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Posts Tagged ‘John’s prologue’

Since I am teaching a class on the Gospel of John, I want to share with you as a whole congregation from this book here and there. And so today and next week, the plan is to cover John 1:1-18. And today we look at the first 13 verses. [These verses are called the “prologue,” which literally means a word that comes before the main body of the book. It’s a part of the introduction to this Gospel.]

These verses are poetic, profound and powerful. So much is packed into so few words! So let’s work at unpacking this. I can assure you that the reward of these verses is more than worth the effort.

Our theme today

If you will take your handout, we can look together at how this passage works. There are two sections and each has three parts that parallel each other.

  • In the first part of each section (A, A1) there is a statement about the Word, what the Word does and how the Word comes into contact with humanity.
  • Then the middle part of each section (B, B1), like an interlude, focuses on John the Baptist’s witness and his subordinate role in relation to the Word.
  • And then the last part of each section (C, C1) focuses on what is received from the Word, picking up on the themes of the first part of each section (A, A1). 

So for us today, the focus of vs. 1-13 is the life and light that the Word gives. Let’s look at our verses –

John 1:1-13

The Word, God and creation. “1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”

Here we are taught that the Word, which we later learn becomes a human being named Jesus (vs. 14, 17) was in the beginning of all things “with God,” as God’s agent in the creation of the world. The connection to Genesis 1 is clear in the repetition of the phrase “in the beginning.”

Now we know from the Old Testament and other ancient Jewish writings that it was not uncommon to speak of God’s Word, or Law or Wisdom (and these are really one and the same thing) as involved in the creation with God. And it was also not uncommon for these to be personified as a person next to God.

  • Proverbs 3 & 8 tell us that Wisdom, personified as a woman, was at the beginning with God and helped God in creating the world.
  • In Genesis 1 we learn that God speaks out his Word and creates the heavens and the earth. And in Genesis 1:26 the Word is personified. It says, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness . . ..” Here God is speaking with another person, his Word; his agent of creation, regarding the creation of humanity, and uses “us” and “our” language. (If the personification of Wisdom in Proverbs can be read as more of a literary device, it is reasonable to say that Genesis 1 goes beyond this. And this is, no doubt, a part of why John uses “Word” language and not “Wisdom” language.) (Like John 1, Proverbs 8 is also an interpretation of Genesis 1.)

So, drawing especially on Genesis 1, John is teaching us that the Word is with God, as a person, and is involved in the creation.

But John says more than this. For the Word was not only “with God,” he tells us that “the Word was God.” So there is sameness between God and the Word in terms of God-ness. 

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are wrong then (along with the Arians before them). The Word really is truly God, not just the highest of God’s creations. If there is a line between God and the creation, the Word in on the God side of the line. [Now, some contend that v. 1 simply says that the Word is “a god,” or divine; something less than God since there is no definite article in front of the word “God.” But if there was an article it would mean total equivalence with no distinction. Also, “definite predicate nouns which precede the verb usually lack the article,” (J. Ramsey Michaels, The Gospel of John) so you can’t make a theological argument based on this. And also if John had wanted simply to say that the Word was divine there was a Greek word for that – Theios.]

So there is sameness, but there is also distinction, because as we saw, the Word can be said to be “with God.” The Word and God are not exactly the same. [This also likely come from Genesis 1. For here the Word is distinguished from God in that they are able to talk together and there is “our” language (“our image, our likeness”) – v. 26. But then when humanity was created it says “God created humanity in his own image, in the image of God he created them” v. 27. It moves from “our image” to “his own image”; from plural to singular. Here the Word and God are identified simply as God. This is very similar to John’s – the Word is “with God” and “was God.”]

How this all works goes beyond our understanding for sure, but the logic of what is taught here is understandable.

  • “was God” means the same in terms of being God. To use later language, the same in essence.
  • But “with God” means there is still a difference. To use later language, a difference in terms of person.

Let’s be clear, there is only one God. This is the most basic of all beliefs and Jesus strongly affirms this (5:44; 17:3; Mark 12:29). But this one God can be spoken of as God the Father and God the Son, and also, based on the rest of the New Testament, as God the Spirit. There is distinction within the oneness of God.

The Word, darkness and humanity. “4In him was life, and the life was the light of humanity. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” When John says “in him was life, and the life was the light of humanity” he means that the life that is the Word is the model for us of what true life is. In this way the Word is a light that shows us what true life is; what is right and what is good and calls us to this.

We have more echoes of Genesis 1 in these verses, the creation of life and the creation of light. It is through the Word that these came to be in Genesis. As v. 3 emphasizes, “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”

But there is another reality involved here. For although “darkness” is mentioned in Genesis 1, it is subdued or passive. Here it has become an active force resisting God’s life and God’s light. So John is taking into account the presence of human sin in the world and the active presence of the evil one.

There is a struggle going on. Notice the present tense, “the light shines in the darkness.” It keeps on shining. And “the darkness has not overcome the light.” (Best translated as “overcome,” see 12:35)

And then we have an interlude, the witness of John. “6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”

These verses communicate clearly that John only prepares the way for the Word’s coming into the world; for Jesus. He is not the light, but God’s purpose is that through him all would believe in the Word; in Jesus.

vs. 9-13 pick up the themes of vs. 1-5, Light and life from the Word. “9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.”

The Word, who is “the true light,” is not yet incarnate here as a person, although he “was coming into the world.” Nevertheless, as the true light he “gives light to everyone.” As we saw in v. 5 he is the light of all humanity. And so just as the extent of creation is universal, and the extent of darkness is universal over the earth, so the extent of the Word’s light is universal, calling all people to the way that leads to life. (John 8:12) (Sirach 24:3-7; Wisdom 9:17-10:21)

“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.” With v. 10 the Word has come to the world as Jesus. This marks the fulfillment of prophecy of the coming of the Messiah.

  • As Isaiah 49:6 says, “I will also make you a light of the nations, so that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
  • And as Isaiah 9:2 says of Israel and specifically Galilee, “the people who walk in darkness will see a great light . . .” (Also, Isaiah 42:6-7; Isaiah 60:1-5).

But if anyone was expecting an overwhelming reception of the light, John quickly puts this to rest. “Though the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” The world is under the power of darkness and so most do not receive the light. And this is a terrible irony. Most do not even know who made them.

And even more painfully tragic is that he came to the Jewish people, the people of God, and most did not receive him. (This will be extensively chronicled in the Gospel of John.)

vs. 12-13 are more positive, however. “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.” Some, a remnant from both the world and God’s people, did receive him. They “believed in his name,” that is, they accepted who he is. They received the light and life that the Word gives.

And the Word gives to these the right to become children of God; to be born of God. Now in the Old Testament it was the people of Israel who are the children of God. But it is no longer based on the flesh – John says, “not of blood, nor the will of the flesh, nor the will of man (a husband).” It is based on faith in Jesus and the provision of light and life that he gives.

The Word and the new creation

So John is telling a story here in vs. 1-13. He begins with the creation and the original presence of life and light, he talks about the falling of the veil of darkness that comes with sin and then he speaks of the continued shining of the light into the darkness. But most decisively he tells of the one “who was coming into the world,” our Lord Jesus who has come and saved us.

This is a story from creation to new creation. For what was lost in the original creation – life and light, he brings back to those who look to him in faith. And just as the Word was God’s agent of the original creation, so he is the agent of this new creation. And just as he was able to bring forth the original creation because he is God and is God’s Word, so he is able to bring forth the new creation that God is working through him.

The question I leave you with today is this – Where do you stand? There is still great darkness in the world. The world is dominated by sin and the evil one. But God’s light shines on and it shines purely and fully in Jesus. And you have to take sides in this struggle. You can’t be both in the darkness and the light at the same time.

Have you responded to the light that leads to true life? Have you come to Jesus in faith? Have you been born of God? Receive of the light and new life that Jesus brings. Be transformed from within to live a new life in him.

 William Higgins

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