Saved by God’s Son

The Point:  Jesus came to earth to rescue us.

The Word Became Flesh:  John 1:1-5,9-14.

[1]  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2]  He was in the beginning with God. [3]  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. [4]  In him was life, and the life was the light of men. [5]  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. [9]  The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. [10]  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. [11]  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. [12]  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, [13]  who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. [14]  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  [ESV]

“The Prologue is a foyer to the rest of the Fourth Gospel, simultaneously drawing the reader in and introducing the major themes. Many of the central, thematic words of this Gospel are first introduced in these verses: life, light, witness, true, world, glory, truth. But supremely, the Prologue summarizes how the Word which was with God in the very beginning came into the sphere of time, history – in other words, how the Son of God was sent into the world to become the Jesus of history, so that the glory and grace of God might be uniquely and perfectly disclosed. The rest of the book is nothing other than an expansion of this theme. [1]  In the beginning immediately reminds any reader of the Old Testament of the opening verse of the Bible: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth [Gen. 1:1]. Genesis begins with creation; John refers to creation [1:3-4], but soon turns to what Paul calls ‘new creation. Both in Genesis and here, the context shows that the beginning is absolute: The beginning of all things, the beginning of the universe. The Greek word behind beginning often bears the meaning ‘origin’, and there may be echoes of that here, for the Word who already was in the beginning is soon shown to be God’s agent of creation [1:3-4], what we might call the ‘originator’ of all things. Although the meanings of was [1] and were made [3], came [7] and became [14] often overlap, John repeatedly uses the two verbs side by side to establish something of a contrast. When John uses the two verbs in the same context, was frequently signals existence, whereas were made or became signals ‘coming into being’ or ‘coming into use’. In the beginning, the Word was already in existence. But what is meant by Word? The underlying term, logos, was used so widely and in such different contexts in first-century Greek that many suggestions as to what it might mean here have been put forward. But, however the Greek term is understood, the place to begin is with the Old Testament, considering how frequently John quotes or alludes to the Old Testament. The ‘word’ of God is connected with God’s powerful activity in creation [Gen. 1:3; Ps. 33:6], revelation [Jer. 1:4; Isa. 9:8; Ezk. 33:7; Amos 3:1,8] and deliverance [Ps. 107:20; Isa. 55:1]. It was by the word of the Lord that the heavens were made. God simply speaks, and His powerful word creates. That same word effects deliverance and judgment. When some of His people faced illness that brought them to the brink of death, God sent out his word and healed them [Ps. 107:20]. In short, God’s Word in the Old Testament is His powerful self-expression in creation, revelation, and salvation, and the personification of that Word makes it suitable for John to apply it as a title to God’s ultimate self-disclosure, the person of His own Son. But if the expression would prove richest for Jewish readers, it would also resonate in the minds of some readers with entirely pagan backgrounds. In their case, however, they would soon discover that whatever they had understood the term to mean in the past, the author whose work they were then reading was forcing them into fresh thought. One must go further. The wealth of possible backgrounds to the term logos in John’s Prologue suggests that the determining factor is not this or that background but the church’s experience of Jesus Christ. This is not to say the background is irrelevant. It is to say, rather, that when Christians looked around for suitable categories to express what they had come to know of Jesus Christ, many that they applied to Him necessarily enjoyed a plethora of antecedent associations. The terms had to be semantically related to what the Christians wanted to say, or they could not have communicated with their own age. Nevertheless, many of the terms they chose, including this one, had semantic ranges so broad that they could shape the term by their own usage to make it convey, in the context of their own work, what they knew to be true of Jesus Christ. In that sense, as helpful as the background study may be, it cannot by itself determine exactly what John means by logos. For that information, while thinking through the background uses, we must above all listen to the Evangelist himself. Because this Word, this divine self-expression, existed in the beginning, one might suppose that it was either with God, or nothing less than God Himself. John insists the Word was both. When John writes that the Word was with God he is pointing out that the Word is a person, with God and therefore distinguishable from God, and enjoying a personal relationship with Him. The Word was God. The Word does not by Himself make up the entire Godhead; nevertheless the divinity that belongs to the rest of the Godhead belongs also to Him. John intends that the whole of his gospel shall be read in the light of this verse. The deeds and words of Jesus are the deeds and words of God. [2]  In one sense 1:2 is simply a repetition of the first two clauses of verse 1. But John includes these words to make sure what he has already said is understood. After all, 1:1 is very condensed. In particular, 1:2 reiterates the middle clause of 1:1, and thus prepares the way for 1:3. [3-4]  Verse 3 simply insists, both positively and negatively, that the Word was God’s Agent in the creation of all that exists. The change in tense from were made to was not … made is then the change in reference from the act of creation to the state of creation. Just as in Genesis, where everything that came into being did so because of God’s spoken word, and just as in Proverbs 3:19; 8:30, where Wisdom is the (personified) means by which all exists, so here: God’s Word, understood in the Prologue to be a personal agent, created everything. Life and light are almost universal religious symbols. In John’s usage they are not sentimental props but ways of focusing on the excellencies of the Word. The relationship between God and the Word in the Prologue is identical with the relationship between the Father and the Son in the rest of the Gospel. Nevertheless there is a difference between this passage and most of the rest of the Gospel where light and life come to the fore. In the rest of his book, John is largely interested in light and life as they relate to salvation: the light is revelation which people may receive in active faith and be saved, the life is either resurrection life or spiritual life that is its foretaste. If 1:4, by contrast, is read in the context of the first three verses, it is more likely that the life inhering in the Word is related not to salvation but to creation. The self-existing life of the Word was so dispensed at creation that it became the light of the human race. [5]  Light and darkness are not simply opposites; darkness is nothing other than the absence of light. At no time other than creation could it more appropriately be said, the light shines in the darkness. Precisely because John is talking about creation, and is not describing a dualistic universe in which light and darkness, goodness and evil, are matched opposites, he can describe the victory of the light: the darkness has not overcome it. But any reader who had read through this Gospel once and was now re-reading it, could not fail to see in 1:5 an anticipation of the light/darkness duality that dominates much of the rest of the book. The darkness in John is not only absence of light, but positive evil; the light is not only revelation bound up with creation, but with salvation. Apart from the light brought by the Messiah, the incarnate Word, people love darkness because their deeds are evil [3:19], and when the light does put in an appearance, they hate it, because they do not want their deeds to be exposed [3:20]. In fact, whenever it is true that the light shines in the darkness, it is also true that the darkness has not understood it. It is quite possible that John, subtle writer that he is, wants his readers to see in the Word both the light of creation and the light of the redemption the Word brings in His incarnation.

[9]  In verse 9 it is the Word, the light, that is coming into the world, in some act distinct from creation. If incarnation is not spelled out as forcefully as in 1:14, it is the same special visitation that is in view. The coming of the Word into the world, described in the Prologue, is nothing other than the sending of the Son into the world, described in the rest of the book. The word for true, here and often in John, means ‘real’ or ‘genuine’. Characteristically it is applied to light, worshippers [4:23], bread from heaven [6:32], the vine [15:1], and even to God Himself [7:28; 17:3]. In some passages this notion of ‘true’ or ‘genuine’ shades off into ‘ultimate’, because the contrast is not simply with what is false but with what is earlier and provisional or anticipatory in the history of God’s gracious self-disclosure. Thus the manna provided in the Old Testament was genuinely from God; but Jesus is the true bread, the ultimate and therefore the genuine bread from heaven. Any reader of the Old Testament would know that the law and Wisdom give light, but John’s point is that the Word who came into the world is the light, the true light, the genuine and ultimate self-disclosure of God to man. The world, or frequently ‘this world’ [8:23; 9:39; 11:9; 18:36], is not the universe, but the created order (especially of human beings and human affairs) in rebellion against its Maker [1:10; 7:7; 14:17,22,27,30; 15:18-19; 16:8,20,33; 17:6,9,14]. Therefore when John tells us that God loves the world [3:16], far from being an endorsement of the world, it is a testimony to the character of God. God’s love is to be admired not because the world is so big but because the world is so bad. In fact, the world in John’s usage comprises no believers at all. Those who come to faith are no longer of this world; they have been chosen out of this world [15:19]. If Jesus is the Savior of the world [4:42], that says a great deal about Jesus, but nothing positive about the world. In fact, it tells us the world is in need of a Savior. What then does John mean by saying that this light which comes into the world enlightens everyone? It may mean to illuminate or give natural, in the sense of general, revelation. Or it could be understood in the context of incarnation, illuminating not everyone without exception but everyone without distinction (i.e., not Jews only, but also Gentiles). But it is better to think of the light as the objective revelation, the light that comes into the world with the incarnation of the Word, the invasion of the true light. It shines on everyone, and divides the race: those who hate the light and flee from this light lest their deeds should be exposed. But some receive this revelation [1:12-13], and thereby testify that their deeds have been done through God [3:21]. In John’s Gospel it is repeatedly the case that the light shines on all, and forces a distinction. [10]  The Word, then, was in the world as a result of His special coming into it. Our decision regarding the meaning of world in 1:9 has its bearing on the interpretation of verse 10. This was the world that was made through him – not a mere repetition of verses 3-4, since world, as we have seen, has a narrower focus than everything that has been made. The point is that John will not allow for any view that there exists a principle of evil entirely independent of the universe God created. Far from it: apart from the Word nothing was made that was made [3]. That includes the world of human beings and their affairs in rebellion against the Word. Instead of allowing dualism, John grounds the moral responsibility of the race in the doctrine of creation. This world created through the Word did not know him. [11]  Verse 11 stamps the coming of the Word as more personal and loving than the coming of the logos in pagan and gnostic thought. If the Word of God came to fallen mankind in the general terms earlier described in 1:5, He came in law, prophecy, and wisdom, in deeds of deliverance, judgment, and mercy, and in sheer, brilliant theophany. Now the Word comes in personal self-disclosure to his own, but his own people did not receive him. Here John is thinking of the Jewish nation from which salvation comes [4:22]. John focuses not on the mere status of the covenant community, but on their proper relationship to the Word. [12-13]  By themselves, verses 10-11 would be grim indeed; but verses 12-13 immediately soften the sweeping rejection of the Word by indicating that, as in Old Testament times, there remains a believing remnant. Another way of describing these people is to say that they believed in his name. The name is more than a label; it is the character of the person, or even the person himself. Such faith yields allegiance to the Word, trusts Him completely, acknowledges His claims and confesses Him with gratitude. That is what it means to receive Him. To people who received Him, to those who displayed such faith the Word gave the right to become children of God. These people enjoy the privilege of becoming the covenant people of God, a privilege lost by the Messiah’s own people [1:11]; those related to Him by nature and by the grace of the old covenant. Another way of describing those who receive the Word is suggested by the children of God metaphor: they are children born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God [12]. The Prologue thus introduces us to the new birth theme of chapter 3. New birth is nothing other than an act of God. Those who receive the Word are identical with those who believe in His name, and they are identical with those who are born of God. [14]  For the first time since verse 1, the term the Word, reappears in verse 14. At this point the incarnation, the ‘in-fleshing’ of the Word, is articulated in the boldest way. John is unambiguous, almost shocking in the expressions he uses: the Word became flesh. In Exodus 33:7 – 34:35, the tent of meeting was the place where the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend [Ex. 33:11]. In Exodus Moses hears the divine name spoken by God Himself, and this is followed by God’s word written on two stone tablets. Now, John tells us, God’s Word, His Self-expression, has become flesh. This is the supreme revelation. The Word, God’s very Self-expression, who was both with God and who was God, became flesh: He donned our humanity, save only our sin. God chose to make Himself known, finally and ultimately in a real, historical man. The Word dwelt among us. More literally translated, the Word pitched his tabernacle, or lived in his tent, amongst us. This term would call to mind the tabernacle where God met with Israel before the temple was built. Now God has chosen to dwell amongst His people in a yet more personal way, in the Word-become-flesh. The incarnate Word is the ultimate manifestation of the presence of God amongst human beings, for this Word became a man. In the Old Testament, the word glory described the visible manifestation of God’s self-disclosure in a theophany. The peculiar relationship the incarnate Word had with the Father was such that He never sought glory for Himself, but only God’s glory [5:41; 7:18; 8:50]. In the context of incarnation, the we who saw the Word’s glory must refer to John and other Christians who actually saw Jesus in the days of His earthly life. The glory John and others saw was the glory as of the only Son from the Father. The glory displayed in the incarnate Word is the kind of glory a father grants to his one and only, best-loved Son. Thus it is nothing less than God’s glory that John and his friends witnessed in the Word-made-flesh. Full of grace and truth is best understood as describing glory. The glory of God manifest in the incarnate Word was full of grace and truth. In that case John is almost certainly directing his readers to Exodus 33-34. There Moses begs God, Please show me your glory [Ex. 33:18]. The Lord replies, I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name The Lord. And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy [Ex. 33:19]. God’s glory, then, is supremely His goodness. The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin [Ex. 34:6-7]. The two words that John uses, full of grace and truth, are his ways of summing up the same ideas expressed in God’s self-revelation of His glory to Moses. The glory revealed to Moses when the Lord passed in front of him and sounded His name, displaying that divine goodness characterized by ineffable grace and truth, was the very same glory John and his friends saw in the Word-made-flesh.”  [Carson, pp. 111-130]. 

Questions for Discussion:

1.         On this Sunday before Christmas, our thoughts turn to the birth of our Savior. How does John’s account of His birth differ from the other three gospels?

2.         Logos (Word) is a rich term with several different meanings. What does John mean when he calls Jesus the Word? List all the things John says about the Word in these verses.

3.         How does John describe the incarnation in 1:9-14? What is the meaning of light in these verses? How does one receive the right to become children of God?

4.         In this Christmas week, meditate upon the glory of the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us.


The Gospel According to John, D. A. Carson, Eerdmans.

John, Andreas Kostenberger, BENT, Baker.

John, vol. 1, Richard Phillips, REC, P&R Publishing.

The Gospel of John, Herman Ridderbos, Eerdmans.

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