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COMMENTARY ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons London) DD

The Word Was God (John 1.1-18).

John commences his Gospel by speaking of ‘the Word’ (i.e. the One through Whom God has acted and spoken’), and later he adds, ‘all things were made by Him’ (1.3) and ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’ (1.14). It is thus made apparent that ‘the Word’ is Jesus Christ, depicted as the Creator and as God’s word come among man. The letter to the Hebrews contains a similar opening thought, ‘God -- has in these last days spoken to us by a Son, -- through whom also He made the worlds --.’ Here we have similar concepts expressed, God’s word given in revelation (‘spoken to us by a Son’) and God’s word active in creation (‘through Whom also He made the worlds’). The later contrast of the coming of Jesus with the giving of the Law (the Torah) in 1.17 confirms that we are to see in ‘the Word’ a very Hebrew concept, for there the contrast is between the giving of the Law and the coming of Jesus Christ, Who has just been revealed as the Word. Thus far from being a static philosophical concept, the idea of ‘the Word is of an active voice, powerful and effective.

This Word, John tells us, existed in the beginning, was in a continual close relationship with God, and indeed was God. He was the Creator of all things and the source of life, a life which gave light to men.

This all reflects the teaching of the Old Testament which declares the eternal permanence of ‘God’s word’ when it contrasts the temporary things of creation with God’s word, ‘vegetation fades -- the word of our God will stand for ever -’ (Isaiah 40.8); and the creative power of ‘the word of God’ when it declares, ‘By the word of the Lord the heavens were made -’ (Psalm 33.6; compare Genesis 1). Furthermore His word is seen as a word which is able to give life and light. Thus ‘Your word has made me alive’ (Psalm 119.50), and ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my way’ (Psalm 119.105). All this parallels John’s description of the Word. And no better description of the ministry of Jesus could be given than ‘So shall My word be which goes forth from my mouth, it will accomplish what I please and prosper in the way to which I sent it’ (Isaiah 55.11). In John’s Gospel Jesus regularly sees Himself as fulfilling such a ministry. See 5.17, 19, 36; 7.16-17; 10.25, 32; 12.49; 14.10; 15.23-24.

So John begins his Gospel with a description of ‘the Word’, the Logos, ‘the One through Whom God has spoken’, Who was already in existence ‘in the beginning’, Who was both in the closest possible communion with God and was Himself God, and Who existed in the beginning with God (1.1-2). He then goes on to depict Him as the source of creation (1.3), and especially of life (1.4).

It is true that in John’s day ‘the logos’ was a useful term to use for it was a thought which would excite both Greek and Jew. For the non-Christian Greek it would bring to mind ‘the eternal Reason’ (Logos), existing before all things and at the root of all things, from Which all comes (an idea found constantly in both Philo and the Greek philosophers), whilst the Jew would think both of the eternal word of God which spoke in creation, when God spoke and the basis of everything came into being (Genesis 1.3 onwards; ‘by the word of the Lord were the heavens made’ - Psalm 33.6), and of the word of God which gave life, (‘Your word has made me alive’ - Psalm 119.50), and light, (‘God said, let there be light, and there was light’ - Genesis 1.3, - ‘your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my way’ - Psalm 119.105).

John feeds these very thoughts for he not only describes the Word as fully divine, but goes on to describe Him as the creative word, and as the Word Who brings about creation, life and light. He is the source of creation (‘by Him all things were made’ - 1.2-3), and He is the source of life (‘in Him was life’ - 1.3) and light (‘the life was the light of men’ (1.3).

This concept of Jesus as ‘the Word’ is clearly important to John for he repeats it both in his first letter (1 John 1.1) and in Revelation 19.13. By it he indicates that Jesus Christ as ‘the Word of life’ is the full expression of what God is. Just as we express ourselves through our words, and it is by our words that we make known our inner selves, so through His Word God has expressed Himself, and has made known His inner self, (‘he who has seen me has seen the Father’ - 14.9). Indeed, as Jesus would later point out, our words so reveal what we are that by our words we will be accounted righteous, and by our words we will be condemned (Matthew 12.37). And this is precisely because our words reveal us for what we are. In the same way therefore The Word is the full expression of God as He is in His inner self. He reveals Him for what He is. We might therefore paraphrase 1.1 as ‘In the beginning was the One through Whom God spoke and revealed Himself’, both in creation and revelation.

In these internet days this should be so much clearer to us. We go on the net and meet hundreds of people all around the world, and we mainly know them by their words. It is by their words that we truly come to know who and what they are. The more they speak, the more we know. In the same way God sent His Word so that we might know Who and What He is. His Word came in order to reveal Him in His innermost Self.

As already noted possibly the best commentary on the significance of ‘the Word’ is found in Hebrews 1.1-2, ‘God --- has in these last days spoken to us in His Son, Whom He appointed as heir of all things, and by Whom also He made the world’. It brings out that it is God’s eternal Son Who is the word, and is both the end and the beginning.

But it is not long before we learn from John Who the Word is. It is Jesus Christ Himself Who is ‘the Word’, for John tells us that ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1.14) and was testified to by John the Baptiser (1.15). Indeed the writer’s whole purpose in the Gospel is to reveal the earthly life of ‘the Word’, that Word through which shines the invisible heavenly light. His purpose is to make God known through Jesus Christ (1.18), and to reveal Who He really is through His words and work.

We note immediately some of the attributes of ‘the Word’.

  • 1). He was already in existence at ‘the beginning’ when God created the heavens and the earth - ‘in the beginning the Word was already in existence’ (1.1).
  • 2). It was through Him that the universe was created - ‘all things were made by Him’ (1.3)
  • 3). He is the life-giving Word Whose life gives light to men - ‘in Him was life, and the life was the light of men’ (1.4). This is the idea which is immediately expanded on and which permeates the Gospel. That He is the source of eternal life (1.13; 3.16; 5.24; etc.), enables men to ‘see’ the Kingly Rule of God (3.2), and brings light in our darkness (8.12; etc).
  • 4). He is the One Who became man - ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (1.14). This will be expanded on throughout the Gospel, for one main purpose of His coming was in order to reveal the Father to those who could see (14.7-9).

But why should Jesus uniquely be called ‘the Word’? Certainly in Hebrew thought ‘the Word’ (Hebrew - debar) is seen as significant as an extension of God. ‘By the word of the Lord were the Heavens made, and all their hosts by the breath of His mouth’ (Psalm 33.6). This links directly with Genesis 1 where ‘God said’ and it was done. Creation took place by God’s word. Thus the term ‘Word’ signifies the powerful, creative Word of God Who brought about creation. That this is in John’s mind 1.3 makes clear, for the Word is seen as the One who carries out the work of creation, ‘by Him all things were made’. Compare also Colossians 1.16-17; Hebrews 1.1-3.

Furthermore we should also note again that it is God’s ‘word’ which gives life and light. ‘Your word has made me alive’ (Psalm 119.50), says the Psalmist. And again, ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my way’ (Psalm 119.105). God’s word gives both life and light. And that this light is continually closely allied with life also comes out in the words of the Psalmist when he declares, ‘for with you is the fountain of life, in your light will we see light (Psalm 36.9). It is through His life, flowing out from Him, that we see light. Thus John declares, ‘His life is the light of men’ (1.4). Light and life are also closely linked in Job 3.20, ‘For this reason is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul’.

On top of this the phrase ‘the word of the Lord’ is constantly used in the Old Testament to signify God’s specific intentions which He is determined to bring about. The idea behind this is exemplified in Isaiah 55.11 where ‘His word’ is revealed as powerfully effective, ‘so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth, it will not return to me empty, but it will accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it’ (Isaiah 55.11). Here His word is like a living thing, driving forward inexorably to do God’s will, in a similar way to that in which Jesus is portrayed as inevitably carrying forward His ministry. Whilst Isaiah also brings out that His Word is in fact eternal in contrast with nature - ‘vegetation fades -- the word of our God will stand for ever -’ (Isaiah 40.8). So ‘the Word’ is the eternal means by which the powerful activity of God is carried out as He brings about His own purpose.

This is all reinforced by the fact that the Aramaic targums (free translations of the Scripture from Hebrew to Aramaic used in the Synagogue) regularly use the term ‘word’ (memra, debura) as an extension of God. This suggests that the idea of ‘the word’ as indicating the divine in action was already current when the targums were translated. (See for example Numbers 7.89, ‘the word (debura) was talking with him’, and Genesis 28.10, ‘the word (debura) desired to talk with him’. Here the word (debura) was certainly representative of God).

Fourthly, we must note that, in the New Testament, the saving message itself is called ‘the word (logos) of God’ or ‘the word’ (Acts 6.2; Acts 11.1 and often in the New Testament). Thus when in 1 John 1.1 John describes Jesus as ‘the Word of life’, he is stressing that the word that offers salvation offers the One Who is ‘the Word’. It is not just pointing to a doctrine, it is pointing to a person. It is not enough just to receive the word, they must receive The Word Himself through Whom God is revealed. This is brought out in the Gospel in that the logos of Jesus is a saving word, so that to reject it is to miss out on salvation (5.24; 8.37, 43; 12.48; 15.3; 17.14; see also 2.22; 4.41, 50; 8.20).

Thus it is the One Who is the Word, Who is the One through Whom God has spoken and revealed Himself. He is God’s word personified. Moses had brought God’s instruction (torah = instruction, law), and was, along with Aaron, God’s voice, but what the Word has brought in Himself is truth and revelation in overflowing measure which permeates the heart of man (John 1.16-17). The Torah becomes written in the heart through His word (Hebrews 8.10-12; Jeremiah 31.33-34) because He indwells His people’s hearts (14.23; Ephesians 3.17).

So the Word is the source and means of creation, the giver of life and light, the means of the powerful activity of God in the fulfilling of His purposes, and is the channel of His life-giving truth to men. The uniqueness and divinity and Saviourhood of Jesus Christ is being clearly brought out.

But John was living among Greek thought in Ephesus when he wrote these words, and had been for many years. There he had been brought in contact with Greek ideas on the meaning of the Logos (the Word), and by connecting it with the Hebrew ideas, it almost certainly extended its meaning to his mind. Thus he saw this very Hebrew idea as a means of reaching out to Greeks. For the Greeks used the word Logos of the uncreated ‘Reason’ which lay behind creation, that which was uncreated and eternal, participating in the creation and sustenance of the Universe, distinct from God and yet partaking of the divine essence. He was proclaiming a Hebrew idea which he knew would also speak to Greeks.

However, having accepted this fact, we must not overlook the fact that there was a difference in emphasis between the Greek and Hebrew concepts, and that it is the Hebrew idea which is predominant in John’s Gospel. The Greeks saw ‘Reason’ (logos) as impersonal (or semi-personal, like Wisdom in proverbs 8) and in a sense remote, although always present. The Hebrews under guidance from God saw ‘the word (logos) of God’ as personal, powerful, active and effective, and it was thus something that could be personified. It was God Himself acting in power. It was the creative, sustaining, illuminating ‘word of God’, both sustaining and enlightening. In that word God directly involved Himself with His creation. And through it He dealt with darkness (Genesis 1.3-5). In the same way John realised that the powerful Word had come now to deal with the spiritual darkness of mankind which was constantly seeking to overcome the light (1.4). A new spiritual creation was taking place in the coming of Jesus.

So the idea of the ‘Word’ contained the idea of One Who was uncreated and eternal, Who was the source and controller of the Universe, and was the effective instrument of God in providing life and light and overcoming the darkness. That is why the writer to the Hebrews, in Hebrews 1.1-3, says ‘God has spoken to us by a Son --- through Whom also He created the world --- Who --- upholds all things by His powerful word’.

Yet in the end John’s emphasis is surely finally on Jesus as the One who IS the Gospel, the very Word of truth, the One Who is the Word of God to man, The One Who is God’s saving Word. Certainly we are to see that He was the creative Word, and the sustaining Word, the uncreated One who was ever with God and sustains all things, but most importantly He was to be seen as the saving Word, from which all else takes its meaning. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. Through Him we receive eternal life. Thus even from the beginning the idea of Him as the Worker of Salvation was pre-eminent.

This is why throughout the Gospel special emphasis is laid on Jesus’ own ‘word’ (logos). See 2.22; 4.41, 50; 5.24; 8.20, 37, 43; 12.48; 15.3; 17.14. As ‘the Word’ His word is powerful and effective and of vital importance so that those who refuse to respond to it can only come under judgment. What He is as ‘the Word’ comes out in His spoken word which is God’s word to men.

So to sum up we may see the Word as:

  • The One through Whom God has created.
  • The One Who gives spiritual life and light.
  • The One through Whom God has acted.
  • The One through Whom God has spoken
  • The One through Whom God saves.

And underlying it all is the fact that, throughout all that was to come, it was God’s word which would prevail, His word which reveals His Word. The word of God is powerful precisely because it reveals the Word of God to man. And it is through that word that His purposes have been fulfilled in history precisely because behind it was the Word acting out His saving purpose through the word. We see this brought out in Revelation. The One Who is the Word of God comes forth, and His garment is sprinkled with blood. Furthermore it is with what comes forth from His mouth that He smites the nations (Revelation 19.13, 15). God’s Word both saves and judges.

Let us then now consider his words more deeply in terms of what John says.

John 1.1 ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with (face to face with) God, and what God was the Word was.’

‘In the beginning.’ This undoubtedly has in mind the words of Genesis 1.1 (‘in the beginning God created’), and yet it goes back beyond the moment of creation. This is where men’s minds have often wandered as they have thought back to the beginning of all things, and they have striven to understand. We could paraphrase loosely, ‘in the beginning before time began’ or even as ‘in eternity past’. The Jews had felt that they had the answer through revelation. ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ But John is taking us back beyond that. ‘In the beginning’, he says, ‘before the world was ever created, the Word was already there in His eternal existence’. (Compare 17.5). Here the Greek idea of the Logos is being given Hebrew clothes.

The verb ‘was’ sums up the eternity of the Word. When all else began the Word ‘was already in perpetual existence’. He Who came to bring light to men pre-existed creation. For when all was created He was already there, and, as verse 3 adds, was the source of the creation of all things (Colossians 1.15-17). As we learn later He was the ‘I am’ (8.58).

‘The Word was.’ This expression is similar to that by which God revealed Himself to Moses, for in Exodus 3.14 God revealed Himself as the ‘I am’, the ‘One Who is’ (see 8.58). At that point the One Who was in existence from the beginning was stressing that He was also then present to act. Here in John’s Gospel the thought is in a sense in reverse. The One Who has been here among us, and acting in history in the life of Jesus Christ, says John, is also the One Who ‘was’ in the beginning, the One Who could speak of ‘the glory which I had with You before the world was’ (John 17.5).

1.2 ‘And the Word was with God.’ ‘With God’ in the Greek is ‘pros ton theon’ i.e. ‘towards God’, signifying close relationship. It reflects more than just being ‘with God’. We might translate ‘face to face with God in close relationship’. There was between the Word and God an inter-personal relationship so close that the One blended into the Other.

‘And the Word was God’ (Gk. theos en ho logos). Here the unique nature of the Word is made clear. Note the growth in movement from ‘existing in the beginning’ -- to -- ‘being face to face with God in close relation’ -- to -- ‘being of the very nature of God’.

We must translate this as, ‘The Word was essentially of the very nature of God’. Some try to lessen the impact of the verse by saying that there is no definite article before theos and that it therefore simply means ‘divine’, and then they try to water down the meaning of divine to suit their purposes (ignoring the fact that theos must in context be correlated with the previous use of theos). So while it is true that it means divine, it must also be stressed that in context it means fully divine. It means being of the very essence of what God is.

To have put a definite article in would have meant the words meant ‘God and the Word were absolutely synonymous, the Word was the whole of the Godhead’ and this was clearly not what John meant. But ‘theos’ here is an adjectival noun (which the lack of article demonstrates), and theos has already been used in the verse to mean God in His essence (pros ton theon). Here ‘theos’ immediately follows that statement in close connection, a connection as close as it could be (‘theon kai theos’), for it is made the first word in the phrase for the purpose of emphasis. Thus he is saying ‘He was face to face with God and of that very God-nature was the Word’. This can only mean full divinity. There was no other way John could have said this so concisely. We might translate as ‘what God was, the Word was’ (NEB).

1.2 ‘He was in the beginning with God.’

This repetition of the opening clause is intended to stress what has been said already, thereby giving twofold witness. It is stressing that ‘in the beginning, before anything was created, God and His Logos (Word) were there together, already eternally existent.’ This was something both Jew and Greek could agree on. Where they would have differed was concerning what the Word consisted of. John tells both that it consisted of Jesus as the full expression of God, as the eternal Reason, as the powerful saving word of God through Whom He acts.

1.3 ‘All things were made by (or through) Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.’

Note the continual twofold repetition. ‘In the beginning was the Word -- the Word was in the beginning with God’, followed by ‘All things were made by (or through) Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.’ The repetition in the two statements in both cases stresses the importance of the subject matter. Here what is being emphasised was His total control in creation, firstly positively and then negatively. These words link the Word spoken of in John directly with the creation of all things, and therefore with the creative Word of Genesis 1. They indicate that that was John’s intention. In Genesis 1 creation took place through the powerful command of God, and the Word is thus powerfully linked with God’s creative power (‘by the word of the Lord the heavens were made’ - Psalm 33.6). So, by equating Jesus with the Word, John is directly linking Jesus with God’s act of creating. He is saying that when, for example, God said, by His word, ‘Let there be light’, and light resulted, it was through Jesus Christ Himself that He was acting. God’s Word went forth in creating. In other words Jesus Christ, Who had now walked this earth as a man, is portrayed as being Himself the Creator of all things by His divine power, the Creator of light and the Creator of all that is, to such an extent that nothing that was made was made without Him.

We should note here the significance of this for our doctrine of God. In Genesis 1.2 we have God’s Word going forth, a very part of Himself, and God’s Spirit ready to bring about His will. The triune God is in action.

1.4 ‘In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.’

It is now emphasised that the Word was not only the Creator but as such was the source of life, because in the beginning it was He Who created life, first the living creatures, and then man. And it was the very unique life that He gave to man (Genesis 1.26; 2.7) that meant that man had an awareness shared by no other on earth. Man alone received the light of conscience and thought. Man alone was able to reason profoundly. Man alone was able to know and worship God. Man alone was ‘in the image of God’ (or ‘in the image of the elohim, the heavenly beings’). And here we learn that it was He the Word Who was the source of man’s life, and Who gave man light. As the Psalmist says, ‘Your word has made me alive’ (Psalm 119.50), ‘For with you is the fountain of life, in your light will we see light’ (Psalm 36.9). But, as John’s Gospel will now make clear, there is more to it even than that. The Word is not only the source and fountain of life and light as men know it on earth but He has come to reveal life and light in its fullest sense, to reveal a deeper life, to reveal a life fuller than man has ever known before, and to bring men to walk in His spiritual light. He has come to bring to men, that is, to those who will receive it, new life, abundant life, spiritual life, overflowing life, everlasting life, which has its source in Him, and in the ‘eternal life’ that results.

This life is to be like a light within, more powerful than the conscience or the reason, revealing good and evil to man (John 3.19-20), and above all revealing God. That is why in 1 John 1.1 Jesus is specifically called ‘the Word of life’, because Jesus, the One Whom they have heard, seen and touched, is to be seen as essentially God’s saving Word, His life-giving word. This connection between life and light is most important. It is the life of which He is the source, and which He imparts, which gives light (1.4; 8.12). This emphasis distinguishes the idea from both Greek ideas and from ideas at Qumran.

To the Greeks the idea of the Logos (the Reason) included the thought that it was a light within revealing morality and understanding, while the connection between the Word and light was well known to the Jews as expressed in Psalm 119.105, ‘your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path’ (compare also Proverbs 6.23). But the one saw it as intellectual and the other as rooted in the Law of God, the Torah, and it is with the Torah that this new light is being contrasted here (1.17). In a similar way the Qumranis saw themselves as ‘sons of light’ because they followed the teaching of their community. But here the emphasis is on the light-giver as a Person. For John is here seeking to turn their eyes on this One Who went beyond, and was the fulfilment of, all in which they sought to believe. Greater than their reason, greater than the Torah, was the One Who had come as ‘the very Word of God’, revealing His glory, bringing about His will, offering salvation to man.

1.5 ‘And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not lay hold of it.’

John now turns to the purpose of His coming. His first emphasis here is on the fact that the world is in darkness. It is ever waiting for light. And just as at creation darkness had to be brought into subjection by the creation of light, so must spiritual darkness be overcome by spiritual light, the light of God. Into the prevailing darkness light must come (Genesis 1.3). Both Greek and Jew would have agreed that this was so. The Greek would have agreed that they were still seeking greater knowledge and understanding, the Jew that they needed more light on the Torah. Thus both would have agreed that, while considering themselves more enlightened than others, they were still short of the full light. Now, says John, here is that full light. The light of the world (8.12) has come.

John here surely has initially in mind the ‘conflict’ between light and darkness in Genesis 1.3-5 (compare how Paul uses the same idea in 2 Corinthians 4.4-6). God created light thus putting darkness to flight, and then had to separate the two so that the darkness could not overcome the light. Every night darkness overtakes the world, although not completely because of God-given moon and stars (even at its height darkness is still controlled), and every day the victory of darkness is prevented because the sun rises and puts it to flight (compare Psalm 19.1-6 for the idea of the importance of the sun. See Psalm 74.16 for the fact that God controls both day and night by means of ‘the luminary and the sun’. See also Psalm 136.7-9). That is why in the end the cessation of the light of the sun, moon and stars is seen as an essential part of God’s judgments. When judgment comes light will be destroyed and darkness will overcome the world (Isaiah 13.9-10; 34.4; Ezekiel 32.7-8; Joel 2.31; 3.15; Amos 8.9; Matthew 24.29; Mark 13.24-25; Revelation 6.12-13; 8.12). Thus judgment will result in the world once again being plunged into eternal darkness. But in contrast those who are His will enjoy the Lord Who will be their everlasting light (Isaiah 60.19-20).

But just as the Old Testament does in places John spiritualises the idea. There can be little doubt from the language that he uses that he has Isaiah 9.2 in mind. There to those who ‘walked in darkness’ and ‘dwelt in darkness’ there was to ‘shine a great light’, and that light was connected with the coming of the expected King who would make all right (9.5-6). Thus when we read here that ‘the light shone in the darkness’, and that Jesus later speaks of ‘walking in darkness’ (8.12; 12.35) and ‘abiding in darkness’ (12.46) we can hardly fail to see a connection. This is especially so as Matthew cites the same verse in relation to the ministry of Jesus (Matthew 4.15-16). Thus the shining of the light in the darkness has in mind the coming of the Messiah.

The writer deals regularly with the theme of spiritual darkness (compare Micah 3.6; 2 Samuel 22.29). The world is in darkness. It is the sphere where men can hide from their sinfulness - ‘men loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil’ (3.19; compare Proverbs 2.13; 4.19; Isaiah 5.20; 58.10). That is why they do not respond to Jesus Christ because they do not want to come into the light. It is the sphere in which men walk blindly on. Thus in 8.12 and 12.46 we are told that those who follow Jesus ‘will not walk or abide in darkness’ (compare Isaiah 9.2; 50.10; 59.9; Psalm 107.10-14). And most importantly in 12.35 it is the sphere which should be avoided at all costs (which can now be accomplished because the light has come - Isaiah 9.2; 60.2). ‘Walk while you have the light that darkness may not overtake you’ says Jesus in 12.35. There the verb is the same as here. So to be in darkness is to be away from the truth as revealed through Jesus.

But now, says John, in contrast the Light has come (compare Isaiah 9.2; 60.1-2). Jesus, God’s very Word manifest as a human being, has come with the light of life to dispel that darkness. He is Himself as a light shining in the darkness, and as that Light He will make men aware of their sinfulness and need, and lead them into truth by bringing them to Himself. As Jesus would say later, ‘I am the light of the world, he who walks with me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life’ (John 8.12). Through Him it is possible for us to walk continually in God’s light (1 John 1.7), and this through enjoying His life, through being ‘born of God’ (1.13).

Thus the word He has brought, and the truth He reveals and the life that He offers come as a light to men to take them out of darkness, and reveal to them full truth. That is why He is ‘the Word’. The Greeks thought of the light of reason, the Jews the light of the Torah. John is saying that Jesus has come to make that light fully effective within. He is a greater light than either Reason or the Torah. As he will say later, ‘the Torah was given by Moses but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’ (1.17). This last is important because it brings out that finally it is the Hebrew thought that lies at the back of John’s idea of Him as ‘the Word’. It is to be seen as in contrast to the Torah (as interpreted by men).

‘The darkness does not lay hold of it.’ The Greek verb used here has more than one meaning. This could mean that although the light is shining men refuse to grasp it because they are in darkness, (light has come into the world, but men love darkness rather than light - John 3.19). Or it could mean that the darkness cannot ‘lay hold of it’ and suppress it, cannot ‘overcome it’, that this new light is triumphant over all the attempts of darkness to snuff it out. Both interpretations are true and would express John’s thought accurately. The darkness is powerless against the true light. However, comparison with 12.35 where Jesus speaks of ‘darkness laying hold of you’ (same verb), picturing darkness as seeking to engulf men and prevent them responding to the light, suggests that the emphasis is on the second, and this is confirmed by the comparison with Isaiah 9.2. Darkness will never overcome this light, even though it will overtake those who refuse the light.

So the picture is of the Word of God coming with the light of life (‘eternal life’ as it will often be spoken of from now on) and overcoming the darkness that blinds mankind. Truth has come. Darkness will be dispelled for those who respond, just as it was dispelled at the beginning. The Word has brought life (1.13; 3.15-16; 5.24; 8.12; and often). And in receiving His life we receive light. It is this reception of life that is a central theme of the Gospel (20.31. See 3.15-16, 36; 4.14, 36; 5.24, 26, 29, 39, 40; 6.27, 33, 35, 40, 47, 48, 51, 53, 54, 63, 68; 8.12; 10.10, 28; 11,25; 12.25, 50;14.6;17.2-3; 20.21). Specific mention of the light-giving aspect is mainly concentrated in chapters 8-12 (8.12; 9.5; 11.9-10; 12.35-36, 46; but note 3.19-21). And it is no accident that, continuing the parallel with the creation account, in 20.22 Jesus breathes on His disciples with the breath of life, the Holy Spirit (compare Genesis 2.7). The Gospel will conclude where it began with the triumph of God’s new creation as he imparts His light-giving life.

The centrality of Jesus as the source of our life will come out later in those sayings which take us right into the heart of God, the ‘I AM’ sayings. ‘I am the bread of life’ (6.35). ‘I am the light of the world -- (bringing) the light of life’ (8.12) ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ (11.25). ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ (14.6). Our life as His people is totally bound up in Him. ‘He who has the Son, has life’ (1 John 5.12).

But now there is a sudden change in emphasis. Up to this point John has been somewhat philosophical, looking at the grand scope of things. But now he goes on to ground the idea of the coming of the Word firmly in history. For the Word ‘was made flesh and dwelt among us’ (1.14). He wants them therefore to know that he is not writing simply in order to bring some new ideas for men to consider. Rather he is writing in order to introduce them to the Word as One Who is made flesh and living among us (1.14). The dispelling of spiritual darkness by the Light has become an actuality. And that is what the Gospel will go on to reveal.

1.6-7 ‘There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness that he might bear witness of the light that all may believe through him.’

For the Word did not come unheralded. ‘A man’ came (in contrast with the Word Who was God), sent from God, whose name was John (the Baptiser). There is no idea here that this man was just someone who was simply ‘inspired’ in a general way, a new thinker. Rather he is seen as a man specifically ‘sent from God’. And the purpose of this sending is shown to be that he might point to a great light, that he might bear witness to One Who was the full light of God, so that through his testimony ‘all may believe’.

All the Gospels combine in pointing out that John was the preparer of the way (see Mark 1.2-3, 7-8; Matthew 3.11; Luke 3.16; John 1.23, 30), and they all make clear the success of his ministry. People of every kind came to hear him and to respond to his teaching. He brought men to repentance and was renewing men’s moral awareness in order that they may respond to the coming light. But notice the verb used. ‘There came ---’ (egeneto), compare verse 3 where it means ‘came into being’. There is a stress that, in contrast to Jesus Who always ‘was’, John the Baptiser has ‘come into being’. In contrast with the Word, John is of the earth, not of Heaven.

‘Whose name was John.’ He wants his readers to realise that this was not just a vague someone but a genuine man who lived and taught and had a name. John the Baptiser would not be unknown to his readers. His powerful ministry had had an impact that had reached much further than Palestine, and there were followers of John the Baptiser all around the world wherever Jews could be found. It is one of the evidences that this Gospel was written by John the Apostle that he, and he alone, spoke of the Baptiser simply as ‘John’. For he never speaks of himself by that name but rather describes himself as the one ‘whom Jesus loved’, something which humbled him to the core. And the more the Apostle sought to advance Jesus Christ, the more he withdrew himself into the background. He did not want men to see him as ‘the only now-living Apostle’. He wanted to withdraw himself into obscurity so that all eyes would be on Christ. No other could have so ignored the Apostle John and intentionally have not named him or his brother.

1.8-9 ‘He was not the light, but came that he might bear witness of the light, which was the true light, which lights every man coming into the world.’

The stress now is on the fact that John was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. He pointed away from himself to Another. He was not himself ‘the Light’ in the fullest sense of the word (although Jesus would later say that ‘he was a burning and a shining light’ - 5.35) because this coming light was unique, He would be the true and full light of God, ‘the light of the world’ (8.12). Thus he, John, could only point away from himself to the light Who was coming, that men may believe in Him. Indeed the whole emphasis concerning John the Baptiser in this Gospel is on him as a witness to Jesus Christ.

It is significant that John has to point out that John the Baptiser was not the light. In the time of Jesus and the early church there were many followers of John the Baptiser (compare Acts 19.1-7), who followed John so intensely that they omitted to accept his witness and turn to Jesus. In a sense they were rivals to the early church. John wants men to see that if they follow the teaching of John it can only lead them to Jesus. But this very much emphasises the centrality of Hebrew thought in this passage. No one, not even John the Baptiser’s closest followers, would have thought of John in terms of the Greek Logos.

‘Which lights every man coming into the world.’ Whether ‘coming into the world’ is to be attached to ‘every man’ as signifying ‘lightens every man that comes into the world’, thus applying it literally to ‘every man’, or whether it should be attached to ‘the true light’ as signifying ‘the true light --- that was coming into the world’ is open to question. But both essential ideas are true, for He was certainly coming into the world, and He was equally certainly coming as a light to every man who was coming into the world. But the latter is more probably the essential meaning as normal Greek usage suggests. The Light had lightened all men at creation by making man a spiritual being, and was now coming into the world as the One Who lightens every man from a spiritual perspective. The offer was universal. Though not all would receive the light, it would shine on them, and by their response to it the truth about them would be revealed (John 3.19-21). Compare how Jesus is elsewhere constantly described as the One Who was ‘coming into the world’ (6.14; 9.39; 11.27; 16.28).

On the other hand we could see it as meaning that the Word was a universal light shining on every man, pleading for response, and yet soon fading as far as they were concerned as men closed their minds and hearts to Him. This thought is amplified by Paul in Romans 1.19-20. To those whose hearts are open to the light, Nature itself will reveal the truth about God’s eternal power and Godhead.

Isaiah describes the Coming Servant of the Lord as being ‘a light to the Gentiles’ (Isaiah 42.6; 49.6), words which are cited in Luke 2.32 of Jesus, and this ties in with the idea of Him ‘lighting every man who comes into the world’ rather than just the Jews. This may well indicate that Isaiah’s prophetic ideas are foremost in his thoughts.

That this light refers to Jesus is immediately made clear (verses 10-11, 14) and also comes out later in the chapter where John the Baptiser bears his testimony to Jesus (John 1.29-34). It is testimony to how faithful the Gospel writer is to his sources that he does not try to put terms like ‘the Word’ or even ‘the light’ on the lips of John the Baptiser. But the reader is left in no doubt that Jesus is the One to Whom ‘the Word’ and ‘the light’ refer. (It is even more significant in that the Qumranists spoke of ‘the sons of light’ and the ‘spirit of lights’, so that John must have been aware of such terminology, and could well have used it, but of course their light was the light of the Torah as illuminated by the ‘good spirit’ and by ‘the Teacher of Righteousness’).

1.10 ‘He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world did not know him.’

This verse reflects the different meanings of the word ‘world’ in the Gospel. In the Gospel ‘the world’ generally refers to the whole of mankind in contrast with God and His true people. God loved ‘the world’ and wanted to save them (3.16). The Pharisees were ‘of this world’ (8.23-24). Jesus’ disciples were ‘not of the world’ (17.14, 16). The ‘world’ does not know God (17.25, and here). Christ’s kingdom is ‘not of this world’ (18.36). In general ‘the world’ is seen to be in darkness and separate from God.

But here the true light was ‘in the world’. The world was being given a unique opportunity. Yet John tells us that although He had in fact ‘made the world’, the world did not know Him. Thus we see different nuances to the term ‘world’, the one gliding into the other. In the first case ‘the world’ consists of all that is created, in the second it combines both meanings, for both the created world and the unbelieving world were made by Him, but in the third case ‘the world’ is the world of unbelieving men, the world of human affairs as opposed to God, the world in darkness, as is more normal in John. John thus moves smoothly from the idea of the created world as a whole to the world without God. That is why we are told later that we are to be in it (John 17.11), but not of it (15.19; 17.14, 16).

‘The world did not know him.’ ‘Know’ could mean ‘recognise’ or it could mean ‘personal response’. The word ginosko used here suggests something of the latter. But why did they not respond? Because they were blind? Because they were too busy and He got in the way? Because He did not fit in with their preconceived notions? All of these were true, and more. The Creator was rejected because they did not want His kind of world. In other words they were not just blind, they were guilty. They deliberately closed their eyes to the light.

1.11 ‘He came to his own, and those who were his own did not receive him.’

He came to His own ‘home’ (ta idia - translated ‘home’ correctly in Acts 21.6), and His own people received Him not. Here now it is made clear that Jesus is being spoken of. This was not just some abstract philosophical idea, but a human being who came as God’s Word, not only to the world, but to ‘His own people’, and was rejected by both them, and the world at large. The remainder of the Gospel will expand on this rejection.

It was ever a wonder to John that the very people who had looked for His coming, and whose fathers had waited longingly and yearningly through the centuries for that time, were not willing to receive Him when He came. But of course what they had yearned after was not what Jesus had come to be. What they had yearned for was superiority and plenty, and for abundance of good things and complete security. They yearned to rule the nations. But He had come to reach the hearts of men, not to pander to their desires. He wanted them to yearn for truth. He wanted them to rule themselves under the Kingly Rule of God.

The verses are full of irony. He made the world, but it did not know Him. He had a chosen people whom He had prepared to act as a home for Him, but they too failed to respond and receive God’s Word. None would make the response He was seeking. When Christians who are fully committed to Christ sometimes feel strangers in their own surroundings they can comfort themselves with the thought that they follow in His steps. Yet there were those who did respond, and we now learn that to them was given the great privilege of becoming ‘children of God’.

1.12-13 ‘But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe on His name.’

But even in the world in its darkness there would be those who responded, and they would thereby receive the right to ‘become the children of God, by ‘believing on His Name’’ that is, by believing in Him for what He really is. John here makes a clear distinction between general humanity, who view themselves as ‘children of God’ in a general sense; the Jews, who saw themselves as God’s children in a special way (Deuteronomy 14.1), and believers in Jesus who become children of God in a unique sense through being born of the Spirit (1.14; John 3.6). And he stresses that it is the last only who are the true children of God. For this is the purpose for which the Word has come. He has come to bring men to God and to give them the life of the Spirit, and it is only through that, and through a loving response to His word, that they can be His children. For to be the children of God means being ‘perfect, even as He is perfect’ (Matthew 5.48), something which can only be found by response to Jesus, by belief and trust in Him.

‘Those that believe on His name’. The verb is followed by eis signifying ‘believe into’. This phrase is used regularly by John denoting personal, responsive faith as apart from just credence (compare 2.24 - although the difference is not always held).

1.13 ‘Who were born, not of bloods, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’

John now stresses that men can only become genuinely ‘children of God’ in a spiritual sense when they have had a ‘new birth’. When they have received new life from God. So he is again stressing the distinction between the whole of humanity, who view themselves as children of God in a general sense (Acts 17.28), and believers in Jesus who are children of God in a unique sense through being ‘born of the Spirit’ (John 3.6). This is revealed as the purpose for which the Word has come, to bring men to God and give them the life of the Spirit. ‘In Him was life, and the life was the light of men’ (1.4).

John is careful to make his meaning clear. ‘It is not of bloods’. This spiritual birth has no connection with natural birth. It does not refer to normal birth, when there is plenty of blood, taking the plural as intensive. Alternately this may be saying that being born a Jew, or a Roman, or a Greek (each considered themselves special) did not bring this privilege, for it was ‘not of bloods’, the plural here expressing the multiplicity of sources.

‘Nor of the will of the flesh.’ This could signify that it was not a birth that resulted from men exercising their will to follow God’s commandments (e.g. the Torah), or to become members of a special community (even the Christian community), for it was not of the will of the flesh. (We should note that in John ‘the flesh’ is not essentially speaking of what is weak or evil. It is rather speaking of humanness. ‘The Word was made flesh’). Alternatively it may have in mind the natural desires of the flesh which resulted in procreation, or the desire for an heir, something which was not to be seen as producing ‘children of God’ in any spiritual sense.

‘Nor of the will of man.’ This new birth was not something that could be bestowed by any man, whoever he was, whether John the Baptiser, or a priest, or the Pharisees, or any other. It was not ‘of the will of man’, or under the control of men. This may include the idea that it is not the result of the decision of a human father to have children, but the primary reference is to exclude all human activity. Thus it excludes anything that man does which can be thought of in terms of ‘birth’ in any way, whether religious or otherwise. It even excludes baptism carried out simply as a rite. The important lesson is that man has nothing to do with this birth whatsoever. It is something which is between God and the individual alone.

‘But of God.’ That is the essence of it. They are ‘born of God’. It is the result of a direct person-to-God relationship. And by it they leave ‘the world’ and become His, and become members of His own risen body. They become His chosen ones.

1.14 ‘And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.’

Now John declares openly the startling and unique nature of the Christian message. It is that ‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.’ The greatness that was the God of creation, the eternal Reason, became truly human. He was made genuine flesh. The gods were often thought of as taking on human bodies, of dwelling for a time among men, but never as being ‘made flesh’. Always they retained their essential natures. But here was the unique miracle. The ‘only begotten (monogenes) of the Father’, the only One Who was of the same nature as the Father, fully took on human nature and became man in the fullest sense of the word. The idea behind monogenes is that He was uniquely ‘God’s only Son’, of one essence with the Father, partaking of the divine nature. Being eternal He could not be ‘born’ but He could be of the same essential nature as the Father, just as a human son has the same essential nature as his father. This destroys for ever any suggestion that He was a created being.

Thus men could see Him, watch Him, touch Him, talk with Him, from babyhood to the grave (1 John 1.1-4). And those who went around with Him saw Him under every circumstance. As John could say elsewhere, ‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have gazed upon, and touched with our hands - of the Word of life’ (1 John 1.1). It was to be no fleeting glimpse. It was a day by day contact with, and awareness of, the One Who was the Word. They had walked with Him and lived with Him among the everyday problems and trials of life, and what they had seen had only convinced them the more that they had seen ‘the glory as of the only begotten of the Father’. Indeed Jesus will later explain to them that in Him they have seen the Father Himself (14.7-9).

‘The only begotten of the Father.’ As noted it is important to note that the emphasis and emphatic idea behind the term ‘begotten’, as with the use of the term ‘the Son’ in parallel with ‘the Father’, was that He was of the same nature as the Father. It is stressing that He was not created, but was truly God. But as with all human pictures it must not be overpressed. As John has already indicated it does not indicate that He came into existence after the Father, for He always ‘was’ (1.1).

‘And tabernacled among us’. The Greek word is eskenosen. The glory of God had come down on the Tabernacle of old, but it was a glory which had only partly been revealed, for when He was there the cloud hid him from men’s sight. Now His glory had again descended, again shielded in a Tabernacle, but this time the tabernacle was a human body. In this case God only begotten had been ‘made flesh’.

‘We beheld His glory.’ Many men have lived glorious lives, some more than others, but always those who knew them best have known of weaknesses that have marred the image. But in this case it was different. Having known Him so intimately that no fault could have been hidden John could only say of this One, ‘we beheld His glory’. There was no weakness, there was nothing that could detract from the image. His glory was as the only begotten of the Father, perfect in all His ways.

These words must not be limited to the glorious revelation of Jesus at the Transfiguration when they saw His glory in a physical sense and He was revealed before them in dazzling light (Matthew 17.2; Mark 9.2-3; Luke 9.29), although that is included. It refers to the totality of the glory of His life in every situation, a glory revealed in the Gospel that is to follow (see 2.11; 11.4; 12.41). And he is asking his readers to consider this glory for themselves as revealed in what follows.

‘As of the only begotten of the Father.’ Some ancient manuscripts have ‘as of the only Son of the Father’. But that is clearly the easier reading, easily read in from the first, while the change the other way round is inexplicable in the early days. Thus John declares Him to be the ‘only-begotten’ in the true sense of the word, in contrast with those who will be begotten of God by new birth (verses 12-13), His begetting was in a unique sense and from all eternity. He was the only begotten Son of the Father (verse 18) in a sense in which no other was.

John continually stresses this uniqueness of Jesus. Israel had been God’s ‘firstborn son’ (Exodus 4.22; Jeremiah 31.9), because He had adopted them as His own. The Davidic king was to be made His ‘firstborn’, higher than the kings of the earth (Psalm 89.27). But again the idea was of adoption. Here, however, Jesus is ‘monogenes’, the only one of its kind, something unique in kind, an only Son. He was ‘the Son’ rather than one of many sons. The contrast is brought out powerfully in Mark 12.6. He alone was of the same nature as the Father.

We must indeed recognise that here ‘begotten’ is being used in a unique sense. It is not indicating a ‘begetting’ in time, but indicating a situation that always was, that the ‘the Son’ was of the same nature with ‘the Father’.

‘Full of grace and truth.’ He revealed what He was (God only begotten) by what He was (full of grace and truth). This is what lies at the root of the nature of God. Graciousness, love undeserved, abounding mercy is the essence of what God is and yet always in the context of what is true and right. Grace has to go along with truth, for God cannot deny Himself and His own essential nature. If His grace is to be known it is by response to truth, for the One Who is Love is also Light (1 John 1.5; 4.8). In the same way the One Who is God’s Word to man came with all compassion to sinful men, but He would only prove of benefit to those who responded to the truth. Men could not enjoy His gracious working in their hearts unless they responded to that truth. All men want to experiene His love and compassion. Few want to face up to the truth that He brought.

So the great uncreated Word, the source and upholder of all things, the light of men, became Himself a man, not just in human guise, but in human flesh. That is why John, along with others, was able to behold His glory, a glory revealed in His life and teaching, in the wonder and purity of His life, and in the graciousness with which He lived. And having beheld that life he had to acknowledge that it revealed Jesus’ unique relationship with the Father as His only Son. To both Greek and Jew this would be a wonder to be gaped at. The eternal Reason, or the creative, revelatory, saving Word, had become man.

We might here note the progression of thought through the passage. ‘In the beginning was the Word (1.1) -- in Him was life and the life was the light of men (1.4) -- the light was coming into the world (1.9) -- the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory -- (1.14)’. Having commenced with the creative Word John has moved on inexorably stage by stage to the glory of the incarnate Word.

1.15 ‘John bears witness of him and cries, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is become before me, for he was before me’.” ’

So as to leave his readers in no doubt the author now stresses again that ‘the Word’ is the One to whom John the Baptiser bears witness. John, who has been sent by God (verse 6), and whose powerful ministry is everywhere acknowledged, now testifies to the superiority of Jesus. He says of the Word, ‘He who comes after me is now ranked and placed before me, for He existed (was) before me’ (compare verse 30).

‘He was before me.’ In context the statement must intend to be seen as giving the significance ‘was in existence before me’ as well as ‘was before me in precedence in God’s purposes’. For John is aware of the uniqueness of the One to Whom he testifies. He is aware that He has come from God and from Heaven with a unique pre-existence. The past tense makes this abundantly clear. Had he been thinking of Jesus’ future status he would have used another tense.

1.16-17 ‘For of his fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace, for the Law (the Torah) was given by Moses, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.’

The author now stresses the overflowing wonder of what Jesus, the Word, has come to do, and stresses His superiority over Moses. The instruction (the Torah) has been replaced by the Word. The book has been replaced by a Person. Moses had given God’s instruction (Hebrew torah = instruction, law) as a guide to men, and as providing through the sacrifices a way of forgiveness, but the instruction had been made harsh and unreasonable by its interpreters. Jesus has come as God’s direct Word to man, active in men’s lives, and has brought undeserved love and favour, together with the fullness of truth. There is nothing harsh and unreasonable about what He declares. Indeed His fullness has overflowed into them in unbounded measure, far exceeding anything offered by Moses.

‘Of His fullness.’ Out of the abounding fullness of what He is His people receive blessing, strength and power, and guidance in their lives.

‘Grace upon grace.’ ‘Charis’ means favour, gracious care and assistance, goodwill, undeserved love. And it will be continually self-producing, a continual flow, never ceasing. This fullness abounds towards them. It flows like a river, grace (God’s unmerited love in action) following after grace in an unceasing flow. The writer speaks from personal knowledge of how, when Jesus was among them, He so patiently bore with their failures and weaknesses and supplied them with strength and guidance in their daily lives. And he stresses that this is now true for all His people today.

Alternately we may translate ‘grace instead of (anti) grace’. The idea being that God revealed His grace through Moses, but now God’s greater grace is revealed in Jesus Christ. But in the next verse there is a contrast between the giving of the Law and the grace that came through Jesus Christ, so that the first interpretation seems the most likely.

‘The Law was given by Moses.’ It is impossible for us today to appreciate how much stress the Jews laid on ‘the Torah’ (the Law of Moses). They saw themselves as the people of the Law, a God-given Law, brought to them by the great Moses, binding them within God’s covenant. And they were excessively proud of the fact. And the writer does not deny this. But he then points out that something better and far superior has come.

‘Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.’ The Law condemned. It pointed the finger. It guided but it left men spiritually exhausted. For they could not meet its terms (see Galatians 3.10). It was weak because of man’s weakness (Romans 8.3). What had been intended to be a help had become a condemner. But Jesus Christ has brought God’s word, indeed has come as God’s Word, bringing an offer of unmerited love and favour and the fullness of truth that far surpasses the Law. He not only brings enlightenment, but the power to enable men to fulfil the Law. Thus Jesus Christ is greater far than Moses.

This contrasting of the Torah with Jesus Christ in the context of Jesus Christ as the Logos underlines the fact that whilst Greek ideas behind the Logos were almost certainly in John’s mind in this passage, it was the Hebrew background to the term which was dominant. In context it is the Torah which is being contrasted with the Word, not Greek philosophy.

1.18 ‘No man has seen God at any time. God only begotten, (or ‘the only begotten Son’) who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.’

Indeed he sums up by declaring that Jesus is the final revelation of God, as the One Who alone partakes in His essence. He is ‘God only begotten’, alone enjoying the very nature and essence of God.

‘God only begotten.’ Many ancient authorities have here ‘God only begotten’ instead of ‘only begotten Son’, and the evidence for the former is very strong (‘monogenes theos’ instead of ‘ho monogenes ‘uios’). It is especially likely that it represents the original text because the idea of ‘only begotten Son’ (ton ‘uion ton monogene) is found in John 3.16. But either way the meaning is the same. Both mean ‘of the same nature and essence with the Father’. Here was one Who was of the very essence of the Godhead.

‘No one has seen God at any time.’ There were those who had awesome revelations of God, such as Abraham in Genesis 15.12-17; Moses in Exodus 3.2 and 33.21-23 ; Job in Job 42.5-6; Isaiah in Isaiah 6.1 and Ezekiel in Ezekiel 1, but these were but shadows of the great reality. Mainly He was revealed in fire. They had not seen God as He really is. For God is the One Who dwells in unapproachable light, Whom no man has see nor can see (1 Timothy 6.16; 1 John 4.12).

As the hymn writer put it:

The spirits that surround the throne, may bear the burning bliss,
But that is surely theirs alone
For they have never, never known
A fallen world like this.

Yet here He now was revealed in human form. In Jesus the Father was being revealed (14.7-9).

‘Who is in the bosom of the Father.’ Compare ‘pros ton theon in 1.1 - ‘in close relationship with God’. To be in someone’s bosom meant to be in favoured relationship, to enjoy the choicest position, and only one could be in a person’s bosom at a time. Thus Jesus is being portrayed as uniquely favoured by His Father.

‘He has made Him known, (or ‘declared Him’).’ The verb is exegeomai, ‘to explain, interpret, tell, report, describe, and thus make known’. It is used of gods making themselves known to men. In this context therefore it means ‘makes God fully known’. He has made God known as none else had or could do (compare 14.7-9; Matthew 11.25-27).

Through Jesus Christ, God’s final Word to man, God is revealed as never before, not in the sheer glory of a shining brightness (although a glimpse of that was given at the Transfiguration), but in the fullness of His personality, in His behaviour, in His thought and in His presence. Now we can know what God is really like, for He has sent us His likeness in human form, His final Word to man, and through that Word we can be saved.

We can sum up by considering that behind these last verses (14 onwards) there is a deliberate connection with the Exodus narrative, especially Exodus 33. There God came down to dwell among men in His glory within the tabernacle (33.9; 40.34). Here God comes down, made flesh, to dwell in a humanity which is His tabernacle, and reveals His glory. There the Law was given (32.15; 33.13; 34.1), here grace and truth come. There God was seen in veiled form in a cloud (33.9), here He is more fully revealed, though veiled in flesh. There Moses spoke with God ‘face to face’ (33.11), yet in a cloud, for he could not see His glory (33.20, 22), here we behold His glory, seeing Him face to face. The new covenant is more real and personal, more glorious, than the old. It is the beginning of a new deliverance.

NOTE. Extract from Plummer’s Commentary on John In The Cambridge Bible Series Re The Word.

John 1.1

(1) In the Old Testament we find the Word or Wisdom of God personified, generally as an instrument for executing the Divine Will. We have a faint trace of it in the ‘God said’ of Genesis 1.3, 6, 9, 11, 14, etc.

The personification of the Word of God begins to appear in the Psalms, 33.6; 107.20; 119.89; 147.15. In Proverbs 8 and 9 the Wisdom of God is personified in very striking terms. This Wisdom is manifested in the power and mighty works of God ; that God is love is a revelation yet to come.

(2) In the Apocrypha the personification is more complete than in O. T. In Ecclesiasticus (c. B.C. 150—100) 1.1-20; 24.1-22, and in the Book of Wisdom (c. B.C. 100) 6.22 to 9.18 we have Wisdom strongly personified. In Wisdom 18. 15 the 'Almighty Word' of God appears as an agent of vengeance.

(3) In the Targums, or Aramaic paraphrases of O.T., the development is carried still further. These, though not yet written down, were in common use among the Jews in our Lord's time; and they were strongly influenced by the growing tendency to separate the Godhead from immediate contact with the material world. Where Scripture speaks of a direct communication from God to man, the Targums substituted the Memra, or ' Word of God.' Thus in Genesis 3. 8, 9, instead of 'they heard the voice of the Lord God,' the Targums have 'they heard the voice of the Word of the Lord God ;' and instead of 'God called unto Adam,' they put 'the Word of the Lord called unto Adam,' and so on. ' The Word of the Lord' is said to occur 150 times in a single Targum of the Pentateuch.

In the Theosophy of the Alexandrine Jews, which was a compound of theology with philosophy and mysticism, we seem to come nearer to a strictly personal view of the Divine Word or Wisdom, but really move further away from it. Philo, the leading representative of this religious speculation (fl. A.D. 40—50), admitted into his philosophy very various, and not always harmonious elements. Consequently his conception of the Logos is not fixed or clear. On the whole his Logos means some intermediate agency, by means of which God created material things and communicated with them. But whether this Logos is one Being or more, whether it is personal or not, we cannot be sure; and perhaps Philo himself was undecided.

Certainly his Logos is very different from that of S. John; for it is scarcely a Person, and it is not the Messiah. And when we note that of the two meanings of Logos Philo dwells most on the side which is less prominent, while the Targums insist on that which is more prominent in the teaching of S. John, we cannot doubt the source of his language. The Logos of Philo is preeminently the Divine Reason. The Memra of the Targums is rather the Divine Word ; i.e. the Will of God manifested in personal action; and this rather than a philosophical abstraction of the Divine Intelligence is the starting point of S. John's expression.

To sum up :—the personification of the Divine Word in O. T. is poetical, in Philo metaphysical, in S. John historical. The Apocrypha and Targums help to fill the chasm between O.T. and Philo; history itself fills the far greater chasm which separates all from S. John. Between Jewish poetry and Alexandrine speculation on the one hand and the Fourth Gospel on the other, lies the historical fact of the Incarnation of the Logos, the life of Jesus Christ.

The Logos of S. John, therefore, is not a mere attribute of God, but the Son of God, existing from all eternity, and manifested in space and time in the Person of Jesus Christ. In the Logos had been hidden from eternity all that God had to say to man ; for the Logos was the living expression of the nature, purposes, and Will of God. (Comp. the impersonal designation of Christ in 1 John 1.1.) Human thought had ' been searching in vain for some means of connecting the finite with the Infinite, of making God intelligible to man and leading man up to God. S. John knew that he possessed the key to this enigma. He therefore took the phrase which human reason had lighted on in its gropings, stripped it of its misleading associations, fixed it by identifying it with the Christ, and filled it with that fullness of meaning which he himself had derived from Christ's own teaching.

End of Note.

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