Chapter 1.
Christ the Word of God

John 1:1-18

Preview:

Right up front in this gospel the apostle John establishes the eternal nature and deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. He declares that Jesus is a separate person from God the Father, yet He is also very God! He has existed from the beginning with God. Christ is the incarnate Word of God by which He is the living infinite wisdom who came down from glory to live among humanity. The Lord is both the life and light of humankind, and by believing in Him, one may become a child of God. By trusting in Him, grace and truth are imparted to believers.

Christ is called "the Word" (Greek, ho logos) six times in Scripture, and all occurrences appear only in the writings of John (1:1, 14; 1 John 1:1; Rev. 19:13). Historically, logos meant a collection of ideas or words. It can mean both inner thought and the outward expression of that thought. The Septuagint translators used logos with reference to both the law and wisdom of God (Ex. 34:28; Prov. 8:1-33).

The Revelation of the Word of God

John 1:1-18

His deity (1:1-24). John introduces Christ as the Word by emphasizing His deity. The first five verses of this gospel have an obvious parallel in structure and thought with the first chapter of Genesis. While similar, there is also an important difference between these two passages. Genesis begins with the creation of the world, at a point that began time, while John reaches back beyond time into eternity. Creation is not specifically mentioned until verse 3, so the first two verses must refer to an earlier period. This thought is particularly evident in the description "In the beginning was the Word." Here the verb "was" is the imperfect en, conveying the idea of continuous existence rather than the more usual term egeneto, which is also translated "was" but has the idea of coming into being. The concept of the eternal preexistence of the Word is conveyed by the idea, "When all things began, the Word already was."

Not only does John emphasize the eternal preexistence of the Word, he also notes the intimacy of fellowship that existed between the Word and God. In the phrase "the Word was with God," the use of the Greek preposition pros ("with") with the accusative case denotes motion toward a particular direction. This grammatical structure is used to represent intimacy and communion and implies that the Word and God were in face-to-face relationship. The Word was not only with God, He was communing with God.

John very carefully concludes the first verse of this gospel with a statement declaring the deity of the Word—"the Word was God." In this expression, theos ēn ho logos, the definite article belongs to the Word, not God. The New World Translation has erroneously translated this phrase "the Word was a god," violating both the context of the phrase and the rules of Greek grammar but making it fit in well with the Jehovah's Witness denial of Christ's deity. Theos without the article emphasizes quality rather than individuality. Had John included the article, this phrase would tend to support the error of Sabellianism, which taught one God manifested in three different modes.

His creation (1:3). In the third verse, John specifically emphasizes the creative work of the Word. Again, the absence of the definite article is significant. Greek philosophers use the expression ta panta ("the whole of creation"). By using panta ("all things") without the article, John refers to all creation with its infinite parts. He speaks not only of the vastness of creation as seen through the telescope but also of the wonders of creation observed with the microscope. Also, John means more than the creation we see; he implies the creation of the heavens including the inhabitants thereof (angels), as seen in Genesis 1:1, and the creation of the earth.

Concerning this creation, John writes, "All things came into being at a point in time by him" (1:3, literal translation). The use of an aorist (Greek, egeneto) with reference to the creative activity of the Word contrasts the event of creation with the continuous existence of the Word. Egeneto is one of three Greek words in the New Testament that expresses the creation of substance from nothing. The other two, ktizō and poieō, tend to emphasize the place of the Creator, whereas this verb refers to substance that was created.

According to John, not even one thing came into being apart from the Word. The Word is here portrayed as the intermediate agent in the work of ere-ation. This thought is also conveyed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:6. This does not limit the Word as a mere instrument of God but rather recognizes the relationship between the Father and Son. This statement concerning the creative work of the Word is a clear expression of John's personal faith in the creative power of God (see Heb. 11:3).

His illumination (1:4-5). One of the significant metaphors Christ uses to describe Himself is light. First, the light "shines" (1:5). The verb phainei is a linear present active indicative, which indicates not merely a point in time but that the light has continued to shine from the beginning until now and is still shining. Even today Christ is the Light "which, coming into the world, enlightens every man" (1:9).

Second, light stands in contrast to the darkness that is everywhere present. The Greeks had two words for darkness. Zophos was a poetic term signifying the ideas of gloom, nebulousness, or a kind of half darkness. John uses the stronger term, skotia, nine times in his gospel. He calls darkness the natural sphere of those who hate good (3:19-20), and he contrasts it with Jesus, the Light of the World (8:12; 12:35, 46).

His forerunner (1:6-9). Earlier John observed the Word "was" (en), implying Christ's self-existence or eternalness. Here John the Baptist merely comes into being (egeneto). The Christ was the true light, John merely the witness of that light. This does not, however, minimize the importance of the Baptist. He was a man uniquely sent from God. The Greek verb translated "sent" is apestal-menos, from which the word apostle is derived. This verb carries the sense of sending out an envoy with a special commission. In the case of John the Baptist, he was sent "from God." The preposition para means "from beside" and invests the messenger with greater authority and significance than had he simply been sent "by God."

His rejection (1:10-11). John summarizes the life of Jesus in just two short verses. The story of Jesus Christ is a story of rejection. Although He was in the world and was the Creator of it all, the world failed to recognize Him for who He was. The verb ginōskō ("knew") refers to the idea of recognition. Throughout this gospel, various individuals and groups speculate as to who Jesus is, but most of them fall short of recognizing Him as the Christ, the Son of God and One through whom life is received (20:31).

In recognizing the Word as the rejected one, John suggests the Word has personality. The pronoun auton ("Him" 1:10) is a masculine form. Every other previous reference to the Word, life, or light is a form that could be interpreted as a thing or a person. The word auton here establishes that John was speaking of a person all along.

His offer (1:12-13). Jesus' rejection by His own people resulted in a wider offer of salvation to others (see Rom. 11:11). Christ's offer of salvation is no longer limited to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but salvation is offered to as many as receive Him. The verb elabon ("received") refers to the actual gaining of a possession.

When John refers to a believer as a child of God, he uses the word teknon rather than huios, which Paul uses. The use of these two words reflects the soteriological emphasis of each writer. Teknon shares a common root with tiktō ("to beget") and is probably preferred by John because of his emphasis on the doctrine of regeneration (3:3) and the community of the family of God (11:52). Paul, emphasizing the doctrine of adoption in his soteriology, prefers the legal term huios when discussing sonship.

One becomes and has the right to be known as a child of God as a result of believing on the name of Christ. This is more than an intellectual acceptance of the revealed truths concerning Jesus Christ. His name expresses the sum of all the qualities that mark His character and nature. To believe on, or believe in, that name involves the absolute transfer of trust from self to the Savior. Anything short of this falls short of saving faith.

His incarnation (1:14). One of the great mysteries of Christology is the doctrine of the incarnation, summarized here by John in a single verse. Briefly stated, the incarnation means Christ became the God-man. The word sarx, here translated "flesh," signifies human nature in and according to its corporeal manifestation. It means more than merely acquiring a physical body, although that is undoubtedly part of the incarnation. Christ also assumed human nature, thus identifying completely with humankind, having a human body, a human soul, and a human spirit. Of course Jesus did not acquire a sin nature, as that was not originally part of human nature.

Not only did the Word become flesh, He also condescended to dwell among humans. John uses the verb eskēnōsen, which literally means, "to pitch a tent or tabernacle." This verb is used exclusively by John in the New Testament (see Rev. 7:15; 12:12; 13:6; 21:3). Some have suggested this verb is used to emphasize the transitory nature of the Lord's stay on earth. The figure in John's mind was probably the Old Testament tabernacle (Ex. 26:1-37; Lev. 26:11; 2 Sam. 7:6; Ps. 78:67). The tabernacle was the dwelling place of God and the meeting place of God and Israel, making it the most perfect type of Christ, the Word incarnate, in the Old Testament.

Just as the Shekinah glory of God rested over the holy place in the tabernacle, so John observes "we beheld His glory." The verb etheasametha ("we beheld") is an aorist middle indicative of theaomai, which is related to the noun thea, meaning "spectacle." The verb denotes a calm, continuous contemplation of an object that remains before the spectator. Under that kind of observation, the veiled glory of God was apparent to those who had eyes to see.

The glory that was seen was "the only begotten from the Father"; the Greek word for this, monogenous, is used by John exclusively of Christ and can be understood in contrast with Paul's use of the term "firstborn" (prōtotokos, Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:15, 18). Monogenous marks the unique relation of the Father to the Son and applies to no one else besides them, whereas prōtotokos places the eternal Son in relation to the universe. Prōtotokos emphasizes His existence before created things, whereas monogenous distinguishes the eternal relationship between Father and Son. Further, John here emphasizes that the Word was not born (Greek, egeneto) through receiving power, adoption, or regeneration, but rather He was (Greek, ēn), eternal before the beginning.

His witness (1:15-18). The final section of this prologue deals with the witness of John the Baptist. These verses reveal clearly what he thought about Jesus and how he viewed himself in relation to the Lord. As John was a highly respected, popular teacher, his endorsement of Christ was significant. While both religious and civil leadership opposed John, the masses came to hear him preach. He was the last of the prophets, and he identified with the prophecy of Isaiah as the voice crying in the wilderness. Also, John was able to draw crowds without the use of miracles (10:41).

The witness of John the Baptist was a paradox clearly understood in the context of these words. Although Jesus came after John (was born later), He was of a "higher rank" than John (more prominent than John) because "He existed before" John (a reference to the eternal preexistence of the Word). This was the heart of the Baptist's appraisal of Christ. Apparently he had preached this message before, and he would preach it again the next day (1:30).

As believers, "of His fullness we have all received." The word plērōmatos, while used five times by Paul of Christ (Eph. 1:23; 3:19; 4:13; Col. 1:19; 2:9), occurs only this one time in John's writings. It carries the idea of that which is complete in itself and can refer to either quality or quantity. John's use of this word in light of verse 14 where the Word was "full of grace and truth" emphasizes that the believer receives from Christ all that is necessary for personal fulfillment. Whatever we need to perfect our character and complete our task for God is already provided in the fullness of Christ.

The means by which one benefits from this fullness is suggested in the phrase "grace upon grace." The preposition anti is used to mean "to exchange in sale." The idea here, however, is not an exchange of Old Testament grace for New Testament grace, but rather the receiving of new grace upon the old grace. Here John pictures a superabounding grace continually being superimposed upon the grace already received.

No one has ever seen God. The Greek verb used in verse 18 is heōraken, which denotes the physical act of seeing but also emphasizes some mental discernment of what is seen. The absence of an article accompanying "God" in this verse emphasizes that no one saw and understood the essence of God; rather, people saw the forms that represent God. Jesus, of course, was God and was seen by humans, but only after He had emptied Himself of the glory that was rightfully His (Phil. 2:7).

Conclusion

Jesus is the final revelation and is the personification of the written and spoken word in the Old Testament. Referring to Christ as the "Word" is more easily understood when we reflect on our purpose for using words. Words are used to communicate, express, and convey meaning. Therefore, Jesus is the expression, revelation, and communication of God Himself. Christ is the incarnate Word of God.

Twenty-two different titles are used for Jesus Christ in this first chapter of the Gospel of John, more than in any other chapter of the Bible. Through these titles Jesus is defined as being totally man and totally God, the God-Man. This is illustrated in the following.

Titles of Christ in John 1
verse 1—Word verse 29—Lamb of God
verse 1—God verse 30—A Man
verse 4—Life verse 34—Son of God
verse 4—Light of Men verse 36—Lamb of God
verse 9—True Light verse 38—Rabbi
verse 14—Flesh verse 38—Teacher
verse 14—Only Begotten from the Father verse 41—Messiah
verse 17—Jesus Christ verse 45—Jesus of Nazareth
verse 18—Only Begotten God verse 45—Son of Joseph
verse 20—Christ verse 49—Son of God
verse 23—Lord verse 49—King of Israel
verse 29—Jesus verse 51—Son of Man

Study Questions

  1. How does John 1:1 parallel Genesis 1:1?
  2. What does John mean when he calls Jesus the Word or Logos?
  3. List ways the deity of Christ is set forth in 1:1-3.
  4. In 1:1-2, what is so important about the verb was?
  5. What are three important things John says about Jesus being the Light of the World?
  6. What graphic and vivid picture is suggested when John writes that Jesus "became flesh, and dwelt among us"?
  7. What could John have in mind when he writes "of [Jesus'] fullness we have all received"?