Of the Father’s Love Begotten

I.  Introduction of Themes – Throughout the gospel of John, several themes pertinent to the comprehensive biblical witness of the redemptive purpose of God are presented by showing the uniqueness of Christ’s qualifications in bringing to fruition these requirements.

A. The redeemer must be God. John demonstrates, both in word and in action, the Deity of Jesus, the Christ. The very first sentence proclaims, “The Word was God” (1:1). There are several streams of argument that contribute to his purpose.

    1. Person -John points to titles and relationships which pertain to Deity. The consistent refrain of “I Am” that John records points to Jesus’ identification of himself with Yahweh. He uses this in an absolute sense in 6:20, 8:24, 28, 58 and 18:5. He uses it by way of metaphor in John 6:35 (bread), 8:12 and 9:5 (light), 10:7, 9 (door), 10:11, 14 (good shepherd) 11:25 (resurrection and life), 14:6 (the way, the truth and the life), and 15:1 (the true vine).
    2. Prerogative – Jesus claims honor, right to judge, worship, intimacy with and complete knowledge of the Father, and authoritative teaching that his contemporaries understood as his claiming to be God (John 5:18-26; 10:27-30). His acceptance of the office of Messiah (John 4:26) and his identification of “Son of Man” (John 3:12, 13) shows his claims to deity.
    3. Power – John emphasizes Jesus’ power of creation (John 2:8, 9; 6:10-13), healing (5:1-15; 9:1-12), forgiving (John 8:34, 35), raising the dead (11::43, 44), and control of nature (6:16-21).

B. Uniqueness and fullness of his expression of the Father.

    1. Redemption – fulfills the Father’s redemptive purpose with no loss of those particular persons given to him or any compromise of the glory of God (John 12:27-33; 17:1-5).
    2. Revelation – (John 1:14-18; 10:31-39) John claimed that Jesus perfectly revealed the glory of the Father. Jesus made the same claim. He revealed the Father both in the truthfulness of his words and in the perfect reflection of the Father’s power and glory in his works. (John 10:31-39)

C. Completion of prophecy – John the Baptist prepares the way of the Lord. John, however, as the last of the prophets gives way to Jesus as the culmination of revelation through his redemptive accomplishment (John 1:18 as a pivotal text; then 19-34 as a narrative).

D. Messiahship for the world – The universality of his messiahship corresponds to his action as creator; his identification as Messiah is defined by covenants, promises, and genealogical relationship with Israel. John, as an apostle to the circumcision (Galatians 2:9), nevertheless, sees the necessity to give a strategic emphasis on Jesus for the world; see following: John 3: 16, 17; 4:23, 24; 12:20-23, 32; John 17:20, 21.

E. Our sonship is manifested by belief, not circumcision or ethnic privilege, and originates in a spiritual, not a physical, birth;Nicodemus, Samaritan Woman at Sychar etc. (John 3:3-5, 16, 36; 10:14-16).

F. Superabundant display of the law’s fulfillment in grace and truth (John 1:17; John 16:8-11; 19:28-30).

II. The Flow of the Text

A. His Original Transcendence and Comprehensive Lordship (1-5).

    1. His existence with God, as God, before any created thing came into being [1, 2] The text, though puzzling in its implied relationships, is simple in its vocabulary and in the meaning. This being called the Word is both with God and is God. The emphasis on “the beginning” means that the Word existed as an uncreated being along with God prior to the initiation of time as a created entity. He was before anything that had a beginning. Thus, the one God exists co-eternally in (at least) two eternally related persons. (Obviously we will also encounter many texts concerning the divine operations and personality of the Holy Spirit.) The word God in the first instance is used for the Father, a favorite title that Jesus uses in this book (e.g 4:23; 5:17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26, 37, 43, 45; 6:32, 37,40, 44, 45, 46 etc.) In the second instance—“the Word was God”—it refers to the shared essence of deity in which each person of the Trinity participates and exists in unity.
    2. He carried into effect the creative purpose of God (3). The conception of creation is originally, ideally, and in the mind of the Father, it is carried into being through the wisdom and power of the Son. While the Spirit hovers, as it were (Genesis 1:2), over all confirming and maintaining its order in exact accordance with the will of the Father and the operation of the Son (Cf. Colossians 1:15).
    3. The image of God in man is a function of the life of the Word (4)—“In Him was life.” Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15) and the “radiance of the glory of God” (Hebrews 1:3) in his eternal relationship with the Father. In a sense it can be said that his existence is a truly personal reflection of the eternal perfections of the Father, enjoyed and loved by the Father for the intrinsic excellence of those attributes aboriginally of the Father but necessarily eternally shared, as it is impossible for the Father not to have a true and full perception of himself. As the image of God, therefore, eternally, the life of the Son of God is that which enlightens us with the divine image. When we are made in the image of God, this is a created reflection of the Father in the way that the Son is the full, perfect, and eternal reflection of the Father. It is thus the life of the Son that is the light of men. This is reiterated in verse 9 (“which enlightens everyone”). This fact of universal enlightenment is fundamental to the reality of infinite diversity in absolute unity in the human race. We are all different and we are all the same. There is one essence of deity existing without division in three perfect diverse personalities that express the nature of personhood inexhaustibly.
    4. The fall of man and all its attendant evil did not extinguish the light (5). Even as dark as is the world and as dark as our hearts have become, those natural elements of the divine image cannot be erased. Our rebellion against and repression of the holiness of the moral image of God does not eliminate those constituent parts of the natural image. Even in the most debased and morally abandoned humans, conscience, though seared as if with a hot iron (“they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish heart was darkened” Romans 1:22), still operates as the internal judge of one’s moral perceptions (“Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them . . .Romans 1:32). The darkness of this world, the moral corruption and declension initiated by Satan in his rebellion and brought into the human race by his deceit of Eve and passed on to all subsequent posterity through Adam, cannot extinguish a constituent element of the human constitution. The image of God, a major aspect of which is the absolute necessity of moral choice, cannot be eliminated.

B. His position as Creator, fully manifesting the power and the plan of the Father, grounds his position as Messiah (6-13) in which he presents to us the perfection and purity of the Father’s gracious plan of redemption.

    1. Verses 6-8 – John the Baptist presents the final and most complete witness prior to the appearance of this one who is creator and in whose image all are made. Both Malachi 4:5 and Isaiah 40:3, cited soon by John the Baptist himself, are fulfilled in John’s appearance. John denied that he was Elijah, not that he did not know that the passage referred to him, but because he knew they were expecting a real appearance of Elijah the prophet. They would misidentify him and thus misunderstand his mission just as they misidentified Jesus and did not understand his mission. He claims only to be the voice. John clearly knew his place in prophecy as well as his place before the Messiah in time and submissive to the Messiah in nature. Apparently there were still disciples of John the Baptist that had not come to embrace Jesus as the Christ. We see this phenomenon in Acts 17:25 and 18:3-7. John inserts these points, and then later illustrates them in the narrative about John the Baptist (John1:19ff and 3:25ff), to show such devotees that they gave a loyalty for which John never asked.
    2. Verses 9, 10 – The world that he made, and the people who bear his image, did not know him (10). Misidentification and misunderstanding, prompted by sin, characterized the entire Christ event. How ironic that those who have life because of him, and whose life is defined by self-consciousness, creativity, moral perception, judgment, and other related aspects of personality—in other words who have the divine image through him—didnot recognize him. He made them [us] and yet the creature did not know or welcome its creator. This verse is part of the Johannine theme that the Messiah came not just for the Jews but for the world—people of every tribe, tongue, and nation throughout the globe..
    3. Verse 11 – The covenant people who were specifically prepared by all sorts of promises, types and revelation also did not receive him. Sharing all the common markers of the divine as the rest of the world, the Jews had the additional preparation of prophecy, Law, and ceremonies that were to lead them to Christ. Even these that should have been prepared were as blind as were the rest. Paul stated the same truth in a different context when he wrote, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” (1 Corinthians 1:23)
    4. Verse 12 – But, in spite of the moral perversity of this fallen race and the blindness that darkens every man from seeing this light in its true light, God will not see his plan set aside or his Son fail to have a people. So, in spite of the total rejection of Gentile and Jew when left to themselves, these words of hope still cut through the darkness, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name.” We learn in the next verse how this comes about, but John starts the contrast with the phenomenon of reception and belief as antithetical to the phenomenon of not receiving.The new covenant, God’s claiming a new people as his own, comes through receiving Christ in the offices and for the purposes for which he came, that is, believing in him. People who so believe have, by God’s own declaration and provision the right to the status of children [sons] of God. That is, they now receive the inheritance of their father. This is the inheritance won by Christ, one that is incorruptible, undefiled, and that does not fade away (1 Peter 1:3, 4) This moves back to the Word’s original relationship to creation as the light that enlightens every man. It is not just the Israelite that is the son of God, but all people in the world who come to the Father through Christ (12).
    5. This new covenant transcends the physical strictures of the covenant with Israel and is founded, like creation, on the immediate action of God in the new birth (13).As Paul stated, “But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:24). Peter concurs in writing, “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3) So John in this verse gives a clear statement of the new birth in its origin: “who were born,” is an extension of the image of our being sons through faith and anticipates Jesus’ words about the new birth in John 3:1-8. This birth is clearly a spiritual birth and of absolute divine origin. He disclaims that any special privilege of blood line qualifies one, “not of blood” [actually bloods, plural. The “bloods,” that is the genealogical lineage exists for the purpose of isolating the one promised as Messiah (Matthew 1:1-16) not to identify those that are the redeemed children of God]. Nor is this a birth that is physical in nature arising from a human desire for procreation (“nor of the will of the flesh”). Children born to believers are not naturally covenant children, though they have many advantages even as Paul showed that the Jews had many advantages (Romans 3:1, 2; 9:4, 5). Nor does this spiritual reception arise from any power of choice in a man (“nor of the will of man”). Rather this new birth originates in the power and will of God (“but of God”). “It is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy” (Romans 9:16). In the text the verb “were born” is placed last immediately following the words “of God.” So it emphasizes that the birthing is of God.

C. His Appearance in the World

    1. Verse 14 -The Mystery of the incarnation is profound.
      • Became flesh means that the Word embraced into his own personhood the full nature of that which was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit and did it at the moment of conception. “Flesh” means, not just body, but all that a human being is in his flesh, the full human nature as in “No flesh shall glory in his presence” (1 Corinthians 1:29) or “All flesh shall know that I am the Lord” (Isaiah 49:26) He did not, could not, cease being the Word for that which is uncreated and intrinsically eternal cannot cease to be or lose any of its constituent attributes. Thus, when the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” we see a person of full humanity, excepting the intrusion of moral perversity, yet maintaining all the glory of his unique eternal personhood as Son of God (14).
      • “We saw his glory.” John saw the glory of Jesus’ deity in two ways. One he saw it along with Peter and James when Jesus was transfigured before them. This was an extraordinary display of beauty, light, and holiness. He also saw his glory in the various signs accomplished by Jesus and in the way that Jesus honored his Father in all that he did culminating in his death (2:11; 8:49, 50; 11:4; 11:40; 12:28; 13:31, 32; 17:1, 5, 22, 24; 21:19).
      • Jesus’ Sonship is unique. He is a son naturally and eternally from the essence of the Father and shares all the essential attributes of deity with the Father but is distinguished from the Father in his personhood by his Sonship, that is, he is begotten of the Father (see 1 John 5:18) and the Father is begotten of none. This is a doctrine called the “eternal generation of the Son” and is, in my view, necessary to maintain the doctrine of the Trinity.
      • He is “full of grace and truth”—grace in that he fulfills the Triune God’s gracious purpose of redemption and eternal life by his righteous life, his substitutionary death, his resurrection in victory over death, and in his continual intercession for the people given him by the Father (John 17:1-3). He is filled with truth in that all the prophecies are fulfilled in him, the word of God is delivered on the basis of his own authority, and that which was seen only dimly before has now become perfectly clear in Christ.
    1. John’s witness attests to this truth (15) “He existed before me” In this he continues to emphasize John’s faithful witness and his deflection of any glory or loyalty to him. It is clear from the biblical narrative of Luke, that John the Baptist was conceived first and born first. This affirmation that he “ranks before me, because he was before me” shows John’s knowledge, by revelation, that Jesus though present in this life as a man pre-existed John as a person. “HE” was before me. Thus, one may discern the constant textual affirmation of the singularity of the person even though Jesus existed in two full and distinct natures. In one nature, that conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit at the announcement of the angel Gabriel, he was created, finite, morally tested, obedient, consistently subordinating his will to the will of the Father, growing in grace, advancing in favor with God and man, and put to death, and raised from the dead in a glorified body. In the other nature, his eternal existence as Son of God, he was the Creator, immutable, a co-equal in the covenantal arrangement of redemption, a full participant in the joy and love of pre-mundane eternity living in infinitely exuberant gladness in the eternal conception, not only of the perfections of deity, but of the manifestation of those perfections in the purpose of creation.
    2. Our experience confirms it (16) – “From his fullness,” from the fullness of his perfection as both God and man and from the fullness of his purpose in glorifying himself through redemption, we, as sinful mortals, have received eternal benefit. John knows that he has received grace and a continuing avalanche of grace with more grace specified for eternity from the faithful work and word of his Savior Jesus Christ. So may all testify that have entered into forgiveness of sin through him, have been justified by him, have received the Spirit from him, and look forward to eternity with him.
    3. His fulfillment of the Law of Moses confirms it (17). The ministry of Jesus must be seen as parallel to all the promises and demands of the Law of Moses. Moses was the instrument through which the Law came, but he had no ability either to grant its promises or deflect its penalties. Jesus, however, came in light of the fact that the Law given through Moses now stood over us as a curse threatening eternal death as its rightful claim on our lives and our eternal future (Galatians 3:10, 21-25). Jesus also lived in light of the promise given with the Law that those that do them shall live by them (Leviticus 18:5). As in verse 14 we see John pointing to grace and truth as constituting the purpose of Jesus in his incarnation. The death demanded by Law, Jesus met, and the perfect loving obedience with the end of eternal life Jesus also met. That the law does demand such fulfillment Jesus showed by his very fulfillment of it. Thus, both grace and truth are highlighted in the completeness of the work of Christ in giving to his sheep eternal life (John 10:27, 28).
    4. His impeccable conformity to the character and display of the power of the Father confirms his unique sonship [18]. No one has seen God as he is in his eternal glory. But the one who is God and in the bosom of the Father, that is, the one that is eternally generated by the father, of the Father’s love eternally begotten, and now incarnate as the God/man, he has made him known.

III.  Preparing the mind and heart for John. These are challenges presented to us by John’s writing. He is writing that we may believe and so is particularly intent on weaving a cord of evidence that cannot be broken.

A. Examine the evidence of Jesus’ words and the clarity of his claims

B. Examine the evidence of Jesus’ actions and their assumption of divine prerogative and typological fulfillment.

C. Examine the implications of the images Jesus employs to describe himself.

D. Examine the testimonies of friends, enemies, and inquirers.

E. Contemplate seriously the radical nature of his claims to be the one on whom our eternity depends.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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