John - Chapter 1, Part 1
This is part 2 in a 23-part study on the Book of John. Below is a modified transcript.
Let’s begin in a prayer as we continue our study of John. Lord, we thank You for Your goodness, for the hope that we have in Christ Jesus, for the grace, the truth and for the understanding that you’ve communicated to us through Your revealed word. We pray that we would be people who not only hear Your word but also respond, in Jesus’ name, amen.
We’re going to continue our introduction to John and then launch into the prologue to the gospel of John and in doing that I want to talk about the contribution that John makes to the bible. Last time we looked at a number of themes; the structure of the book, its theme and purpose, the background, some things about John himself and the date.
How does this book make a unique contribution to the scriptures? My answer in part is that it provides an entirely theological gospel, more so than the rest. It is also very selective and highly topical in its very nature. I find John to be a profound gospel. It uses a very simple linguistic structure and a very, very simple vocabulary yet it’s layered in nuance. It provides more insight in the way that we can understand this book than other texts of scripture especially because of some unique contributions it makes.
About 90% of John is in fact unique to John. It supplements the other gospels, the synoptic gospels, which see together, that are really portraits of Christ written somewhat earlier as I take it. John was written somewhere between 80 and 90 A.D. Though it’s possible it was written somewhat earlier, my suspicion is a little bit later and probably written for Ephesus during the time when John was ministering as an apostle to a number of churches that were in Asia Minor. Ephesus as you know was the chief city of Asia Minor.
John, a very pastoral person indeed, was a man who really emphasizes love. You can see his pastoral dimension in the three epistles, I, II, and III John; a very profound desire that his children would walk in the truth. He always talks about this idea of walking in the truth and also understanding what that truth is as defined by the doctrine of the apostolic fellowship especially in view of the fact that there would be a great deal of error that keeps popping up. So much of the New Testament deals with erroneous thinking, doesn’t it? If you look at scripture, so many of the epistles have to deal with overcoming false doctrine and false practices.
When we look at this, John is no exception especially in his first epistle. By the time He wrote I John, where he’s criticizing and actually condemning the error of those who believe that Jesus did not come in the flesh but came in some kind of a Gnostic form. Doceticism was a later doctrine that basically said that Jesus didn’t really come in a full human form but rather that He was some kind of spirit who appeared to be human. That sort of doctrine was something that was really compatible with Greek thought. Greek thought was opposed to the idea of the body itself. The idea of Greek thought would be that the body is essentially something that is a product of some kind of demi-urge or some kind of evil, some kind of force, that the way things are- we have to get rid of this body and we want to be liberated from it’s shackles so that we can actually enjoy a disembodied existence. The gospel of the incarnation was an offense. It was also an offense to the Jews to say that God Himself has become one of us.
John wonderfully takes truth, combines it with love and communicates this. When we look at this prologue we have a backdrop that gives us insights we wouldn’t otherwise have- particularly about the pre-incarnate nature of Jesus Christ. His preexistence is going to be particularly stressed- the preexistence of the Word who came among us and took on flesh and pitched His tent in our midst.
I mentioned before John uses allegories where as the synoptics use parables. John uses themes, for example, and discourses that are actually more systematically developed whereas the sayings material in the synoptics is not as systematically developed. You do have the Upper Room Discourse. In John you have other discourses that discuss exactly what’s going on and they are very powerful pictures that help us understand how the signs in John’s gospel can be interpreted from God’s perspective. It shows us they are in fact symbolic of spiritual truth.
There are seven miracles in chapters 1-12 and of those seven miracles only the feeding of the multitudes and walking on water are found in the synoptic gospels, all the others are unique to John.
As we look at John, I want us to see it in several ways. I have a chart (this is available in the Open Bible) and this is what we will see:
Incarnation of the Son of God- It’s what we call the prologue verses 1-18 and it gives us an introduction to who the God Man really is. In looking at that we have a portrait of Him that gives the backdrop for all that follows.
Presentation of the Son of God- (verses 1:19- 4:54) Here in the presentation He presents Himself. We have the first 2 of the 7 signs that are found in John. In presenting Himself to Israel, He’s presenting Himself through the 7 signs or miracles that communicate truth about Him in powerful ways that point beyond themselves to spiritual truth. In my talk, Through the Bible, I mentioned that they symbolized the life changing results of belief in Jesus.
I will mention the 7 miracles again. The turning of the water to wine symbolizes how the ritual of law is replaced by the reality of grace in chapter 2. Law is replaced by grace and we’ll see that the water to wine miracle of the kingdom both in quality and quantity and of radical abundance and of great joy as well. It’s a picture of the life to come. It’s an illustration that God will save the best for the last.
The second sign is the healing of the nobleman’s son (John 4)- what we have here is that the gospel brings spiritual restoration- the physical restoration points beyond itself to a spiritual restoration as well. There’s always the spiritual and physical in John- keep this in mind so that we look in different ways at it. If we look at it from the physical standpoint we see one thing but the physical always points beyond itself to a spiritual truth about healing- physical but spiritual healing as well.
The third of those miracles, which begins in chapter 5, is the movement of opposition to the Son of God. In chapters 5-12 we see especially the theme of mounting opposition to the Man and His message. In view of the fact that the world itself is disposed to reject His actual offer, I want to say a word about the kosmos. John communicates the kosmos, the world, can be used in a positive, neutral or negative sense but John largely uses it in a negative sense. It is a way of seeing the world to be something, a system, which is organized to leave God out and to provide other alternatives. It pursues darkness over light.
The next miracle is the healing of the paralytic in chapter 5. In this case we see that there’s going to be opposition to the miracles themselves. Some believe- some reject. Another miracle. Some believe- some reject. In reading it this way you’re kind of forced to draw your own conclusions and make your own decisions. What do you do about this Jesus? Reading John will force you to move beyond the position of assumed neutrality to a position of commitment either to know Him or reject Him. One of the things you see when people have an encounter with this Jesus is that they can’t spend much time with Him without either receiving or rejecting. They cannot ignore Him.
I’m intrigued by the fact that the Visual Bible is now coming up with the third in its series and it’s going to be the gospel of John. Their intention is to slowly work their way through the scriptures in a visual way. They use a word for word biblical reading and they’re not distorting the message but they’re simply conveying it. We also have Mel Gibson’s, The Passion, which has recently come out. I can promise you these kinds of things will not be happily received by the world. You’ll have more objections especially to Gibson’s movie because you can’t ignore Him. John gives us a little better context of why that is. The world will certainly see no neutral system. It is not objective- especially when it comes to spiritual truth.
The fourth miracle is the feeding of the multitude. We have Christ satisfying our spiritual hunger, not just the physical. People are often looking for the physical handout. He’s offering them something a good deal better than that.
The fifth sign is in chapter six when He walks on water. The Lord transforms fear to faith. Again in each section we have these signs that are always pointing to spiritual truth.
The sixth miracle or sign is sight to the man born blind where Jesus overcomes darkness and brings in light- one of the most interesting narratives in the entire bible- the conflict between the man who was born blind and the Pharisees.
The seventh sign, the raising of Lazarus in chapter 11, is the gospel bringing people from death to a sphere of life.
Understand then if you put all these signs together we see how they converge. As you saw before in chapter 20 at the very end, John specifically says that there was a reason why he selected these. There are actually many other signs but he’s selected these so that you may believe that He is the Christ. His point is evangelistic. His desire is that people will come to know Him as the Son of God and that by believing Him they may have life in His Name.
Again last week I drew the contrast between bios and zoe. I was arguing that bios, physical life, we have all received at the first birth but zoe, spiritual life, no one receives in the first birth -that is a product of the second birth. This is the life of Christ, which is embedded in the life of the believer. I mentioned the word pisteuo, faith, which is not merely intellectual assent but personal reception that is the key to receiving the life of Christ in our lives. We have that important theme which runs throughout the gospel.
The next scene as we go through the opposition to the Son of God and looking at the reactions of belief and disbelief we then move into the preparation of the Son’s disciples. In chapters 13-17 we have what is often called the Upper Room Discourse. We see how Jesus prepares His disciples for His imminent departure. He prepares them as well for the way they are going to live, empowering them to live according to what the resources are that God will provide. He Himself will be with them and the Holy Spirit will be with them and furthermore the Father is in them.
We have an extraordinarily important section here in chapters 13-17. This is one of the most important sections in all of scripture in terms of really encapsulating the essence of the spiritual life. These are Jesus’ parting words to His disciples and you and I are privileged to listen in to those words. They were communicated only to a handful of men at the very end when He knew there would only be a few more hours before He would then be glorified, lifted up, which is His term really for crucified. It is very interesting how He uses that idea, now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified when the Son of Man is lifted up then He will draw all men to Himself. This image here rather than portraying humiliation actually shows it ultimately will lead to true glory and victory. So we have this preparation, a season of revelation from Christ, followed by the narrative of the crucifixion and resurrection of the Son of God.
As we move from this little kernel of the epistles, all the patterns and key principles, we now end up with this scene of the crucifixion and a glorious scene in the last chapter of the resurrected Christ communicating Himself to His disciples. We move from introduction to revelation to rejection and then we have another revelation and another rejection of Christ and so on.
There are 7 miracles in chapters 1-12, and then the Upper Room Discourse in chapters 13-17 followed by what I call the supreme miracle, which is the resurrection itself. This is the key miracle. All the gospels point to this and this is supreme. The point is that you may believe and that you may have life. These were written so that you may believe and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 21:31) So this theme of life becomes very critical.
In chapters 1-12 we have a few years in our Lord’s earthly life but then he slows the clock down to a few hours. All of a sudden everything hones in to a few hours of teaching and really boiling that down to these chapters. Then there are a few weeks at the end of John.
In looking at this then I want to launch into the prologue to John’s gospel, chapter 1:1-18. There is good evidence especially if you examine the nature of this prologue, it gives such skill and remarkable profundity, an economy of words, that it may well have been John’s earlier draft of this because you can see that there may have been some sources that are evident. There are some scenes, literary scenes and so forth that can actually be seen to come together and there are bits and pieces here- some things seem out of order like chapter 6. Most scholars would seem to say it might have preceded chapter 5 and things of this sort. There are elements in here, which might cause us to see that originally he may have actually started with verse 19 as the other gospels essentially do. The other gospels essentially start with the ministry of John. Later on, it may be especially during the time when he was writing his other epistles that he added this material to emphasize the theological truth- and the Word became flesh. This is something he was wrestling with in some churches and it would make good sense to see it in that way.
There are other passages that are of this nature as well as we’ll see later on. For example if you jump ahead with me just for a moment and you went from chapter 14:31 and you jumped to chapter 18:1 and skipped chapters 15, 16 and 17 it would move very smoothly. It may be that this was material that he later added. You’d have a very smooth transition because He really seems to imply that He’s going to be leaving now, “Arise, let us go from here” (John 14:31) and then “When He had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples”(John 18:1) you see it would smoothly connect. It also may be, for example, that some scholars would comment it appears that John’s real ending may have been chapter 20:30-31 but then this extra material was also added then in chapter 21. It wouldn’t be likely that John just sat down in one sitting and wrote the whole gospel. It’s evident that like the other gospel writers, he used various sources. It was a product of a great deal of reflection. I think it was something that took a good deal of time for him to encapsulate so he goes back. Have you ever done this before yourself when you’re writing a paper? You write something and say hmm, I’m missing something here. I’d better add this here and that bit there. That sort of thing is done quite a bit. I think that is what we see in that structure.
Remember scripture is fully human, fully divine. What we have in the humanness of this gospel, which is an illustration, is it not- the process of revelation is actually an illustration in the written word, an analogy of what we have in the living Word. When you think about how Jesus, fully God and fully man is in fact without sin so the written word, fully God and fully man is without error in it’s original. You see the idea that there would be an analogy. What we have here is John’s style, his vocabulary and a variety of things indicative of the man himself, just like the gospel of Luke reveals a totally different style, a very different vocabulary and a different approach and structure yet still superintended by the life of the living God.
I’ll point ahead to II Peter 1:20-21 just to see about this process of inscripturation which is the closest we may get to the process of inscripturation, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. It’s not dictation. It was actually something that fused to the life of the person himself. We see John’s character come through and so does Jesus. That’s why the four gospels reveal those four aspects of different facets of His life and character.
As we look at the prologue some scholars have suggested the first 18 verses may in some aspects of it at least, have been an early Christian hymn. We have those in Ephesians 5, Philippians 2 and Colossians 1. We have some evidences that some early Christian hymns would be memorized and this may well have been used here. I’ll tell you this though, it was known right away. This is so significant. The medieval church venerated these 18 verses. In fact some people actually wore them in amulets. It was written out and put in an amulet around their neck or it would be read over the sick and newly baptized. It was actually used as the final prayer in some Roman Masses. It was that important, very, very critical because what we have here is an overture to the rest of the gospel. Themes that are wonderful that are going to be developed in John’s gospel in full are already hinted at here. For example the theme of the preexistence of Christ is going to be seen here but we also have the theme of light versus darkness that immediately appears here and then is developed throughout the gospel especially in John 3.
I also think about the idea of the only Son. Christ is God’s only Son. Jesus is the only Son of the Father. He had a divine birth and His life and ministry is characterized by glory.
Let’s take a look then at the very beginning and look at the first portion of this. It’s kind of like a stanza almost. Let us hone in on the Logos which is found especially in chapter 1 and then after that we don’t have that theme of the Word or the Logos being developed in John but we see Him here. John 1:1-2, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” We have here His relationship to God Himself. We are invited to see the parallels between this and Genesis 1. In Genesis 1 we have the theme where you have the darkness and then the light appears and illuminates the darkness, the Spirit of God brooding over the face of the waters and so forth. In Genesis 1 we also have God who breathes into the nostrils of Adam the breath of life and the whole idea here of a new breath as well.
Something very significant here is that John 1:1 precedes Genesis 1:1. You have to understand that. Effectively the bible begins now with John 1:1. This precedes the creation of the heavens and the earth. This brings us back far before the created order itself. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth but this is prior to the beginning when there was simply the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
John 1:3, “All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” He is the very source, the very well spring, and the very fountainhead of life itself in all things. Looking at the parallels, I’d like you to turn to Hebrews 1 and also Colossians 1 just to see two important New Testament parallels. “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in may ways, (of course portions and ways would include dreams, visions, prophecy and other ways in which He revealed Himself to them- through narrative and poetry, song, historical events of the deliverance, miracles - all these were revelatory acts in which God manifested Himself to the fathers and prophets) in these last days (the highest form of revelation) has spoken to us in His Son, (The most decisive revelation because it’s personal revelation. It’s not merely revealing an idea; it’s not even revealing God’s power in nature or miracles or in redemptive acts. There’s something even bigger than that, it’s God revealing Himself and coming among us. He has spoken to us in His Son. Notice how He refers to the Son.) whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”(Hebrews 1:1-2)
Hebrews 1:3a, “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.” That’s well worth reflecting on. The more you put that together the more you are impressed by the vastness of the created order and the more you are impressed by the humility that was involved in the Incarnation. The more you are impressed also by the reality of Christ in you the hope of glory, which is profoundly mysterious. That this One who crafted the heavens is now making His dwelling in us. We become the temples of His very life. It’s deeply profound. Who could’ve made something like that up? It’s without parallel in the world. There’s nothing like it.
In Colossians 1 an additional portrait of the cosmic Christ in this regard is given and I have particularly in mind verse 15 speaking of the One in whom we have redemption and the forgiveness of sin (v. 14) Verse 15 calls Him the image of the invisible God, (very similar to the image in Hebrews 1 isn’t it?) the first-born of all creation. This means the One who is pre-eminent over all things, the Word, the first born, has authority, preeminence over all things –the heir of all things as Hebrews puts it. “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created by Him and for Him.” (v. 16) This particular text invites us to see that these are apparently referring to various orders of angels and the medieval thought eventually arrived at seven orders of angels. Satan by the way imitates God’s hierarchy because if you go to Ephesians 6 it talks about the forces in the world and he calls them the rulers, the powers, the world forces of this darkness, spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. My own belief here is that the enemy will typically counterfeit what God has done and distort it in various ways so that they too have a kind of hierarchal order and a sequence as well.
The point is Jesus, who spoke all things into being spoke that which is seen and unseen, both the heavens and the earth, both the realm of men and the realm of angels, all these things are under His authority. Furthermore it says all things have been created by Him and for Him. In verse 17, “And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” That word, sunistemi, means that He keeps it together and keeps it from dissolving, from dissipating. When I did my Powers of Ten presentation I mentioned my theoretical speculation that it may well be that one thing that He could certainly or that would be related or pertinent to this is what we in our ignorance call the “strong force”. This binds the nuclei of atoms together especially in so far as they are positively charged particles and the protons with the neutrons which are neutral in their charge, what on earth holds those protons together when they’re so incredibly close because the closer they get the more repulsive force there will be? Well, we call it the “strong force”. That’s nice but nobody knows exactly or really what that is, where it comes from or how it works. I promise you this though if that “strong force” were removed even for a microsecond the whole universe would turn from matter into energy that quick. When we look at it all that we call matter is slowed down energy. What is energy? Nobody knows the answer to that. It manifests itself in different ways, heat, mechanics and such but nobody what energy itself is. That’s why Hebrews tells us the things that are seen are made of that which are unseen. Here, Jesus hold it together.
One other test that supports these ideas would be I Corinthians 8 where Paul talks about this theme in verse 6, “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” The gospels the epistles, scriptures teach us that all of human life is derivative existence. You owe your biological life as well as your spiritual life to the One who is life. (I am the way, the truth and the life.) This is a very high Christology; we’d call this a portrait of who Jesus Christ really is.
This Word, this Logos, which you see in the beginning wasn’t just matter and energy and the impersonal plus time and chance as Francis Schaffer used to put it. If you’re a naturalist that’s all you’ve got. You don’t have anything more than that. Here it says in the beginning you have Personhood. In fact when it says, the Word was with God, the Word was God you right here have a portrait of Trinitarian theology. We’ve all seen this chart before but it bears repeating. When we look at this ancient chart where we have the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and we can certainly say that the Father is not the Son, the Father is not the Holy Spirit and neither is the Holy Spirit the Son. They are not each other but we could also say on the other hand that they are all God. So the Son is God, the Father is God and the Holy Spirit is God but they are not each other. That’s really a great way of summarizing this Trinitarian truth. In the deep abundant mystery of the Trinity we see that God is not a monad but a trinity. Because He is a trinity we have an ultimate foundation for the Lover and the Beloved and the love that flows between them. We have an ultimate basis for unity as well as diversity; for oneness and community- the idea of relationship and of communication.
Logos is an interesting word because at the very least it means that there is intelligence. One of the beauties of this intelligent design movement that is now developing is the idea the universe now points to an intelligent source to account for the complex systems that we observe. We have now in the beginning an intelligent personhood and this was all in the beginning, timeless outside the boundaries of time and space.
All things came into being through Him and through Him was life and the Life was the light of men. We have this idea of life and light. In looking at the idea of life then we see that this life in Him, again zoe, is that which provides light for us. Now he goes on to speak about this light and speaks in terms of it as light that shines in the darkness and the darkness does not comprehend it. The darkness cannot defeat or overcome the Word. There seems to be an opposition, there’s a hint of struggle here already going on between the light and the darkness. In one sense we can certainly say that the darkness cannot understand it; cannot comprehend the light. That’s why it’s very intriguing to me that you can be in a cave that’s totally black and off in the distance the smallest pinpoint of light would be enough to tell you that that’s the way to go. The slightest pinpoint of light shines in the darkness.
Remember that wonderful theme of light and darkness found in II Peter 1:19, “And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.” Imagine then a moonless night without electricity. In Palestine, Canaan, you didn’t have electric lamps so you’re in a wasteland here and suppose you’re not at a village so you don’t have artificial light. Imagine then how important it is for that lamp to illuminate your pathway. It’s sufficient to illuminate your pathway one step at a time but what happens when the sun rises? You’d feel rather silly wouldn’t you having this lamp that now becomes hard to tell if it’s either on or off? There comes a point when the sun rises and you turn it off. So he goes on to say, which you would do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. The day will come when the light of God’s manifest presence will be so great that you will no longer need now the revealed word in that regard but you’ll have the light of God Himself that will illuminate your understanding on your path. So right now we see things darkly but then we will see face to face.
We have this picture of darkness. Darkness is an image then of the response of the world. He goes on to discuss this concept, which I’ll talk more about later.
He talks about the idea of John and says, “There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. He came for a witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came that he might bear witness of the light. (John 1:6-8) One of the important things to understand about John’s mission is the denial of his own significance as an end in himself. John continually emphasized, I’m not the one to be pointed to, I point beyond myself to the One who is the Life. By the way, is that not our mission as well? You truly find your significance in pointing beyond yourself to the One who has utter significance but in understanding that it doesn’t mean you’re a worm. It just means you have a great calling to participate in His life and plans and purpose. You have great significance but the idea is to find your significance in Him. Remember the key to humility is not thinking of how weak you are or how foolish you are or how sinful you are. That’s not going to make you humble, in fact it will be a perverse form of pride. Humans are very strange that way. The key to humility is preoccupation with Jesus. The more you’re consumed by His greatness- the more you get your eyes off of yourself.
It’s the same as if you went to a great concert. A concert can be a very humbling experience in the sense that the glory of the instruments and music can so enrapture you that you’re transported and you don’t even think about yourself at all. If it’s a great concert you’re not even aware of your own presence. All you’re doing is enjoying the presence of the music.
So it is with a great scene in nature as well. One of my favorite things to do with Karen when we were in England would be to go to great gardens and we’d often go and look for a particular vantage point on a bench. I can think of each garden we visited and 2 or 3 benches in each garden. We’d typically spend 10 or sometimes 20 minutes just sitting there and taking it in. Those are the most vivid moments of my trip because I can see them. I can see what everything looked like because I kind of burned it in like a photographic plate gathers light from the stars the longer it’s exposed the more light it gathers. So I received that and what I was doing was basking in the glory. To be frank with you we’d get to the point where it wouldn’t be a matter of us looking at it but it would be pure enjoyment itself. Extasis means that you’re outside of yourself, standing outside of yourself, so that ecstasy or the idea is a very other centered notion and the best things that we see we wish to share with another. So we share that beauty with another and enjoy that together.
So it would be as well in this- that this One here created all things then, this community of being. He Himself is the light to whom John points. His role is assigned as to being the forerunner, the one who would prepare His way as Isaiah and Malachi indicated that he would. He’s the one who would come in the spirit and power of Elijah. He said, “I’m not the One.” We’ll see 3 denials in the next section. I’m not the One, He’s the One and he’d point beyond himself. Similarly we need to do that as well. Our mission would be to point beyond ourselves to the presence and person of Jesus Himself- not to an idea but to a Person. The emphasis on the personhood of the truth is really very, very clear.
Now in verse 9 we move on to the theme of genuine revelation. “There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.” Actually it’s an image here of how natural revelation, written revelation and personal revelation all bear witness to this Light. No one can say that they are totally ignorant because nature itself points beyond itself to spiritual realities in the sense that Romans 1 tells us about God at least in terms of eternal power and divine majesty. It is clearly seen by what’s outside of us and also that testimony is embedded in us. We are also aware of a problem in our lives namely the conscience and how we can try to defend ourselves. In any case, what we have here is this Light that enlightens us.
“He was in the world, and the world was made through Him and the world did not know Him.”(John 1:10) Now this kosmos, which appears 78 times in this gospel alone, from which we get the words cosmic and so forth, can really mean 3 different things. It can refer in a positive way where God so loves the world- that world would be the people who are in the world. But there’s also a sense in which we could say that it’s neutral- for example he says, what I have heard from Him I tell the world. But then there’s this mostly negative use of the word where it’s the sphere of creation that lives in rebellion against the person and the purpose of God. If you look at the epistles of Paul you discover the human heart is at enmity with God. Romans 5, Colossians 2, and Ephesians 2 make that very clear. We are dead in our trespasses and sin. We are in fact in rebellion against God. That’s why it says, even when we were His enemies; Christ died for us. It’s not neutrality but there is hostility. The human heart is not bent to receive and respond to light. That requires God’s previous initiative and the grace of illumination so that we would be willing to respond to the light that God gives us.
That’s the picture we have in this book- while some receive the revelation because their deeds are true (John 3:21) many flee because their deeds are evil. John 3:19- 20 says, “And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather that the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” This theme of light and darkness runs through the gospel. It’s interesting that Nicodemus comes by night. It’s also interesting as well that John adds that chilling phrase after Judas departed to do his worst- and it was night. The deeds of evil are done in the dark in that scene. This theme of light and darkness is more than just physical; it is also spiritual.
When I was going to New York University and teaching at Kings College, I spent the night at a friends apartment on Broadway and 11th street that was close so that I could walk right down to NYU. I’ll never forget staying in their apartment because the down side was that the place was totally filled with roaches. I mean they had these roach motels all right. Do you remember those roach motels? They say roaches check in but they don’t check out! The problem with the roach motels was they immediately became filled with guests and no matter how many you put out it seemed like there’d be a hundred more roaches to replace the captured ones. At night, you’d have this eerie noise of things moving around and if you’d turn on the light they’d be gone! You see- we’re like that. When you do something wrong and the light comes on you scurry away and say I’m out of here!
The light comes on and you scurry for the nooks and crannies because we do not want to be exposed. It’s almost like Adam- who told you that you were naked? The idea here is that he’s been exposed. What’s his first reaction when he realizes that now as a fallen man God’s penetrating gaze exposes His nakedness? It is a wonderful theme that can be traced profitably from Genesis to Revelations- this idea of being naked and being clothed. Adam’s first reaction is to cover up his nakedness but it is inadequate so God Himself is the One who has to cover them with the skins of animals. Hence, the first sacrifice was made by God and not by men. God’s the One who had to bring about the first sacrifice. He sacrificed animals to cover them up which is a powerful picture, is it not, of being covered as well by that animal sacrifice and the later assistance of animal sacrifice we see in the Old Testament. The point here is that this is part of the human condition. John is exposing that very perceptively. We are enlightened but we have to respond to the light or it will do us no good at all.
It goes on to say in verse 10 and 11, “He was in the world, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” He’s referring to the Jewish people here. That’s a sad picture because there should’ve been readiness and receptivity instead there was only rejection. It reminds me of Isaiah 53 that wonderful song of the Suffering Servant written some seven centuries before the birth of our Lord- specifically in verse 2, “That He grew up before Him like a tender shoot and like a root out of parched ground.” What’s that parched ground? It’s an image here of the spiritual desert that Israel had become at this time. Oh they had become very orthodox in their practices but it was all externalism and not an internal reality. It was religion without relationship. We’ve all seen this happen. I think its humans’ natural bent. They get religious and get into all these external things but it’s always trying to be outside in and not inside out. It’s religious practices rather than the emphasis on a relationship. You can measure practices but you can’t quantify relationships. We’re not comfortable with that.
Scripture makes it very clear that He would in fact be rejected and despised and forsaken by men. A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:3-4) That is to say they thought He was on the cross because of some evil that He had done. But now it goes on to say, “But He was pierced through for our transgression, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.” (Isaiah 53: 5) You have this wonderful portrait here so prophetic and so clear that’s outlining the response that Israel must make in order for Him to come. The point is that He came to His own people and they rejected Him.
John 1:12 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God even to those who believe in His name.” It’s the same idea of reception and rejection. You could almost say that chapters 1-12 portrays many who rejected Him and chapter 13 and following focuses on those few who did receive Him. This is like a mini portrait of the theme in this gospel of acceptance and rejection. I want to stress and have you remember the words, received Him. You have a connection between the words believed and received. You’ll notice in your bibles the word, even, is in italics. It should be unless you have a paraphrase but most regular translations will say- become children of God even to those who believe in His name. The word even is actually supplied. That’s why it’s in italics. Actually what we have here in the Greek is apposition. It’s when two things are being called equivalent without a connector. We could say in effect that what is happening here in the structure is to receive Him and to believe Him are being equated as one and the same. Reception here, remember pisteuo, has to do with personal trust not merely intellectual assent. In my opinion this is the thing that is typically missed in many, many churches. Many churches talk about belief as if it were a cognitive assent to the creeds. I think there are many people who do not know Jesus who recite the creeds. It’s a sad story. It’s very possible to say I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth and in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord and affirm it intellectually without ever knowing Jesus. Some of us will bear witness to that experience where we might have had that in our own lives at one time.
The real key here is to grasp that to believe in Him is to receive Him. I always use some kind of a homely illustration if I’m trying to share this message say with a friend. I offer them this pen and they believed I wanted to give it to them; they believed it would be a good thing to have but until they reach out and receive it they don’t have the pen. It’s one thing to know you need it and another thing to receive it. There comes a point of choice where a person then simply does this and it’s not easy. It’s simple in one way but it’s extremely difficult in another when you have to come to the end of your own resources and acknowledge that you don’t clean up your act to come to Jesus and that He actually offers Himself to people who know they can’t clean up their act. That’s the whole point of the message- to receive His gift is to simply invite Him into one’s life and to personally transfer one’s trust from one’s self to Him. Now you’re inviting Him to come into your heart and transform you from the inside out- make me be the kind of person You want me to be. That is the essence of the good news.
He goes on to say in verse 13, “who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor or the will of man, but of God.” This is not an earthly birth but it is something that is done of God.
One of the most important verses in the entire bible is, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” (It’s extremely important. It’s radical. It would stun the Greek mind for who the separation of the divine spirit and the mundane world would be the idea of the complete separation. It would also stun the Jews to claim that this Word actually came among us and became flesh. It’s an incredible and awesome idea that He became flesh. It says He dwelt among us and in effect you could call that- He pitched His tent. skenoo is the word and it means tabernacle. In other words it speaks of the Old Testament tabernacle. Remember how God manifested Himself there- the glory, the pillar of cloud, the pillar of fire and the Most Holy Place. He pitched His tent in our midst and manifested Himself in a very personal way. This is localized divine presence.) “and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1: 14) The idea here is that God displays His actions in grace and truth is displayed in His words. Curiously this word grace only appears here in the prologue four times and then it disappears from the rest of the gospel. He does develop this theme though.
John 1:14 says, “John bore witness of Him, and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” How old was John relative to Jesus? He was six months older yet he says He existed before me. You get the important understanding of the emphasis on the preexistence of Christ. So in chronological years John was born six months before Him but he affirms this One existed before me. He’s been telling them about the One who was to come and John tells them, this is the One I told you about. He has a higher rank and He existed before me.
Verse 16 says, “For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.” There’s a wonderful portrait here of how it’s lavishing, almost like waves of grace that have been bestowed upon us. I surely do believe that the more we understand about the work of the preincarnate Christ and the work of His creation and the work of His redemption and the work of His indwelling presence, the more you grasp that the more I think you’ll realize grace upon grace. You’ll see for example in II Corinthians 3:18, “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” I think it’s a process that as we continue to set our eyes and fix our eyes on Jesus the Author and Perfecter of our faith that we begin to see it’s bigger than we thought. It’s far bigger than you ever guessed. It gives you true dignity, security and true significance because you are a person of dignity and destiny. The living God who pitched His tent in our midst did so in order that we might have life.
That’s John’s theme, in spite of the darkness of this world we receive life. As we tie our thoughts together he says, “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17) It’s not to say now that the law was untrue or didn’t have grace by contrast it’s like looking at a 60-watt light bulb in the middle of an extremely bright day. You surely had hints of grace, truth and the love and compassion of God but by comparison to the progress of revelation it’s really now very dim in comparison. The contrast between law and grace are themes as well that will be picked up especially in Paul and particularly in Galatians.
He concludes, “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” (John 1:18) He has explained Him. He’s communicated Him. He has given us an understanding that you don’t see the Father but you see the Son. He said, he who has seen Me has seen the Father, he who hears My words hears the Father’s words, he who believes in Me believes in the Father, he who obeys Me obeys the Father and he who rejects Me rejects the Father. Whatever you attribute to the Son is also going to be associated to your relationship to the Father because Jesus and the Father are One. (John 10) We see this theme here of how He has revealed Him in a powerful way- the One who was in the bosom of the Father.
I want to stress a few thoughts here. I want to stress that this book then is not about an idea. It is about a Person. It is a book that tells us about the way that life truly is. We see certain themes in this gospel that tells us especially about who Jesus Christ is- His true identity and the true meaning of His revelation and redemption.
We see how it tells us as well of the nature of the world. The world is in darkness and the world is not a neutral place. It is not a place of open inquiry and curiosity about God, the new religious synthesis. There is a new religious synthesis redefining Jesus into a therapeutic person and basically reducing Him down not to the Jesus of the gospel but the Jesus of our own time, watering down that message and decontextualizing the gospel. All these then are things that come out of darkness, not out of light.
Fundamentally what comes from God is the light and because people’s deeds are evil, we have a natural disposition like those roaches to hide or like Adam to clothe themselves but even there the clothing is not adequate. The point here is only God can expose your true nakedness but He also is the One who can cover you with the garments of righteousness. Only when you come before the cross, naked with no excuses and come to embrace the wonder of the revealed love of Christ that is now made manifest by His being glorified by His offer of Himself, only then do we discover that He Himself can clothe us with the garments of His own goodness and righteousness. As I like to put it, the One who knows you best loves you most. The One who knows you through and through also is the One who loves you most- which is great. You don’t have anywhere to hide and on the other hand you’ll discover He lays His hand upon you not to crush you but it is in fact to welcome you into the heart of all things. That is a great and glorious good.
Finally we see about the possibilities, this is the theology of hope and the more you study this gospel, the more you see that it is embedded in a true, real hope- a hope for a form of life that begins now but continues on. This is eternal life that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. So this life isn’t something in the future but is now a present gift, John 5:24 makes this particularly explicit.
Answer: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth so Genesis 1 begins with the creation event whereas this speaks about the Word who preexisted the created order. The Greek word arche can mean a number of things but essentially it means, in a sense, timelessly. Before all that was this is the beginning of all things. He is preeminent over all creation; all things have been handed over to Him. It’s really very difficult to describe timelessness but what you’re dealing with is before things come into being, understand there was one time when Pantheism was true. Pantheism means God is all and all is God. That was true before He created the world. He was It. There was no other thing than God. When He spoke the world into being there was now the Creator and the creation. I think it’s deliberately alluding to the Genesis account as a beginning of the narrative that we have here. There’s a beginning in a sense without a beginning. It’s a beginning that’s endless because it goes beyond the actual realm of time and space itself. To be frank, it’s incomprehensible to us because we’re bound by time and space.
Answer: The Holy Spirit is not developed in the prologue. We’ll see the Holy Spirit particularly discussed in John 6, 14, and 16. Here in the prologue He’s not developed although the Spirit brooding on the surface of the deep is seen in Genesis 1.
Answer: In a very real way we’re in the end times, the last days the summary of all things. Paul stressed, especially in Thessalonians, look, understand that He will make His manifestation at any time.
Let me close with a prayer and next week we’re going to pick up from where we left off and look at the end of this chapter. Study verses 19 to the end of this chapter and please when you study it, take it in small chunks. Don’t read fast. Most people when they read the bible, they speed through it and get this vague fuzzy idea. Read it slowly and drink it in and take it in bit-by-bit, a little here a little there, and stop and let the Spirit of God make that become a real in your life and experience.
Lord, we thank You for Your grace and truth. We thank You for the Incarnation and how the Word became flesh and pitched His tent in our midst and how He has overcome the darkness and the spiritual forces of wickedness and for how He has created all things in heaven and on the earth, things that are visible and invisible. He is preeminent over all things and He is in fact the One who is in true rule and authority in the heavenly places. We anticipate His coming again. We walk in hope and expectation that we will see Him face to face and thus we pray Lord that Jesus would become more real in our lives and experiences as we come to see Him more and more not as a proposition but as a Person, a Person to be trusted and loved. We pray in His name, amen.