READ : John 1:1-2
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
John 1:1,2 rsv
Listen to these words as though you had never heard them before, as if you had no idea where they came from. Maybe that will actually be the case with you. Maybe not. But try to imagine at least that you are hearing them for the very first time. Listen, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”
Now what would you conclude about those lines? It’s evident first of all that the central theme here is “the Word,” a personalized Word to whom pronouns like “He” and “Him” can be applied. What is said about this Word? These things: He was in the beginning. He was with God. He was God. And finally, all things without exception were created through Him.
So far that sounds a bit theoretical and abstract, doesn’t it? It’s hard to sink our teeth into what those sentences mean and to see any difference they could make for our lives. They sound like something from a philosophical essay about deep questions.
As we read further in the passage, however, we learn additional things about this Word. In Him was life and the life was the light of men. He was the true light that enlightens everyone.
More and closer to home, the Word was “coming into the world.” He had been in the world, and the world had been made through Him, but the world did not know Him. He came to His own home, His own things, His own people, but they did not receive Him.
Next we learn something tremendously significant about that coming into the world. Listen: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (v. 14). The Word became human. The Word took on flesh and blood. The Word entered our history as a man. This man, we read, brought grace and truth. Finally, we learn the man’s name. In the next to last verse of this prologue, we are told that “the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (v. 17). The Word, then, the One about whom all these remarkable things were said, at a point in time became a human being. His name is Jesus.
Now in the light of that, we look again at the verses we read at the beginning, and they strike us differently. They become, to those who take them seriously, the most amazing and significant words ever written. We see that “the Word” stands not for an idea or a principle but for a person. We realize now that this is an introduction to a book about Jesus. We call it the Gospel according to John.
IN THE BEGINNING
Let’s go back and examine these terse opening statements one by one and try to take in their full meaning. First, “in the beginning was the Word.”
That phrase “in the beginning” makes us think immediately of the Old Testament book of Genesis. Remember how that starts? “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The “beginning” there seems to be the dawn of creation, when God’s purpose to bring forth the universe began to be realized. This first verse of the Gospel according to John says something else about origins. “In the beginning was the Word.” Note – it doesn’t say: “In the beginning the Word was created,” or, “In the beginning the Word began to be.” It is rather, “In the beginning was the Word,” the imperfect tense.
Go back as far as you can to what present-day cosmologists would call “the moment before the Big Bang.” Then the Word was already in existence. That is, this writer is saying in the strongest, clearest possible way that before anything else in this vast and ancient universe began to be, there was the Word. The Word has always existed. There never was a time when He was not. Ponder that, friends. The person we call Jesus of Nazareth existed before all time began. He is the everlasting One, without beginning and without end. Was anything like that ever said of another human being?
All right, Affirmation Number 2: “The Word was with God.” What does that mean? The preposition used here can imply either companionship (being with someone) or motion toward. The Word, John affirms, was in fellowship with God, in communion with God. The Word was facing toward God, moving in God’s direction, occupied with God, centered in Him.
Think about that with me. Here is a person who has always existed, who has been eternally alive, living always in this close relationship with God. And God here is understood to be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the prophets, the God of covenant, the Lord of heaven and earth. The Word is a person whose whole existence has been bound up with and oriented toward this true, living God. Now notice this: God is twice, in the verses that follow, referred to as the Father. The Word is referred to twice as the only Son, the unique Son. And this is said about the relationship between the two, “The only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father.”
Follow that with me once more. God is the Father. The Word is the only Son, the One described as being “in the bosom of the Father” (v. 18). So the Word being “with God” now appears as the Son abiding in the closest, most loving communion with the Father.
A third affirmation is rising before us here. The Word who always was and was ever with God is (as we might expect from the term) a revealer of God. I’m struck by this affirmation by a famous New Testament scholar, “The Word is God’s self-utterance to human beings, God’s language and living thought, God’s eloquence, God’s truth in action, the measure of God’s mind.”
Through the Word, God the Father draws back the veil and reveals Himself. He makes Himself known. That’s exactly the way John describes it in the last verse of this introduction to his gospel, “The only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.”
Does that mean that God had never revealed Himself in any way until Jesus came? No. The entire Old Testament is the record of God’s self-revealing to His people, Israel. But all of that revelation is here understood as partial, as preparatory. There had been theophanies, disclosures of the divine glory to servants of God like Moses. But these disclosures were never complete. Something was always held back. “No one,” says John, “has ever seen God.” But the Word, the only Son, we read, has declared Him.
When John writes, “He has made Him known,” or “He has declared Him,” he uses a Greek word from which we get our term “exegesis.” It means literally a “leading out” or “drawing out.” When we “exegete” a passage of Scripture, we open up its meaning and make it clear. We explain it. We interpret it. We make its deepest message luminous and accessible to people. That’s what this person, the Word, does. That’s what the Son does with regard to the Father. That’s what Jesus does. He makes God known. In fact, He could say about His own life, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). In other words, “Look at Jesus Christ and you are grasping what God is like. Come to know Jesus and you are getting to know the living God Himself.”
But even that is not all. There’s more to be said. The Word is the agent of creation. “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”
Remember how in the first chapter of Genesis, we read, “and God said, `Let there be light . . . ‘ and God said, `Let there be a firmament . . .’ And God said, `Let there be lights in the firmament . . .’ And God said, `Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures . . .’ and God said, `Let the earth bring forth cattle and creeping things . . .’ And God said, `Let us make man in our image.'” God’s voice, we see, God’s speaking, is marvelously creative. He speaks and it is done. He commands and it stands fast. He brings everything into being by His mighty Word, by His all-powerful speaking. And that Word through whom “all things were made,” that person is the Son who dwells in the bosom of the Father. That person is the One who became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth.
Let your mind grapple with that for a moment. The One who learned as a boy in a carpenter shop to make chairs and tables is the One through whom all the galaxies flamed into being, the One who created and upholds all things, in whom, as Paul writes in Colossians, “everything holds together” (see 2:19). Jesus is God’s all-powerful Word, God’s creative power in action. Apart from Him, nothing in this universe would continue in existence for a moment. Without Him, everything would fall into nothingness. The Word is our Maker and our Keeper.
After listening to that, after pondering that, we wonder if anything more can possibly be said about the Word. “He was in the beginning, he was with God, all things were made through him.” But yes, something more can be said. It’s the crowning affirmation. It is the most astonishing and basic of all, the truth around which all the others cluster. Here it is, “the Word was God.” Did you hear that? The apostle did not say, “the Word was like God.” He didn’t say, “the Word was the first and greatest of God’s creatures.” He didn’t say, “The Word was a god” (with divine honors but somehow on a different level.) The witness of John and of the entire New Testament is that the Word was God, the Son was God. Jesus was and is God. He is the Lord incarnate, doing the Father’s will, dying for His people, rising to reign.
We’ve already seen that the Word is described as being with God or toward God. A definite distinction is drawn between the Word and God. There can be personal fellowship between them. We’ve already noticed that God is referred to as the Father, and the Word is described as the only Son. The distinctions there become intensely personal. It’s possible that there can be fellowship, communion, between the Word and God, between the Father and the Son. Ponder that: within God’s being there are relationships of love.
But now that the personal distinction has been affirmed, the ultimate can be said: “The Word was God.” Personal distinctions, yet perfect unity. The Word was God. All that we can say of God we can say appropriately of the Word. For our understanding of who the Word is, nothing less than God will do.
On this affirmation, friends, the Christian gospel stands or falls. The compelling question always is, “Who is this Jesus?” What answer will satisfy? A good man? Even the very best of men? No. A great teacher? A prophet without peer? No. The most God-like person who ever lived? No. Not even that. The heart of the matter is that the one true, living God, maker and upholder of heaven and earth, the only God there is, has come among us to share our humanity in Jesus. And we rightly understand what that means only when we say to Jesus what once doubting Thomas said when he became a true believer, “My Lord and my God!”