demonstrated in his pre-existence.

We have noted this already, after a fashion, but it is important to see it as a constant thread in the argument of the Prologue. Jesus Christ, this man we are about to meet, was with God in the beginning, before the creation (v. 1). This one already existed before he came into the world (v. 9). He came from the Father (v. 14). This Word became flesh, that is, he was before he became a human being (v. 14). And John the Baptist, who was born before Jesus was born, as a climax of all of this testimony, explicitly says, “He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me” (v. 15) You did not exist before you were! But Jesus did! His divine person always existed; only his human nature had a beginning in time.

So, in these different ways the Prologue, the introduction of the Gospel sets before us the great subject of the gospel: Jesus Christ, who is God and became Man, is the ultimate revelation of God to man. The man Jesus Christ, in Paul’s words, is the visible “image of the invisible God.”

Imagine if the Prologue had been torn off somehow and you were to begin reading at 1:19. You would think: who is this man? How is he able to do what he is doing? How does he know to say what he is saying? But the Prologue has made it all clear. [Hooker, Beginnings, p. 74]

Now, let us all be clear about this. This is the entire issue! This is the challenge and this is the scandal of Christianity. But this is also its glory and its power and the reason for men and women to embrace its faith as their hope for everlasting life! Jesus Christ is God. No wonder John should open his Gospel with this assertion and make that assertion so clearly, so boldly, so emphatically, so repeatedly! This is what makes Jesus Christ, one man born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, so fabulously important. It is this that makes his life the hope of the world, but it is also this fact, that Jesus is God, that makes him a dagger pointed at the heart of all who will not believe in him or submit to him. Jesus Christ is God! He is man, of course. We will see him a man and living the life of a man through the Gospel of John, but all the while, in a way beyond human comprehension, he is also, at the same time, the eternal, living Almighty God who created the world and everything in it.

I was driving home the other night and passed the message board of the Unity Church near 19th and Sprague. That particular night the message read: “You are divine; let your light shine.” There are many in the world who, both wittingly and unwittingly think that human beings are divine, or partly divine. But human beings are not divine in the biblical sense of the term! They are not eternal. They did not make the world by merely uttering a word! Far from being God, they are God’s creatures. It is true, they are made in God’s image; they bear a certain likeness to God, however limited. But, when John says that Jesus Christ is God, he means “God” in the old, strong, powerful sense of the word! The true and living God, the Creator, the All-powerful ruler, the Judge. Jesus Christ is that God!

What is being asserted here is that same Jesus Christ who lived in Palestine two thousand years ago and died on a cross and then, on the third day, rose from the dead – that Jesus Christ, who made you, owns you! He made you, he is absolutely sovereign over your life, whether you acknowledge that sovereignty or not. You will some day, with all other human beings, past, present, and future, stand before this same Lord Christ of whom John is speaking, and hear him pronounce his judgment upon your life. Such is God and Jesus Christ is God!

There are a great many people in the world who are well disposed toward Jesus Christ. They think well of him to the extent they think about him at all. They may know very little of what he taught and still less of what faith in him would involve. But, to the extent they have an impression of Jesus Christ, it is a good impression. But John is out to change all of that!

I read an article recently by Frederica Mathewes-Green, a syndicated columnist and commentator for National Public Radio. She was reminiscing about her becoming a Christian.

“Almost twenty-four years ago I walked into a church in Dublin a Hindu, and walked out a Christian. I had had an unexpected confrontation with the presence of One I discovered to be my Lord, and was set reeling. I knew I needed operating instructions quickly, and particularly wanted to find out who this Jesus was. I hunted up a Bible, a pocket-sized King James with print several microns high, and plunged into the Gospel of Matthew.

“I disliked it from the start. Jesus was often abrupt and hard-edged. I disagreed with some of the things he said. I was offended.

“But something had happened in my heart. The confrontation in the church had knocked a hole in my ego. I knew at last that I didn’t make the world, I didn’t know everything, and it was time for me to sit down, shut up, and listen. I kept working my way through the Gospels, and they began working their way through me. There are still parts of the Bible I don’t like. But I like the parts I don’t like, because I know that’s where I need to listen harder.” [First Things, 83 (May 1998) 12]

There is the key. “I know that I didn’t make the world.” But Jesus did make the world and everything in the world, including you! He is the living God, however much he is at the same time and most mysteriously a true and authentic human being, and that is why you must hear him, John is saying, and why you must believe in him, and why you must submit yourself to him, and why you must take him for your Lord and Savior, and why you must follow him. This Word who became flesh and dwelt among men, this one whom John was privileged to know and live with for three years, whose divine glory he actually saw – if only on a mountaintop in Galilee one fateful night – this Jesus of Nazareth is God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth. And that changes everything. Obviously, then, the salvation Christ brings is the only salvation; the truth he brings is the only truth; his light is the only light; for every man and woman in the world.

Jesus is God! The solid earth,

The ocean broad and bright,

The countless stars, like golden dust,

That strow the skies at night,

The wheeling storm, the dreadful fire,

The pleasant, wholesome air,

The summer’s sun, the winter’s frost,

His own creations were.


Jesus is God! There never was

A time when he was not

Boundless, eternal, merciful,

The son the Sire begot!

Backwards our thoughts through ages stretch,

Onwards through endless bliss, —

For there are two eternities,

And both alike are his.

Jesus is God! Let sorrow come,

And pain, and every ill;

All are worthwhile, for all are means

His glory to fulfil.

Worthwhile a thousand years of life

To speak one little word,

If by our credo we may own

The Godhead of our Lord.

[Frederick Faber 1814-1863]

There, then, is the main thing, for John and for us. Jesus is God. Let your mind and heart absorb that single fact, the greatest fact in all the world, and you then must believe that what Jesus Christ did and said is more important for you to know than anything else in all the world. And to find and to know this Jesus Christ must be, absolutely must be, the key to all life, all truth, and all meaning. No wonder John started his Gospel as he did!