John 1:1-14 . THE WORD MADE FLESH.
1. In the beginning--of all time and created existence, for this Word gave it being ( John 1:3 John 1:10 ); therefore, "before the world was" ( John 17:5 John 17:24 ); or, from all eternity.
was the Word--He who is to God what man's word is to himself, the manifestation or expression of himself to those without him. now for ever consecrated title of Christ, this is not the place to speak. It occurs only in the writings of this seraphic apostle.
was with God--having a conscious personal existence distinct from God (as one is from the person he is "with"), but inseparable from Him and associated with Him ( John 1:18 , John 17:5 , 1 John 1:2 ), where "THE FATHER" is used in the same sense as "GOD" here.
was God--in substance and essence GOD; or was possessed of essential or proper divinity. Thus, each of these brief but pregnant statements is the complement of the other, correcting any misapprehensions which the others might occasion. Was the Word eternal? It was not the eternity of "the Father," but of a conscious personal existence distinct from Him and associated with Him. Was the Word thus "with God?" It was not the distinctness and the fellowship of another being, as if there were more Gods than one, but of One who was Himself God--in such sense that the absolute unity of the God head, the great principle of all religion, is only transferred from the region of shadowy abstraction to the region of essential life and love. But why all this definition? Not to give us any abstract information about certain mysterious distinctions in the Godhead, but solely to let the reader know who it was that in the fulness of time "was made flesh." After each verse, then, the reader must say, "It was He who is thus, and thus, and thus described, who was made flesh."
2. The same, &c.--See what property of the Word the stress is laid upon--His eternal distinctness, in unity, from God--the Father ( John 1:2 ).
3. All things, &c.--all things absolutely (as is evident from John 1:10 , 1 Corinthians 8:6 , Colossians 1:16 Colossians 1:17 ; but put beyond question by what follows).
without Him was not any thing--not one thing.
made--brought into being.
that was made--This is a denial of the eternity and non-creation of matter, which was held by the whole thinking world outside of Judaism and Christianity: or rather, its proper creation was never so much as dreamt of save by the children of revealed religion.
4. In Him was life--essentially and originally, as the previous verses show to be the meaning. Thus He is the Living Word, or, as He is called in 1 John 1:1 1 John 1:2 , "the Word of Life."
the life . . . the light of men--All that in men which is true light--knowledge, integrity, intelligent, willing subjection to God, love to Him and to their fellow creatures, wisdom, purity, holy joy, rational happiness--all this "light of men" has its fountain in the essential original "life" of "the Word" ( 1 John 1:5-7 Psalms 36:9 ).
5. shineth in darkness, &c.--in this dark, fallen world, or in mankind "sitting in darkness and the shadow of death," with no ability to find the way either of truth or of holiness. In this thick darkness, and consequent intellectual and moral obliquity, "the light of the Word" shineth--by all the rays whether of natural or revealed teaching which men (apart from the Incarnation of the Word) are favored with.
the darkness comprehended it not--did not take it in, a brief summary of the effect of all the strivings of this unincarnate Word throughout this wide world from the beginning, and a hint of the necessity of His putting on flesh, if any recovery of men was to be effected ( 1 Corinthians 1:21 ).
6-9. The Evangelist here approaches his grand thesis, so paving his way for the full statement of it in John 1:14 , that we may be able to bear the bright light of it, and take in its length and breadth and depth and height.
7. through him--John.
8. not that John to have to explain that "he was not that Light!" Yet was he but a foil to set it off, his night-taper dwindling before the Dayspring from on high ( John 3:30 ).
9. lighteth every man, &c.--rather, "which, coming into the world, enlighteneth every man"; or, is "the Light of the world" ( John 9:5 ). "Coming into the world" is a superfluous and quite unusual description of "every man"; but it is of all descriptions of Christ amongst the most familiar, especially in the writings of this Evangelist ( John 12:46 , 16:28 , 18:37 , 1 John 4:9 , 1 Timothy 1:15 , &c.).
10-13. He was in the world, &c.--The language here is nearly as wonderful as the thought. Observe its compact simplicity, its sonorousness--"the world" resounding in each of its three members--and the enigmatic form in which it is couched, startling the reader and setting his ingenuity a-working to solve the stupendous enigma of Christ ignored in His own world. "The world," in the first two clauses, plainly means the created world, into which He came, says John 1:9 ; "in it He was," says this verse. By His Incarnation, He became an inhabitant of it, and bound up with it. Yet it "was made by Him" ( John 1:3-5 ). Here, then, it is merely alluded to, in contrast partly with His being in it, but still more with the reception He met with from it. "The world that knew Him not" ( 1 John 3:1 ) is of course the intelligent world of mankind. Taking the first two clauses as one statement, we try to apprehend it by thinking of the infant Christ conceived in the womb and born in the arms of His own creature, and of the Man Christ Jesus breathing His own air, treading His own ground, supported by substances to which He Himself gave being, and the Creator of the very men whom He came to save. But the most vivid commentary on this entire verse will be got by tracing (in His matchless history) Him of whom it speaks walking amidst all the elements of nature, the diseases of men and death itself, the secrets of the human heart, and "the rulers of the darkness of this world" in all their number, subtlety, and malignity, not only with absolute ease, as their conscious Lord, but, as we might say, with full consciousness on their part of the presence of their Maker, whose will to one and all of them was law. And this is He of whom it is added, "the world knew Him not!"
11. his own--"His own" (property or possession), for the word is in the neuter gender. It means His own land, city, temple, Messianic rights and possessions.
and his own--"His own (people)"; for now the word is masculine. It means the Jews, as the "peculiar people." Both they and their land, with all that this included, were "HIS OWN," not so much as part of "the world which was made by Him," but as "THE HEIR" of the inheritance ( Luke 20:14 ; see also on Matthew 22:1 ).
received him not--nationally, as God's chosen witnesses.
12. But as many--individuals, of the "disobedient and gainsaying people."
gave he power--The word signifies both authority and ability, and both are certainly meant here.
to become--Mark these words: Jesus is the Son of God; He is never said to have become such.
the sons--or more simply, "sons of God," in name and in nature.
believe on his name--a phrase never used in Scripture of any mere creature, to express the credit given to human testimony, even of prophets or apostles, inasmuch it carries with it the idea of trust proper only towards GOD. In this sense of supreme faith, as due to Him who "gives those that believe in Himself power to become sons of God," it is manifestly used here.
13. Which were born--a sonship therefore not of mere title and privilege, but of nature, the soul being made conscious of the vital capacities, perceptions, and emotions of a child of God, before unknown.
not of blood, &c.--not of superior human descent, not of human generation at all, not of man in any manner of way. By this elaborate threefold denial of the human source of this sonship, immense force is given to what follows,
but of God--Right royal gift, and He who confers must be absolutely divine. For who would not worship Him who can bring him into the family, and evoke within him the very life, of the sons of God?
14. And the Word, &c.--To raise the reader to the altitude of this climax were the thirteen foregoing verses written.
was made flesh--BECAME MAN, in man's present frail, mortal condition, denoted by the word "flesh" ( Isaiah 40:6 , 1 Peter 1:24 ). It is directed probably against the Docetæ, who held that Christ was not really but only apparently man; against whom this gentle spirit is vehement in his Epistles ( 1 John 4:3 , 2 John 1:7:10 2 John 1:11 ), [LUCKE, &c.]. Nor could He be too much so, for with the verity of the Incarnation all substantial Christianity vanishes. But now, married to our nature, henceforth He is as personally conscious of all that is strictly human as of all that is properly divine; and our nature is in His Person redeemed and quickened, ennobled and transfigured.
and dwelt--tabernacled or pitched his tent; a word peculiar to John, who uses it four times, all in the sense of a permanent stay ( Revelation 7:15 , 12:12 , 13:6 , 21:3 ). For ever wedded to our "flesh," He has entered this tabernacle to "go no more out." The allusion is to that tabernacle where dwelt the Shekinah or manifested "GLORY OF THE LORD," and with reference to God's permanent dwelling among His people ( Leviticus 26:11 , Psalms 68:18 , Psalms 132:13 Psalms 132:14 , Ezekiel 37:27 ). This is put almost beyond doubt by what immediately follows, "And we beheld his glory" [LUCKE, MEYER, DE WETTE which last critic, rising higher than usual, says that thus were perfected all former partial manifestations of God in an essentially Personal and historically Human manifestation].
full of grace and truth--So it should read: "He dwelt among us full of grace and truth"; or, in Old Testament phrase, "Mercy and truth," denoting the whole fruit of God's purposes of love towards sinners of mankind, which until now existed only in promise, and the fulfilment at length of that promise in Christ; in one great word, "the SURE MERCIES of David" ( Isaiah 55:3 , Acts 13:34 ; compare 2 Samuel 23:5 ). In His Person all that Grace and Truth which had been floating so long in shadowy forms, and darting into the souls of the poor and needy its broken beams, took everlasting possession of human flesh and filled it full. By this Incarnation of Grace and Truth, the teaching of thousands of years was at once transcended and beggared, and the family of God sprang into Manhood.
and we beheld his glory--not by the eye of sense, which saw in Him only "the carpenter." His glory was "spiritually discerned" ( 1 Corinthians 2:7-15 , 2 Corinthians 3:18 , 2 Corinthians 4:4 2 Corinthians 4:6 , 5:16 )--the glory of surpassing grace, love, tenderness, wisdom, purity, spirituality; majesty and meekness, richness and poverty, power and weakness, meeting together in unique contrast; ever attracting and at times ravishing the "babes" that followed and forsook all for Him.
the glory as of the only begotten of the not like, but "such as (belongs to)," such as became or was befitting the only begotten of the Father [CHRYSOSTOM in LUCKE, CALVIN, &c.], according to a well-known use of the word "as."
John 1:15 . A SAYING OF THE BAPTIST CONFIRMATORY OF THIS.
15. after me--in official manifestation.
before me--in rank and dignity.
for he was before me--in existence; "His goings forth being from of old, from everlasting" ( Micah 5:2 ). (Anything lower than this His words cannot mean); that is, "My Successor is my Superior, for He was my Predecessor." This enigmatic play upon the different senses of the words "before" and "after" was doubtless employed by the Baptist to arrest attention, and rivet the thought; and the Evangelist introduces it just to clinch his own statements.
John 1:16-18 . SAME SUBJECT CONTINUED.
16. of his fulness--of "grace and truth," resuming the thread of John 1:14 .
grace for grace--that is, grace upon grace (so all the best interpreters), in successive communications and larger measures, as each was able to take it in. Observe, the word "truth" is here dropped. "Grace" being the chosen New Testament word for the whole fulness of the new covenant, all that dwells in Christ for men.
17. For, &c.--The Law elicits the consciousness of sin and the need of redemption; it only typifies the reality. The Gospel, on the contrary, actually communicates reality and power from above (compare Romans 6:14 ). Hence Paul terms the Old Testament "shadow," while he calls the New Testament "substance" ( Colossians 2:17 ) [OLSHAUSEN].
18. No man--"No one," in the widest sense.
hath seen God--by immediate gaze, or direct intuition.
in the bosom of the Father--A remarkable expression, used only here, presupposing the Son's conscious existence distinct from the Father, and expressing His immediate and most endeared access to, and absolute acquaintance with, Him.
he--emphatic; As if he should say, "He and He only hath declared Him," because He only can.
John 1:19-36 . THE BAPTIST'S TESTIMONY TO CHRIST.
the Jews--that is, the heads of the nation, the members of the Sanhedrim. In this peculiar sense our Evangelist seems always to use the term.
20. confessed, &c.--that is, While many were ready to hail him as the Christ, he neither gave the slightest ground for such views, nor the least entertainment to them.
21. Elias--in His own proper person.
that prophet--announced in Deuteronomy 18:15 , &c., about whom they seem not to have been agreed whether he were the same with the Messiah or no.
25. Why baptizest thou, if not, &c.--Thinking he disclaimed any special connection with Messiah's kingdom, they demand his right to gather disciples by baptism.
28. Bethabara--Rather, "Bethany" (according to nearly all the best and most ancient manuscripts); not the Bethany of Lazarus, but another of the same name, and distinguished from it as lying "beyond Jordan," on the east.
29. seeth Jesus--fresh, probably, from the scene of the temptation.
coming unto him--as to congenial company ( Acts 4:23 ), and to receive from him His first greeting.
and saith--catching a sublime inspiration at the sight of Him approaching.
the Lamb of God--the one God-ordained, God-gifted sacrificial offering.
that taketh away--taketh up and taketh away. The word signifies both, as does the corresponding Hebrew word. Applied to sin, it means to be chargeable with the guilt of it ( Exodus 28:38 , Leviticus 5:1 , Ezekiel 18:20 ), and to bear it away (as often). In the Levitical victims both ideas met, as they do in Christ, the people's guilt being viewed as transferred to them, avenged in their death, and so borne away by them ( Leviticus 4:15 , Leviticus 16:15 Leviticus 16:21 Leviticus 16:22 ; and compare Isaiah 53:6-12 , 2 Corinthians 5:21 ).
the sin--The singular number being used to mark the collective burden and all-embracing efficacy.
of the world--not of Israel only, for whom the typical victims were exclusively offered. Wherever there shall live a sinner throughout the wide world, sinking under that burden too heavy for him to bear, he shall find in this "Lamb of God," a shoulder equal to the weight. The right note was struck at the first--balm, doubtless, to Christ's own spirit; nor was ever after, or ever will be, a more glorious utterance.
31-34. knew him not--Living mostly apart, the one at Nazareth, the other in the Judean desert--to prevent all appearance of collusion, John only knew that at a definite time after his own call, his Master would show Himself. As He drew near for baptism one day, the last of all the crowd, the spirit of the Baptist heaving under a divine presentiment that the moment had at length arrived, and an air of unwonted serenity and dignity, not without traits, probably, of the family features, appearing in this Stranger, the Spirit said to him as to Samuel of his youthful type, "Arise, anoint Him, for this is He!" ( 1 Samuel 16:12 ). But the sign which he was told to expect was the visible descent of the Spirit upon Him as He emerged out of the baptismal water. Then, catching up the voice from heaven, "he saw and bare record that this is the Son of God."
35. John stood--"was standing," at his accustomed place.
36. looking--having fixed his eyes, with significant gaze, on Jesus.
as he walked--but not now to him. To have done this once [BENGEL].
Behold, &c.--The repetition of that wonderful proclamation, in identical terms and without another word, could only have been meant as a gentle hint to go after Him--as they did.
John 1:37-51 . FIRST GATHERING OF DISCIPLES--JOHN ANDREW, SIMON, PHILIP, NATHANAEL.
38. What seek ye--gentle, winning question, remarkable as the Redeemer's first public utterance.
where dwellest thou--that is, "That is a question we cannot answer in a moment; but had we Thy company for a calm hour in private, gladly should we open our burden."
39. Come and see--His second utterance, more winning still.
tenth hour--not ten A.M. (as some), according to Roman, but four P.M., according to Jewish reckoning, which John follows. The hour is mentioned to show why they stayed out the day with him--because little of it remained.
40. One . . . was Andrew--The other was doubtless our Evangelist himself. His great sensitiveness is touchingly shown in his representation of this first contact with the Lord; the circumstances are present to him in the minutest details; he still remembers the Very hour. But "he reports no particulars of those discourses of the Lord by which he was bound to Him for the whole of His life; he allows everything personal to retire" [OLSHAUSEN].
Peter's brother--and the elder of the two.
41. have found the Messias--The previous preparation of their simple hearts under the Baptist's ministry, made quick work of this blessed conviction, while others hesitated till doubt settled into obduracy. So it is still.
42. brought him to Jesus--Happy brothers that thus do to each other!
beheld him--fixed his eyes on him, with significant gaze (as John 1:36 ).
Cephas . . .
43. would go . . . into Galilee--for from His baptism He had sojourned in Judea (showing that the calling at the Sea of Galilee [ Matthew 4:18 ] was a subsequent one,
Follow me--the first express call given, the former three having come to Him spontaneously.
44. the city of Andrew and Peter--of their birth probably, for they seem to have lived at Capernaum ( Mark 1:29 ).
46. any good out of Nazareth--remembering Bethlehem, perhaps, as Messiah's predicted birthplace, and Nazareth having no express prophetic place at all, besides being in no repute. The question sprang from mere dread of mistake in a matter so vital.
Come and see--Noble remedy against preconceived opinions [BENGEL]. Philip, though he could not perhaps solve his difficulty, could show him how to get rid of it.
47. an Israelite indeed . . . no guile--not only no hypocrite, but with a guileless simplicity not always found even in God's own people, ready to follow wherever truth might lead him, saying, Samuel-like, "Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth" ( 1 Samuel 3:10 ).
48. Whence knowest thou me--conscious that his very heart had been read, and at this critical moment more than ever before.
Before Philip called thee--showing He knew all that passed between Philip and him at a distance.
when . . . under the fig tree, &c.--where retirement for meditation and prayer was not uncommon [LIGHTFOOT]. Thither, probably--hearing that his master's Master had at length appeared, and heaving with mingled eagerness to behold Him and dread of deception--he had retired to pour out his guileless heart for light and guidance, ending with such a prayer as this, "Show me a token for good!" Now he has it, "Thou guileless one, that fig tree scene, with all its heaving anxieties, deep pleadings and tremulous hopes--I saw it all." The first words of Jesus had astonished, but this quite overpowered and won him.
49. Son of God . . . King of Israel--the one denoting His person, the other His office. How much loftier this than anything Philip had said to him! But just as the earth's vital powers, the longer they are frost-bound, take the greater spring when at length set free, so souls, like Nathanael and Thomas whose faith are hindered for a time, take the start of their more easy-going brethren when loosed and let go.
50, 51. Because I said, &c.--"So quickly convinced, and on this evidence only?"--an expression of admiration.
51. Hereafter, &c.--The key to this great saying is Jacob's vision ( Genesis 28:12-22 ), to which the allusion plainly is. To show the patriarch that though alone and friendless on earth his interests were busying all heaven, he was made to see "heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon a" mystic "ladder reaching from heaven to earth." "By and by," says Jesus here, "ye shall see this communication between heaven and earth thrown wide open, and the Son of man the real Ladder of this intercourse."