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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
John 1

 

 

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Verses 1-51

THE GOSPEL OF JOHN was evidently written some time after the other three Gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke had each told, in their divinely appointed way, the story of the birth, early years and entrance into ministry of Jesus Christ, and John takes their record for granted, since without it his opening paragraphs would be hardly intelligible. As the first century drew to its close, sufficient time had elapsed for the launching of attacks on the Person of Christ, as being the very citadel of the faith, and there were philosophic, semi-pagan notions floating about and attaching themselves to the doctrine, which would have been disastrous if they had not been met in the energy of the Spirit of God. Hence that energy was put forth in the writings of the Apostle John, about a quarter of a century, it would seem, after both Paul and Peter had finished their course.

The early Christians were much troubled by the so-called “Gnostics;” that is, the “Knowing-ones.” We have been made familiar with agnostics, that is, people who deny that any certain knowledge of God and His things is possible. The Gnostics were at the opposite pole: they claimed to be initiated and have the superior knowledge, but their theories denied both the essential Godhead and the true humanity of Jesus. Then there were those who separated Jesus from the Christ. The Christ was to them an ideal, a state into which man might graduate; whereas Jesus was the historic Man who appeared at Nazareth. The Gospel that John wrote meets these errors, and was designed to do so.

Before considering the opening words it may be well to read the two verses that conclude John 20:1-31, for in them the design before the mind of the Spirit in inditing this Gospel is stated. The miracles recorded are all “signs” that prove Jesus to be the Christ—so that there is no separation between the two. They prove Him also to be the Son of God; thus establishing His Deity. In the faith of these things life is found; while to refuse them is to abide in death. This is the objective of the Spirit of God in this Gospel and we shall need to keep it continually before us as we travel through it. We shall find it a very important key to the unlocking of its treasures.

The opening words of the first verse carry us back to the most remote moment that our minds are capable of conceiving: the moment when there began the first thing that ever had a beginning: the moment on the further side of which there was only—GOD. In that moment of “beginning” the Word “was,” that is, existed. He did not begin then; He existed then. His eternal Being is proclaimed, and we are carried back before the opening words of Genesis 1:1-31. Further He was “with God.” Our minds are still back at that remote moment, and we discover that then He was possessed of distinct Personality. The Word is not a title of the Godhead in a general way, apart from any special distinction, for in being “with God” a special, distinctive place is definitely stated.

This being so, the reasoning mind would be inclined to argue: then we cannot speak of the Word as being God in any full or proper sense; even if He is not exactly a creature, seeing He existed before creation. Such reasoning is flatly contradicted by the closing words of verse John 1:1, “the Word was God.” Essential Deity was His. Attempts have been made to weaken the force of this great statement, and translate it, “the Word was Divine,” or, “the Word was a god,” based upon the omission of the definite article; i.e., it does not say, “the Word was the God.” But we are told by those who know the Greek that there is in that language no indefinite article, and the word translated “God” is a strong one, denoting proper and absolute Deity; and had it stated that the Word was the God, it would have confined Deity to the Word and excluded therefrom the other Persons of the Godhead. The words are chosen with Divine exactitude: the Word was properly and absolutely God.

Then the second verse carries us back to the first and second statements of verse John 1:1. This distinct Personality which characterizes the Word is not something assumed at some subsequent point of time. Eternal Personality was His. In the beginning He was thus “with God,” for this distinction of Personality lies in the very essence of the Godhead. Thus we have had four things stated of the Word. His eternal Being; His distinct Personality; His essential Deity; His eternal Personality. Whatever else we may have to learn about the Word, here are four things that should bow us in lowly adoration.

A fifth thing confronts us in the third verse: He is the creatorial Originator, and that in the fullest sense. Now we come to things that were made; that is, came into being. In verses l and 2 a different word is used. The Word did not come into being: He was, for His being was eternal. But He originated all that came into being, for He created “all things.” To leave not the smallest loophole for an error, this is emphasized in the second part of the verse. The language is remarkable in view of the modern “science falsely so called,” so widely popularized, which endeavours to account for everything “without Him.” Unbelieving minds cling to the theory of evolution, in spite of a pathetic paucity of facts to support it, and the supports, that are alleged, being of the most fragile description, because while glorifying man it eliminates HIM. But in truth He cannot be eliminated. Of all the untold things that originally received being, not one received it apart from Him.

Ponder this fact; for here we have the explanation of the heavens declaring the glory of God, and of the fact that God has been made known to some extent in creation, as is indicated in Romans 1:19, Romans 1:20. The Word created all things and hence in creation there is a true expression, as far as it goes, of God Himself and of His mind. We give expression to our thoughts in words; and the import of this great name, WORD, is that He who bears it is the expression of all that God is; and, as verses John 1:1-2 show, He Himself essentially IS all that He expresses. Creation, as it sprang into being through the Word, was not a meaningless jumble but a declaration of the power and wisdom of God.

We reach a sixth great fact in the fourth verse. The Word has essential vitality. In Him life is not derivative but original and essential. Coupling this with all that has gone before, we perceive how fully the proper Deity of the Word is stated and guarded. The words used are of the utmost brevity and simplicity—every word in the first four verses except three is a monosyllable—yet they are charged with a Divine fulness of meaning, and like the sword of the cherubim in Genesis 3:24, they turn every way to keep inviolate in our minds the truth concerning the One who is the Tree of Life for man. This Gospel will presently show us how truly the life of the believer is derived from Him, but the point in verse John 1:4 is not that but rather, “the life was the light of men.” This is the point which is taken up more fully in the opening verses of John’s first Epistle. The life has been manifested, and consequently the God who is light, has come forth into the light, and in that light the believer walks.

The light in which men are to walk is not merely that of creation—wonderful as that is—but in that which has been displayed in the actions and words of the Word. When the Word was manifested, the light shone, but the scene, wherein the manifestation was made, was one of darkness. In Genesis 1:1-31 we read how by the Divine word the light of creation burst upon the darkness; and, lo! the darkness vanished. Here, we have light of a far higher order and it appears amidst moral and spiritual darkness, which could only be dispelled by a true apprehension of the light. Alas! that apprehension was lacking. Yet though the darkness remained there was no other light for men than “the life.” There is no contradiction in these statements for, as so often, John is speaking here of things according to their abstract nature, and has not yet arrived at the historical relation of events.

But how came it to pass that the life in the Word did actually shine in the darkness and become light to men? The answer to this question is in verse John 1:14. Before we reach that verse we have the important paragraph, verses John 1:6-13, where we do begin to view things from an historical standpoint, and John the Baptist is introduced in order to throw into relief the supreme importance of “the true Light.” This John was just a man who came into being as sent from God; his mission being to bear witness to the Light. It is true that he is spoken of as “a shining light” in John 5:35, but the word used there is “lamp” rather than “light.” John shone as a lamp and bore witness, but the true Light is He who, “coming into the world, lightens every man” (New Trans.). It is not that every man is enlightened, or verse John 1:5 would be contradicted, but that He was not a partial light, but rather like the sun which sheds its beams universally. No one nation could have a monopoly of the true Light; so at once this Gospel carries our thoughts beyond the narrow boundaries of Israel.

In the remainder of this paragraph (vv. John 1:10-13) we have further statements of an historical nature which amplify and clarify what we have been told in verses John 1:4-5. We have already learned that the Word is a Person in the Godhead, that His life shone as light for men, though in the midst of darkness; now we find that the world was the seat of that darkness, that He entered it, and that, though He had made the world, it had become so alienated that it did not know Him. In this verse again it is not Israel or the Jew, but the world. Such light as was shed through the prophets might be confined to Israel, but not the shining of the true Light.

The Apostle John often mentions the world in his writings, and he always uses a word which we have adopted in English when we speak of the “cosmos,” meaning, the universe as an ordered whole, or sometimes, in a more restricted sense, just our world as an ordered whole. That is the sense of the world in this verse. As Creator He had made the universe as an ordered whole, and a wonderful moment arrived when He was found in that cosmos in a special way. He was there by entering this smaller restricted cosmos, which sad to say had become perverted and alienated by sin—so perverted that it did not even know Him.

Then, further narrowing down the point, He came actually to a rather obscure corner of that cosmos, where were found His own things such as had been indicated by prophecy, but His own people—Israel—with whom those things were connected, did not receive Him. He was rejected, for the darkness could not apprehend Him. But, though that was so, there were exceptions, as this Gospel will proceed to show us. Some did receive Him, believing on His Name. They were not of the darkness. Their eyes were open and they apprehended Him, as seeing and believing the glory of His Name. As a consequence these received from Him authority to become children of God, and not better and more enlightened Jews. The word here is definitely “children;” another word that John uses habitually, rather than the word for “sons,” which is used more by Paul. There is a shade of difference between the two. The same blessed relationship with God is in view, but as sons our maturity and position in that relationship is more in view: as children the emphasis is laid on the fact that we have been truly and vitally born of God.

That is the emphasis here, as verse John 1:13 shows. The Jew boasted of having Abraham’s blood in his veins, just as today a man may boast of being born of aristocratic or even royal blood. Those humble souls, who as exceptions to the rule received Christ when He came, were born of God. The will of the flesh never would have produced it, for the flesh is altogether opposed to God. The will of man, not even of the best of men, could have produced it: it is wholly beyond man’s powers. Their birth was of God, as a Divine act; and the One whom they received in faith gave them the right formally to take the place that was thus vitally theirs.

How came it that the pious souls, of whom we get a glimpse in Luke 1:1-80; Luke 2:1-52, received the Christ the instant He appeared? Not because they had Abraham’s blood: not because the flesh in them was of so superior a type that it urged them to do so: not because they were influenced by the powerful will of some good man. Simply because they were born of God. It was a Divine act. When we reach John 10:1-42 we shall find the same basic fact stated in another way. When the Shepherd came to the fold He found there some who were “His own sheep,” who heard His voice and were led out by Him. Many there were who were His sheep nationally, who were not His own sheep in the sense in which Mary Magdalene and the disciples and the Bethany family and Simeon and Anna were. These people born of God were the ones that received Him.

Now, in verse John 1:14, we pick up the theme from verse John 1:5, and find a seventh great fact as to the Word. He became flesh and tabernacled among us. Verses John 1:1-2 tell us what He was essentially and eternally. Verse John 1:14 tells us what He became. He became flesh; that is, He assumed perfect Humanity; and thereby all the other six great facts are revealed to us and become available for us. Only when in this manner He put Himself into relation with the creature could this absolute and self-existent One be properly known by men.

The fact that the Word became flesh guarantees not only that He possessed a real human body (which was denied by some of the earliest heretics), but also that having passed by angels and “taken hold of the seed of Abraham,” He had become in every proper sense a Man. It is significant that it is in this Gospel, which starts with such a full assertion of His Deity, that He speaks of Himself as “a Man” (John 8:40). At last all that God is was revealed to men in a Man. He dwelt among us “full of grace and truth.” The basis of all truth lies in the knowledge of God. Had that knowledge reached us apart from grace it would have overthrown us; but here was One full of both grace and truth, and dwelling among us.

In verse John 1:14 there is a parenthesis, placed in brackets in our Bibles, but verse John 1:15 is also a parenthesis, though not placed in brackets. The first tells us that the Apostles, and as many others “as received Him” (v. John 1:12), beheld His glory, and it was “as of an only begotten with a father” (New Trans.), and not like the glory of Sinai. That was the glory attached to Majesty and righteous demand; this the glory connected with a dear and intimate relationship.

The second parenthesis briefly brings in John’s witness, which is referred to more fully a few verses later, to show that he discerned the pre-existence and therefore the Divine glory of the One to whom he bore witness. Historically He came after him, both in His birth and in His entrance upon ministry, but He existed before him, and so took the first and supreme place.

Eliminating in our minds the two parentheses, we get, “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; and of His fulness have all we received.” Again here is stated the result for the believing “we.” Only “as many as received Him” can truly say, “we received” of His fulness; but such can say it, and all of them can, thanks be to God! Fulness of grace and fulness of truth are the portion of each, even of the feeblest though they will never have explored all the fulness thereof. Grace is specially emphasized. We needed it, piled mountains high— “grace upon grace.” Through Moses the law was given, formulating God’s demands but establishing nothing. Grace and truth came into being down here and were actually established by the advent of Jesus Christ.

At last John has definitely identified the Person, known amongst men who is the Word. The Word was made flesh, dwelling among us, full of grace and truth: and, lo! this fulness is in Jesus Christ. This magnificent preface to the Gospel has led us straight to JESUS.

Having arrived there, we are given a further glimpse of His glory. He is the revealer of the God whom no man had ever seen. As the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He could fully declare Him as the

Father. In the word, “bosom,” we have a human figure, but we must not use it in a human way. The figure is used elsewhere in Scripture as indicating closest union and completest intimacy. The Son is so wholly one with the Father and in the intimacy of His mind, that He can declare Him to perfection. Our verse does not say that He was, as though it were a place that He might have left, but that HE IS. It is an eternal is,—He ever was, He is, He ever shall be in the Father’s bosom. So the Word becoming flesh meant the coming of grace and truth, and the full declaration of God as Father.

Verses John 1:19-28 give us John’s testimony, rendered while he was baptizing in Jordan; a wholly different side of it from that recorded in other Gospels. There was first the negative side, since the religious leaders were curious about him and wished to know if he were the Christ, or Elijah, or the prophet of whom Moses had spoken. His testimony was steadfast; he was none of these but only the voice crying in the wilderness, of whom Isaiah had spoken. Then, when they questioned his baptism, came his positive testimony. There was One already among them whom they did not know, so much greater than himself that he was not worthy to unloose His sandal. By the use of this graphic figure John expressed his sense of the supreme glory of the One about to be manifested.

This was the beginning of John’s witness. It increased in definiteness and intensity as the succeeding verses show.

Some of the mighty implications of the incarnation come before us in the latter part of the chapter. We find in John’s first chapter not only many of His Names and Titles, but also an unfolding of the varied offices and capacities that He fills.

The great ones of the earth fill various capacities. The Queen, for instance, appears on one occasion as a Commander-in-Chief, on another as a Patron, and so on. As Head of the State she fills these capacities, and more besides. It is not surprising therefore that the Word, becoming flesh, should assume offices and fill capacities of immense range and eternal significance. As we read verse John 1:29 and note John’s further witness, we meet with the first of the series. He is “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”

John said in effect, “Here is the one effectual, never-to-be-repeated SACRIFICE of eternal value.” In the Old Testament the lamb had been specially marked as the animal devoted to sacrificial use: hence the title here. Jesus is the Lamb of God’s providing, and if He takes away by sacrifice the sin of the world—not merely your sin or mine, or Israel’s sin, but the sin of the whole “cosmos”—then there has been effected a work of such magnitude that the settlement abides to eternity. The thing is to be DONE, and here is the Doer of it. We usually think of sin in its manifestations and myriad details, but here it is regarded as one gigantic and terrible problem, meeting its complete solution and removal. God will have a cosmos—the universe as an ordered whole—totally and eternally purged from sin; and here is the One who by His sacrifice accomplishes this. He is the Sacrifice of the Ages, and in this we see the basis of all that follows. Were He not this, there would be nothing to follow in the way of blessing and glory.

John proceeded to identify Jesus as the One of whom he had previously spoken, and to declare that the object of his baptism was not merely the manifestation of the godly remnant in Israel, but the manifestation of the Lamb of God to Israel. Upon Him he had seen the Spirit as a dove descending and abiding—not descending and returning, like the dove that Noah sent forth. When commissioned John had been told that this was to be, as it were, the hall-mark on the One to whom he was to act as forerunner; the One who would baptize not merely with water, but with the Holy Ghost.

In saying this, John evidently presented Jesus as the great BLESSER. As the Sacrifice He takes away the sin of the world: as the Blesser He fills it with the light and energy of the Spirit of God. It is plain therefore that here we have two parts of one whole, and both statements are on broad, comprehensive lines. Each believer today has his sins taken away and he receives the Holy Ghost: a tiny item within the compass of the whole. But the point here is the whole, considered abstractly. We do not yet see sin wholly removed historically and the Spirit poured upon all flesh; but here was the One who brings both to pass.

John’s conclusion, stated in verse John 1:34, is of much importance. It verified to John the witness he bore in verses John 1:15; John 1:27. Here was the Son of God, and to His Sonship he could bear witness. The Holy Ghost is a Person in the Godhead, and here is a Man who has this Divine Person at His disposal, so as to shed Him forth as a baptism. Who can this Man be? No one less than the Son of God, another Person in the Godhead. Thus we are at once conducted to the point which is the main objective of this Gospel

(see John 20:31). The Son was here in Manhood; hence such a thing could be. The Son of God and the Word are One.

The following day John bore similar testimony, only concentrating upon the Person Himself rather than His work. Still, it was the Person in His character as the sacrificial Lamb, and it is when He wears this character that He becomes specially attractive, as Revelation 5:1-14 shows. This attractiveness was felt here, for two of John’s disciples heard him thus speak and they at once turned from John to attach themselves to Jesus. No truer service can be rendered to God than that which diverts the hearers from the human servant and attaches them to Christ. A very true servant was John the Baptist.

Jesus did not check the two disciples in their desire to be with Him; rather He encouraged them to abide with Him. He is not only the Sacrifice and the Blesser, but also the CENTRE to whom all must gather. The two disciples had discovered this by a kind of instinct, and their action suffices to set Him before us in this capacity. Presently we have the Lord saying, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me” (John 12:32) and in days to come this will be visibly accomplished. But amongst all the myriads Andrew and the other disciple will have the distinction of being the first to discover the Divinely appointed Centre in Jesus.

Verse John 1:41 shows us that what had transpired had revealed to the soul of Andrew that Jesus was the Christ. Again we must think of that verse in chapter 20—He was Baptizer with the Holy Spirit, therefore the Son of God; He was the Centre, appointed by God, therefore the Christ. Andrew’s first action was to seek his own brother Simon and testify to him of his discovery, and thus “he brought him to Jesus.” It has often been the case since, that the more forcible and distinguished man has been led to the Saviour by someone of very ordinary type. As far as we have any record, this is the most striking thing that Andrew did.

Simon was a ready talker, and amongst the disciples usually the first to speak, but when brought to Jesus he did not have the first word. Jesus at once showed that He knew his name and ancestry, and then gave him a new name. As we see with Daniel and his three friends, great kings asserted their ownership over servants and slaves by changing their names; in like manner when Simon came to Jesus He asserted His claim over him. But by giving him a name which meant “A stone,” He did more than this:

He annexed him for the building that He had in view, and of which at that moment Simon knew nothing. Simon indeed, as far as the record goes, had nothing to say. What the Lord had in view and what He said was of all moment.

We have only to turn to 1 Peter 2:1-25, to find that presently Simon did know, and had something to say to us about it. Coming to Christ, the Living Stone, he became a living stone in view of God’s building, which is proceeding during the present epoch; and, as he shows us in that chapter, that which was true for him is true also for us, as we come to the Living Stone each in our turn. Clearly then, Jesus revealed Himself as the BUILDER of God’s house by the way He met Simon, though Simon himself and the rest did not know it at the time. This is another capacity that Jesus fills.

Jesus Himself took the initiative in finding Philip, as verse John 1:43 shows, introducing Himself with the two words, “Follow Me.” The two words evidently were sufficient. They presented Him to Philip as the LEADER, who rightly commands loyal obedience from each and all. Philip followed and became a seeker of others, though as yet he did not know much. To Nathanael he could only speak of “Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph;” neither a very lofty nor a very correct designation of the One whom he had just begun to follow. It had the effect at the outset of slightly prejudicing Nathanael: still it suffficed to lead him to an interview with the Lord.

Again Jesus took the initiative and by His opening exclamation as to Nathanael revealed Himself as the Discerner of the hearts of men. Here was an Israelite, not without sin, but without guile; that is, without deceit or dishonesty. Here was a man who was straight and honest in his spirit before God; and Jesus knew this, as He showed by His answer to Nathanael’s startled question, “Whence knowest Thou me?” The Lord was showing Himself to be the JUDGE of all, before whom all men are naked and open, who can put every man in his proper place. Nathanael came to see Jesus of Nazareth, and he discovered One who knew all about him and read him through and through like an open book. Who could this Jesus be?

Nathanael’s answer is given in verse John 1:49, and we are carried on again to that verse in John 20:1-31. He is “the Son of God,” and He is also “the King of Israel.” As an earnest and godly Israelite he was waiting for the King, and would have been inclined to lay all possible emphasis there. But evidently in the presence of this Judge of men and Searcher of hearts all the emphasis lay on the fact that He must be the Son of God; and if that, then the King of Israel. Then note how in verse John 1:50 Jesus accepted Nathanael’s homage as not misplaced but as the fruit of faith. Hearing the words of Jesus he had believed, and his homage was the fruit of this.

In verse John 1:50 there seems to be a contrast between hearing and seeing. Hearing induces faith, but a day is coming when we shall see greater things than we have heard. When the day arrives for sight we shall view the Son of Man as the great ADMINISTRATOR of God’s universe of light and blessing. Angels will have their place of service, but their every movement will be regulated and performed in reference to Him. This capacity He will fill as Son of Man in keeping with what is predicted in Psalms 8:1-9. That Psalm indeed speaks of Him as made “a little lower than the angels,” but this was for the suffering of death, as Hebrews 2:1-18 informs us. It also speaks of His having dominion over Jehovah’s works in earth and sea. Our verse in

John 1:1-51 shows that the angels will be subject to Him, but Hebrews 2:1-18 carries it even further, saying that “all things” being in subjection means that there is “nothing that is not put under Him.” The Son of Man will dominate the heavens as well as the earth.

Before passing from the first chapter let us note that not only do we have these glimpses of the various capacities that are filled by the Word become flesh, but also we get all His main Titles brought to light:—Jesus, the Messiah; the Christ; the only begotten Son; the Lamb of God; the Son of God; Jesus of Nazareth; the King of Israel; the Son of Man. The whole chapter is like a mine richly shot through with these veins of gold.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on John 1:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/john-1.html. 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, September 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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