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Jesus: The Word
An Exploration of John Chapter 1
The opening verses of John’s gospel is designed to paint the big picture of Jesus: Who he was, what he came to do, and what it means for all people. Read the passage and comments below, and reflect on some of the questions for yourself.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1-3)
How do you start a story? What about the very beginning? It’s often a really good place to start! And this is what John does. The very beginning. Mark's gospel opens with Jesus entering into his ministry. Luke traces Jesus’ story back to his birth in Bethlehem. Matthew goes further, listing Jesus' ancestry. But John goes back even further.
According to John, Jesus’ beginning - and the big story of who he is - goes back to the creation of the universe. In verse 1 John introduces a person – the Word – who has existed since the dawn of time. The Greek word for ‘the Word’ is ‘Logos’. To the first Jewish readers, this word was familiar as a shorthand for ‘God’ in Greek versions of the Old Testament. Non-Jewish readers would understand Logos within Greek philosophy as the shaping force in the universe. John explains that the Word was ‘with God’, and in fact, ‘was God’.
The Word was responsible for bringing life into the world. And The Word will form the subject of John's gospel.
- Which other famous book of the Bible starts with the phrase, ‘In the beginning...’?
- What point might John be trying to make by drawing this parallel?
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (vv.4-5)
John carries on these themes in verses 4-5. This 'Word' brought life in the beginning – just as He also brought light. (Compare Genesis 1:3 – the very first words spoken by God in creation were ‘let there be light’ – and there was light.) But there is an interesting shift to the present tense in verse 5. The light given by the Word shines here and now. It is as if John wants to make clear that he is not giving a history lesson about what the Word did thousands of years ago. He wants to talk about what the Word is doing now.
- What does the imagery of ‘light’ suggest to you? If a person is described as being a light, or bringing light, what might that suggest about them?
- What does the imagery of ‘darkness’ mean to you? What point do you think John is trying to make?
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (vv.6-8)
Having introduced this God-figure, The Word, John changes his focus. He speaks about John. The ‘John’ here is not the gospel writer, but John the Baptist. John the Baptist was preaching to crowds around Israel shortly before Jesus began his ministry. He is described in the gospels as a man who called people to repent, or change their way of living because God’s Kingdom was very near.
Many listeners at the time thought of John the Baptist as a special prophet, grouped in the same category as such figures as Elijah, one of the famous Old Testament prophets. John (the writer) describes him here as the warm-up act, getting people ready for the main event, the coming Messiah sent by God.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (vv. 9-13)
John (the writer) is building towards something. John (the Baptist) talked about the ‘true light’ (or Logos / God) – but John (the writer) makes it clear that God himself was on his way. Now, John is writing some years after Jesus was born, in roughly 90-110 AD. He speaks with hindsight when he notes that, even though ‘the light’ was coming to the world he made and the people he loved, not everybody recognised him. Some downright disliked him. But the people who ‘received’ the Word - who heard what he said and chose to follow him - found something special. They were welcomed into God’s family.
- Can you think of any stories about Jesus in the Bible which show how people were divided in their opinions of him?
- How do different people think about Jesus today?
- John uses the image of people becoming ‘children of God’. What does this suggest about the kind of relationship he claims people can have with God through Jesus?
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, ‘This is the one I spoke about when I said, “He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.”’) (vv.14-15)
John tells us that God himself, there at the beginning, became a real, living, human being. The infinite God of the universe was born as a vulnerable baby. He grew up. He experienced happiness, sorrow, friendship and frustration, just as we do. For a period of time, 2000 years ago, it was possible to see and talk to God face to face in the person of Jesus. This is what Christians call the incarnation. John’s evidence for this extraordinary claim is that he himself was an eye-witness to the event.
He also notes that John the Baptist, an accepted prophet amongst many of the early readers, vouched for Jesus as the promised Messiah.
Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in the closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (vv.16-18)
The word ‘gospel’ means ‘good news’. John ends his prologue by making it clear that Jesus’ presence on earth means good news for everyone, for all time. The story of the Old Testament was of God’s special relationship with the people of Israel: a covenant made and sealed through Moses receiving the law. Now this story is given a new dimension. A new covenant has been made, one where all people can now know life with God, because of Jesus.
John says again that Jesus, the Son, was himself God. Reflect on some of the stories from Jesus’ life and ministry. If seeing Jesus means seeing God himself, what would that make God like?
The word ‘gospel’ means ‘good news’. John makes it clear that Jesus’ presence on earth means good news for everyone, for all time. The story of the Old Testament was of God’s special relationship with the people of Israel: a covenant made and sealed through Moses receiving the law. Now this story is given a new dimension. A new covenant has been made, one where all people can now know life with God, because of Jesus.