Originally Published in Today Magazine
Bob Buchanon, editor
By Bob Buchanon
JESUS IS THE WORD
The life of Jesus on earth is recorded in four successive Gospels in the New Testament. Without conflicting, each Gospel writer presents Jesus from a different point of view. The readers could not adequately grasp the complex nature and unique ministry of the Messiah without reading all of the accounts.
Matthew magnified the kingship of Jesus. As one writer said, “Who could have done this better that the noted tax collector who was so willingly turned from serving an earthly emperor to follow the King of kings?” Mark stressed Jesus’ deeds and sacrifices. His presentation was in the short-and-to-the-point terms typical of such a dynamic young man. Luke dealt with Jesus as God’s witness on earth, as the heavenly messenger of divine truth. These three Gospels have many similarities in their presentations of the life of Christ. For that reason they are called the Synoptic Gospels.
The reader who opens the Gospel of John at once notices a marked difference between it and the three preceding Gospels. Matthew traced the lineage of Jesus back to Abraham and David; Luke, back to Adam. But John carried the connection back to God.
The Gospel of John is, without a doubt, the mosted hated book of the Bible, and the most beloved- for the same reason, namely, that it was written that “ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:30-31). As Homer Hailey said, “Eternal life depends upon this faith; nothing else will do. Either Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God - and all that he claimed to be - or He was and is an imposter. There is no middle ground. This is John’s proposition…” If the contents of a book were not important, it could not be very much hated or very much beloved. The contents of this Gospel are extremely important.
The first eighteen verses of John constitute a division technically known as the Prologue. It has been the subject of lively controversy among scholars. Some have seen the Gospel. They have viewed it as “an introduction designed primarily to catch the attention of Hellenistic Greek readers by using certain terms, in particular logos, attracted by its seeming poetic language, have seen it originally as an ancient hymn taken over with certain changes by the writer to introduce his Gospel.” While there is a possibility that it may have been used among the early Christians in certain forms as a hymn, it must be accepted as the composition of the writer himself, as he purposely traced the origins of Jesus Christ back to the ultimate, eternal being with God.
The Greek word from which word is translated was widely known in the world of John’s day, being found some 1,300 times in the writings of Philo, a Hellenistic Jew of Alexandria (30 B.C. to 40 A.D.). It was the inspired genius of the apostle John which seized upon this word, applied it to Christ, and gave it a meaning as far above anything that Philo ever dreamed of. As a New Testament designation of the Christ, the term Word is found only four times in the New Testament, twice in this prologue (Vv. 1, 14), in I John 1:1, and in Revelation 19:13.
The use of the Greek term implies that the order and reason which existed in the mind of God found place and meaning on earth in Jesus Christ as an expression of the mind of God. Just as our thoughts and purposes are made known when we communicate through words (Matt. 15:18), God’s ageless purposes are made known through His Word.
The mechanical analysis of this Prologue divides its text first of all into two sections of unequal size which deal with the two persons mentioned in them: the Word and John the Baptist. By so dividing the text, two lines of thought appear. Verses 1 to 5, 9 to 14, 16 to 18 concern the Word; verses 6 to 8 concern John the Baptist. The structure of the Prologue divides naturally into seven sections, each of which deals with some aspect of Jesus Christ, the Word. These divisions contain the gist of the message of the Gospel.
THE WORD AND DEITY
No more meaningful statement about the person of Jesus was ever made than the declaration of His preexistence: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). It is similar to God’s statement about Himself to Moses, “I Am that I Am” (Exodus 3:14), stressing the eternity of his deity.
Our finite minds cannot comprehend eternity. John is condescending our level of understanding. He gives us a point in time (the beginning) from which to reflect upon the eternal existence of the Word. The first statement of John carries us back to the account given in Genesis 1:1 of the beginning of all things, when, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Before the world and time, the Word already existed. The verb “was” emphasizes existence, and in the imperfect tense it has a continuing meaning. The same emphasis upon existence is made in John 8:58: “Before Abraham was, I am.” These are two ways of saying He existed from all eternity. He was not what certain heretics claimed Him to be, a created being.
The discerning reader will notice that John makes no argument for the existence of God. He boldly assumes that God does exist, just as the writer of Genesis begins by assuming the existence of God.
“And the Word was with God” means more than simple co-existence. The Greek word translated “with” is the word pros. As John used it here and other places it represents equality and intimacy. The word was “face to face with God”; He was “in the bosom of the Father” (v. 18), and was “on an equality with God” (Phil. 2:6). There was perfect sharing by the Father and the Word. Before Bethlehem, the Son had been a spiritual being without an earthly body. He took upon Himself an earthly form; he became man; he “emptied himself” (Phil. 2:7).
And more, “the Word was God.” As the writer of Hebrews expresses it: “the effulgence of his glory, and the very image of his sustenance” (Heb. 1:3). Paul wrote to the Colossians that “in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9). Jesus is like God, for He is Deity. When we understand that Jesus existed eternally in such a state of oneness with the Father, we begin to understand that God was and is always like Jesus Christ (minus His earthly body, of course).
THE WORD AND CREATION
The three prepositions of verse one are reduced to a single declaration in verse two: “The same was in the beginning with God.” The repetition prepares the way for the statement that follows in verse three and “the practice of repeating an important truth for the sake of emphasis, or of preparing the mind of connected truth, is characteristic of this evangelist’s style”
To continue his emphasis on the reincarnation of life of the Word, John declares that Jesus participated in creation. “All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made” (v. 3). Everything that man could see, the hills and the sky or rivers and forests, declaring the eternal existence of Christ. “All things were created beings or things came into existence. Hailey said, “Their creation became an expression of His will. It was by God’s will that they were, but they were created by Jesus Christ as the Word of God. This puts Christ before all things, both in times and preeminence or primacy.” As its creator, Christ has continuing control of the universe. He is not only the one by whom all things were made; He is the ruling Lord. In that assurance we can take comfort. God’s eternal purpose of creation will be carried out, for His Son is still in charge of things.
THE WORD AND LIFE
In addition to the creation of all things (vs. 3), the work of the Word in the world of men emphasizes the intellectual, moral, and spiritual aspects of life and light. John says of Him, “In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (v. 4). The word Life occurs thirty-six times in this Gospel. In 20:31, John states that the major purpose in writing this Gospel is that men “might have life through his name.” From Him proceeded the life that has given light to men, the revelation of God which appeals to the conscience and reason of man. The life not only gives light to a darkened world, but it is that which quickens in man a response to the light. Through believing in the light men can become “sons of light” (12:36).
THE WORD AND THE WORLD
John has just spoken of the personal coming of the Light of the world. Lest anyone should forget that He was already in the world as the Word, he says “He was in the world, and the world was made by him and the world knew him not” (v. 10). The very creator of the world cast aside the glory of His eternal existence and chose to enter earth life as a man subject to all the inconveniences and limitations of the flesh. That is a fact of awesome wonder, but added to that is the obstinate and rebellious refusal of the Lord’s creation to acknowledge Him when He came.
World, used seventy-seven times in this gospel, is one of the distinctive terms used by John. Here it applies to the material and spiritual environment in which men live. Some men, no doubt, rejected Jesus because they did not understand Him or the spiritual mission He had come to fulfill on earth. He was so different from their preconceived notions of the promised Messiah that they refused His call and spurned His pleas. Other men rejected Christ because they did understand Him and they wanted to have no part of Him or His ministry. They stood at the crossroads of decision. Deliberately they chose the road that led away from Him. They did not merely neglect Him; they rejected Him - and with Him, truth.
THE WORD AND MEN
Verses 11 through 13 develop further the statements of verse 10. The statement, “unto his own,” really means He came home. Because the world was His creation, He had come to visit His own property. The same expression is used in 16:32 referring to the disciples’ departure, each man to his own home; and in 19:27 where it states that the beloved disciple took Jesus’ mother to his own home.
The fact that man can spurn his Maker reveals the kind of man God made and suggests the purpose He had in His act of creation. Man is given a will; he must exercise his choice. Jesus came to Palestine, but the purpose He had in His act of creation. Man is given a will; he must exercise his choice. Jesus came to Palestine, but the populace offered little promise to Jesus. We would assume that, in the light of their background, His people would have been waiting to greet Him with open arms. Their opportunities to know Him had been so many. The efforts of God to reveal Himself to His own had been so frequent. Throughout their history God had sought to prepare His people for this hour when He would appear in the flesh. When the hour came, they failed God utterly. They rejected the Christ of prophecy.
Rejection, however, has as its counterpart reception. John states that some did receive Him, and hastens to discuss the reception in terms of its effects: “But as many as receive him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God…” To be a Jew meant one was physically born and made more fully in chapter 3, that becoming a child of God does not depend on physical birth, because it does not lie within man’s will to make a child of God. The new life in Christ does not depend on blood, upon physical descent from Abraham or from any other ancestor. Two thoughts in this verse were developed later in John’s gospel, that of the new birth in chapter 3, and that of the true children of Abraham in chapter 8.
THE WORD INCARNATE
The central truth of John’s witness begins to witness itself in verse 14: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.” This claim was a staggering mystery. How could the divine become human? How could spirit take on flesh? How could the Son of God become a mna?
The Word became flesh, expressing Himself in a human personality that was made visible, audible, and tangible. He partook of flesh and blood with its limits of space and time. But then He “dwelt among us.” “Dwelt” really means “to pitch tent.” He literally camped among us.
It is a weakness of many Christians today to emphasize so strongly the deity of Jesus that they forget that Jesus Christ was fully man as well. Since we are flesh and blood and often enslaved by fear of death, Jesus shared with us this nature in order that He might relieve us of this terrible fear which chains all humanity. He conquered Satan and took away his power of death! And the beauty of it all is that Jesus shared in our fleshly nature, without sin, that He might become our Eternal High Priest, one who intercedes on our behalf Who has been “touched with the feeling of our infirmities… tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).
THE WORD REVEALING
The final and climatic statement of the Prologue concerning Jesus, the Word, is found in verse 18: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” It is in Christ that God has chosen to reveal Himself. Jesus Christ has seen God, and has been in the closest communion with Him. This is expressed in the phrase “in the bosom of the Father,” which means He is in the closest and most affectionate relationship with Him as His Son.
In the flesh, Christ revealed the Father. Hailey said, “Men had seen visions, theophanies, and angelic flesh, no man had seen God in person. Now ‘the only begotten Son,’ He who was with God from the beginning and who was Deity itself, has revealed, interpreted, unfolded God, becoming ‘a satisfying exposition’ of Him.”
Jesus Christ, the Word, is the complete and perfect revelation of God. In this He fulfilled the words of the prophets who had said that He should be “Immanuel-God with us” (Isa. 7:14).
John presents the evidence that Jesus is the Christ, the Word. The reputation and character of Jesus hang in the balance. If He is not the Word that John testifies Him to be, then He is an imposter, liar, and scoundrel of the deepest dye. He cannot be a Saviour, not even a good man, if He was not “God in the flesh.” The reader must look at the evidence as presented by John and determine what he shall do with Jesus. The book is available; it is either fact or fiction. If fact, then Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and the Redeemer of the world. If fiction, then John has perpetrated upon mankind a fraud of gigantic proportions with no known motive for his fraud.