Tag Archives: Jesus

The Identity of the Word, Jn 1:1-18

bibleA few years ago I was asked a question. It went something like this, “Do you take Christa to be your lawful wedded wife, and do you solemnly promise before God and these witnesses that you will love, honor, cherish, and support her, and that forsaking all others for her alone you will perform all the duties that a husband owes his wife until God separates you by death?” In my childish hormonal naivety of only 24 years old, I didn’t think that sounded too hard, and besides, I was in love; so I said, “I do.”

But in all seriousness, I think the key idea in the question I was asked that day was in the very beginning. Do I take. Important words that many of us who are married probably barely considered when we heard them in our ceremony; I know I didn’t. The concept of taking or receiving is one that FamilyLife ministries has rightly emphasized in much of their marriage building curriculum because receiving one’s spouse is such an important concept in the success of a marriage. Why is this? It is simply because receiving another person with all of their idiosyncrasies and ideas involves self-denial.

In John 1, John begins his gospel by talking about the Word. In the world in which John was living, the concept of the Word would have brought to mind some widely recognizable ideas. In the Greek world where philosophy ruled the day, the ideas of a 6th century B.C. philosopher named Heraclitus were brought to full bloom in the philosophies of the Stoics. They used the Word to describe “their deep conviction of the rationality of the universe” (Leon Morris).  The Word was not personal, it was merely a principle or force that permeated the world and directed all things (Morris).

The Jews also had their own ideas about the Word tying it so closely to God that one interpreter of the Old Testament used the phrase “Word of God” 320x out of deference for the name of God, which Jews would have been careful in saying to avoid violating the first commandment. Equally important to the Jewish aspect of this discussion is John’s use of Gen 1 language in the first few verses and the Jewish idea of Wisdom personified (see Prov 2, et. al.). So, the concept of the Word was relevant to the minds of John’s Jewish audience as well.

While this helps us understand a bit more clearly of some of the background that John was building on in his use of the Word in John 1. He wasn’t necessarily trying to repackage someone else’s philosophical ideas about life and existence. We will see this later, but John developed a much more full theology of the Word than the Greeks or Jews every dreamed.

But John’s discussion of the Word takes an unexpected turn almost in the middle of the thought, he adds, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, he gave the right to become children of God.” John turns his attention to the idea of receiving of the Word. This is what I was getting to in talking about my “taking” of Christa to be my wife and the receiving of spouses earlier. Thinking like a member of John’s audience, we could ask, “How could the principle force that directed all things (for the Greek) or something so closely tied to Yahweh himself (for the Jew) not be received even by his own people?” What is it that causes someone to refuse receiving someone that they, for all practical and rational purposes, ought to receive?

Well, I believe the problem we have with receiving anyone is our own sinful selfishness. We don’t want to give up our way or our desires to serve someone else, so we refuse to receive anyone by giving them an unconditional right to speak into our life direction.

Yet, John demands of us a different response. In John 1:1-18, John describes the Word in some very specific ways, and John’s description of the character and person of the Word not only leaves us shocked that anyone would not receive this Word, but also reveals that we must receive Him. 

So, look with me and see John detailing nine aspects of the Word’s person and character that demand our receiving of him.   

1. The Word is eternal. 

The eternal nature of the Word is seen in vs 1, 2 & 15. John mentions that the Word was in the beginning with God, and John the Baptist was testifying that the Word was before him and preferred above him. The importance of this point lies in understanding my use of the word eternal. When I speak of eternal in this sense, I am not merely talking about not having an end, but equally important not having a beginning.

John Calvin agrees, “Servetus . . . invents the statement, that this eternal Speech began to exist at that time when he was displayed in the creation of the world, as if he did not exist before his power was made known by external operation. Very differently does the Evangelist teach in this passage; for he does not ascribe to the Speech a beginning of time, but says that he was from the beginning, and thus rises beyond all ages.” He goes on, “If the Speech began to be at some time, [heretics] must find out some succession of time in God; and undoubtedly by this clause John intended to distinguish him from all created things.” This is what John is trying to emphasize in these verses. The Word is worth receiving because he always existed and didn’t need to come into being like everything else we know and observe.

2. The Word is God.

This fact logically follows the first and make the Word equally receivable. This fact is either stated or implied in at least seven of these eighteen verses. Most of these concepts are going to be discussed later, but let’s not miss this big and obvious point. If the Word is eternal, if the Word can create, if the Word is tied to the glory of God, the fullness of God, and the revelation of God perhaps, he is God. Add to this John’s statement in v1 that, “The Word was God,” and the argument seems pretty convincing.

Perhaps a word should be said here in regard to the Jehovah’s Witnesses translation of v1 to read, “The Word was a god.” The argument of the Jehovah’s witness is based on the fact that in the Greek, the word God has no definite article (think the in English) to distinguish what John is saying is that the Word is the one and only true God. However, Andreas Köstenberger points out that there is a Greek rule that teaches, “that the translation ‘a god’ is not required, for lack of an article does not necessarily indicate indefiniteness (’a god’) but rather specifies [the word order for the sentence]. This means that the context must determine the meaning of [God] here, and the context clearly indicates that this ‘God’ that John is talking about (’the Word’) is the one true God who created all things (see also John 1:6, 12, 13, 18 for other examples of [God] without a definite article but clearly meaning ‘God’).”

Also, I would like to make mention of this difficult phrase which appears the same at its most basic meaning in both v1 and v2, “The Word was with God.” This phrase is not so easily translated as it appears in your English Bible. Suffice it to say that many Greek experts and commentators have discussed what exactly this phrase means based on the Greek, and while with God definitely works, we lose something in the translation. Henry Morris summarizes the concept of this phrase in this way, “The whole existence of the Word was oriented towards the Father. Perhaps we should understand from the preposition the two ideas of accompaniment and relationship. That the thought is of importance is and is no casual expression is indicated by the fact that the statement is repeated in v2.” Indeed, C.H. Dodd agrees that the preposition with “implies not merely existence alongside of but personal intercourse. It means more than [with], and is regularly employed in expressing the presence of one person with another.” A.T. Robertson says that the phrase is literally, “face to face with God.”

The point is this. Something more than just that the Word was with God is implied here. John clearly meant that the Word and God shared fellowship together in/before the beginning. Why is this such a big deal? The theological ramifications are astounding when we consider that in this phrase then we have the implication of the Trinity, we have the implication of personality for the Word, and we have the implication of the unity of the Word and God.

This Word sounds worthy to be received if you ask me.

3. The Word is life. 

John’s thought flow is totally logical. If the Word is eternal then he must be God, and if he is God then he must be the source of everything. This idea of the Word being life is stated or implied in v1-4, and 10, and John clearly bases this entire point on the creative work of God in Gen 1. Do you see how John was clearly using Genesis 1 to develop a thought line here? Notice the repetition: “In the beginning”; “the Word”/”and God said”; “life was the light”/”let their be light.” What we see here is the connection between creation and the Word. This is how God created; He spoke. The emphasis is clear that the Word as God is the source of all things. He brought all things made and being made into existence.

v4 introduces an important concept in John’s gospel. Not only is the Word creative with God, but all life is in him. This idea of life being in the Word implies not only that life is sourced in the Word, but that life is sustained in the Word. Calvin makes this point clearest, “[Before this] he has taught us, that by the Speech of God all things were created. He now attributes to him, in the same manner, the preservation of those things which had been created, as if he had said, that in the creation of the world there was not merely displayed a sudden exercise of his power, which soon passed away, but that it is manifested in the steady and regular order of nature, as he is said to uphold all things by the word or will of his power. (Heb 1:3)” The apostle Paul agreed that the Word is the sustaining of life when he says that through him all things hold together (Col 1:17). So, the Word makes everything; he gives life, and he sustains life.

But here also we have a double meaning. John is not only talking about giving life to us here on earth, but even further, eternal life. The word life is used thirty-six times throughout John’s gospel, but it doesn’t just apply to physical life here on earth. Throughout the gospel we see an emphasis on an eternal spiritual life. (John 3:16; 10:10; 6:51-53; 11: 25; 14:6). Now were getting to what we all want aren’t we? Abundant life, life that never ends. But we will never find the life that we see when we fail to recognize that life is in the Word. We get sidetracked thinking that life is in all sorts of different things like money, toys, people, sex, food, etc. but ultimately life is only in the Word. Morris says it this way, “To know God is life eternal. The knowledge of God that the Word brings is not merely information. It is life.”

We owe God, the Word, our life. You are here today; therefore God has given you one kind of life, will you receive him and receive eternal life?

4. The Word is light

Now, John goes a direction that we might not expect. How does it follow that if the Word is life, it is also the light of men? Well, not everyone agrees on this point, some (e.g.. Calvin, Kostenberger) think that the light is intelligence to understand things particularly the source of all things and the identity of the Word; however, others (i.e. Morris, MacArthur) see this as bringing to fuller light to the spiritual life that John alludes to in his last statement and develops throughout the gospel.

I lean toward the latter interpretation of John emphasizing the spiritual enlightenment that comes through life in the Word. Of important note with this point is that Scripture ties light and life together in another place besides here and in Gen 1; Psalm 36:9 says, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” So the darkness that cannot overcome the light is not ignorance per se, but the spiritual darkness that we all find ourselves in. When the light of the Word comes into your life providing you with fullness of life, it overcomes the darkness of sin in your life and changes everything.

This idea of light is another concept that John will develop further throughout his gospel. Particularly in chapters 8 & 9 as the Light of the World provides sight to a man who was born blind, but the sight and light that are provided the man are not merely physical, his entire life is changed. This is the idea that is behind the life being the light of men, and you must receive the Word to receive this light.

5. The Word is not John

In these verses John is merely offering clarity to the relationship between John the Baptist and the Word. In case anyone was confused and started thinking they knew where John was going and was thinking that John the Baptist was the Word, John stops them in their tracks. John came only as a witness about the light, that is life, that is the Word, that is God.

Why does it matter that John the Baptist wasn’t the Word. Why is that significant to your receiving of him? Well, if the Word were John the Baptist we would have one major problem to overcome. John is dead. If the Word is life and John is dead, then something is seriously wrong. Who would want to receive life from a dead man? But John was not the Word, he testified about the Word and prepared the way for the Word, but he was not the Word. This tells us that the Word is not dead and that the Word’s life has not been snuffed out. He is worth receiving because he overcame death himself.

6. The Word is flesh

All that John has said about the Word so far focuses on the fact that the Word is God. No flesh is eternal, no flesh is God, no flesh can provide life and light. Well, almost no flesh. No flesh of ours anyway, but John tells us that the Word became flesh and lived among us. Now this is significant; the Word has been described as being eternal God, making everything, being the source of life and light and he is now made flesh and walking among us. So John is saying that God became flesh.

This is no compliment from John, as Calvin references Ps 78:39 and Isaiah 40:6 to note the derogatory nature of the Word taking on flesh. He also notes, “The word Flesh expresses the meaning of the Evangelist more forcibly than if he had said that he was made man. He intended to show to what a mean and despicable condition the Son of God, on our account, descended from the height of his heavenly glory. When Scripture speaks of man contemptuously, it calls him flesh. Now, though there be so wide a distance between the spiritual glory of the Speech of God and the abominable filth of our flesh, yet the Son of God stooped so low as to take upon himself that flesh, subject to so many miseries.” Clearly, John is emphasizing the same humility of the Word in being willing to take on flesh that Paul emphasized Phil 2. The Word gave up the benefits and glory of being God to become like us and to walk among us.

Kostenberger points out Christ’s dwelling among us carries the idea of pitching his tent among us fulfilling the OT symbolism of the tabernacle as God with his people, an idea that other commentators share. A. M. Ramsey adds, “All the ways of tabernacling of God in Israel had been transitory or incomplete: all are fulfilled and superseded by the Word-made-flesh and dwelling among us.” When we consider the tabernacle and the Temple, we see a transience to God’s dwelling that will never leave now that the Word has walked the earth.

And let us not miss the theological significance either. John is here introducing in his gospel the reality of the hypostatic union. That is the dual nature of the Word; 100% divine/100% flesh. What we learn about this union is that both natures are distinct, and yet they are one. John gives no room to the idea of Nestorianism that Jesus had a split personality or the Arianism that denied Christ’s deity. No John makes it precisely clear that the nature of the Word is 100% God, but that the nature of the Word is also 100% flesh.

7. The Word is the glory of God

The words of John are that “we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father.” His words seem to echo the wording of Heb 1 that the Son is the exact imprint of God’s nature. John also seems to qualify the glory that we see. According to Psalm 19:1 people had seen the glory of God before the Word became flesh, and John is not denying that, but in adding “the glory as of the only Son from the Father,” he seems to be adding that the quality of glory displayed in the Son is much better than the quality of glory seen in creation or revealed in any other manner for that matter.

v 18 enhances this idea by adding that no one has seen the Father, but that Jesus makes the invisible Father visible. When John says here that no one has seen the Father, we might think of other passages that say that if anyone were to see God the Father they would surely die (Ex 33:20); however, this might also bring to mind passages where people saw God like Ex 24:9-11; Gen 32:30; and Deut 34:10. So which is it, have people seen God or haven’t they? The fact is that even when God was seen, He was “wrapped up in many folds of figures of ceremonies” (Calvin). Calvin notes, “That vision which Moses obtained on the mountain was remarkable and more excellent than almost all of the rest; and yet God expressly declares, “You shall not be able to see my face, only you shall see my back,” by which metaphor he shows that the time for a full and clear revelation had not yet come.”

Indeed this same idea is emphasized in other places in the New Testament as in 2 Corinthians 3, Paul explains the veil that lay over the revelation of God in the Old Testament. And in Heb, as I already noted, the revelation of God is better through the Son than through the prophets. The point is that New Testament believers have a better revelation of God than Old Testament believers enjoyed because Jesus makes God visible in a way that he has never been visible before. In Christ we see God completely glorified.

8. The Word is grace and truth

The Word is also grace and truth. I believe it is worth noting that throughout the rest of John’s gospel we will see Jesus referring to himself as the life (ch 11), the light (ch 8-9), and the truth (ch 14, 17).

The Word’s being grace and truth embodied the ideas of the OT covenant that God is full of steadfast love and faithfulness (Ex 33:18-19; Ex 34). The steadfast love of God is often tied to his mercy and grace, those referring to his unending kindness to us in patiently overlooking our offenses and offering us gifts of incredible magnitude in the place of the punishment we deserve. Indeed, John Gerstner points out that God’s goodness to us has us often wondering why bad things happen to us, but if we honestly considered our own sinfulness and the character of God, we ought to wonder why good things happen to us. He says the problem is not one of pain, but of joy and good that we experience in spite of how wicked we are.

The truth of God seems to be tied to his unchanging character. The truth is what makes the love, grace, and mercy steadfast because God cannot deny his character and will not because of his faithfulness.

It is of the fullness of these attributes that we receive as John adds in v16 grace upon grace. Morris points out that this literally is grace instead of grace, which I think is captured well in the ESV’s translation grace upon grace because it indicates that we are receiving, as John MacArthur calls it, super-abundant grace. Grace will never run out that continues showering us with favor thought undeserved.

Note also how this contrasts with the Law in v17. The Law came through Moses giving us the veiled understanding of God and as Calvin notes, “a shadowy image of spiritual blessings all of which are actually found in Christ.” He goes on, “If you separate the Law from Christ there remains nothing in it but empty figures.” The point is this and the same as Paul makes in Romans 3:20. If the law leads you anywhere but to the Word you are misusing the law, for the Law’s purpose is fulfilled in the Word, the salvation the Law could never provide is found in the Word, and the holiness that could never be accomplished is available through the grace and truth that are overflowing toward in the Word

9. The Word is Jesus Christ

In the final verse, John finally names the Word as being Jesus, and he never turns back. Never again will John refer to the Word in those words again, and yet, he will refer to the Word over and over again as the living water, the light of the world, the bread of life, the life, the way, and the truth named Jesus. Jesus is the Word and ought to be received as such.

So, will you receive him? He is worth receiving and who he is demands receiving. He is eternal, He is God, He is life, He is light, He is not John, He is flesh, He is the glory of God, He is grace and truth, He is Jesus. You must receive, to reject him is to reject God, God’s glory, life and light. To reject him is to embrace death, darkness, and corruptible flesh. Turn from your sin and receive the Word. 

If you would say you have done that, how would anyone now? If the Word is all things we have said this morning, then doesn’t that mean he gets to control you; he gets to change you? Will you allow the Word to rule your life today, how has he made you different; how is he still making you different?