Matthew Henry says that, “the scope and design of this chapter is to confirm our faith in Christ as the eternal Son of God, and the true Messiah and Savior of the world, that we may be brought to receive him, and rely upon him, as our prophet, priest, and king, and to give up ourselves to be rules and taught, and saved by him.” I couldn’t have put it any better than this. Henry’s words drip with humility and a desire to be a bondservant of Christ. He wants to be completely “ruled” by Christ, and have every part of his life conformed to that great image we are told the Spirit is working within us to complete upon our glorification.
- “In the beginning” harkens back to that very familiar verse that opens up the redemptive narrative of Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
- In writing this book, the apostle John sought to prove the deity of Jesus. He gives us the reason for writing the book in chapter 20 verse 31 where he says, “but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
- This narrative is unlike any of the other synoptic gospels in several ways. For the most part, John focuses on the things that Jesus said even more than the things that He did. There are, however, 7 prominent “signs” that Christ did that John uses throughout the book to help support his thesis, which is that Jesus is God.
- Then we get this phrase “the word was with God, and the word was God.” This is a highly Trinitarian statement. That is to say, this verse is asserting that the Word was with God and was God. So we say that the Godhead is three in substance and one in essence. As Matthew Henry puts it, “in respect of essence and substance; for the Word was God: a distinct person or substance, for he was with God; and yet the same in substance, for he was God (Heb. 1:3).”
- More than we realize, it is vital to understand and contemplate the nature of the trinity. For the trinity is God, and God is desirous of us to know Him more intimately, and how can we truly know and love someone unless we know something of who they are? Spurgeon said, “Plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in His immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul, so calm the swelling billows of sorrow and grief; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead.”
1:2 He was in the beginning with God.
- Verse two reemphasizes what was said in verse one, only this time we note that instead of saying “the word”, John says “he” so that we understand that by “the word” John had been previously referring to a person, not just an idea or part of God’s personality.
1:3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
- Often we don’t think of Jesus, of the second member of the trinity, as creating anything. John is saying here that Jesus was the verbal manifestation of God’s command for all things to come into being. When those words were uttered in the void of space and time, that was God speaking through Jesus everything into creation.
- To prove this point, John is careful to select certain miracles that Christ did that showed His authority over nature. For example, in John 11 Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. How did He do it? He spoke! “Lazarus, come out.” Notice He spoke in the imperative. He gave a command. “let there be light” and “come out” are commands.
- Paul reiterates that we have our life in Christ and that all things were created by and through him in Colossians 1:16, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” Romans 11:36 also says, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
- So Christ was there at the beginning, and made all things. Calvin notes that it is fitting that John chose to start his gospel this way, “The design is, to show it to have been necessary that the restoration of mankind should be accomplished by the Son of God, since by his power all things were created, since he alone breathes into all the creatures life and energy, so that they remain in their condition.” He continues, “…life is now restored to the dead through the kindness of him who was the source and cause of life, when the nature of man was still uncorrupted.”
- Boice really does us a service here because he lays out how, in his time, John’s readers would have hear this and connected with it in different, yet equally powerful ways. For example, the Greeks had a long tradition of studying this concept of the “Logos.” Their ancient philosopher Heraclitus (hair-a-clee-tus) greatly influenced Plato’s thinking on the word and its meaning. For Heraclitus, the logos because nothing less than the mind of God controlling this world and all men.
- Boice explains: “Plato, we are told, once turned to that little group of philosophers and students that had gathered around him during the Greek Golden Age in Athens and said to his followers ‘It may be that some day there will come forth from God a Word, a Logos, who will reveal all mysteries and make everything plain.’ Now John is saying, ‘Yes, Plato, and the Logos had come; now God is revealed to us perfectly.’”
- The Hebrews thought differently about this word logos. Boice says, “the idea of ‘word’ would also have meant more to a Jewish mind than it does to us today. To the Jew a word was something concrete, something much closer to what we would call an event or a deed. A word spoken was a deed done.” We see this in Old Testament Scripture – Isaiah 55:11 says, “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
1:4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
- Leon Morris notes that has a wonderful quote about this verse, he says: “If Christ is not true and natural God, born of the Father in eternity and Creator of all creatures, we are doomed…we must have a Savior who is true God and Lord over sin, death, devil, and hell. If we permit the devil to topple this stronghold for us, so that we disbelieve His divinity, then His suffering, death, and resurrection profit us nothing.”
- I absolutely love how Luther brings it back to the cross and the gospel. If Christ wasn’t the source of all life and all good and true knowledge (light), then we would be hopelessly lost. Matthew Henry has the same idea when he says, “When we worship Christ, we worship him whom all creatures depend. This shows how well qualified he was for the work of our redemption and salvation.”
- The word “life” is easier to understand, because we are familiar with it, and the apostle makes plain what he is asserting. He simply says, that “in Him was life.” So in a way, this is easy to understand. But there is perhaps more here than meets the eye. Christ is not only the Creator of all things, but He is the Sustainer of all things (all men). This is a beautiful truth that we find in other passages of Scripture (Acts 17:28; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:3).
- Calvin says this (“light”) expresses how God is differentiating human beings from the animals. He says, “It informs us that the life which was bestowed on men was not of an ordinary description, but was united to the light of understanding. He separates man from the rank of other creatures; because we perceive more readily the power of God by feeling it in us than by beholding it at a distance.”
1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
- This is perhaps the most beautiful summary to the first five verses one could hope for. The light is Jesus Christ and His gospel and His kingdom. The darkness is all mankind in our sinfulness.
- We learn from John just two chapters later that humans actually love the darkness of our sin. It says in John 3:19-21:
- “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
- This highlights the doctrine of man’s total depravity like no other. Not only do we shy away from the light when it’s shined, but we also LOVE the darkness. We are comfortable in the darkness. We are used to it. We don’t want our deeds exposed – its says, “lest his words should be exposed.”
- We also know about the principles, scientifically, of light and darkness. Where light exists it always wins.