Main Idea: Jesus is God, born to deliver mankind from death and darkness.
- Who Is Jesus (1:1-3)?
- Why Did Jesus Come to Earth (1:4-5)?
Time magazine once asked “Who Was Jesus?” on their cover. They went on to ask more questions in the article:
How is Jesus to be understood? Did he stride out of the wilderness 2,000 years ago to preach a gentle message of peace and brotherhood? Or did he perhaps advocate some form of revolution? When did he realize his mission would end with death upon a cross? Did he view himself as the promised Messiah? Did he understand himself to be both God and man? (Ostling, “Who Was Jesus?”)
These are important questions to ask and to answer. We live in a culture increasingly spiritual yet hesitant to commit to saying there is one absolute truth. To many in modern society, Jesus was a philosopher. Others view him as a good man with important things to say. Still others view Jesus as just another prophet who came to point us to God. This is why the first words of the Gospel of John are so vitally important. They answer the questions, Who is Jesus, and why did he come to earth?
Who Is Jesus?
The clear testimony of the Holy Scriptures is that Jesus of Nazareth was more than a good man or wise rabbi; Jesus Christ is God. In verse 1 Jesus is given the unique title, “the Word.” Words are powerful. Anyone who thinks words are painless never went through middle school. Our own experiences and the testimony of history teach us the power of words. During World War II, Winston Churchill said these words:
Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their Finest Hour.”
His words rallied England and emboldened the citizens to stay the course and stand strong against their enemy.
As powerful as Churchill’s words were, they are no match for the power of the word of God. “The heavens were made by the word of the Lord, and all the stars, by the breath of his mouth” (Ps 33:6; emphasis added). “Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen 1:3; emphasis added). “He sent his word and healed them; he rescued them from the Pit” (Ps 107:20; emphasis added). Creation and salvation both came through the word of God.
God reveals his power and will through his word. There is no greater revelation of the character and nature of the Father than through the person of Jesus.
- Jesus reveals God’s mind.
- Jesus expresses God’s will.
- Jesus displays God’s perfections.
- Jesus exposes God’s heart. (Pink, John, 21)
The Gospel of John begins with a phrase that sounds familiar. The first three words of this book echo the first three words of the Bible. Genesis 1:1 opens, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (emphasis added). John is connecting Jesus Christ with creation, claiming Jesus existed before creation. Jesus existed before the world began, before there was time. If we were to hit the rewind button on history, we could take it back to the very beginning, when God created the world out of nothing, and Jesus was there. In fact, we could go back before God began creation, and Jesus would have existed with him. This was the testimony of Jesus himself: “Now, Father, glorify me in your presence with that glory I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5; emphasis added). Genesis 1:1 contains no hint of the creation of God, and here in John 1:1 there is no hint of the creation of Jesus. This is what sets Jesus apart from so-called gods—gods made by human hands and invented by human minds—Jesus has always existed.
Jesus shares his nature and being with God—“the Word was God.” He is of the same character and quality as God (v. 1). Everything that can be said about God can be said about Jesus Christ. We call this the Trinity—the understanding that there is one God but that the one God exists as three persons: God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In verse 1 we find a precisely worded statement about Jesus that leads us to only one conclusion: Jesus Christ is God.
This phrase proves critical in distinguishing the Christian faith from other expressions of religion. When Jehovah’s Witnesses meet to discuss their religion, they pick up a translation of Scripture called The New World Translation. If you opened that book, turned it to the Gospel of John, found verse 1, and looked at the last phrase, you would read, “and the Word was a god.” Does that small change matter? Does a simple little monosyllable make any difference? By adding that little word a, they are making a statement that Jesus is something less than fully God. He may be a god in some sense. He may be one of many “gods,” but he is not the true God. From the beginning of his Gospel, John argues that Christ is not one of many gods but is God himself. John MacArthur writes,
Confusion about the deity of Christ is inexcusable, because the biblical teaching regarding it is clear and unmistakable. Jesus Christ is the preexistent Word, who enjoys full face-to-face communion and divine life with the Father, and is Himself God. (John 1–11, 20)
As God, Jesus was not only present at creation, but he also was active in creation. He created “all things” (v. 3). John chose the specific term all things and used it to focus on each individual thing Jesus created. John could have phrased it in such a way that our eyes were drawn to the whole universe collectively—sort of like throwing open the warehouse and simply saying, “He made all of this.” However, John chose a word that looks at each created thing individually. Like opening the warehouse and taking us around on a tour and saying, “Look at this here. Check out that detail there.” Jesus Christ made everything from the largest whale to the smallest amoeba. From the sunflower seed to the redwood tree, from the beautiful sunset to the tiny lightning bug, Jesus Christ designed and created all of it (cf. Col 1:16). One day Jesus will be worshiped in heaven with the words, “Our Lord and God, you are worthy to receive glory and honor and power, because you have created all things, and by your will they exist and were created” (Rev 4:11).
Why Did Jesus Come to Earth?
Can you imagine someone asking the apostle John, “If this Jewish carpenter from Nazareth is really God, then why is he here? Why is he walking around as a man? What’s the point of all this?” John provides two grand and glorious answers: life and light (vv. 4-5).
Without Jesus we are dead in our sin (Eph 2:1-3). What’s it mean to be dead in sin? Death is fundamentally separation. At death the spiritual part of man—his soul—is separated from the physical part of man—his body. We feel this separation when we attend a funeral or a wake. We walk into the room, greet the family who are mourning over the separation that has taken place between them and the one they love, and then we walk to the front of the room and look into the coffin. In that coffin we see a shell. Though the body is still with us, the person—the part of that person that really makes her who she is, the part you can’t see—is no longer there. It’s gone. Her soul has been separated from her body, and all that remains is a decaying, worn-out husk with a bad makeup job.
If physical death is the separation of the soul from the body, then spiritual death is the separation of the soul from God. Physical death pictures the far more terrifying and sobering reality of spiritual death. Sin separates us from God! Right here and right now, our sin separates us from the sinless God of the universe. That separation is made permanent after physical death, when God, the just Judge, will punish sin with eternal separation from him in the horrors of hell.
Jesus came to give us life—to reconcile us with God, changing both our present condition and our future destination. How do you receive spiritual life? By placing your faith and trust in Jesus Christ (John 11:25). He will reconcile you with his Father. You will no longer be separated from God and cut off as an enemy but welcomed as a son or daughter. Your future is life forever in the glorious kingdom of God. Jesus Christ takes God’s judgment on your sin, and his victory over death and the grave become yours. Do you know what a Christian is?
- A Christian is someone who was dead in sin but now has received life.
- A Christian is someone who was cut off from God but has now been reconciled.
- A Christian is someone who was a spiritual corpse but now has the life of God flowing through him or her.
- A Christian is someone who was dead to God but has now been made alive by and for him.
Why did Jesus come to earth? Jesus came to call people from death to life—to a living, vibrant relationship with God—through faith in him. Those who believe he makes alive and gathers into a living community that bears the fruit of his life flowing through them. Together we demonstrate and declare his life.
Jesus brought life to the spiritually dead and light to the spiritually darkened (v. 5). Though a different metaphor it pictures the same truth. We have a great need we cannot meet. We need to be rescued from the domain of darkness, and we’re powerless to do anything about it. Jesus came to earth because only he could meet that need. We could never come to know what God desires and expects from us unless Jesus revealed it. We would be staggering about in the darkness of our own opinions if Jesus had not brought the light of God’s revelation. Hundreds of years before Jesus came, his coming was predicted with these words: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness” (Isa 9:2; emphasis added). When Jesus came, he said, “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12; emphasis added).
The gospel is the good news that you no longer have to wander about in the darkness and despair of sin, but you can enjoy the light of righteousness through Jesus Christ. John is not suggesting we need more religion. Jesus came into a very religious world—a world where the religious leaders had memorized lengthy portions of the Bible. Yet these men were in the darkness of sin. They stumbled about, attempting to please God through their own self-righteousness. Jesus offers light and life.
Throughout John’s Gospel we find an ongoing struggle between light and darkness. Jesus, the light of the world, is opposing and being opposed by those who are in darkness. Near the end of the Gospel, we discover how Jesus was betrayed by one of his own friends. He was arrested by the Roman soldiers and brought to trial. Before, during, and after his trial, he received cruel beatings, his back whipped so many times the blood flowed freely. To make the mockery worse, he was dressed in a purple robe, and a crown of thorns was brutally smashed into his scalp. A cross was thrown on his back, and he was forced to carry it up to a hill called Golgotha where he would be hung to die like a common criminal. After having his hands and feet nailed to the cross, his cross was lifted into place and there he died, despised by those he came to save. His corpse was taken down from the cross and placed in a cold, dark tomb.
If we were to stop reading after chapter 19, we could say to John, “John, you’re wrong. Jesus was not God. He did not bring life. We’re all doomed to death and darkness.” But there’s a chapter 20, and there we read about the most wonderful event to ever take place on this earth—the resurrection. After his death on the cross, Jesus did not stay buried because he is the life, and the life could not remain dead. He arose, conquering forever the sting of death and hell.
John describes this wonderful scene—this amazing resurrection—with this simple phrase: “That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it” (1:5). Look at these two verbs. John says “that light shines.” Shines is in the present tense. He’s saying, “The light is still shining in the darkness.” Now look at the next phrase: “The darkness did not overcome it.” Here John uses a verb that signifies a completed action: The darkness has done everything it could: it schemed and plotted, but it ran out of ideas. No matter what the darkness does, the light will still shine; it will not be overcome. What an awesome truth! Jesus Christ is still shining in this dark world. The light can still be seen.
Reflect and Discuss
- Who is Jesus?
- Why are God’s words powerful? What Scriptures show the power of God’s Word?
- Why does John call Jesus “the Word”? What does this title tell us about Jesus?
- What does John want us to believe about Jesus from this passage?
- Describe the connection between Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1. How does this connection show a distinction between Jesus and creation?
- Why did Jesus come to earth?
- What would the world look like if Jesus had not brought the light of the gospel?
- What does it mean to be a Christian? What changes have taken place in your life as a result?
- What is the good news of the gospel? If someone took an inventory of your life, what would they think is your good news?
- Are there moments in your life when you feel overwhelmed by anxiety, fear, or isolation? How does the picture of Jesus as a light shining in the darkness speak to you in those circumstances?