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John 1:1. In the beginning was the Word. This sublime opening of the Gospel carries our thoughts at once to the no less sublime opening of the Book of Genesis, whose first words the Evangelist certainly had present to his mind. He too will tell of a creation, and a creation has a ‘beginning.’ The words ‘in the beginning,’ taken by themselves, do not express the idea of eternal preexistence; but they leave room for it, and in this respect they stand contrasted with the phrase ‘from the beginning,’ which often meets us in the writings of John ( Joh 8:44 ; 1 John 1:1; 1Jn 2:7 ; 1 John 2:24; 1 John 3:8). They denote simply the point of time; and the difference of thought with which they are connected, as compared with Genesis 1:1, is to be found not in the meaning of ‘beginning,’ but in the different direction which the writer takes, and in the verb which he employs. In Genesis 1:1 the sacred historian starts from the beginning and comes downwards, thus keeping us in the course of time. Here he starts from the same point, but goes upwards, thus taking us into the eternity preceding time. In Genesis 1:1 we are told that God ‘in the beginning created,’ an act done in time. Here we are told that ‘in the beginning the Word was, ’ a verb strongly antithetical to ‘came into being’ (John 1:3; John 1:14, comp. John 8:58), and implying an absolute existence preceding the point referred to. As that which is absolute, self-existent, not created that which is is eternal, so the predication of eternity is involved in the clause before us taken as a whole.
He who thus ‘was in the beginning,’ who, as we afterwards read, ‘was with God,’ and ‘was God,’ here bears the name of ‘the Word’ (Logos). In one other verse of the Prologue this name is repeated (John 1:14); but it does not occur again in the Gospel. Nor shall we find the term (used, as here, simply and without qualification) in any other passage of the New Testament. The nearest approach is found in Revelation 19:13, where the name of the righteous Conqueror and King is given as ‘The Word of God.’ Two or more other passages may be said rather to recall to our thought the name we are considering than to present examples of its use; see especially 1 John 1:1 (‘the word of life,’ followed by ‘the life was manifested,’ John 1:2), and Hebrews 4:12. Though, however, this term is not really adopted by any New Testament writer except John, It is not peculiar to him in any other sense. When he wrote, it was a familiar and current term of theology. It has sometimes, indeed, been maintained that John’s usage must be taken by itself, since with very much of the theological speculation in which this term so freely occurs he can have had no sympathy. We shall see that John’s usage certainly does in an important sense stand alone; but as it is absolutely impossible that he, living at Ephesus (to say nothing of his long residence in Palestine), should have been unacquainted with the current doctrines respecting the Logos, it is inconceivable that he can have taken up the term without reference to these doctrines. Hence it is with the history of the term that we first have to do.
Every careful reader of the Old Testament is struck by the prominence given in certain passages to ‘the word of the Lord,’ language which almost implies personal action being sometimes connected with this ‘word.’ See, for example, Psalms 33:6; Psalms 105:19; Psalms 107:20; 1 Samuel 3:21. The root of this usage (at all events in very many instances) is to be found in the first chapter of Genesis, where the successive acts of creation are associated with divine words (see Psalms 33:6). Such passages as these, with their partial personification of the word of God, seem to have powerfully impressed early Jewish teaching. There was much besides in the Old Testament to strengthen this impression, as the frequent references in the Pentateuch to the Angel of Jehovah, and the language used of Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs (chap. 8; compare also chaps. 1, 3, 9, and Job 28:0). Thus a minute study of Scripture language was the means of leading Jewish teachers to connect divine acts with some personified attribute of God rather than with God Himself, or to seek for some medium of communication between God and man where the Scriptures themselves had spoken of direct revelation or fellowship. What other influences aided this tendency of thought, we cannot here inquire. The results are patent, especially in the Targums or Chaldea paraphrases of Scripture. The dates of the several Targums which are extant have been a matter of controversy: for our purpose, however, this is not of consequence, as it is acknowledged on all hands that every one of these paraphrases contains early materials. We cannot within our limits quote at length; but a reference to the following passages in Etheridge’s translation of the Targums on the Pentateuch will show how far the writers went in substituting ‘the Word’ ( Memra) for the name of God Himself. In the Targum of Onkelos, see Genesis 3:8; Genesis 28:20; Numbers 23:4; Numbers 23:21; Deuteronomy 9:3: in that of Pseudo-Jonathan, Genesis 3:8; Numbers 23:4; Numbers 23:21: in the Jerusalem Targum, besides the three last mentioned, Genesis 18:1; Genesis 16:13; Genesis 19:24. From the Targum of Jonathan Ben Uzziel may be quoted Isaiah 63:7; Malachi 3:1. An examination of these passages will show how familiar to Jews had become the conception of the Word of God, through whom God made Himself known to men. Very little light is thrown upon the subject by the several Apocryphal books, and hence it will not be necessary to refer to them here. It is otherwise with the writings of the great Alexandrian philosopher Philo. In these the doctrine of the Divine Word holds a prominence which it would be hard to exaggerate. Yet from the multitude of passages in which Philo speaks of the attributes and actions of the Word, it is impossible to deduce with any certainty a clear statement of doctrine. Now the Word seems distinctly personal, now an attribute of God personified. In some passages the idea can be traced back to the thought of ‘spoken word;’ in many others Philo takes up the other meaning of the Greek word Logos, viz. reason. Hence, though Philo speaks of the universe as created through the Logos, yet in other passages the Logos is the design or the idea of creation in the mind of God.
It is not necessary to carry this inquiry farther, since our only object is to collect the chief elements of thought associated with this term when John wrote. As has been said, he could not be ignorant of these various forms of teaching; if not ignorant, he could not be indifferent on the one hand to the good, or on the other to the evil, which they contained. He recognised the various teachings as a providential preparation for the true theology. In these introductory verses he adopts the term, but so defines it as to fix its meaning for all Christians. There is One by whom the Eternal and Invisible God reveals Himself: the Revealer is a Person: the Revealer is Himself God. Not only in outward manifestation, but also in inward fellowship with the heart, God reveals Himself by the Word of God, who is God. In one instance John appears to take up and ratify the wider application of the term which we have noticed above. This first verse takes us beyond the region of revelation to man: when ‘in the beginning,’ beyond the limits of time, ‘the Logos was,’ the thought of ‘speech’ ceases to give us any help towards grasping the meaning; and, if we may venture to interpret the term at all in this application, we can only think of the human analogy by which we pass from the uttered word to the thought or reason of the speaker.
To all that John teaches respecting the Logos, the Lord’s own teaching directly led. The doctrine of these verses is identical with that of chaps, John 5:19, John 6:57, John 10:30, John 17:5, etc. The personal application of the term is not found in our Lord's discourses; but many of those recorded in this Gospel contain remarkable examples of that exalted use of ‘the word’ of God to which, as we have seen, the history of this sublime name may ultimately be traced.
And the Word was with God: the second of the three statements made in this verse regarding the Word, and obviously higher than the first. It is impossible to convey in English the full force of the preposition ‘with’ in the Greek, for it denotes not merely being beside, but maintaining communion and intercourse with (comp. Mar 6:3 ; 1 John 1:2; 1 John 2:1).
And the Word was God: the third and highest statement respecting the Word. The Word is possessed of divine essence; in that being in which He ‘was,’ He so possesses the divine attributes that He is God. There is difference of personality, but unity of nature. In this last clause the climax of the three clauses is complete.
The Prologue of the Gospel of John stands in the most intimate connection with the plan and purpose of the Gospel as a whole. It is not to be regarded as a philosophical speculation to which the historical life of the Redeemer shall be afterwards conformed. It contains rather a short summary of that life in the light in which the Evangelist had been divinely taught to regard it, and of the impressions which he had gathered from it as the manifestation, the revelation, of God Himself to men. It is to illustrate and unfold this conception, which is at once metaphysical, theological, and historical, that the fourth Evangelist writes. Hence he begins with a description of what Jesus was in Himself, in the profoundest depths of His being; passing from that to what He ‘became’ in order that in Him men might so behold the glory of the Father as to be transfigured into the same glory, reaching onward to the fulfilment of their own destiny, to be children of God. The Prologue is usually divided into three parts, ending with John 1:5, John 1:13, John 1:18, respectively. Of these divisions, the first brings before us the thought of the Eternal Word, in Himself (John 1:1), and as the source of created being, of life, of light (John 1:2-43.1.5). The subject of the next thirteen verses is the Word as revealed to men, first generally (John 1:6-43.1.13), and secondly by the Incarnation (John 1:14-43.1.18). These two sections (in accordance with an important principle of structure, characterizing both this Gospel and the Apocalypse), though apparently successive, are really parallel: the thought is thus presented under two aspects, the second fuller and more definite than the first. In the former section we read of the Baptist, sent to bear witness concerning the manifestation of the Word as the Light (John 1:6-43.1.8); then of the twofold results of this manifestation, but especially of the blessedness of those who received the Word (John 1:9-43.1.13). The next section records the Incarnation of the Word (John 1:14); the testimony borne by the Baptist to the glory of the Incarnate Word (John 1:15); and, as before (but with greater clearness and definiteness, and from the point of view of human experience), the results of this crowning manifestation of the Word. This analysis, whilst showing the general parallelism of the thoughts in the several divisions of the Prologue, shows also that the division as hitherto indicated is insufficient. John 1:14 clearly commences a new section, and yet John 1:15 (relating to the Baptist) immediately recalls the commencement of the former section (John 1:6). If, however, John 1:14 be carefully examined, it will be seen that it stands in a definite relation to the first section, the opening words (‘And the Word became flesh’) being antithetical to John 1:1, and the remainder of the verse (which sets forth generally the manifestation of the Incarnate Word) corresponding to John 1:2-43.1.5. Hence the structure of the Prologue as a whole may be presented in the following tabular form:
Section I. The Word.
(a) In Himself (John 1:1).
(b) In His general manifestations (John 1:2-43.1.5).
Section II. The Word appearing in the world.
(a) The Baptist’s general witness concerning the Word, as the Light (John 1:6-43.1.8).
(b) The general results of the manifestation of the Word (John 1:9-43.1.13).
Section III. The Word fully revealed in the Incarnation.
A. (1) The Incarnate Word Himself (John 1:14 a: parallel to John 1:1).
(2) The Incarnate Word in His general manifestation of Himself (John 1:14 b: parallel to John 1:2-43.1.5).
B. The Baptist's witness, now definite and personal (John 1:15: parallel to John 1:6-43.1.8).
C. The complete results of this manifestation of the Word in the case of all who receive Him (John 1:16-43.1.18: parallel to John 1:9-43.1.13).
John 1:2. The same was in the Beginning with God. ‘The same’ He who has just been spoken of as God was in the beginning ‘with God’: i.e., ‘He of whom I have spoken as God, was in the beginning in active, eternal communion with God, not simply the Word with God, but God with God.’ The elements of the thought have been given in John 1:1, but in their combination they acquire new force. The special object of these words seems to be to prepare for the next verse; it is only when we have been taught concerning ‘God with God’ that we are prepared to hear of the creation of all things ‘ through ’ the Divine Word. He with whom the Divine Word ‘was in the beginning’ created all through Him.
John 1:3. All things came into being through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into being. Such a combination of two clauses, the first positive, the second negative (see note on John 1:20), is characteristic of John’s style. The two together assert the truth contained in them with a universality and force not otherwise attainable. This truth is, that ‘all things’ not all as a whole, but all things in the individuality which precedes their combination into a whole came into being through this Word, who is God. The preposition ‘through’ is that by which the relation of the Second Person of the Trinity to creation is usually expressed (1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2); as, indeed, this is the conception which belongs to the doctrine of the Logos, the Divine Word. Occasionally, however, the same language is used of the Father: see Hebrews 1:10, and comp. Romans 11:36.
John 1:3-43.1.4. That which hath come into being was life in him. We are led by various considerations to take this view of the passage rather than that which is presented in the Authorised Version. The Greek admits of either punctuation (and rendering), but the absence of the article before the word ‘life’ suggests that it is here a predicate, not the subject of the sentence. By almost all (if not all) the Greek Fathers of the first three centuries the words were thus understood; and we may reasonably, in such a case as this, attach great importance to the conclusions attained by that linguistic tact which is often most sure where it is least able to assign distinct reasons for its verdict. Further, this division of the words corresponds best with the rhythmical mode in which the earlier sentences of the Prologue are connected with one another. It is characteristic of them to make the voice dwell mainly, in each line of the rhythm, upon a word taken from the preceding line; and this characteristic is not preserved in the case before us unless we adhere to the ancient construction. We have seen what the Word is in Himself; we are now to see Him in His relation to His creatures.
Created being was ‘life in Him.’ He was life, life absolutely, and therefore the life that can communicate itself, the infinitely productive life, from whom alone came to every creature, as He called it into being, the measure of life that it possesses. In Him was the fountain of all life; and every form of life, known or unknown, was only a drop of water from the stream which, gathered up in Him before, flowed forth at His creative word to people the universe of being with the endlessly multiplied and diversified existences that play their part in it. It is not of the life of man only that John speaks, still less is it only of that spiritual and eternal life which constitutes man’s true being. If the word ‘life’ is often used in this more limited sense in the Gospel, it is because other kinds and developments of life pass out of view in the presence of that life on which the writer especially loves to dwell. The word itself has no such limitation of meaning, and when used, as here, without anything to suggest limitation, it must be taken in its most comprehensive sense. It was in the Word, then, that all things that have life lived; the very physical world, if we can say of its movements that they are life, the vegetable world, the world of the lower animals, the world of men and angels, up to the highest angel that is before the throne. Ere yet they came into being, their life was in the Word who, as God, was life, and from the Word they received it when their actual being began. The lesson is the same as that of Colossians 1:16-51.1.17, ‘In Him were all things created,’ and ‘in Him all things subsist;’ or, still more, of Revelation 4:11, ‘Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy pleasure they were ’ (not ‘are,’ as in the Authorised Version), ‘and they were created.’
And the life was the light of men. From the wide thought of all created existences, the Evangelist passes in these words to the last and greatest of the works of God, man, whose creation is recorded in the first chapter of Genesis. All creatures had ‘life’ in the Word; but this life was to man something more than it could be to others, because he had been created after a fashion, and placed in a sphere, peculiar to himself amidst the different orders of animated being. God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’ (Genesis 1:26). Man was thus capable of receiving God, and of knowing that he had received Him; he had a sphere and a capacity belonging to none of the lower creatures spoken of in the great record of creation; his nature was fitted to be the conscious abode, not of the human only, but of the divine. Hence the Word could be in him as in no other creature. But the Word is God (John 1:1), and ‘God is light’ (1 John 1:5). Thus the Word is ‘light’ (comp. John 1:7); and as man was essentially fitted to receive the Word, that Word giving life to all found in him a fitness for the highest and fullest life, for ‘light,’ therefore, in its highest and fullest sense; and ‘the life was the light of men.’
The idea of human nature thus set forth in these words is peculiarly remarkable, and worthy of our observation, not only as a complete answer to those who bring a charge of Manichæan dualism against the Fourth Gospel, but also to enable us to comprehend its teaching as to human responsibility in the presence of Jesus. ‘The life, it is said,’ was the light of men not of a class, not of some, but of all the members of the human family as such. Man’s true nature, it is said, is divine; divine in this respect also, as distinguished from the divine in all creation, that man is capable of recognising, acknowledging, seeing the divine in himself. The ‘life’ becomes ‘light’ in him, and it does not become so in lower creatures. Man’s true life is the life of the Word; it was so originally, and he knew it to be so. If, therefore, he listens to the tempter and yields to sin (whose existence is admitted simply as a fact, no attempt being made to account for it), man corrupts his true nature, and is responsible for doing so. But his fall cannot destroy his nature, which still testifies to what his first condition was, to what his normal condition is, to what he ought to be. Man, therefore, only fulfils his original nature by again receiving that Word who is to offer Himself to him as the ‘Word become flesh.’ But if man’s receiving of the Word be thus the fulfilling of his nature, it is his duty to receive Him; and this duty is impressed upon him by his nature, not by mere external authority. Hence the constant appeal of Jesus in this Gospel, not to external evidence only, but to that remaining life of the Word within us, which ought to receive the Word completely, and to hasten to the Light (comp. John 1:9).
John 1:5. And the light shineth in the darkness. The darkness here spoken of is not an original darkness coexistent with created being (John 1:3). It belongs to the development of thought begun at John 1:4, and is coexistent only with the moral process of rejecting the Word, implied, though not expressly stated, in that verse. The Word through whom all come into being offers Himself at the same time to all as their light. Let them acknowledge and accept Him, they have life (chap. John 8:12); let them reject Him, they are in a darkness for which they are responsible, because they have chosen it. It is a fact, however, that many always did, and still do, reject the light; and thus the darkness has been and is a positively existing thing. Yet the Light has not forsaken the world. No merely present point of time is indicated; in that case John could not have immediately added the past tense, overcame. The idea is general. The Light, as it had existed, had shone; as it exists, it shines, always seeking to draw men into the full brightness of its beams.
And the darkness overcame it not. Such is the most probable meaning of these words, and so were they understood by the most ancient Christian writers. The verb which we have rendered ‘overcame’ occurs not unfrequently in the New Testament; but (when used, as here, in the active voice) it has not, and cannot have, the meaning comprehend (i.e. understand), which is given to it in the Authorised Version. The most important guide to the meaning is chap. John 12:35, where the same word is used, and where also the metaphor is similar: ‘Walk . . . lest darkness overtake you,’ come over you, seize you. In the verse before us we read of light shining in the darkness; the darkness, ever antagonistic to the light, yet does not overtake or come over the light. The idea of seizing, in connection with this figure, is equivalent to overcoming or intercepting the light. Even if ‘comprehend’ were possible as a translation, it would be nothing to tell us that the darkness did not comprehend the light. That is implied in the fact that the darkness is self-chosen (comp. on John 1:4). But it is much to tell us that, in the conflict between the darkness and the light, the darkness failed to overcome (or eclipse) the light. The light, though sometimes apparently overcome, was really victorious; it withstood every assault, and shone on triumphantly in a darkened world. So far, therefore, from our finding here a ‘wail’ (as some have said), we have a note of exultation, a token of that victory which throughout the whole Gospel rises to our view through sorrow.
We thus close what is obviously the first paragraph of the Gospel; and although it relates to the Pre-incarnate Word, and expresses the principles of His dealings in their most general form, the development of thought is precisely the same as that which the history of the Incarnate Word will be found to present. Through the Word all things have come into being. To all He offers Himself, that He may make them not only exist in Him, but, in the free appropriation of what He offers, live in Him. Some receive Him, and He becomes their light; others reject Him, and are immersed in the darkness which they choose. The darkness opposes and seeks to destroy the light, but the light shines on to victory.
John 1:6. There arose a man, sent from God, whose name was John. With this verse we pass forward into the times of the Incarnate Word. The section upon which we first enter is, as compared with the second, general; hence the Incarnation is only implied, not expressly mentioned. The immediate preparation for this new period is the testimony of the Baptist; and the words with which he is introduced to us stand in striking contrast to what we have been told of the Word in John 1:1. He ‘arose,’ literally, he ‘came into being,’ as distinguished from the ‘was’ of that verse. He was a man ‘sent from God,’ as distinguished from the Word who was ‘with God. ‘In adding,’ his name was John, the Evangelist (we may perhaps say) does more than identify him as the great prophet who had so powerfully impressed all classes of the people. If we remember the deep significance attached to ‘name’ in this Gospel, it will seem possible that the antithesis to John 1:1 is still continued. The personal name needed for identification amongst men is placed in contrast with that name by which the eternal attributes of the Son are expressed, ‘the Word’ (comp. John 1:12).
John 1:7. The same came for witness, that he might bear witness concerning the Light, that all might believe through him. The impression produced by the Baptist had been great, but he had come to bear witness to One higher than himself. Here we meet for the first time with this word ‘witness,’ one of the characteristic words of the writings of John, occurring in various forms nearly fifty times in his Gospel, and thirty or forty times in his Epistles and the Apocalypse. The importance of the thought lies in its simplicity. The true witness declares what he has seen and heard (1 John 1:2-62.1.3); his testimony reflects ‘the truth’ so far as he has received it, just as the faithful mirror reflects the light that has come upon it. John came to bear such witness concerning the Light, that through him all might be led to ‘believe’ trustfully to accept that Light, and yield themselves up to its influence. The introduction of the word ‘all’ is very remarkable. More clearly than any other passage this verse teaches us how great were the results which the Baptist’s mission was intended to produce, immeasurably greater than those which were actually realised. Had Israel been faithfully and obediently waiting for the fulfilment of the divine promise, John’s witness respecting Jesus would have turned ‘all’ Israel (and, through Israel, ‘all’ men) to the Saviour. In immediate effects the work of John, like that of One higher than John, would be pronounced by men a failure. In the light of this verse we can better understand such passages as Malachi 4:0; Matthew 11:9-40.11.14; Luke 7:29-42.7.30.
John 1:8. He was not the Light, but he was that he might bear witness concerning the Light. The thought of the greatness of the witness borne by John underlies the words of this verse. Great as the Baptist was, he was not the Light. What he was is not expressed, but only the purpose which he was to fulfil (comp. John 1:23). It is very possible that the words may have had a special application to the opinions which (as we learn from Acts 18:25; Acts 19:3) existed at Ephesus with regard to the mission of John.
John 1:9. There was the true Light, which lighteth every man, coming into the world. This almost literal rendering of the Greek will show how it is that these simple words have been so variously explained. As in the English, so in the Greek, the word ‘coming’ might be joined either with 'light’ or with 'man.’ The punctuation we have adopted (it will be remembered that in ancient manuscripts of the original there is little or no punctuation) will show that, in our view, the last clause is to be joined, not with the second, but with the first clause of the verse. What has been said above of the general structure of the Prologue has shown that, as yet, the full presence of the Word personally come is not before us. The manifestation is in its initial stage, not yet complete. To this thought the word ‘coming’ exactly corresponds. But still more important in guiding to the right interpretation of the verse is the Evangelist’s use of the last phrase elsewhere. The expression ‘come into the world’ occurs in as many as seven other passages of this Gospel (chap. John 1:19, John 6:14, John 9:39, John 11:27, John 12:46, John 16:28, John 18:37). In every one of these passages the words relate to the Lord Himself: sometimes they are used by the multitude (John 6:14), or by a disciple (John 11:27), as a designation of the Messiah, ‘He that should come;’ sometimes they are the words of Jesus or of the Evangelist, in passages which speak of the purpose of His ‘coming.’ In chaps, John 3:19 and John 12:46 the phrase stands in close connection with the figure which is now before us. The latter verse (chap. John 12:46) is especially noteworthy; for Jesus Himself says, ‘I am come a light into the world.’ If, then, we would allow the Evangelist to be his own interpreter, we seem bound to believe that he here speaks of the light as ‘coming into the world.’ If the words are joined with ‘man,’ they add little or nothing to the thought. ‘Every man’ is really as full and inclusive an expression as ‘every man that cometh into the world.’ Familiarity with the common rendering may prevent the reader from at once perceiving that this is true; but we are persuaded that reflection will show that by the change much is gained, nothing lost. In the previous verse we have read that John was not ‘the Light.’ When he ‘arose’ as a witness, the true Light was in existence; it had been shining in the darkness; it was now ‘coming into the world,’ about to manifest itself with a clearness and in a manner hitherto unknown.
Two more of the special terms of the Gospel meet us here, ‘true’ and ‘world.’ It is unfortunate that two different words must be represented by the same English word, ‘true.’ The one (used in chaps, John 3:33, John 5:31, and eleven other verses of the Gospel) denotes truth in contrast with falsehood; the other, which we have before us here, expresses the real as contrasted with the phenomenal, that which is perfect and substantial as opposed to what is imperfect and shadowy, or that which is fully accomplished in contrast with the type which prefigured it. This word is, in the New Testament, almost confined to the writings of John. Of twenty-eight passages in which it occurs, nine are found in this Gospel, four in the First Epistle, ten in the Revelation. Three of the remaining five passages are (as might almost have been foreseen) in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The other examples of the word in this Gospel will be found in chaps, John 4:23; John 4:37, John 5:32, John 7:28, John 8:16, John 15:1, John 17:3, John 19:35, and in most of these the reader will easily trace the idea. The ‘true worshippers’ are those whose worship is real, not imperfect and undeserving of the name; the bread which came down from heaven is ‘the true bread,’ that of which the manna was a type, that which ministers real and abiding nourishment. So here we read of the archetypal source of light, the light which alone is real and perfect. This true Light was coming into the ‘world.’ Originally signifying the universe created and ordered by the hand of God, ‘the world’ came successively to mean the world of men, and the world of men as opposed to God. In this Gospel especially, we read of the world as an antagonistic power, unbelieving, evil in its works, hating and persecuting Jesus and His people, a power over which He will be victorious, and which shall be convicted of sin and judged; but we also read of God’s love to the world (chap. John 3:16), and of the gift of His Son that the world may be saved through Him. If the thought of evil and alienation is brought out in the following verse, it is most important to observe that this verse speaks of the illumination of every man. No man belongs to the world that is given up to darkness and impenitence, unless he, through resistance and choice of evil, have made the light that was in him to become darkness (comp. Ephesians 4:18). We cannot doubt that in the words ‘every man’ there is an allusion to John (‘a man sent from God’) as himself illumined by this Light.
John 1:10. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, and the world knew him not. The subject is still the Light, which (John 1:9) was existent, and was ‘coming into the world.’ In the world, indeed, it was already (though the complete manifestation was yet to come), and here the figure passes imperceptibly away, giving place to the thought of the Person the world, though brought into being through Him, recognised not His presence. Note the simplicity of John’s style, in which the three thoughts of the verse, though very various in their mutual relations, are, so to speak, placed side by side. These words relate both to the Pre-incarnate and to the Incarnate Word. The development is rather of thought than of time. Alike before His manifestation in the flesh and after it, the Word was ‘in the world.’ The statement must not be limited to the manifestation of Christ in Israel. This verse is a repetition, in a more concrete form, of John 1:3-43.1.5 (in part).
John 1:11. He came unto his own home, and his own accepted him not. Is this verse practically a repetition of John 1:10, in language more solemn and emphatic? Or do we here pass from the thought of the world in general to that of the Jewish people. The question is one of some difficulty. As John 1:12 is certainly quite general in its meaning, it may seem hazardous to introduce a limitation here. But the weight of argument seems on the whole to be on the other side. There is a manifest advance of thought as we pass from the last verse to this. Instead of ‘He was in,’ we find ‘He came unto;’ for ‘the world,’ we have
‘His own home;’ for ‘knew’ (perceived or recognised), we have ‘accepted.’ Every change seems to point to a more intimate relationship, a clearer manifestation, and a rejection that is still more without excuse. The Word, who was in the world (comp. Proverbs 8:31), had His home with the chosen people (Exodus 19:5; Psalms 76:2), to which had been given the revelation of the truth of God (Romans 9:4). It is still mainly of the Pre-incarnate Word that John speaks. In the whole history of Israel had been illustrated unfaithfulness to the truth (comp. Luke 11:49-42.11.50; Acts 7:51-44.7.53); and the tender pathos of this verse recalls the words in which Jesus speaks of the rejection of Himself (Matthew 23:37).
John 1:12. But as many as received him, to them gave he right to become children of God, even to them that believe in his name. We have beheld the light shining in the darkness (John 1:10-43.1.11); the thought of this verse is, that the darkness overcame it not! As we have already seen (see note on John 1:11), the language again becomes altogether general. Whosoever ' received Him,’ to whatever period of time or nation they might belong, won the gift here spoken of. There is a perceptible difference between ‘accepted’ (John 1:11 and ‘received,’ as here used. Whilst the former lays emphasis on the will that consented (or refused) to receive, the latter brings before us the possession gained; so that the full meaning is, As many as by accepting Him received Him. The gift is not directly stated as ‘sonship,’ perhaps because the full manifestation of this blessing belongs to the latter days alone (comp. on chaps, John 3:5, John 7:39; Romans 8:15), whereas the Evangelist would here include the time of incomplete revelation which came before the Incarnation. Then, as now, men accepted or refused Him; but for those who accepted was reserved ‘some better thing’ (Hebrews 11:40) than had yet been clearly made known to man. We must not fail to note (for in these wonderful verses everything is significant) that there is special fitness in the expression ‘ children ’ rather than ‘sons of God;’ for, whereas ‘sonship’ is often spoken of in connection with mere adoption, stress is here laid on an actual (though spiritual) paternity. The right or authority thus to become children of God is given by the Word ‘to them that believe in His name.’ It is very important to discriminate between the different phrases which John uses in relation to belief or faith. On the one hand we have the simple expression ‘to believe Him’ (as in chaps, John 8:31, John 5:38, etc.), usually denoting the acceptance of something said as true. On the other hand, we find very frequently in the New Testament, but especially in the writings of John, a remarkable combination of ‘believe’ with a preposition literally meaning ‘into,’ by which is denoted not merely an acceptance of words or professions, but such an acceptance of the Person trusted, such an approach of the heart towards Him, as leads to union with Him. This peculiarly Christian formula is by some rendered ‘believe in,’ by others ‘believe on.’ Both renderings are found in the Authorised Version. We have uniformly adopted the former, because it most clearly indicates the union towards which the faith tends. There are a few passages (see the marginal references) in which, as here, this phrase ‘believe in’ is followed by ‘the name.’ We have already-seen with what fulness of meaning John uses the word ‘name.’ As in many passages of the Old Testament, the ‘name’ expresses the sum of the qualities which mark the nature or character of a person (comp. Exodus 34:5-2.34.6). It is hard to fix the precise distinction between ‘believing in Him’ and ‘believing in His name.’ Perhaps we may say that, in the former case, the believer trustfully yields himself up to the Person, in the latter, to the revelation of the Person. Those who in chap. John 2:23 are spoken of as believing ‘in the name’ of Jesus, had not reached the personal union which believing in Jesus implies; but through their trustful acceptance of His revelation of Himself, the higher gift, the closer knowledge, might soon be gained. Here the ‘name’ cannot but recall John 1:1: the ‘name’ Word expressed the nature of the Person (comp. John 1:6).
John 1:13. Which were begotten, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. The spiritual history of those who are spoken of in John 1:12 is here continued, and the nature of their sonship more fully defined. It is easy to see that in the three clauses there is a distinct progress of thought, the second (containing the thought of ‘will’) being more definite than the first, the third (in which ‘man’ is substituted for ‘flesh,’ a person for human nature in general) being again more definite than the second. The three clauses, however, really express but one main idea; what that is must be learnt from the contrast in the closing words, ‘but (they were begotten) of God.’ These believers have received the right to become ‘children of God’ by virtue of a true spiritual filiation, being begotten of God. The contrast to such a sonship is the very claim which is so strongly made by the Jews in chap. 8, and the validity of which our Lord altogether denies. The recollection of that chapter, which only brings into bold relief the habitual assumption of the Judaism of that day, will be sufficient to explain the remarkable emphasis of this verse, the threefold denial that men become children of God by virtue of any natural hereditary descent. Although it is the claim of the Jews that is here in the writer’s thought, yet, as often elsewhere, the Jews are the type of the world at large; by others besides Jews like presumptuous claims have been made, others have rested in the ‘divinity’ of their race. It is very possible that the peculiarity of the first clause (literally ‘not of bloods ’) may be thus explained.
John 1:14. And the Word became flesh. With this verse we enter upon the fuller and more concrete aspect of the Word appearing among men. As personally come in the flesh, however, the Word contrasts with what He was in His preexistent state; and hence, before we have the Baptist introduced to us, we have statements exactly parallel to those of John 1:1-43.1.5. That now before us corresponds to John 1:1, for the Incarnate Word in Himself is here spoken of. He who was in the beginning, who was with God, who was God, ‘became flesh;’ did not merely take to Him a human body, did not merely become an individual man, but assumed human nature in its entireness (see chaps, John 12:27, ‘soul;’ John 13:21, ‘spirit’), identified Himself with the race, entered into such a condition that He could have perfect communion and fellowship with us, and we with Him. The word ‘became’ does not denote that His divine nature was laid aside, and that His mode of being was simply human until, in the accomplishment of His work, He gradually transformed His human mode of being and regained for it all the glory of the divine. Were such a view correct, it would follow that when the divine was regained the human was laid aside, and that the humanity of the exalted Redeemer is not now as real as it was during His earthly course. No such thought is suggested by ‘became,’ for this word does not imply that the former state of being exists no longer. What is really indicated is the passing into a new state, a transition rather than a transformation. The Word remains, with all His essential properties; there is added a new mode of being, the assumption of a new nature, denoted by ‘flesh.’ The most important parallels to this verse are 1 John 4:2 and 2 John 1:7; these passages differ from the present in that the historical name ‘Jesus Christ’ is substituted for the Word, and that for the mysterious words ‘became flesh’ we read ‘hath come’ (or ‘cometh’) ‘in flesh.’
And he set his tabernacle among us, and we beheld his glory (glory as of an only begotten from a father), full of grace and truth. As the first clause of this verse corresponded to John 1:1, so these clauses correspond to John 1:2-43.1.5; only that, whereas there we had those properties of the Word in virtue of which He gives life and light in their most general form to all, here we have those in virtue of which, as the now completed revelation of the Father, He carries this life and light onward to perfection in such as truly receive Him. Still, however, it is the glory of the Word in Himself that is before us; if men are introduced in the words which follow as beholders of His glory, it is that our thought may rest, not on the blessing man thus receives (that is expressed below, John 1:16-43.1.18), but on the witness borne to the glory of the Incarnate Word. The figure of this verse is taken from the Old Testament (Leviticus 26:11; Ezekiel 37:27, etc.); the Tabernacle was the meeting-place of God and Israel, the house in which Jehovah dwelt in the midst of his people. With the image of a tent or tabernacle is often associated the thought of transitoriness; but that the word used here does not necessarily carry with it this thought is sufficiently proved by the language of the final promise, ‘The tabernacle of God is with men, and He shall set His tabernacle with them: (Revelation 21:3). As the Shechinah dwelt in the Tabernacle, in the midst of the camp of Israel, so ‘the Word become flesh’ dwelt ‘among us.’ Some have taken the last words to mean ‘in us,’ and to contain a new reference to the assumption of human nature; but this view seems plainly inconsistent with the words which follow, ‘we beheld His glory,’ the meaning of which is fixed by the opening passage in the First Epistle (1 John 1:1-62.1.3). The glory was like that of an only son sent from a father; no image but this, it has been well said, ‘can express the twofold character of the glory, as at once derivative and on a level with its source.’ In the only son are concentrated all the characteristics of the father; on him all the father’s love is poured; to him belongs the whole inheritance; on him the father, when he sends him forth on an embassy, bestows all the plenitude of his power. The translation we have given is, we believe, that which the Greek words absolutely demand; it appears to us, moreover, to be the only rendering that gives meaning to the word of comparison ‘as,’ or preserves the progress of the Evangelist's thought. As yet there has been no word bringing in the thought of Divine Sonship. The attributes and working of the Divine Word have been continually before us; here the glory of the Word become flesh is compared with that of an only son sent from a father; but it is not until John 1:18 that these elements are combined into one supreme utterance of truth. The last words of the verse must be connected with the subject of the sentence: ‘He (the Word) set His tabernacle among us, full of grace and truth.’ They go far towards explaining the ‘glory’ which the disciples ‘beheld.’ That the Word has been from the beginning of the world’s history the bestower of ‘grace and truth,’ is implied in the imagery of the earlier verses (John 1:4; John 1:9); that which has been involved in the teaching respecting the Pre-incarnate Word is clearly stated here of the Word become flesh. But this fulness of grace and truth does not exhaust the meaning of the ‘glory.’ In the glory of the Incarnate Word there are two elements, as His one Person unites two natures: in part the glory is unique (in kind and not only in degree), belonging to the God-man and not to the perfect Man; in part it is communicable to men, as Jesus Himself says, ‘The glory which Thou gavest me I have given them.’
John 1:15. John beareth witness concerning him, and hath cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me has become before me, because he was before me. We have seen that John 1:14 is parallel to John 1:1-43.1.5. In like manner this verse is parallel to John 1:6-43.1.8; but it is also an advance upon those verses, containing the Baptist’s witness to the Personal Word become flesh, not to the Word as the general Light of men. ‘Beareth witness,’ not ‘bare witness’ (John 1:32). It is as if the Evangelist would say, Of this John is the witness; his testimony abides, unchanging, always present. The same thought comes out more distinctly still in the verb which follows, ‘hath cried.’ (The usual translation ‘crieth’ seems on various grounds less probable.) The loud cry of the faithful witness has come down through all the years; we seem to hear its echoes still. The Baptist clearly refers to witness which he had borne after Jesus appeared; hence the words, ‘This was he.’ It is unusually difficult to find a rendering that will fully convey the meaning of this verse. As the word ‘before’ occurs in two members of the verse, the English reader inevitably considers the contrast to be between ‘is preferred’ (or ‘is become’) and ‘he was.’ In reality, ‘before’ here answers to two different words. A literal translation will show at once the meaning and the difficulty of finding an easy expression of the meaning: ‘He that cometh behind me has become in front of me, because He was before me.’ Jesus came ‘after’ or ‘behind’ John, as coming later in His manifestation to the world. As the later in time, it might have been expected that He would take rank alter him who was His predecessor; but He has been advanced before John; the reason of this is given in John’s declaration, ‘He was before me.’ That which these words directly affirm is priority of time; but, as in respect of human birth this could not be affirmed of Jesus, the words bring into view a preexistence so transcendent as of itself to assert an infinite superiority to every other man. This anterior dignity explains why He that followed John has come to be before him. The herald came first, to prepare the way for the King; when the King arrives, the herald retires from view. The last words of the verse require further notice. They are not fully represented by ‘before me,’ as if they contained nothing beyond a comparison of Jesus with the Baptist. The former word is absolute, ‘He was first;’ the other word is added because a comparison is needed, ‘first in regard of me.’ We might almost paraphrase the very remarkable combination thus: First, and (by consequence) before me.
John 1:16. Because out of his fullness we all received, and grace for grace. In order to understand this verse, and especially the very difficult word ‘because,’ with which the true read ing of the verse begins, we must look at the structure of the whole passage. Along with John 1:17-43.1.18, this verse is parallel to John 1:9-43.1.13; and John 1:14, as we have seen, answers to John 1:1-43.1.5. The last verse in like manner stands related to John 1:6-43.1.8; and, as these verses are introduced between John 1:5 and John 1:9, which might be read continuously, the subject remaining the same, so is John 1:15 almost parenthetical, bringing in (as in the earlier verses) the witness of John before the statement of the results following the manifestation of the Word. The words ‘we all received’ and ‘His fulness’ are sufficient to show that the verse is a continuation of the thought of John 1:14, and belongs to the Evangelist, not to the Baptist. If, then, John 1:15 is parenthetical, the present verse is naturally introduced by the word ‘because.’ We have here an illustration of the extreme importance which John attaches to Christian experience. In John 1:9 we have had the fact of what the Word bestows. Here we have more. We have the answer of Christian experience to the fact. We have not merely the light lightening, but the light appropriated, its value appreciated, its power felt. John 1:14 had not described Christian experience. The word ‘beheld’ there used had only assumed it (see the comment), and had mentioned the witness which it gave. Now we have the description itself: hence the ‘because.’ We beheld the glory of the Word become flesh, and are able to speak of that glory, ‘ because out of His fulness,’ etc. The last stage of the Prologue is thus reached, because the highest point of thought is attained. No more can be said when the appropriation of the Word is complete.
The fulness spoken of is that of grace and truth, which so reside in the Incarnate Word that nothing more can be added. It is an absolute, not a comparative fulness, a proof again that no part of that fulness is to be won back in the progress of the Messianic work. That fulness resides in the ‘Word become flesh,’ as such. ‘Out of’ it ‘we all’ believers, who beheld His glory, among whom He set His tabernacle received. The thing is past. We received Him (John 1:12). When we received Him, He communicated Himself to us. His fulness, so far as we could receive it, was made ours. Hence it is not said what we received; because it was not a gift bestowed by His fulness, but the measure of that fulness itself which we were capable of receiving.
We are thus led also to the clear meaning of the last clause of the verse, ‘and grace for grace.’ Not exactly ‘grace upon grace,’ as if the meaning were successive measures of grace, one added to another; but grace given in fresh measure as each preceding measure has been improved, the ‘fulness’ constantly more and more made ours until we ‘are fulfilled unto all the fulness of God’ (Ephesians 3:19). It is Christian experience again.
John 1:17. Because the law was given through Moses: grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. It is very possible that this verse should be taken as directly parallel to John 1:11; hence the definite reference to the pre-Christian revelation here (see note on John 1:11). The thought of Christian experience again explains the connection of this verse with the preceding. The law is not undervalued. It was divine. It was a gift of God. It was a gift through the great Lawgiver of whom Israel was proud. But it was a fixed unalterable thing, with definite boundaries, not stretching out into the illimitable and eternal. It could not express unbounded grace and truth, unbounded love, because in its very nature law has limits which it cannot pass. Now, however, there has ‘come’ (a far higher word than ‘was given’) a fulness of grace and truth, within which we stand, and which we are to appropriate more and more, vast, illimitable, as is that God who is love. Hence, therefore, the experience of John 1:16 is possible. It will be noted that the two thoughts of this verse are placed side by side (see John 1:10), though in reality the first is subordinate to the second.
And now comes in the great Name as yet unnamed, but named now in all the universality of its application, the Name which embraces historical Christianity in its whole extent as the religion both of Jew and Gentile, the religion of man, the name which, in its one half (‘Jesus,’ Joshua, Jehoshua, ‘Jehovah is Salvation’) expresses the purpose of all God’s dealings with man, and in its other half (‘Christ’) the Divine consecration of the Redeemer to His work. The verbs of this verse are used with great propriety, ‘was given’ of what was incidental in origin and temporary induration; ‘came’(literally, ‘became’)of what, though revealed in time, was an eternal reality.
One reflection alone remains, and then the Prologue may close.
John 1:18. No one hath seen God at any time; One who is only begotten God, he that is in the bosom of the Father, he declared him. It is not possible in a commentary such as this to defend the reading which we here adopt, ‘God’ instead of ‘Son.’ But the passage is so extremely important that we may be permitted for once to depart from our usual practice of not referring to other writers, and to commend to our readers one of the finest critical Dissertations ever published in any language upon a reading of the New Testament. We refer to that by Dr. Hort of Cambridge upon this text (Macmillan, 1876). We add only that by thus reading we preserve an important characteristic of the structural principles of our Evangelist, that which leads him at the close of a section or a period to return to its beginning. The word ‘God’ here corresponds to ‘God’ in John 1:1.
‘No one hath seen God at any time.’ The contrast is to ‘we beheld’ in John 1:14, and the words describe God in His nature as God; He dwelleth in light that is inaccessible. The soul longs to see Him, but this cannot be. Is then its longing vain, its cry unheard? The Evangelist answers, No. One has ‘declared’ Him, has, as the Word, unfolded and explained Him. And the glorious fitness of the Word to do this is pointed out in three particulars, all showing how fitly He could do that which none other could do. (1) He is ‘only begotten,’ Son among all other sons in His own peculiar sense, who is fully able to represent the Father, to whom all the perfections of the Father flow. (2) He is God not only Son, but, as Son, God, Himself divine, not in a metaphorical sense, but possessing all the attributes of true and real divinity. (3) It is He who ‘is in the bosom of the Father.’ The climax of thought, and the consideration that here are mentioned the conditions which make it possible for Jesus to be the complete Interpreter of the Father, preclude our taking these words as referring to the state which succeeded the resurrection and ascension, in the sense, ‘He that hath returned to the bosom of the Father.’ He of whom the Evangelist speaks is more than ‘only begotten,’ more than ‘God.’ He is ‘in the bosom of the Father.’ In Him God is revealed as a Father; without Him He can be revealed only as God. The words thus include more than ‘with God’ in John 1:1, more than the Divine self communion, the communion of God with God. The fatherly element, the element of love, is here. Out of that element of love, or of grace and truth, the Son comes; into it He returns. It is of the very essence of His being so to do. He did so from eternity. He did so in time. He shall do it in the eternity to come. Not less does it belong to the profoundest depths of His nature to do so, than to be ‘only begotten,’ to be ‘God.’ Therefore is He fully qualified to declare the Father, whom to know as thus made known in Jesus Christ (John 1:17) is that ‘eternal life’ after which the heart of man feels, and in the possession of which alone is it completely blessed (comp. John 17:3, John 20:31).
One remark has still to be made upon a point which may seem at first sight to interfere with the correctness of that view of the structure of the Prologue which (as we have seen) is not only a matter of interest, but also a guide in the interpretation. There is no mention of the rejection of the Word in John 1:14-43.1.18. But this fact when rightly considered rather confirms what has been said. It illustrates that progress which in this Gospel always accompanies parallelism.
In John 1:1-43.1.5, the first section of the Prologue, we have seen that rejection is implied.
In John 1:6-43.1.13, the second section, it is fully brought out.
In John 1:14-43.1.18, the third section, it is overcome.
Thus also, taking the Gospel as a whole, it is implied in the section immediately preceding the Conflict (chaps, John 2:12 to John 4:54). It is fully brought out in the section of Conflict (chaps, John 5:1 to John 12:50). It is overcome in the section following (chaps, John 13:1 to John 17:26).
How unique, how wonderful is the plan of the Gospel! How much light does the whole cast upon each part, how much each part upon the whole!
John 1:19. And this is the witness of John, when the Jews sent unto him from Jerusalem priests and Levites to ask him, Who art thou? The preceding verses (John 1:1-43.1.18) are so strongly marked in character, and so distinctly constitute one coherent whole, that we cannot but place them in a section by themselves. And yet they do not form a distinct preface to the book (such, for example, as we find in Luke 1:1-42.1.4), for the first word of the present verse (with which the regular narrative commences) shows that this section must be connected with what goes before. It is possible that this connection is really very close. The words ‘this is the witness of John’ do not necessarily mean ‘this witness which follows is the witness of John;’ the Evangelist’s ordinary usage in similar cases suggests that the sense intended is rather, ‘And of this kind confirmatory of the preceding statements is the witness,’ etc. Such an interpretation best accounts for the use of the present tense, ‘this is ’ (comp. John 1:15), standing in striking contrast to the past tenses which immediately follow; it also throws light on the remarkably emphatic words which form the first half of John 1:20. Thus viewed, the present section attaches itself to John 1:15; what is there given in a general form is now related with greater fulness, in connection with the circumstances of the history. The ‘witness’ directly intended is that of John 1:19-43.1.27; but we must also include the very important testimony borne on the following day, especially that of John 1:33-43.1.34, which presents (in a different form) some of the leading truths of the Prologue. As in the earlier Gospels, the mission of Jesus is introduced by the Baptist; the peculiarity of John’s narrative consists in this, that the Baptist’s testimony is obtained in answer to a question asked by ‘the Jews,’ who send a deputation to him 'from Jerusalem,’ the centre of the theocracy.
In this mention of ‘the Jews’ we meet for the first time with one of the most characteristic terms of the Fourth Gospel. In the other Gospels the expression occurs only fifteen or sixteen times, and twelve of these instances are examples of a single phrase, ‘King of the Jews,’ and that phrase used by Gentiles. The remaining passages are Mark 7:3; Luke 7:3; Luke 23:51; and Matthew 28:15 (slightly different from the rest in the absence of the article). In this Gospel in addition to six examples of the title ‘King of the Jews,’ used as in the other Gospels we find more than fifty passages in which the Evangelist himself (not quoting from any Gentile) speaks of ‘the Jews.’ Had the author of this Gospel been a Gentile, this usage might have seemed very natural; but it is no less natural in the case of a writer who, though a Jew by birth, has long been severed from his countrymen through their rejection of his Lord. The leaders and representatives of the nation in this rejection of Jesus are those whom John usually designates as ‘the Jews.’ When the other Gospels speak of opposition on the part of Pharisees, chief priests, elders, scribes, Sadducees, or lawyers, John who mentions none of these classes except Pharisees and chief priests, and these not very frequently) is wont to use this general term. The mass of the people, the led as contrasted with the leaders, he speaks of as ‘the multitude’ or ‘the multitudes.’ Hence in most of the passages in which we meet with ‘the Jews,’ we must understand the party possessed of greatest influence in the nation, the representatives of Judaism, the leaders in opposition to Jesus. Even where the term is used in a wider sense, it does not simply designate the nation; when employed by the Evangelist himself, it almost always bears with it the impress of one thought that of general unfaithfulness, of a national depravation which culminated in the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus.
There is nothing to indicate that the deputation here spoken of was sent by the Sanhedrin; but it appears to have been formal and important, composed as it was of persons belonging to the two classes which, in the Old Testament, represent the service of the Temple ( Jos 3:3 ; 2 Chronicles 30:27; Ezekiel 44:15). If we add to this the fact that, as appears from John 1:24, Pharisees also were present, the striking character of the scene before us will be manifest. On the one side is the Baptist, standing alone in the startling strangeness of his prophetic mission; on the other are all who either possessed or had assumed religious authority in Israel the Jews, the priests, the Levites, and the Pharisees. The question, ‘Who art thou?’ has reference to the supposed personal claims of the Baptist. Might it not be that one who had so suddenly appeared in the wilderness, and who had produced so profound an effect upon all classes, was the very Messiah anxiously waited for at this time? Compare Luke 3:15.
We enter here upon the second great division of the Gospel, extending from John 1:19 to John 2:11, and containing the presentation of Jesus, as He takes His place in the field of human history and, alike in the witness borne to Him by the Baptist and in His manifestation of Himself to His disciples, shows us what He is. When we know Him we shall be prepared to follow Him, as He enters upon and accomplishes His work in the world. That work in the proper sense of the word does not yet begin. The first section of this division extends from John 1:19 to John 1:34, and contains the witness of the Baptist. The subordinate parts of this section are (1) John 1:19-43.1.28, the witness by the Baptist on the first day spoken of; (2) John 1:29-43.1.34, His witness on the second day.
John 1:20. And he confessed and denied not. And he confessed, I am not the Christ. The answer of the Baptist is reported with great solemnity. The effect of the double statement, ‘he confessed and denied not’ (comp. John 1:3; 1 John 2:4; 1 John 2:27) is to give peculiar impressiveness to the words: St. John thus brings into relief the single-minded faithfulness of the Baptist, and at the same time corrects mistaken opinions as to the character of his mission (see note on John 1:8). In the reply itself the first word is strongly emphatic, ‘It is not I who am the Christ.’ The Baptist thus prepares the way for the further statements which he is to make with the view of guiding his hearers to that Christ who is come, and whom with gradually increasing clearness he is to proclaim.
John 1:21. And they asked him, what then? Art thou Elijah? And he saith, I am not. The question was a natural one, for the thought of the coming of Elijah was intimately associated with that of the coming of Messiah (Malachi 4:5). The answer seems less natural, for our Lord, when He spoke of the Baptist, described him as ‘Elijah which was for to come’ (Matthew 11:14). It is possible that even the Baptist himself did not Know that he was ‘Elijah’ in this latter sense, and hence could reply without hesitation that he is not that prophet.
Art thou the prophet? And he answered, No. A third supposition is tried. Is he ‘the prophet’? A comparison of John 1:25 and John 7:40-43.7.41, with John 6:14-43.6.15, seems to lead to the conclusion that there were at this time two currents of opinion with regard to the coming prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15), the one distinguishing him from the Messiah, the other maintaining that the two characters would be united in ‘him that should come.’ But that a prophet would certainly appear at the opening of the Messianic age was expected by all. Hence the question, as now put, covered the only other supposition that could explain the important position which the Baptist had assumed, and which appeared to indicate that he was introducing a new era. But the main point with the Baptist is to show that, strictly speaking, he is simply the herald of that era. He is only to prepare the way for Him in whom it both begins and is completed (comp. Matthew 11:11-40.11.13). The new supposition is accordingly repudiated in terms as emphatic as before.
John 1:22. They said therefore unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? The Baptist has disowned the three suppositions that have been made. He is not ‘the Christ,’ not ‘Elijah,’ not ‘the prophet.’ The deputation now appeal directly to himself to state who he is.
John 1:23. He said, I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Isaiah. The words are from Isaiah 40:3, and, though slightly modified in form, they completely express the sense of the original passage. To captive Israel, whose warfare is now accomplished, whose iniquity is pardoned, the glorious approach of her Deliverer is proclaimed. He conies to lead back his people through the desert to their own land. The herald’s voice sounds in the desert, announcing the coming of the King, commanding that all obstacles be removed from the course of His triumphal march, and that through the wilderness there be made a highway for the Deliverer and for the people whom He has set free. The Baptist takes the words in their true application to the Messianic deliverance and kingdom. He speaks of himself as the herald, or rather as the herald ’s voice; as in John 1:8 , his personality, so to speak, is swallowed up in the message which he came to bring.
John 1:24. And some from among the Pharisees had been sent. We cannot doubt that these words are introduced to lead on to the following statement, rather than to give completeness to the account of the preceding verses. It is not necessary, however, to think of a second and entirely new deputation. The persons now introduced may have formed part of the first body of questioners. But the point of special interest to them is that which meets us in John 1:25, rather than that already spoken of, They were Pharisees, and the Pharisees considered themselves the guardians of the ordinances of religious worship amongst their countrymen. Hence the significance of the statements in John 4:1, John 9:13-43.9.15, John 12:42; and also of the question which is now addressed to the Baptist. That question does not necessarily indicate a hostile bearing towards him; nor during the earlier part of the life of Jesus do the Pharisees in general appear to have opposed the Saviour in the same manner as the ‘Jews’ (comp. on John 3:1, John 7:32).
John 1:25. And they asked him, and said unto him. Why baptizest thou then, if thou art not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet? The ‘Jews,’ the representatives of the theocratic spirit of the people, had been mainly concerned about the position of the Baptist in relation to the national hopes. Could it be that he was about to assume the government of the nation, and to lead it to victory? The Pharisees concern themselves more about the rite administered by the Baptist. It is the baptism of persons belonging to the chosen people that startles them. They might have viewed his baptism without surprise had he invited to it those only who were beyond the pale of Israel. But that one who, by his own confession, was neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet, should thus administer a rite symbolical of cleansing to those who, as Jews, were already clean, this it was that threw them into perplexity. On the significance of John’s baptism, see notes on chap. John 3:5 and Matthew 3:6.
John 1:26-43.1.27. John answered them, saying, I baptize in water. The meaning of the Baptist’s answer has been greatly obscured by the insertion of ‘but’ after these words. It has thus been supposed that the object of the Baptist is to depredate his baptism by bringing it into comparison with the baptism in the Spirit administered by Jesus. The two baptisms, however, are not as yet compared with one another. What John depreciated was himself, not the rite which he administered; and at John 1:31 he expressly magnifies his baptism, and points out its high prophetic significance. From this last-mentioned verse the import of the present clause must be determined. Even now John means, I baptize in water that I may call attention to Him whose way I am commissioned to prepare. For this purpose I am ‘a voice of one that crieth;’ for this purpose also ‘I baptize in water.’ In the midst of you standeth one whom ye know not, coming after me, the latchet of whose sandal I am not worthy to unloose. Now follows the great fact explanatory of all this divine work of preparation, that the One waited for is come. Three stages of His manifestation, however, are to be marked; and as yet we have only readied the first, ‘He standeth in the midst of you.’ So standing, He is distinguished by three characteristics: (1) ‘Ye know’ Him ‘not,’ the ‘ye’ being emphatic, ye to whom He would gladly reveal Himself: (2) He cometh ‘after me’ (see John 1:15): (3) His glory is so great that the Baptist is not worthy to unloose the latchet of His sandal. On the last words see note on Mark 1:7.
Such is the first testimony of the Baptist to Jesus. The fuller testimonies have yet to come. At this point, therefore, the narrative pauses to tell us that this testimony was given at the very place where the Baptist was at the moment making so profound an impression upon the people.
John 1:28. These things were done in Bethany beyond Jordan. There can be no doubt that Bethabara is not the true reading in this verse. Origen, writing in the third century, states that he found Bethany in almost all copies of the Gospel. This statement is decisive. It cannot be set aside, nor indeed is it even lessened in weight, by the fact that Origen himself, owing to his inability to identify Bethany, believed Bethabara to be the place intended. The existence of another Bethany, near Jerusalem, presents no difficulty, as it was not uncommon for two places to bear the same name. The instances of Bethsaida (Luke 9:10; Mark 6:45), Carmel, Cæsares, etc., are well known. It is even possible that the two names, though alike written Bethania in Greek, may in their original Hebrew form have been different words; just as, for instance, the ‘Abel’ of Genesis 1:2 is altogether different in actual form from the ‘Abel’ of 2 Samuel 20:14. This Bethany may have been small and unimportant; Bethabara, on the other hand, seems to have been so well known, that the addition of the words ‘beyond Jordan’ would have been less natural. Of the situation of Bethany we know no more than we are told in this verse (comp. chap. John 2:1). It has been variously placed, near Jericho, near Scythopolis (a few miles south of the Sea of Galilee), and by one recent writer, Caspari, a little to the north of that sea. The last opinion seems the least probable of the three. The second testimony of the Baptist is now presented to us.
John 1:29. The next day he seeth Jesus coming unto him. The ‘day’ is that immediately following the day of the first testimony, and the climactic arrangement of the narrative is already perceptible. Already Jesus is in a different position. On the previous day He was spoken of as ‘coming after’ John; now He is ‘coming unto’ him. Then He stood unknown, unrecognised, amidst the throng; now He is expressly pointed out by His forerunner. Then it was His elevation above John that was expressed; now it is the greatness of His work in itself.
And saith, Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. The translation of this clause has been disputed (see the margin of the Authorised Version), but without good reason. The idea of ‘ taking ’ or ‘bearing’ sin is indeed of very common occurrence in the Old Testament; but it is not expressed by the word here used, which denotes taking away, removal. In meaning, however, the two renderings would almost coincide, since the metaphor of the verse is sacrificial: in the thought of bearing sin as an atoning sacrifice is involved the removal of the punishment deserved and of the sin itself. There is only one other passage of the New Testament in which this expression is found, 1 John 3:5, and there the meaning is very clear. A much more difficult question remains: What is the Baptist’s meaning when he speaks of ‘ the Lamb of Goa’? The answer which perhaps now finds most favour with commentators is, that this particular image was directly suggested to his mind by the memorable prophecy of Isaiah 53:0, in one verse of which (John 1:7) there is an allusion to ‘a lamb.’ But there are serious difficulties in the way of this explanation. A reference to the chapter will show that in that verse the prophet speaks of the ‘lamb’ as an example of uncomplaining patience, and not in connection with taking away sin. ‘He was oppressed, although he submitted himself, and opened not his mouth; as a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep dumb before her shearers; and he opened not his mouth.’ Again, had the prophecy of this chapter been definitely the source of the Baptist’s words, we might surely have looked for some close resemblances of language. But such coincidences are not to be found in any part of the chapter: the ideas of taking and bearing sin are prominent, but they are expressed by words altogether different from that here used. If we are thus obliged to look away from Isaiah’s great prophecy of Messiah, we naturally turn to the Mosaic ritual of sacrifice. Again we are met by difficulties. It would seem impossible to bring in here the thought of any other than the sin-offering, and yet it was only occasionally, and almost as an exception, that a sin-offering consisted of a lamb (Leviticus 4:32). The lamb of the morning and evening sacrifices was a burnt-offering. There remain only two other explanations of the phrase. It is just possible that ‘the lamb’ merely indicates a sacrificial victim, the gentleness and harmlessness of this animal making it especially suitable as a type. It is, however, much more probable that the Baptist spoke of the paschal lamb. The peculiar definiteness of the expression ( ‘the Lamb of God’) will in this case need no explanation: no thought was more familiar to the Israelite than that of the lamb for the Passover; and, we may add, few thoughts are brought out in this Gospel with greater distinctness than the relation of the Lord Jesus to the paschal sacrifice and feast (see notes on chaps, 6 and 19). As the institution of the Passover preceded the general Mosaic legislation, its laws and arrangements lie without the circle of the ordinary ritual of sacrifices, and combine ideas which were otherwise kept distinct. The paschal supper resembles the peace-offerings, the characteristic of which was the sacred feast that succeeded the presentation of the victim (Leviticus 5:15), an emblem of the fellowship between the accepted worshipper and his God. But the sin-offering also is included, as a reference to the original institution of the Passover will at once show. The careful sprinkling of the blood upon the door-posts was intended to be more than a sign to the destroying angel whom to spare. The lamb was slain and the blood sprinkled that atonement might be made for sin: when Israel is consecrated anew to God, the sin and the deserved punishment removed, the sacred feast is celebrated. It has been suggested that the nearness of the Passover (see chap. John 2:13) may have presented these thoughts to the Baptist’s mind. It is still more likely that one who was enabled so clearly to discern the meaning of the Old Testament as to recognise the removal of ‘the sin of the world’ as the object of Messiah’s coming, would see from the first how fitly that ordinance, in which Israel’s redemption began, associated itself with the approaching redemption of the world. It is the world’s Passover, both the sacrifice and the feast, that John sees to be at hand. With this verse compare especially 1 Peter 1:18-60.1.19; Revelation 5:6; Revelation 5:9. The marginal references will show to what an extent this Gospel is pervaded by the thought of ‘the world’ as the object of Christ’s saving work.
John 1:30. See the note upon John 1:15. Here, as there, the words refer to testimony given by the Baptist to Jesus at some point of time and on some occasion not recorded.
John 1:31. And I knew him not: but that be may be made manifest to Israel, therefore came I, baptizing in water. The explanation of the first clause of this verse will be best given when we come to John 1:33. The object which the Baptist here assigns for his work of baptizing may at first sight seem to be different from that mentioned in the earlier Gospels, where he is spoken of as sent to prepare the way of the Lord. Attention to the words used by John will remove all difficulty. ‘Israel’ is not to be limited to the Jewish nation. It embraces the true theocracy of God, neither Jews nor Gentiles as such, but all who will believe (comp. on John 1:47; John 1:49) ‘Made manifest,’ again, is not a mere outward manifestation, but a revelation of Jesus as He is. Thus the meaning of the words is not, ‘I baptize in water in order that Jesus may come to my baptism, and may there receive a testimony from on high;’ but, ‘I baptize that I may declare the necessity of that forsaking of sin without which no true manifestation of Jesus can be made to the heart.’ The words in their real meaning, therefore, are in perfect harmony with the accounts of the Synoptists. The advance of thought from the unrecognised Jesus of John 1:26 to the ‘made manifest’ of John 1:31 is obvious. It corresponds with the ‘standeth’ of John 1:26, and the ‘coming unto’ him of John 1:29; with the fact, also, that the one is the first, the other the second, testimony of the Baptist.
John 1:32. And John bare witness, saying. I have beheld the Spirit descending. The effect of what the Baptist had seen had remained, and still remains, with him in all its power: ‘I have beheld.’
And it abode upon him. John had not merely seen the Spirit descend with dove-like motion upon Jesus; he had also seen that it ‘abode’ upon Him, the symbol of an abiding and permanent possession.
John 1:34. And I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God. ‘ I have seen,’ for the result of the seeing abides unchanged and ever present: ‘I have borne witness, for the Baptist has entered on that one witness-bearing for which he was sent (John 1:7), and which it will henceforth be his office simply to repeat. It is particularly to be noticed that the ‘witness’ referred to is not that Jesus baptizes with the Spirit, but that He is ‘the Son of God,’ a designation which expresses the divine nature and character of Jesus, and with this the relation in which He stands to the Father. In one aspect He is God; in another He is the Son of God, the Son distinct from the Father. The link of connection between the transcendent conclusion of the Baptist and the fact upon which it rests is probably to be found in the thought that He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, who therefore has the power to impart the gifts and influence of the Spirit of God, must be Divine. The special form which this confession of our Lord’s divinity takes was, we cannot doubt, determined by the words spoken from heaven: ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:17).
It has been sometimes maintained that ‘Son of God’ must be understood as a mere designation of ‘the Messiah.’ For this opinion we believe that no evidence can be found, either in Scripture or in early Jewish writings. There are, indeed, passages in the Old Testament, acknowledged to be prophecies of the Messiah, in which a Divine Sonship is attributed to Him (see especially Psalms 2:7); but the name seems to be always indicative of nature, and not merely of office. How the name was understood by the Jews of our Lord’s day may be seen from chap. John 5:18-43.5.19, John 10:29-43.10.30; John 10:33.
It is important to compare this section with the corresponding portions of the other Gospels. The omissions are very remarkable. We say nothing of the Evangelist’s silence as to the circumstances of our Lord’s birth and early years; this belongs to the general plan of the Gospel, which here agrees with that of Mark. But it is noteworthy that nothing is said of the baptism of Jesus, or of the temptation which followed. To the baptism, however, there is a clear allusion in John 1:33-43.1.34; hence its place in the order of events is fore John 1:19. The temptation also was at an end before John ‘saw Jesus coming unto him’ (John 1:29). On the other hand, these verses contain many coincidences in language with the Synoptic Gospels. John’s application of Isaiah 40:3, and the contrast which he draws between himself, baptizing in water, and Him who shall baptize with the Holy Ghost, are related by every Evangelist. In all the Gospels, also, we find words similar to those of John 1:27.
John 1:35. And I knew him not. The first clause of this verse, like that of John 1:31, is attended with peculiar difficulty, for it is hardly possible to imagine that, intimately connected as the families of Jesus and of the Baptist were, the former should have been for thirty years personally unknown to the latter. Moreover, Matthew 3:14 seems distinctly to imply not only that such personal acquaintanceship existed before the baptism, but that the Baptist even then knew Jesus as greater than himself. Here, however, he says that until after the descent of the Spirit he ‘knew Him not.’ Without noticing the other explanations which have been given, we may observe that the solution of the difficulty is to be found in keeping distinctly before us the official and not personal light in which both Jesus and the Baptist are presented to us here. No denial of personal knowledge of Jesus has any bearing upon the point which the Baptist would establish. He is himself an official messenger of God, intrusted with a commission which he is to continue to discharge until such time as he is superseded by the actual arrival of Him whose way he prepares. But this latter is also the ‘Sent’ of God, and has particular credentials to produce. Until these are produced, the herald of His approach cannot ‘know’ Him in the only character in which he has to do with Him. No private acquaintanceship with Him and, we may even say, no private convictions as to His Messianic character will justify that recognition of Him before which alone the herald may give way. The great King from whom the herald and the Ambassador are alike sent has named a particular sign which shall attest the position of the latter, and close the labours of the former. That sign must be exhibited before the herald of the Ambassador's approach will be warranted to withdraw. Until then the one ‘knows’ not the other.
But he that sent me to baptize in water, he said unto me. Upon whomsoever thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and abiding upon him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Spirit. As to the sign, comp. John 1:32. It is the token that in Jesus are fulfilled the prophecies of the Old. Testament with regard to the pouring out of the Spirit in the Messianic age, and especially to the impartation of the Spirit to the Messiah Himself (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18), prophecies which describe the crowning glory of the latter days. John’s baptism could only point to the laying aside of sin; that of Jesus brought with it the quickening into spiritual life (comp. on John 3:5). It is to be noticed that the words ‘Holy Spirit’ are here used without the article. The object is to fix our attention, not upon the Spirit in His personality, but upon the power of that spiritual influence which He exerts. It would be better to translate, ‘the power of the Holy Spirit,’ were it not difficult to use such an expression, in conformity with the idiom of the English tongue, in the many passages where this particular form of the original is employed.
John 1:35-43.1.36. In these verses we have a new testimony borne by the Baptist to Jesus. In John 1:29 we were simply told that John ‘seeth Jesus coining unto him and saith;’ to whom the words were spoken we know not. There is therefore great importance in the definite statement of John 1:35, that John now spoke in the presence of disciples. The Baptist came to deliver a general witness respecting Jesus; but he also came to direct to Jesus all over whom he had gained influence. The words which he utters are few, so that the second testimony may seem inferior to the first. We may perhaps say that it is not really inferior. When the earlier words (John 1:29) had once made clear what was signified by the announcement of ‘the Lamb of God,’ this title by itself, in its own simplicity, really conveyed a fuller meaning. ‘The Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world’ brought to mind the paschal sacrifice; but in pointing to Jesus as ‘the Lamb of God,’ the Baptist, implying all that he had expressed before, presents to the thought all the symbolism of the words, with the true paschal sacrifice joining the true paschal feast.
The same general subject is continued in this section Jesus taking His place on the stage of history. We pass now, however, from the witness of the Baptist, given on two successive days, to the manifestation of Himself by Jesus to hearts open to receive and welcome Him. This manifestation takes place upon two successive days. The subordinate parts of the present section are (1) John 1:35-43.1.42, witness borne on the first of the two new days (the third day from that of John 1:19); (2) John 1:43-43.1.51, witness borne on the second day (the fourth day).
John 1:37. And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. The witness of the Baptist has its proper effect, an effect, we cannot doubt, foreseen and designed by himself (chap. John 3:27-43.3.30). Those who listen to it turn from him, and follow Jesus.
John 1:38. And Jesus turned and beheld them following, and saith unto them, What seek yet? They who thus follow Jesus shall not do so in vain. As in the sense of their own unworthiness they walked after Him, He turned, and inquired what they sought.
And they said unto him, Rabbi, which is to say, being interpreted, Teacher, where abidest thou? ‘Where is Thy permanent resting-place and home, that as pupils we may seek Thee there, and may abide with Thee till we have seen the glory of which we have heard?’ By the title Rabbi (which strictly meant my master or lord, but which in the time of Jesus had already come to be applied to teachers) they had been wont to address their own master (chap. John 3:26); and they naturally give the same name of honour to Jesus. When they have done with ‘seeking,’ when they have found Him, they will say more (comp. John 13:13).
John 1:39. He saith unto them, Come, and ye shall see. They came therefore and saw where he abode, and abode with him that day. The seeker shall not seek in vain. They had asked where He abode; and that the answer of Jesus was a direct meeting of their request is proved by the statement immediately made by the Evangelist, that ‘they came and saw where He abode.’ The nature of the intercourse is not described. We are left only to imagine from the confession of Andrew in John 1:41 what must have been the solemn teachings, the gracious communications of Himself by Jesus, the patient instructing of ignorance, the tender removal of doubts, until, in all the joy of their new discovery, they could say, ‘We have found.’ This much, however, we seem entitled to infer from the thrice-repeated ‘abide’ or ‘abode,’ a word characteristic of the Fourth Gospel, and always full of deep and solemn import, that the Evangelist designs to convey to us something more than the thought of mere outward presence with Jesus.
It was about the tenth hour. There are four passages in which the Evangelist directly refers to the hour of the day at which an event occurred (see chap. John 4:6; John 4:52, John 19:14). But for the last of these passages it might be natural to suppose that John, like the other Evangelists, reckons time from sunrise, an hour being the twelfth part of the (varying) interval between sunrise and sunset. As, however, Mark records (chap. John 15:25) that Jesus was crucified at the ‘'third hour’ (between 8 and 9 A.M.), and John expressly states that His condemnation was later than the ‘sixth hour,’ the probability that the latter writer follows a different reckoning is very strong. Further investigation has shown that at the very time when this book was written a mode of computation substantially agreeing with our own was known in Asia Minor (where John wrote) and elsewhere. It is easy to see that in such a matter as this a writer naturally follows the custom of those amongst whom he lives, and whom he has immediately in view as his readers. We shall assume, therefore, in each case that the hour (of fixed length, not variable) is reckoned from midnight or noon. Here the tenth hour will no doubt be the hour between 9 and 10 A.M.
John 1:40. One of the two which heard from John and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. Andrew belonged to Bethsaida (John 1:44), and is again referred to in John 6:8, John 12:22. That he is now spoken of as the brother of Peter is an interesting indication of the importance attached by the Evangelist to the latter. There is little reason to doubt that the second of the two was the Evangelist himself. Simon Peter, who has not yet been mentioned, is introduced to us here as if he were well known to the reader an illustration of the writer’s tendency to anticipate what is hereafter to be fully explained: we have an equally striking instance in the mention of Mary in chap. John 11:2.
John 1:41. He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messiah (which is, being interpreted, Christ). The peculiar language of this verse leads directly to the conclusion that each of the two disciples mentioned in the previous verse had gone in search of his brother, and the fact is not without interest as confirming the supposition that the second of the two disciples was John. Andrew and his brother, John and his brother, seem to have been the only two pairs of brothers in the apostolic band. The finding was not accidental. Andrew had gone in search of Peter, John of James. When Andrew found the object of his search, his joyful announcement was, ‘We have found the Messiah.’ This Hebrew term occurring only twice in the New Testament, here and at John 3:25, in the mouth of the woman of Samaria denotes ‘the Anointed One;’ and is immediately interpreted by the Evangelist, the Greek word ‘Christ’ having the same meaning. One of the great hopes of Israel was fulfilled.
John 1:42. He brought him to Jesus. There can be little doubt that Peter had shared the expectations and longings of his brother Andrew, as well as of all those more earnest spirits of the time who were waiting for ‘the consolation of Israel.’ He too had been ‘seeking,’ and he too finds.
Jesus looking upon him said. Thou art Simon the son of John: thou shalt be called Cephas. Jesus looked upon him with that divine glance which read the heart (comp. John 2:25); and, following the custom of which so many illustrations are afforded in the Old Testament, marked the great crisis in his life which had now arrived by giving him a new name, ‘Cephas,’ with which corresponds the Greek word Petros (a ‘stone’ or ‘piece of rock’). How much importance was attached by the Evangelist to this name given to his brother apostle will appear on other occasions in the course of his Gospel. The name Johannes, or John, corresponds to the Hebrew Jochanan; in Matthew 16:17 the same name is represented in a slightly different form (Jona).
John 1:43. The next day he would go forth into Galilee. On this day begins the journey consummated at John 2:1 (see note). And he findeth Philip; and Jesus saith unto him, Follow me. The first two disciples had ‘sought’ and ‘followed’ Jesus; then they had found Him. Now Jesus (seeks and) ‘finds’ Philip, and bids him follow Him (compare the two parables in Matthew 13:44; Matthew 13:46). We are left to infer that the command was immediately obeyed. The calling of Philip and of Nathanael is recorded by John alone; both Matthew and Mark relate that Jesus called to Him Andrew and Peter, James and John (Matthew 4:18-40.4.22; Mark 1:16-41.1.20; compare Luke 5:1-42.5.11); but it will be remembered that this was a second summons, later (by some months, probably) than the events of which we are reading here.
John 1:44. Now Philip was of Bethsaida, out of the city of Andrew and Peter. This verse appears to be inserted for the purpose of clearly showing that these three disciples were Galileans. The next verse would lead to a similar inference in regard to Nathanael, and this inference is confirmed by chap. John 21:2. It is thus an undesigned (but not the less striking) proof of the Johannine authorship of this Gospel that a similar statement is not made with regard to the two disciples of John 1:37-43.1.40. John is aware that he was himself well known to be a Galilean. In simple consciousness that he was so, and that no one would doubt it, he omits notice of the fact in his own case and that of his brother. But he felt it of importance to bring out the Galilean birth of the others. We might have supposed them to be Judeans; but Judas is the only Judean of the apostolic circle. The importance of the fact in the mind of the Evangelist is connected with the opinion entertained by him of ‘the Jews’ and of ‘ Judas.’
John 1:45. 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. It was in all probability on the journey from Bethany beyond Jordan to Cana of Galilee that Jesus had ‘found’ Philip. As on the journey recorded in Luke 24:13, the conversation turned on the things concerning the promised Saviour which were contained in ‘Moses and all the prophets;’ and to this conversation the particular form of conviction impressed upon the mind of Philip was due. He does not speak of Jesus simply as the Messiah (John 1:41), but as the fulfilment of the law and the prophets. There is an advance in fulness on the confession of John 1:41, and the special character of the advance is important; it helps to explain the words of the following verse. There is nothing accidental in the finding of Nathanael. Philip had gone in search of him in particular. Can we doubt that it was because he knew him to be specially fitted and ready to be a follower of Jesus?
John 1:46. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. The mind of Nathanael (who, from his close association with Philip, is probably to be identified with the Bartholomew of the earlier Gospels) is, as we shall more fully see below (John 1:47-43.1.48), full at the moment of that prophetic hope the fulfilment of which was associated, not with Nazareth, but with Bethlehem or Jerusalem. To him all good was summed up in the thought of the coming King; and it may have been that at the moment a place unconnected with the great promise of God seemed to him a place from which no good could come. Such considerations go far towards explaining his disparaging remark; though they do not completely remove the impression which we receive from the words, that Nazareth was a place held in very low esteem. We have, however, no other information that such prejudice (whether well or ill founded) existed; and the only notices in Scripture which can throw light on the subject are the records of the obstinate unbelief of the Nazarenes (Matthew 13:58) and their attempt upon the life of Jesus (Luke 4:29).
John 1:47. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him , Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile. Again, as at John 1:43, we are left to infer that the call thus addressed to Nathanael was obeyed; and in his obedience to it he illustrates the frame of mind for which he is immediately commended by Jesus. He is ingenuous, willing to be taught, ready to receive what is shown to him to be truth, however strongly it may conflict with his prepossessions. Jesus saw him as he drew near, and commended him as a genuine Israelite in whom there was no guile. The last words have been sometimes understood as if they were explanatory of the term Israelite, that term, again, being supposed, together with the word ‘guile,’ to allude to the history of Jacob. As the name of Jacob (‘supplanter’) was changed to Israel (‘prince of God’), the characteristic of this patriarch’s true descendants will be absence of guile. The suggestion is ingenious, but for several reasons hardly tenable. (1) It is guile of an entirely different kind that is here referred to; (2) There is no special connection between the qualities displayed by Jacob on the occasion when he received the name Israel and those that here distinguish Nathanael; (3) The part of Jacob’s history present to the mind of Jesus, in John 1:51, was the vision at Bethel, which belongs to a period much earlier than that in which his name was changed; (4) It is difficult to believe that ‘Israelite’ is intended to convey no meaning beyond absence of guile. It is rather to be taken as denoting one who belongs to the true people of God (comp. John 1:31); and the words that follow are then added to bring out its special meaning upon this occasion. Nathanael, in short, is ‘of God,’ is ‘of the truth,’ has no selfish impure aims, and therefore he shall be fully taught.
John 1:48. Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? The words of Jesus had been spoken while Nathanael was drawing near, and the latter heard them. He does not deny the truth of the commendation, and yet it can hardly be said, on the other hand, that he accepts it. It is enough for him that he sees that he is discerned by one whom he had not previously met, and what he asks is, Whence gettest Thou Thy knowledge of me? Who has told Thee anything about me?
Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Jesus replies by referring to a previous, probably recent, incident in his history. The heart of the guileless man had been so moved by the great thoughts stirring at that time with respect to the Saviour at hand, that he had retired under a fig tree to study the Scriptures, or meditate, or pray. It is this that (as the Greek implies) is now brought to his recollection not his being under the fig tree, but his having gone under it; and we are thus rather invited than forbidden to suppose that the emotions filling his heart at the moment, and impelling him to seek solitude, had been peculiarly strong. Then Jesus had seen him, and had recognised in him one of His sheep, just as His sheep recognise Him (John 10:16). If the incident had taken place in Nathanael’s own Cana, it must have been all the more striking to him that it should thus be known. But, however this may have been, these wonderful words of Jesus, coming suddenly upon him after long preparation for them and after the instructions just given him by Philip, at once set his heart on fire, and drew from him the memorable confession which follows.
John 1:49. Nathanael answered him, Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God; Thou art King of Israel. The confession is the highest that has yet been made, for it is impossible to understand ‘Son of God’ as the simple equivalent of Messiah (see note on John 1:34). Yet it is a confession coming out of the very heart of Old Testament prophecy, and to be accounted for by those circumstances of Nathanael’s past history and present position that have been already noticed. It was not merely of a great Deliverer that the prophets had spoken. They had spoken not less of Jehovah Himself as coming, and as coming to be their Deliverer and their King. In the second Psalm, in particular, we find the two ideas of the Son of God and of Zion’s King closely conjoined; and in the seventy - second Psalm the psalmist had described in glowing language that kingdom of peace and righteousness, extending over the whole earth, of which a shadow and type were afforded by the reign of Solomon. But if it be undeniable that these ideas were imbedded in the Old Testament, there is nothing inconceivable in their being gathered from it and enunciated by those who in meditation and prayer had caught its spirit. Add to this the self-evidencing power of the Person of Jesus, which must have been so much more to Nathanael than the mere record can be to us, and we need not wonder that he should thus acknowledge Jesus. Nor is there any warrant for describing his feelings as vague. What he did was to rise to the height of Old Testament prophecy; what he saw was that this must be Jehovah that was to come, the universal King.
The three confessions have risen as they have succeeded one another. Higher than the last they cannot rise. The Lord himself is come; His kingdom is without limit and without end.
John 1:50. 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. An intimation of that growth of divine revelation which this Gospel teaches us shall be made the portion of all,-of some to an ever-increasing fulness of blessing, of others to an ever-increasing fulness of judgment. For the one, see chap. John 14:12; for the other, chap. John 5:20. These ‘greater things’ are more particularly mentioned in the next verse.
John 1:51. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you. This is the first occasion on which we find the repeated ‘Verily,’ so characteristic of the discourses related in this Gospel. The formula is always employed to mark some important step in a discourse, where the words of Jesus either take some new start, or rise to some higher stage. Both these conditions are fulfilled in the verse before us. As to the first, it will be observed that Jesus no longer addresses Nathanael alone: the plural instead of the singular is used, and we must understand that He is speaking to all the disciples. As to the second, again, the words of themselves suggest the higher stage of revelation promised.
Ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. The figure is taken from Jacob’s dream (Genesis 28:12). A wanderer from his father’s house and country, he is encouraged by a vision which teaches him that earth is united with heaven, and that God’s messengers descend to minister to those who are the objects of God’s care. If the ascent of the angels is mentioned (in Genesis 28:0) before the descent, this is because to Jacob is shown an intercourse that already exists, not one that now begins. Some angels are already returning from earth, their ministries accomplished. What Jacob saw in vision is now in the highest sense fulfilled. There is real and unceasing intercourse between earth and heaven. It is to Jesus that the angels descend; it is from Him that they return to heaven; through His presence on earth this union between earth and heaven exists. Even though He is in His state of humiliation, it is His bidding that the angels do. Perhaps it is this thought that accounts for the mention (in this verse) of the ascending angels first. These words have no direct reference to the angelic visits received by Jesus at different points of His earthly ministry; still less can we refer them to miracles to be hereafter performed, greater even than that displayed to Nathanael, miracles of which the next chapter will furnish the first example. We have simply a symbolical representation of the fact that through the Incarnation and sufferings of Jesus heaven is opened, is brought into the closest and most constant communion with earth, so that the latter is itself transfigured with the glory of God’s special abode. This interpretation is confirmed by two circumstances mentioned in the verse: ( 1 ) Nathanael is to see ‘heaven standing open,’ not ‘opened’ as if it might again be closed, but opened so as to continue open. It is the complete withdrawal of the inner veil of the Tabernacle, so that all the children of God, now made priests and high priests unto God, even the Father, may pass freely into the innermost sanctuary and out of it again without interruption and without end. ( 2 ) Jesus speaks of Himself as the ‘Son of man.’ This important designation, often used by Jesus of Himself, once only used of Him by another (Acts 7:56), is not, as some maintain, a simple equivalent of ‘Messiah.’ It expresses rather One in whom all that truly belongs to humanity is realised, and by whom it is represented. Jesus is the Son of man, connected with no special race, or class, or condition, equally associated with all, equally near to all, in whom all are equally interested, and may be equally blessed. The designation is not a fourth confession, additional to the three that have been already made, for it comes from the lips of Jesus Himself. It is rather that in which all the confessions meet, the expression of the Personality to which they all belong. Jesus is the Incarnate Word, and as such He is the ‘Messiah,’ the One ‘of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write,’ the ‘Son of God and King of Israel.’ Every child of humanity, realising his true humanity in Him, has as his own the blessings associated with these three aspects of the Redeemer. He is anointed with the Holy Ghost, lives in that love which is the fulfilling of the law, is a son in the house of the Heavenly Father, himself a king. These are the ‘greater things’ which every one who is an ‘Israelite in deed’ shall see in the new creation introduced by the ‘Word become flesh,’ and enlightened by the full brightness of that Light in whose presence old things pass away, and all things are made new.
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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on John 1". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent