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Bible Commentaries
John 1

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verse 1

The Bible identifies many beginnings. The beginning that John spoke of was not really the beginning of something new at a particular time. It was rather the time before anything that has come into existence began. The Bible does not teach a timeless state either before Creation or after the consummation of all things. This was a pagan Greek philosophical concept. Origen and Plato held it, as do some modern eastern religions and some uninformed Christians, but it is not a biblical teaching. Time is the way God and we measure events in relationship to one another. Even before God created the universe (Genesis 1:1) there was succession of events. We often refer to this pre-creation time as eternity past. This is the time that John referred to here. At the beginning of this eternity, when there was nothing else, the Word existed.

"John is writing about a new beginning, a new creation, and he uses words that recall the first creation. He soon goes on to use other words that are important in Genesis 1, such as ’life’ (John 1:4), ’light’ (John 1:4), and ’darkness’ (John 1:5). Genesis 1 described God’s first creation; John’s theme is God’s new creation. Like the first, the second is not carried out by some subordinate being. It is brought about through the agency of the Logos, the very Word of God." [Note: Morris, pp. 64-65.]

Obviously the word "Word" (Gr. logos; Aram. memra, used to describe God in the Targums), to which John referred, was a title for God. The Targums are Aramaic translations of the Old Testament. Later in this verse he identified the Word as God. John evidently chose this title because it communicates the fact that the Word was not only God but also the expression of God. A spoken or written word expresses what is in the mind of its speaker or writer. Likewise Jesus, the Word (John 1:14), was not only God, but He was the expression of God to humankind. Jesus’ life and ministry expressed to humankind what God wanted us to know (cf. Hebrews 1:1-2). The word "word" had this metaphorical meaning in Jewish and Greek literature when John wrote his Gospel.

"To the Hebrew ’the word of God’ was the self-assertion of the divine personality; to the Greek the formula denoted the rational mind that ruled the universe." [Note: Tenney, "John,", p. 28.]

"It has not been proven beyond doubt whether the term logos, as John used it, derives from Jewish or Greek (Hellenistic) backgrounds or from some other source. Nor is it plain what associations John meant to convey by his use of it. Readers are left to work out the precise allusions and significance for themselves. John was working with allusions to the Old Testament, but he was also writing to an audience familiar with Hellenistic (Greek) thought, and certain aspects of his use of logos would occur to them. Both backgrounds are important for understanding this title as John used it in John 1:1; John 1:14." [Note: W. Hall Harris, "A Theology of John’s Writings," in A Biblical Theology of the New Testament, p. 190. See Beasley-Murray, pp. 6-10, for a brief discussion of the origin of the logos concept.]

John adopted this word and used it in personification to express Jesus as the ultimate divine self-revelation (cf. Hebrews 1:1-2). In view of Old Testament usage it carries connotations of creation (Genesis 1:3; Genesis 1:6; Genesis 1:9; Psalms 33:6), revelation (Isaiah 9:8; Jeremiah 1:4; Ezekiel 33:7; Amos 3:1; Amos 3:8), and deliverance (Psalms 107:20; Isaiah 56:1).

John’s description of the Word as with God shows that Jesus was in one sense distinct from God. He was the second person of the Trinity who is distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit in the form of His subsistence. However, John was also careful to note that Jesus was in another sense fully God. He was not less God than the Father or the Spirit in His essence. Thus John made one of the great Trinitarian statements in the Bible in this verse. In His essence Jesus is equal with the Father, but He exists as a separate person within the Godhead.

There is probably no fully adequate illustration of the Trinity in the natural world. Perhaps the egg is one of the best. An egg consists of three parts: shell, yolk, and white. Each part is fully egg yet each has its own identity that distinguishes it from the other parts. The human family is another illustration. Father, mother, and child are all separate entities yet each one is fully a member of its own family. Each may have a different first name, but all bear the same family name.

Jehovah’s Witnesses appeal to this verse to support their doctrine that Jesus was not fully God but the highest created being. They translate it "the Word was a god." Grammatically this is a possible translation since it is legitimate to supply the indefinite article ("a") when no article is present in the Greek text, as here. However, that translation here is definitely incorrect because it reduces Jesus to less than God. Other Scriptures affirm Jesus’ full deity (e.g., John 1:2; John 1:18; Philippians 2:6; Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3; et al.). Here the absence of the indefinite article was deliberate. Often the absence of the article stresses the character or quality of the noun, as here. (cf. Hebrews 1:1-2).

"As a rule the predicate is without the article, even when the subject uses it [cf. John 1:6; John 1:12-13; John 1:18, et al.]." [Note: A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, p. 767. See also E. C. Colwell, "A Definite Rule for the Use of the Article in the Greek New Testament," Journal of Biblical Literature 52 (1933):12-21.]

Jesus was not a god. He is God.

"John intends that the whole of his gospel shall be read in the light of this verse. The deeds and words of Jesus are the deeds and words of God; if this be not true the book is blasphemous." [Note: C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text, p. 156.]

John 1:1 is the first of many "asides" in this Gospel. An aside is a direct statement that tells the reader something. Asides are never observable events but are interpretive commentary on observable events. This commentary reveals information below the surface of the action.

"Some asides function to stage an event by defining the physical context in which it occurs. Other asides function to define or specify something. Still other asides explain discourse, telling why something was said (or was not said, e.g., John 7:13; John 7:30). Parallel to these are others that function to explain actions, noting why something happened (or did not happen)." [Note: Tom Thatcher, "A New Look at Asides in the Fourth Gospel," Bibliotheca Sacra 151:604 (October-December 1994):430.]

Thatcher identified 191 asides and charted them by type. [Note: Ibid., pp. 434-39.]

Verses 1-5

A. The preincarnate Word 1:1-5

John began his Gospel by locating Jesus before the beginning of His ministry, before His virgin birth, and even before Creation. He identified Jesus as co-existent with God the Father and the Father’s agent in providing creation and salvation.

Verses 1-18

I. PROLOGUE 1:1-18

Each of the four Gospels begins with an introduction to Jesus that places Him in the historical setting of His earthly ministry. Matthew connected Him with David and Abraham. Mark associated Him directly with John the Baptist. Luke recorded the predictions of His birth. John, however, declared Him to be the eternal Son of God. Many writers have referred to John’s prologue as a theological prologue because this evangelist stressed Jesus’ connection with the eternal God.

As with many introductions, this one contains several key terms that recur throughout the remainder of the book. These terms include life and light (John 1:4), darkness (John 1:5), witness (John 1:7), true (i.e., genuine or ultimate) and world (John 1:9), as well as Son, Father, glory, and truth (John 1:14). The Word (as a Christological title, John 1:1) and grace (John 1:14) are also important theological terms, but they occur only in the prologue.

"But supremely, the Prologue summarizes how the ’Word’ which was with God in the very beginning came into the sphere of time, history, tangibility-in other words, how the Son of God was sent into the world to become the Jesus of history, so that the glory and grace of God might be uniquely and perfectly disclosed. The rest of the book is nothing other than an expansion of this theme." [Note: Carson, p. 111.]

Some writers have identified a chiastic structure in the prologue. R. Alan Culpepper’s is essentially as follows. [Note: R. Alan Culpepper, "The Pivot of John’s Prologue," New Testament Studies 27 (1981):1-31.]

A The eternal Word with God John 1:1-2

B What came through the Word: creation John 1:3

C What we have received from the Word: life John 1:4-5

D John’s purpose: to testify John 1:6-8

E The Incarnation and the world’s response John 1:9-10

F The Word and His own (Israel) John 1:11

G Those who accepted the Word John 1:12 a

H He gave them authority to become God’s children John 1:12 b

G’ Those who believed in the Word John 1:12 c

F’ The Word and His own (Christians) John 1:13

E’ The Incarnation and the church’s response John 1:14

D’ John’s testimony John 1:15

C’ What we have received from the Word: grace John 1:16

B’ What came through the Word: grace and truth John 1:17

A’ The eternal Word from God John 1:18

Jeff Staley also saw a chiasm in these verses, though his perception of the parts is slightly different from Culpepper’s. [Note: Jeff Staley, "The Structure of John’s Prologue: Its Implications for the Gospel’s Narrative Structure," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 48:2 (April 1986):241-63.]

A The relationship of the Logos to God, creation, and humanity John 1:1-5

B The witness of John (negative) John 1:6-8

C The journey of the Light/Logos (negative) John 1:9-11

D The gift of empowerment (positive) John 1:12-13

C’ The journey of the Logos (positive) John 1:14

B’ The witness of John (positive) John 1:15

A’ The relationship of the Logos to humankind, re-creation, and God John 1:16-18

These structural analyses point out that all that John wrote in this prologue centers on God’s gift of eternal life that comes to people through the Word (John 1:12). This emphasis on salvation through Jesus continues to be central throughout the Gospel (cf. John 20:30-31).

Verse 2

The Word was in the beginning with God. This statement clarifies further that Jesus was with God before the creation of the universe. It is a further assertion of Jesus’ deity. He did not come into existence. He always existed. Moreover Jesus did not become deity. He always was deity. John 1:2 clarifies the revelation of John 1:1 that is so concise and profound (cf. Genesis 1:1-2). [Note: See David J. MacLeod, "The Eternality and Deity of the Word: John 1:1-2," Bibliotheca Sacra 160:637 (January-March 2003):48-64.]

Verse 3

John next explicitly declared what was implicit in the Old Testament use of the word "word." Jesus was God’s agent in creating everything that has come into existence (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2; Revelation 3:14). It was the second person of the Trinity who created the universe and all it contains. However, John described the Word as God’s agent. The Word did not act independently from the Father. Thus John presented Jesus as under God the Father’s authority but over every created thing in authority. Jesus’ work of revealing God began with Creation because all creation reveals God (Psalms 19:1-6; Romans 1:19-20).

John characteristically stated a proposition positively (part "a" of this verse) and then immediately repeated it negatively for emphasis and clarification (part "b" of this verse).

Verse 4

". . . we move on from creation in general to the creation of life, the most significant element in creation. Life is one of John’s characteristic concepts: he uses the word 36 times, whereas no other New Testament writing has it more than 17 times (Revelation; next come Romans with 14 times and 1 John with 13 times). Thus more than a quarter of all the New Testament references to life occur in this one writing." [Note: Morris, p. 73.]

Jesus was the source of life. Therefore He could impart life to the things He created. Every living thing owes its life to the Creator, Jesus. Life for humankind constitutes light. Where there is life there is light, metaphorically speaking, and where there is no light there is darkness. John proceeded to show that Jesus is the source of spiritual life and light as well as physical life and light (cf. John 5:26; John 6:57; John 8:12; John 9:5; John 10:10; John 11:25; John 14:6; John 17:3; John 20:31). Metaphorically God’s presence dispels the darkness of ignorance and sin by providing revelation and salvation (cf. Isaiah 9:2). Jesus did this in the Incarnation.

Verse 5

As light shines (present tense for the first time) in the darkness, so Jesus brought the revelation and salvation of God to humanity in its fallen and lost condition. He did this in the Incarnation. As the word of God brought light to the chaos before Creation, so Jesus brought light to fallen humankind when He became a man.

Furthermore the light that Jesus brought was superior to the darkness that existed both physically and spiritually. The darkness did not overcome (Gr. katelaben, "lay hold of," cf. John 6:17; John 8:3-4; John 12:35; Mark 9:18) and consume the light, but the light overcame the darkness. John did not view the world as a stage on which two equal and opposing forces battle; He was not a philosophical dualist. He viewed Jesus as superior to the forces of darkness that sought to overcome Him but could not. This gives humankind hope. The forces of light are stronger than the forces of darkness. John was here anticipating the outcome of the story that he would tell, specifically, Calvary. Though darkness continues to prevail, the light can overcome it. [Note: See David J. MacLeod, "The Creation of the Universe by the Word: John 1:3-5," Bibliotheca Sacra 160:638 (April-June 2003):187-201.]

"The imagery of John, though limited to certain concepts and expressed in a fixed vocabulary, is integrated with the total theme of the Gospel. It expresses the conflict of good with evil, culminating in the incarnation and death of Christ, who brought light into darkness, and, though He suffered death, was not overcome by it." [Note: Merrill C. Tenney, "The Imagery of John," Bibliotheca Sacra 121:481 (January-March 1964):21.]

Tenny’s article just quoted contains discussion of about 20 images that John used.

Throughout these introductory verses John was clearly hinting at parallels between what Jesus did physically in Creation and what He did spiritually through the Incarnation. These parallels continue through the Gospel, as do the figures of light and darkness. Light represents both revelation and salvation. Likewise darkness stands for ignorance and sin (John 3:19-20; John 8:12; John 12:35; John 12:46).

Verse 6

In introducing John the Baptist the writer stressed that God had sent him. The name "John" means "God is gracious." John was a prophet in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets who bore witness to the light (Exodus 3:10-15; Isaiah 6:8; Jeremiah 1:4; cf. John 3:17). He was a man, in contrast to the Word, who was God. The other Gospel writers described John with the words "the Baptist," but John the Evangelist did not. He probably called him simply John because this is the only John that the Apostle John mentioned by name in his Gospel. [Note: See Cornelis Bennema, "The Character of John in the Fourth Gospel," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 52:2 (June 2009):271-84.] He always referred to himself obliquely either as the disciple whom Jesus loved or as the other disciple or in some other veiled way.

Verses 6-8

B. The witness of John the Baptist 1:6-8

John the Apostle introduced John the Baptist because John the Baptist bore witness to the light, namely, Jesus. John the Baptist was both a model evangelist pointing those in darkness to the light and a model witness providing an excellent example for believers who would follow him. [Note: See David J. MacLeod, "The Witness of John the Baptist to the Word: John 1:6-9," Bibliotheca Sacra 160:639 (July-September 2003):305-20.] John the Baptist introduced the Light to a dark world. He inaugurated Jesus’ ministry. Therefore mention of him was appropriate at the beginning of the Apostle John’s account of Jesus’ ministry.

Verse 7

John the Baptist was the first of many witnesses to the light that John the Apostle identified in this Gospel (cf. John 4:39; John 5:32; John 5:36-37; John 5:39-40; John 8:18; John 10:25; John 12:17; John 15:26-27; John 18:13-18; John 18:37). The Apostle John frequently used courtroom terminology in his Gospel to stress the truthfulness of the witnesses to the Light. John the Baptist bore witness to the light of God’s revelation but also to the person of the Light of the World (John 8:12). This Gospel stresses the function of John the Baptist as a witness to the light. The writer often emphasized something by simply repeating it, as he did here with the word "witness." The other Gospels also identified John the Baptist’s origin and character in their introductions (Matthew 3; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 1:5-24; Luke 1:57-80).

John the Baptist’s ultimate purpose was eliciting belief in Jesus (cf. John 1:35-37). That was also John the Evangelist’s purpose in writing this book (John 20:30-31). Consequently John the Baptist’s witness is an important part of the argument of the fourth Gospel. It was not immediately apparent to everyone that Jesus was the Light. Both Johns needed to identify Him as such to them.

"Since the Reformation, theologians have viewed saving faith as simultaneously encompassing three components-notitia, assensus, and fiducia. In notitia the individual becomes aware of the conditions, promises, and events that constitute divine revelation, especially the events surrounding God’s consummate self-revelation in Jesus Christ. In assensus the individual expresses objective confidence in the truthfulness of these claims (Romans 10:9; Hebrews 11:3; Hebrews 11:6; 1 John 5:1). In fiducia the individual places his or her personal trust in Jesus Christ. Central to this threefold model is a single key assumption: Faith, as presented in the New Testament, necessarily entails the recognition and acceptance of specific, objective content." [Note: Timothy Paul Jones, "The Necessity of Objective Assent in the Act of Christian Faith," Bibliotheca Sacra 162:646 (April-June 2005):150.]

Verse 8

Perhaps the writer stressed the fact that John the Baptist was not the Light because some people continued to follow John as his disciples long after he died (cf. John 4:1; Mark 6:29; Luke 5:33; Acts 18:25; Acts 19:1-7).

"A Mandaean sect still continues south of Baghdad which, though hostile to Christianity, claims an ancestral link to the Baptist." [Note: Blum, p. 272.]

Mandaism was a non-Christian type of Gnosticism. [Note: See Morris, p. 57; Beasley-Murray, pp. lvii-lviii.]

John the Baptist’s function was clearly to testify that Jesus was the Light. He was not that Light himself.

The reason the writer referred to John the Baptist in his prologue seems obvious. As the Word came to bring light to humanity, so God sent John the Baptist to illuminate the identity of the Light to people.

Verse 9

There are two possible interpretations of this verse. One is that the true Light enlightens every person who comes into the world (Gr. masculine participle erchomenon, AV, and NASB and NIV margins). The other is that the true Light comes into the world and enlightens everyone (Gr. neuter participle erchomenon, NASB and NIV). The second option seems preferable since the Incarnation is so much in view in the context. The point is that Jesus as the Light affects everyone. Everyone lives under the spotlight of God’s illuminating revelation in Jesus Christ since the Incarnation (cf. 1 John 1). His light clarifies the sinfulness and spiritual need of human beings. Those who respond to this convicting revelation positively experience salvation. Those who reject it and turn from the light will end up in outer darkness. They will experience eternal damnation.

The Quakers prefer the first of the two interpretations above. They use this verse to support their doctrine of the "inner light." They believe that God has placed some revelation in the heart of every person. A person can elicit that revelation by meditation. This is not general but special revelation. Their view is very close to the belief of some charismatic Christians that God gives new revelation today. Non-charismatics see no basis in Scripture for this view. We believe that while God now illuminates the revelation that He has previously given He does not give new revelation now, though He does give guidance and illumination.

The word "true" is one that John used repeatedly in this Gospel. "True" (Gr. alethinon) here refers to what is the ultimate form of the genuine article, the real as opposed to the counterfeit. John did not mean that Jesus was "truthful" (Gr. alethes). Jesus was not only a genuine revelation from God, but He was also the ultimate revelation (cf. John 4:23; John 6:32; John 15:1; John 17:3; Hebrews 1:1-2).

John usually used the word "world" (Gr. kosmos) in a negative sense in this Gospel (cf. John 1:10; John 7:7; John 14:17; John 14:22; John 14:27; John 14:30; John 15:18-19; John 16:8; John 16:20; John 16:33; John 17:6; John 17:9; John 17:14). It does not refer to this planet as a planet but to the inhabited earth fallen in sin and in rebellion against God. It is the world of humanity darkened by sin.

Verses 9-13

C. The appearance of the Light 1:9-13

The first section of the prologue (John 1:1-5) presents the preincarnate Word. The second section (John 1:6-8) identifies the forerunner of the Word’s earthly ministry. This third section introduces the ministry of the Incarnate Word.

"Two points receive special emphasis: one is the astonishing fact that the Word of God, true God as he is, took upon him human nature, and the other is the even more astonishing fact that when he did this, people would have nothing to do with him." [Note: Morris, pp. 82-83.]

Verse 10

Jesus entered the world that He had created in the Incarnation. Yet the world did not recognize Him for who He was because people’s minds had become darkened by the Fall and sin (John 12:37). Even the Light of the World was incomprehensible to them (cf. Matthew 13:55). The Light shines on everyone even though most people do not see it because they are spiritually blind. He shines even on those who have never heard of Him in that when He came He brought revelation of God that is now available to everyone.

John drew attention to the world by repeating this word three times. However the meaning shifts a bit from the world and all that is in it, in the first two occurrences of the word, to the people in the world who came in contact with Jesus, in the third occurrence.

"The world’s characteristic reaction to the Word is one of indifference." [Note: Ibid., p. 85. See his additional note on "the world," pp. 111-13.]

Verse 11

More seriously, when Jesus visited His own creation (Gr. idia, neuter), the creatures whom He had created (Gr. idioi, masculine) did not receive Him but rejected Him. The specific people whom Jesus visited in the Incarnation were the Jews. They were His own in a double sense. He had not only created them but also bought them for Himself out from the nations. Jesus had created the earth as a house, but when He visited it He found it inhabited by people who refused to acknowledge Him for who He was. In the Incarnation Jesus did not come as an alien; He came to His own "house."

Verse 12

The contrast with rejection is acceptance. Not everyone rejected Jesus when He came. Some accepted Him. [Note: See David J. MacLeod, "The Reaction of the World to the Word: John 1:10-13" Bibliotheca Sacra 160:640 (October-December 2003):398-413.] To these He gave as a gift the authority (Gr. exousian) to become God’s children (Gr. tekna). Receiving Jesus consists of believing in His name. Believing therefore equals receiving. "His name" summarizes all that He is. To believe in His name means to accept the revelation of who Jesus is that God has given. Because that revelation includes the fact that Jesus died as a substitute sacrifice in the place of sinners, belief involves relying on Jesus for salvation rather than on self. It does not just mean believing facts intellectually. It involves volitional trust as well.

"In the gospel of John belief is viewed in terms of a relationship with Jesus Christ, which begins with a decision to accept rather than reject who Jesus claims to be. This leads to a new relationship with God . . .

". . . in the Johannine writings . . . pisteuo ["believe"] with eis ["in" or "into"] refers to belief in a person." [Note: Harris, p. 223.]

The context determines whether John had genuine or inadequate belief in view in any given passage. [Note: Ibid., pp. 225-26. Cf. Beasley-Murray, p. 13.]

In one sense all human beings are the children of God: we are His creatures. However the Bible speaks of the children of God primarily as those who are His spiritual children by faith in Jesus Christ. The new birth brings us into a new family with new relationships. Clearly John was referring to this family of believers since he wrote that believing in Jesus gives people the right to become God’s children. The New Testament speaks of the believer as a child of God and as a son of God. Usually it describes us as children by birth, the new birth, and as sons by adoption. John consistently referred to believers only as children of God in his Gospel. He did not call us the sons of God. In this Gospel Jesus is the only son of God. "Children" draws attention to community of nature (cf. 2 Peter 1:4) whereas "sons" emphasizes rights and privileges.

When a person offers you a gift that has cost him or her much, it does not become yours until you receive it from that person. The beautifully wrapped package in the outstretched hand of the giver will do the receiver no good until he or she reaches out and takes it. Likewise reception of God’s gracious gift of eternal life is necessary before a person can benefit from it. Receiving a gift from someone else does not constitute a meritorious act or good work, and the Bible never regards it as a work. It is simply a response to the work of another.

Verse 13

The antecedent of "who" is those who believe in Jesus’ name (John 1:12). Their new life as children of God comes from God. It does not come because of their blood, namely, their physical ancestors. Many of the Jews believed that because they were Abraham’s descendants they were the spiritual children of God (cf. ch. 8; Romans 4; Galatians 3). Even today some people think that the faith or works of their ancestors somehow guarantees their salvation. However, God has no grandchildren. People become the children of God by personally trusting in Christ.

New life does not come because of physical desire either. No amount of wanting it and striving for it will bring it. The only thing that will is belief in Jesus.

"The term ’flesh’ (sarx) is not used by John to convey the idea of sinfulness, as it often does in Paul’s writings. . . . Rather, it is indicative of weakness and humiliation as seen in John 1:14. It simply affirms that in the Incarnation Jesus became fully human." [Note: Harris, p. 206. See also Morris, p. 89.]

Third, new spiritual life does not come because of a human decision either, specifically, the choice of a husband to produce a child. It comes as the result of a spiritual decision to trust in Jesus Christ. The Greek word for "man" here is andros meaning "male." The NIV interpreted it properly as "husband" here.

New spiritual life does not come from any of these sources but from God Himself. Ultimately it is the result of God’s choice, not man’s (cf. Ephesians 1:4). Therefore the object of our faith must be God rather than our heritage or race, our works, or our own initiative.

This section of the prologue summarizes the theological issue involved in the Incarnation. It is in a sense a miniature of the whole Gospel.

Verse 14

The Word, who existed equal with God before anything else came into being, became a human being. [Note: See Harris, pp. 189-92, or Morris, pp. 102-11, for fuller discussions of the title Logos.] This is the most concise statement of the Incarnation. He did not just appear to be a man; He became one (cf. Philippians 2:5-9). Yet He maintained His full deity. The word "became" (Gr. egeneto) usually implies a complete change, but that was not true in Jesus’ case. He did not cease to be God. Flesh in Scripture has a literal meaning, namely, material human flesh, and a metaphorical meaning, human nature. A second, less used, metaphorical meaning is all that we were in Adam before our regeneration (cf. Romans 7:5). Here John used it in the first metaphorical sense. God the Son assumed a human, though not sinful, nature.

"John does not say, ’the Word became man,’ nor ’the Word took a body.’ He chooses that form of expression which puts what he wants to say most bluntly. It seems probable that he was confronted by opponents of a docetic type, people who were ready to think of Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ of God but who denied the reality of his humanity. They thought of him as only appearing to live a human life. Since God could not, on their premises, defile himself by real contact with humankind, the whole life of Jesus must be appearance only. John’s strong term leaves no room for such fancies. He is clear on the deity of the Word. But he is just as clear on the genuineness of his humanity." [Note: Ibid., pp. 90-91.]

Jesus literally lived among His disciples. The Greek word eskenosen, translated "dwelt" or "lived," is related to skene, meaning tabernacle. As God’s presence dwelt among the Israelites in the tabernacle, so it lived among them in the person of Jesus temporarily (cf. Exodus 25:8-9; Exodus 33:7; Exodus 33:11). [Note: See Merrill C. Tenney, "The Old Testament and the Fourth Gospel," Bibliotheca Sacra 120:480 (October-December 1963):300-8, for discussion of the influence of the Hebrew Bible on John’s teaching in this Gospel.] The Gospel of John contains the second largest number of quotations and allusions to the Old Testament in the Gospels after Matthew. [Note: Ibid., p. 303.] Solomon thought it incredible that God would dwell on the earth (1 Kings 8:27), but that is precisely what He did in Jesus.

For the first time, John equated the Word and Jesus, but this is the last reference to the Word in this Gospel. From now on, John referred to the Word by His historical name, Jesus, and to the personal terms "Father" and "Son."

"As the preexistent Son of God, he was the Creator of the world and the Executor of the will of the Father. As the incarnate Son of God, he exercised in his human existence these same powers and revealed effectively the person of the Father." [Note: Idem, "John," p. 33.]

The glory that John and the other disciples beheld as eyewitnesses refers to the god-like characteristics of Jesus (cf. Exodus 33:22; Deuteronomy 5:22; Isaiah 60:1; 1 John 1:1-2). God’s character and qualities came through Jesus as a human son resembles his human father, except that the likeness in Jesus’ case was exact (Philippians 2:6). The disciples saw Jesus’ glory clearest at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:2-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36). His relationship to the Father was unique, and so was His similarity to the Father. Jesus’ relationship to God as His Son was unique (Gr. monogenous, cf. John 1:18; John 3:16; John 3:18; 1 John 4:9) even though we can become children of God (John 1:12-13). He is eternal and of the same essence as the Father. "Only begotten" does not mean that there was a time when Jesus was not, and then the Father brought Him into being. Monogenes, literally "one kind," means unique or only, (i.e., the only one of its kind).

Particularly, grace and truth marked the glory of God that Jesus manifested. Grace in this context refers to graciousness (i.e., goodness, Heb. hesed), and truth means integrity (i.e., truthfulness, Heb. yemet, cf. John 1:17). The Incarnation was the greatest possible expression of God’s grace to humankind. It was also the best way to communicate truth accurately to human understanding. Nevertheless many people who encountered Jesus during His ministry failed to see these things (John 1:10). Neither grace nor truth is knowable apart from God who has revealed them through Jesus Christ. [Note: Morris, p. 95. See also David J. MacLeod, "The Incarnation of the Word: John 1:14," Bibliotheca Sacra 161:641 (January-March 2004):72-88.]

Verses 14-18

D. The incarnation of the Word 1:14-18

John’s return to the Word in John 1:14 from John 1:1 introduces new revelation about Him. Though still part of the prologue, the present section focuses on the Incarnation of the Word.

Verse 15

John the Baptist was another witness beside John the Apostle and the other disciples of Jesus who testified to Jesus’ person.

"John the Baptist is one of six persons named in the Gospel of John who gave witness that Jesus Is God. The others are Nathanael (John 1:49), Peter (John 6:69), the blind man who was healed (John 9:35-38), Martha (John 11:27), and Thomas (John 20:28). If you add our Lord Himself (John 5:25; John 10:36), then you have seven clear witnesses." [Note: Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, 1:287.]

Even though John the Baptist was slightly older and began his ministry before Jesus, He acknowledged Jesus’ superiority to himself.

"In a society where age and precedence bestowed peculiar honour, that might have been taken by superficial observers to mean John the Baptist was greater than Jesus." [Note: Carson, p. 131.]

Jesus’ superiority rested in His preexistence with the Father and therefore His deity. John the Baptist’s witness to Jesus’ identity was important to the writer of this Gospel (cf. John 1:6-8; John 1:19-36).

Verse 16

The glory of God that Jesus manifested was full of grace and truth (John 1:14). From the fullness of that grace all people have received one expression of grace after another.

There are several possible interpretations of the phrase "grace upon grace" (NASB, Gr. charin anti charitos). The problem is the meaning of the preposition anti here. Some interpreters believe that John was saying grace follows grace as ocean wave follows wave, washing believers with successive blessings. [Note: See F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition and Notes, p. 43; Robertson, p. 574; Morris, p. 98; Beasley-Murray, p. 15; and Zane C. Hodges, "Grace after Grace-John 1:16," Bibliotheca Sacra 135:537 (January-March 1978):34-45.] The NIV "one blessing after another" effectively expresses this view, and the NASB "grace upon grace" implies it. Another translation that gives the same sense is "grace to meet every need that arises (see 2 Cor. xii. 9)." [Note: Tasker, p. 48.] It is true that God keeps pouring out His inexhaustible grace on the believer through Jesus Christ, but is this what John meant here?

A second view is that the Greek preposition anti means "instead of" here, as it often does elsewhere. [Note: Carson, p. 132-34.] According to this interpretation John meant that God’s grace though Jesus Christ replaces the grace that He bestowed through Moses when He gave the law. John 1:17 seems to continue this thought and so supports this interpretation.

I suspect that John may have intended both ideas. He could have been thinking of God’s grace in Jesus Christ superseding His grace through Moses and continuing to supply the Christian day by day. This interpretation recognizes John’s mention of the fullness of God’s grace as well as the contrast in John 1:17.

Another less acceptable view is that anti means "corresponds to." [Note: J. C. Bernard, The Gospel According to St. John , 1:29.] The grace we receive corresponds in some way to the grace Jesus receives from the Father. However, anti rarely has this meaning by itself, though it does occasionally when it combines with other nouns. Furthermore this interpretation offers no connection with John 1:17.

A fourth view, also inadequate from my viewpoint, is that anti means "in return for." [Note: See Carson, p. 131.] Yet the idea of God giving us grace in return for grace that we give to him is foreign to the New Testament. God initiates grace to human beings.

Verse 17

Whereas Moses was the individual through whom God gave His law to His people, Jesus Christ is the one through whom He has manifested abundant grace and truth. This is John’s first use of the human name "Jesus," which occurs 237 times in this Gospel, more than a quarter of the total 905 times it appears in the entire New Testament. The compound "Jesus Christ," however, occurs again only in John 17:3 in John. This evangelist used "Christ" 19 times, more than any of the other Gospel writers (cf. John 20:31). This seems reasonable if John wrote late in the first century A.D. by which time "Christ" had become a titulary (a title turned proper name).

John’s statement shows the superiority of the gracious dispensation that Jesus introduced over the legal dispensation that Moses inaugurated (cf. Romans 5:20-21; Ephesians 2:8). The legal age contained grace, and the gracious age contains laws. For example, each sacrifice that God accepted under the old economy was an expression of His grace. John was contrasting the dominant characteristics of these two ages. Law expresses God’s standards, but grace provides help so we can do His will. Surprisingly, John used the great Christian word "grace" three times in his prologue (John 1:14; John 1:16-17) but nowhere else in his Gospel.

"What God showed Himself to be through His revelation in the Torah, so now Jesus shows Himself to be through the Incarnation. And what was the Torah? It was not handcuffs, but Yahweh’s pointed finger, graciously marking out to the redeemed the path of life and fellowship with Him [cf. Deuteronomy 6:1-3]. The point of John 1:17 is not ’Then bad, now good’; the point is rather, ’Then, wonderful! And now, better than ever!’" [Note: Ronald B. Allen, "Affirming Right-of-Way on Ancient Paths," Bibliotheca Sacra 153:609 (January-March 1996):10.]

This verse clearly contrasts the two dispensations in view. Even non-dispensationalists acknowledge this and admit that they recognize two different economies, the Old Testament legal economy and the New Testament gracious economy. Significantly, Moses’ first plague in Egypt involved turning water into blood (Exodus 7:14-15), whereas Jesus’ first recorded miracle involved turning water into wine (John 2:1-11).

Verse 18

There are many passages of Scripture that record various individuals seeing God (e.g., Exodus 33:21-23; Isaiah 6:1-5; Revelation 1:10-18). Those instances involved visions, theophanies, or anthropomorphic representations of God rather than encounters with His unveiled spiritual essence (cf. Exodus 33:20-23; Deuteronomy 4:12; Psalms 97:2; 1 Timothy 1:17; 1 Timothy 6:16; 1 John 4:12). The way we know what God is like is not by viewing His essence. No one can do that and live. God has sent His unique and only Son (monogenous, cf. John 1:14) from His own most intimate presence to reveal God to humankind.

"In the bosom of is a Hebrew idiom expressing the intimate relationship of child and parent, and of friend and friend (cf. xiii. 23)." [Note: Tasker, p. 49.]

In the system that Moses inaugurated, no one could "see" God, but Jesus has revealed Him now to everyone. Note also that John called Jesus God here again. Though some ancient manuscripts read "Son" instead of "God," the correct reading seems clearly to be "God."

Jesus "explained" (NASB) God in the sense of revealing Him. The Greek word is exegesato from which we get "exegete." The Son has exegeted (i.e., explained, interpreted, or narrated) the Father to humankind. The reference to Jesus being in the bosom of the Father softens and brings affection to the idea of Jesus exegeting the Father. The nature of God is in view here, not His external appearance.

"God is invisible, not because he is unreal, but because physical eyes are incapable of detecting him. The infrared and ultraviolet rays of the light spectrum are invisible because the human eye is not sensitive enough to register them. However, photographic plates or a spectroscope can make them visible to us. Deity as a being is consequently known only through spiritual means that are able to receive its (his) communications." [Note: Tenney, "John," p. 34.]

John ended his prologue as he began it, with a reference to Jesus’ deity. [Note: For an exposition of John 1:15-18, see David J. MacLeod, "The Benefits of the Incarnation of the Word," Bibliotheca Sacra 161:642 (April-June 2004):179-93.] He began by saying the Word was with God (John 1:1), and he concluded by saying that He was at the Father’s side. This indicates the intimate fellowship, love, and knowledge that the Father and the Son shared. It also gives us confidence that the revelation of the Father that Jesus revealed is accurate. John’s main point in this prologue was that Jesus is the ultimate revealer of God. [Note: See Stephen S. Kim, "The Literary and Theological Significance of the Johannine Prologue," Bibliotheca Sacra 166:644 (October-December 2009):421-35.]

". . . John in his use of Logos is cutting clean across one of the fundamental Greek ideas. The Greeks thought of the gods as detached from the world, as regarding its struggles and heartaches and joys and fears with serene divine lack of feeling. John’s idea of the Logos conveys exactly the opposite idea. John’s Logos does not show us a God who is serenely detached, but a God who is passionately involved." [Note: Morris, pp. 103-4.]

Later John described himself as reclining on Jesus’ bosom (cf. John 13:23). His Gospel is an accurate revelation of the Word because John enjoyed intimate fellowship with Him just as Jesus was an accurate revelation of God that came from intimate relationship with Him.

Verse 19

This verse explains the context in which John the Baptist explained his own identity in relation to Jesus. As the Synoptics reveal, John’s ministry was so influential that the Jewish religious authorities investigated him (Matthew 3:5-6). The Sanhedrin probably sent the delegation of priests and Levites. The priests were descendants of Aaron who took the leadership in matters of theological and practical orthodoxy, including ritual purity. The Levites descended from Levi, one of Aaron’s ancestors, and assisted the priests in their ministry, mainly in the areas of temple music and security. [Note: Carson, p. 142.]

"The Jews" is a term that John used 71 times, in contrast to the other evangelists who used it rarely. Usually in John it refers to Jewish people who were hostile to Jesus, though occasionally it occurs in a neutral sense (e.g., John 2:6) or in a good sense (e.g., John 4:22). Most often, however, it refers to the Jews of Judea, especially those in and around Jerusalem, who constituted the organized and established religious world apart from faith in Jesus. Consequently it usually carries overtones of hostility to Jesus. [Note: Morris, p. 115.]

Verses 19-28

1. John the Baptist’s veiled testimony to Jesus 1:19-28

The writer recorded John the Baptist’s witness to Jesus’ identity as preparation for his narration of Jesus’ public ministry. He was the first of the Apostle John’s witnesses to the Incarnation.

Previously the writer had mentioned that God had sent John the Baptist to bear witness concerning the light (John 1:6-8). He also mentioned what John had said about Jesus, namely, that Jesus had a higher rank than he did (John 1:15). Now the evangelist explained John the Baptist’s witness in more detail.

Verses 19-50


The first part of the body of John’s Gospel records Jesus’ public ministry to the multitudes in Palestine, who were primarily Jewish. Some writers have called this section of the Gospel "the book of signs" because it features seven miracles that signify various things about Jesus.

"Signs are miraculous works performed or mentioned to illustrate spiritual principles." [Note: Tenney, "The Symphonic . . .," p. 119. See also idem, "Topics from the Gospel of John," Bibliotheca Sacra 132:526 (April-June 1975):145-60, for a discussion of the seven signs in John’s Gospel.]

Often John recorded a lengthy discourse that followed the miracle, in which Jesus explained its significance to the crowds. This section also contains two extended conversations that Jesus had with two individuals (chs. 3 and 4).

"The opening of the narrative proper might well be understood as the account of the happenings of one momentous week. John does not stress the point, but he does give notes of time that seem to indicate this. The first day is taken up with a deputation from Jerusalem that interrogates the Baptist. ’The next day’ we have John’s public pointing out of Jesus (John 1:29-34). Day 3 tells of two disciples of the Baptist who followed Jesus (John 1:35-40). It seems probable that John 1:41 takes us to day 4 . . . It tells of Andrew’s bringing of Peter to Jesus. Day 5 is the day when Philip and Nathanael come to him (John 1:43-51). The marriage in Cana is two days after the previous incident (i.e., the sixth and seventh days, John 2:1-11). If we are correct in thus seeing the happenings of one momentous week set forth at the beginning of this Gospel, we must go on to ask what significance is attached to this beginning. The parallel with the days of creation in Genesis 1 suggests itself, and is reinforced by the ’In the beginning’ that opens both chapters. Just as the opening words of this chapter recall Genesis 1, so it is with the framework. Jesus is to engage in a new creation. The framework unobtrusively suggests creative activity." [Note: Morris, p. 114.]

Verses 19-51

A. The prelude to Jesus’ public ministry 1:19-51

The rest of the first chapter continues the introductory spirit of the prologue. It records two events in John the Baptist’s ministry and the choice of some men as Jesus’ followers.

Verse 20

The writer stressed that John vigorously repudiated any suggestion that he might be the Messiah. "Christ" (Gr. Christos) is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew "Messiah" or "Anointed One." John’s ministry consisted of pointing the Messiah out to others so they would follow Him. Therefore it would have been counterproductive to allow anyone to confuse him with the Messiah.

Verse 21

The leaders asked John if he was Elijah because messianic expectation was high then due to Daniel’s prediction that dated the appearance of Messiah then (Daniel 9:25). Malachi had predicted that Elijah would return to herald the day of the Lord that Messiah would inaugurate (Malachi 4:5-6).

"Popularly it was believed that Elijah would anoint the Messiah, and thereby reveal his identity to him and to Israel (see Justin, Apology 35.1)." [Note: Beasley-Murray, p. 24.]

When John the Baptist denied being Elijah, he was denying being Elijah himself. His dress, diet, lifestyle, and ministry, however, were very similar to Elijah’s.

The prophet whom the leaders had in mind when they asked their third question was the prophet that Moses had predicted would come (Deuteronomy 18:15-18). Merrill pointed out that of the 42 New Testament citations of Deuteronomy 18:15-19, 24 of them appear in John’s Gospel. [Note: Eugene H. Merrill, "Deuteronomy, New Testament Faith, and the Christian Life," in Integrity of Heart, Skillfulness of Hands, p. 27.] This prophet would bring new revelation from God and might lead the Israelites in a new Exodus and overcome their oppressors. The Jews incorrectly failed to identify this prophet with Messiah (cf. John 7:40-41). In contrast, the earliest Christian preachers contended that "the prophet" was identical with the Messiah (cf. Acts 3:22). John the Baptist claimed that he was not that long-expected prophet any more than he was the Messiah or Elijah.

Verses 22-23

In response to the leaders’ question, John the Baptist claimed to be a prophet who was preparing the way for the Lord’s coming. He quoted Isaiah 40:3, which is part of a messianic prophecy (cf. Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4). In that prophecy Isaiah predicted the manifestation of God’s glory when Messiah appeared (Isaiah 40:5; cf. John 1:14). Significantly John did not claim to be the Word but only a voice.

Verse 24

The NASB translators understood this verse to be parenthetical describing the authorities who had sent the delegation that had been questioning John. The NIV translators interpreted it as identifying some of John’s questioners. Probably the NIV is correct here. It would be unusual for the writer to interrupt the narrative flow with this relatively insignificant detail, but for him to identify some of John’s examiners as Pharisees makes sense. The Pharisees were the strict interpreters of the Jewish laws, and John seemed close to violating these. [Note: See Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 1:308-35, for an extended discussion of the differences between the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes.]

Verse 25

Their question implied that it was inappropriate for John to baptize. The Jews practiced baptism for ritual cleansing, but in all cases the baptismal candidates baptized themselves. [Note: Carson, p. 145.] There was no precedent for John baptizing other people, and the Jews did not regard themselves as needing to repent. This was something Gentiles needed to do when they converted to Judaism. Evidently when Gentiles converted to Judaism, the males of the family underwent circumcision and all members of the family, both sexes, were baptized. [Note: Morris, p. 123.] Moreover since John was not one of the prophesied eschatological figures, he appeared to them to lack authority to do what he did.

Verses 26-27

John replied by implying that his authority to baptize as he did came from an authoritative figure who was present but yet unknown. John did not identify Him then. This would have exposed Jesus to the scrutiny of Israel’s leadership prematurely. John only realized that Jesus was the Messiah after he said these words (cf. John 1:31). John simply referred to this One and implied that he baptized in water under divine authority. He stressed the great authority of Jesus by saying he was unworthy to do even menial service for Him. Thus John bore witness to Jesus even before he identified Him as the Messiah.

"To get the full impact of this we must bear in mind that disciples did do many services for their teachers. Teachers in ancient Palestine were not paid (it would be a terrible thing to ask for money for teaching Scripture!). But in partial compensation disciples were in the habit of performing small services for their rabbis instead. But they had to draw the line somewhere, and menial tasks like loosing the sandal thong came under this heading. There is a rabbinic saying (in its present form dating from c. A.D. 250, but probably much older): ’Every service which a slave performs for his master shall a disciple do for his teacher except the loosing of his sandal-thong.’ John selects the very task that the rabbinic saying stresses as too menial for any disciple, and declares himself unworthy to perform it." [Note: Ibid., p. 124.]

Verse 28

The site of Jesus’ ministry was primarily west of the Jordan River. "Beyond the Jordan" then evidently refers to the east side of that river. The Bethany in view then would be a town different from the site of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus’ home (John 11:1), which was on the west side just east of Jerusalem. Perhaps John mentioned Bethany by name because its site was known when he wrote. It is unknown now. It may be significant that John recorded Jesus’ public ministry beginning at one Bethany and almost ending at the other (John 12:1-11). "Bethany" means "house of depression or misery." [Note: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, s.v. "bethania," p. 100.]

John the Baptist fulfilled his mission of bearing witness to the Word first by publicly declaring his submission to Jesus’ authority. The veiled identity of Jesus as the Word continues from the prologue into this pericope.

Verse 29

The very next day John saw Jesus approaching him-they had been together before (John 1:26; John 1:32-33)-and publicly identified Jesus as the Messiah. "Behold" or "Look" (Gr. ide) is a favorite expression of John’s. Of its 29 New Testament occurrences, John used it 15 times. Probably his questioners had returned to Jerusalem by this time. The title "Lamb of God" presented Jesus as the Lamb that God would provide as a substitute sacrifice for people’s sins (Isaiah 53:7; cf. Genesis 4:4; Genesis 8:20; Genesis 22:8; Genesis 22:13-14; Exodus 12:3-17; Isaiah 53:12; 1 Peter 1:19).

"It [the title "Lamb"] combines in one descriptive term the concepts of innocence, voluntary sacrifice, substitutionary atonement, effective obedience, and redemptive power like that of the Passover lamb (Exodus 12:21-27)." [Note: Tenney, "John," p. 37.]

"The question in the Old Testament is, ’Where is the lamb?’ (Genesis 22:7) In the four Gospels, the emphasis is ’Behold the Lamb of God!’ Here He is! After you have trusted Him, you sing with the heavenly choir, "Worthy is the Lamb!’ (Revelation 5:12)" [Note: Wiersbe, 1:287.]

John spoke of ’sin,’ not sins (cf. 1 John 1:9), by which he meant the totality of the world’s sin rather than a number of individual acts. [Note: Morris, p. 130.] John seems to have had the common understanding of Messiah that his contemporaries did. This was that He would be a political liberator for Israel (cf. Matthew 11:2-3; Luke 7:19). However, he understood, as most of his contemporaries did not, that the scope of Jesus’ ministry would be spiritual and universal. He would take away the sin of the world, not just the Jews. [Note: See Christopher W. Skinner, "Another Look at ’the Lamb of God’," Bibliotheca Sacra 161:641 (January-March 2004):89-104, for a review of nine views of the referent behind the "Lamb."]

Verses 29-34

2. John the Baptist’s open identification of Jesus 1:29-34

John the Baptist continued his witness to Jesus’ identity by identifying Him publicly as the Lamb of God. This witness is a crucial part of the writer’s purpose to promote faith in Jesus.

Verse 30

Probably some of those to whom John addressed these words were present and witnessed his conversation with the priests and Levites the previous day. John now identified Jesus as the person he had hinted at the day before.

Verses 31-33

John had not known that Jesus was the Messiah before God revealed that to him, even though they were relatives (cf. Luke 1:36). John learned who Jesus really was when he baptized Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22). The Apostle John did not record Jesus’ baptism, which happened before the events he recorded here. John the Baptist further explained that he carried on his baptizing ministry with Messiah’s public identification as a goal (cf. Mark 1:4). The symbolic descent of the Holy Spirit as a dove that remained on Jesus identified Jesus to John the Baptist as Messiah who was to baptize with the Holy Spirit (cf. Isaiah 11:2; Ezekiel 36:25-26; Mark 1:10).

"Two times in John the Baptist’s account he made mention of the Spirit ’remaining’ on Jesus (John 1:32-33). This is extremely important as a description of the Spirit’s relationship to Jesus because permanence is implied." [Note: Harris, p. 197.]

In the Synoptics the writers mentioned only Jesus seeing the descent of the Spirit as a dove. John is the only evangelist who recorded that John the Baptist also saw it. The purpose of the baptism of Jesus in this Gospel then is to identify Jesus as Messiah to John the Baptist so he could bear witness to Jesus’ identity. Every other disciple was dependent on a human witness for divine illumination about Jesus’ true identity in John’s Gospel. Baptism with water was essentially negative symbolizing cleansing from something, but baptism with the Spirit was positive indicating the imparting of new life from God.

Verse 34

John fulfilled this purpose by witnessing that Jesus was the Son of God (cf. 2 Samuel 7:14; Psalms 2:7). This is a title that unambiguously claims deity. The title "Messiah" did not imply deity to many who heard it in Jesus’ day. They thought only of a political deliverer. Even the Twelve struggled with this. However, John the Baptist testified that Jesus was God, though doubts arose in his mind later. Son of God does not mean any less than deity. It means full deity (John 1:18). This verse is the climax of John the Baptist’s testimony concerning Jesus.

The event that identified Jesus as the Son of God for John the Baptist was the fulfillment of God’s promise to him that he would see the Spirit’s descent and continuation on Him. This was the basis of John the Baptist’s witness concerning Jesus.

Verses 35-36

Was the writer describing what happened on the same day as what he recorded in John 1:29-34 or the following day? Probably the "next day" in John 1:35 is the next day after the "next day" in John 1:29. [Note: See my discussion of 2:1 below.] It happened after John had again identified Jesus as the Lamb of God (John 1:29).

Verses 35-42

3. The response to John the Baptist’s witness 1:35-42

The writer now turned his attention from John the Baptist’s witness to Jesus to record the reactions of some men to John’s witness. Two of John the Baptist’s disciples left him to follow Jesus when they heard John’s testimony about Jesus. One of them recruited his brother to join them. Jesus did not call these men to follow Him as His disciples now. That came later (cf. Matthew 4:18-22; Matthew 9:9; Mark 1:16-20; Mark 2:13-14; Luke 5:1-11; Luke 5:27-28). The Apostle John recorded a preliminary contact that these men had with Jesus.

Verse 37

Two of John the Baptist’s disciples started following Jesus because of John’s witness. This was perfectly proper since John’s ministry was to point others to Jesus. They were not abandoning the Baptist for a more popular teacher. They were simply doing what John urged his hearers to do. They began following Jesus physically to learn from Him. They also took the first steps toward genuine discipleship. This was no tentative inquiry but a giving of themselves to Him as disciples. [Note: Morris, p. 137.]

Verse 38

Jesus asked these two men why they were walking behind Him. Did they want something from Him?

"It appears that the Evangelist is writing on two levels. The question makes sense as straightforward narrative: Jesus asks the two men who are following him to articulate what is on their minds. But the Evangelist wants his readers to reflect on a deeper question: the Logos-Messiah confronts those who make any show of beginning to follow him and demands that they articulate what they really want in life." [Note: Carson, pp. 154-55.]

This two-level or dual intention becomes obvious in many places as John’s Gospel unfolds. It is similar to Jesus’ purpose in telling parables.

Jesus’ question gave the men the opportunity to express their desire to become His disciples. However, they may not have been quite ready to make that commitment. They replied by asking where He was staying. This polite response may have implied that they simply wanted to have a preliminary interview with Him. [Note: Ibid., p. 155; and Tenney, "John," p. 40.] Or they may have been expressing a desire to become his disciples. [Note: Morris, p. 137; and David A. Montgomery, "Directives in the New Testament: A Case Study of John 1:38," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50:2 (June 2007):275-88.] The fact that John interpreted the word "rabbi" for his readers is clear evidence that he wrote primarily for Gentiles.

"Staying" translates one of the writer’s characteristic words (i.e., Gr. meno, "to abide"). Here it means to reside, but often it has theological connotations of continuing on, especially in an intimate relationship. These men may have already been wondering if that type of relationship with Jesus might be possible for them. This word occurs 112 times in the New Testament, and John used it 66 of those times, 40 times in his Gospel. [Note: William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, s.v. "meno," pp. 504-5.]

Verse 39

Jesus responded by inviting them to accompany Him, not just to see where He was staying but to visit Him. They first had to come with Him and then they would see. This statement was also highly significant spiritually. Only by coming to Jesus could they really comprehend what they were seeking spiritually. The same thing holds true today. The two men accepted Jesus’ invitation and stayed with Him for the rest of that day.

Jesus apparently issued his invitation near 4:00 p.m. John was more precise in his time references than the Synoptic evangelists (cf. John 4:6; John 4:52; John 19:14). [Note: See A Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. "Numbers, Hours, Years, and Dates," by W. M. Ramsay, extra volume: 478.] The Jews reckoned their days from sunset to sunset, and they divided both night and day into 12-hour periods.

Verse 40

The writer now identified one of the two men. Andrew was important for two reasons. He became one of the Twelve, and he provided an excellent example of testifying for Jesus by bringing his brother to Him (John 1:41). John introduced Andrew as Simon Peter’s brother because when he wrote his Gospel Peter was the better known of the two. We do not know who the unnamed man was. Some students of John’s Gospel have suggested that it may have been the writer himself. This is an interesting possibility, but there is nothing in the text that enables us to prove or to disprove it. He could have been anyone.

Verse 41

Andrew sought to bring his own brother to Jesus and was successful in doing so. Obviously both of them wanted to discover the Messiah whom the Old Testament prophets had predicted and whom Daniel’s timetable encouraged them to believe would appear soon (Daniel 9:25). We should not conclude, however, that because Andrew believed that Jesus was the Messiah he also believed that He was God. He may have believed this, but all the evidence in the Gospels points to the disciples learning of Jesus’ deity after they had been with Him for some time (cf. Matthew 16:16; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20). Probably Andrew thought of Jesus as a great prophet who was the messianic deliverer of Israel.

The title "Messiah" means "anointed one." The anointed one in Israel was originally any anointed priest or king who led the people. As time passed God gave prophecies of a coming Davidic king who would liberate the Israelites and establish God’s rule over the whole earth (e.g., 2 Samuel 7; Psalms 2; Psalms 110). Thus the idea of a coming anointed one crystallized into the title "Messiah."

Verse 42

Jesus anticipated what Peter would become in the history of the church by God’s grace. He may have had previous contact with him and known Peter’s reputation since both men lived only a few miles apart in Galilee. Simon was a common Jewish name, probably derived from Simeon. Jesus gave him a nickname that expressed his character, which was not uncommon. It is interesting that Simon Peter originally had the same rash and impulsive character as his ancestor Simeon, the second son of Jacob. Cephas is Aramaic, the common language of Palestine, and means "Rock." Peter is the Greek translation of Cephas. As the record of Peter unfolds in the Gospels, he appears as anything but a rock; he was impulsive, volatile, and unreliable. Yet Jesus named Peter in view of what he would become by the power of God, not what he then was.

"In bringing his brother Simon Peter to Christ, no man did the church a greater service than Andrew." [Note: Blum, p. 275.]

Every time we meet Andrew in this Gospel he is bringing someone to Jesus (cf. John 6:8; John 12:22). Thus he serves as an excellent example of what a disciple of Jesus should do.

Verses 43-44

The next day appears to be the day after John the Baptist identified Jesus as the Lamb of God and two of his disciples, one of whom was Andrew, started following Jesus. John was evidently baptizing in Perea and Judea around the Jordan River (cf. Matthew 3:1; Matthew 3:5-6; Mark 1:5). [Note: See the map "Palestine in the Time of Jesus" at the end of these notes.] Now someone-his identity is absent in the Greek text-purposed to head north into Galilee. Probably this person was Andrew rather than Jesus. There are two reasons for this conclusion. Everyone else in this chapter who came to Jesus came on the invitation of someone other than Jesus. Moreover John seems to have been stressing the importance of witnessing for Jesus.

Andrew found Philip (a Greek name meaning "lover of horses") somewhere along the way or, most likely, in Galilee. Philip was from Bethsaida Julius in the region of Galilee (John 12:21). Having come to Jesus on Andrew’s invitation, Philip accepted Jesus’ invitation to follow Him. Andrew and Peter had also lived in Bethsaida evidently before they moved to Capernaum (Mark 1:21; Mark 1:29). These men were all undoubtedly acquaintances, if not friends, before they became Jesus’ followers.

Verses 43-51

4. The witness of Philip and Andrew 1:43-51

The disciples of John were not the only men who began following Jesus. Andrew continued to bring other friends to Jesus. This incident preceded Jesus’ formal appointment of the Twelve, but it shows Him preparing those who would become His disciples.

Verse 45

Philip then brought his friend Nathanael (meaning "God has given" or "given of God," modern Theodore) to Jesus. Some commentators identify Nathanael with Bartholomew (cf. Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14). However there is no convincing reason to equate these two men. The witness continued to spread through the most normal lines of communication, namely, friend to friend, as it still does.

The prophecies to which Philip referred may have included Deuteronomy 18:15-19; Isaiah 53; Daniel 7:13; Micah 5:2; and Zechariah 9:9. These and others spoke of the Messiah. This suggests that the early disciples understood messiahship in the light of the Old Testament background rather than only in a political sense. [Note: Harris, p. 188.] Philip described Jesus as Joseph’s son, which is how people knew Him before they learned that He was the Son of God (John 1:49).

"In one sense it is legitimate to view Jesus’ disciples in the gospel of John (with the exception of Judas Iscariot) as believers in Him from near the beginning of His public ministry. In another sense, however, it is also clear that the disciples’ faith in Jesus grew and developed as they observed the progress of His public ministry. The course of this development may be traced in the gospel of John." [Note: Ibid., p. 215.]

Verse 46

Nazareth had an insignificant reputation, at least for Nathanael, who came from Cana, a neighboring town (John 21:2). Nathanael doubted that the Messiah could come from such a lowly place as that. He did not yet understand Jesus’ condescension. Philip wisely did not argue with him. He just invited him to "come and see" Jesus (cf. John 1:39). John doubtless intended that the repetition of this invitation would encourage his readers to witness similarly. People just need to consider Jesus. Many who do will conclude that He is the Son of God (cf. John 1:12).

"Honest inquiry is a sovereign cure for prejudice." [Note: Bruce, p. 60.]

Verse 47

Jesus declared that Nathanael was an Israelite in whom there was no deceit. Nathanael was the opposite of the original Israel, namely, Jacob, who was very deceitful (Genesis 27:35-36; Genesis 28:12; cf. John 1:51). Therefore Jesus virtually said that Nathanael was an Israelite in whom there was no Jacob. Jesus evidently knew about Nathanael before Philip brought him to Him, as He knew the other men whom He later formally called to be His disciples.

Verse 48

Nathanael acted surprised that Jesus knew who he was. Evidently they had not met previously. Jesus explained that He had seen Nathanael under a fig tree where he had been before Philip had called him to come and see Jesus. Some commentators have interpreted Jesus’ reference to this fig tree figuratively as an allusion to Nathanael’s house. Ancient Near Easterners sometimes referred to peaceful habitation figuratively as resting under one’s vine and fig tree (1 Kings 4:25; Isaiah 36:16; Zechariah 3:10). However there seems to be no good reason to prefer a figurative rather than a literal meaning here.

Verse 49

Jesus’ simple statement elicited the most dramatic reaction from Nathanael. He concluded that the only way Jesus could have seen him when he was under the fig tree was if Jesus had supernatural knowledge. Evidently Nathanael knew that he was completely alone and that no one could see him when he was under the fig tree.

Nathanael’s reaction appears extreme at first since even prophets had knowledge of things other people knew nothing about. Why did Nathanael think Jesus was the Son of God and not just a prophet? The answer seems to be that even the title "Son of God" did not mean deity to all the Jews in Jesus’ day. It meant that the person in view bore certain characteristics of God (cf. Deuteronomy 3:18; 1 Samuel 26:16; Psalms 89:22; Proverbs 31:2; Matthew 5:9; John 17:12). Nathanael appears to have regarded Jesus as the Messiah who had supernatural knowledge (cf. John 1:45; 2 Samuel 7:14; Psalms 2:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-2). However, Nathanael spoke better than he knew. Jesus was the Son of God in a fuller sense than he presently understood. Another view is that Nathanael was identifying Jesus as God. [Note: E.g., Beasley-Murray, p. 27.]

"In recording this estimate John is adding to the evidence accumulated throughout this chapter that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. Nathanael expresses this truth differently from the others, but the essential meaning is the same . . . Nor should we overlook the fact that Nathanael has just been called an ’Israelite." In calling Jesus ’King of Israel’ he is acknowledging Jesus to be his own King: he is submitting to him." [Note: Morris, p. 147.]

Verse 50

Jesus replied that Nathanael had not seen anything yet. This demonstration of supernatural knowledge was small compared to what Nathanael would see if he continued to follow Jesus as his rabbi (John 1:49). This straightforward Jew had believed that Jesus was the Messiah because of very little evidence. Jesus would give him a more solid basis for his faith in the future (cf. John 20:29). John did the same for his readers by recording several of these "greater things" in the chapters that follow.

Verse 51

Jesus then made a very important statement that He identified as such with the phrase "Truly, truly, I say to you" or "I tell you the truth" (Gr. amen amen lego humin). This phrase occurs 25 times in John’s Gospel, and it always introduces an especially important affirmation.

Jesus used the imagery of Jacob’s dream at Bethel to describe the greater revelation that Nathanael and his fellow disciples-the "you" in the Greek text is plural-would receive. The opening of the heavens pictures the insight that people on earth receive into what God is doing in heaven (cf. Acts 10:11; Revelation 4:1; Revelation 19:11). Jesus would reveal heavenly things, a theme that John developed throughout this Gospel. The angels of God are His agents that assist humans by taking their communications up to God above and by bringing knowledge of divine things down to them (cf. Hebrews 1). The role of the Son of Man, Jesus’ favorite title of Himself that He used over 80 times (Daniel 7:13), was to make this contact possible.

"In this Gospel the term [Son of Man] is always associated either with Christ’s heavenly glory or with the salvation he came to bring." [Note: Ibid., p. 151. For a good summary of the meaning of the "Son of Man" title, see Carson, p. 164, or Morris, pp. 150-52.]

Similarly a staircase makes travel and communication between two physical levels possible. Jesus was promising Nathanael that He would prove to be the key to access to God and communication with God (cf. John 14:6; 1 Timothy 2:5). God had revealed Himself to Israel, the man and the nation, in a dream at Bethel previously (Genesis 28:10-22). Now God would reveal Himself to a true Israelite, Nathanael, to all Israel, and to the world, directly through Jesus.

This first sub-section in the body of the fourth Gospel (John 1:19-51) contains the prelude to Jesus’ public ministry. [Note: See Stephen S. Kim, "The Relationship of John 1:19-51 to the Book of Signs in John 2-12," Bibliotheca Sacra 165:659 (July-September 2008):323-37.] John stressed John the Baptist’s witness to Jesus’ identity, first in a veiled manner and then openly. Then he recorded the response of some of John’s disciples, which was to follow Jesus. Philip’s witness resulted in Nathanael’s declaration of faith in Jesus, limited as it may have been, and Jesus’ claim to be the revealer of God and the way to God. The "greater things than these" that Jesus promised (John 1:50) follow providing an even more solid foundation for faith in Him (cf. John 20:31).

At least 16 different names and titles of Jesus appear in chapter one: the Word (John 1:1; John 1:14), the light (John 1:7-9), the only begotten of the Father (John 1:14), Jesus Christ (John 1:17), the only begotten God (John 1:18), the Lord (John 1:23), the Lamb of God (John 1:29; John 1:36), a man (John 1:30), the Son of God (John 1:34), Rabbi (Teacher, John 1:38; John 1:49), Messiah (John 1:41), Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:45), the son of Joseph (John 1:45), the Son of God (John 1:49), the King of Israel (John 1:49), and the Son of Man (John 1:51). Clearly one of John’s purposes in this Gospel was to draw attention to who Jesus is.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on John 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/john-1.html. 2012.
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