In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not" (1:1-5).
John does not waste his time arguing with the Gnostic and other heretics. Rather, he states certain facts that he knows beyond all shadow of doubt to be true. Let them speculate; he knows.
He begins with:
John makes three sweeping statements that affirm once and for all the deity of the one he had known so well. Although he did not become his disciple until he revealed himself for who he was, John had almost certainly known "Jesus of Nazareth" since he was a small boy. He was the Lord's cousin. His mother, Salome, was sister of the virgin Mary. The mysterious circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus, chronicled by Matthew and Luke, were no secret in the family circle. We can reasonably assume that the Lord Jesus, in his boyhood and early manhood days, along with his brothers and sisters, had normal contact with the relatives who lived by the lake. Nazareth was not that far from the sea of Galilee. Annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the feasts were always social occasions when families and friends joined together in bands to make the trip.
After becoming one of the Lord's disciples, John knew that Jesus of Nazareth was God. He simply tells what he knows. No turn-of-the-first-century liberal or cultist was in a position to deny the sublime statements John makes in his opening sentences. All John has to do is bear witness to the truth. He was not concerned to confront all the vagaries and varieties of error. He knew what the truth was and he contented himself with that.
To equate Jesus with God was a proposition not lightly made. John was a Palestinian Jew, with all the horror such a person would have for blasphemy. He was not a philosopher, not even a theologian. He was a man who had spent three-and-a-half extraordinary years in the company of Jesus. For well over half a century he had thought things over. It was his conviction now, as it had been his conviction then, that Jesus of Nazareth was no ordinary man. He was—and is—God.
John begins with an affirmation, "In the beginning was the Word," that does not refer to a start, but to an infinite state.
The Greek used by John is the word logos. It was a word familiar to Greek philosophers and a word adopted for his own purposes by the Jewish philosopher Philo. To the Greeks, the word had reference to the abstract conception that lies behind everything concrete—to the ideal, to what we could perhaps call wisdom.
But John did not get his views of Jesus from Greek philosophy or from the speculations of Philo. John borrowed the Greek word but he used it in a new sense, in a more Hebrew sense. The Hebrews left the Greeks far behind when it came to the eternal verities lying behind the world of time and sense. The Hebrew would argue from the thought to the thinker, from "wisdom" to God. The Greeks did not go that far. Thus, when John calls Jesus "the Word," the logos, he is referring to him as the thinker, the omniscient genius behind the created universe.
That, however, does not exhaust the statement, "In the beginning was the Word." We must look also at the verb. The imperfect tense used in the Greek expresses a continuous state, not a completed past. It suggests the idea of "absolute, supratemporal existence." The Lord Jesus, in other words, was pre-existent before the creation of the universe (not mentioned until we get to verse 3). "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (italics added); the imperfect tense is used each time. This is not nearly so arresting in English as it is in the original. In each case it sets before the reader not something past, or present, or future, but something ongoing. It refers to a mode of existence that transcends time. Time is a device to help finite beings relate to their mode of existence. The verb John uses takes us into the sphere of the timeless. In other words, the one John calls "the Word" belongs to a realm where time does not matter. The word did not have a beginning. The word will never have an ending. The word belongs to eternity.
That in itself is a disturbing statement for some. We can go back in our minds quite easily a century or two, even a millennium or two. Astronomers have accustomed themselves to think in terms of billions of years. But to go back beyond the beginning, to no beginning at all—that is disquieting.
But, says John, when we think of Jesus, that is where we must begin. We must go back to the dateless past, to a time before time. We must think of Jesus as never having begun at all. He is eternally God.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God." In other words, there is more than one person within the godhead, and Jesus was one of those persons.
The Old Testament writers caught glimpses of this. In the great Jewish credal statement found in Deuteronomy 6:4, the Hebrews expressed the unity of God: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord." But the very first sentence in the Bible expressed the idea of plurality in the godhead: "In the beginning God [Elohim, a plural noun] created [a singular verb] the heaven and the earth." This usage is consistent throughout the Old Testament; God is referred to in a plural form accompanied by a singular verb. Thus, embedded in the Old Testament is the idea of the trinity: one God, three persons. Expressed mathematically this would not be 1 + 1 + 1 (which equals three), but 1 x 1 x 1 (which equals one). From both Old and New Testaments we arrive at the concept of God existing as three persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). Three persons, one God.
Difficult as this concept is to grasp, we are not left without illustrations in the world of time and sense. Ours is a triune universe: space, matter, time. Space is triune: length, breadth, height. Matter is triune: energy, motion, phenomena; time is triune: past, present, future. Nathan Wood has shown that all these relationships reflect the relationships within the godhead, some more than others. When it comes to the relationship of past, present, and future in the realm of time, he produces a startling array of facts. He writes paragraph after paragraph and then substitutes the word God for the word time, the word Father for the word future, Son for the word present, and Holy Spirit for the word past. Then he rewrites the paragraphs, inserting the exchanged words. The result is a perfect description of the relationships of the three persons of the godhead to one another. It is an awesome proof of the trinity (N. Wood, The Secret of the Universe, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans).
So, when John says of Jesus, "the Word was with God," he is stating a sublime truth. Jesus is equally God with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He is God the Son, the second person of the godhead.
"And the Word was God." That is, in his essence, in what he actually is, in his nature, person, and personality, in his attributes and character, Jesus is all that God is. All the essential characteristics of deity are his. He exists in his own right, independent of all creation. Does God have the wisdom and power to create a hundred million galaxies and hold them whirling through space at enormous velocities on inconceivable paths, according to fixed laws, expending prodigious amounts of energy? So does Jesus. Such is the Lord's ineffable person.
Jesus is unique in:
"All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made." All things. The Greek word panta refers to all things individually, all things separately. It is a reference to the infinite detail of creation. The scientist takes his or her telescope and focuses it on the reaches of space. Out there are distances so vast that a special unit of measure is needed with which to express those concepts. The astronomer's yardstick is a light year: the distance light travels in one year (at 186,273 miles per second—the equivalent of encircling the earth at the equator seven and a half times). In round numbers, that is about six trillion miles. Our sun, by that yardstick, is eight light minutes away. But out there in space are suns and stars believed to be billions of light years away. Nor can we count the stars or guess how many billions there are.
Some stars are large beyond all thought. The star Antares, for instance, could hold sixty-four million suns the size of ours. In the constellation Hercules is a star that could contain one hundred million stars the size of Antares. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is 100,000 light years in diameter. It is revolving at a speed of two hundred miles an hour. It takes two million years to complete one revolution on its axis.
Not only are we awed by the size of space and the prodigality with which the creator has strewn it with stars, but we are overwhelmed by the precision with which all these vast orbs pursue their appointed paths. Our planet, for instance, does not travel in a true circle. It travels in three directions at the same time. It revolves on its axis, it travels around the sun, and its path is deflected by other planets. Yet it does not lose more than one one-hundredth of a second every one hundred years.
Let us turn from the world of the infinitely large to the world of the infinitely small. The building block of the universe is the atom, an entity so small that each one is less than one hundred fifty millionth of an inch in diameter. If the molecules of a single drop of water could be converted into grains of sand, there would be enough sand to build a concrete highway half a mile wide and one foot thick all the way from New York to San Francisco.
That is the world of inanimate things. When we turn to living things the complexities that confront us on every hand are incredible. Each cell in a living creature contains two hundred billion molecules of atoms. The nucleus of a cell (a complex life factory) is less than four ten-thousandths of an inch in diameter. The membrane that encloses the cell's component parts is only one half of that, or one-millionth of an inch thick.
Jesus made it all. "Without him," says the Holy Spirit through the inspired apostle, "was not anything made that was made." The form of the text in Greek is even more emphatic: "not even one thing."
The Lord is said by John to have power in communicating life (1:4) and in communicating light (1:5). "In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not."
Even before he came into the world in the incarnation, to be the light of the world (8:12; 9:5), he made God known through creation, of which life itself is the most marvelous mystery and the loudest voice. The more we know about life, the more complex and elusive it proves to be. Life, rising from the dust in myriad forms, beckons to us and says, "This is the finger of God" (compare Exodus 8:19). Every cell, every membrane, every complex molecule, every strand of DNA, picks up the chorus: "The hand that made us is divine."
But darkness now enfolds the children of fallen Adam's race. There is the darkness of the religious mind, which leads otherwise intelligent people to harbor superstition or embrace all kinds of high-sounding nonsense. There is the darkness of the philosophical mind, which speculates vainly about the ultimate nature of things. There is the darkness of the carnal mind, which is entrenched in enmity against God and is quite prepared to entertain a thousand hurtful and destructive lusts. There is the darkness of the scientific mind, which says in one breath that life is bewildering in its complexity and in the next breath declares that "life is only chemistry" and that therefore there is no reason to believe in God.
The existence of darkness is evident. Its goal is to envelop the earth completely and prevent the light from penetrating into human souls. That, however, is beyond the power of darkness. "The darkness overpowers it not." A small candle can dispel darkness. When the light shines in all its strength, darkness flees. In the heart of every person is the recognition of God and of right and wrong. That light has never been extinguished. Nor can the most virile propagation of atheism and humanism blot it out. At Calvary the power of darkness had its moment of precarious victory when the light went out. But on the resurrection morning it blazed forth again, triumphant forever. Soon will dawn "the perfect day" (Proverbs 4:18).