John Bible Study (That You May Believe)

John 1:1-5, The Word


We continue our study of the prologue to John’s gospel. In our last lesson we notice the foundational teaching that Jesus is God. John proves Jesus is God by showing that Jesus created all things and that in him is the light and the life. We also noticed that this a gospel that is filled with signs and symbols. As we study this gospel, it is important to ask ourselves why John is using the signs that he is using to prove who Jesus is. It is just as important to consider the distinctiveness of this gospel. It is not our job nor should we desire to try to turn this gospel into a synoptic gospel. John is not telling a narration of Jesus’ life. We must appreciate the distinctiveness of the four gospels and especially consider how different John’s gospel is from the other three gospels.

John omits many things that either one or more of the other gospels record. John does not give any account of the birth of Jesus. There is no mention of Jesus’ baptism. There is no record of the temptation of Jesus nor his transfiguration. The appointment of his apostles is not mentioned. The institution of the Lord’s Supper is not found in this gospel. The ascension of Jesus is not recorded. Neither is there a great commission declared in this gospel. Perhaps the most notable of missing elements in this gospel is that there are no parables. While Matthew and Luke are filled with parables the Gospel of John has zero. Further, John’s gospel records many events that the other gospels do not record, which must catch our attention. Only John records the miracle of changing water to wine. Only John records Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus. Only John records the woman at the well in Samaria. Consider that only John records the raising of Lazarus from the dead. While the other gospels focus mainly on the teachings and movements of Jesus outside of Jerusalem, John’s gospel keeps its focus on Jesus primarily in Jerusalem.

John’s gospel only contains seven signs, many of which are unique to his gospel. The seven of the signs are performed before Jesus’ death. Those seven signs are the water turned to wine, the healing of the official’s son, the healing at the pool, the feeding of the 5000, walking on water, healing a blind man, and raising Lazarus from the dead. The ultimate and final sign is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. There are also seven “I AM” statements made by Jesus that John records in his gospel. This gospel reflects a great deal of symmetry in its unique way of bringing about faith in those who read it.

The prologue to John’s gospel sets the tone for what John is accomplishing. The first five verses of John’s gospel contains the theme of John’s writing. We are going to read so much about life and light in this gospel. John’s effort is to prove that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God by showing that Jesus does what God the Father does. This will be a theme we will notice throughout the gospel. Jesus is God because he is doing what only God can do. In these first five verses we see that Jesus is God because he did only what God can do: create, give life, and give light. These are activities reserved only for the power of God. Since Jesus did these things, then he also is God. This theme becomes the lens by which we must study John’s gospel. We must ask ourselves how Jesus’ teachings or actions parallel what we see God doing in the Old Testament, therefore proving that Jesus is God. D.A. Carson makes the same point: “John intends that the whole of his gospel shall be read in light of this verse. The deeds and words of Jesus are the deeds and words of God” (Pillar New Testament Commentary, 117).

Jesus Is The Word

We must examine why Jesus is called “The Word.” Consider that there are many descriptive terms that the Holy Spirit could have used through John to describe Jesus. He could have been called the light, the life, or some other term. But the term given to the Son of God is the Word. What is being communicated by calling Jesus the Word?

In keeping with the theme of this gospel, God’s word is what brings things into existence and brought the world into being. To call the Son of God by the term “the Word” denotes that creative power of God that must have been there in the beginning. The Word must have been there before creation because it is through the Word that the whole universe was spoken in existence.

The other important aspect of the Son of God being called the Word is that the Word reflects the one who speaks. A person’s words are the means by which people reveal what they are thinking. You do not know what is in my mind unless I communicate my thoughts to you. Therefore, the Word is the revelation of the mind of God. The Word reveals the very nature of God. Jesus is God’s Word for us. Because Jesus is the eternal Word of God, and because that Word became flesh and dwelt among us, we are able to know God. This is the very point the writer of Hebrews makes as he begins his letter.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:1–3 ESV)

Notice the parallels to the beginning of John’s gospel. God has spoken by his Son. The Son is the revelation of God. Through the Son the world was created. Through the Son we are able to see God. He is the radiance of God’s glory. He is the exact imprint of God’s nature. He upholds the whole world by his powerful word. Jesus is the Word because he is the revelation of the mind of God. We can know God because we have the life and teachings of Jesus. This is why Jesus could say, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). If we want to know God and know what God is like, then we need to know Jesus. One writer stated it well, “What Jesus did was to open a window in time that we might see the eternal and unchanging love of God.” Jesus is God’s message to the world. Jesus is God’s teaching, commands, and direction to the world.

Jesus Creator, Not Created

This text has come under great scrutiny, especially by those who claim that Jesus not the eternal God. The Muslims claim Jesus was not God but a created human being like a prophet. The Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that all of our Bibles are mistranslated. They claim the text should say that “the Word was a god.” In fact, their own translation, the New World Translation, has this rendering. The point they make is that there is no definite article in the Greek in front of the word “God.” Now Greek scholars will tell you that this is an unacceptable argument because the Greek does not work like the English language in terms of definite articles. By way of reference, John 1:6,12,13, and 18 also do not have a definite article in front of the word “God” but no one renders those verses as “a god.” No one reads, “There was a man sent from a god, whose name was John.” No one argues that John the Baptizer was sent from a god. He was sent from God the Father. So the argument from Greek is invalid. But rather than take you down the road of Greek, we can defeat this false teaching just by using the text itself because John is making an emphatic argument.

Verse 3 is our critical verse. “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” If the Word was made or created, as some groups contend, then we had to create himself. All things were made through him. If he is created, then he must have created himself. If you do not exist you cannot bring yourself into being. This is a pretty simple idea. How can you make yourself if you do not exist to be make yourself? Therefore, if he made everything that was made, then he cannot be made. If he made everything, then he cannot fall into the “made” category. He must be the maker. If he created everything, then he does not fall into the “created” group. He is the creator. It does not matter what Greek you know or what Greek arguments a person may want to present. To say that the Word was created is a direct contradiction of the clear words of this verse. Everything that was made was made by the Word. Therefore, the Word was not made.

Life, Light, and Darkness

To call Jesus “the light” and “the life” is another way to declare that Jesus is God. These terms were used in the scriptures to describe what God does.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light. (Psalm 36:7–9 ESV)

God alone possesses the fountain of life. We are only able to see because of the light of God. Light and darkness are contrasted in a number of symbolic ways in the scriptures. Light refers to truth (Psalm 119:105) and darkness refers to falsehood (Romans 2:19). Light symbolizes holiness (1 John 1:7; Romans 13:12; 2 Corinthians 6:14) and darkness symbolizes sin (Isaiah 5:20; Acts 26:18). Satan’s kingdom is called the domain of darkness (Colossians 1:13) but Christ dwells in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:6). Darkness stands for death while light stands for life (2 Timothy 1:10; Ephesians 5:13).

The word of God is often pictured as the light.

For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life (Proverbs 6:23 ESV)

For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness. (Psalm 18:28 ESV)

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105 ESV)

Until the arrival of Jesus, the light had been put out. Not only was the world full of sin, but the nation of Israel had lost its way and no longer represented the light to the nations as it was instructed to be. This lack of light is seen in that God no longer sent a light to the people any longer. For more than 400 years God did not send a prophet. No one was speaking the inspired word of the Lord. The nation had been left in darkness because they had turned away from the Lord. Jewish writers of the first century understood themselves to be lacking the light of God.

Babylonian Talmud, Yomah 9b: “After the latter prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi had died, the Holy Spirit departed from Israel, but they still availed themselves of the voice from heaven.”

Josephus, Against Apion: “From Artaxerxes to our own times a complete history has been written, but has not been deemed worthy of equal credit with the earlier records, because of the failure of the exact succession of the prophets.”

1 Maccabees: “So they tore down the altar and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until there should come a prophet to tell what to do with them.”

To this point the author has used past tenses (imperfects, aorists); now he switches to a present. The light continually shines (thus the NET translates, “The light shines on in the darkness”). Even as the author writes, it is shining. It expresses the timeless truth that the light of the world (cf. 8:12, 9:5, 12:46) never ceases to shine. Therefore we stand in a great time in human history, along with everyone who has lived once Christ came to the earth. The eternal message of God has been revealed through the life and teachings of Jesus. Further, Christ sent the Holy Spirit to guide his apostles into the full revelation of God’s truth, who wrote that message down for us. We must not look at the scriptures that we hold in our hands as words on a page. As Peter would confess, “You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). You are holding God’s light in your hands. You are holding life in your hands. The light continues to shine in the darkness. Now the eyes of your heart can be enlightened and you can comprehend the will of the Lord. Give your full devotion to the word of God. It is the light you need in this dark world. It will restore your soul and give you life it you will let the Spirit’s words reach your heart.

Finally, this imagery should capture our hearts in understanding when Jesus, who called himself light, then calls his disciples “lights in the world.” Not only did Jesus preach that we are the light of the world in the Sermon on the Mount, but listen to the words of his apostle, Paul.

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, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (Philippians 2:14–16 ESV)

We have a great charge to be kept. Shine as lights in the darkness of this world by holding fast to the word of life. Live in a way that shows you are lights. Do not let your light be made dim by sin and by the weights of the world that hold us back from shining bright.

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