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Part 2: Prologue (John 1:1-18)
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OK, let’s take a look at the Gospel of John. John starts off showing us just how educated he is. His opening line appears to give a sense of blended philosophy. “In the beginning was the Word,” (1:1). This calls your attention all the way back to Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God,” as well as it has overtones of Greek philosophy.
But what is John’s point in this passage? “In the beginning was the Word”? What does that mean? He follows this explaining that the Word “was with God, was God.” Wait a minute God is a word? Or was with Himself? … Are you getting confused yet? Should one of the “Gs” in “God” be lower case? Verse 2 summarizes one of these ideas: “and existed in the beginning with God.” But didn’t he say in verse 1 that the Word was God? The English Standard Version (ESV) translates verse 2 as “He was in the beginning with God.” This makes it clear we’re talking about a different person.
To really understand the concept in these verses we must look at the purpose behind them. In John 20:31 John says his purpose is that we might believe that Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God. The Song of God then is what we are reading about, right? Since we believe in the Trinity – the God who is three persons in one God or Triune – this makes much more sense.
John is doing several things in these opening verses, because he continues with his look back at Genesis: “Everything was made through Him.” This is again pointing us back to the Genesis story. “In the beginning God made the universe (the heavens and the Earth)” is how Genesis starts out. It moves into God speaking things into existence. So everything must have been made through the Word “without whom there would be nothing.”
After making the universe what did God make? The answer is light, of course! John fulfills this as well. In verse three “Everything was made through Him,” then in verse four “And through Him life was what was made, and that life is a light to all people.” The very next thing mentioned is light. Isn’t our God great? The light He made nothing can put out!
This ends the first section of these verses (1-18) and already John has given us a lot to think about. One key point of these verses as a whole is Jesus, the Son of God, is the Word of God, which is the action of God. Think about it, in creation how did God create? Through speech. He spoke things into being and if He spoke them into being then isn’t it Jesus performing these acts of creation? Jesus, Himself said that He could do nothing by Himself but He did the will of the One who sent Him (John 5:30) and that His food was doing the will of the One who sent Him (4:34).
So if Jesus is active full of actions and doing things then we who are being conformed to His image (Romans 8:29 and 2 Corinthians 3:18) are being conformed to what? We are being called to act! It is just as James (who was Jesus’ brother and John’s cousin as well) said in his letter, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). This is faith without action is dead. Think on that: dead, gone, worthless, useless, all these are terms that convey the same message. We are called to action!
In the next verse John introduces us to his first human character: John. Wait a minute is he introducing himself here? Our answer comes out of a later verse where we get more of a picture of this John. In 1:25 he is asked, “Why are you baptizing?” This is a key to which John we are talking about. John the Baptist was a forbearer of Jesus. He was the one who came to prepare the world for Jesus’ coming. John came to tell about Jesus but was not the promised Messiah himself. His purpose in life was to tell the people who Jesus was and why He had come. Verses six through eight give a summary of John the Baptist and we’ll see later, by his own words, what his purpose was. For right now though we have to contend with just receiving a small summary of what John’s call on his life was.
This moves us on to a new ides taking place in this prologue. The Apostle John has moved from equating Jesus to the Word of God to equating him to “the Light”. This happens not only in this section (vv. 6-8) but the next (vv. 9-13) as well. As we transition to this next section we get to a point that we get to see a preliminary stating of John’s purpose for writing.
Out next section starts off continuing the theme of making a distinction between John the Baptist and Jesus. “The actual light” gives us a clear difference. This “Light” which gives light to everyone was now entering the world. The stage is being set for Jesus’ ministry. Now the Apostle John gives a summary of Jesus’ entire ministry on the earth. He starts out by reminding us that the earth that Jesus – the Light – came to was made through Him. This is important because John is pointing out that the Light is the same as the Word which all things were made through. The big irony is that the world was made through Him but no one knew about Him at all. He even came to his own people (the idea being they out of everyone on the earth should have known Him) and they didn’t even know Him.
John, here, points out to us at the very beginning of his writing what his purpose is. He shows us that, though, no one knew Jesus and His own people rejected Him, those people who did receive Him – believe in His name (you can think of chapter 4 with all the Samaritans and the Official’s household) – He gave the ability to become children of God. This is the “New Birth” not of flesh, but of God. This is understood as – or could be read as – He gave them Salvation, neither by their own flesh nor merit, but from His. This is John’s purpose in writing: that we, too, might believe and gain salvation.
This moves us into the final section of the Prologue (vv. 14-18). Now John points out something that is very important. He starts it so simply: “And the Word became flesh”. Why is this so important? It is so important because there were a lot of people questioning whether or not Jesus really was the “Son of God” or if the Spirit had descended upon Him at His baptism and left Him at the crucifixion or whether He only came as a spirit and His birth and death were some sort of great cosmic lie. John points out here that there was no lie or Jesus was not just a man with the Spirit on him, but He is the Son of God who did become flesh and gave Himself fully for our sin.
John makes a very second point that is also quite important in this verse. This is a statement that points to John the son of Zebedee (John the Apostle) as the author. He says here: “and He dwelt among us”. This is important because it points out that the author is an eyewitness who knew Jesus in the flesh. He continues pointing out the fact that he is an eyewitness as he says that “we have seen His glory”. His glory is shown to appear as that of the only Son of the Father. We can look at this as the only son of a father is showered with love and taught to be an man (adult) through the example of his father. So the Son would shine as an example of the Father. Just as Jesus will later say, “If you have seen the Me, you have seen the Father” (14:9). Then what was Jesus’ glory (or image)? It was full of grace and truth.
The Apostle here comes back to the testimony of John the Baptist. Here the Apostle shows that John the Baptist specifically pointed out Jesus as the One who would come after him. The Apostle here uses John the Baptist to be pointing Jesus out. He will get into this deeper later, but for now he moves onto telling us more about Jesus’ glory.
John tells us now that out of Jesus’ fullness – or abundance – He has given us so much grace that it could never be measured. He puts it “grace upon grace” or “gracious gif after gracious gift”. This is so much grace there are not even words to express the idea to you of how much grace this is. To make his point further he shows us that the Law came through Moses and grace and truth came through Jesus the Messiah.
I want to pause here and discuss words. Something we need to look at is some of the words we use in “Christianese”. Here in most translations this word is left in Greek, just transliterated. Messiah and Christ, however, are the same word, one is just in Hebrew and the other is in Greek. The fact of the matter is the authors of the New Testament were writing in Greek as they would have written (or translated Messiah to) Christ. So here I prefer to use Messiah so we can remember that Christ was not Jesus’ last name.
There is one final verse in the prologue. Verse eighteen gives us one final point about Jesus being the Son of God. This is that no one has ever seen God, but the only Son of God (who is God) who is at the very heart of the Father has explained Him. This is a similar idea to what John wrote in verse fourteen. The same as the John speaking of the Jesus’ glory is an example of the Father because He is an example of the Father. With these words John ends his Prologue. By telling us that Jesus has explained (or made known) the Father, he leads us into Jesus’ ministry. In essence Jesus’ ministry was explaining the Father; cluing us into the Father and the truth of the Father. Just as John said in 1 John 4:8b “God is love” this is what Jesus was showing us. What do you think the most important thing Jesus revealed is?