In our first lesson from John’s gospel we noticed John’s prologue as he introduces Jesus. Jesus is the Word. He is the eternal God who reveals the message and character of God. Jesus is the creator of all things and nothing was created without him. Further, in Jesus is life. If we are not in Jesus, we are dead. We are dead in our sins, separated from God, and have nothing. In Jesus is life. Also, Jesus is light. Jesus brings light to the eyes so that we can see the way to God. Through Jesus we have light in the darkness of this world to know the way to the Father. John introduces his gospel with these great themes. John sets about telling us about a man named John.
John the Witness
The author intends to show us an abrupt change. The first five verses have the revealed the eternal Word of God. The prologue is all about the eternal Word who is the eternal life and eternal light. Suddenly, the author says that there was a man. We are no longer talking about the Word. This person named John is a man. The synoptic gospels will call John “the Baptizer.” He will also be referred to as the messenger and the prophet. But in this gospel the author does not call John “the Baptizer.” In this gospel John is called “the Witness.” Notice verse 6 as we begin our study. Our key word in verse 6 is “sent.” Verse 6 reveals the commission of John. John did not come about his task on his own. John was sent by God. John was divinely commissioned to be a spokesperson. Verse 7 contains the next key word, “witness.” John is a human witness sent from God. He came as a witness to give his witness or testimony concerning the light. Keep this in mind: John’s purpose is to testify to the Light. This is very important to the theme of John’s gospel. Bearing witness only occur twice in all three synoptic gospels combined. However, bearing witness occurs 33 times in John’s gospel. Remember the objective that the author has in this gospel. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30–31 ESV) This gospel is the testimony, the witness, to prove Jesus is the Son of God. John is the Witness with the purpose to testify of him.
The purpose is more clearly stated at the end of verse 7. John came as a witness so that all might believe through him. This is an amazing function of John. The author is not saying that all would believe through Jesus. Jesus is the object of our faith. Jesus is what we believe in. John would function as a witness to the light so that people would believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Through John’s witness people were to recognize that Jesus is the light and therefore believe in Jesus. John is saying to listen to him so that you will believe in Jesus. John’s role as the witness was to recognize the true Light when it appeared and call attention to it “so that all might believe.” This belief is not merely acknowledgement, which we will notice throughout this gospel. Believing in Jesus means to recognize who Jesus is, to put one’s trust fully in him for deliverance, and commit one’s self completely to the Light. If you will, John as a witness is a recruiter for the light. His testimony is to bring people to recognize the light.
Witness to the Light
Do we recognize the irony of this statement? It is truly shocking. Why would someone have to bear witness to the light? If we were to turn out all the lights in the room at night so that it was pitch black, if someone were to turn on the light, no one would have to testify and tell people that there is the light. If I turned on the light, would I have to tell that there is the light? You would know that the light is on. You would be able to see the light. The author of this gospel is setting up for us the theme of this book through yet another simple statement. Who are people that need to be told about the light? Who are the people who need a witness to give testimony that the light is shining? The answer is blind people. People who cannot see. People who have been in the darkness for so long that they cannot recognize light or comprehend what light is. Remember in John 1:5 we noted the dual nature of John’s declaration: “And the darkness did not overcome it” also means “the darkness did not comprehend it.” Jesus is the light shining in the darkness (1:4). John is the witness telling the blind people who live in the darkness that the light is shining and to go to the light. John has to take people by the hand and show them that Jesus is the light.
This problem was not confined to the days of John the Witness. Listen to the words of the apostle Paul.
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:3–6 ESV)
The god of this world, Satan, has blinded the mind of unbelievers, so that no one can see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. We are blind and need someone to give testimony to the light. John was the first witness to the light shining in the darkness. After John, then the apostles were witnesses to the light shining in the darkness. The apostles received the light and gave the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ to the world. They were reflection of the true light so that people can come out of darkness and into his light.
This problem has not changed even today. People are still blind and lost in the darkness. They cannot see the light and they need people to point them to the light. The apostle Paul taught that the Jewish nation was to be a people who brought people from the darkness and to the light and were to be a guide to the blind but failed (Romans 2:19). Listen to the words of Jesus.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14–16 ESV)
Our mission as lights in the world is not merely in terms of holy conduct. The apostles Paul and John repeatedly call us children of light that must walk in holiness and purity. But there is a reason that we live this way and it is not just so that we can go to heaven. We are given the task of being lights so that others may see. They are blinded by the darkness of this world and we will reflect the light of Jesus in such a way that they will see our good works and given glory to our Father. We are not witnesses. But we are to be torches in the darkness, shining the light of Jesus in this dark world. “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:14–15 ESV)
The Position of the Witness
Finally, notice verse 8. John was not the light. The author of this gospel wants to make this point abundantly clear so that we do not make a mistake in understanding who John is. John is the witness. John is not the light. John came to bear witness to the light. The author wants to emphasize John’s subordination to the light. This first chapter will make this point a number of times. John is not the light and he is in submission to the light. Successful servants of Jesus understand their proper role: to point to the light. We do not point to ourselves. We do not glorify ourselves. We do not point people to the church. Successful servants of Jesus point to the light. We glorify Jesus. We point people to Jesus. We show people Jesus. As we live, we simply point to the One greater than us. Our teaching must always point to Jesus. Our lives always show glory to Jesus. We must continue to point people to the light. We cannot walk in the light of Jesus and then put that light under a basket, hiding it from others. We must shine.