In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
In beginning a study of any of the Gospels it is a good thing to ask and try to answer the question, Why are there four Gospels and why do they seem to differ from one another? Our God surely could have inspired one of His servants to write a continuous record of what Jesus did and said. Men write books in that manner, but it did not please the Father to do this. Instead of that He has given us four distinct records, and men have tried, since the second century of the Christian era, to weave these into one, as in the so-called “Harmonies of the Gospels.” But often they find it difficult to fit everything together because of ignorance of chronology and many other things connected with the times and customs when Jesus was here. These records are each complete in themselves. They are divinely inspired, and although at times there seems to be evidence of conflicting testimony, it is simply because of our lack of knowledge of the facts.
In Matthew’s gospel we have no difficulty in seeing that the one outstanding object of the Holy Spirit was to present our Lord Jesus as the promised King and Messiah. Therefore, we sometimes call Matthew’s gospel the Jewish Gospel. I always like to guard that expression, however, because of the misuse to which it has been subjected. We do not mean that it has no message to Christians. We do not mean that we can afford to dispense with it, but we mean it is the gospel that was specially designed of God to present the life of the Lord Jesus Christ in such a way as to appeal to the Jewish mind, particularly that of the Jew who is interested in his Old Testament. I wish our modern Jews were more familiar with their Bible. If they were, it would be much easier to preach Christ to them. Unfortunately, through the centuries the Jew has given so much more attention to the Talmud than to the Bible that it is difficult to find an approach to his mind. But Matthew presupposes a knowledge of the Old Testament on the part of his readers, so all the way through we meet such expressions as, “That it might be fulfilled,” “As it was written” by so-and-so, and he gives us incident after incident in the life of Christ that was a direct fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Matthew presents Jesus as the Messiah of Israel, and his outstanding message is, “Behold your King.”
Mark, on the other hand, seems to write from a different standpoint. He presents Jesus as the great Servant-Prophet, while in this world, doing the will of God. That accounts for the fact that in this book there is no genealogy given. The genealogies are in Matthew and in Luke, but we do not get any kind of genealogy in Mark. Why? Because you know when you advertise for a servant to work for you, you do not say, “Now let me ask, What is your genealogy? Are you descended from some famous character?” Not, “Who was your father?” but, “What can you do?” So in Mark’s gospel we have our blessed Lord accredited thus from the very beginning. He says, “Behold My Servant.”
When we turn to the gospel of Luke we see the Lord Jesus presented as the perfect Man-the only perfect Man who walked this earth. So you have the Lord Jesus entering into all kinds of circumstances. On several occasions you have Him seated at the dinner table. I do not know of any place where a man can be drawn out better than at the dinner table. If you want to draw a man out, just set him down to a good dinner and start him talking! I have read many biographies of Martin Luther, but I never really knew him until after I got hold of Luther’s Table Talks. So a great deal of Luke’s gospel is made up of the “table talk” of our Lord Jesus Christ. He says, “Behold the Man”-the “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
Now when we turn to the gospel of John, we see the open heavens and the Eternal Son descending from above, taking His place in the womb of the Virgin- God and Man in one blessed, glorious person-the Eternal Son manifest in the flesh. John says, “Behold your God.” His gospel was written to establish the truth of the Divinity and Deity of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the first twelve chapters we have the divine Son presented to the world and in the character in which He could appeal to a world of sinners. We shall note these various characteristics as we go on with our study.
Beginning with chapter 13 and going on to the end, we have the revelation of our Lord Jesus as the Son, to His own beloved people, as He who keeps their feet free from defilement. This is a marvelous unfolding of His advocacy and the glorious truth of His care for His people during this age. Then we have the promise of His coming again in glory at the end of the dispensation, and the coming of the Comforter, who will guide into all truth.
John’s gospel, then, is emphatically that of the Deity of our blessed Lord. It presents Him as the Eternal Word, who in grace became flesh for our redemption. There is no human genealogy as in Matthew and in Luke, but we are carried back immediately into the past eternity. “In the beginning” here antedates the same expression in Genesis 1:1. There it is the beginning of creation, but here long before creation began we see the Son in the bosom of the Father. When everything that ever had beginning began to be, the Word was. Notice seven things that are brought before us.
1. Our Lord’s eternity of being: “In the beginning was the Word” (v. 1a).
2. His distinct personality: “The Word was with God” (v. 1b).
3. His true deity: “The Word was God” (v. 1c).
4. His unchanging relationship: “The same was in the beginning” (v. 2).
5. His full creatorial glory: “All things were made by him” (v. 3).
6. His life-giving power: “In him was life” (v. 4).
7. His incarnation: “The Word [became] flesh” (v. 14).
Let us follow these seven points thoughtfully. First, we note His Eternity of Being. Unitarianism of every kind is ruled out here. The Word never had a beginning. The Son is as truly eternal as the Father. To teach otherwise is to deny the very foundations of our faith. He could not have beginning, for He Himself is “the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13).
But it is not merely that He was eternally in the Godhead. Scripture is equally insistent regarding His distinct personality. This is implied in the expression “The Word was with God.” We are told of Wisdom in Proverbs 8:27, “When He prepared the heavens, I was there.” And again in verse 30, “I was by him, as one brought up with him.” The Eternal Wisdom and the Eternal Word are one and the same. Throughout all the ages of the past Christ was a distinct personality in the Godhead. There was communion between the Father and the Son.
But this does not imply the inferiority of the Son. Full Deity was His: “The Word was God.” Just as truly as the Father was God and the Holy Spirit was God, so the Word was God. More than this could not be said.
The next sentence might seem to be almost a repetition: “The same was in the beginning with God.” But it really adds to what has already been put before us. It tells us of His unchanging personality. He was the same from all eternity; that is, He was the Eternal Son. He did not become the Son when He was born into the world, but “The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour” (1 John 4:14). He did not become the Son after He was sent, He was the Son from the beginning.
Creation is attributed to each person of the Godhead. Here particularly it is stated, “All things were made by him.” Elsewhere we read, “The [Lord] that by wisdom made the heavens” (Psalms 136:5). Elohim, the triune God, created the heavens and the earth. The Father planned, the Word was the agent, and the Spirit was the executor of the divine counsels, and just as it is the Word who produced the first creation, so it is He who is “the beginning of the creation of God” (Revelation 3:14). This does not mean that He was the first being God created, but rather it is He who produces the creation of God, that is, the new creation to which all believers belong.
Apart from Him there is no life. He is the fountain of life, and that includes both natural and spiritual life. All natural life comes from Him, and concerning spiritual life it is written, “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (1 John 5:12). That life was seen in all its perfection in Him as Man on earth. “The life was the light of men.” As He moved about in this scene, He cast light on every man, showing things up as God Himself sees them.
This brings us to the seventh point-His incarnation. “The Word [became] flesh.” “Became” here is better than “was made.” Strictly speaking, He was never “made” anything, but in lowly grace He became flesh in order that He might reveal the Father to man and redeem man to God.
The gospel of John is devoted to this double theme. As we peruse its sacred pages we see the Eternal Word, having become flesh, moving about among men, glorifying the Father in all His perfect ways, telling out the mind of God completely, and at last giving Himself as a ransom on the cross in order that men may be redeemed to God and share His glory for all the eternity to come.
It is well-known that the “Word” translates the Greek word Logos. This was a term already well-known to thinking people when our Lord appeared on earth. Everywhere in the Greek-speaking world the writings of Plato were circulated. He had spoken of the insolubility of many mysteries, but had expressed the hope that some day there would come forth a “Word” (Logos) from God that would make everything clear. John might even have had this in mind when, directed by the Holy Spirit, he penned the wonderful sentences with which this gospel begins. It is as though God is saying: The “Word” has now been spoken. In Christ the mind of God is fully revealed. He who hears Him hears God, for “in [Him] are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).
As we glance down the chapter we notice with adoring hearts the many and varied titles and expressions that are used concerning Him. He is “The Christ,” the Anointed One, Israel’s Messiah. John the Baptist points Him out as “The Lamb of God,” the Sin-Bearer, and he also declares Him to be “The Son of God.” The disciples own Him as “Master.” Philip is certain that in Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph, as he at that time understood Him to be, he has found the One “of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write” (v. 45). Nathanael also recognizes Him as “the Son of God” and proclaims Him “The King of Israel.” Jesus Himself uses the expression that in the days to follow was so commonly on His lips, “The Son of Man,” and He shows us that this Son of Man is like Jacob’s ladder, the connecting link between earth and heaven upon whom the angels of God ascend and descend.
As we go through this gospel we see Him presented in every possible way that the Spirit of God could portray Him and that the human mind, enlightened by divine grace, could understand.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
We have seen already that Jesus is the Eternal Word, one with the Father from all past ages; that, when everything that ever began to be came into existence, He was already there. He did not begin to be, He was. He was the Word. He was with God. He was God, and He was the Son in the beginning with God. He never underwent any change in His personality. He was the Son from all eternity even as He was the Son before all creation. “All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made” (1:3). Has that really gripped our hearts? Do we realize that the One who hung on the cross was the Creator of the earth?
I think people often misunderstand the sacrifice He made because they do not apprehend who it was that made it. Dr. W. P. McKay, in his book Grace and Truth, tells how, on one occasion, after preaching the Word and setting forth the truth, a lady came up to him and said, “I can’t accept that.” “You can’t accept what?” asked Dr. McKay. “Well, what you were telling us, that God allowed an innocent man to die for guilty men. That wasn’t right. It wasn’t righteous that guilty men should be saved in that way.” He said, “Madam, you have misunderstood the whole meaning of the gospel. The gospel is not that an innocent Man died for guilty men. The first declaration of the gospel is that God became Man. The One who had been sinned against in divine grace became Man that He might die for His creatures’ sin. On the cross we do not see an innocent Man dying for guilty men; we see the offended God giving Himself, taking our humanity, in order that the guilt of His creatures might be taken away.” “But is that righteous?” “Madam,” he replied, “it is love. It is infinite love that led Him to give Himself for us.” That is the clear teaching of the gospel of John. He who died upon the cross was the Creator of all things. He was the One who had been wronged, sinned against by the creature, and yet when man could find no way to put his record right or to escape judgment, He came in grace to deliver those who put their trust in Him.
Now in verse 6 we enter into the story of the incarnation. First, our attention is directed to His forerunner. “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John” (v. 6). How often that has been true throughout the centuries! When God has called out a man to carry the gospel to a lost people, how frequently He has taken a man named John! In the Bible we have John the Baptist, the apostle John, and John Mark. Since then there have been many Johns whom the Lord called out to proclaim His Word. When we come down to the days of the Reformation we have John Knox and John Calvin, and later on in the great revival of the eighteenth century, we have John Wesley sent from God to preach to those who knew nothing of the assurance of salvation. I think one reason there are so many Johns is because the name appeals to the people of God.
You know what John means. It signifies “the grace of Jehovah,” “the grace of the Lord.” John came to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. He occupied a very unique place in Scripture testimony. We read, “The law and the prophets were until John” (Luke 16:16). From that time the kingdom of God was preached, a kingdom of grace and truth. John was the last of the prophets, and he was the first herald of the new dispensation. The Lord Jesus Christ says that of those born of women there was not anyone greater than John. In what sense was John the greatest born of women? Because it was given to him, not only to prophesy of, but actually to welcome the Christ-to baptize Him in token of His identification with those for whom He came to die. As the baptizer of the Lord Jesus and as the proclaimer of “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (v. 29), John had the highest place among all the prophetic brotherhood. Not one of them had the privilege that was given to him. Notwithstanding, Jesus tells us, “He that is least in the kingdom of [God] is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11). What does He mean by that?
Well, it was given to John to call men to repentance in order to set up the kingdom of God here on earth. He opened the door to others, but he was not permitted to enter in himself. Nevertheless, he had a very unique place in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ. “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice” (3:29). John was the Bridegroom’s friend and rejoiced in the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. He rejoiced in the glorious work that He was to accomplish and the greatness that was to be His. He said, “I am not the Messiah, I am simply the Bridegroom’s friend.” What a wonderful privilege that was! And there was never a humbler, less exalted servant of God than John the Baptist. When they questioned him as to his identity, he never exalted himself. When any demanded his credentials, he said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, [Prepare ye] the way of the Lord” (1:23).
You cannot see a voice, you can only hear it. John did not want them to become occupied with him. It was his delight simply to exalt the One whose herald he was, and in this John becomes the example for every servant of God. We are all too prone to want people to be occupied with us. We like to be thought well of, and it hurts us a bit if people misunderstand us and speak unkindly. But all that was out of John’s thoughts. He was not concerned about himself if only Christ could be glorified. The apostle Paul was one who entered into that spirit. His only concern was that Christ might be magnified, either by life or by death, and that was the special purpose of John the Baptist-”a man sent from God” (v. 6).
It is a great thing when God lays hold of a man and says, “I want you to go on My errand.” I am quite sure He put His hand upon me when I was fourteen years old. He said, “I have saved your soul. I want you to go forth to preach My gospel.” What a joy it has been for fifty years, through good and evil, to proclaim that glad message! Sometimes a man goes on for a number of years before God puts His hand on him. Saul of Tarsus was a mature man, beyond thirty years of age, when the blessed Lord appeared to him on the Damascus road and said, “I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness… delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom I now send thee” (Acts 26:16-17).
He came to Peter when he was a man in the fishing business. He said, “Peter, leave your fish behind, and I will make you a fisher of men.” He came to Matthew when he sat at the publican’s desk. Someone has said that Matthew was probably the man who taught Peter to swear. Matthew was a Roman tax collector and he was a Jew, putting heavy taxes upon his own people. Every time Peter brought in a boat-load of fish it was Matthew’s business to go down and say, “Give me twenty percent of those fish.” I can imagine Peter and Matthew wrangling over the selection the government was to have, and Peter cursing and swearing because of the tax collector’s exactions! But the Lord came to Matthew the publican, and said, “Follow Me.” Matthew left the tax collector’s desk for good, and was chosen to write the first gospel.
I wonder if there is anyone reading these lines to whom God is speaking? Often in the still hours of the night you may have heard a voice saying, “I want you as My servant, as My missionary. I want you to work for Me in some special way.” Are you saying, “Here am I, [Lord]; send me” (Isaiah 6:8)? Do not be afraid to yield to Him. Some day people will say of you, “There was a man, or a woman, sent from God.” It was true of John, and he is going to get his reward for heeding the call when he stands at the judgment seat of Christ.
Now John came as a witness. That is what every minister should be-a witness. A witness does not tell the things he thinks, but the things he knows. He came as a witness-to bear witness of the Light. Does light need a witness? Yes, in a dark world like this, where men are blind. They cannot see, and they need a witness to the fact that light has come. John knew that the world was blind and he came to tell men of the Light. The wonderful thing was this: when men received and believed the message, they lost their blindness and were able to see. They beheld Christ, the Light, “that all men through him might believe” (v. 7).
Who was the Light? Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. “That was the true Light.” And while we are at this point, let me draw your attention to a slightly different rendering of this verse. Here we read, “That was the true Light.” Oh, there are so many false lights. There are so many false, flickering lights that men follow to their ruin. “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (v. 9). What does that mean? Does Christ give spiritual light to every man that comes into the world? Well, partly. He does give light through our consciences, and yet, I think there is more than that involved in this text. I believe it is really this: “That was the true Light, which, coming into the world, casts light on every man.” That is, it is not light in man, but light shining on man. I mean this, the Lord Jesus Christ came into a world made up of wickedness-made up of sinful men who rolled sin as a sweet morsel under their tongues. He came as the only holy Man that ever walked this earth, and as He walked in and out among men all other men were shown up in contrast. He cast light on every man.
I wonder if among my readers there is someone who has been saying to himself, “I don’t need this gospel. I am not a great sinner. I haven’t killed anybody. I haven’t robbed. I don’t curse and swear. I am not a sinner.” Wait a minute, my friend! Will you come and stand alongside of the Lord Jesus Christ? There you have Man in perfection. How does your life compare with His? How does your spirit, your words, and your way of looking at things compare with His? Oh, when we stand alongside of Him, He casts light on us, and that light shows up all our spiritual and moral deficiencies. “That was the Light which, coming into the world, casts light on every man.”
The law was given to one nation and one people. Amos calls it a plumb line, by which all crookedness could be detected. He has in mind the building of a wall. One looks at it and says, “That wall is not straight.” The builder resents this, but when he takes a plumb line and drops it down by the wall, it manifests its imperfection.
Here is a man who claims to be perfect and God says, “Test him by My law and you will find that he is crooked.” Scripture says that if a man will “keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:1). But Jesus answered its every claim; He met its every demand. “In him is no sin” (1 John 3:5). “He… knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). “[He] did no sin” (1 Peter 2:22). That is what man should be for God. When you take your place beside Him, at once all your imperfection is shown up. He casts light upon you.
“That is the true Light which, coming into the world, casts light on every man.” Well, has He only come to show up my sin? Has He only come to make manifest my imperfection? No, indeed. He must make me first see my need, but it is only that He may reveal Himself as my Savior!
“He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not” (v. 10). Not one of His fellow townsmen dreamed that God Himself had come down to dwell among them.
I remember as my wife and I were walking down the streets of Nazareth we were appalled by the dirt and filth-the unclean children playing about the open sewers running down both sides of the street. As we were walking along, my wife began to weep. The tears were running down her cheeks. I said, “Why, my dear, what is the matter? Are you ill?” “Oh, no,” she said. “But I was thinking of Mary and Jesus-Mary bringing up her holy Child in a place like this, for it must have been even worse then than it is now.” You know how many Oriental cities are, vile and terrible. Some of you think you have smelled terrible things in America, but unless you have visited certain places in the Orient, you haven’t smelled anything yet! But Jesus grew up amidst all the filth and vileness like a pure white lily coming up from the muddy contaminated water at the bottom of the lake. Jesus, the pure; Jesus, the holy One. He was in the world and the Creator of all things, and they “knew him not” (v. 10). He made their tables and chairs and fitted in the doors and windows into their houses, and nobody realized that it was God Himself walking among them until by-and-by He went to the cross and died for our sins. They laid him away in the tomb, and on the third morning He burst the bands of death and arose in triumph. He is never to be humiliated again. He is the Head of the new creation-of those who have trusted Him and are one with Him in resurrection life.
“He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (v. 11). The first “His own” is in the neuter; the second is personal. We might read, “He came unto His own things, and His own people did not receive Him.” Yes, He came into His own world. He created this world. He came into the world His hands had made. He came to His own country, His own city, the city of Jerusalem. He came to His own temple-”In thy sanctuary, every whit of it uttereth his glory,” said David. He came unto His own things, but His own people, the Jews, the people who had been waiting for Him presumably for all those hundreds of years, did not recognize Him and they “received him not.”
Have you received Him? There were those who heard Him speaking and they opened their hearts to Him. “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (v. 12). We have the whole truth of the way of salvation right here, so far as our part is concerned. God has set Him forth a Prince and a Savior, and when we receive Him we become His. Do you say, “How may I avail myself of His saving grace?” Here you have it. “As many as received him.” To receive Him is to trust Him, to open your heart to Him. Have you received Him? “As many as received him.” Do not make a difficulty out of that which is so simple. God has used the plainest possible terms. Jesus says, “Come unto me,… and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Believe on Me, and you will have eternal life. Look to Me, and you will be saved. Receive Me, and I will make you My own. To receive Him, throw the heart’s door wide and He will come in. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).
There is a beautiful gospel song that says, “You must open the door.” You must open the door. Jesus will not force His way in. Will you open the door? Will you let Him in? At this very moment you can bow your head, open your heart, and say, “I want You to come in and be Lord of my life.” Won’t you receive Him? “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God.” You see, men are not God’s children by natural birth. Jesus said to a certain group of His day, “Ye are of your father the devil” (John 8:44), and of all who are saved the apostle says, “[Who were at one time] children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). We are born of sinful flesh. In order to become children of God we need to be regenerated. “As many as received Him.” To receive Him is to believe in His name, to take Him at His word. It is to trust Him. Do not try to make a great mystery of faith. Faith is simply putting your “Amen” to what God says. We receive the witness of men. Some man comes to us in whom we have confidence. We believe what he tells us. We receive the witness of men. Very well, God has given us His witness concerning His Son. Do you receive His testimony into your heart? Would you dare make God a liar by refusing to believe the testimony He has given concerning His Son?
Notice what is said of those who believe in His name: “[To] as many as received him, to them gave he [the] power [“or authority”] to become the [children] of God.” There are three ways by which you cannot become a child of God.
First, “which were born, not of blood” (v. 13a). That means that even if your parents were two of the best Christians that ever lived, they cannot give you divine life. They cannot communicate their new nature to you. It is only God who can do that. You are not a child of God by blood.
Second, “nor of the will of the flesh” (v. 13b). You cannot simply make yourself a Christian by your own will: “It is not of him that willeth, or of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy” (Romans 9:16). Here is a man who says, “Well, I haven’t any employment, so I will become a soldier.” He finds that he must have a uniform, so he goes to an outfitting shop and buys the uniform. He comes down the street wearing it and imagines he is a soldier. We may inquire, “How did you become a soldier?” “Well, I put on a uniform, and I am a soldier.” Does that make him a soldier? Certainly not. He must be enlisted. No man can become a Christian by simply saying, “From now on, I am a Christian.” That does not make you a Christian. You must come to God as a sinner and receive Christ. He will make you a Christian. He will give you new life. It is not just by trying to be better but by letting God make of you a new creature.
Third, “nor of the will of man” (v. 13c). No one on earth can make you a Christian. People imagine some minister or priest can make Christians of them by baptism or sacraments. But these cannot save you. “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7). “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” God alone produces that new life in the soul of every believer in His blessed Son.
Now the last verse in this section: “And the Word was made flesh” (v. 14). That is not the best translation. Actually, as we have remarked already, the Word was never made anything. The Word became flesh. Link that up with the first verse, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” “And the Word became flesh.” He who was one with the Father from all eternity became Man. It means He took upon Him our humanity, body and soul and spirit. He became a Man, and yet He was God, “and dwelt among us.” The word dwelt might be rendered “tabernacled” among us. Of old God dwelt in the tabernacle in the wilderness. Now He has been manifested in His Son. “The Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us, and we beheld his glory,” the divine glory shining out. John lived with Him, walked with Him, prayed with Him. He saw in His holy life “the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
These words were written by one who knew Jesus practically all His life. He was related to Him by natural ties, and he must have known Him when He was growing up there in Nazareth. One of the earliest church historians tells us that John was an adolescent when Christ called him to be a fisher of men. He spent three-and-a-half years of most intimate fellowship with Jesus, and he was the one who leaned on Jesus’ breast at the last supper. He was probably about ninety years of age when he wrote this book, and as he looked back over the years he says, “We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” That revelation he shares with us as he pens these wonderful chapters.
John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
These four verses will be sufficient, I am sure, for our meditation at this time. They are so rich and so full. We notice first the testimony of John the Baptist, at which we were looking last Lord’s Day morning. We hear the great forerunner of the Messiah declare, “This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me” (v. 15). John had come to baptize with water, but he said, “There standeth one among you, whom ye know not; he it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose” (vv. 26-27). Elsewhere we are told He was to baptize in the Holy Spirit and in fire.
Remember that John was speaking to a miscellaneous company at that time. There were those among that vast number who were to be baptized with the Holy Spirit, and those who because they rejected the message should be baptized with fire. The one is grace in all its fullness-the other is judgment. “Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12). The finality of judgment in the lake of fire is pronounced at the Great White Throne, but the One who will sit upon the Great White Throne will be the same marvelous person who hung on Calvary’s cross and died for our sins. Let us never forget that He has commanded, “That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him” (John 5:23).
May I say to any who may be reading this, that if you are out of Christ now, if you live and die out of Christ, you will be raised out of Christ in the resurrection of the unjust. You must stand as a Christless soul at the Great White Throne, and there you will face the One who once died to save you, who would have saved you if you had trusted Him, who longed to save you, who sent the Holy Spirit to plead with you, to urge you to surrender to Him and know His grace. But in that day it will be too late to know Him as Savior. Yours will be the awful baptism of fire. Thank God, it need not be. He came in grace to save you, He wants to save.
John points Him out definitely and says, “This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.” John delights to give honor, as every real servant of Christ does, to the Lord Jesus Himself. He would retreat into the background that Christ might loom large before the vision of the people, that He might be the One who would occupy the attention of every soul. “He is preferred before me,” says John, “for he was before me.”
That is a very significant statement. That implies in itself the preexistence of our Lord Jesus Christ. If you take these words literally and refer them only to Christ’s life here on earth, then they are not true. He was not before John the Baptist in this respect. John the Baptist was born some three months before the Lord Jesus Christ was born of the blessed Virgin Mary.
But John says, “He was before me.” What does he mean? He means this: John began to be when he was born on earth, but Christ Jesus did not begin to be when He was born on earth. He is the One prophesied of in Micah 5:2; Mic_5:4: “Whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting… And he shall stand and feed in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God; and they shall abide: for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth.” So John rightly says, “He was before me.”
Then you will remember our Lord’s own words on one occasion when He spoke very intimately of Abraham. He said, “Abraham rejoiced to see my day” (John 8:56). But the Jews looked upon Him in astonishment and indignation and said, “Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?” (v. 57). They understood Him to say He had seen Abraham, but that was not what He said. He said Abraham had seen Him and was glad.
But they said, “Thou art not yet fifty years old,” and there is something significant in the age period they mention. They were addressing One who, according to earthly years, was in His early thirties. Was it not a rather remarkable thing that they should say, “Thou art not yet fifty years old”? Might we not have expected them to say thirty-five years, or at the utmost, forty years old? Why, then, did they say to Him, “Thou art not yet fifty years old”? Does that not in itself tell of the deep-marked lines of grief and sorrow that had already furrowed His face? He was “marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men” (Isaiah 52:14). And it may have been that as He passed through this scene the bitter anguish that He bore then, and the pain and suffering that the sins of men had already caused Him, had so seamed His face that He appeared to them rather like a man a little beyond middle age, than one simply entering upon the best of his days. “Why, you have not yet reached fifty-Have you?-and yet you say you have seen Abraham.” Jesus answered, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). Before Abraham was? That goes back two thousand years and more. “Before Abraham was, I am.” He takes the incommunicable name of Deity, “I am.” In other words, He is saying, “I am before Abraham.” He not only lived before John the Baptist but before Abraham.
In the first chapter of Colossians the Holy Spirit says of Him, “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (vv. 16-17).
Now look at that. John says, “He was before me.” Jesus says, “I am before Abraham.” The Holy Spirit says, “He is before all things,” the Eternal One.
The apostle John goes on to tell us, “Of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace” (v. 16). Elsewhere we read that “in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9). All divine fullness dwells in Him, and out of that divine nature His very life has been poured into us.
John wrote many, many years after Christ had gone back to heaven, and all down through the centuries since then, whenever poor sinners have turned to Him in repentance, that fullness of blessing has been poured into their souls. “Of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.” Here the word translated for means “against” or “in place of.” Grace in place of grace, grace following upon grace. We are not called upon to live upon past experiences. Many of us remember when we were first saved of the grace that was poured into our souls when that took place. We look back and sing,
O happy day, that fixed my choice,
On Thee, my Saviour, and my God!
But that is not our experience today. That was grace indeed, wondrous grace! What we have now should be grace against grace, grace following upon grace, all down through the years. People ask me sometimes if I have ever received “the second blessing.” Why, dear friends, it has been nothing but blessing upon blessing now for almost fifty years, as I have been learning more and more of the wondrous fullness of Christ. So, if you have never trusted Him, you do not know what you are missing. You remember the old Scotch woman who was asked to tell what Jesus meant to her, and she said, “Weel, ye ken; it’s better felt than telt.” If you walk in fellowship with Him, you are receiving in its fullness grace upon grace, blessing following blessing, all through the years.
“For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (v. 17). Here we have two dispensations. The law was given by Moses, and the law prevailed until Christ. Now grace and truth have come by Jesus Christ. The law was truth, but it was truth without grace. In the Gospels we have the law maintained and yet grace preached to all men everywhere who will put their trust in this Savior.
Now, in verse 18, we have a very remarkable statement: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” We might read this as it has been otherwise translated: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, subsisting in the bosom of the Father, he hath told him out.” That is, He has given us to know God in all His fullness.
Have you ever said to yourself, “I wish I knew God better. I wish I understood the mind of God more fully-how God looks at things, how He considers certain matters that perplex me and trouble me”? Let me say this, dear friend, if you would know God better, all you have to do is to get better acquainted with Jesus Christ, for the Lord Jesus Christ has fully told or manifested God. God- let me say it thoughtfully-God is exactly like Jesus. There is no other God than the God who has been revealed in Christ. The holiness of God is the holiness seen in Jesus. The righteousness of God is the righteousness maintained by Jesus. The purity of God is the purity manifested in Jesus. The compassion of God is the compassion shown by Jesus. The love of God is the love of Jesus, and the hatred of God is the hatred seen in Jesus. Why, you say, does God hate anything? Did Jesus ever hate? Yes! With a perfect hatred God hates sin. He says, “Do not this abominable thing that I hate” (Jeremiah 44:4). He hates all hypocrisy, all un-cleanness, all impurity, and Jesus hated all these things perfectly. You and I hate them imperfectly.
Then, the anger of God shows the indignation of Jesus. Was God ever angry? “God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalms 7:11 ). Why, you say, I thought God loved all men. He does love all men, but that does not hinder the fact that He becomes angry. You may love your own children, and yet you may get very angry at some of the wrong things they do. And so God, while He has shown His love by sending His only begotten Son into the world to die for sinners, is angry with the wicked every day. When God deals with unrepentant sinners, men will know that, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).
Was Jesus ever angry? He was. He was angry with the hypocrites. He was angry when He saw certain religious propagandists whose hearts were hard and cruel in their dealings with the poor and needy. Think of the words He used about the Scribes and Pharisees who devoured widows’ houses, and think of His indignation when He saw people so concerned about rites and ceremonies that they had no time for the things of God. Think of that time when He was in the synagogue where there was a poor little crooked woman who for eighteen years had been bowed down by that awful bondage. Jesus saw her there, and He was moved with compassion. When Jesus encountered a crippled man, He turned to the people and said, “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days?” and they answered Him not a word. They were so jealous of their Sabbath and so unconcerned about the needs of humanity that Jesus turned to this poor woman and asked them, “Ought not this woman,… whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16). He gave the word and she was healed, and He looked round upon them in anger. The anger of Jesus is the anger of God.
“No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (v. 18). He has fully manifested the character of God.
But now look at the first clause of this verse, “No man hath seen God at any time.” What does that mean? Do we not read again and again in the Old Testament of people who saw God? Is it not taken for granted that when Adam and Eve lived in the garden in all their purity and heard His voice as they walked in the garden in the cool of the day when He called unto Adam, that in some sense they saw God and hid themselves among the trees of the garden, their guilty consciences condemning them?
Abraham saw that mystic One of the three who came to him as he sat in the tent door, and he talked to Him as the Lord Jehovah. Moses said, “Show me thy glory” (Exodus 33:18 ), and the Lord said, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live… Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: and it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by” (vv. 20-22). And we read that Moses saw God.
Ezekiel had visions of God. Again and again in the Old Testament we have these marvelous Scripture passages that tell of men beholding God, and yet it says here, “No man hath seen God at any time.” What does it mean? It means this: that all of these to which I referred were but theophanies. Men did not actually see God in His essential being, but He manifested Himself to them-as a man to Abraham, as an angel to Daniel, as a marvelous appearance to Ezekiel. No man has seen Deity at any time. “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), and a spirit is not visible to mortal eyes.
But what do these words mean, then: “No man hath seen God at any time”? If this was the only passage in which these words were found we should take it for granted that the meaning was that until Jesus Christ came into the world no man had seen God, but that when they saw Him they had seen God because He was “the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father.” But when we turn over to 1 John 4:12 , we find exactly the same words again, and these words were written many years after the Lord Jesus Christ had gone back to heaven. Here we read, “No man hath seen God at any time.” Now observe, these words were written when John was an old man, and again he says, “No man hath seen God at any time.” What, then, are we to gather from this? Simply that Deity as such is invisible.
When Jesus was here, men in seeing Him did not see Deity. What they did see was a man like themselves, as far as they could tell. But He was not a sinner as they were; He was the Holy One of God. But Deity was enshrined within that Man, for “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19 ). But men could only see His humanity. Now He is gone back to heaven and the word comes to us again, “No man hath seen God at any time.” God is still making Himself known to man, but He makes Himself known through those who walk in fellowship with Him. If you are walking in love, you are manifesting God.
It is a very solemn thing to realize that I as a believer am here in this world to make God known, by both life and testimony. Jesus did this fully and completely. The closer I walk with Him, the more God will be seen in me.
And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias. And they which were sent were of the Pharisees. And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet? John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; he it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose. These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing. The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.
In the last two messages we have been dealing with the testimony of John the Baptist. I fear that many Christians fail to realize how much God, by the Holy Spirit, committed to His servant John. Many of us think of him as one who had very little gospel light or understanding of the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. But we have already seen that he recognized in the Lord Jesus the preexistent One. He says in verse 15, “He was before me,” and those words are repeated in verse 30. So John recognized in our Lord Jesus One who did not begin to live when He was born here on earth, but One who had life with the Father before He deigned in grace to come down to this world and link His Deity with our humanity, apart from its sin, and be born as Mary’s Child.
If we are to take verses 16-18 as uttered by John, we would have a wonderful unfolding of truth indeed. But it seems much more likely that these words are the Spirit’s commentary through the apostle. They form a parenthesis, and then the record of John begins again in verse 19, “When the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?”
Let us consider more fully the parenthetical portion. Out of the fullness of grace manifested in Jesus, we who believe have received abundant supply for every need-even grace for grace, or, as we might read, grace upon grace. It is just one evidence after another of God’s rich grace, as we go on to know and enjoy communion with our blessed Lord, whose ministry was so different from that of Moses, the mediator and messenger of the old covenant. Through him the law was given, and that law was the revelation of the mind of God, according to which men (in Israel) were responsible to walk, until Jesus came. “The law,” says Paul, “was our [child trainer up] to Christ” (Galatians 3:24). Now grace and truth have been told out in Jesus, so “we are no longer under [the child trainer]” (v. 25)- We see in Christ the full revelation of the Father: grace and truth manifested in a Man here on earth, and that Man the delight of the Father’s heart. The law, as we have pointed out, was truth, but it was truth without grace. God is light and God is love, so both the holiness, which is according to truth, and the grace, which covers every sin and meets every need, are seen in Jesus. He, the only-begotten Son, ever dwelling in the bosom of the Father, has told out God in all His essential glory. People speak of Jesus leaving the bosom of the Father. But that is not the language of Scripture. The bosom is the place of affection. He never left that. He subsists in the Father’s bosom. When here on earth He was as truly the Object of the Father’s love as when He was in the glory from which He came to redeem us by His atoning death.
If John the Baptist saw all this and spoke these words, then his was a knowledge of Christ far beyond that with which he is generally credited. But if, as seems evident, we have here the Holy Spirit’s later comment, we would not forget that all was true of Jesus even in John’s day.
Let us now follow the Baptist’s further testimony.
He had aroused wonderful interest by his preaching and baptizing. Over all the land of Palestine people were speaking of this strange new prophet who had appeared in the wilderness and was drawing great throngs after him. He sternly rebuked sin and iniquity, called men to a baptism of repentance, and proclaimed the near coming of the kingdom of God on earth. Many believed his message and manifested their faith by taking their place in baptism as those who deserved to die. Everywhere the people were stirred.
The Jews sent some of their important leaders down to Jerusalem to ask him, “Who art thou? And he confessed and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ” (vv. 19-20). He knew that many were thinking that probably he was the long-promised Messiah who was to bring in the era of peace. But he said, “I am not the Messiah. I am not the Promised One.” They said, “Who are you then? Are you Elias?” Elias, you know, is just the Greek form for the Hebrew word, Elijah. Why did they put that question to him? One who prophesied four hundred years before John came into the world, uttered this prediction, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet… He shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children” (Mai. 4:5-6). And so they said to him, “Are you Elijah? Are you he who was to bring the solemn message warning of judgment?” John says, “No, I am not.” And yet you remember that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, when the disciples put the question to Him as to whether Elijah must not first come, answered and said, “Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they [would]” (Mark 9:13). And they understood He spoke of John. He came in the power and spirit of Elijah.
But John denied that he was personally Elijah. He would not direct attention to himself. He had come to occupy people with Another. Then they asked him, “Art thou that prophet?” (v. 21). What did they mean? To whom were they referring? In the book of Deuteronomy it is written that Moses said, “The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet… like unto me” (Deuteronomy 18:15). God had said, “I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, [shall be destroyed]” (vv. 18-19). These words refer to Christ, not to John. So again he disavowed any such claim.
They asked, “Who art thou? … What sayest thou of thyself?” (v. 22). He had not been talking about himself at all. We like to talk about ourselves, but John was not as we. He was not talking about himself. He was not trying to draw people’s attention to himself. He came to occupy them with the coming One. So when they asked, “What sayest thou of thyself?” He replied, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord” (v. 23). You cannot see a voice. You can hear it, but you cannot see it. “I am just here as a voice crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.”
The fortieth chapter of Isaiah begins with these words, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (vv. 1-2). That is, her sins are paid for, referring to the atoning work of our Lord Jesus Christ. And so the prophet then proclaims the gospel to comfort the people of God. In verse 3 we read, “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Whose way was to be prepared? The way of the Lord. Who was the Lord? “A highway for our God.”
So John spoke in the full recognition of the fact that the One who was coming was God, manifest in the flesh. For when he said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God,” he used the word that means “Jehovah.” This lowly Man, Jesus of Nazareth who appeared among the people, was none other than Jehovah Himself who came to redeem poor sinners. But let us follow the declaration of Isaiah. “The voice said, Cry.” He asked, “What shall I cry?” and the Lord replied, “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever” (Isaiah 40:6-8).
“Why,” you say, “there isn’t very much comfort in that.” No, apparently not. But that is always the way God begins to comfort people. Men are so proud and so forgetful of their own sinfulness. Their consciences are so inactive that if God is going to do something for men, He must make them realize their own littleness and their own sinfulness. That is why the apostle Peter linked this passage with the gospel and the new birth. “For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: but the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (1 Peter 1:24-25 ). Why do we need to be born again? Because “that which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6 ), and “all flesh is as grass.” Why do we need a new life? Because we are under judgment and this life is soon going to pass away and we must meet God. “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27 ). Let this word sink into the depths of our souls. Let it rebuke our pride and self-sufficiency. All the glory of man-the things that men are most delighted with-is just like the flower that is soon gone. How we need life from God! “He that hath the Son hath life” (1 John 5:12).
And so, John sees in this fortieth chapter of Isaiah a prophecy referring to himself. He says, “This is who I am. Simply a voice crying in the wilderness.” They which were sent were of the Pharisees, and they continued questioning. They were not satisfied. They just went on from one question to the other and did not stop to consider the answers. They were not interested in learning the truth of God. They started questioning him along another line. “Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?” (v. 25). John did not attempt to defend himself or explain to them, for he knew their unbelieving attitude. He simply said, “I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; he it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose” (vv. 26-27). Apparently with that, these Pharisees went their way. They had no real interest in this matter that was exercising the minds and consciences of others.
But now in the next statement of the passage we find John giving utterance to one of the greatest truths of the gospel. “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him” (v. 29a). No doubt he had often looked out over that great throng and mused, “I wonder if He is here yet. I wonder if the time for Him to be manifested has come.” But day after day there was no answering voice to his heart’s question. But now he sees Jesus coming toward him and the Spirit of God says, “There He is, John,” and John immediately exclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God, which [beareth] away the sin of the world” (v. 29b).
Have you ever thought what must have been involved in that? All down through the centuries Israel had known of the sacrificed lamb. They knew that long years ago when Abraham and Isaac were going up the mountain, Isaac turned to his father and said, “Father, here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb?” And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering.” And then they knew that when Israel was about to come out of Egypt God said, “You are to take a lamb and kill it and sprinkle the blood. The death angel is going through Egypt at midnight, but when he sees the blood he will pass over you.” And they knew that in the temple service, every morning and every evening a lamb was placed upon the altar for a burnt offering. Isaiah had prophesied of the One who would be led as a lamb to the slaughter, in order to become the sacrifice for sins. At last He had come of whom the prophets had spoken, and John exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, which [beareth] away the sin of the world”! He recognized in Jesus the object of all prophetic testimony and the fulfillment of all the types of the law. Notice how he dwells on the vicarious atonement: “Behold the Lamb of God, which [beareth] away the sin of the world.” He knew that in Isaiah 53 it was written of the Lamb of God, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (v. 5). At last He had come in accordance with the Word of God!
And you will notice this. He does not say merely “sins.” It is sin, in the singular. I think that you will find that when people attempt to quote this verse they generally say sins. Sins are only the effect of a cause, and the Lamb of God came, not only to take away the individual’s sins, but to take away or deal with the sin question as a whole. The apostle Paul said, “ [God] hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ). He is not only the bearer of our transgressions, He not only atoned for all our acts of sin, but He died for what we are as sinners by nature. And let me say something to you that may make you think you can never trust me again: “I have been guilty of many sins that I have had to go to God and confess, and I know those sins have all been forgiven. But I am a worse man than anything I have ever done!” Would you like to trust me now? I mean this. Within this heart of mine there are tendencies to sin that are worse than any act of sin I have ever committed. This is true of us all. We are sinners by nature. Sin dwells in us. Christ died to put away sin, not merely sins, by the sacrifice of Himself. We have in us that thing which God calls “sin in the flesh.” God took all that into account when Christ hung on the cross. He died because of what we were. He took our place. He was made sin for us, and sin, as a barrier, was taken away. Now the vilest sinner can come into the presence of God and find forgiveness. Do you know this “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world”?
Then John says, “This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not” (vv. 30-31a). Evidently he had been out in company where Jesus was, but he did not understand that this was the Messiah until now. He “knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove”-you see this event takes place after the baptism, which is not referred to here, but is mentioned in other Gospels-”I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining upon him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost” (vv. 31-33). The great work that John was sent to do was nearing an end. Now here is the climax: “I saw and bare record that this is the Son of God.” Did John really know that? Yes, he did-“I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God” (v. 34). Do you know that, dear friend? Have you trusted Him for yourself? Oh, if you have never trusted Him before, won’t you come to God, owning your sin? “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”
Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; and looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God! And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou? He saith unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone. The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me. Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.
Our attention has been directed already to John’s testimony concerning our Savior as the Lamb of God. We have considered verse 29 where we read: “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” This announcement had to do with our Lord as the great sin offering. All through the Old Testament dispensation the types and shadows and direct prophetic messages had pointed on to the time when God would send the true sacrificial Lamb, and now John declares, “He has come.”
The next day after, he exclaims again, “Behold the Lamb of God.” It is not now “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world”-that was yesterday-but now it is, “Look at the walk of the Lamb of God.” Jesus came walking across the plains, and John’s attention was directed to Him in a new way. There was something about the walk of God’s blessed Son that led His forerunner to exclaim, “Behold the Lamb of God!” How different His walk was to that of any other, and by “walk,” of course, we mean behavior. As we think of the holy behavior of the Son of God we cannot but realize how it stands out in contrast to our own devious ways. The great difference is this: our behavior is dominated so much by selfishness. We act as we do because we are so self-centered. We are occupied with ourselves. We are concerned about self-pleasing and about that which ministers to self. But the Lord Jesus could say, “I came… not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me” (John 6:38).
The only Man who has ever walked through this scene who never had one selfish thought but who found all His joy in doing the will of the Father, was our blessed, adorable Lord. We may well “Behold the Lamb of God” in this sense. If, at times, we are tempted to justify things in ourselves that are contrary to the mind of God, we need only to gaze, by faith, upon the Lamb of God as He was down here, and behold His unselfish walk, in order to realize at once how far short we come of that perfection which was manifest in Him. The result will be that we will seek to become increasingly like Him. “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
As we read this word, as we see the holy Savior moving undefiled through the vile scenes that are depicted for us by the Holy Spirit, as we see how gentle, careful, and considerate of others He was, surely it should rebuke our own wickedness and selfishness and lead us to confess our own failures in the presence of God and to desire to become more like Him. “Behold the Lamb of God!” Contemplate His lovely ways and dwell upon His subject spirit. We are told that when John uttered this exclamation, “Behold the Lamb of God,” it so appealed to two of the disciples who were standing with him that “the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus” (v. 37). After all, this was the real object of John’s ministry. He did not come to occupy people with himself or with his service, but he came as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” He said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (3:30). “This is He, who, coming after me, is preferred before me.” So you can well understand how John’s heart thrilled with gladness when they went after Jesus. This was the very purpose for which he came baptizing with water. This should be the purpose of every servant of Christ. He should ever point others to this Lamb of God-the Lamb of God, the Sin-bearer; the Lamb of God, the perfect example.
The two disciples heard John speak and they went after Jesus. Of these, we read, one was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. The other one keeps his own name hidden all through this gospel, but he was the disciple who leaned on Jesus’ breast, the disciple whom Jesus loved, that is, of course, the apostle John. So these two, Andrew and John, followed Jesus. “Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye?” (v. 38a). I think the Lord Jesus might well address that question to many today who presumably seek His face. Many people come to Jesus, I think, because they hope to be benefited by Him. Some come hoping for physical relief. What do you have in mind when you come to Him? “What seek ye?” What would you have Jesus do for you?
I am often grieved when I invite people who want to know Christ as their Savior to come to our prayer room that our friends there may pray with them and make clear the way of life, and some come ostensibly because they are exercised and anxious to know the Lord. But it is soon evident they are far more concerned about temporal need than about their spiritual condition. I would rather have a man come to me and say honestly, “I am not concerned about my soul, but I am greatly concerned about my body. I need a place to sleep, or I need food.” I am glad to do what I can for a man who comes to me like that. But it really hurts to have people come professing an interest in spiritual things when they are only concerned about temporal relief.
Well, Jesus turned to these men and said, “Why seek ye Me?” and they seem just a bit embarrassed. “They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou?” (v. 38b), as much as to say, “We would like to go with You to Your home.” Where did He really dwell? He had no home here on earth. He could say, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). He was a homeless wanderer as He began His ministry, after leaving the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth. But He had a home in the bosom of the Father, for we read, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18). That was where Jesus dwelt. He dwelt in the Father’s love and that place He never left. He was always the object of the Father’s delight and always enjoyed the fellowship of the Father except when, upon the cross, God’s face was hidden from Him when He became the substitute for our sins. Then He cried in the anguish of His soul, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Yet He was never dearer to the Father’s heart than in those dark hours when He was “made sin” for us.
But here He did have a temporary abiding place. Just where it was we are not told, but He said to them, “Come and see.” So they went with Him “and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour” (v. 39) .That would be about four o’clock in the afternoon, and oh, what a sacred time that must have been! Doubtless they plied Him with questions, and He probably answered them and gave them the revelation of His love and grace, and from that time on they were never the same. They were never able to settle down to the earth or give themselves entirely to earthly occupations. Their hearts were won for Himself, and they longed to share this blessing with others.
Has He won your heart? Do you really know Him as the sent One of the Father? Has His love and His grace and His holiness been so revealed to your soul that He has won your affection for Himself? Then surely you want others to know Him. I think this is one of the surest proofs of a genuine conversion. One of the first evidences that people really know Christ is that they turn to others and say, “Come, I want you to know Him as I know Him.” The rest of this chapter is devoted to service in seeking to win others to Christ.
One of the two was Andrew. “He first findeth his own brother Simon” (v. 41a). It might seem, simply, that the first thing Andrew did was to find his brother. But, we are told by scholars, that what is really implied here is that John went off to find his brother James, but Andrew was the first one to find his brother. It is characteristic of the apostle John to hide himself. Two of the New Testament writers, John and Luke, two very self-effacing men, never mention themselves, and yet they have quite a close connection with Jesus. They are always hiding themselves. The Lord, however, would have us know that, having come in vital contact with Christ for themselves, John at once thought of his brother, and Andrew thought of his brother. Have you a brother still out of Christ? Are you saved yourself? Is there a brother, a sister, a friend, who does not yet know the Savior? Have you tried to find them? Perhaps you wrote a letter. Perhaps you could only send some gospel tracts. Perhaps you could only have a word with them, but you have been concerned about them. Have you not? I cannot understand how you could really know and love Christ yourself and be indifferent to the claims of those who are still strangers to Him. Let us seek to emulate these men.
Andrew was the first to find his own brother Simon. They had both been listening to John. In the first chapter of Acts, Peter speaks of those who were with them “beginning from the baptism of John” (v. 22). Thus they were prepared to receive the Messiah when He was manifested. So Andrew hurried off to find Peter and said, “We have found the [Messiah], which is, being interpreted, the Christ” (v. 41b). Then in the verse that follows we read, “He brought him to Jesus” (v. 42a). Did you ever do that for anyone? Notice that he did not go out to argue with his brother, but he simply went and told him of the One who satisfies the heart. He probably told Simon of his own experience and then said, “Now, Simon, I want you to know Him, too. Won’t you come to Him?” Oh, there is many a longing heart you might lead to Christ. Too many of us are content to leave this to the preacher, or perhaps to those who teach in the Sunday school or in some other public place. But every believer is called to be a representative of Christ, to go to men and women with this message, “We have found Jesus, the Savior of sinners, who meets every need of the lost and the undone.”
When Jesus saw Peter coming, He turned to him and said, “Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone” (v. 42b). Jesus loved to give men new names. He does it still. Whenever you put your trust in Him, He gives you a new name. “Now, Peter, you are going to be a rocklike man, and you are going to stand firmly for the truth in later days. Your name is Cephas. Your name is a stone.” You remember how in Matthew 16 we read this: “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (v. 18). And in his own first epistle, Peter speaks of all believers as living stones built upon the rock foundation, Christ. Oh, are you afraid to confess Christ, afraid to trust Him lest you should not be able to stand? Come to Him! Acquaint yourself with Him, and He will make you a rocklike man or woman. But, you tell me, Peter himself failed. Yes, at one time he was a pretty shaky sort of a rock. Was he not? But after he received the Holy Spirit it was different. Oh, how Peter stood for Christ in those early days of the church, and after years of testimony and suffering Peter sealed his testimony with his blood. He became truly the rocklike man as Jesus, by giving him this name, indicated he would.
We have not only Andrew and John going after their brothers, but we find Jesus calling another man. “The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me. Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter” (vv. 43-44). We do not hear of any great profession he made, but he heard the words, “Follow me.” At once we find him going after a friend. “Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him” (v. 45a). He did not preach a long sermon. He said, “We have found Him, Nathanael.” “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (v. 45b).
You say, Why does he call Him the son of Joseph? He was actually the Son of God. But Joseph, you see, by marrying Mary had become the legal father of Jesus, and it is this that Philip recognizes. He says, as it were, “Why He has been among us all these years, and we did not realize that that carpenter in the shop at Nazareth was the Messiah.” Philip says, “I want you to know Him too, Nathanael.” And Nathanael said to him, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (v. 46). “Can any good thing come out of that city?” If the Nazareth of today with its filthy streets resembles the Nazareth of old, it is no wonder that Nathanael asked that. It was the time for Philip to begin an argument, but he was too wise to do that. He simply said to him, “Come and see. If you only get to know Him as I know Him, you will be convinced.”
And this is my message to you unsaved ones. I think of some of you, torn by doubt, anxious, and perplexed. You say, “Can it be possible that Jesus is really the blessed Son of God, the Savior of sinners?” I say to you earnestly, “Come and see.” Come to His feet. Let Him speak to you words of peace and pardon. Won’t you come? He says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). “Come and see.”
Nathanael decided to go. Jesus saw him coming-no one ever came toward Him but that He saw him coming; He sees you today if you are moving toward Him-and Jesus said, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (v. 47). He was saying, “I know that he is genuine, that he rings true.” “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile.” Nathanael catches the word and says, “Whence knowest thou me?” (v. 48a). Jesus said, “Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee” (v. 48b). What did He mean? Why, I suppose that Nathanael had a fig tree in his garden behind the wall. Possibly he was under that fig tree studying the Word of God or praying for light, and Jesus saw him there long before Philip called Him. Wherever you are today, friend, Jesus sees you, and if your heart yearns for light and peace, He waits to give them. “Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree.” This so stirred the heart of Nathanael that he said, “This must be Him.” He cried out at once, “I believe that ‘thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel’” (v. 49). You see, “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,” and so in faith Nathanael was added to the little company.
“Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou?” (v. 50). When you did not think I could see you I knew-does that make it clear to you that I am more than man? “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man” (v. 51). He was speaking of His second coming in power and glory. The mind of Nathanael went back to the book of Genesis when Jacob lay down to sleep in Bethel, and there saw in his dream a ladder (an ascent, really) reaching up to heaven, and the angels going up and down. Jesus practically says to Nathanael, “I am the One by whom man ascends from earth to heaven, and some day when I come again in power and glory I will come accompanied by the angels of God.” He is Himself the connecting link between earth and heaven, soon to be manifested in power and glory!
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on John 1". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Easter