The First Chapter of John

Theme: John's Introduction to an Unprecedented Week-end

Outline:

  1. Eternity Until a Certain Friday. Verses 1-18.
  2. Friday and Saturday. Verses 19-34.
  3. Sunday and Monday. Verses 35-51.

Section One.
Expository Notes on John's Introduction to the Gospel

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 (vv. 1-2).

It has already been stated that one of the reasons for the writing of this gospel was the conviction of John that the other writers had not exhausted the theme of the greatness of Christ. The apostle John was a seer, a visionary whose gaze encompassed eternity. To his broad concept, the story of Bethlehem was but a detail in the divine plan for the Ages; his love for the infant Jesus was completely overshadowed by his reverence for the Lord who had been with the Father from eternal ages. In the beginning... Christ. John made no effort to explain this amazing truth; he was content to proclaim it. John seemed as a small creature looking up at a vast mountain bathed in sunlight. He was not interested in asking whence it came; he saw it, accepted it, proclaimed it. In the beginning Christ; and Christ, the Word, the Logos, was with God, and Christ was God. He proclaimed plurality of persons in the Godhead and this harmonized with the teachings of the sacred writings. "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness:... So God created man in his own image... " (Genesis 1:26-27). This also fulfilled the prediction made by Isaiah the prophet, "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6). Many great mysteries are revealed in the Scripture, but it should always be recognized that man's inability to grasp their true meaning is not evidence that they are false and unreal. The limitations of our intellectual apprehensions should remind us continually that we are too small, and not that God is too large.

It is both thought-provoking and vital to know that in the original Greek Testament, the definite article "the" is missing. Literally, the translation would read, "In beginning, was the Word... " To a modern reader this would be provocative and the obvious question would soon be forthcoming—what beginning? The first chapter of Genesis commences in a similar way. There, however, the introductory statement reads, "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth." The presence of the definite article suggests a point in time when God did a certain deed. This took place at the beginning of an era. The absence of that qualifying word from John's record suggests that his beginning might be further back-in fact, prior to any beginning, the Word was there. All this seems to be faithfully expressed in the fact that John uses two different words, which alas, have been translated by the English word was. These Greek words are ito and egeneto. Arthur W. Pink in his brilliant devotional commentary on John's gospel (pages 19 and 20) has set this forth in a most illuminating manner:

There are two separate words in the Greek which, in this passage, are both rendered was: the one means to exist, the other to come into being. The latter word (egeneto) is used in John 1:3 which, literally rendered, reads, "all things through him came into being, and without him came into being not even one (thing) which has come into being;" and again we have the word egeneto in John 1:6 where we read, "there was (became to be) a man sent from God, whose name was John;" and again in John 1:14, "And the word was made (became) flesh." But here in John 1:1 and 1:2 it is "the word (ito) with God." As the Word He did not come into being, or begin to be, but He was "with God" from all eternity. It is noteworthy that the Holy Spirit uses this word ito, which signifies that the Son personally subsisted, no less than four times in the first two verses of John 1. Unlike John the Baptist who "became (egeneto) a man," the "Word" was (ito) that is, existed with God before time began. (Exposition of the Gospel of John, Zondervan Publishing House, 1956).

Through the centuries men and movements have announced Christ was created by God to do the divine will. Yet John maintained that "all things were created by him." If Christ were a created creature, how then could it be said that He created all things?

F. L. Godet, the famous Swiss theologian, in contrasting the beginnings of the book of Genesis and John's gospel, admirably said, "... the first words of the two writings manifestly correspond with each other. The beginning of which John here speaks can only be that which Moses had made the starting-point of his narrative. But, immediately afterwards, the two sacred writers separate from each other. Starting from the fact of the creation, Moses descends the stream of time and reaches the creation of man. (Genesis 1:26). John, having started from the same point, follows the reverse course and ascends from the beginning of things to eternity. It is because his end in view is more remote, and because in order to reach farther, he must start from a point farther back. The Jewish historian had in view only the foundation of the theocratic work in Abraham, while the evangelist would reach the redemption of humanity by Jesus Christ. To find Him who shall be the agent of this second creation, instead of descending the course of things, he must ascend even beyond the beginning of the first creation" (Godet's Commentary on John's Gospel, reprint by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Mich. 1978. pages 243, 244).

Thus we stand in awe with God's great servants to gaze at the unknown, unrevealed ages of the past. Here we have a beginning, but farther back, there is no beginning! We measure and date time from some particular moment when something happened, but before anything ever took place, God was. From everlasting to everlasting, God remains unchanging. He is the eternally present One, and this was beautifully expressed when He commissioned Moses to liberate the captive Israelites: "And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me. What is his name? what shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I Am That I Am: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I Am hath sent me unto you" (Exodus 3:13-14). God did not reveal Himself as the "I Was" nor as the "I Will Be"; He preferred to remain the eternally present one—the I Am. He never had a beginning; He will never know an end, and if our finite minds reel as they try to grasp the limitless horizons of this amazing truth, let us find refuge and joy in the fact that this great God has become our Heavenly Father. It is wonderful to believe that Almighty God veiled in obscurity watched us; it is infinitely better to know He became dissatisfied with His methods of remote control and decided to come closer to us. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us."

The Englishman's Greek New Testament, which uses the Greek text of Stephen (1550 a.d.), provides food for thought, for the text reads, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God—kai Theos een ho Logos. And God was the word." Young preachers and indeed all Christians should carefully note this fact, for certain door-to-door literature sellers are zealous in stating that in the absence of a definite article, the text should read, "And the Word was a God." This they do to infer that the Word was inferior to the Father. Their distorted conjectures are brought into bold relief when it is seen that the text teaches the exact opposite of what they suggest. It would almost appear as though someone had anticipated their doctrines, for the emphasis is slightly shifted. John seems to be saying "GOD—yes, G-o-d was the Word."

It is against this background that we must consider again the thrilling prediction of Micah. "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting" (Micah 5:2). No prophet, not even in moments of extreme imagination, would utter such a fantastic statement. Here then is evidence in support of the inspiration of the Scriptures. He who was destined to walk the streets of Judean towns had walked in eternity with God. "His goings forth had been from eternal ages." There, beyond the reach of all except the eyes of faith, the three members of the divine family had sat—so to speak—around Their conference table, had planned and designed Their worlds, and together had made man. All this, and perhaps much more, John saw clearly, and having considered the other writings of his day, decided "the half had never been told." He reached for his pen, and the fourth gospel was born.

All things were made by him (v. 3).

John saw in Jesus the vehicle of creative expression. The inscrutable, the mystical, the unknown God had decided to reveal Himself, and in order to do so, had chosen the Logos. It must be remembered that in spite of ever recurring denials heard during the centuries, this teaching enunciated by John was the recognized faith of the Early Church. The apostle Paul affirmed, "But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we in him" (1 Corinthians 8:6). "... God, who created all things by Jesus Christ... " (Ephesians 3:9).

In him was life, and the life was the light of men, and the light shineth in darkness (v. 4).

The germ of life is inexplicable. Within a small acorn lies the mighty oak. Within a tiny seed is the possibility of far-reaching fields of corn. Within a spotted egg is the song of the lark. One moment after decease, a body remains but something has gone. Life defies adequate definition; it remains unchallenged, the most amazing miracle in the universe. Scientists study human tissue, physicians study human ailments, but life remains an inestimable treasure, just out of reach and yet always within our grasp. It can be nourished, preserved, guarded, yet when the time for its departure or cessation arrives, neither vast sums of money nor great accumulations of military strength can prevent its departure. Life is of God, for God is life. John's magnificent breadth of vision swept over the ages spanned by the law and the prophets as he said, "God's life was the light of men, and the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not." Continuing to develop his tremendous theme, the apostle taught that God had revealed himself in (1) creative power; (2) positive commandments; (3) inspired predictions. Alas, the engulfing blackness of human guilt had negated the continuing revelation of God. Then, when the darkness comprehended it not, God did something new.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John (v. 5).

It is worthy of mention that in recent decades the orthodox conception of the deity of Christ has been challenged by the emissaries of certain heretical sects. Stressing the fact that the definite article is not found in the original Greek manuscripts, they affirm that Jesus was a created being, and that the opening statements of John's gospel should read, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was a God." Basing their remarks upon what actually is an absurdity, they teach the inferiority of the Son. However, the same teachers are inconsistent because they do not apply the same rule throughout the entire chapter. By the same standard they should read, "There was a man sent from a God whose name was John" (verse 3). "But as many as received him, to them gave he the power to become the sons of a God" (verse 12).

The same came for a witness to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe (v. 6).

In this and the following verses, three things stand out in bold relief.

(1) The enduring love of God. Throughout the Old Testament dispensations, God had often sent angels and prophets to counsel and guide His erring people. Alas, the various missions failed to achieve their purpose; the darkness remained darkness. The commandments were broken, the prophets stoned, and the nation brought to the verge of disaster. Yet God had not abandoned His task. The appearance of John indicated the divine mission had not terminated. God was still trying to reach the unreached.

(2) The entrancing light of God. John supplied the standards by which all preachers should estimate the value of their ministry. His primary purpose was not to win souls but to bear witness of the Light. Indeed it is problematical in the final analysis whether any preacher can win souls. Jesus said, "No man cometh unto me except the Father draw him" (John 6:44). Man's task is to bear witness, to allow God to work through the human instrument. Thus God will have something to use and the influencing of men and women will automatically follow. Ours is the privilege, not to direct, but to be controlled. We are but lamps; God alone supplies the power to make us burn and give light. A God-controlled life leads to a distinguishing ministry.

(3) The eternal life of God. "As many as received him, to them gave he the power—the right, the authority—to become the sons of God, even to them which believe on his name. Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (verses 12 and 13). This is in harmony with Christ's word to Nicodemus, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). Constantly the Lord thought of two families. "But he answered and said,... Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren. For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother" (Matthew 12:48-50). Intelligent faith in the Person of Christ begets the desire to accept and follow Him, and this opens the door for the incoming of the very life of God. (See notes about Nicodemus, (ch. 3).

And the Word was made flesh... and we beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth... No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him (vv. 14-18).

Here again, in keeping with his main purpose, John emphasizes the fact that Jesus was the expression of God. In Him we see the glory of the Father; in Him we see the face of the Father. Within the life and testimony of John Baptist, both grace and truth were exhibited. Grace said, "He was preferred before me." Truth said, "For He was before me." That Jesus brought the supreme revelation of the Godhead is indicated by, "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24). However adequate the law of Moses for the twilight or pre-dawn periods of history, it was totally insufficient to reveal the complete will of God. The Mosaic law was something by which transgressors might be corrected. Grace and truth, the twin laws of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, were commandments by which saints could be perfected. For example, Moses said, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," and as long as a man refrained from that gross act of evil, he remained guiltless. Under the new order, the same man could be exceedingly guilty, for Jesus in announcing new standards of morality said, "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh upon a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matthew 5:27, 28). This was a new concept of true virtue. It emphasized that "... Christ had declared the Father" (John 1:18).

And the Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us (v. 14).

It is most difficult to avoid the feeling that John had in mind the truth that long before, God decided to tabernacle among the children of Israel. In other words, God decided to come down and pitch His tent in the midst of the camp. It is not too difficult to see a progression of thought in the Scripture. At first, God inhabited eternity, but for the sinner in distress, the location seemed so far away. Then God came closer, for in brief moments Jehovah left His dwelling place to walk near Adam in the Garden of Eden. Later, a voice called Abraham, but whence it came, probably even he did not know. Perhaps it was but an ever-deepening conviction within his conscience. Later still, God again drew near, for in speaking with Moses He made it apparent that He had come to stay at least temporarily in the top of Mount Sinai. Yet ev�