I. Prologue: The Word Became Flesh (John 1:1-18)
I. Prologue: The Word Became Flesh (1:1-18)
1:1-2 When we read the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the story begins in history with Jesus Christ conceived by the Holy Spirit and born to Joseph and Mary. But in the Fourth Gospel, John reaches back even further—into eternity. We are given access to the prequel, so to speak.
With the phrase, In the beginning, John alludes to Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Thus, in eternity past, the Word (the Son of God, the eternal expression of God who “became flesh”; see 1:14) was with God (1:2). From before the creation of the world, God the Son shared an eternal, intimate father-son relationship with God the Father. Starting in Genesis 1:3, God spoke his word and the universe came into existence. According to the New Testament, the Father made the world through the divine Word, his Son (see Col 1:16; Heb 1:2). In light of the Spirit’s involvement as well (see Gen 1:2), we see that each person of the triune God was unified in the work of creation.
Not only was the Word with God, but also the Word was God (1:1). In other words, the Father and Son are not two distinct gods. Rather, the Son shares the divine nature. Theologically speaking, the Father, Son, and Spirit are co-equal members of the Trinity. Our one God (see Deut 6:4; 1 Cor 8:6) exists in three co-equal persons (see Matt 28:19).
1:3-5 All things were created through the Word (1:3), a truth taught elsewhere in the New Testament (see Col 1:16; Heb 1:2). Nothing in creation exists outside of the sovereign power of Jesus. Not one thing was made apart from him (1:3). He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, including life. Since in him there is divine life, he is able to create life—both physical and spiritual (see 3:16). The existence of life in creation is proof that the created order is not the result of impersonal chance events, as atheistic evolutionists assert.
Jesus gives life that provides light to men (1:4). Light is needed because darkness exists (1:5). Because of the temptation of Satan, humankind has fallen into the darkness of sin (see Gen 3). He has blinded the minds of people to keep them from seeing the glory of Christ (see 2 Cor 4:4). But Jesus has come to bring illumination so that people can see things as they truly are. John’s Gospel shows us how Jesus was continually rejected; nevertheless, the darkness did not overcome his light (1:5). Though his enemies crucified him, he was actually glorified in his death on the cross (see 13:31-32) and victorious in his resurrection, resulting in the provision of salvation for all people (see John 3:16; Rom 5:18; 1 Tim 2:6; Heb 2:9; 1 John 2:2).
1:6-7 John, the apostle and author of the Gospel, introduces us to John the Baptist, sent on a mission from God (1:6). He came as a witness to testify about the light of Jesus Christ so that all might believe through him (1:7; see 1:29-36). Though he was the first to bear witness to Christ, he is not to be the last. All Christians have the responsibility to “testify about” him, to declare the truth of Jesus Christ “so that all might believe” in him. That’s the foundation of evangelism and missions.
1:8-11 John the Baptist was not himself the light, though many were confused about his identity (see 1:19-22). As foretold in the Old Testament (see 1:23), John came to testify about the light—the true light, the Son of God (1:8-9). Though the Son created the world, the world did not recognize him (1:10). Sin blinds people so that they do not know their own Creator. Even his own people—the Jews, those who were waiting for the Messiah, those who should have recognized him—did not receive him (1:11). Of course, the first believers, including the apostles, were Jews. But by and large, the Jewish leadership and people rejected Jesus during his earthly ministry.
1:12-13 But to everyone who received him he gave them the right to be children of God. To receive Christ is not like passively receiving a letter in your mailbox. Instead, it means to welcome him (based on his substitutionary atonement), like one welcomes a guest into his home. Those who do so are adopted into the family of God as his children. To believe in Jesus’s name is to believe in his person (who he is) and work (what he has done) (1:12). When someone receives and believes in Jesus for the free gift of eternal life, he undergoes a supernatural birth, the impartation of spiritual life. He is born . . . of God (1:13)—what Jesus would call being “born again” (3:3).
1:14 The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This verse testifies to the glory of the incarnation. Conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary (see Matt 1:20), the divine Son of God became a man. He is thus the God-Man—not half man and half God, but one person with a fully divine nature and a fully human nature. He is deity poured into humanity. He is fully human so he cried as an infant, but he is fully divine and gave life to his mother! He is fully human so he had to sleep, but he is fully divine and can raise the dead back to life. Our God fully experienced what it is to be human—yet without sinning (see Heb 4:15). He faced hunger, pain, temptation, grief, hardship, and rejection. You face no category of human experience that your Savior has not endured.
We beheld his glory. An obvious example of this is when Peter, James, and John saw Jesus transfigured before their eyes (see Matt 17:1-2). But according to John, Jesus was also glorified through his miracles and ultimately in his cross and resurrection (see 2:11; 7:39; 11:4; 12:16, 23; 13:31-32).
1:15 John the Baptist affirmed the superiority of Jesus. Though Jesus’s ministry came after John’s, he ranks ahead of John because he existed before him. Though John was born before Jesus (see Luke 1:57-58; 2:1-7), he recognized that Jesus preceded him in eternity.
1:16-17 What does it mean to receive grace upon grace (1:16)? John explains: The law was given through Moses. This was a good gift to Israel, revealing God’s righteous character and his will for their lives. The problem was that the law couldn’t enable people to keep it. It highlighted their sin but couldn’t transform their sinful hearts. But grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (1:17).
When we personally receive the substitutionary atoning death of Christ on the cross, our sins are forgiven and eternal life is imparted. That’s amazing grace! The gospel, then, does what the law couldn’t do. Through Jesus, we have access to the unmerited and unlimited favor of God. In eternity he will “display the immeasurable riches of his grace” to us without interruption (Eph 2:7). Grace is the inexhaustible supply of God’s goodness that continuously brings his favor to his people, doing for us what we can’t do for ourselves. God will provide believers with a never-ending supply of “grace upon grace” through Christ, like waves crashing on the seashore.
1:18 John concludes the prologue to his Gospel by explaining that no one has ever seen God. In our sinfulness, to see God in unfiltered glory and holiness would result in our obliteration. Even Moses saw only the backside of God’s glory. No one can see God’s face on this side of eternity and live (see Exod 33:18-23). But the one and only (i.e., unique) Son who is himself God and is at the Father’s side—he has revealed him. In other words, the divine nature of the Father is fully expressed in the Son. Since Jesus is fully God, to know Jesus is to know God. As Jesus himself told his disciples, “The one who has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9). He has perfectly revealed him. The only way to God is through the Son (14:6).