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Bible Commentaries

The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann
John 1

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-5

John Chapter 1

The Prologue of the Gospel.

The introduction:

v. 1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

v. 2. The same was in the beginning with God.

v. 3. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made.

v. 4. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.

v. 5. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

In the beginning, when time began, before anything was formed, when God made ready to create heaven and earth, Gen_1:1, when God first called things into existence. It is necessary that the evangelist use some expression which will, at least in a way, come within the ideas of men, for eternity itself is beyond the understanding of man. In the beginning was the Word, not: came the Word, or: was brought into existence, but: existed, had been in existence since the timeless reaches of eternity. The Word was in the beginning, 1Jn_1:1; Rev_1:2. The term. Word, or Logos, is strictly a Biblical expression or designation for the second person of the God-head, for Jesus Christ. He is no creature, no part of the creation, for He existed when no part of that existed. He is the Word which God spoke from eternity, begotten of God from eternity. And He existed, not as a dead substance or thing, but He was alive and active. - The relation between God and the Logos is next stated. The Word was with God, in inseparable nearness and closest intercommunion with God the Father. The Logos Himself is God, was God from the beginning and from eternity, was always connected most closely with the Father. He is distinct from God, in person, not in the essence. The text implies intercourse, and therefore separate personality. But though the Word is distinguishable from God in this manner yet the Word was God, in the absolute sense, not with a secondary or derived meaning. The Word is God in kind and essence: Jesus Christ is, according to His nature and essence, true God, 1Jn_5:21. A god that would have someone over him as a superior could not be considered God. But the Word is coessential with God, is in full possession of the Godhead with eternity and all the other attributes of the Godhead.

This same Word was in the beginning with God: an emphatic reassertion of the distinction between the persons of the Godhead, and yet not a mere repetition of the first verse. The first statement had characterized the Word alone; the second had declared the personal distinction of the Word from God the Father; the third had expressed the essential unity and identity of the divine essence. Here John states that the eternal existence of the Word and His distinct personality had their being contemporaneously. It was the same Logos that he had spoken of in the first statements, whose deity he was here so plainly establishing. Incidentally, there is some emphasis on "in the beginning. " "In the beginning He was with God; afterwards, in time, He came to be with man. His pristine condition must first be grasped, if the grace of what succeeds is to be understood."

The next statement refers to the relation of the Logos to the world. All things were made through Him, through His almighty power, the entire creation. He was not the instrument of the creating God, being Himself without power; He was not a dead tool. He was Himself the almighty Creator of the universe; He called things into existence out of nothing; the world and everything in the world owes its existence to the creation of the Word. And there is nothing, not even one thing, not a single thing, which came into existence in the beginning, at the time of creation, that was made outside of Him, without His almighty power. Note: There is a great comfort in the idea that the Savior is interested in men not only from the standpoint of redemption, but also from that of creation. There is absolutely nothing in the wide world in which He is not personally interested, with the kindness of the great Creator that cares for all His creatures. The creatures of His hands are to become partakers of the atonement of His blood.

The relation of the Logos to mankind is brought out most beautifully. In Him is life, the true, divine, immortal life, Joh_3:15-16; Rom_2:7; Rom_5:10-17. He is the absolute Possessor of all that may be called life; He is the Fountainhead of life; all true life has its origin in Him. It is not physical life to which John has reference,—for that has a different name in the Greek language, but spiritual and eternal life. Of all these He is the Author, the absolute Possessor. Outside of Him, as outside of the Father, there is no life; And the life in Him, which was the fountain of existence for all true, lasting life in the world, was, at the same time, the light of men, of all men. Life and light are synonymous: the two words characterize the work of Christ. The life which Christ gives to men, wants to give to all men, is that which incidentally illumines their dark hearts and minds. That is its glorious purpose, and that purpose is to be realized by the life-giving powers of the light, by the illuminating powers of the life. According to the usage of Scriptures, light is identical with salvation, Psa_27:1; Isa_49:6; Isa_60:1-2. Christ, the Messiah, is the Light of the Gentiles, because He is the salvation, the Savior of all men.

The opposite of light is darkness, and the relation of the Logos to darkness is stated. And the Light, that wonderful, heavenly Light, shines in the darkness; it exerts its power, it sheds forth its light; it still shines, even now, through the Gospel. In the midst of the reign of darkness it shines, where misfortune, misery, wretchedness, condemnation are ruling, in this world, as it appears since the fall of man. The world is the kingdom of darkness, in the power of the Prince of Darkness. And the Logos has become the Light and Salvation of the world, just as soon as it had rejected God, just as soon as the darkness set in. In the Old Testament He was indeed preached only in prophecy and type; but none the less clearly for those that believed in the coming Messiah. But the true revelation of the Light took place with the incarnation of the Word. Then He, the Light, the Salvation, entered into the dark world, to give all men the benefit of His glorious illumination. He and His salvation were revealed to the world that all the people in the world might see Him and His redemption. But the darkness did not accept Him, would not understand Him; the darkness rejected the light. The darkened minds of the children of darkness, of all men by nature, do not, will not, receive the heavenly light in the Savior. That is their status, that is their character: opposition to Christ and His life—and light-giving Gospel. The great majority of the people in the world rejected the light absolutely, and they continue to do so, even when its glorious beams fall into their hearts. They prefer wretchedness and eternal death to light and life with Christ. Those that do accept His salvation have been filled with willingness by the power of the Light.

The Deity of Jesus

There is hardly a page of Scriptures which unbelief, often parading under the name of science and truth, has not touched and soiled with blasphemous hands. But no other doctrine has so challenged the most desperate efforts of unbelievers inside and outside of the Church than that of the person and office of Christ. The question of Jesus: "What think ye of Christ, whose Son is He?" Mat_22:42, important at all times since the Gospel was first proclaimed, has become a touchstone in our days; for by their answer to this question men range themselves with the friends or with the enemies of the Church of God in the real sense of the term.

Fortunately it will not be necessary to do more than merely refer to the fact that a few decades ago the very historicity of Jesus was questioned, and that some so-called Bible critics to this day do not hesitate to speak of a mythical theory of Jesus. "They assure us that in the gospels we have not got any 'tradition of a personality. ' Jesus, the central figure, never existed at all, but was a purely mythical personage. " We refer to this in the same way that we would register the idea of some mentally deranged person that denied the existence of the sun.

Far more dangerous are such critics that assume a sanctimonious attitude and act as though they were firm believers in the Bible and all its doctrines, while, as a matter of fact, they are undermining the very foundations of Christian belief by their insidious attacks upon Christ, the Savior of the world. It is by such as these that Jesus is represented merely as a leader in social progress, as the "supreme example of genius in the realm of intellect," whose "wonderful name lifts society upward in character and culture, and will yet lift man back to His Father's side. " Christ is indeed conceded a position as religious teacher, but one that "portrayed as an Infinite Father that God who holds the earth in His hand and rolls the sun like a golden ball along the pavement of the morning. " Christ is pictured in wonderfully flowing language in His relation to the poet, the philosopher, the scientist, and the seer. But it does not seem to occur to anyone to picture Christ, with equal beauty of language, in His relation to the poor sinner in need of salvation. And, with all their harping on the divinity of Christ, a great many of the modern religious leaders seem to have forgotten that there can be no salvation without the deity of Jesus assured.

We believe that Jesus Christ is true God. And, in order to summarize very briefly, let us point to only a few passages of the Bible. Jesus is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, called the Son of God, and not a son by adoption, but one born out of the essence of the Father from eternity. " Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee," Psa_2:7; Heb_1:5. Mary is given the assurance: "That Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God," Luk_1:35. John expressly states of Jesus: "We saw His glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father," Joh_1:14. Jesus Himself does not reject the confession of Nathanael: "Thou art the Son of God," Joh_1:50, with horror, but accepts it as a matter of fact. John states it to be the purpose of His entire gospel: "These are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God," Joh_20:31. St. Paul declares that "God spared not His own Son," Rom_8:32. And that the argument from the Sonship of Jesus to His Godhead is valid even the unbelieving Jews knew, thus surpassing many a modern critic: "The Jews sought to kill Him because He said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God," Joh_5:18.

But that is not all. Jesus is expressly and unequivocally called God; deity is actually ascribed to Him. The words of the prologue of our gospel are so unmistakable that only a flat denial can. remove them and their power. John writes: "The Word was God," Joh_1:1. He does not say that the Word was divine, but that the Word is actual, true, essential God. He says the same thing in his first epistle, when he declares that Jesus is "the true God and eternal life," 1Jn_5:20. And Jesus Himself did not refuse to be honored and addressed as God when Thomas exclaimed: "My Lord and my God," Joh_20:28.

If we confine ourselves to the gospel of John alone, there is so much material to defend the deity of Christ that the sifting alone requires long and careful work. There is the testimony of the evangelist himself, Joh_1:1-14; Joh_2:11. There is the testimony of John the Baptist, Joh_1:15-36; Joh_3:23-36. See Joh_1:37; Joh_10:41-42. There is the testimony of Christ Himself, Joh_4:25-26; Joh_10:24-25; Joh_9:35-37; Joh_13:13; also Joh_3:16; Joh_5:17-18; Joh_10:30; Joh_8:19; Joh_10:38; Joh_14:7-11; Joh_5:19; Joh_14:26. There is the testimony of the Father, Joh_5:31-32; Joh_8:17-18; Joh_12:23-28; Joh_19:34-35; Joh_20:12. There is the testimony of the disciples of Jesus, Joh_1:41-45; Joh_1:49; Joh_6:67-69; Joh_11:27; Joh_20:28; Joh_21:15-17. There is finally the testimony of the people, Joh_6:14-15; Joh_7:31; Joh_10:41-42; Joh_12:12-13; Joh_4:42.

The Logos of the Prologue

The opening verses of the Gospel according to St. John have given occasion to numerous expositions which refuse to distinguish between inspiration and philosophy. John's choice of a name for Christ especially has brought on a veritable flood of opinions concerning the influence of pagan philosophy upon the doctrine of Christianity. It has been stated that the evangelist tried to effect a compromise between Platonic and Stoic ideas, on the one hand, and the fundamentals of Christianity, on the other. The old Greek philosopher Plato had written much about nous and logo s, and the later schools of philosophy had carried out the ideas and founded a philosophical system which, about the time that John wrote his gospel, began to be known as the Neo-Platonic. One man especially made use of the terms of Plato in the attempt to harmonize Jewish theology and Greek philosophy. That was the Greek Jew Philo, of Alexandria, Egypt, who lived from about 20 B. C. to about 42 A. D. He makes use of the term logos throughout his writings, sometimes in a definite, then again in a vague way, to bring out his mystical speculations. For this reason many critics have stated that John borrowed the term from Philo, together with many of the latter's philosophical deductions. But a careful comparison of the works of Philo with the gospel of John and with all other New Testament books shows that Philo's logos is a vague, shadowy conception, as unreal to himself, perhaps, as it is to anyone else, that it is merely a philosophic conception, the joint product of a peculiar theory respecting the nature of the Deity and the fact of the existence of the material universe. "The mere thought of an incarnation of the Logos would have been in the highest degree abhorrent to the tastes and sensibilities of the Alexandrians."

Other critics have identified the Logos of John with the memra of Jewish philosophical reflections. They refer to the Targum of Onkelos on Gen_3:8, who substitutes "The voice of the word of the Lord" for "The voice of the Lord God"; the Jerusalem Targum, which has, on Gen_22:14 : "Abraham invoked in the name of the word of the Lord," and many others. Critics have even found many parallels in the Persian Zend-Avesta of Zoroastrian and in other writings. But the memra of the Jews in their Chaldee paraphrases of the Old Testament is nothing more than the product of theological reflection, just as that of Philo is the result of philosophic speculation. It is a device invented in order to render the notion of revelation conceivable to Jewish thought. Hilt of such an idea there is nowhere a trace in the prologue of John.

The conclusion that the believing commentator is bound to reach is "that, inspired by God, the Apostle John fixed on the word Logos (which was entirely familiar to him from the inspired writings of the Old Testament, especially from Gen_1:1-31, Psa_33:1-22, and others) as a designation of Jesus Christ, not only because the teaching of the Old Testament suggested it as singularly appropriate, but also in order to expose the futility of the Logos theories that had sprung up in the soil of pagan and semi pagan philosophy. " "Where among Christians Logos was mentioned without further restriction, nothing else could have been meant and understood, nor intended so, than the Word which was now preached and believed... But this Word is now Christ Himself: He personally is the Word which God has sent into the world, He is personally the essential, not only the final revelation. For in both respects He may be called the Word, inasmuch as He is spoken by God into the world, and inasmuch as He is now preached in the world... Only one Word the apostles brought, but a Word of whom they could testify that He was with God and was God, before the world came into existence, because this is true of Christ whom they preach, and who is even now, wherever He permits Himself to be preached, the Word intended for the world, to be believed by the world, just as it was in the days of His flesh". Since John begins his book with a statement concerning the Word, he surely means the Word which is now in the world for the purpose of being believed and for giving to the believers eternal life."

"Further we should know that there is a Word in God, unlike my word or thy word. For we also have a word, especially the word of the heart, as the holy fathers call it, as, when a person meditates upon something and diligently searches, then he has a word or conversation with himself of which no one knows but he alone,... Thus God also in eternity, in His majesty and divine essence, had a word, speech, conversation, and thought in His divine heart with Himself, unknown to all angels and men. That is called His Word, which was from eternity in His fatherly heart, by which God has determined to create heaven and earth, But of such will of God no person ever knew until that same Word became flesh and declared it, as is stated afterwards: The Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him."


Verses 6-9

John the Baptist and the Logos:

v. 6. There was a man sent from God whose name was John.

v. 7. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through Him might believe.

v. 8. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.

v. 9. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

There was, there came, there arose, there came into being, as the result of a special plan and purpose of God, a man, not differing from other men in any respect but in this material point: he was sent out by God. He was entrusted with a mission; he was sent out for a special, distinct purpose, as the forerunner of the Messiah. His name was John ("merciful is Jehovah"), and he had received his name by God's order, Luk_1:13. This man came to fulfill, to carry out, his mission; he came for witness, for the purpose of witnessing. He was not to do a great work of his own, but to point to another. All his work, energy, and preaching were to be spent in testifying, in preaching as one sure of the truth of his declaration. His topic was simple, but comprehensive: he was to bear witness about, with regard to, concerning the Light. That one topic, that one subject, was to be the sum and substance of his witnessing. Everyone that witnesses in the sense of John must make the topic of John's testimony his own, speak and preach of Jesus, the Savior. By nature no one comes to Christ; only through the Word, by means of the testimony of the true witnesses, is Christ made known to men. Through the Word, by faith, Christ is received. John did not testify concerning himself, for he himself was not the Light, he was not the Savior. But his work and office, the purpose of his life, the end and aim of his preaching was to give testimony concerning the Light, the wonderful, life-giving Light. All should believe. The gracious will of God has as its object all men; He wants all to be saved; all should believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for their soul's salvation. So John was in no way seeking his own light, his own glory and benefit, but only that of the Savior. And this was a great privilege. For the true Light, that lighteth every man, was even then coming, was on His way; He was shortly to begin His ministry for the salvation of men. That fact characterizes the true Light, that brings out His essential goodness, that the enlightenment of the world is due to Him, that He shines with His rays of beauty and glory for every person is the Sun of grace and righteousness, His rays are intended for all without exception. Every person that is saved receives the light of salvation from Christ; for without Him there is no salvation.


Verses 10-14

The relation of Jesus to the world:

v. 10. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.

v. 11. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.

v. 12. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name;

v. 13. which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

v. 14. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

At the time when John was bearing witness of Jesus, He was already in the world, He had become a part of the physical world as true man, He was subject to the usual laws governing man and his relation to the universe. And all this was true, though He had been the Creator of the world; the whole world, without reservation, with everything it contains, is His work, He made it, Col_1:16; Eph_3:9; Heb_1:2. But in spite of the fact that He was in the world and had created the world, the people of the world did not know Him, did not acknowledge Him. The people did not recognize their own Creator, so thoroughly is the world estranged from God. The entire world consists of people in need of redemption, and yet the majority insists upon being counted with those that are lost. The representative part of the world will not acknowledge and accept Him. See 1Co_1:18-25. This is defined and explained more exactly in the next sentence. Into His own He came, to His own property, to the vineyard which His Father had planted, to the chosen people of the Old Testament. But those that belonged to Him, the men and women of His own race, that had received so many evidences of His grace and goodness, did not receive Him, were far from welcoming Him. The great mass of them rejected Him and His salvation. "The rulers in the children of Israel and the great multitude, since He did not come as they had imagined He should (for He came, simple and without ostentation, had no honor), would not acknowledge Him as the Messiah, much less accept Him, though St. John went before Him and testified of Him, and though He Himself very soon came forward, preached with power, and did miracles, that He truly should have been recognized by His miracles, Word, and preaching. But all that did not avail much... For the world nevertheless affixed Him to the cross; which would not have been done if they had held Him for what He was."

But some there were, some few true Israelites, that received Him as the promised Messiah, and that therefore believed on His name, put their full trust for their salvation in Him. To receive Christ, to believe on Him, and to trust in His name, are expressions covering the same process; they are synonymous. To such as accepted the Word of the Cross He gives the great privilege or right to become the sons of God by adoption, Gal_4:4-5. He works faith in their hearts. They enter into the right, the proper relation to Him, they accept Him as their Father. This process of becoming children of God is now contrasted with the corresponding process of physical birth; The children of God are produced in a wonderful way, unlike that of natural procreation and birth. In nature children are formed out of blood and body substances of human flesh and by an act of the will of man. But this birth does not make a person a child of God. The children of God are born out of God. He is their true Father; to Him alone and to no human, earthly agency, power, or will do they owe life and being, spiritual birth and existence. Regeneration is the work of God, and it is His work all alone. By their receiving this testimony concerning Christ, as it was proclaimed by John, into their heart, this marvelous change has been wrought in the Christians. God has thereby made them partakers of the divine nature. Faith, which receives the Word and Christ, is wrought by God through the Word. Thus the believers have the manner and nature of their heavenly Father: a new spiritual, divine life is found in them. And though they are not born out of the essence of the Father, like the only-begotten Son, yet by adoption they have all the rights of children. They are heirs, with Christ, of the bliss of eternal salvation, Rom_8:17.

Just how this was brought about, that God could gather children out of the midst of a world that did not accept His Son, is shown in that incomparably beautiful passage of the incarnation of the Word. The Word, the eternal Son of the eternal Father, became flesh, assumed the true human nature according to body and soul. And instead of appearing only at irregular intervals, He had His dwelling among us, He partook of all the joys and sorrows of a true human existence; there could be no doubt as to the reality of His humanity. While He is and remains the eternal Logos, He is yet true man, subject to time and space, in every way like unto us in all the natural needs of the flesh, only without sin. And while He did not make an open, triumphant show of the divine nature which was His even in the state of humiliation, yet, the evangelist writes, we viewed His glory. The disciples had a good and full opportunity to convince themselves by close and intimate scrutiny upon many occasions that He was truly the Son of God, the eternal Logos. He still possessed the glory, the supernatural glory, of the only-begotten Son of the Father, Psa_2:7. The Father had begotten Him from eternity; He became flesh in the fullness of time, retaining, however, the full control of His divinity, lower than the Father only according to His humanity. His glory and majesty, His omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence, which mark Him as true God, became evident time and again in His miracles; rays of His glory penetrated the veil of His humanity as easily as the rays of the sun penetrate glass. Christ is therefore not only almighty God, but also almighty man; not only omniscient God, but also omniscient man; not only omnipresent God, but also omnipresent man. And this only-begotten Son, in His work as Savior, is full of grace and truth; grace and truth are concentrated in Him, they are the sum of His essence. The free and unmerited love and mercy of God is found in the person of Jesus, in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily. The manifestations of His glory are supplemented by that of His grace. There is nothing of the insincere human quality in this grace with which the Son of God accepts sinners, but He is full of truth; He is the truly good, the personification of all goodness. True grace, true mercy, the fullness of unmerited divine compassion is found in Christ, true God and man, Psa_89:2; Psa_98:2.


Verses 15-18

The closing testimony of the prologue:

v. 15. John bare witness of Him and cried, saying, This was He of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me; for He was before me.

v. 16. And of His fullness have all we received, and grace for grace.

v. 17. For the Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

v. 18. No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.

The glory of the Messiah, of the Word Incarnate, had been testified to even by John the Baptist, and the evangelist was not the first one to call attention to this feature. He had called out loud, without fear and dread of the consequences. His witnessing and preaching had been in the nature of continual, earnest, impressive urging and pleading, in order to prepare the hearts for the reception of Christ. John had pointed forward to Jesus and His coming. Christ came after him in point of time, but He was before His herald in point of honor, authority, power, glory. In these things the Master had at once gained the ascendancy, leaving John far behind. He was prior to John, as the eternal Son of God, and His priority was evident in every respect. This testimony of John the Baptist agreed in substance exactly with that of the evangelist.

And the latter now continues his testimony. Out of the fullness of Jesus we all, all believers, have received, and grace for grace. The fount of mercy never dries up; ever and again fresh grace and mercy appears over and above that already received. Because sin abounds and ever again brings on transgressions, therefore grace and mercy must abound still more Though we use up grace daily, there is always anew and rich supply on hand from the inexhaustible store of God, Rom_5:20. The river of grace flowing from the Savior is always full of water. Under the Old Covenant, indeed, the opposite of grace, merit and works, was prominent. The Law as given by Moses demanded full obedience and threatened the transgressor with temporal and eternal punishment. But Moses, though the keeper and preacher of the Law by God's command, was a mere man, and therefore the Law itself could not have lasting value in the way in which it had been in use among the Jews. But Christ is the God-man, the Word of God Incarnate; He brings grace and truth which will have an abiding place in the world. Grace, the fullness of the assurance of free pardon, and truth, the Word of the Gospel which proclaims grace and mercy, and is the sum and substance of the truth and faithfulness of God, came through Jesus Christ, who came down in His own person, not only to preach the Gospel, but to be the exponent of the Gospel and make its proclamation possible. And another fact the Christians should remember. God is the essence of faithfulness and mercy toward all men. But His essence is hidden before the eyes of men. So far as the knowledge and the application of His beautiful attributes are therefore concerned, someone had to reveal them to men, otherwise the veil of Moses would have been before their eyes until the end of time. And so the only-begotten Son, He who was with the Father from eternity, and, as a matter of fact, is in eternity in the bosom of the Father, could and did reveal and proclaim the Father to us. He is of the same essence with the Father, He is one with the Father, He was intimately acquainted with the counsel of love for the salvation of mankind. And this He revealed to us, giving us thereby the correct picture of God, not one representing Him as the threatening, terrible Judge, but as the gracious Father for the sake of the Son that earned salvation for all men. Note: The proclaiming of the secrets of God was done by Christ at the same time that He was in God's bosom. While He was on earth, He was yet in the bosom of the Father; for He is in the bosom of the Father from everlasting to everlasting. In coming to this earth to assume true human nature, He did not leave the bosom of His Father. The glorious intimacy of the Holy Trinity was never interrupted.


Verses 19-23

The Testimony of John the Baptist.

The embassy of the Jews:

v. 19. And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?

v. 20. And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.

v. 21. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.

v. 22. Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?

v. 23. He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the Prophet Esaias.

The gospel-history begins with the testimony of John the Baptist, since his preaching concerned Him whose herald he was. See Mat_3:1-17; Mar_1:1-45; Luk_3:1-38. The evangelist does not relate in general what transactions took place between the representatives of the Jews and the Baptist, but has reference to a special, definite occasion, and notes the verbal testimony given at that time. The Jews, that is, the leaders of the Jews, the members of the Sanhedrin, composed of priests, presbyters, and scribes, among whom were also some very prominent Pharisees, Bent this embassy. This delegation consisted of priests and Levites, and they had certain questions to lay before him for the Bake of obtaining information. The coming of John, his manner of living, the features of his ministry, all these were of such an extraordinary nature as to provoke sensational comment. Hence the question, Who art thou ? (Emphasis on "thou. ") There was a definite purpose connected with the question, for it was not an idle inquiry as to name and birth, but as to his official character. "What personage do you claim to be? What place in the community do you aspire to?" The implication was that John might be the Messiah. If so, the Jewish leaders wanted to know about it; for they deemed it their duty to keep peace in the Church. But John rejected the implication with the greatest seriousness. He expressly put from him even the suggestion of an honor to which he had no right or claim. Without the slightest equivocation or show of reluctant humility John made his confession that he was not the Christ. It would have been an easy matter for him to assume the honor, for the people would have supported him without question; but he put even the suggestion of the temptation away from him. He also rejected the honor of being called the second Elijah in the sense that his was the actual person of Elijah, returned to the world in his former flesh and blood. It had indeed been prophesied, Mal_4:5, that Elijah the prophet should come as the forerunner of the Messiah, that is, that a prophet in the power and spirit of Elijah would prepare the way for Christ. And Jesus expressly states, Mat_17:10-13, that John the Baptist was the Elijah who was to come. But because of the false understanding that the Jews had of this Elijah, John could not admit that identity without misleading them. He denied, in the third place, that he was that prophet. For the Jews understood the prophecy, Deu_18:15, not of the Messiah Himself, but of some special prophet, a faithful prophet, 1 Maccabees 14:41, who was to terminate the prophetic period and usher in the Messianic reign. See Joh_6:14; Joh_7:40. With some impatience the members of the delegation now demanded a clear answer, a positive statement. They were under obligations to bring back an answer to the Sanhedrin, and could not go back without having accomplished the object of their mission. And John now did make a definite confession concerning himself, referring to the prophecy Isa_40:3. He was the voice of one in the wilderness, calling loudly and urgently that people should make straight and level the way of the Lord. The Messiah was about to enter, to come to His people, and Israel was to prepare the way for Him by sincere repentance. Only those that sincerely acknowledge their sins and repent of them may obtain salvation in Christ. That was the chief, the prominent part of John's ministry, to call Israel to repentance.


Verses 24-28

The question concerning John's baptism:

v. 24. And they which were sent were of the Pharisees.

v. 25. And they asked him and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?

v. 26. John answered them, saying, I baptize with water; but there standeth One among you whom ye know not;

v. 27. He it is, who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose.

v. 28. These things were done in Bethabara, beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.

The sect of the Pharisees was very strict in the observance of all rules and regulations concerning worship and the proprieties of service. The testimony of John relating to his specific work did not interest them, but the authority for his baptizing was a matter of much concern to them. The Jewish leaders of Jerusalem knew nothing of this man's work; he had not asked their sanction. And so the delegates challenge his right to baptize, since by his own confession he is neither Christ, nor Elijah, nor that prophet. Since the answer to the question of the Pharisees was included in the passage from Isaiah, John was content with the opportunity of pointing to Jesus, and thus fulfilling his work. He puts himself and his baptism into deliberate contrast with Christ, and the baptism which Christ would employ in due time. John baptized with water. Through the water of baptism he confirmed and sealed his preaching unto repentance. He admonished the people of Israel that they were in need of a cleansing from sins. Those that were baptized by John confessed their sins. But still the baptism of John, though a means of grace, was of a preparatory nature; it pointed forward to the fulfillment of the redemption in Christ. And the Messiah was even then in the world, He was living in the midst of the Jewish people, though as yet unknown to them. He was the one that was after John in point of time, but in reality, and by virtue of His person and office, He surpassed His herald. And well John knew this, for he did not consider himself worthy of unlacing the straps of His sandals, and thus of performing the work of a slave for the Master. There was an unbridgeable abyss between divinity and humanity, between God and man. These things took place on the eastern side of the river Jordan, in a village or valley called Bethabara, at a ford which enabled travelers to cross over into Batanea. Note: John's example in confessing Christ before the enemies of true salvation should encourage the Christians of all times to stand up courageously for Christ.


Verses 29-34

John points to the Lamb of God:

v. 29. The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

v. 30. This is He of whom I said, After me cometh a Man which is preferred before me; for He was before me.

v. 31. And I knew Him not; but that He should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.

v. 32. And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon Him.

v. 33. And I knew Him not; but He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, the same is He which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.

v. 34. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.

The very next day after the embassy of the Sanhedrin had been with John, he saw Jesus coming toward him. This incident probably took place after the temptation in the wilderness. John said, in the hearing of his disciples and such other people as may have been present at the time: Behold the Lamb of God that beareth the sin of the world. The herald proclaimed the coming of the King, undoubtedly with the passage Isa_53:1-12 in mind. Christ was the prophesied Lamb, the sacrificial Lamb, the Passover Lamb, the Lamb that was led to the slaughter. And He was the Lamb of God, He was provided by God, sent out by God, He came with God's full consent and will. In His capacity as Lamb of God, He lifts up and carries away, He puts away entirely, without leaving a trace behind, He renders full satisfaction for the sin, all the sin without exception, all the transgression with all its guilt. This bearing and taking away was a continuous work and labor. The entire life of Jesus was a bearing and atoning for sin and the guilt of sin. The sin of the world, of the whole world, He bore and took away, without restriction or reservation. "This is preaching with exceptional beauty and consolation of Christ, our Savior; we can never reach it with our words, yea, not even with our thoughts. In yonder life we shall in all eternity have our joy and delight in that fact that the Son of God humiliates Himself thus far and takes my sins on His back; yea, not only my sins, but also those of the whole world, all that have been committed since Adam, down to the very last person,—all this He assumes as having been done by Him, and He wants to suffer and die for it, in order that I may be without sin and obtain eternal life and salvation. Who can adequately speak or think of that, namely, that the whole world with all her sanctity, righteousness, power, and glory is included in sin and has no value in the sight of God, and wherever someone wants to be saved and be rid of his sin, that he knows his sins are all laid upon the Lamb's back? This Lamb bears the sins, not mine or thine, or any other person's alone, nor those of a single kingdom or country, but those of the whole world; and thou art also a part of the world. " John identifies Christ more exactly by referring to his words of the day before. He whom I am pointing out to you, He who is here before you, He is the one that in point of human existence is later than I, but by reason of His divinity stands far in advance of me, surpasses me in every respect. Jesus Was before John, had been in existence from eternity, and this attribute of eternity is confessed by John. When Jesus first came to John, the latter did not know Him personally, he was not sure as to His identity, he could not have recognized Him beyond the possibility of a mistake. See Mat_3:14. John had known of the existence of Jesus; he had probably been told by his parents or received other revelations concerning Him whose coming he proclaimed. But His person was not known to the Baptist. This fact had nothing to do with John's ministry, which consisted in witnessing and preaching of Him, in order to make Him manifest before the people of Israel. Before Jesus could be revealed, the ministry of John should prepare the way. To Israel, as to the chosen people of God, Jesus was to be revealed first, and to that end the baptizing of John was to serve. The people, having confessed their sins and having received the assurance of pardon in baptism, would be eager for the full and complete revelation of the grace and mercy of God in the person and work of Jesus. And John had proof positive that the Man to whom he was pointing was the Messiah. For he had seen the heavens opened, and the Spirit of God descending upon Christ in visible form, Mat_3:16; Mar_1:10; Luk_3:22. That Spirit which Jesus had received upon that occasion had not left Him again, but had remained upon Him. Jesus had had the Holy Ghost from the moment of His conception, but this Spirit had been passive within Him. Now, however, by this open revelation, the formal beginning of the ministry of Christ was indicated. From that time on the Spirit of God proved Himself a living, active power in the human nature of Christ. He was anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power, Act_10:38. Thus the visible communication of the Spirit at the time of Christ's baptism was incidentally a preparation of Jesus for His prophetic office and work.

John now summarizes once more. He had not been personally acquainted with Christ, but when God had given him tile command and sent him forth to baptize and perform all the works of his ministry, He had given him that revelation, that definite sign by which he should distinguish with unfailing certainty the person of the Messiah. John would see the Spirit descending upon Christ, and this same person would be He that would baptize with the Holy Ghost. This was one of the functions of Christ according to prophecy. The first work of the Savior is this, that He bears and takes away the sin of the world. The second is this, that He sanctifies the sinners that have accepted His salvation through the Holy Spirit. They must be cleansed and purified of sins and all uncleanness. Hence the importance of the sending of the Spirit. And John had been an eye. witness, he was absolutely sure of what he had seen. And therefore he could now bear witness with such certainty. He could preach and proclaim with absolute definiteness that this Jesus who had received the Holy Ghost without measure was the Son of God. Note: All truly Christian preaching must have the essential content of the proclamation and witness of John. A true Christian preacher will first prepare the way for the coming of the Lord through the preaching of repentance. He that is no sinner and does not want to acknowledge himself a sinner, has no need of a Savior. But then follows the preaching of Christ, of Jesus of Nazareth, of the Redeemer of the world. Only by and through such preaching is the eternal Light revealed to men.


Verses 35-39

The First Disciples of Jesus.

Some of John's disciples heed his testimony:

v. 35. Again, the next day after, John stood, and two of his disciples;

v. 36. and looking upon Jesus as He walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!

v. 37. And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.

v. 38. Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto Him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest Thou?

v. 39. He saith unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where He dwelt, and abode with Him that day; for it was about the tenth hour.

The Evangelist John, as an eyewitness of all these happenings, relates them in chronological order, with an attention to detail which would not have been possible for one whose knowledge was not first-hand. All these events made a very deep impression upon the future apostle. The day following the Baptist again stood, and with him two of his disciples. And again he looked upon, fixed his eyes upon, Jesus, who was walking about nearby, crossing his field of vision with the object of reaching the place where He lodged. Again John sounded forth his Gospel message of the Lamb of God. Note: We should never grow weary either in preaching or in hearing the precious news of salvation. John had testified of Jesus the day before, without results. Here he again sounds the same glorious truths, and his words make a deep impression. For this time the two disciples heard, and also gave heed to, what he was saying. The repetition probably aroused them out of their attitude of indifference; they followed Jesus. The testimony concerning Christ will always lead to Christ, the Savior of the world. Jesus knew, according to His omniscience, that they were there; He knew also what was going on in their hearts, that they had been touched by the testimony of John. He turned and saw them following Him, He let them understand that He had noticed them. And in order to help them overcome their timidity, He began a conversation with them. He asks them what they are looking for, in order to cause them to confess, to stimulate their faith. Jesus wants no idlers nor busy-bodies among His followers; He desires not heads, but hearts. He wants those that contemplate discipleship under His merciful care to consider in advance what they are doing. For that reason the catechetical preparation for confirmation is indispensable under ordinary circumstances. In extraordinary cases the very thief on the cross is accepted in his last hour, but normally a Christian should be fully persuaded as to the course he is choosing in following Jesus. See Luk_14:26-33. The answer of the two men indicated the longing of their hearts. They addressed Jesus as Rabbi (which John finds it necessary to translate for the sake of his Greek readers), the name given to teachers of the Law in their synagogues, and asked Him where He was lodging. Their unspoken wish was that they might spend some time with Him. They were too self-conscious and diffident to ask Him about the matters agitating their hearts. But He understood their thoughts; the longing of their young faith. His kind invitation: Come and see, be My guests for today, opened the way to their hearts. They went with Him to His lodging-place. It was a memorable day for the two men, so important to John that he states the very hour when Andrew and he first approached Jesus, about four o'clock in the afternoon. They remained in conversation with Jesus during the' remainder of the day and far into the night. They were His guests and had the best opportunity to become fully acquainted with Him and His message of salvation. The same eagerness to know Jesus and to hear the Word of redemption should characterize the believers of all times. The lukewarm, lazy Christianity which is becoming so prevalent in our days has nothing in common with actual, live, eager discipleship.


Verses 40-42

Missionary efforts:

v. 40. One of the two which heard John speak and followed Him was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.

v. 41. He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.

v. 42. And he brought him to' Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him. He said, Thou art Simon, the son of Jona; thou shalt be called Cephas, which is, by interpretation, A stone.

The name of one of the former disciples is given. It was Andrew of Bethsaida, the brother of Peter. The name of the other man is not given, but anyone that reads the gospel of John carefully may read between the lines that John himself was the other disciple who here found Jesus. Now the hearts of both men were full of the happiness of their salvation. They felt constrained to let others know of the faith that was in them and of Him that inspired it. Before doing anything else, Andrew therefore set out to find his brother Simon. His heart was full, and out of that fullness his mouth spoke. He tells him that they had found the promised Messiah, the Christ of the prophecies. They, Andrew and John, were convinced that Jesus was the Christ. That conviction was the result of their conversation with Jesus. If many persons that now stand aloof from the Gospel and its teaching would only hear and read the Bible with an open mind, letting the Lord Himself talk to them, the chances are that they would be brought to the same glorious certainty. And Andrew was not satisfied with the mere telling of the news. He must needs bring his brother Simon to Jesus. The same missionary zeal should fill the hearts of the Christians today. There is altogether too much aloofness from the actual work of the Gospel among the members of the Christian congregations. Belief in Christ as the Redeemer, missionary talk, and missionary deed must go hand in hand. Jesus looked up as Simon approached. He uttered a word by the working of His divine omniscience. He gave Simon his correct name; He told him the name of his father, Jona, of Bethsaida; he read his character and his future, and gave him an additional name to fit the future, the Aramaic name Cephas, which is the same as the Greek name Peter. He would have need of the nature and firmness of a rock, and had better lay the foundation of his faith in the great Rock Jesus, before the dangers and trials of the coming enmity of the world would overwhelm him.


Verses 43-46

Happenings of the fourth day:

v. 43. The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow Me.

v. 44. Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.

v. 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.

v. 46. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.

On the fourth day of the events which are here so carefully chronicled, Jesus had planned to begin His journey up to Galilee. But as He was about to leave, He finds, by design and intention, Philip of Bethsaida. In this case, the simple command: Follow Me, was sufficient. The call of Jesus determined Philip to become a disciple of Jesus. And the call of Christ in the Gospel has at all times the power to influence men in the same way. Only we must not grow weary in sounding it forth at all times. There were now three men of Bethsaida among the four followers of Jesus. And all of them had been decided by the call of Jesus. It is not man's own free will that decides his fate with regard to Jesus, but the call of the Lord. And he that gives heed to that call, that makes his decision by the power of God in the Gospel, will ever after be in blessed communion with Jesus, in a wonderful discipleship. Philip, in turn, driven by the joy of his new discovery, of the faith of his heart, feels urged to tell his friend Nathanael (or Bartholomew) of his happiness. His words gush forth in a joyful stream: Of whom Moses wrote in the Law and the prophets, Him have we found. He had the right understanding, His faith was firmly based upon Jesus, known as the son of Joseph, of Nazareth, as the promised Messiah. Philip was well versed in the Old Testament prophecies. He referred to Moses and the prophets as having given a clear picture, in unmistakable prophecies, of Christ. And the antitype, the fulfillment of the prophecies, Philip found in Jesus of Nazareth. His knowledge was not yet perfect, but was fully sufficient for his purpose, that of bringing another man to his Master. Nathanael was skeptical. His Biblical knowledge told him that the Messiah was to hail from Bethlehem. Galilee was considered by the pure Jews as a half-heathen country, and Nazareth could not hope to produce anything good. But his dubious attitude and his slighting remark cannot overcome the faith of Philip. Instead of arguing the matter at great length, Philip simply issues his invitation: "Come and see!" Such a simple, repeated invitation and summons is often the best way of overcoming preconceived notions and opinions. If men are only led into the Scriptures and to the preaching of Christ, the rest will follow. The Word of Christ overcomes the weakness and objections of man. "He who candidly examines the evidences of the religion of Christ will infallibly become a believer. No history ever published among men has so many external and internal proofs of authenticity as this has. A man should judge of nothing by first appearances or human prejudices. Who are they who cry out, The Bible is a fable? Those who have never read it, or read it only with the fixed purpose to gainsay it. God has mercy on those whose ignorance leads them to form prejudices against the truth; but He confounds those who take them up through envy and malice, and endeavor to communicate them to others."


Verses 47-51

The winning of Nathanael:

v. 47. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed in whom is no guile!

v. 48. Nathanael saith unto Him. Whence knowest Thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig-tree, I saw thee.

v. 49. Nathanael answered and saith unto Him, Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel.

v. 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.

v. 51. And He saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.

Jesus wished to give Nathanael a practical demonstration of the truth of Philip's words. As he was approaching, the Lord said to those that were standing near Him, but so that Nathanael could hear His words: Behold in truth an Israelite, in whom guile is not. This man belonged to the small number of those in Israel that were members of God's people in truth, not merely by carnal descent, but by spiritual knowledge and faith. His hope was in the Messiah and His spiritual kingdom; he was free from guile and falsehood, the characteristic faults of the Jews. "Therefore Christ wants to say here also: There are true and false Israelites; the Israelites are of two kinds, which, indeed, are both descended from the patriarch Israel, but have not all kept the promise and the faith of Abraham. Just as there are now two kinds of Christians. We are indeed all called Christians who were baptized and regenerated through Baptism, but we do not all remain with our Baptism; many desert Christ and become false Christians, and the true Christians are few and far between. Thus there is also a true and a false Christian Church. And the false Christians boast that they are the true Church and true Christians; just as the Jews said they were the true Israelites; they boasted only of the title and name. Thus there are two kinds of Christians; first, those that have the name and are Christians in their body;... however, they do not remain with their Baptism, forgiveness of sins, and the promise of Christ, but separate themselves through false doctrines, desert the faith and the Lord Jesus Christ. But all true Christians, when they are baptized, hear the Gospel, read the Holy Scriptures, go to the Sacrament, love their neighbor. These make the right use of the Christian name and are truly Christians."

Nathanael was struck at once by this evidence of omniscience on the part of Jesus, and with surprise in his voice asked Him whence He knew him. And Jesus gave him evidence not only of His omniscience, but also of His omnipresence. Before Philip had approached his friend, while the latter was sitting in the shadow of the fig-tree, Jesus saw him. And everything was known to Him. The eyes of Jesus could easily read the heart and mind of Nathanael, who may have been meditating about the strange message of the Baptist, praying meanwhile that the day of the Messiah might soon come. All this Jesus knew. The Prophet of Nazareth, who knows the counsel of men's hearts, is an omniscient man. And Nathanael was obliged to acknowledge this, at the same time drawing the conclusion that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He is the true King of the spiritual Israel, of His Church. In Jesus all the prophecies of the Old Testament were fully realized; there could not be the slightest doubt as to His Messiahship. In Him God's reign in the hearts of the believers is realized; He rules over them that are His in grace and truth forever.

The open and unequivocal confession of Nathanael pleased the Lord, but it was not yet based upon a Bound enough foundation. A single demonstration of the divine power of Jesus is sufficient to work faith, but this faith must have the food from on high to feed upon, otherwise it will soon be starved. Jesus has greater things in store for His disciples, which He proceeds to tell them about with solemn emphasis. From now on, with the beginning of His public ministry, there would be a wonderful change for the believers. With His coming heaven itself is opened. The abyss of the Law has been removed, the enmity between God and man has been abolished, Eph_2:15-16. Instead of that, there is now direct communication between God and man, Jesus Himself being the Mediator. Something much more beautiful than the ladder of Jacob, Gen_28:1-22, has now united earth and heaven—the full atonement through the blood of the Savior. The angels of God are delighted to serve Him who came down for the salvation of the world. There is constant communication between Christ and His heavenly Father, in prayer, in miracles, and in other proofs of divine intimacy. And every bit of this work will be of benefit to all men, to be accepted by those that place their faith in their Savior.

Summary.After a prologue, giving a summary of the aims of the Gospel, the evangelist relates the story of the testimony of John the Baptist regarding Jesus, and tells of the gaining of the first disciples by this testimony: Andrew, John, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael.

 


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Bibliography Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on John 1:4". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/kpc/john-1.html. 1921-23.

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