William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
THE WORD (John 1:1-18)
1:1-18 When the world had its beginning, the Word was already there; and the Word was with God; and the Word was God. This Word was in the beginning with God. He was the agent through whom all things were made; and there is not a single thing which exists in this world which came into being without him. In him was life and the life was the light of men; and the light shines in the darkness, because the darkness has never been able to conquer it. There emerged a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness, in order to bear witness to the light, that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; his function was to bear witness to the light. He was the real light, who, in his coming into the world, gives light to every man. He was in the world, and, although the world was made by him, the world did not recognize him. It was into his own home that he came, and yet his own people did not receive him. To all those who did receive him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God. These were born, not of blood, nor of any human impulse, nor of any man's will, but their birth was of God. So the Word became a person, and took up his abode in our being, full of grace and truth; and we beheld his glory, glory such as an only son receives from his father. John was his witness, for he cried: "This is he of whom I said to you, he who comes after me has been advanced before me, because he was before me. On his fullness we all of us have drawn, and we have received grace upon grace, because it was the law which was given by Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is the unique one, he who is God, he who is in the bosom of the Father, who has told us all about God."
We shall go on to study this passage in short sections and in detail; but, before we do so, we must try to understand what John was seeking to say when he described Jesus as the Word.
The Word Became Flesh (John 1:1-18 Continued)
The first chapter of the Fourth Gospel is one of the greatest adventures of religious thought ever achieved by the mind of man.
It was not long before the Christian church was confronted with a very basic problem. It had begun in Judaism. In the beginning all its members had been Jews. By human descent Jesus was a Jew, and, to all intents and purposes, except for brief visits to the districts of Tyre and Sidon, and to the Decapolis, he was never outside Palestine. Christianity began amongst the Jews; and therefore inevitably it spoke in the Jewish language and used Jewish categories of thought.
But although it was cradled in Judaism it very soon went out into the wider world. Within thirty years of Jesus' death it had travelled all over Asia Minor and Greece and had arrived in Rome. By A.D. 60 there must have been a hundred thousand Greeks in the church for every Jew who was a Christian. Jewish ideas were completely strange to the Greeks. To take but one outstanding example, the Greeks had never heard of the Messiah. The very centre of Jewish expectation, the coming of the Messiah, was an idea that was quite alien to the Greeks. The very category in which the Jewish Christians conceived and presented Jesus meant nothing to them. Here then was the problem--how was Christianity to be presented to the Greek world?
Lecky, the historian, once said that the progress and spread of any idea depends, not only on its strength and force but on the predisposition to receive it of the age to which it is presented. The task of the Christian church was to create in the Greek world a predisposition to receive the Christian message. As E. J. Goodspeed put it, the question was, "Must a Greek who was interested in Christianity be routed through Jewish Messianic ideas and through Jewish ways of thinking, or could some new approach be found which would speak out of his background to his mind and heart?" The problem was how to present Christianity in such a way that a Greek would understand.
Round about the year A.D. 100 there was a man in Ephesus who was fascinated by that problem. His name was John. He lived in a Greek city. He dealt with Greeks to whom Jewish ideas were strange and unintelligible and even uncouth. How could he find a way to present Christianity to these Greeks in a way that they would welcome and understand? Suddenly the solution flashed upon him. In both Greek and Jewish thought there existed the conception of the word. Here was something which could be worked out to meet the double world of Greek Jew. Here was something which belonged to the heritage of both races and that both could understand.
Let us then begin by looking at the two backgrounds of the conception of the word.
The Jewish Background
In the Jewish background four strands contributed something to the idea of the word.
(i) To the Jew a word was far more than a mere sound; it was something which had an independent existence and which actually did things. As Professor John Paterson has put it: "The spoken word to the Hebrew was fearfully alive.... It was a unit of energy charged with power. It flies like a bullet to its billet." For that very reason the Hebrew was sparing of words. Hebrew speech has fewer than 10,000; Greek speech has 200,000.
A modern poet tells how once the doer of an heroic deed was unable to tell it to his fellow-tribesmen for lack of words. Whereupon there arose a man "afflicted with the necessary magic of words," and he told the story in terms so vivid and so moving that "the words became alive and walked up and down in the hearts of his hearers." The words of the poet became a power. History has many an example of that kind of thing.
When John Knox preached in the days of the Reformation in Scotland it was said that the voice of that one man put more courage into the hearts of his hearers than ten thousand trumpets braying in their ears. His words did things to people. In the days of the French Revolution Rouget de Lisle wrote the Marseillaise and that song sent men marching to revolution. The words did things. In the days of the Second World War, when Britain was bereft alike of allies and of weapons, the words of the Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, as he broadcast to the nation, did things to people.
It was even more so in the East, and still is. To the eastern people a word is not merely a sound; it is a power which does things. Once when Sir George Adam Smith was travelling in the desert in the East, a group of Moslems gave his party the customary greeting: "Peace be upon you." At the moment they failed to notice that he was a Christian. When they discovered that they had spoken a blessing to an infidel, they hurried back to ask for the blessing back again. The word was like a thing which could be sent out to do things and which could be brought back again. Will Carleton, the poet, expresses something like that:
"Boys flying kites haul in their white-winged birds;
You can't do that way when you're flying words:
'Careful with fire,' is good advice we know,
'Careful with words,' is ten times doubly so.
Thoughts unexpressed may sometimes fall back dead,
But God himself can't kill them when they're said."
We can well understand how to the eastern peoples words had an independent, power-filled existence.
(ii) Of that general idea of the power of words, the Old Testament is full. Once Isaac had been deceived into blessing Jacob instead of Esau, nothing he could do could take that word of blessing back again (Genesis 27:1-46 ). The word had gone out and had begun to act and nothing could stop it. In particular we see the word of God in action in the Creation story. At every stage of it we read: "And God said..." (Genesis 1:3; Genesis 1:6; Genesis 1:11). The word of God is the creating power. Again and again we get this idea of the creative, acting, dynamic word of God. "By the word of the Lord the heavens were made" (Psalms 33:6). "He sent forth his word and healed them" (Psalms 107:20). "He sent forth his commands to the earth; his word runs swiftly" (Psalms 147:15). "So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11). "Is not my word like fire, and, says the Lord, like a hammer which breaks the rock in pieces?" (Jeremiah 23:29). "Thou spakest from the beginning of creation, even the first day, and saidst thus: ' Let heaven and earth be made.' And thy word was a perfect work" (2 Esdras 6:38). The writer of the Book of Wisdom addresses God as the one, "who hast made an things with thy word" (Wisdom of Solomon 9:1). Everywhere in the Old Testament there is this idea of the powerful, creative word. Even men's words have a kind of dynamic activity; how much more must it be so with God?
(iii) There came into Hebrew religious life something which greatly accentuated the development of this idea of the word of God. For a hundred years and more before the coming of Jesus Hebrew was a forgotten language. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew but the Jews no longer knew the language. The scholars knew it, but not the ordinary people. They spoke a development of Hebrew called Aramaic which is to Hebrew somewhat as modern English is to Anglo-Saxon. Since that was so the Scriptures of the Old Testament had to be translated into this language that the people could understand, and these translations were called the Targums. In the synagogue the scriptures were read in the original Hebrew, but then they were translated into Aramaic and Targums were used as translations.
The Targums were produced in a time when men were fascinated by the transcendence of God and could think of nothing but the distance and the difference of God. Because of that the men who made the Targums were very much afraid of attributing human thoughts and feelings and actions to God. To put it in technical language, they made every effort to avoid anthropomorphism in speaking of him.
Now the Old Testament regularly speaks of God in a human way; and wherever they met a thing like that the Targums substituted the word of God for the name of God. Let us see how this custom worked. In Exodus 19:17 we read that "Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God." The Targums thought that was too human a way to speak of God, so they said that Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet the word of God. In Exodus 31:13 we read that God said to the people that the Sabbath "is a sign between me and you throughout your generations." That was far too human a way to speak for the Targums, and so they said that the Sabbath is a sign "between my word and you." Deuteronomy 9:3 says that God is a consuming fire, but the Targums translated it that the word of God is a consuming fire. Isaiah 48:13 has a great picture of creation: "My hand laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens." That was much too human a picture of God for the Targums and they made God say: "By my word I have founded the earth; and by my strength I have hung up the heavens." Even so wonderful a passage as Deuteronomy 33:27 which speaks of God's "everlasting arms" was changed, and became: "The eternal God is thy refuge, and by his word the world was created."
In the Jonathan Targum the phrase the word of God occurs no fewer than about 320 times. It is quite true that it is simply a periphrasis for the name of God; but the fact remains that the word of God became one of the commonest forms of Jewish expression. It was a phrase which any devout Jew would recognize because he heard it so often in the synagogue when scripture was read. Every Jew was used to speaking of the Memra, the word of God.
(iv) At this stage we must look more fully at something we already began to look at in the introduction. The Greek term for word is Logos (Greek #3056); but Logos (Greek #3056) does not only mean word; it also means reason. For John, and for all the great thinkers who made use of this idea, these two meanings were always closely intertwined. Whenever they used Logos (Greek #3056) the twin ideas of the Word of God and the Reason of God were in their minds.
The Jews had a type of literature called The Wisdom Literature which was the concentrated wisdom of sages. It is not usually speculative and philosophical, but practical wisdom for the living and management of life. In the Old Testament the great example of Wisdom Literature is the Book of Proverbs. In this book there are certain passages which give a mysterious life-giving and eternal power to Wisdom (Sophia). In these passages Wisdom has been, as it were, personified, and is thought of as the eternal agent and co-worker of God. There are three main passages.
The first is Proverbs 3:13-26. Out of that passage we may specially note:
"She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who
hold her fast are called happy. The Lord by wisdom founded the
earth; by understanding he established the heavens; by his
knowledge the deeps broke forth, and the clouds drop down the
dew" (Proverbs 3:18-20).
We remember that Logos (Greek #3056) means Word and also means Reason. We have already seen how the Jews thought of the powerful and creative word of God. Here we see the other side beginning to emerge. Wisdom is God's agent in enlightenment and in creation; and Wisdom and Reason are very much the same thing. We have seen how important Logos (Greek #3056) was in the sense of Word; now we see it beginning to be important in the sense of Wisdom or Reason.
The second important passage is Proverbs 4:5-13. In it we may notice:
"Keep hold of instruction, do not let go; guard her, for she is
The Word is the light of men and Wisdom is the light of men. The two ideas are amalgamating with each other rapidly now.
The most important passage of all is in Proverbs 8:1-9; Proverbs 2:1-22 . In it we may specially note:
"The Lord created me (Wisdom is speaking) at the beginning of his
work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the
first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no
depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding
with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the
hills, I was brought forth; before he had made the earth with its
fields, or the first of the dust of the world. When he established
the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the
deep; when he made firm the skies above; when he established the
fountains of the deep; when he assigned to the sea its limit, so
that the waters might not transgress his command; when he marked
out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a
master workman; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before
him always" (Proverbs 8:22-30).
When we read that passage there is echo after echo of what John says of the word in the John 1:1-51 . Wisdom had that eternal existence, that light-giving function, that creative power which John attributed to the word, the Logos (Greek #3056), with which he identified Jesus Christ.
The development of this idea of wisdom did not stop here. Between the Old and the New Testament, men went on producing this kind of writing called Wisdom Literature. It had so much concentrated wisdom in it and drew so much from the experience of wise men that it was a priceless guide for life. In particular two very great books were written, which are included in the Apocrypha and which it will do any man's soul good to read.
(a) The first is called The Wisdom of Jesus, the son of Sirach, or, as it is better known, Ecclesiasticus. It too makes much of this great conception of the creative and eternal wisdom of God.
"The sand of the sea, and the drops of the rain,
And the days of eternity who shall number?
The height of the heaven and the breadth of the earth
And the deep and wisdom, who shall search them out?
Wisdom hath been created before all things,
And the understanding of prudence from everlasting"
"I came forth from the mouth of the Most High,
And covered the earth as a mist.
I dwelt in high places,
And my throne is in the pillar of the cloud.
Alone I compassed the circuit of the heaven,
And walked in the depth of the abyss"
"He created me from the beginning of the world,
And to the end I shall not fail"
Here again we find wisdom as the eternal, creative power which was at God's side in the days of creation and the beginning of time.
(b) Ecclesiasticus was written in Palestine about the year 100 B.C.; and at almost the same time an equally great book was written in Alexandria in Egypt, called The Wisdom of Solomon. In it there is the greatest of all pictures of wisdom. Wisdom is the treasure which men use to become the friends of God (Wisdom of Solomon 7:14). Wisdom is the artificer of all things (Wisdom of Solomon 7:22). She is the breath of the power of God and a pure effluence flowing from the Almighty (Wisdom of Solomon 7:25). She can do all things and makes all things new (Wisdom of Solomon 7:27).
But the writer does more than talk about wisdom; he equates wisdom and the word. To him the two ideas are the same. He can talk of the wisdom of God and the word of God in the same sentence and with the same meaning. When he prays to God, his address is:
O God of my fathers, and Lord of mercy, who hast made all
things with thy word, and ordained man through thy wisdom
(Wisdom of Solomon 9:2).
He can speak of the word almost as John was to speak:
"For while all things were in quiet silence, and that night was in
the midst of her swift course, thine Almighty word leaped down
from heaven out of thy royal throne, as a fierce man of war into
the midst of a land of destruction, and brought thine unfeigned
commandment as a sharp sword, and standing up filled all things
with death; and it touched the heaven but it stood upon the earth
(Wisdom of Solomon 18:14-16).
To the writer of the Book of Wisdom, wisdom was God's eternal, creative, illuminating power; wisdom and the word were one and the same. It was wisdom and the word who were God's instruments and agents in creation and who ever bring the will of God to the mind and heart of man.
So when John was searching for a way in which he could commend Christianity he found in his own faith and in the record of his own people the idea of the word, the ordinary word which is in itself not merely a sound, but a dynamic thing, the word of God by which God created the world, the word of the Targums which expressed the very idea of the action of God, the wisdom of the Wisdom Literature which was the eternal creative and illuminating power of God. So John said: "If you wish to see that word of God, if you wish to see the creative power of God, if you wish to see that word which brought the world into existence and which gives light and life to every man, look at Jesus Christ. In him the word of God came among you."
The Greek Background
We began by seeing that John's problem was not that of presenting Christianity to the Jewish world, but of presenting it to the Greek world. How then did this idea of the word fit into Greek thought? It was already there waiting to be used. In Greek thought the idea of the word began away back about 560 B.C., and, strangely enough, in Ephesus where the Fourth Gospel was written.
In 560 B.C. there was an Ephesian philosopher called Heraclitus whose basic idea was that everything is in a state of flux. Everything was changing from day to day and from moment to moment. His famous illustration was that it was impossible to step twice into the same river. You step into a river; you step out; you step in again; but you do not step into the same river, for the water has flowed on and it is a different river. To Heraclitus everything was like that, everything was in a constantly changing state of flux. But if that be so, why was life not complete chaos? How can there be any sense in a world where there was constant flux and change?
The answer of Heraclitus was: all this change and flux was not haphazard; it was controlled and ordered, following a continuous pattern all the time; and that which controlled the pattern was the Logos (Greek #3056), the word, the reason of God. To Heraclitus, the Logos (Greek #3056) was the principle of order under which the universe continued to exist. Heraclitus went further. He held that not only was there a pattern in the physical world; there was also a pattern in the world of events. He held that nothing moved with aimless feet; in all life and in all the events of life there was a purpose, a plan and a design. And what was it that controlled events? Once again, the answer was Logos (Greek #3056).
Heraclitus took the matter even nearer home. What was it that in us individually told us the difference between right and wrong? What made us able to think and to reason? What enabled us to choose aright and to recognize the truth when we saw it? Once again Heraclitus gave the same answer. What gave a man reason and knowledge of the truth and the ability to judge between right and wrong was the Logos (Greek #3056) of God dwelling within him. Heraclitus held that in the world of nature and events "all things happen according to the Logos (Greek #3056)," and that in the individual man "the Logos (Greek #3056) is the judge of truth." The Logos (Greek #3056) was nothing less than the mind of God controlling the world and every man in it.
Once the Greeks had discovered this idea they never let it go. It fascinated them, especially the Stoics. The Stoics were always left in wondering amazement at the order of the world. Order always implies a mind. The Stoics asked: "What keeps the stars in their courses? What makes the tides ebb and flow? What makes day and night come in unalterable order? What brings the seasons round at their appointed times?" And they answered; "All things are controlled by the Logos (Greek #3056) of God." The Logos (Greek #3056) is the power which puts sense into the world, the power which makes the world an order instead of a chaos, the power which set the world going and keeps it going in its perfect order. "The Logos (Greek #3056)," said the Stoics, "pervades all things."
There is still another name in the Greek world at which we must look. In Alexandria there was a Jew called Philo who had made it the business of his life to study the wisdom of two worlds, the Jewish and the Greek. No man ever knew the Jewish scriptures as he knew them; and no Jew ever knew the greatness of Greek thought as he knew it. He too knew and used and loved this idea of the Logos (Greek #3056), the word, the reason of God. He held that the Logos (Greek #3056) was the oldest thing in the world and the instrument through which God had made the world. He said that the Logos (Greek #3056) was the thought of God stamped upon the universe; he talked about the Logos (Greek #3056) by which God made the world and all things; he said that God, the pilot of the universe, held the Logos (Greek #3056) as a tiller and with it steered all things. He said that man's mind was stamped also with the Logos (Greek #3056), that the Logos (Greek #3056) was what gave a man reason, the power to think and the power to know. He said that the Logos (Greek #3056) was the intermediary between the world and God and that the Logos (Greek #3056) was the priest who set the soul before God.
Greek thought knew all about the Logos (Greek #3056); it saw in the Logos (Greek #3056) the creating and guiding and directing power of God, the power which made the universe and kept it going. So John came to the Greeks and said: "For centuries you have been thinking and writing and dreaming about the Logos (Greek #3056), the power which made the world, the power which keeps the order of the world, the power by which men think and reason and know, the power by which men come into contact with God. Jesus is that Logos (Greek #3056) come down to earth." "The word," said John, "became flesh." We could put it another way--"The Mind of God became a person."
Both Jew And Greek
Slowly the Jews and Greeks had thought their way to the conception of the Logos (Greek #3056), the Mind of God which made the world and makes sense of it. So John went out to Jews and Greeks to tell them that in Jesus Christ this creating, illuminating, controlling, sustaining mind of God had come to earth. He came to tell them that men need no longer guess and grope; all that they had to do was to look at Jesus and see the Mind of God.
The Eternal Word (John 1:1-2)
1:1-2 When the world had its beginning, the word was already there; and the word was with God; and the word was God. This word was in the beginning with God.
The beginning of John's gospel is of such importance and of such depth of meaning that we must study it almost verse by verse. It is John's great thought that Jesus is none other than God's creative and life-giving and light-giving word, that Jesus is the power of God which created the world and the reason of God which sustains the world come to earth in human and bodily form.
Here at the beginning John says three things about the word; which is to say that he says three things about Jesus.
(i) The word was already there at the very beginning things. John's thought is going back to the first verse of the Bible. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). What John is saying is this--the word is not one of the created things; the word was there before creation. the word is not part of the world which came into being in time; the word is part of eternity and was there with God before time and the world began. John was thinking of what is known as the preexistence of Christ.
In many ways this idea of preexistence is very difficult, if not altogether impossible, to grasp. But it does mean one very simple, very practical, and very tremendous thing. If the word was with God before time began, if God's word is part of the eternal scheme of things, it means that God was always like Jesus. Sometimes we tend to think of God as stern and avenging; and we tend to think that something Jesus did changed God's anger into love and altered his attitude to men. The New Testament knows nothing of that idea. The whole New Testament tells us, this passage of John especially, that God has always been like Jesus. What Jesus did was to open a window in time that we might see the eternal and unchanging love of God.
We may well ask, "What then about some of the things that we read in the Old Testament? What about the passages which speak about commandments of God to wipe out whole cities and to destroy men, women and children? What of the anger and the destructiveness and the jealousy of God that we sometimes read of in the older parts of Scripture?" The answer is this--it is not God who has changed; it is men's knowledge of him that has changed. Men wrote these things because they did not know any better; that was the stage which their knowledge of God had reached.
When a child is learning any subject, he has to learn it stage by stage. He does not begin with full knowledge; he begins with what he can grasp and goes on to more and more. When he begins music appreciation, he does not start with a Bach Prelude and Fugue; he starts with something much more simple; and goes through stage after stage until his knowledge grows. It was that way with men and God. They could only grasp and understand God's nature and his ways in part. It was only when Jesus came that they saw fully and completely what God has always been like.
It is told that a little girl was once confronted with some of the more bloodthirsty and savage parts of the Old Testament. Her comment was: "But that happened before God became a Christian!" If we may so put it with all reverence, when John says that the word was always there, he is saying that God was always a Christian. He is telling us that God was and is and ever shall be like Jesus; but men could never know and realize that until Jesus came.
(ii) John goes on to say that the word was with God What does he mean by that? He means that always there has been the closest connection between the word and God. Let us put that in another and a simpler way--there has always been the most intimate connection between Jesus and God. That means no one can tell us what God is like, what God's will is for us, what God's love and heart and mind are like, as Jesus can.
Let us take a simple human analogy. If we want to know what someone really thinks and feels about something, and if we are unable to approach the person ourselves, we do not go to someone who is merely an acquaintance of that person, to someone who has known him only a short time; we go to someone whom we know to be an intimate friend of many years' standing. We know that he will really be able to interpret the mind and the heart of the other person to us.
It is something like that that John is saying about Jesus. He is saying that Jesus has always been with God. Let us use every human language because it is the only language we can use. John is saying that Jesus is so intimate with God that God has no secrets from him; and that, therefore, Jesus is the one person in all the universe who can reveal to us what God is like and how God feels towards us.
(iii) Finally John says that the word was God This is a difficult saying for us to understand, and it is difficult because Greek, in which John wrote, had a different way of saying things from the way in which English speaks. When Greek uses a noun it almost always uses the definite article with it. The Greek for God is theos (Greek #2316) and the definite article is ho (Greek #3588). When Greek speaks about God it does not simply say theos (Greek #2316); it says ho theos (Greek #2316). Now when Greek does not use the definite article with a noun that noun becomes much more like an adjective. John did not say that the word was ho (Greek #3588) theos (Greek #2316); that would have been to say that the word was identical with God. He said that the word was theos (Greek #2316)--without the definite article--which means that the word was, we might say, of the very same character and quality and essence and being as God. When John said the word was God he was not saying that Jesus was identical with God; he was saying that Jesus was so perfectly the same as God in mind, in heart, in being that in him we perfectly see what God is like.
So right at the beginning of his gospel John lays it down that in Jesus, and in him alone, there is perfectly revealed to men all that God always was and always will be, and all that he feels towards and desires for men.
The Creator Of All Things (John 1:3)
1:3 He was the agent through whom all things were made; and there is not a single thing which exists in this world which came into being without him.
It may seem strange to us that John so stresses the way in which the world was created; and it may seem strange that he so definitely connects Jesus with the work of creation. But he had to do this because of a certain tendency in the thought of his day.
In the time of John there was a kind of heresy called Gnosticism. Its characteristic was that it was an intellectual and philosophical approach to Christianity. To the Gnostics the simple beliefs of the ordinary Christian were not enough. They tried to construct a philosophic system out of Christianity. They were troubled about the existence of sin and evil and sorrow and suffering in this world, so they worked out a theory to explain it. The theory was this.
In the beginning two things existed--the one was God and the other was matter. Matter was always there and was the raw material out of which the world was made. The Gnostics held that this original matter was flawed and imperfect. We might put it that the world got off to a bad start. It was made of material which had the seeds of corruption in it.
The Gnostics went further. God, they said, is pure spirit, and pure spirit can never touch matter at an, still less matter which is imperfect. Therefore it was not possible for God to carry out the work of creation himself So he put out from himself a series of emanations. Each emanation was further and further away from God and as the emanations got further and further away from him, they knew less and less about him. About halfway down the series there was an emanation which knew nothing at all about God. Beyond that stage the emanations began to be not only ignorant of but actually hostile to God. Finally in the series there was an emanation which was so distant from God that it was totally ignorant of him and totally hostile to him--and that emanation was the power which created the world, because it was so distant from God that it was possible for it to touch this flawed and evil matter. The creator god was utterly divorced from and utterly at enmity with the real God.
The Gnostics took one step further. They identified the creator god with the God of the Old Testament; and they held that the God of the Old Testament was quite different from, quite ignorant of and quite hostile to the God and Father of Jesus Christ.
In the time of John this kind of belief was widespread. Men believed that the world was evil and that an evil God had created it. It is to combat this teaching that John here lays down two basic Christian truths. In point of fact the connection of Jesus with creation is repeatedly laid down in the New Testament, just because of this background of thought which divorced God from the world in which we live. In Colossians 1:16 Paul writes: "For in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth ... all things were created through him and for him." In 1 Corinthians 8:6 he writes of the Lord Jesus Christ "through whom are all things." The writer to the Hebrews speaks of the one who was the Son, "through whom also God created the world" (Hebrews 1:2). John and the other New Testament writers who spoke like this were stressing two great truths.
(i) Christianity has always believed in what is called creation out of nothing. We do not believe that in his creation of the world God had to work with alien and evil matter. We do not believe that the world began with an essential flaw in it. We do not believe that the world began with God and something else. It is our belief that behind everything there is God and God alone.
(ii) Christianity has always believed that this is God's world. So far from being so detached from the world that he could have nothing to do with it, God is intimately involved in it. The Gnostics tried to put the blame for the evil of the world on the shoulders of its creator. Christianity believes that what is wrong with the world is due to man's sin. But even though sin has injured the world and kept it from being what it might have been, we can never despise the world, because it is essentially God's. If we believe this it gives us a new sense of the value of the world and a new sense of responsibility to it.
There is a story of a child from the back streets of a great city who was taken for a day in the country. When she saw the bluebells in the woods, she asked: "Do you think God would mind if I picked some of his flowers?" This is God's world; because of that nothing is out of his control; and because of that we must use all things in the awareness that they belong to God. The Christian does not belittle the world by thinking that it was created by an ignorant and a hostile god; he glorifies it by remembering that everywhere God is behind it and in it. He believes that the Christ who re-creates the world was the co-worker of God when the world was first created, and that, in the act of redemption, God is seeking to win back that which was always his own.
Life And Light (John 1:4)
1:4 In him was life and the life was the light of men.
In a great piece of music the composer often begins by stating the themes which he is going to elaborate in the course of the work. That is what John does here. Life and light are two of the great basic words on which the Fourth Gospel is built up. They are two of the main themes which it is the aim of the gospel to develop and to expound. Let us look at them in detail.
The Fourth Gospel begins and ends with life. At the very beginning we read that in Jesus was life; and at the very end we read that John's aim in writing the gospel was that men might "believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:31). The word is continually on the lips of Jesus. It is his wistful regret that men will not come to him that they might have life (John 5:40). It is his claim that he came that men might have life and that they might have it abundantly (John 10:10). He claims that he gives men life and that they will never perish because no one will snatch them out of his hand (John 10:28). He claims that he is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). In the gospel the word "life" (zoe, Greek #2222) occurs more than thirty-five times and the verb "to live" or "to have life" (zao, Greek #2198) more than fifteen times. What then does John mean by "life"?
(i) Quite simply, he means that life is the opposite of destruction, condemnation and death. God sent his Son that the man who believes should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). The man who hears and believes has eternal life and will not come into judgment (John 5:24). There is a contrast between the resurrection to life and the resurrection to judgment (John 5:29). Those to whom Jesus gives life will never perish (John 10:28). There is in Jesus that which gives a man security in this life and in the life to come. Until we accept Jesus and take him as our saviour and enthrone him as our king we cannot be said to live at all. The man who lives a Christless life exists, but he does not know what life is. Jesus is the one person who can make life worth living, and in whose company death is only--the prelude to fuller life.
(ii) But John is quite sure that, although Jesus is the bringer of this life, the giver of life is God. Again and again John uses the phrase the living God, as indeed the whole Bible does. It is the will of the Father who sent Jesus that everyone who sees him and believes on him should have life (John 6:40). Jesus is the giver of life because the Father has set his own seal of approval upon him (John 6:27). He gives life to as many as God has given him (John 17:2). At the back of it all there is God. It is as if God was saying: "I created men that they should have real life; through their sin they have ceased to live and only exist; I have sent them my Son to enable them to know what real life is."
(iii) We must ask what this life is. Again and again the Fourth Gospel uses the phrase eternal life. We shall discuss the full meaning of that phrase later. At present we note this. The word John uses for eternal is aionios (Greek #166). Clearly whatever else eternal life is, it is not simply life which lasts for ever. A life which lasted for ever could be a terrible curse; often the thing for which men long is release from life. In eternal life there must be more than duration of life; there must be a certain quality of life.
Life is not desirable unless it is a certain kind of life. Here we have the clue. Aionios (Greek #166) is the adjective which is repeatedly used to describe God. In the true sense of the word only God is aionios (Greek #166), eternal; therefore eternal life is that life which God lives. What Jesus offers us from God is God's own life. Eternal life is life which knows something of the serenity and power of the life of God himself. When Jesus came offering men eternal life, he was inviting them to enter into the very life of God.
(iv) How, then, do we enter into that life? We enter into it by believing in Jesus Christ. The word to believe (pisteuein, Greek #4100) occurs in the Fourth Gospel no fewer than seventy times. "He who believes in the Son has eternal life" (John 3:36). "He who believes", says Jesus, "has eternal life" (John 6:47). It is God's will that men should see the Son, and believe in him, and have eternal life (John 5:24). What does John mean by to believe? He means two things.
(a) He means that we must be convinced that Jesus is really and truly the Son of God. He means that we must make up our minds about him. After all, if Jesus is only a man, there is no reason why we should give him the utter and implicit obedience that he demands. We have to think out for ourselves who he was. We have to look at him, learn about him, study him, think about him until we are driven to the conclusion that this is none other than the Son of God. (b) But there is more than intellectual belief in this. To believe in Jesus means to take Jesus at his word, to accept his commandments as absolutely binding, to believe without question that what he says is true.
For John, belief means the conviction of the mind that Jesus is the Son of God, the trust of the heart that everything he says is true and the basing of every action on the unshakable assurance that we must take him at his word. When we do that we stop existing and begin living. We know what Life with a capital L really means.
Life And Light (John 1:4 Continued)
The second of the great Johannine key-words which we meet here is the word light. This word occurs in the Fourth Gospel no fewer than twenty-one times. Jesus is the light of men. The function of John the Baptist was to point men to that light which was in Christ. Twice Jesus calls himself the light of the world (John 8:12; John 9:5). This light can be in men (John 11:10), so that they can become children of the light (John 12:36), "I have come," said Jesus, "as light into the world" (John 12:46). Let us see if we can understand something of this idea of the light which Jesus brings into the world. Three things stand out.
(i) The light Jesus brings is the light which puts chaos to flight. In the creation story God moved upon the dark, formless chaos which was before the world began and said: "Let there be light" (Genesis 1:3). The new-created light of God routed the empty chaos into which it came. So Jesus is the light which shines in the darkness (John 1:5). He is the one person who can save life from becoming a chaos. Left to ourselves we are at the mercy of our passions and our fears.
When Jesus dawns upon life, light comes. One of the oldest fears in the world is the fear of the dark. There is a story of a child who was to sleep in a strange house. His hostess, thinking to be kind, offered to leave the light on when he went to bed. Politely he declined the offer. "I thought," said his hostess, "that you might be afraid of the dark." "Oh, no," said the lad, "you see, it's God's dark." With Jesus the night is light about us as the day.
(ii) The light which Jesus brings is a revealing light. It is the condemnation of men that they loved the darkness rather than the light; and they did so because their deeds were evil; and they hated the light lest their deeds should be exposed (John 3:19-20). The light which Jesus brings is something which shows things as they are. It strips away the disguises and the concealments; it shows things in all their nakedness; it shows them in their true character and their true values.
Long ago the Cynics said that men hate the truth for the truth is like the light to sore eyes. In Caedmon's poem there is a strange picture. It is a picture of the last day and in the centre of the scene there is the Cross; and from the Cross there flows a strange blood-red light, and the mysterious quality of that light is such that it shows things as they are. The externals, the disguises, the outer wrappings and trappings are stripped away; and everything stands revealed in the naked and awful loneliness of what it essentially is.
We never see ourselves until we see ourselves through the eyes of Jesus. We never see what our lives are like until we see them in the light of Jesus. Jesus often drives us to God by revealing us to ourselves.
(iii) The light which Jesus brings is a guiding light. If a man does not possess that light he walks in darkness and does not know where he is going (John 12:36). When a man receives that light and believes in it, he walks no more in darkness (John 12:46). One of the features of the gospel stories which no one can miss is the number of people who came running to Jesus asking: "What am I to do?" When Jesus comes into life the time of guessing and of groping is ended, the time of doubt and uncertainty and vacillation is gone. The path that was dark becomes light; the decision that was wrapped in a night of uncertainty is illumined. Without Jesus we are like men groping on an unknown road in a black-out. With him the way is clear.
The Hostile Dark (John 1:5)
1:5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not put it out.
Here we meet another of John's key-words--darkness (skotos, Greek #4655, skotia, Greek #4653). This word occurs seven times in the gospel. To John there was a darkness in the world that was as real as the light.
(i) The darkness is hostile to the light. The light shines in the darkness, but, however hard the darkness tries, it cannot extinguish it. Sinning man loves the darkness and hates the light, because the light shows up too many things.
It may well be that in John's mind there is a borrowed thought here. John, as we know, was prepared to go out and to take in new ideas, if by so doing he could present and commend the Christian message to men. The great Persian religion of Zoroastrianism had at this time a very great influence on men's thoughts. It believed that there were two great opposing powers in the universe, the god of the light and the god of the dark, Ahriman and Ormuzd. This whole universe was a battle-ground in the eternal, cosmic conflict between the light and the dark; and all that mattered in life was the side a man chose.
So John is saying: "Into this world there comes Jesus, the light of the world; there is a darkness which would seek to eliminate him, to banish him from life, to extinguish him. But there is a power in Jesus that is undefeatable. The darkness can hate him, but it can never get rid of him." As has been truly said: "Not all the darkness in the world can extinguish the littlest flame." The unconquerable light will in the end defeat the hostile dark. John is saying: "Choose your side in the eternal conflict and choose aright."
(ii) The darkness stands for the natural sphere of all those who hate the good. It is men whose deeds are evil who fear the light (John 3:19-20). The man who has something to hide loves the dark; but it is impossible to hide anything from God. His searchlight sweeps the shadows and illuminates the skulking evils of the world.
(iii) There are certain passages where the darkness seems to stand for ignorance, especially for that wilful ignorance which refuses the light of Jesus Christ. Jesus says: "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness" (John 8:12). He says to his disciples that the light will be with them only for so short a time; let them walk in it; if they do not, the darkness comes and a man who walks in darkness does not light that men should not abide in darkness (John 12:46). Without Jesus Christ a man cannot find or see the way. He is like a blindfolded man or even a blind man. Without Jesus Christ life goes lost. It was Goethe who cried out for: "Light, more light!" It was one of the old Scots leaders who said to his friends towards the end: "Light the candle that I may see to die." Jesus is the light which shows a man the road, and which lights the road at every step of the way.
There are times when John uses this word darkness symbolically. He uses it at times to mean more than merely the dark of an earthly night. He tells of Jesus walking on the water. He tells how the disciples had embarked on their boat and were crossing the lake without Jesus; and then he says, "And it was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them" (John 6:17). Without the presence of Jesus there was nothing but the threatening dark. He tells of the Resurrection morning and of the hours before those who had loved Jesus realized that he had risen from the dead. He begins the story: "Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came, while it was still dark" (John 20:1). She was living at the moment in a world from which she thought Jesus had been eliminated, and a world like that was dark. He tells the story of the Last Supper. He tells how Judas received the sop and then went out to do his terrible work and arrange for the betrayal of Jesus; and he says with a kind of terrible symbolism: "So, after receiving the morsel, he immediately went out; and it was night" (John 13:30). Judas was going out into the night of a life which had betrayed Christ.
To John the Christless life was life in the dark. The darkness stands for life without Christ, and especially for that which has turned its back on Christ.
Before we leave this passage there is one other thing to note. The word which we have translated put out is in Greek katalambanein (Greek #2638). This word can have three meanings.
There is a sense in which the man of the world simply cannot understand the demands of Christ and the way Christ offers him. To him it seems sheer foolishness. A man cannot understand Christ until he first submits to him.
(b) It can mean the darkness never overcame the light. Katalambanein (Greek #2638) can mean to pursue until one overtakes and so lays hold on and overcomes. This could mean that the darkness of the world had done everything possible to eliminate Jesus Christ, even to crucifying him, but it could never destroy him. This could be a reference to the crucified and conquering Christ.
(c) It can be used of extinguishing afire or flame. That is the sense in which we have taken it here. Although men did all they could to obscure and extinguish the light of God in Christ, they could not quench it. In every generation the light of Christ still shines in spite of the efforts of men to extinguish the flame.
The Witness To Jesus Christ (John 1:6-8)
1:6-8 There emerged a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness, in order to bear witness to the light, that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; his function was to bear witness to the light.
It is a strange fact that in the Fourth Gospel every reference to John the Baptist is a reference of depreciation. There is an explanation of that. John was a prophetic voice; for four hundred years the voice of prophecy had been silent, and in John it spoke again. It seems that certain people were so fascinated by John that they gave him a higher place than he ought to have had. There are, in fact, indications that there was actually a sect who put John the Baptist in the highest place. We find an echo of them in Acts 19:3-4. In Ephesus Paul came upon certain people who knew nothing but the baptism of John. It was not that the Fourth Gospel wished to criticize John or that it under-rated his importance. It was simply that John knew that there were certain people who gave John the Baptist a place that encroached upon the place of Jesus himself.
So all through the Fourth Gospel John is careful to point out that the place of John the Baptist in the scheme of things was high, but that nonetheless it was still subordinate to the place of Jesus Christ. Here he is careful to say that John was not that light, but only a witness to the light (John 1:8). He shows us John denying that he was the Christ, or even that he was the great prophet whom Moses had promised (John 1:20). When the Jews came to John and told him that Jesus had begun his career as a teacher they must have expected John to resent this intrusion. But the Fourth Gospel shows us John denying that the first place was his and declaring that he must decrease while Jesus increased (John 3:25-30). It is pointed out that Jesus was more successful in his appeal to men than John was (John 4:1). It is pointed out that even the people said that John was not able to do the things that Jesus did (John 10:41).
Somewhere in the church there was a group of men who wished to give John the Baptist too high a place. John the Baptist himself gave no encouragement to that but rather did everything to discourage it. But the Fourth Gospel knew that that tendency was there and took steps to guard against it. It can still happen that men may worship a preacher rather than Christ. It can still happen that men's eyes may be fixed upon the herald rather than upon the King of whom he is the messenger. John the Baptist was not in the least to blame for what had happened; but John the evangelist was determined to see that none should shoulder Christ from out the topmost niche.
It is more important to note that in this passage we come upon another of the great key-words of the Fourth Gospel. That is the word witness. The Fourth Gospel presents us with witness after witness to the supreme place of Jesus Christ, eight no less.
(i) There is the witness of the Father. Jesus said: "The Father who sent me has himself borne witness to me" (John 5:37). "The Father who sent me bears witness to me" (John 8:18). What did Jesus mean by this? He meant two things.
He meant something which affected himself. In his heart the inner voice of God spoke, and that voice left him in no doubt as to who he was and what he was sent to do. Jesus did not regard himself as having himself chosen his task. His inner conviction was that God had sent him into the world to live and to die for men.
He meant something which affected men. When a man is confronted with Christ there comes an inner conviction that this is none other than the Son of God. Father Tyrrell has said that the world can never get away from that "strange man upon the Cross." That inner power which always brings our eyes back to Christ even when we wish to forget him, that inner voice which tells us that this Jesus is none other than the Son of God and the Saviour of the world is the witness of God within our souls.
(ii) There is the witness of Jesus himself. "I bear witness," he said, "to myself" (John 8:18). "Even if I do bear witness to myself," he said, "my testimony is true" (John 8:14). What does this mean? It means that it was what Jesus was that was his best witness. He claimed to be the light and the life and the truth and the way. He claimed to be the Son of God and one with the Father. He claimed to be the Saviour and the Master of all men. Unless his life and character had been what they were, such claims would have been merely shocking and blasphemous. What Jesus was in himself was the best witness that his claims were true.
(iii) There is the witness of his works. He said: "The works which the Father has granted me to accomplish ... bear me witness" (John 5:36). "The works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness to me" (John 10:25). He tells Philip of his complete identity with the Father, and then goes on to say: "Believe me for the sake of the works themselves" (John 14:11). One of the condemnations of men is that they have seen his works, and have not believed (John 15:24). We must note one thing--when John spoke of the works of Jesus, he was not speaking only of the miracles of Jesus; he was thinking of Jesus' whole life. He was thinking not only of the great outstanding moments, but of the life that Jesus lived every minute of the day. No man could have done the mighty works that Jesus did unless he was closer to God than any other man ever was; but, equally, no man could have lived that life of love and pity, compassion and forgiveness, service and help in the life of the everyday unless he had been in God and God in him. It is not by working miracles that we can prove that we belong to Christ, but by living a Christ-like life every moment of every day. It is in the ordinary things of life that we show that we belong to him.
(iv) There is the witness which the Scriptures bear to him. Jesus said: "Search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me" (John 5:39). "If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me" (John 5:46). It is Philip's conviction that he has found him of whom Moses and the law and the prophets wrote (John 1:45). All through the history of Israel men had dreamed of the day when God's Messiah would come. They had drawn their pictures and set down their ideas of him. And now in Jesus all these dreams and pictures and hopes were finally and fully realized. He for whom the world was waiting had come.
(v) There is the witness of the last of the prophets, John the Baptist. "He came for testimony to bear witness to the light" (John 1:7-8). John bore witness that he saw the Spirit descending upon Jesus. The one in whom the prophetic witness culminated was the one who bore witness to Jesus to whom all the prophetic witness pointed.
(vi) There is the witness of those with whom Jesus came into contact. The woman of Samaria bore witness to the insight and to the power of Jesus (John 4:39). The man born blind bore witness to his healing power (John 9:25; John 9:38). The people who witnessed his miracles told of their wonder at the things he did (John 12:17). There is a legend which tells how the Sanhedrin sought for witnesses when Jesus was on trial. There came a crowd of people saying: "I was a leper and he healed me"; "I was blind and he opened my eyes"; "I was deaf and he made me able to hear." That was precisely the kind of witness the Sanhedrin did not want. In every age and in every generation there have always been a great crowd ready to bear witness to what Christ had done for them.
(vii) There is the witness of the disciples and especially of the writer of the gospel himself It was Jesus' commission to his disciples: "You also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning" (John 15:27). The writer of the gospel is a personal witness and guarantor of the things he relates. Of the crucifixion he writes: "He who saw it has borne witness--his testimony is true" (John 19:35). "This" he says, "is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things" (John 21:24). The story he tells is no carried story, no second-hand tale, but what he had seen and experienced himself. The best kind of witness of all is the one which can say: "This is true, because I know it from my own experience."
(viii) There is the witness of the Holy Spirit. "When the Counsellor comes ... even the Spirit of truth ... he will bear witness to me" (John 15:26). In the First Epistle John writes: "And the Spirit is the witness, because the Spirit is the truth" (1 John 5:7). To the Jew the Spirit had two functions. The Spirit brought God's truth to men, and the Spirit enabled men to recognize that truth when they saw it. It is the work of the Spirit within our hearts which enables us to recognize Jesus for what he is and to trust him for what he can do.
John wrote his gospel to present the unanswerable witness that Jesus Christ is the mind of God fully revealed to men.
The Light Of Every Man (John 1:9)
1:9 He was the real light, who, in his coming into the world, gives light to every man.
In this verse John uses a very significant word to describe Jesus. He says that Jesus was the real light. In Greek there are two words which are very like each other. The King James Version and the Revised Standard use the word true to translate both of them; but they have different shades of meaning. The first is alethes (Greek #227). Alethes (Greek #227) means true as opposed to false; it is the word that would be used of a statement which is true. The other word is alethinos (Greek #228). Alethinos (Greek #228) means real or genuine as opposed to unreal.
So what John is saying is that Jesus is the real light come to illumine men. Before Jesus came there were other lights which men followed. Some were flickers of the truth; some were faint glimpses of reality; some were will o' the wisps which men followed and which led them out into the dark and left them there. It is still the case. There are still the partial lights; and there are still the false lights; and men still follow them. Jesus is the only genuine light, the real light to guide men on their way.
John says that Jesus, by his coming into the world, brought the real light to men. His coming was like a blaze of light. It was like the coming of the dawn. A traveller tells how once in Italy he was standing on a hill overlooking the Bay of Naples. It was so dark that nothing could be seen; then an a sudden there came a lightning flash and everything, in every detail, was lit up. When Jesus came into this world he came like a light in the dark.
(i) His coming dissipated the shadows of doubt. Until he came men could only guess about God. "It is difficult to find out about God," said one of the Greeks, "and when you have found out about him it is impossible to tell anyone else about him." To the pagan, God either dwelt in the shadows that no man can penetrate or in the light that no man can approach. But when Jesus came men saw full-displayed what God is like. The shadows and the mists were gone; the days of guessing were at an end; there was no more need for a wistful agnosticism. The light had come.
(ii) His coming dissipated the shadows of despair. Jesus came to a world that was in despair. "Men," as Seneca said, "are conscious of their helplessness in necessary things." They were longing for a hand let down to help them up. "They hate their sins but cannot leave them." Men despaired of ever making themselves or the world any better. But with the coming of Jesus a new power came into life. He came not only with knowledge but with power. He came not only to show them the right way but to enable them to walk in it. He gave them not only instruction but a presence in which all the impossible things had become possible. The darkness of pessimism and despair was gone for ever.
(iii) His coming dissipated the darkness of death. The ancient world feared death. At the best, death was annihilation and the soul of man shuddered at the thought. At the worst, it was torture by whatever gods there be and the soul of man was afraid. But Jesus by his coming, by his life, his death, his Resurrection showed that death was only the way to a larger life. The darkness was dispelled. Stevenson has a scene in one of his stories in which he draws the picture of a young man who has almost miraculously escaped in a duel in which he was certain he would be killed. As he walks away his heart is singing: "The bitterness of death is past." Because of Jesus the bitterness of death is past for every man.
Further, Jesus is the light who lights every man who comes into the world. The ancient world was exclusive. The Jew hated the Gentile and held that Gentiles were created for no other purpose than to be fuel for the fires of hell. True, there was a lonely prophet who saw that Israel's destiny was to be a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6) but that was a destiny which Israel had always definitely refused. The Greek world never dreamed that knowledge was for every man. The Roman world looked down on the barbarians, the lesser breeds without the law. But Jesus came to be a light to every man. Only the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has a heart big enough to hold all the world.
Unrecognized (John 1:10-11)
__John 1:1-51 __
1:10-11 He was in the world, and, although the world came into being through him, the world did not recognize him. It was into his own home that he came, and his own people did not welcome him.
When John wrote this passage two thoughts were in his mind.
(i) He was thinking of the time before Jesus Christ came into the world in the body. From the beginning of time God's Logos (Greek #3056) has been active in the world. In the beginning God's creating, dynamic word brought the world into being; and ever since it is the word, the Logos (Greek #3056), the reason of God which has made the world an ordered whole and man a thinking being. If men had only had the sense to see him, the Logos (Greek #3056) was always recognizable in the universe.
The Westminster Confession of Faith begins by saying that "the lights of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom and power of God as to leave men inexcusable." Long ago Paul had said that the visible things of the world were so designed by God as to lead men's thoughts to the invisible things, and that if men had looked with open eyes and an understanding heart at the world their thoughts would have been inevitably led to the creator of the world (Romans 1:19-20). The world has always been such that, looked at in the right way, it would lead men's minds to God.
Theology has always made a distinction between natural theology and revealed theology. Revealed theology deals with the truths that came to us directly from God in the words of the prophets, the pages of his book, and supremely in Jesus Christ. Natural theology deals with the truths that man could discover by the exercise of his own mind and intellect on the world in which he lives. How, then, can we see God's word, God's Logos (Greek #3056), God's reason, God's mind in the world in which we live?
(a) We must look outwards. It was always a basic Greek thought that where there is order there must be a mind. When we look at the world we see an amazing order. The planets keep to their appointed courses. The tides observe their appointed times. Seed times and harvest, summer and winter, day and night come in their appointed order. Clearly there is order in nature, and, therefore, equally clearly there must be a mind behind it all. Further, that mind must be greater than any human mind because it achieves results that the human mind can never achieve. No man can make day into night, or night into day; no man can make a seed that will have in it the power of growth; no man can make a living thing. If in the world there is order, there must be mind; and if in that order there are things which are beyond the mind of man to do, then the mind behind the order of nature must be a mind above and beyond the mind of man--and straightway we have reached God. To look outwards upon the world is to come face to face with the God who made it.
(b) We must look upwards. Nothing demonstrates the amazing order of the universe so much as the movement of the world. Astronomers tell us that there are as many stars as there are grains of sand upon the seashore. If we may put it in human terms, think of the traffic problem of the heavens; and yet the heavenly bodies keep their appointed courses and travel their appointed way. An astronomer is able to forecast to the minute and to the inch when and where a certain planet will appear. An astronomer can tell us when and where an eclipse of the sun will happen hundreds of years from now, and he can ten us to the second how long it will last. It has been said that "no astronomer can be an atheist." When we look upwards we see God.
(c) We must look inwards. Where did we get the power to think, to reason and to know? Where did we get our knowledge of right and of wrong? Why does even the most evil-ridden man know in his heart of hearts when he is doing a wrong thing? Kant said long ago that two things convinced him of the existence of God--the starry heavens above him and the moral law within him. We neither gave ourselves life, nor did we give ourselves the reason which guides and directs life. It must have come from some power outside ourselves. Where do remorse and regret and the sense of guilt come from? Why can we never do what we like and be at peace? When we look inwards we find what Marcus Aurelius called "the god within," and what Seneca called "the holy spirit which sits within our souls." No man can explain himself apart from God.
(d) We must look backwards. Froude, the great historian, said that the whole of history is a demonstration of the moral law in action. Empires rise and empires collapse. As Kipling wrote:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
And it is a demonstrable fact of history that moral degeneration and national collapse go hand in hand. "No nation," said George Bernard Shaw, "has ever outlived the loss of its gods." AU history is the practical demonstration that there is a God.
So, then, even if Jesus Christ had never come into this world in bodily form, it would still have been possible for men to see God's word, God's Logos (Greek #3056), God's reason in action. But, although the action of the word was there for all to see, men never recognized him.
Unrecognized (John 1:10-11 Continued)
__John 1:1-51 __
1:10-11 He was in the world, and, although the world came into being through him, the world did not recognize him. It was into his own home that he came, and his own people did not welcome him.
(i) In the end God's creating and directing word did come into this world in the form of the man Jesus. John says that the word came to his own home and his own people gave him no welcome. What does he mean by that? He means that when God's word entered this world, he did not come to Rome or to Greece or to Egypt or to the Eastern Empires. He came to Palestine; Palestine was specially God's land and the Jews were specially God's people.
The very titles by which the Old Testament calls the land and the people show that. Palestine is repeatedly called the holy land (Zechariah 2:12; 2 Maccabees 1:7; Wisdom of Solomon 12:3). It is called the Lord's land; God speaks of it as his land (Hosea 9:3; Jeremiah 2:7; Jeremiah 16:18; Leviticus 25:23). The Jewish nation is called God's peculiar treasure (Exodus 19:5; Psalms 135:4). The Jews are called God's special people (Deuteronomy 7:6). They are called God's peculiar people (Deuteronomy 14:2; Deuteronomy 26:18). They are called the Lord's portion (Deuteronomy 32:9).
Jesus came to a land which was peculiarly God's land and a people who were peculiarly God's people. He ought, therefore, to have been coming to a nation that would welcome him with open arms; the door should have been wide open for him; he should have been welcomed like a wayfarer coming home; or, even more, like a king coming to his own--but he was rejected He was received with hate and not with adoration.
Here is the tragedy of a people being prepared for a task and then refusing that task. It may be, that parents plan and save and sacrifice to give a son or a daughter a chance in life, to prepare that son or daughter for some special task and opportunity--and then when the chance comes, the one for whom so much sacrifice was made refuses to grasp the opportunity, or fails miserably when confronted with the challenge. Therein is tragedy. And that is what happened to God.
It would be wrong to think that God prepared only the Jewish people. God is preparing every man and woman and child in this world for some task that he has in store for them. A novelist tells of a girl who refused to touch the soiling things of life. When she was asked why, she said: "Some day something fine is going to come into my life, and I want to be ready for it." The tragedy is that so many people refuse the task God has for them.
We may put it in another way--a way that strikes home there are so few people who become what they have it in them to be. It may be through lethargy and laziness, it may be through timidity and cowardice, it may be through lack of discipline and self-indulgence, it may be through involvement in second-bests and byways; but the world is full of people who have never realized the possibilities which are in them. We need not think of the task God has in store for us in terms of some great act or achievement of which all men will know. It may be to fit a child for life; it may be at some crucial moment to speak that word and exert that influence which will stop someone ruining his life; it may be to do some quite small job superlatively well; it may be to touch the lives of many by our hands, our voices or our minds. The fact remains that God is preparing us by all the experiences of life for something; and many refuse the task when it comes and never even realize that they are refusing it.
There is all the pathos in the world in the simple saying: "He came to his own home and his own people gave him no welcome." It happened to Jesus long ago--and it is happening yet.
Children Of God (John 1:12-13)
1:12-13 To all those who did receive him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God. These were born not of blood, nor of any human impulse, nor of any man's will, but their birth was of God.
Not everyone rejected Jesus when he came; there were some who did receive him and welcome him; and to them Jesus gave the right to become children of God.
There is a sense in which a man is not naturally a child of God. There is a sense in which he has to become a child of God. We may think of this in human terms, because human terms are the only ones open to us.
There are two kinds of sons. There is the son who never does anything else but use his home. All through his youth he takes everything that the home has to offer and gives nothing in return. His father may work and sacrifice to give him his chance in life, and he takes it as a right, never realizing what he is taking and making no effort to deserve it or repay it. When he leaves home, he makes no attempt to keep in touch. The home has served his purpose and he is finished with it. He realizes no bond to be maintained and no debt to be paid. He is his father's son; to his father he owes his existence; and to his father he owes what he is; but between him and his father there is no bond of love and intimacy. The father has given all in love; but the son has given nothing in return.
On the other hand there is the son who all his life realizes what his father is doing and has done for him. He takes every opportunity to show his gratitude by trying to be the son his father would wish him to be; as the years go on he grows closer and closer to his father; the relationship of father and son becomes the relationship of fellowship and friendship. Even when he leaves home the bond is still there and he is still conscious of a debt that can never be repaid.
In the one case the son grows further and further away from the father; in the other he grows nearer and nearer the father. Both are sons, but the sonship is very different. The second has become a son in a way that the first never was.
We may illustrate this kind of relationship from another, but a kindred, sphere. The name of a certain younger man was mentioned to a famous teacher, whose student the younger man claimed to be. The older man answered: "He may have attended my lectures, but he was not one of my students." There is a world of difference between sitting in a teacher's class room and being one of his students. There can be contact without communion; there can be relationship without fellowship. All men are the sons of God in the sense that they owe to him the creation and the preservation of their lives; but only some men become the sons of God in the depth and intimacy of the true father and son relationship.
It is the claim of John that men can enter into that true and real sonship only through Jesus Christ. When he says that it does not come from blood, he is using Jewish thought, for the Jews believed that a physical son was born from the union of the seed of the father with the blood of the mother. This sonship does not come from any human impulse or desire or from any act of the human will; it comes entirely from God. We cannot make ourselves sons of God; we have to enter into a relationship which God offers us. No man can ever enter into friendship with God by his own will and power; there is a great gulf fixed between the human and the divine. Man can only enter into friendship with God when God himself opens the way.
Again let us think in human terms. A commoner cannot approach a king with the offer of friendship; if there is ever to be such a friendship it must depend entirely on the approach of the king. It is so with us and God. We cannot by will or achievement enter into fellowship with God, for we are men and he is God. We can enter into it only when God in his totally undeserved grace condescends to open the way to himself.
But there is a human side to this. What God offers, man has to appropriate. A human father may offer his son his love, his advice, his friendship, and the son may refuse it and prefer to take his own way. It is so with God; God offers us the right to become sons but we need not accept it.
We do accept it through believing in the name of Jesus Christ. What does that mean? Hebrew thought and language had a way of using the name which is strange to us. By that expression Jewish thought did not so much mean the name by which a person was called as his nature in so far as it was revealed and known. For instance, in Psalms 9:10 the psalmist says: "Those who know thy name put their trust in thee." Clearly that does not mean that those who know that God is called Jehovah will trust him; it means that those who know God's character, God's nature, who know what God is like, will be ready and willing to trust him for everything. In Psalms 20:7 the psalmist says: "Some boast of chariots and some of horses: but we boast of the name of the Lord our God." Clearly that does not mean that we will boast that God is caned Jehovah. It means that some people will put their trust in human aids, but we will put our trust in God because we know what he is like.
To trust in the name of Jesus therefore means to put our trust in what he is. He was the embodiment of kindness and love and gentleness and service. It is John's great central doctrine that in Jesus we see the very mind of God, the attitude of God to men. If we believe that, then we also believe that God is like Jesus, as kind, as loving as Jesus was. To believe in the name of Jesus is to believe that God is like him; and it is only when we believe that, that we can submit ourselves to God and become his children. Unless we had seen in Jesus what God is like we would never even have dared to think of ourselves as being able to become the children of God. It is what Jesus is that opens to us the possibility of becoming the children of God.
The Word Became Flesh (John 1:14)
1:14 So the Word of God became a person, and took up his abode in our being, full of grace and truth; and we looked with our own eyes upon his glory, glory like the glory which an only son receives from a father.
Here we come to the sentence for the sake of which John wrote his gospel. He has thought and talked about the word of God, that powerful, creative, dynamic word which was the agent of creation, that guiding, directing, controlling word which puts order into the universe and mind into man. These were ideas which were known and familiar to both Jew and Greek. Now he says the most startling and incredible thing that he could have said. He says quite simply: "This word which created the world, this reason which controls the order of the world, has become a person and with our own eyes we saw him." The word that John uses for seeing this word is theasthai (Greek #2300); it is used in the New Testament more than twenty times and is always used of actual physical sight. This is no spiritual vision seen with the eye of the soul or of the mind. John declares that the word actually came to earth in the form of a man and was seen by human eyes. He says: "If you want to see what this creating word, this controlling reason, is like, look at Jesus of Nazareth."
This is where John parted with all thought which had gone before him. This was the entirely new thing which John brought to the Greek world for which he was writing. Augustine afterwards said that in his pre-Christian days he had read and studied the great pagan philosophers and had read many things, but he had never read that the word became flesh.
To a Greek this was the impossible thing. The one thing that no Greek would ever have dreamed of was that God could take a body. To the Greek the body was an evil, a prison-house in which the soul was shackled, a tomb in which the spirit was confined. Plutarch, the wise old Greek, did not even believe that God could control the happenings of this world directly; he had to do it by deputies and intermediaries, for, as Plutarch saw it, it was nothing less than blasphemy to involve God in the affairs of the world. Philo could never have said it. He said: "The life of God has not descended to us; nor has it come as far as the necessities of the body." The great Roman Stoic Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, despised the body in comparison with the spirit. "Therefore despise the flesh-blood and bones and a net-work, a twisted skein of nerves and veins and arteries." "The composition of the whole body is under corruption."
Here was the shatteringly new thing--that God could and would become a human person, that God could enter into this life that we live, that eternity could appear in time, that somehow the Creator could appear in creation in such a way that men's eyes could actually see him.
So staggeringly new was this conception of God in a human form that it is not surprising that there were some even in the church who could not believe it. What John says is that the word became sarx (Greek #4561). Now sarx (Greek #4561) is the very word Paul uses over and over again to describe what he called the flesh, human nature in all its weakness and in all its liability to sin. The very thought of taking this word and applying it to God, was something that their minds staggered at. So there arose in the church a body of people called Docetists.
Dokein (Greek #1380) is the Greek word for to seem to be. These people held that Jesus in fact was only a phantom; that his human body was not a real body; that he could not really feel hunger and weariness, sorrow and pain; that he was in fact a disembodied spirit in the apparent form of a man. John dealt with these people much more directly in his First Letter. "By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of Antichrist" (1 John 4:2-3). It is true that this heresy was born of a kind of mistaken reverence which recoiled from saying that Jesus was really, fully and truly human. To John it contradicted the whole Christian gospel.
It may well be that we are often so eager to conserve the fact that Jesus was fully God that we tend to forget the fact that he was fully man. The word became flesh--here, perhaps as nowhere else in the New Testament, we have the full manhood of Jesus gloriously proclaimed. In Jesus we see the creating word of God, the controlling reason of God, taking manhood upon himself In Jesus we see God living life as he would have lived it if he had been a man. Supposing we said nothing else about Jesus we could still say that he shows us how God would live this life that we have to live.
The Word Became Flesh (John 1:14 Continued)
1:14 So the Word of God became a person, and took up his abode in our being, full of grace and truth; and we looked with our own eyes upon his glory, glory like the glory which an only son receives from a father.
It might well be held that this is the greatest single verse in the New Testament; we must therefore spend much time upon it so that we may enter the more fully into its riches.
We have already seen how John has certain great words which haunt his mind and dominate his thought and we are the themes out of which his whole message is elaborated. Here we have three more of these words.
(i) The first is grace. This word has always two basic ideas in it.
(a) It always has the idea of something completely undeserved. It always has the idea of something that we could never have earned or achieved for ourselves. The fact that God came to earth to live and to die for men is not something which humanity deserved; it is an act of pure love on the part of God. The word grace emphasizes at one and the same time the helpless poverty of man and the limitless kindness of God.
(b) It always has the idea of beauty in it. In modern Greek the word means charm. In Jesus we see the sheer winsomeness of God. Men had thought of God in terms of might and majesty and power and judgment. They had thought of the power of God which could crush all opposition and defeat all rebellion; but in Jesus men are confronted with the sheer loveliness of God.
(ii) The second is truth. This word is one of the dominant notes of the Fourth Gospel. We meet it again and again. Here we can only briefly gather together what John has to say about Jesus and the truth.
(a) Jesus is the embodiment of the truth. He said: "I am the truth" (John 14:6). To see truth we must look at Jesus. Here is something infinitely precious for every simple mind and soul. Very few people can grasp abstract ideas; most people think in pictures. We could think and argue for ever and we would very likely be no nearer arriving at a definition of beauty. But if we can point at a beautiful person and say that is beauty, the thing becomes clear. Ever since men began to think about God they have been trying to define just who and what he is--and their puny minds get no nearer a definition. But we can cease our thinking and look at Jesus Christ and say: "That is what God is like." Jesus did not come to talk to men about God; he came to show men what God is like, so that the simplest mind might know him as intimately as the mind of the greatest philosopher.
(b) Jesus is the communicator of the truth. He told his disciples that if they continued with him they would know the truth (John 8:31). He told Pilate that his object in coming into this world was to witness to the truth (John 18:37). Men will flock to a teacher or preacher who can really give them guidance for the tangled business of thinking and living. Jesus is the one who, amidst the shadows, makes things clear; who, at the many crossroads of life, shows us the right way; who, in the baffling moments of decision, enables us to choose aright; who, amidst the many voices which clamour for our allegiance, tells us what to believe.
(c) Even when Jesus left this earth in the body, he left us his Spirit to guide us into the truth. His Spirit is the Spirit of truth (John 14:17; John 15:26; John 16:13). He did not leave us only a book of instruction and a body of teaching. We do not need to search through some unintelligible textbook to find out what to do. Still, to this day, we can ask Jesus what to do, for his Spirit is with us every step of the way.
(d) The truth is what makes us free (John 8:32). There is always a certain liberating quality in the truth. A child often gets queer, mistaken notions about things when he thinks about them himself; and often he becomes afraid. When he is told the truth he is emancipated from his fears. A man may fear that he is ill; he goes to the doctor; even if the verdict is bad he is at least liberated from the vague fears which haunted his mind. The truth which Jesus brings liberates us from estrangement from God; it liberates us from frustration; it liberates us from our fears and weaknesses and defeats. Jesus Christ is the greatest liberator on earth.
(e) The truth can be resented. They sought to kill Jesus because he told them the truth (John 8:40). The truth may well condemn a man; it may well show him how far wrong he was. "Truth," said the Cynics, "can be like the light to sore eyes." The Cynics declared that the teacher who never annoyed anyone never did anyone any good. Men may shut their ears and their minds to the truth; they may kill the man who tens them the truth--but the truth remains. No man ever destroyed the truth by refusing to listen to the voice that told it to him; and the truth will always catch up with him in the end.
(f) The truth can be disbelieved (John 8:45). There are two main reasons why men disbelieve the truth. They may disbelieve it because it seems too good to be true; or they may disbelieve it because they are so fastened to their half-truths that they will not let them go. In many instances a half-truth is the worst enemy of a whole truth.
(g) The truth is not something abstract; it is something which must be done (John 3:21). It is something which must be known with the mind, accepted with the heart, and acted out in the life.
The Word Became Flesh (John 1:14 Continued)
1:14 So the Word of God became a person, and took up his abode in our being, full of grace and truth; and we looked with our own eyes upon his glory, glory like the glory which an only son receives from a father.
A life-time of study and thought could not exhaust the truth of this verse. We have already looked at two of the great theme words in it; now we look at the third-glory. Again and again John uses this word in connection with Jesus Christ. We shall first look at what John says about the glory of Christ, and then we shall go on to see if we can understand a little of what he means.
(i) The life of Jesus Christ was a manifestation of glory. When he performed the miracle of the water and the wine at Cana of Galilee, John says that he manifested forth his glory (John 2:11). To look at Jesus and to experience his power and love was to enter into a new glory.
(ii) The glory which he manifests is the glory of God. It is not from men that he receives it (John 5:41). He seeks not his own glory but the glory of him who sent him (John 7:18). It is his Father who glorifies him (John 8:50; John 8:54). It is the glory of God that Martha will see in the raising of Lazarus (John 11:4). The raising of Lazarus is for the glory of God, that the Son may be glorified thereby (John 11:4). The glory that was on Jesus, that clung about him, that shone through him, that acted in him is the glory of God.
(iii) Yet that glory was uniquely his own. At the end he prays that God will glorify him with the glory that he had before the world began (John 17:5). He shines with no borrowed radiance; his glory is his and his by right.
(iv) The glory which is his he has transmitted to his disciples. The glory which God gave him he has given to them (John 17:22). It is as if Jesus shared in the glory of God and the disciple shares in the glory of Christ. The coming of Jesus is the coming of God's glory among men.
What does John mean by all this? To answer that we must turn to the Old Testament. To the Jew the idea of the Shechinah was very dear. The Shechinah (compare Hebrew #7931) means that which dwells; and it is the word used for the visible presence of God among men. Repeatedly in the Old Testament we come across the idea that there were certain times when God's glory was visible among men. In the desert, before the giving of the manna, the children of Israel "looked toward the wilderness, and, behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud" (Exodus 16:10). Before the giving of the Ten Commandments, "the glory of the Lord settled upon Mount Sinai" (Exodus 24:16). When the Tabernacle had been erected and equipped, "the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle" (Exodus 40:34). When Solomon's Temple was dedicated the priests could not enter in to minister "for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord" (1 Kings 8:11). When Isaiah had his vision in the Temple, he heard the angelic choir singing that "the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isaiah 6:3). Ezekiel in his ecstasy saw "the likeness of the glory of the Lord" (Ezekiel 1:28). In the Old Testament the glory of the Lord came at times when God was very close.
The glory of the Lord means quite simply the presence of God. John uses a homely illustration. A father gives to his eldest son his own authority, his own honour. The heir apparent to the throne, the king's heir, is invested with all the royal glory of his father. It was so with Jesus. When he came to this earth men saw in him the splendour of God, and at the heart of that splendour was love. When Jesus came to this earth men saw the wonder of God, and the wonder was love. They saw that God's glory and God's love were one and the same thing. The glory of God is not that of a despotic eastern tyrant, but the splendour of love before which we fall not in abject terror but lost in wonder, love and praise.
The Inexhaustible Fullness (John 1:15-17)
1:15-17 John was his witness and his statement still sounds out: "This is he of whom I said to you, he who comes after me has been advanced before me, because he was before me." On his fullness we all of us have drawn, and from him we have received grace upon grace, for it was the law which was given by Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
We have already seen that the Fourth Gospel was written in a situation where it was necessary to make sure that John the Baptist did not occupy an exaggerated position in men's thoughts. So John begins this passage with a saying of John the Baptist which gives to Jesus the first place.
John the Baptist says of Jesus: "He who comes after me was before me." He may mean more than one thing by that. (a) Jesus was actually six months younger in age than John, and John may be saying quite simply: "He who is my junior has been advanced beyond me." (b) John may be saying: "I was in the field before Jesus; I occupied the centre of the stage before he did; my hand was laid to work before his was; but all that I was doing was to prepare the way for his coming; I was only the advance guard of the main force and the herald of the king." (c) It may be that John is thinking in terms much more deep than that. He may be thinking not in terms of time but of eternity. He may be thinking of Jesus as the one who existed before the world began, and beside whom any human figure has no standing at all. It may be that all three ideas are in John's mind. It was not he who had exaggerated his own position; that was the mistake that some of his followers had made. To John the topmost place belonged to Jesus.
This passage then goes on to say three great things about Jesus.
(i) On his fullness we all have drawn. The word that John uses for fullness is a great word; it is pleroma (Greek #4138), and it means the sum total of all that is in God. It is a word which Paul uses often. In Colossians 1:19 he says that all pleroma (Greek #4138) dwelt in Christ. In Colossians 2:9 he says in Christ there dwelt the pleroma (Greek #4138) of deity in a bodily form. He meant that in Jesus there dwelt the totality of the wisdom, the power, the love of God. Just because of that Jesus is inexhaustible. A man can go to Jesus with any need and find that need supplied. A man can go to Jesus with any ideal and find that ideal realized. In Jesus the man in love with beauty will find the supreme beauty. In Jesus the man to whom life is the search for knowledge will find the supreme revelation. In Jesus the man who needs courage will find the pattern and the secret of being brave. In Jesus the man who feels that he cannot cope with life will find the Master of life and the power to live. In Jesus the man who is conscious of his sin will find the forgiveness for his sin and the strength to be good. In Jesus the pleroma (Greek #4138), the fullness of God, all that is in God, what Westcott called "the spring of divine life," becomes available to men.
(ii) From him we have received grace upon grace. Literally the Greek means grace instead of grace. What does that strange phrase mean?
(a) It may mean that in Christ we have found one wonder leading to another. One of the old missionaries came to one of the ancient Pictish kings. The king asked him what he might expect if he became a Christian. The missionary answered: "You will find wonder upon wonder and every one of them true." Sometimes when we travel a very lovely road, vista after vista opens to us. At every view we think that nothing could be lovelier, and then we turn another corner and an even greater loveliness opens before us. When a man enters on the study of some great subject, like music or poetry or art, he never gets to the end of it. Always there are fresh experiences of beauty waiting for him. It is so with Christ. The more we know of him, the more wonderful he becomes. The longer we live with him, the more loveliness we discover. The more we think about him and with him, the wider the horizon of truth becomes. This phrase may be John's way of expressing the limitlessness of Christ. It may be his way of saying that the man who companies with Christ will find new wonders dawning upon his soul and enlightening his mind and enchaining his heart every day.
(b) It may be that we ought to take this expression quite literally. In Christ we find grace instead of grace. The different ages and the different situations in life demand a different kind of grace. We need one grace in the days of prosperity and another in the days of adversity. We need one grace in the sunlit days of youth and another when the shadows of age begin to lengthen. The church needs one grace in the days of persecution and another when the days of acceptance have come. We need one grace when we feel that we are on the top of things and another when we are depressed and discouraged and near to despair. We need one grace to bear our own burdens and another to bear one another's burdens. We need one grace when we are sure of things and another when there seems nothing certain left in the world. The grace of God is never a static but always a dynamic thing. It never fads to meet the situation. One need invades life and one grace comes with it. That need passes and another need assaults us and with it another grace comes. All through life we are constantly receiving grace instead of grace, for the grace of Christ is triumphantly adequate to deal with any situation.
(iii) The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. In the old way, life was governed by law. A man had to do a thing whether he liked it or not, and whether he knew the reason for it or not; but with the coming of Jesus we no longer seek to obey the law of God like slaves; we seek to answer the love of God like sons. It is through Jesus Christ that God the law-giver has become God the Father, that God the judge has become God the lover of the souls of men.
The Revelation Of God (John 1:18)
1:18 No one has ever seen God. It is the unique one, he who is God, he who is in the bosom of the Father, who has told us all about God.
When John said that no man has ever seen God, everyone in the ancient world would fully agree with him. Men were fascinated and depressed and frustrated by what they regarded as the infinite distance and the utter unknowability of God. In the Old Testament God is represented as saying to Moses: "You cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live" (Exodus 33:20). When God reminds the people of the giving of the law, he says: "You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice" (Deuteronomy 4:12). No one in the Old Testament thought it possible to see God. The great Greek thinkers felt exactly the same. Xenophanes said: "Guesswork is over all." Plato said: "Never man and God can meet." Celsus laughed at the way that the Christians called God Father, because "God is away beyond everything." At the best, Apuleius said, men could catch a glimpse of God as a lightning flash lights up a dark night--one split second of illumination, and then the dark. As Glover said: "Whatever God was, he was far from being within the reach of ordinary men." There might be very rare moments of ecstasy when men caught a glimpse of what they called "Absolute Being," but ordinary men were the prisoners of ignorance and fancy. There would be none to disagree with John when he said that no man has ever seen God.
But John does not stop there; he goes on to make the startling and tremendous statement that Jesus has fully revealed to men what God is like. What has come to men is what J. H. Bernard calls "the exhibition to the world of God in Christ." Here again the keynote of John's gospel sounds: "If you want to see what God is like, look at Jesus."
Why should it be that Jesus can do what no one else has ever done? Wherein lies his power to reveal God to men? John says three things about him.
(i) Jesus is unique. The Greek word is monogenes (Greek #3439), which the King James Version translates only-begotten. It is true that that is what monogenes (Greek #3439) literally means; but long before this it had lost its purely physical sense, and had come to have two special meanings. It had come to mean unique and specially beloved. Obviously an only son has a unique place and a unique love in his father's heart. So this word came to express uniqueness more than anything else. It is the conviction of the New Testament that there is no one like Jesus. He alone can bring God to men and bring men to God.
(ii) Jesus is God. Here we have the very same form of expression as we had in the first verse of the chapter. This does not mean that Jesus is identical with God; it does mean that in mind and character and being he is one with God. In this case it might be better if we thought of it as meaning that Jesus is divine. To see him is to see what God is.
(iii) Jesus is in the bosom of the Father. To be in the bosom of someone is the Hebrew phrase which expresses the deepest intimacy possible in human life. It is used of mother and child; it is used of husband and wife; a man speaks of the wife of his bosom (Numbers 11:12; Deuteronomy 13:6); it is used of two friends who are in complete communion with one another. When John uses this phrase about Jesus, he means that between Jesus and God there is complete and uninterrupted intimacy. It is because Jesus is so intimate with God, that he is one with God and can reveal him to men.
In Jesus Christ the distant, unknowable, invisible, unreachable God has come to men; and God can never be a stranger to us again.
THE WITNESS OF JOHN (John 1:19-28)
1:19-28 This is the witness of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites to him from Jerusalem to ask him: "Who are you?" He quite definitely affirmed and stated: "I am not the Messiah." So they asked him: "What then are we to think? Are you Elijah?" He said: "I am not ... .. Are you the promised prophet?" He answered: "No." So they said to him: "Who are you? Tell us, so that we can give an answer to those who sent us. What claim do you make for yourself." He said: "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Make the Lord's road straight,' as Isaiah the prophet said." Now they had been sent by the Pharisees. So they asked him and said to him: "If you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the promised prophet, why then do you baptize?" John answered: "I baptize with water. But there is one standing among you, whom you do not know, I mean the one who is coming after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to unloose." These things happened at Bethany, on the far side of Jordan, where John was baptizing.
With this passage John begins the narrative part of his gospel. In the prologue he has shown what he intends to do; he is writing his gospel to demonstrate that Jesus is the Mind, the Reason, the Word of God come into this world in the form of a human person. Having set down his central thought, he now begins the story of the life of Jesus.
No one is so careful of details of time as John is. Starting from this passage and going on to John 2:11 he tells step by step the story of the first momentous week in the public life of Jesus. The events of the first day are in John 1:19-28; the story of the second day is John 1:29-34; the third day is unfolded in John 1:35-39. The three verses John 1:40-42 tell the story of the fourth day. The events of the fifth day are told in John 1:43-51. The sixth day is left a blank. And the events of the last day of the week are told in John 2:1-11.
In this same section from John 1:19 to John 2:11 the Fourth Gospel gives us three different kinds of witness to the greatness and the uniqueness of Jesus. (i) There is the witness of John the Baptist (John 1:19-34). (ii) There is the witness of those who accepted Jesus as their Master, and who became his disciples (John 1:41-51). (iii) There is the witness of Jesus' own wonderful powers (John 2:1-11). John is setting Jesus before us in three different contexts, and in each showing us his supreme wonder.
We have already seen that the Fourth Gospel had to take account of a situation in which John the Baptist was given a position far higher than he himself had claimed. As late as A.D. 250 the Clementine Recognitions tell us that "there were some of John's disciples who preached about him as if their master was the Messiah." In this passage we see that that was a view that John the Baptist himself would have definitely repudiated.
Let us now turn to the passage itself. Right at the beginning we come upon a characteristic of the Fourth Gospel. It is emissaries of the Jews who come to cross-examine John. The word Jews (Ioudaioi, Greek #2453) occurs in this gospel no fewer than seventy times; and always the Jews are the opposition. They are the people who have set themselves against Jesus. The mention of the Jews brings the opposition thus early upon the stage. The Fourth Gospel is two things. First, as we have seen, it is the exhibition of God in Jesus Christ. But, second, it is equally the story of the rejection of Jesus Christ by the Jews, the story of God's offer and man's refusal, the story of God's love and man's sin, the story of Jesus Christ's invitation and man's rejection. The Fourth Gospel is the gospel in which love and warning are uniquely and vividly combined.
The deputation which came to interview John was composed of two kinds of people. First, there were the priests and the Levites. Their interest was very natural, for John was the son of Zacharias, and Zacharias was a priest (Luke 1:5). In Judaism the only qualification for the priesthood was descent. If a man was not a descendant of Aaron nothing could make him a priest; if he was a descendant of Aaron nothing could stop him being one. Therefore, in the eyes of the authorities John the Baptist was in fact a priest and it was very natural that the priests should come to find out why he was behaving in such an unusual way. Second, there were emissaries of the Pharisees. It may well be that behind them was the Sanhedrin. One of the functions of the Sanhedrin was to deal with any man who was suspected of being a false prophet. John was a preacher to whom the people were flocking in hordes. The Sanhedrin may well have felt it their duty to check up on this man in case he was a false prophet.
The whole thing shows how suspicious orthodoxy was of anything unusual. John did not conform to the normal idea of a priest; and he did not conform to the normal idea of a preacher; therefore the ecclesiastical authorities of the day looked upon him askance. The church always runs the danger of condemning a new way just because it is new. In one sense there is hardly any institution in the world which resents change so much as the church does. It has often rejected a great teacher and often refused some great adventure simply because it suspected all things new.
THE WITNESS OF JOHN (John 1:19-28 continued)
The emissaries of the orthodox could think of three things that John might claim to be.
(i) They asked him if he was the Messiah. The Jews were waiting, and are waiting to this day, for the Messiah. There was no one idea of the Messiah. Some people expected one who would bring peace over all the earth. Some expected one who would bring in the reign of righteousness. Most expected one who would be a great national champion to lead the armies of the Jews as conquerors over all the world. Some expected a supernatural figure straight from God. Still more expected a prince to rise from David's line. Frequently Messianic pretenders arose and caused rebellions. The time of Jesus was an excited age. It was natural to ask John if he claimed to be the Messiah. John completely rejected that claim; but he rejected it with a certain hint. In the Greek the word I is stressed by its position. It is as if John said: "I am not the Messiah, but, if you only knew, the Messiah is here."
(ii) They asked him if he was Elijah. It was the Jewish belief that, before the Messiah came, Elijah would return to herald his coming and to prepare the world to receive him. Particularly, Elijah was to come to arrange all disputes. He would settle what things and what people were clean and unclean; he would settle who were Jews and who were not Jews; he would bring together again families which were estranged. So much did the Jews believe this that the traditional law said that money and property whose owners were disputed, or anything found whose owner was unknown, must wait "until Elijah comes." The belief that Elijah would come before the Messiah goes back to Malachi 4:5. It was even believed that Elijah would anoint the Messiah to his kingly office, as all kings were anointed, and that he would raise the dead to share in the new kingdom; but John denied that any such honour was his.
(iii) They asked him if he was the expected and promised prophet. It was sometimes believed that Isaiah and, especially, Jeremiah would return at the coming of the Messiah. But this is really a reference to the assurance which Moses gave to the people in Deuteronomy 18:15 : "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brethren--him you shall heed." That was a promise that no Jew ever forgot. They waited and longed for the emergence of the prophet who would be the greatest of all prophets, the Prophet par excellence. But once again John denied that this honour was his.
So they asked him who he was; his answer was that he was nothing but a voice bidding men prepare the way for the king. The quotation is from Isaiah 40:3. All the gospels cite it (Mark 1:3; Matthew 3:3; Luke 3:4). The idea behind it is this. Eastern roads were not surfaced and metalled. They were mere tracks. When a king was about to visit a province, when a conqueror was about to travel through his domains, the roads were smoothed and straightened out and put in order. What John was saying was: "I am nobody; I am only a voice telling you to get ready for the coming of the king, for he is on the way."
John was what every true preacher and teacher ought to be--only a voice, a pointer to the king. The last thing that he wanted men to do was to look at him; he wanted them to forget him and see only the king.
But the Pharisees were puzzled about one thing--what right had John to baptize? If he had been the Messiah, or even Elijah or the prophet, he might have baptized. Isaiah had written: "So shall he sprinkle many nations" (Isaiah 52:15). Ezekiel had said: "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean" (Ezekiel 36:25). Zechariah had said: "On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness" (Zechariah 13:1). But why should John baptize?
What made the matter still more strange was this. Baptism at the hands of men was not for Israelites at all. It was proselytes, incomers from other faiths, who were baptized. An Israelite was never baptized; he was God's already and did not need to be washed. But Gentiles had to be washed in baptism. John was making Israelites do what only Gentiles had to do. He was suggesting that the chosen people had to be cleansed. That was indeed precisely what John believed. But he did not answer directly.
He said: "I am baptizing only with water; but there is One among you--you don't recognize him--and I am not worthy to untie the straps of his shoes." John could not have cited a more menial office. To untie the straps of sandals was slaves' work. There was a Rabbinic saying which said that a disciple might do for his master anything that a servant did, except only to untie his sandals. That was too menial a service for even a disciple to render. So John said: "One is coming whose slave I am not fit to be." We are to understand that by this time the baptism of Jesus had taken place at which John had recognized Jesus. So here John is saying again: "The king is coming. And, for his coming, you need to be cleansed as much as any Gentile. Prepare yourself for the entry into history of the king."
John's function was to be only the preparer of the way. Any greatness he had came from the greatness of the one whose coming he foretold. He is the great example of the man prepared to obliterate himself in order that Jesus Christ may be seen. He was only, as he saw it, a finger-post pointing to Christ. God give us grace to forget ourselves and to remember only Christ.
THE LAMB OF GOD (John 1:29-31)
1:29-31 On the next day, John saw Jesus as he was coming towards him, and said: "See! The Lamb of God who is taking away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said to you: 'There is a man who is coming after me, who has been advanced before me, because he was before me.' Even I did not know him. All the same, the reason that I came baptizing with water is that he might be shown forth to Israel."
Here we come to the second day of this momentous week in the life of Jesus. By this time his baptism and his temptations were past and he was about to set his hand to the work which he came into the world to do. Once again the Fourth Gospel shows us John paying spontaneous tribute to Jesus. He calls him by that tremendous title which has become woven into the very language of devotion--The Lamb of God. What was in John's mind when he used that title? There are at least four pictures which may well contribute something to it.
(i) It may well have been that John was thinking of the Passover Lamb. The Passover Feast was not very far away (John 2:13). The old story of the Passover was that it was the blood of the slain lamb which protected the houses of the Israelites on the night when they left Egypt (Exodus 12:11-13). On that night when the Angel of Death walked abroad and slew the first-born of the Egyptians, the Israelites were to smear their doorposts with the blood of the slain lamb, and the angel, seeing it, would pass over that house. The blood of the lamb delivered them from destruction. It has been suggested that even as John the Baptist saw Jesus, there passed by flocks of lambs, being driven up to Jerusalem from the country districts to serve as sacrifices for the Passover Feast. The blood of the Passover Lamb delivered the Israelites in Egypt from death; and it may be that John was saying: "There is the one true sacrifice who can deliver you from death." Paul too thought of Jesus as the Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). There is a deliverance that only Jesus Christ can win for us.
(ii) John was the son of a priest. He would know all the ritual of the Temple and its sacrifices. Every morning and every evening a lamb was sacrificed in the Temple for the sins of the people (Exodus 29:38-42). So long as the Temple stood this daily sacrifice was made. Even when the people were starving in war and in siege they never omitted to offer the lamb until in A.D. 70 the Temple was destroyed. It may be that John is saying: "In the Temple a lamb is offered every night and every morning for the sins of the people; but in this Jesus is the only sacrifice which can deliver men from sin."
(iii) There are two great pictures of the lamb in the prophets. Jeremiah writes: "But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter" (Jeremiah 11:19). And Isaiah has the great picture of the one who was brought "like a lamb to the slaughter" (Isaiah 53:7). Both these great prophets had the vision of one who by his sufferings and his sacrifice, meekly and lovingly borne, would redeem his people. Maybe John is saying: "Your prophets dreamed of the one who was to love and suffer and die for the people; that one is come." It is certainly true that in later times the picture of Isaiah 53:1-12 became to the church one of the most precious forecasts of Jesus in all the Old Testament. It may be that John the Baptist was the first to see it so.
(iv) There is a fourth picture which would be very familiar to the Jews, although very strange to us. Between the Old and New Testaments there were the days of the great struggles of the Maccabees. In those days the lamb, and especially the horned lamb, was the symbol of a great conqueror. Judas Maccabaeus is so described, as are Samuel and David and Solomon. The lamb--strange as it may sound to us--stood for the conquering champion of God. It may well be that this is no picture of gentle and helpless weakness, but rather a picture of conquering majesty and power. Jesus was the champion of God who fought with sin and mastered it in single contest.
There is sheer wonder in this phrase, the Lamb of God. It haunted the writer of the Revelation. Twenty-nine times he used it. It becomes one of the most precious titles of Christ. In one word it sums up the love, the sacrifice, the suffering and the triumph of Christ.
John says that he did not know Jesus. Now John was a relation of Jesus (Luke 1:36), and he must have been acquainted with him. What John is saying is not that he did not know who Jesus was, but that he did not know what Jesus was. It had suddenly been revealed to him that Jesus was none other than the Son of God.
Once again John makes clear what his only function was. It was to point men to Christ. He was nothing and Christ was everything. He claimed no greatness and no place for himself; he was only the man who, as it were, drew back the curtain and left Jesus occupying the lonely centre of the stage.
THE COMING OF THE SPIRIT (John 1:32-34)
1:32-34 So John bore his witness. "With my own eyes," he said, "I saw the Spirit coming down from heaven, as it might have been a dove, and the Spirit remained upon him. And I did not know him. But it was he who sent me to baptize with water who said to me: 'The one on whom you see the Spirit coming down and remaining is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I saw it happen; and my witness stands that this is the Son of God."
Something had happened at the baptism of Jesus which had convinced John beyond all doubt that Jesus was the Son of God. As the fathers of the church saw centuries ago, it was something which only the eye of the mind and soul could see. But John saw it and was convinced.
In Palestine the dove was a sacred bird. It was not hunted and it was not eaten. Philo noticed the number of doves at Ascalon, because it was not permitted to catch and kill them, and they were tame. In Genesis 1:2 we read of the creative Spirit of God moving upon the face of the waters. The Rabbis used to say that the Spirit of God moved and fluttered like a dove over the ancient chaos breathing order and beauty into it. The picture of the dove was one which the Jews knew and loved.
It was at his baptism that the Spirit came down upon Jesus with power. We must remember that at this time the Christian doctrine of the Spirit had not yet come into being. We have to wait for the last chapters of John's gospel and for Pentecost for that to emerge. When John the Baptist spoke of the Spirit coming upon Jesus, he must have been thinking in Jewish terms. What then was the Jewish idea of the Spirit?
The Jewish word for Spirit is ruach (Hebrew #7307), the word which means wind. To the Jew there were always three basic ideas of the Spirit. The Spirit was power, power like a mighty rushing wind; the Spirit was life, the very dynamic of the existence of man; the Spirit was God; the power and the life of the Spirit were beyond mere human achievement and attainment; the coming of the Spirit into a man's life was the coming of God. Above all it was the Spirit who controlled and inspired the prophets. "I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin" (Micah 3:8). God speaks to Isaiah of "My Spirit which is upon you and my words which I have put in your mouth" (Isaiah 59:21). "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings" (Isaiah 61:1). "A new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you.... I will put my Spirit within you" (Ezekiel 36:26-27). We may say that the Spirit of God did three things for the man on whom he came. First, he brought to men the truth of God. Second, he gave men the power to recognize that truth when they saw it. Third, he gave them the ability and the courage to preach that truth to men. To the Jew the Spirit was God coming into a man's life.
At his baptism the Spirit came upon Jesus in a different way from that in which he ever came on any other person. Most men have what might be called spasmodic experiences of the Spirit. They have their moments of dazzling illumination, of extraordinary power, of superhuman courage. But these moments come and go. Twice (John 1:32-33) John goes out of his way to point out that the Spirit remained on Jesus. Here was no momentary inspiration. In Jesus the Spirit took up his permanent abode. That is still another way of saying that the mind and the power of God were uniquely in Jesus.
Here we can learn a great deal of what the word baptism means. The Greek verb baptizein (Greek #907) means to dip or to submerge. It can be used of clothes being dipped in dye; it can be used of a ship submerged beneath the waves; it can be used of a person who is so drunk that he is soaked in drink. When John says that Jesus will baptize men with the Holy Spirit, he means that Jesus can bring God's Spirit to us in such a way that we are saturated and our life and being are flooded with that Spirit.
Now what did this baptism mean for John? His own baptism meant two things. (i) It meant cleansing. It meant that a man was being washed from the impurities that clung to him. (ii) It meant dedication. It meant that he went out to a new and a different and a better life. But Jesus' baptism was a baptism of the Spirit. If we remember the Jewish conception of the Spirit we can say that when the Spirit takes possession of a man certain things happen.
(i) His life is illumined. There comes to him the knowledge of God and God's will. He knows what God's purpose is, what life means, where duty lies. Some of God's wisdom and light has come into him.
(ii) His life is strengthened. Knowledge without power is a haunting and frustrating thing. But the Spirit gives us not only knowledge to know the right, but also strength and power to do it. The Spirit gives us a triumphant adequacy to cope with life.
(iii) His life is purified. Christ's baptism with the Spirit was to be a baptism of fire (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16). The dross of evil things, the alloy of the lower things, the base admixture is burned away until a man is clean and pure.
Often our prayers for the Spirit are a kind of theological and liturgical formality; but when we know that for which we are praying, these prayers become a desperate cry from the heart.
THE FIRST DISCIPLES (John 1:35-39)
1:35-39 On the next day John was again standing with two of his disciples. John looked at Jesus as he walked. "See!" he said, "The Lamb of God!" And the two disciples heard him speaking and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him. "What are you looking for?" he said to them. "Rabbi" (the word means Teacher), they said to him, "where are you staying?" He said to them: "Come and see!" They came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him throughout that day. And it was about four o'clock in the afternoon.
Never was a passage of scripture fuller of little revealing touches than this.
Once again we see John the Baptist pointing beyond himself. He must have known very well that to speak to his disciples about Jesus like that was to invite them to leave him and transfer their loyalty to this new and greater teacher; and yet he did it. There was no jealousy in John. He had come to attach men not to himself but to Christ. There is no harder task than to take the second place when once the first place was enjoyed. But as soon as Jesus emerged on the scene John never had any other thought than to send men to him.
So the two disciples of John followed Jesus. It may well be that they were too shy to approach him directly and followed respectfully some distance behind. Then Jesus did something entirely characteristic. He turned and spoke to them. That is to say, he met them half way. He made things easier for them. He opened the door that they might come in.
Here we have the symbol of the divine initiative. It is always God who takes the first step. When the human mind begins to seek and the human heart begins to long, God comes to meet us far more than half way. God does not leave a man to search and search until he comes to him; God goes out to meet the man. As Augustine said, we could not even have begun to seek for God unless he had already found us. When we go to God we do not go to one who hides himself and keeps us at a distance; we go to one who stands waiting for us, and who even takes the initiative by coming to meet us on the road.
Jesus began by asking these two men the most fundamental question in life. "What are you looking for?" he asked them. It was very relevant to ask that question in Palestine in the time of Jesus. Were they legalists, looking only for subtle and recondite conversations about the little details of the Law, like the scribes and Pharisees? Were they ambitious time-servers looking for position and power like the Sadducees? Were they nationalists looking for a political demagogue and a military commander who would smash the occupying power of Rome like the Zealots? Were they humble men of prayer looking for God and for his will, like the Quiet in the Land? Or were they simply puzzled, bewildered sinful men looking for light on the road of life and forgiveness from God?
It would be well if every now and again we were to ask ourselves: "What am I looking for? What's my aim and goal? What am I really trying to get out of life?"
Some are searching for security. They would like a position which is safe, money enough to meet the needs of life and to put some past for the time when work is done, a material security which will take away the essential worry about material things. This is not a wrong aim, but it is a low aim, and an inadequate thing to which to direct all life; for, in the last analysis, there is no safe security in the chances and the changes of this life.
Some are searching for what they would call a career, for power, prominence, prestige, for a place to fit the talents and the abilities they believe themselves to have, for an opportunity to do the work they believe themselves capable of doing. If this be directed by motives of personal ambition it can be a bad aim; if it be directed by motives of the service of our fellow men it can be a high aim. But it is not enough, for its horizon is limited by time and by the world.
Some are searching for some kind of peace, for something to enable them to live at peace with themselves, and at peace with God, and at peace with men. This is the search for God; this aim only Jesus Christ can meet and supply.
The answer of John's disciples was that they wished to know where Jesus stayed. They called him Rabbi (Greek #4461); that is a Hebrew word (Hebrew #7227) which literally means My great one. It was the title of respect given by students and seekers after knowledge to their teachers and to wise men. John, the evangelist, was writing for Greeks. He knew they would not recognize that Hebrew word, so he translated it for them by the Greek word didaskalos (Greek #1320), teacher. It was not mere curiosity which made these two ask this question. What they meant was that they did not wish to speak to Jesus only on the road, in the passing, as chance acquaintances might stop and exchange a few words. They wished to linger long with him and talk out their problems and their troubles. The man who would be Jesus' disciple can never be satisfied with a passing word. He wants to meet Jesus, not as an acquaintance in the passing, but as a friend in his own house.
Jesus' answer was: "Come and see!" The Jewish Rabbis had a way of using that phrase in their teaching. They would say: "Do you want to know the answer to this question? Do you want to know the solution to this problem? Come and see, and we will think about it together." When Jesus said: "Come and see!" he was inviting them, not only to come and talk, but to come and find the things that he alone could open out to them.
John who wrote the gospel finishes the paragraph--"It was about four o'clock in the afternoon." It may very well be that he finishes that way because he was one of the two himself He could tell you the very hour of the day and no doubt the very stone of the road he was standing on when he met Jesus. At four o'clock on a spring afternoon in Galilee, life became a new thing for him.
SHARING THE GLORY (John 1:40-42)
1:40-42 Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of the two who had heard John speaking about Jesus, and who had followed him. First thing in the morning, he went and found his own brother Simon. "We have found the Messiah," he said to him. (The word Messiah means the same as the word Christ.) He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked intently at him. "You are Simon, Jona's son," he said. "You will be called Cephas." Cephas is the same name as Peter and means a rock.
The Revised Standard Version has it that Andrew "first found his brother Simon." In the Greek manuscripts there are two readings. Some manuscripts have the word proton (Greek #4412), which means first, and that is the reading that the Revised Standard Version has translated. Other manuscripts have proi (Greek #4404), which means early in the morning. In our translation we have taken the second reading because it suits better the story of the first momentous week in Jesus' life to regard this event as taking place on the next day.
Again John explains a Hebrew word in order to help his Greek readers to understand better. Messiah and Christ are the same word. Messiah is Hebrew and Christ is Greek; both mean anointed. In the ancient world, as today in our own country, kings were anointed with oil at their coronation. Messiah and Christos both mean God's Anointed King.
We do not possess a great deal of information about Andrew, but even the little that we know perfectly paints his character. He is one of the most attractive men in the apostolic band. He has two outstanding characteristics.
(i) Andrew was characteristically the man who was prepared to take the second place. Again and again he is identified as Simon Peter's brother. It is clear that he lived under the shadow of Peter. People might not know who Andrew was, but everyone knew Peter; and when men spoke of Andrew they described him as Peter's brother. Andrew was not one of the inner circle of the disciples. When Jesus healed Jairus' daughter, when he went up to the Mount of Transfiguration, when he underwent his temptation in Gethsemane, it was Peter, James and John whom he took with him. It would have been so easy for Andrew to resent this. Was he not one of the first two disciples who ever followed Jesus? Did Peter not owe his meeting with Jesus to him? Might he not reasonably have expected a foremost place in the apostolic band? But all that never even occurred to Andrew. He was quite content to stand back and let his brother have the limelight; he was quite content to play a humble part in the company of the Twelve. To Andrew matters of precedence and place and honour mattered nothing at all. All that mattered was to be with Jesus and to serve him as well as he could. Andrew is the patron saint of all who humbly and loyally and ungrudgingly take the second place.
(ii) Andrew is characteristically the man who was always introducing others to Jesus. There are only three times in the gospel story when Andrew is brought into the centre of the stage. There is this incident here, in which he brings Peter to Jesus. There is the incident in John 6:8-9 when he brings to Jesus the boy with the five loaves and two small fishes. And there is the incident in John 12:22 when he brings the enquiring Greeks into the presence of Jesus. It was Andrew's great joy to bring others to Jesus. He stands out as the man whose one desire was to share the glory. He is the man with the missionary heart. Having himself found the friendship of Jesus, he spent all his life in introducing others to that friendship. Andrew is our great example in that he could not keep Jesus to himself.
When Andrew brought Peter to Jesus, Jesus looked at Peter. The word used of that look is emblepein (Greek #1689). It describes a concentrated, intent gaze, the gaze which does not see only the superficial things that lie on the surface, but which reads a man's heart. When Jesus saw Simon, as he was then called, he said to him: "Your name is Simon; but you are going to be called Cephas, which means a rock."
In the ancient world nearly everyone had two names. Greek was the universal language and nearly everyone had a name in his own native tongue, by which he was known to his friends. Thomas was the Aramaic and Didymus (Didumos - Greek #1324) the Greek for a twin; Tabitha (Greek #5000; compare Hebrew #6646) was the Aramaic and Dorcas (Dorkas - Greek #1393) the Greek for a gazelle. Sometimes the Greek name was chosen because it sounded like the Aramaic name. A Jew who was called Eliakim or Abel in his own tongue might become Alcimus or Apelles to his Greek circle of acquaintances. So then Peter (Greek #4074) and Cephas (Greek #2786) are not different names; they are the same name in different languages.
In the Old Testament a change of name often denoted a new relationship with God. For instance, Jacob became Israel (Genesis 32:28), and Abram became Abraham (Genesis 17:5) when they entered into a new relationship with God. When a man enters into a new relationship with God, it is as if life began all over again and he became a new man, so that he needs a new name.
But the great thing about this story is that it tells us how Jesus looks at men. He does not only see what a man is; he also sees what a man can become. He sees not only the actualities in a man; he also sees the possibilities. Jesus looked at Peter and saw in him not only a Galilaean fisherman but one who had it in him to become the rock on which his church would be built. Jesus sees us not only as we are, but as we can be; and he says: "Give your life to me, and I will make you what you have it in you to be." Once someone came on Michelangelo chipping away with his chisel at a huge shapeless piece of rock. He asked the sculptor what he was doing. "I am releasing the angel imprisoned in this marble," he answered. Jesus is the one who sees and can release the hidden hero in every man.
THE SURRENDER OF NATHANAEL (John 1:43-51)
1:43-51 On the next day Jesus determined to go away to Galilee; and there he found Philip. Jesus said to him: "Follow me!" Now Philip came from Bethsaida, which was the town from which Andrew and Peter came. Philip went and found Nathanael and said to him: "We have found the One about whom Moses wrote in the law, and about whom the prophets spoke--I mean Jesus, the son of Joseph, the man from Nazareth." Nathanael said to him: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him: "Come and see!" When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said: "See! A man who is really an Israelite! A man in whom there is no guile!" Nathanael said to him: "How do you know me?" "Before Philip called you," said Jesus, "I saw you when you were under the fig-tree." "Rabbi," answered Nathanael, "you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel." Jesus answered: "Do you believe because I said to you, 'I saw you under the fig-tree'? You will see greeter things than these." He said to him: "This is the truth I tell you--you will see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."
At this point in the story Jesus left the south and went north to Galilee. There, perhaps in Cana, he found and called Philip. Philip, like Andrew, could not keep the good news to himself. As Godet said: "One lighted torch serves to light another." So Philip went and found his friend Nathanael. He told him that he believed that he had discovered the long promised Messiah in Jesus, the man from Nazareth. Nathanael was contemptuous. There was nothing in the Old Testament which foretold that God's Chosen One should come from Nazareth. Nazareth was a quite undistinguished place. Nathanael himself came from Cana, another Galilaean town, and, in country places, jealousy between town and town, and rivalry between village and village, is notorious. Nathanael's reaction was to declare that Nazareth was not the kind of place that anything good was likely to come out of. Philip was wise. He did not argue. He said simply: "Come and see!"
Not very many people have ever been argued into Christianity. Often our arguments do more harm than good. The only way to convince a man of the supremacy of Christ is to confront him with Christ. On the whole it is true to say that it is not argumentative and philosophical preaching and teaching which have won men for Christ; it is the presentation of the story of the Cross.
There is a story which tells how, towards the end of the nineteenth century, Huxley, the great agnostic, was a member of a house-party at a country house. Sunday came round, and most of the members prepared to go to church; but, very naturally, Huxley did not propose to go. Huxley approached a man known to have a simple and radiant Christian faith. He said to him: "Suppose you don't go to church today. Suppose you stay at home and you tell me quite simply what your Christian faith means to you and why you are a Christian." "But," said the man, "you could demolish my arguments in an instant. I'm not clever enough to argue with you." Huxley said gently: "I don't want to argue with you; I just want you to tell me simply what this Christ means to you." The man stayed at home and told Huxley most simply of his faith. When he had finished there were tears in the great agnostic's eyes. "I would give my right hand," he said, "if only I could believe that."
It was not clever argument that touched Huxley's heart. He could have dealt efficiently and devastatingly with any argument that that simple Christian was likely to have produced, but the simple presentation of Christ caught him by the heart. The best argument is to say to people: "Come and see!" Of course, we have to know Christ ourselves before we can invite others to come to him. The true evangelist must himself have met Christ first.
So Nathanael came; and Jesus could see into his heart. "Here," said Jesus, "is a genuine Israelite, a man in whose heart there is no guile." That was a tribute that any devout Israelite would recognize. "Blessed is the man," said the Psalmist, "to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit" (Psalms 32:2). "He had done no violence," said the prophet of the Servant of the Lord "and there was no deceit in his mouth" (Isaiah 53:9).
Nathanael was surprised that anyone could give a verdict like that on so short an acquaintance, and he demanded how Jesus could possibly know him. Jesus told him that he had already seen him under the fig-tree. What is the significance of that? To the Jews the fig-tree always stood for peace. Their idea of peace was when a man could be undisturbed under his own vine and his own fig-tree (compare 1 Kings 4:25; Micah 4:4). Further, the fig-tree was leafy and shady and it was the custom to sit and meditate under the roof of its branches. No doubt that was what Nathanael had been doing; and no doubt as he sat under the fig-tree he had prayed for the day when God's Chosen One should come. No doubt he had been meditating on the promises of God. And now he felt that Jesus had seen into the very depths of his heart.
It was not so much that Jesus had seen him under the fig-tree that surprised Nathanael; it was the fact that Jesus had read the thoughts of his inmost heart. Nathanael said to himself: "Here is the man who understands my dreams! Here is the man who knows my prayers! Here is the man who has seen into my most intimate and secret longings, longings which I have never even dared put into words! Here is the man who can translate the inarticulate sigh of my soul! This must be God's promised anointed one and no other." Nathanael capitulated for ever to the man who read and understood and satisfied his heart.
It may be that Jesus smiled. He quoted the old story of Jacob at Bethel who had seen the golden ladder leading up to heaven (Genesis 28:12-13). It was as if Jesus said: "Nathanael, I can do far more than read your heart. I can be for you and for all men the way, the ladder that leads to heaven." It is through Jesus and Jesus alone that the souls of men can mount the ladder which leads to heaven.
This passage presents us with a problem. Who was Nathanael? In the Fourth Gospel he is one of the first group of disciples; in the other three gospels he never appears at all. More than one explanation has been given.
(i) It has been suggested that Nathanael is not a real figure at all, but an ideal figure standing for all the true Israelites who burst the bonds of national pride and prejudice and gave themselves to Jesus Christ.
(ii) On the same basis, it has been suggested that he stands either for Paul or for the beloved disciple. Paul was the great example of the Israelite who had accepted Christ; the beloved disciple was the ideal disciple. Again the supposition is that Nathanael stands for an ideal; that he is a type and not a person. If this were the only mention of Nathanael that might be true; but Nathanael appears again in John 21:2 and there is no thought of him as an ideal there.
(iii) He has been identified with Matthew, because both Matthew and Nathanael mean the gift of God. We saw that in those days most people had two names; but then one name was Greek and the other Jewish. In this case both Matthew and Nathanael are Jewish names.
(iv) There is a simpler explanation. Nathanael was brought to Jesus by Philip. Nathanael's name is never mentioned in the other three gospels; and in the Fourth Gospel Bartholomew's name is never mentioned. Now, in the list of the disciples in Matthew 10:3 and Mark 3:18, Philip and Bartholomew come together, as if it was natural and inevitable to connect them. Moreover, Bartholomew is really a second name. It means Son of Tholmai or Ptolemy. Bartholomew must have had another name, a first name; and it is at least possible that Bartholomew and Nathanael are the same person under different names. That certainly fits the facts.
Whatever else, it is true that Nathanael stands for the Israelite whose heart was cleansed of pride and prejudice and who saw in Jesus the one who satisfied the longing of his waiting, seeking heart.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
Wednesday, September 28th, 2016
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
Search This Commentary