By Sam E. Stone
Before the world was created, God existed. The first words of the first book in the Bible read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). John’s Gospel starts by affirming this truth. Since his was the last of the four Gospels to be written, John took an approach different from the other three. In today’s text, he takes us from eternity past to eternity present.
The Word in Eternity
In words obviously echoing the first words of the Bible, John affirms that Christ existed before creation began. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. This verse tells us of Christ’s eternality, his personality, and his deity. William Hendriksen describes the text we studied last week—Proverbs 8:27-30—as “probably the best commentary on John 1:1.” He was with God in the beginning. The preexistent Christ is both the beginning and the end (Revelation 22:13).
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. Jesus was not a created being, as some false teachers claimed (Colossians 1:16). Jesus was life, just like his Father (John 5:26). Such life could even reincarnate the dead (John 11:25). That life was the light of men. John describes the light as shining in the darkness, but notes that the darkness has not understood it. Darkness represents the sinful world where Christ’s holy light came to shine (John 8:12; 12:35). The darkness did not understand it, nor could it overpower it.
There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. This refers to John the Baptist, not John the apostle (the writer). John the Baptist’s ministry was divinely directed. His role was to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. At the same time, John makes it clear that John the Baptist himself was not the light. Instead he was a witness to it. While it is true that John the Baptist is later described as “a lamp that burned and gave light” (John 5:35), Jesus alone is the eternal light, the “sun of righteousness” (Malachi 4:2).
In contrast to counterfeits, his light is real; rather than being false, it is true. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. The enlightening may come through nature, through conscience, or by divine revelation.
The Word in Flesh
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. Though unseen by the world, Christ was renewing and sustaining his creation. When he came to his own land and his own people, most did not welcome him. Some did, however. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. Salvation requires a choice, a personal response. Both Jews and Gentiles had the opportunity to be born again into God’s family (Galatians 3:26; 4:6, 7; 1 John 3:1, 2). The people of God are not those who come by natural descent (descendants through the Jewish nation), nor by human decision, but born of God. Later Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about the new birth (John 3:3). Being reborn makes one a part of Christ’s kingdom.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. God’s presence was now not just located in the tabernacle or temple, but in the man Jesus (Hebrews 2:14). John offers his personal testimony to this fact: We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father. The apostle John walked with Jesus for three years and personally witnessed events such as the transfiguration and resurrection. It was obvious to all who observed that Jesus came from the Father, full of grace and truth. Jesus embodies these two qualities perfectly. His actions and his words provide the perfect revelation of God.
A. T. Robertson notes, “One is at liberty to see an allusion to the birth narratives in Matthew 1:16-25 and Luke 1:26-38, if he wishes, since John clearly had the Synoptics before him and chiefly supplemented them in his narrative. In fact, one is also at liberty to ask what intelligent meaning can one give to John’s language here apart from the Virgin Birth?
Lesson based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2008, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture taken from the NIV © 1984
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.