THE GOSPEL OF JOHN Chapter 1
Leon Morris wrote that John’s Gospel is a pool in which both a child can wade and an elephant can swim. It’s a book of simple yet profound truth, relying on metaphor and symbols to reveal Christ to be the only begotten Son of God. And most Christians have at least read parts if not all of it. And in the case of one particular verse probably know something of it by heart.
Chronologically, the Gospel of John was the next to last book of scripture penned at the very end of the first century. Only the book of Revelation comes later in our understanding. And yet it’s often the first book we recommend to that person who has some curiosity about Christ or Christianity. John’s Gospel is so memorable I think, partly because of its uniqueness among the Gospels and John’s distinct purpose in writing it. By the time John’s Gospel was written, the church had come to understand and recognize that God’s timetable for the return of the Lord to the Earth was going to be a lot longer than they had first anticipated.
All but one of the apostles had died by this point, and it was now second and third
generation Christians who were now leading the church. John is Jewish, but he wrote for this increasingly Gentile church. So we’ll see throughout the Gospel he takes a lot of time to explain Jewish words, customs, concepts, and geography. Gospel of John
The church having been embraced by Gentiles and its Jewish constituencies quickly dwindling at this point. The church had changed a lot in its first 70 years or so and as a result men had come to understand that the promise of a coming Kingdom was to be understood with some new appreciation and some degree of patience. Relative to what they had expected when the first received the church from Christ. Certainly, it remains a true, physical, literal kingdom that we await. A promise that Jesus will return and rule from Jerusalem. That still is the promise we expect.
By the time John wrote this Gospel few expected the arrival of that kingdom was going to happen right around the corner. They had begun to understand it was going to take a long time. After all, if the earth had waited thousands of years for God to reveal His Son the first time, it stands to reason it may take several thousand years before He comes back. Therefore, unlike the other gospel writers, John approached his, with the purpose of strengthening the church for that long period, that potential period. In which the church would exist on earth with the Spirit certainly, but yet still waiting for the Lord’s return. In recognition the Second Coming is not going be so soon, he emphasizes the present-day reality of living in the light of Christ’s Kingdom with this understanding of Christ’s ever-present authority in the lives of believers. This is why the Gospel resonants so much even for us today. It is showing believers to abide in Christ, to depend on His word. To trust in His power to understand He is the Shepherd and still at work shepherding the sheep even though we cannot see Him right now.
Because of that unique focus on living in the light of the truth of the Gospel of Christ (and because his Gospel came last most likely), John chose to skip over many of those important moments we know from the other gospels. In fact, the list is quite stunning. John omits Jesus’ genealogy, His birth, Jesus’ baptism by John, His temptation in the
desert, any exorcizing of demons, no parables whatsoever, the transfiguration is missing, the Lord’s Supper is not described in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane is overlooked as is His ascension. And in place of all of those things, he reveals Christ through extended discourses which have become so famous, he’s known for this. Where you see Jesus interacting with a variety of people, the Gospel of John
- A Pharisee
- A women ill-repute
- A blind man
- A lame man
- A crowd seeking to be fed
- His earthly brothers
- And of course His various disciples
Those conversations are like ships passing in the night, kinds of moments in which Jesus speaks in all these deep, spiritual terms using metaphors: birth, water, bread, blindness, and so on. While his audience usually remains completely oblivious to everything because they are bound by some earthly perspective. Thinking of these metaphors in literal terms. John employs the verb, pisteuo in Greek, it literally means belief, which appears 98 times in the Gospel. But he never uses the noun form of that word pistis in Greek, which is faith. In other words, it is not the mechanism by which we become believers, that is at the center of his Gospel, it is the necessity of knowing Christ through an active, continual trust in the Lord, that forms the structure of his Gospel. He’s not simply concerned with the moment of our confession, he’s concerned with everything that comes after that as a disciple of Christ.
The content of John’s gospel, the stuff he did select it suggests almost a portfolio of Jesus’ best moments. If you could say it that way. They are selected to illustrate both Jesus’ deity and humanity. To demonstrate Jesus’ deity, John relies on seven, only seven of Jesus’ miracles. Each of these miracles is captured in a chapter and after each, you will find this lengthy discourse. And in that discourse, Jesus Himself takes up in a first-person narrative a discussion of what was the significance of the miracle He just performed. Through those moments we all are going to see Him as the Lord Who is compassionate, a Shepherd Who cares for His people, and the light. One who has the power to sustain them in the present age. To remind us of His humanity, John’s Gospel is particularly unique in its approach to Jesus’ humanity. He selects other moments when we can see Jesus reacting to circumstances almost exactly the way we would have had we been there.
- Submitting to his mother’s authority
- Weeping at the death of a friend
- Raging at corrupt and evil men in the Temple
- Expressing disappointment at the poor choices of His disciples
- John’s Gospel is also known for its seven statements of “I am”
Jesus said “I am’:
- the bread
- the light
- the door
- the good shepherd
- the life and resurrection
- the vine
- and the way the truth and the life
The phrase “I am” doesn’t it evoke the name of God provided to Moses
through the burning bush. Reminding us that while God has revealed Himself in many portions and many ways through Moses and other prophets, in these last days He has spoken through His Son. ‘I am’. As Thomas Constable said, the knowledge of Who Jesus really is, is the key to the knowledge of Who God really is. And so John wrote His Gospel to reveal Jesus as the light Who came into the world to conquer the darkness. He’s the Provider, the Life-Giver, the Good Shepherd. He’s the One Who receives all that the Father sends and loses not a one. The Gospel of John
Even the start of John’s Gospel is wholly unique and reflective of his purpose. John begins by affirming Jesus’ role in the beginning of all Creation.
John 1:1-5 (NKJV)
The Eternal Word
1 In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him, nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
It doesn’t take a seminary professor to notice that the opening words of John’s account are familiar. In fact, if you were to recite the words “In the beginning…” to a Bible student and asked him to complete the sentence, you would be equally likely to hear them either finish with Genesis 1:1 or with John 1:1. The first five verses of Genesis and John are strikingly similar. And of course, this is no accident. Genesis begins this way:
Genesis 1:1-5 (NKJV)
The History of Creation
1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.
Like Genesis, John begins with a statement of the beginning of Creation and also mentions of light and darkness just as in the first day of creation. John is borrowing from the words of Genesis intentionally so that we would ponder that connection…and ponder we will. Who is this God Who created all things? The God with the power to create merely by speaking Creation into existence. A God Who made light by His word. And separated light from darkness by that same word. John is writing in chapter one to answer that question for us. That God, that Creator, was no less than Jesus Christ, Himself. The member of the Godhead Who acted to bring about The Creation was not the Father but was the Son.
And since He spoke the Creation into existence as we see in Genesis one, that’s why John goes to calling Jesus the Word. It is to be sure we understand that Christ is the One and only Creator, as John says in verse 3. He is the Word in the sense that it was by His word that the Creation came into being. Paul echoes this truth in Colossians. Remember interestingly that Colossians was written decades before John’s Gospel. Paul says this:
Colossians 1:15-16 (NKJV)
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.
So John coined the name “The Word” as a succinct way to explain that in Creation story of Genesis 1 you are seeing the work of Jesus. Not the Father, although of course, they work in unison. But then John also points out that there is God apart from the Word and they are distinct. And yet they were together in the beginning. By definition, if two entities are both present before the start of a creative process, then by definition neither created the other. they both predate the Creation. So both are God. Perhaps John is trying to clarify Genesis 1:26, where God declares, “Let Us make man in Our image.”
It’s interesting, that reference to God in the original Hebrew, Elohim, written in 1:26 of Genesis, it’s in the plural and it is interesting because that is something that the Jewish Nation remained perplexed about for millennia. In their mind, God was a singular entity and had no plural nature. There was nothing about Hm that could be plural. Yet in their own word, there was this plural reference. It is also interesting to show you their scrupulous nature. They were willing to copy what they were given without question, though their own minds couldn’t agree with it. Proof that the Word has been carried very carefully through history by the Jewish Scribes.
Now we see from John’s Gospel that the plural tense was intended in Genesis 1:26 to reflect the Trinity of the Godhead. Ironically, John is embarking on explaining how God made His Son in the image of man, so to speak while referencing how man was made in the image of God. We could talk all day and night on the mystery of the Trinity. But honestly, even after hours of talking, we probably wouldn’t understand it any better than we do right now. Simply put, our God is One God in Three Persons.
“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”
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