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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
John 1

 

 

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Verse 1

John 1:1 ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with (face to face with) God, and what God was the Word was.’

‘In the beginning.’ This undoubtedly has in mind the words of Genesis 1:1 (‘in the beginning God created’), and yet it goes back beyond the moment of creation. This is where men’s minds have often wandered as they have thought back to the beginning of all things, and they have striven to understand. We could paraphrase loosely, ‘in the beginning before time began’ or even as ‘in eternity past’. The Jews had felt that they had the answer through revelation. ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ But John is taking us back beyond that. ‘In the beginning’, he says, ‘before the world was ever created, the Word was already there in His eternal existence’. (Compare John 17:5). Here the Greek idea of the Logos is being given Hebrew clothes.

The verb ‘was’ sums up the eternity of the Word. When all else began the Word ‘was already in perpetual existence’. He Who came to bring light to men pre-existed creation. For when all was created He was already there, and, as John 1:3 adds, was the source of the creation of all things (Colossians 1:15-17). As we learn later He was the ‘I am’ (John 8:58).

‘The Word was.’ This expression is similar to that by which God revealed Himself to Moses, for in Exodus 3:14 God revealed Himself as the ‘I am’, the ‘One Who is’ (see John 8:58). At that point the One Who was in existence from the beginning was stressing that He was also then present to act. Here in John’s Gospel the thought is in a sense in reverse. The One Who has been here among us, and acting in history in the life of Jesus Christ, says John, is also the One Who ‘was’ in the beginning, the One Who could speak of ‘the glory which I had with You before the world was’ (John 17:5).


Verses 1-17

The content of Jonah’s prophecy, which is described in the usual terms of ‘the word of YHWH’, is depicted as being that YHWH wanted the wickedness of Nineveh to be brought to the attention of its people. We learn later that this was because He intended to destroy it (Jonah 3:2; Jonah 3:4), but was giving prior warning so that they might have an opportunity to consider their ways. This is typical of a God Who would not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah without giving it its opportunity, even sending angelic messengers among them in order to give them a chance to discover the truth (Genesis 18-19); Who delayed judgment on the Canaanites for ‘four generations’ in order to see if they would turn from their ways (Genesis 15:16), and Who gave Egypt every opportunity to escape judgment if only they would release His people. Every plague, until the final ones, was a new offer of mercy.

But the working out of the whole prophecy demonstrates that YHWH is ready to show mercy on all who truly repent, whether they be foreign mariners, a disobedient prophet or a sinful Nineveh. And in the final chapter the reasonableness of this is underlined. It is the main purpose of the prophecy to bring out this message.

Analysis of Jonah 1:1-17.

a Now the word of YHWH came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it, for their wickedness is come up before me” (Jonah 1:1-2).

b But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of YHWH, and he went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid its fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of YHWH (Jonah 1:3).

c But YHWH cast a a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was likely to be broken (Jonah 1:4).

d Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man to his god, and they cast overboard the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the innermost parts of the ship, and he lay, and was fast asleep.’

e So the shipmaster came to him, and said to him, “What do you mean, O sleeper? Arise, call on your God, if so be that God will think on us, so that we perish not” (Jonah 1:6).

f And they said every one to his fellow, “Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is on us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us, we pray you, for whose cause this evil is on us. What is your occupation, and from where do you come? What is your country, and of what people are you?” (Jonah 1:7-8).

g And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear YHWH, the God of heaven, who has made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9).

h Then the men were hugely afraid, and said to him, “What is this that you have done?” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of YHWH, because he had told them (Jonah 1:10).

g Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may be calm for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous (Jonah 1:11).

f And he said to them, “Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea, so will the sea be calm for you, for I know that for my sake this great tempest is on you.” ’

e Nevertheless the men rowed hard to get themselves back to the land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them (Jonah 1:13).

d For which reason they cried to YHWH, and said, “We beseech you, O YHWH, we beseech you, do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not lay on us innocent blood, for you, O YHWH, have done as it pleased you” (Jonah 1:14).

c So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging (Jonah 1:15).

b Then the men feared YHWH greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to YHWH, and made vows (Jonah 1:16).

a And YHWH prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights (Jonah 1:17).

Note that in ‘a’ YHWH called Jonah to go to Nineveh, and in the parallel beause he did not go YHWH caused a great fish to swallow him. In ‘b’ Jonah, instead of fearing YHWH, took ship to get away from him and paid his fare for the very purpose, and in the parallel the mariners did fear YHWH and approached YHWH and paid Him with their sacrifices and vows. In ‘c’ YHWH threw the wind on the sea, and in the parallel Jonah was thrown on the sea. In ‘d’ the mariners cried to their gods, and in the parallel they cried to YHWH. In ‘e’ the captain was trying every method to save the ship, and in the parallel the mariners made every effort to save the ship. In ‘f’ Jonah was picked out as the villain of the piece, and in the parallel he calls on them to cast him into the sea. In ‘g’ he told them that he served YHWH the God of heaven who had made the sea, and in the parallel they asked him what they could do in order to calm the sea. Centrally in ‘h’ we are faced with the real reason for the problem that they all faced.


Verses 1-18

The Word Was God (John 1:1-18).

John commences his Gospel by speaking of ‘the Word’ (i.e. the One through Whom God has acted and spoken’), and later he adds, ‘all things were made by Him’ (John 1:3) and ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14). It is thus made apparent that ‘the Word’ is Jesus Christ, depicted as the Creator and as God’s word come among man. The letter to the Hebrews contains a similar opening thought, ‘God -- has in these last daysspoken to usby a Son, -- through whom also He made the worlds --.’ Here we have similar concepts expressed, God’s word given in revelation (‘spoken to us by a Son’) and God’s word active in creation (‘through Whom also He made the worlds’). The later contrast of the coming of Jesus with the giving of the Law (the Torah) in John 1:17 confirms that we are to see in ‘the Word’ a very Hebrew concept, for there the contrast is between the giving of the Law and the coming of Jesus Christ, Who has just been revealed as the Word. Thus far from being a static philosophical concept, the idea of ‘the Word is of an active voice, powerful and effective.

This Word, John tells us, existed in the beginning, was in a continual close relationship with God, and indeed was God. He was the Creator of all things and the source of life, a life which gave light to men.

This all reflects the teaching of the Old Testament which declares the eternal permanence of ‘God’s word’ when it contrasts the temporary things of creation with God’s word, ‘vegetation fades -- the word of our God will stand for ever -’ (Isaiah 40:8); and the creative power of ‘the word of God’ when it declares, ‘By the word of the Lord the heavens were made -’ (Psalms 33:6; compare Genesis 1). Furthermore His word is seen as a word which is able to give life and light. Thus ‘Your word has made me alive’ (Psalms 119:50), and ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my way’ (Psalms 119:105). All this parallels John’s description of the Word. And no better description of the ministry of Jesus could be given than ‘So shall My word be which goes forth from my mouth, it will accomplish what I please and prosper in the way to which I sent it’ (Isaiah 55:11). In John’s Gospel Jesus regularly sees Himself as fulfilling such a ministry. See John 5:17; John 5:19; John 5:36; John 7:16-17; John 10:25; John 10:32; John 12:49; John 14:10; John 15:23-24.

So John begins his Gospel with a description of ‘the Word’, the Logos, ‘the One through Whom God has spoken’, Who was already in existence ‘in the beginning’, Who was both in the closest possible communion with God and was Himself God, and Who existed in the beginning with God (John 1:1-2). He then goes on to depict Him as the source of creation (John 1:3), and especially of life (John 1:4).

It is true that in John’s day ‘the logos’ was a useful term to use for it was a thought which would excite both Greek and Jew. For the non-Christian Greek it would bring to mind ‘the eternal Reason’ (Logos), existing before all things and at the root of all things, from Which all comes (an idea found constantly in both Philo and the Greek philosophers), whilst the Jew would think both of the eternal word of God which spoke in creation, when God spoke and the basis of everything came into being (Genesis 1:3 onwards; ‘by the word of the Lord were the heavens made’ - Psalms 33:6), and of the word of God which gave life, (‘Your word has made me alive’ - Psalms 119:50), and light, (‘God said, let there be light, and there was light’ - Genesis 1:3, - ‘your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my way’ - Psalms 119:105).

John feeds these very thoughts for he not only describes the Word as fully divine, but goes on to describe Him as the creative word, and as the Word Who brings about creation, life and light. He is the source of creation (‘by Him all things were made’ - John 1:2-3), and He is the source of life (‘in Him was life’ - John 1:3) and light (‘the life was the light of men’ (John 1:3).

This concept of Jesus as ‘the Word’ is clearly important to John for he repeats it both in his first letter (1 John 1:1) and in Revelation 19:13. By it he indicates that Jesus Christ as ‘the Word of life’ is the full expression of what God is. Just as we express ourselves through our words, and it is by our words that we make known our inner selves, so through His Word God has expressed Himself, and has made known His inner self, (‘he who has seen me has seen the Father’ - John 14:9). Indeed, as Jesus would later point out, our words so reveal what we are that by our words we will be accounted righteous, and by our words we will be condemned (Matthew 12:37). And this is precisely because our words reveal us for what we are. In the same way therefore The Word is the full expression of God as He is in His inner self. He reveals Him for what He is. We might therefore paraphrase John 1:1 as ‘In the beginning was the One through Whom God spoke and revealed Himself’, both in creation and revelation.

In these internet days this should be so much clearer to us. We go on the net and meet hundreds of people all around the world, and we mainly know them by their words. It is by their words that we truly come to know who and what they are. The more they speak, the more we know. In the same way God sent His Word so that we might know Who and What He is. His Word came in order to reveal Him in His innermost Self.

As already noted possibly the best commentary on the significance of ‘the Word’ is found in Hebrews 1:1-2, ‘God --- has in these last days spoken to us in His Son, Whom He appointed as heir of all things, and by Whom also He made the world’. It brings out that it is God’s eternal Son Who is the word, and is both the end and the beginning.

But it is not long before we learn from John Who the Word is. It is Jesus Christ Himself Who is ‘the Word’, for John tells us that ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14) and was testified to by John the Baptiser (John 1:15). Indeed the writer’s whole purpose in the Gospel is to reveal the earthly life of ‘the Word’, that Word through which shines the invisible heavenly light. His purpose is to make God known through Jesus Christ (John 1:18), and to reveal Who He really is through His words and work.

We note immediately some of the attributes of ‘the Word’.

1). He was already in existence at ‘the beginning’ when God created the heavens and the earth - ‘in the beginning the Word was already in existence’ (John 1:1).

2). It was through Him that the universe was created - ‘all things were made by Him’ (John 1:3)

3). He is the life-giving Word Whose life gives light to men - ‘in Him was life, and the life was the light of men’ (John 1:4). This is the idea which is immediately expanded on and which permeates the Gospel. That He is the source of eternal life (John 1:13; John 3:16; John 5:24; etc.), enables men to ‘see’ the Kingly Rule of God (John 3:2), and brings light in our darkness (John 8:12; etc).

4). He is the One Who became man - ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14). This will be expanded on throughout the Gospel, for one main purpose of His coming was in order to reveal the Father to those who could see (John 14:7-9).

But why should Jesus uniquely be called ‘the Word’? Certainly in Hebrew thought ‘the Word’ (Hebrew - debar) is seen as significant as an extension of God. ‘By the word of the Lord were the Heavens made, and all their hosts by the breath of His mouth’ (Psalms 33:6). This links directly with Genesis 1 where ‘God said’ and it was done. Creation took place by God’s word. Thus the term ‘Word’ signifies the powerful, creative Word of God Who brought about creation. That this is in John’s mind John 1:3 makes clear, for the Word is seen as the One who carries out the work of creation, ‘by Him all things were made’. Compare also Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:1-3.

Furthermore we should also note again that it is God’s ‘word’ which gives life and light. ‘Your word has made me alive’ (Psalms 119:50), says the Psalmist. And again, ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my way’ (Psalms 119:105). God’s word gives both life and light. And that this light is continually closely allied with life also comes out in the words of the Psalmist when he declares, ‘for with you is the fountain of life, in your light will we see light (Psalms 36:9). It is through His life, flowing out from Him, that we see light. Thus John declares, ‘His life is the light of men’ (John 1:4). Light and life are also closely linked in Job 3:20, ‘For this reason is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul’.

On top of this the phrase ‘the word of the Lord’ is constantly used in the Old Testament to signify God’s specific intentions which He is determined to bring about. The idea behind this is exemplified in Isaiah 55:11 where ‘His word’ is revealed as powerfully effective, ‘so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth, it will not return to me empty, but it will accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it’ (Isaiah 55:11). Here His word is like a living thing, driving forward inexorably to do God’s will, in a similar way to that in which Jesus is portrayed as inevitably carrying forward His ministry. Whilst Isaiah also brings out that His Word is in fact eternal in contrast with nature - ‘vegetation fades -- the word of our God will stand for ever -’ (Isaiah 40:8). So ‘the Word’ is the eternal means by which the powerful activity of God is carried out as He brings about His own purpose.

This is all reinforced by the fact that the Aramaic targums (free translations of the Scripture from Hebrew to Aramaic used in the Synagogue) regularly use the term ‘word’ (memra, debura) as an extension of God. This suggests that the idea of ‘the word’ as indicating the divine in action was already current when the targums were translated. (See for example Numbers 7:89, ‘the word (debura) was talking with him’, and Genesis 28:10, ‘the word (debura) desired to talk with him’. Here the word (debura) was certainly representative of God).

Fourthly, we must note that, in the New Testament, the saving message itself is called ‘the word (logos) of God’ or ‘the word’ (Acts 6:2; Acts 11:1 and often in the New Testament). Thus when in 1 John 1 :1 John describes Jesus as ‘the Word of life’, he is stressing that the word that offers salvation offers the One Who is ‘the Word’. It is not just pointing to a doctrine, it is pointing to a person. It is not enough just to receive the word, they must receive The Word Himself through Whom God is revealed. This is brought out in the Gospel in that the logos of Jesus is a saving word, so that to reject it is to miss out on salvation (John 5:24; John 8:37; John 8:43; John 12:48; John 15:3; John 17:14; see also John 2:22; John 4:41; John 4:50; John 8:20).

Thus it is the One Who is the Word, Who is the One through Whom God has spoken and revealed Himself. He is God’s word personified. Moses had brought God’s instruction (torah = instruction, law), and was, along with Aaron, God’s voice, but what the Word has brought in Himself is truth and revelation in overflowing measure which permeates the heart of man (John 1:16-17). The Torah becomes written in the heart through His word (Hebrews 8:10-12; Jeremiah 31:33-34) because He indwells His people’s hearts (John 14:23; Ephesians 3:17).

So the Word is the source and means of creation, the giver of life and light, the means of the powerful activity of God in the fulfilling of His purposes, and is the channel of His life-giving truth to men. The uniqueness and divinity and Saviourhood of Jesus Christ is being clearly brought out.

But John was living among Greek thought in Ephesus when he wrote these words, and had been for many years. There he had been brought in contact with Greek ideas on the meaning of the Logos (the Word), and by connecting it with the Hebrew ideas, it almost certainly extended its meaning to his mind. Thus he saw this very Hebrew idea as a means of reaching out to Greeks. For the Greeks used the word Logos of the uncreated ‘Reason’ which lay behind creation, that which was uncreated and eternal, participating in the creation and sustenance of the Universe, distinct from God and yet partaking of the divine essence. He was proclaiming a Hebrew idea which he knew would also speak to Greeks.

However, having accepted this fact, we must not overlook the fact that there was a difference in emphasis between the Greek and Hebrew concepts, and that it is the Hebrew idea which is predominant in John’s Gospel. The Greeks saw ‘Reason’ (logos) as impersonal (or semi-personal, like Wisdom in Proverbs 8) and in a sense remote, although always present. The Hebrews under guidance from God saw ‘the word (logos) of God’ as personal, powerful, active and effective, and it was thus something that could be personified. It was God Himself acting in power. It was the creative, sustaining, illuminating ‘word of God’, both sustaining and enlightening. In that word God directly involved Himself with His creation. And through it He dealt with darkness (Genesis 1:3-5). In the same way John realised that the powerful Word had come now to deal with the spiritual darkness of mankind which was constantly seeking to overcome the light (John 1:4). A new spiritual creation was taking place in the coming of Jesus.

So the idea of the ‘Word’ contained the idea of One Who was uncreated and eternal, Who was the source and controller of the Universe, and was the effective instrument of God in providing life and light and overcoming the darkness. That is why the writer to the Hebrews, in Hebrews 1:1-3, says ‘God has spoken to us by a Son --- through Whom also He created the world --- Who --- upholds all things by His powerful word’.

Yet in the end John’s emphasis is surely finally on Jesus as the One who IS the Gospel, the very Word of truth, the One Who is the Word of God to man, The One Who is God’s saving Word. Certainly we are to see that He was the creative Word, and the sustaining Word, the uncreated One who was ever with God and sustains all things, but most importantly He was to be seen as the saving Word, from which all else takes its meaning. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. Through Him we receive eternal life. Thus even from the beginning the idea of Him as the Worker of Salvation was pre-eminent.

This is why throughout the Gospel special emphasis is laid on Jesus’ own ‘word’ (logos). See John 2:22; John 4:41; John 4:50; John 5:24; John 8:20; John 8:37; John 8:43; John 12:48; John 15:3; John 17:14. As ‘the Word’ His word is powerful and effective and of vital importance so that those who refuse to respond to it can only come under judgment. What He is as ‘the Word’ comes out in His spoken word which is God’s word to men.

So to sum up we may see the Word as:

· The One through Whom God has created.

· The One Who gives spiritual life and light.

· The One through Whom God has acted.

· The One through Whom God has spoken

· The One through Whom God saves.

And underlying it all is the fact that, throughout all that was to come, it was God’s word which would prevail, His word which reveals His Word. The word of God is powerful precisely because it reveals the Word of God to man. And it is through that word that His purposes have been fulfilled in history precisely because behind it was the Word acting out His saving purpose through the word. We see this brought out in Revelation. The One Who is the Word of God comes forth, and His garment is sprinkled with blood. Furthermore it is with what comes forth from His mouth that He smites the nations (Revelation 19:13; Revelation 19:15). God’s Word both saves and judges.

Let us then now consider his words more deeply in terms of what John says.


Verse 2

‘And the Word was with God.’ ‘With God’ in the Greek is ‘pros ton theon’ i.e. ‘towards God’, signifying close relationship. It reflects more than just being ‘with God’. We might translate ‘face to face with God in close relationship’. There was between the Word and God an inter-personal relationship so close that the One blended into the Other.

‘And the Word was God’ (Gk. theos en ho logos). Here the unique nature of the Word is made clear. Note the growth in movement from ‘existing in the beginning’ -- to -- ‘being face to face with God in close relation’ -- to -- ‘being of the very nature of God’.

We must translate this as, ‘The Word was essentially of the very nature of God’. Some try to lessen the impact of the verse by saying that there is no definite article before theos and that it therefore simply means ‘divine’, and then they try to water down the meaning of divine to suit their purposes (ignoring the fact that theos must in context be correlated with the previous use of theos). So while it is true that it means divine, it must also be stressed that in context it means fully divine. It means being of the very essence of what God is.

To have put a definite article in would have meant the words meant ‘God and the Word were absolutely synonymous, the Word was the whole of the Godhead’ and this was clearly not what John meant. But ‘theos’ here is an adjectival noun (which the lack of article demonstrates), and theos has already been used in the verse to mean God in His essence (pros ton theon). Here ‘theos’ immediately follows that statement in close connection, a connection as close as it could be (‘theon kai theos’), for it is made the first word in the phrase for the purpose of emphasis. Thus he is saying ‘He was face to face with God and of that very God-nature was the Word’. This can only mean full divinity. There was no other way John could have said this so concisely. We might translate as ‘what God was, the Word was’ (NEB).

John 1:2 ‘He was in the beginning with God.’

This repetition of the opening clause is intended to stress what has been said already, thereby giving twofold witness. It is stressing that ‘in the beginning, before anything was created, God and His Logos (Word) were there together, already eternally existent.’ This was something both Jew and Greek could agree on. Where they would have differed was concerning what the Word consisted of. John tells both that it consisted of Jesus as the full expression of God, as the eternal Reason, as the powerful saving word of God through Whom He acts.


Verse 3

‘All things were made by (or through) Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.’

Note the continual twofold repetition. ‘In the beginning was the Word -- the Word was in the beginning with God’, followed by ‘All things were made by (or through) Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.’ The repetition in the two statements in both cases stresses the importance of the subject matter. Here what is being emphasised was His total control in creation, firstly positively and then negatively. These words link the Word spoken of in John directly with the creation of all things, and therefore with the creative Word of Genesis 1. They indicate that that was John’s intention. In Genesis 1 creation took place through the powerful command of God, and the Word is thus powerfully linked with God’s creative power (‘by the word of the Lord the heavens were made’ - Psalms 33:6). So, by equating Jesus with the Word, John is directly linking Jesus with God’s act of creating. He is saying that when, for example, God said, by His word, ‘Let there be light’, and light resulted, it was through Jesus Christ Himself that He was acting. God’s Word went forth in creating. In other words Jesus Christ, Who had now walked this earth as a man, is portrayed as being Himself the Creator of all things by His divine power, the Creator of light and the Creator of all that is, to such an extent that nothing that was made was made without Him.

We should note here the significance of this for our doctrine of God. In Genesis 1:2 we have God’s Word going forth, a very part of Himself, and God’s Spirit ready to bring about His will. The triune God is in action.


Verse 4

‘In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.’

It is now emphasised that the Word was not only the Creator but as such was the source of life, because in the beginning it was He Who created life, first the living creatures, and then man. And it was the very unique life that He gave to man (Genesis 1:26; Genesis 2:7) that meant that man had an awareness shared by no other on earth. Man alone received the light of conscience and thought. Man alone was able to reason profoundly. Man alone was able to know and worship God. Man alone was ‘in the image of God’ (or ‘in the image of the elohim, the heavenly beings’). And here we learn that it was He the Word Who was the source of man’s life, and Who gave man light. As the Psalmist says, ‘Your word has made me alive’ (Psalms 119:50), ‘For with you is the fountain of life, in your light will we see light’ (Psalms 36:9). But, as John’s Gospel will now make clear, there is more to it even than that. The Word is not only the source and fountain of life and light as men know it on earth but He has come to reveal life and light in its fullest sense, to reveal a deeper life, to reveal a life fuller than man has ever known before, and to bring men to walk in His spiritual light. He has come to bring to men, that is, to those who will receive it, new life, abundant life, spiritual life, overflowing life, everlasting life, which has its source in Him, and in the ‘eternal life’ that results.

This life is to be like a light within, more powerful than the conscience or the reason, revealing good and evil to man (John 3:19-20), and above all revealing God. That is why in 1 John 1:1 Jesus is specifically called ‘the Word of life’, because Jesus, the One Whom they have heard, seen and touched, is to be seen as essentially God’s saving Word, His life-giving word. This connection between life and light is most important. It is the life of which He is the source, and which He imparts, which gives light (John 1:4; John 8:12). This emphasis distinguishes the idea from both Greek ideas and from ideas at Qumran.

To the Greeks the idea of the Logos (the Reason) included the thought that it was a light within revealing morality and understanding, while the connection between the Word and light was well known to the Jews as expressed in Psalms 119:105, ‘your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path’ (compare also Proverbs 6:23). But the one saw it as intellectual and the other as rooted in the Law of God, the Torah, and it is with the Torah that this new light is being contrasted here (John 1:17). In a similar way the Qumranis saw themselves as ‘sons of light’ because they followed the teaching of their community. But here the emphasis is on the light-giver as a Person. For John is here seeking to turn their eyes on this One Who went beyond, and was the fulfilment of, all in which they sought to believe. Greater than their reason, greater than the Torah, was the One Who had come as ‘the very Word of God’, revealing His glory, bringing about His will, offering salvation to man.


Verse 5

‘And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not lay hold of it.’

John now turns to the purpose of His coming. His first emphasis here is on the fact that the world is in darkness. It is ever waiting for light. And just as at creation darkness had to be brought into subjection by the creation of light, so must spiritual darkness be overcome by spiritual light, the light of God. Into the prevailing darkness light must come (Genesis 1:3). Both Greek and Jew would have agreed that this was so. The Greek would have agreed that they were still seeking greater knowledge and understanding, the Jew that they needed more light on the Torah. Thus both would have agreed that, while considering themselves more enlightened than others, they were still short of the full light. Now, says John, here is that full light. The light of the world (John 8:12) has come.

John here surely has initially in mind the ‘conflict’ between light and darkness in Genesis 1:3-5 (compare how Paul uses the same idea in 2 Corinthians 4:4-6). God created light thus putting darkness to flight, and then had to separate the two so that the darkness could not overcome the light. Every night darkness overtakes the world, although not completely because of God-given moon and stars (even at its height darkness is still controlled), and every day the victory of darkness is prevented because the sun rises and puts it to flight (compare Psalms 19:1-6 for the idea of the importance of the sun. See Psalms 74:16 for the fact that God controls both day and night by means of ‘the luminary and the sun’. See also Psalms 136:7-9). That is why in the end the cessation of the light of the sun, moon and stars is seen as an essential part of God’s judgments. When judgment comes light will be destroyed and darkness will overcome the world (Isaiah 13:9-10; Isaiah 34:4; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Joel 2:31; Joel 3:15; Amos 8:9; Matthew 24:29; Mark 13:24-25; Revelation 6:12-13; Revelation 8:12). Thus judgment will result in the world once again being plunged into eternal darkness. But in contrast those who are His will enjoy the Lord Who will be their everlasting light (Isaiah 60:19-20).

But just as the Old Testament does in places John spiritualises the idea. There can be little doubt from the language that he uses that he has Isaiah 9:2 in mind. There to those who ‘walked in darkness’ and ‘dwelt in darkness’ there was to ‘shine a great light’, and that light was connected with the coming of the expected King who would make all right (John 9:5-6). Thus when we read here that ‘the light shone in the darkness’, and that Jesus later speaks of ‘walking in darkness’ (John 8:12; John 12:35) and ‘abiding in darkness’ (John 12:46) we can hardly fail to see a connection. This is especially so as Matthew cites the same verse in relation to the ministry of Jesus (Matthew 4:15-16). Thus the shining of the light in the darkness has in mind the coming of the Messiah.

The writer deals regularly with the theme of spiritual darkness (compare Micah 3:6; 2 Samuel 22:29). The world is in darkness. It is the sphere where men can hide from their sinfulness - ‘men loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil’ (John 3:19; compare Proverbs 2:13; Proverbs 4:19; Isaiah 5:20; Isaiah 58:10). That is why they do not respond to Jesus Christ because they do not want to come into the light. It is the sphere in which men walk blindly on. Thus in John 8:12 and John 12:46 we are told that those who follow Jesus ‘will not walk or abide in darkness’ (compare Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 50:10; Isaiah 59:9; Psalms 107:10-14). And most importantly in John 12:35 it is the sphere which should be avoided at all costs (which can now be accomplished because the light has come - Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 60:2). ‘Walk while you have the light that darkness may not overtake you’ says Jesus in John 12:35. There the verb is the same as here. So to be in darkness is to be away from the truth as revealed through Jesus.

But now, says John, in contrast the Light has come (compare Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 60:1-2). Jesus, God’s very Word manifest as a human being, has come with the light of life to dispel that darkness. He is Himself as a light shining in the darkness, and as that Light He will make men aware of their sinfulness and need, and lead them into truth by bringing them to Himself. As Jesus would say later, ‘I am the light of the world, he who walks with me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12). Through Him it is possible for us to walk continually in God’s light (1 John 1:7), and this through enjoying His life, through being ‘born of God’ (John 1:13).

Thus the word He has brought, and the truth He reveals and the life that He offers come as a light to men to take them out of darkness, and reveal to them full truth. That is why He is ‘the Word’. The Greeks thought of the light of reason, the Jews the light of the Torah. John is saying that Jesus has come to make that light fully effective within. He is a greater light than either Reason or the Torah. As he will say later, ‘the Torah was given by Moses but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’ (John 1:17). This last is important because it brings out that finally it is the Hebrew thought that lies at the back of John’s idea of Him as ‘the Word’. It is to be seen as in contrast to the Torah (as interpreted by men).

‘The darkness does not lay hold of it.’ The Greek verb used here has more than one meaning. This could mean that although the light is shining men refuse to grasp it because they are in darkness, (light has come into the world, but men love darkness rather than light - John 3:19). Or it could mean that the darkness cannot ‘lay hold of it’ and suppress it, cannot ‘overcome it’, that this new light is triumphant over all the attempts of darkness to snuff it out. Both interpretations are true and would express John’s thought accurately. The darkness is powerless against the true light. However, comparison with John 12:35 where Jesus speaks of ‘darkness laying hold of you’ (same verb), picturing darkness as seeking to engulf men and prevent them responding to the light, suggests that the emphasis is on the second, and this is confirmed by the comparison with Isaiah 9:2. Darkness will never overcome this light, even though it will overtake those who refuse the light.

So the picture is of the Word of God coming with the light of life (‘eternal life’ as it will often be spoken of from now on) and overcoming the darkness that blinds mankind. Truth has come. Darkness will be dispelled for those who respond, just as it was dispelled at the beginning. The Word has brought life (John 1:13; John 3:15-16; John 5:24; John 8:12; and often). And in receiving His life we receive light. It is this reception of life that is a central theme of the Gospel (John 20:31. See John 3:15-16; John 3:36; John 4:14; John 4:36; John 5:24; John 5:26; John 5:29; John 5:39-40; John 6:27; John 6:33; John 6:35; John 6:40; John 6:47-48; John 6:51; John 6:53-54; John 6:63; John 6:68; John 8:12; John 10:10; John 10:28; John 11:25; John 12:25; John 12:50;John 14:6;John 17:2-3; John 20:21). Specific mention of the light-giving aspect is mainly concentrated in chapters 8-12 (John 8:12; John 9:5; John 11:9-10; John 12:35-36; John 12:46; but note John 3:19-21). And it is no accident that, continuing the parallel with the creation account, in John 20:22 Jesus breathes on His disciples with the breath of life, the Holy Spirit (compare Genesis 2:7). The Gospel will conclude where it began with the triumph of God’s new creation as he imparts His light-giving life.

The centrality of Jesus as the source of our life will come out later in those sayings which take us right into the heart of God, the ‘I AM’ sayings. ‘I am the bread of life’ (John 6:35). ‘I am the light of the world -- (bringing) the light of life’ (John 8:12) ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ (John 11:25). ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ (John 14:6). Our life as His people is totally bound up in Him. ‘He who has the Son, has life’ (1 John 5:12).

But now there is a sudden change in emphasis. Up to this point John has been somewhat philosophical, looking at the grand scope of things. But now he goes on to ground the idea of the coming of the Word firmly in history. For the Word ‘was made flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14). He wants them therefore to know that he is not writing simply in order to bring some new ideas for men to consider. Rather he is writing in order to introduce them to the Word as One Who is made flesh and living among us (John 1:14). The dispelling of spiritual darkness by the Light has become an actuality. And that is what the Gospel will go on to reveal.


Verse 6-7

‘There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness that he might bear witness of the light that all may believe through him.’

For the Word did not come unheralded. ‘A man’ came (in contrast with the Word Who was God), sent from God, whose name was John (the Baptiser). There is no idea here that this man was just someone who was simply ‘inspired’ in a general way, a new thinker. Rather he is seen as a man specifically ‘sent from God’. And the purpose of this sending is shown to be that he might point to a great light, that he might bear witness to One Who was the full light of God, so that through his testimony ‘all may believe’.

All the Gospels combine in pointing out that John was the preparer of the way (see Mark 1:2-3; Mark 1:7-8; Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16; John 1:23; John 1:30), and they all make clear the success of his ministry. People of every kind came to hear him and to respond to his teaching. He brought men to repentance and was renewing men’s moral awareness in order that they may respond to the coming light. But notice the verb used. ‘There came ---’ (egeneto), compare John 1:3 where it means ‘came into being’. There is a stress that, in contrast to Jesus Who always ‘was’, John the Baptiser has ‘come into being’. In contrast with the Word, John is of the earth, not of Heaven.

‘Whose name was John.’ He wants his readers to realise that this was not just a vague someone but a genuine man who lived and taught and had a name. John the Baptiser would not be unknown to his readers. His powerful ministry had had an impact that had reached much further than Palestine, and there were followers of John the Baptiser all around the world wherever Jews could be found. It is one of the evidences that this Gospel was written by John the Apostle that he, and he alone, spoke of the Baptiser simply as ‘John’. For he never speaks of himself by that name but rather describes himself as the one ‘whom Jesus loved’, something which humbled him to the core. And the more the Apostle sought to advance Jesus Christ, the more he withdrew himself into the background. He did not want men to see him as ‘the only now-living Apostle’. He wanted to withdraw himself into obscurity so that all eyes would be on Christ. No other could have so ignored the Apostle John and intentionally have not named him or his brother.


Verse 8-9

‘He was not the light, but came that he might bear witness of the light, which was the true light, which lights every man coming into the world.’

The stress now is on the fact that John was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. He pointed away from himself to Another. He was not himself ‘the Light’ in the fullest sense of the word (although Jesus would later say that ‘he was a burning and a shining light’ - John 5:35) because this coming light was unique, He would be the true and full light of God, ‘the light of the world’ (John 8:12). Thus he, John, could only point away from himself to the light Who was coming, that men may believe in Him. Indeed the whole emphasis concerning John the Baptiser in this Gospel is on him as a witness to Jesus Christ.

It is significant that John has to point out that John the Baptiser was not the light. In the time of Jesus and the early church there were many followers of John the Baptiser (compare Acts 19:1-7), who followed John so intensely that they omitted to accept his witness and turn to Jesus. In a sense they were rivals to the early church. John wants men to see that if they follow the teaching of John it can only lead them to Jesus. But this very much emphasises the centrality of Hebrew thought in this passage. No one, not even John the Baptiser’s closest followers, would have thought of John in terms of the Greek Logos.

‘Which lights every man coming into the world.’ Whether ‘coming into the world’ is to be attached to ‘every man’ as signifying ‘lightensevery man that comes into the world’, thus applying it literally to ‘every man’, or whether it should be attached to ‘the true light’ as signifying ‘the true light --- that was coming into the world’ is open to question. But both essential ideas are true, for He was certainly coming into the world, and He was equally certainly coming as a light to every man who was coming into the world. But the latter is more probably the essential meaning as normal Greek usage suggests. The Light had lightened all men at creation by making man a spiritual being, and was now coming into the world as the One Who lightens every man from a spiritual perspective. The offer was universal. Though not all would receive the light, it would shine on them, and by their response to it the truth about them would be revealed (John 3:19-21). Compare how Jesus is elsewhere constantly described as the One Who was ‘coming into the world’ (John 6:14; John 9:39; John 11:27; John 16:28).

On the other hand we could see it as meaning that the Word was a universal light shining on every man, pleading for response, and yet soon fading as far as they were concerned as men closed their minds and hearts to Him. This thought is amplified by Paul in Romans 1:19-20. To those whose hearts are open to the light, Nature itself will reveal the truth about God’s eternal power and Godhead.

Isaiah describes the Coming Servant of the Lord as being ‘a light to the Gentiles’ (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6), words which are cited in Luke 2:32 of Jesus, and this ties in with the idea of Him ‘lighting every man who comes into the world’ rather than just the Jews. This may well indicate that Isaiah’s prophetic ideas are foremost in his thoughts.

That this light refers to Jesus is immediately made clear (John 1:10-11; John 1:14) and also comes out later in the chapter where John the Baptiser bears his testimony to Jesus (John 1:29-34). It is testimony to how faithful the Gospel writer is to his sources that he does not try to put terms like ‘the Word’ or even ‘the light’ on the lips of John the Baptiser. But the reader is left in no doubt that Jesus is the One to Whom ‘the Word’ and ‘the light’ refer. (It is even more significant in that the Qumranists spoke of ‘the sons of light’ and the ‘spirit of lights’, so that John must have been aware of such terminology, and could well have used it, but of course their light was the light of the Torah as illuminated by the ‘good spirit’ and by ‘the Teacher of Righteousness’).


Verse 10

‘He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world did not know him.’

This verse reflects the different meanings of the word ‘world’ in the Gospel. In the Gospel ‘the world’ generally refers to the whole of mankind in contrast with God and His true people. God loved ‘the world’ and wanted to save them (John 3:16). The Pharisees were ‘of this world’ (John 8:23-24). Jesus’ disciples were ‘not of the world’ (John 17:14; John 17:16). The ‘world’ does not know God (John 17:25, and here). Christ’s kingdom is ‘not of this world’ (John 18:36). In general ‘the world’ is seen to be in darkness and separate from God.

But here the true light was ‘in the world’. The world was being given a unique opportunity. Yet John tells us that although He had in fact ‘made the world’, the world did not know Him. Thus we see different nuances to the term ‘world’, the one gliding into the other. In the first case ‘the world’ consists of all that is created, in the second it combines both meanings, for both the created world and the unbelieving world were made by Him, but in the third case ‘the world’ is the world of unbelieving men, the world of human affairs as opposed to God, the world in darkness, as is more normal in John. John thus moves smoothly from the idea of the created world as a whole to the world without God. That is why we are told later that we are to be in it (John 17:11), but not of it (John 15:19; John 17:14; John 17:16).

‘The world did not know him.’ ‘Know’ could mean ‘recognise’ or it could mean ‘personal response’. The word ginosko used here suggests something of the latter. But why did they not respond? Because they were blind? Because they were too busy and He got in the way? Because He did not fit in with their preconceived notions? All of these were true, and more. The Creator was rejected because they did not want His kind of world. In other words they were not just blind, they were guilty. They deliberately closed their eyes to the light.


Verse 11

‘He came to his own, and those who were his own did not receive him.’

He came to His own ‘home’ (ta idia - translated ‘home’ correctly in Acts 21:6), and His own people received Him not. Here now it is made clear that Jesus is being spoken of. This was not just some abstract philosophical idea, but a human being who came as God’s Word, not only to the world, but to ‘His own people’, and was rejected by both them, and the world at large. The remainder of the Gospel will expand on this rejection.

It was ever a wonder to John that the very people who had looked for His coming, and whose fathers had waited longingly and yearningly through the centuries for that time, were not willing to receive Him when He came. But of course what they had yearned after was not what Jesus had come to be. What they had yearned for was superiority and plenty, and for abundance of good things and complete security. They yearned to rule the nations. But He had come to reach the hearts of men, not to pander to their desires. He wanted them to yearn for truth. He wanted them to rule themselves under the Kingly Rule of God.

The verses are full of irony. He made the world, but it did not know Him. He had a chosen people whom He had prepared to act as a home for Him, but they too failed to respond and receive God’s Word. None would make the response He was seeking. When Christians who are fully committed to Christ sometimes feel strangers in their own surroundings they can comfort themselves with the thought that they follow in His steps. Yet there were those who did respond, and we now learn that to them was given the great privilege of becoming ‘children of God’.


Verse 12-13

‘But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe on His name.’

But even in the world in its darkness there would be those who responded, and they would thereby receive the right to ‘become the children of God, by ‘believing on His Name’’ that is, by believing in Him for what He really is. John here makes a clear distinction between general humanity, who view themselves as ‘children of God’ in a general sense; the Jews, who saw themselves as God’s children in a special way (Deuteronomy 14:1), and believers in Jesus who become children of God in a unique sense through being born of the Spirit (John 1:14; John 3:6). And he stresses that it is the last only who are the true children of God. For this is the purpose for which the Word has come. He has come to bring men to God and to give them the life of the Spirit, and it is only through that, and through a loving response to His word, that they can be His children. For to be the children of God means being ‘perfect, even as He is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48), something which can only be found by response to Jesus, by belief and trust in Him.

‘Those that believe on His name’. The verb is followed by eis signifying ‘believe into’. This phrase is used regularly by John denoting personal, responsive faith as apart from just credence (compare John 2:24 - although the difference is not always held).


Verse 13

‘Who were born, not of bloods, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’

John now stresses that men can only become genuinely ‘children of God’ in a spiritual sense when they have had a ‘new birth’. When they have received new life from God. So he is again stressing the distinction between the whole of humanity, who view themselves as children of God in a general sense (Acts 17:28), and believers in Jesus who are children of God in a unique sense through being ‘born of the Spirit’ (John 3:6). This is revealed as the purpose for which the Word has come, to bring men to God and give them the life of the Spirit. ‘In Him was life, and the life was the light of men’ (John 1:4).

John is careful to make his meaning clear. ‘It is not of bloods’. This spiritual birth has no connection with natural birth. It does not refer to normal birth, when there is plenty of blood, taking the plural as intensive. Alternately this may be saying that being born a Jew, or a Roman, or a Greek (each considered themselves special) did not bring this privilege, for it was ‘not of bloods’, the plural here expressing the multiplicity of sources.

‘Nor of the will of the flesh.’ This could signify that it was not a birth that resulted from men exercising their will to follow God’s commandments (e.g. the Torah), or to become members of a special community (even the Christian community), for it was not of the will of the flesh. (We should note that in John ‘the flesh’ is not essentially speaking of what is weak or evil. It is rather speaking of humanness. ‘The Word was made flesh’). Alternatively it may have in mind the natural desires of the flesh which resulted in procreation, or the desire for an heir, something which was not to be seen as producing ‘children of God’ in any spiritual sense.

‘Nor of the will of man.’ This new birth was not something that could be bestowed by any man, whoever he was, whether John the Baptiser, or a priest, or the Pharisees, or any other. It was not ‘of the will of man’, or under the control of men. This may include the idea that it is not the result of the decision of a human father to have children, but the primary reference is to exclude all human activity. Thus it excludes anything that man does which can be thought of in terms of ‘birth’ in any way, whether religious or otherwise. It even excludes baptism carried out simply as a rite. The important lesson is that man has nothing to do with this birth whatsoever. It is something which is between God and the individual alone.

‘But of God.’ That is the essence of it. They are ‘born of God’. It is the result of a direct person-to-God relationship. And by it they leave ‘the world’ and become His, and become members of His own risen body. They become His chosen ones.


Verse 14

‘And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.’

Now John declares openly the startling and unique nature of the Christian message. It is that ‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.’ The greatness that was the God of creation, the eternal Reason, became truly human. He was made genuine flesh. The gods were often thought of as taking on human bodies, of dwelling for a time among men, but never as being ‘made flesh’. Always they retained their essential natures. But here was the unique miracle. The ‘only begotten (monogenes) of the Father’, the only One Who was of the same nature as the Father, fully took on human nature and became man in the fullest sense of the word. The idea behind monogenes is that He was uniquely ‘God’s only Son’, of one essence with the Father, partaking of the divine nature. Being eternal He could not be ‘born’ but He could be of the same essential nature as the Father, just as a human son has the same essential nature as his father. This destroys for ever any suggestion that He was a created being.

Thus men could see Him, watch Him, touch Him, talk with Him, from babyhood to the grave (1 John 1:1-4). And those who went around with Him saw Him under every circumstance. As John could say elsewhere, ‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have gazed upon, and touched with our hands - of the Word of life’ (1 John 1:1). It was to be no fleeting glimpse. It was a day by day contact with, and awareness of, the One Who was the Word. They had walked with Him and lived with Him among the everyday problems and trials of life, and what they had seen had only convinced them the more that they had seen ‘the glory as of the only begotten of the Father’. Indeed Jesus will later explain to them that in Him they have seen the Father Himself (John 14:7-9).

‘The only begotten of the Father.’ As noted it is important to note that the emphasis and emphatic idea behind the term ‘begotten’, as with the use of the term ‘the Son’ in parallel with ‘the Father’, was that He was of the same nature as the Father. It is stressing that He was not created, but was truly God. But as with all human pictures it must not be overpressed. As John has already indicated it does not indicate that He came into existence after the Father, for He always ‘was’ (John 1:1).

‘And tabernacled among us’. The Greek word is eskenosen. The glory of God had come down on the Tabernacle of old, but it was a glory which had only partly been revealed, for when He was there the cloud hid him from men’s sight. Now His glory had again descended, again shielded in a Tabernacle, but this time the tabernacle was a human body. In this case God only begotten had been ‘made flesh’.

‘We beheld His glory.’ Many men have lived glorious lives, some more than others, but always those who knew them best have known of weaknesses that have marred the image. But in this case it was different. Having known Him so intimately that no fault could have been hidden John could only say of this One, ‘we beheld His glory’. There was no weakness, there was nothing that could detract from the image. His glory was as the only begotten of the Father, perfect in all His ways.

These words must not be limited to the glorious revelation of Jesus at the Transfiguration when they saw His glory in a physical sense and He was revealed before them in dazzling light (Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2-3; Luke 9:29), although that is included. It refers to the totality of the glory of His life in every situation, a glory revealed in the Gospel that is to follow (see John 2:11; John 11:4; John 12:41). And he is asking his readers to consider this glory for themselves as revealed in what follows.

‘As of the only begotten of the Father.’ Some ancient manuscripts have ‘as of the only Son of the Father’. But that is clearly the easier reading, easily read in from the first, while the change the other way round is inexplicable in the early days. Thus John declares Him to be the ‘only-begotten’ in the true sense of the word, in contrast with those who will be begotten of God by new birth (John 1:12-13), His begetting was in a unique sense and from all eternity. He was the only begotten Son of the Father (John 1:18) in a sense in which no other was.

John continually stresses this uniqueness of Jesus. Israel had been God’s ‘firstborn son’ (Exodus 4:22; Jeremiah 31:9), because He had adopted them as His own. The Davidic king was to be made His ‘firstborn’, higher than the kings of the earth (Psalms 89:27). But again the idea was of adoption. Here, however, Jesus is ‘monogenes’, the only one of its kind, something unique in kind, an only Son. He was ‘the Son’ rather than one of many sons. The contrast is brought out powerfully in Mark 12:6. He alone was of the same nature as the Father.

We must indeed recognise that here ‘begotten’ is being used in a unique sense. It is not indicating a ‘begetting’ in time, but indicating a situation that always was, that the ‘the Son’ was of the same nature with ‘the Father’.

‘Full of grace and truth.’ He revealed what He was (God only begotten) by what He was (full of grace and truth). This is what lies at the root of the nature of God. Graciousness, love undeserved, abounding mercy is the essence of what God is and yet always in the context of what is true and right. Grace has to go along with truth, for God cannot deny Himself and His own essential nature. If His grace is to be known it is by response to truth, for the One Who is Love is also Light (1 John 1:5; 1 John 4:8). In the same way the One Who is God’s Word to man came with all compassion to sinful men, but He would only prove of benefit to those who responded to the truth. Men could not enjoy His gracious working in their hearts unless they responded to that truth. All men want to experiene His love and compassion. Few want to face up to the truth that He brought.

So the great uncreated Word, the source and upholder of all things, the light of men, became Himself a man, not just in human guise, but in human flesh. That is why John, along with others, was able to behold His glory, a glory revealed in His life and teaching, in the wonder and purity of His life, and in the graciousness with which He lived. And having beheld that life he had to acknowledge that it revealed Jesus’ unique relationship with the Father as His only Son. To both Greek and Jew this would be a wonder to be gaped at. The eternal Reason, or the creative, revelatory, saving Word, had become man.

We might here note the progression of thought through the passage. ‘In the beginning was the Word (John 1:1) -- in Him was life and the life was the light of men (John 1:4) -- the light was coming into the world (John 1:9) -- the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory -- (John 1:14)’. Having commenced with the creative Word John has moved on inexorably stage by stage to the glory of the incarnate Word.


Verse 15

‘John bears witness of him and cries, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is become before me, for he was before me’.” ’

So as to leave his readers in no doubt the author now stresses again that ‘the Word’ is the One to whom John the Baptiser bears witness. John, who has been sent by God (John 1:6), and whose powerful ministry is everywhere acknowledged, now testifies to the superiority of Jesus. He says of the Word, ‘He who comes after me is now ranked and placed before me, for He existed (was) before me’ (compare John 1:30).

‘He was before me.’ In context the statement must intend to be seen as giving the significance ‘was in existence before me’ as well as ‘was before me in precedence in God’s purposes’. For John is aware of the uniqueness of the One to Whom he testifies. He is aware that He has come from God and from Heaven with a unique pre-existence. The past tense makes this abundantly clear. Had he been thinking of Jesus’ future status he would have used another tense.


Verse 16-17

‘For of his fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace, for the Law (the Torah) was given by Moses, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.’

The author now stresses the overflowing wonder of what Jesus, the Word, has come to do, and stresses His superiority over Moses. The instruction (the Torah) has been replaced by the Word. The book has been replaced by a Person. Moses had given God’s instruction (Hebrew torah = instruction, law) as a guide to men, and as providing through the sacrifices a way of forgiveness, but the instruction had been made harsh and unreasonable by its interpreters. Jesus has come as God’s direct Word to man, active in men’s lives, and has brought undeserved love and favour, together with the fullness of truth. There is nothing harsh and unreasonable about what He declares. Indeed His fullness has overflowed into them in unbounded measure, far exceeding anything offered by Moses.

‘Of His fullness.’ Out of the abounding fullness of what He is His people receive blessing, strength and power, and guidance in their lives.

‘Grace upon grace.’ ‘Charis’ means favour, gracious care and assistance, goodwill, undeserved love. And it will be continually self-producing, a continual flow, never ceasing. This fullness abounds towards them. It flows like a river, grace (God’s unmerited love in action) following after grace in an unceasing flow. The writer speaks from personal knowledge of how, when Jesus was among them, He so patiently bore with their failures and weaknesses and supplied them with strength and guidance in their daily lives. And he stresses that this is now true for all His people today.

Alternately we may translate ‘grace instead of (anti) grace’. The idea being that God revealed His grace through Moses, but now God’s greater grace is revealed in Jesus Christ. But in the next verse there is a contrast between the giving of the Law and the grace that came through Jesus Christ, so that the first interpretation seems the most likely.

‘The Law was given by Moses.’ It is impossible for us today to appreciate how much stress the Jews laid on ‘the Torah’ (the Law of Moses). They saw themselves as the people of the Law, a God-given Law, brought to them by the great Moses, binding them within God’s covenant. And they were excessively proud of the fact. And the writer does not deny this. But he then points out that something better and far superior has come.

‘Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.’ The Law condemned. It pointed the finger. It guided but it left men spiritually exhausted. For they could not meet its terms (see Galatians 3:10). It was weak because of man’s weakness (Romans 8:3). What had been intended to be a help had become a condemner. But Jesus Christ has brought God’s word, indeed has come as God’s Word, bringing an offer of unmerited love and favour and the fullness of truth that far surpasses the Law. He not only brings enlightenment, but the power to enable men to fulfil the Law. Thus Jesus Christ is greater far than Moses.

This contrasting of the Torah with Jesus Christ in the context of Jesus Christ as the Logos underlines the fact that whilst Greek ideas behind the Logos were almost certainly in John’s mind in this passage, it was the Hebrew background to the term which was dominant. In context it is the Torah which is being contrasted with the Word, not Greek philosophy.


Verse 18

‘No man has seen God at any time. God only begotten, (or ‘the only begotten Son’) who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.’

Indeed he sums up by declaring that Jesus is the final revelation of God, as the One Who alone partakes in His essence. He is ‘God only begotten’, alone enjoying the very nature and essence of God.

‘God only begotten.’ Many ancient authorities have here ‘God only begotten’ instead of ‘only begotten Son’, and the evidence for the former is very strong (‘monogenes theos’ instead of ‘ho monogenes ‘uios’). It is especially likely that it represents the original text because the idea of ‘only begotten Son’ (ton ‘uion ton monogene) is found in John 3:16. But either way the meaning is the same. Both mean ‘of the same nature and essence with the Father’. Here was one Who was of the very essence of the Godhead.

‘No one has seen God at any time.’ There were those who had awesome revelations of God, such as Abraham in Genesis 15:12-17; Moses in Exodus 3:2; Exodus 33:21-23 ; Job in Job 42:5-6; Isaiah in Isaiah 6:1 and Ezekiel in Ezekiel 1, but these were but shadows of the great reality. Mainly He was revealed in fire. They had not seen God as He really is. For God is the One Who dwells in unapproachable light, Whom no man has see nor can see (1 Timothy 6:16; 1 John 4:12).

As the hymn writer put it:

The spirits that surround the throne, may bear the burning bliss,

But that is surely theirs alone

For they have never, never known

A fallen world like this.

Yet here He now was revealed in human form. In Jesus the Father was being revealed (John 14:7-9).

‘Who is in the bosom of the Father.’ Compare ‘pros ton theon in John 1:1 - ‘in close relationship with God’. To be in someone’s bosom meant to be in favoured relationship, to enjoy the choicest position, and only one could be in a person’s bosom at a time. Thus Jesus is being portrayed as uniquely favoured by His Father.

‘He has made Him known, (or ‘declared Him’).’ The verb is exegeomai, ‘to explain, interpret, tell, report, describe, and thus make known’. It is used of gods making themselves known to men. In this context therefore it means ‘makes God fully known’. He has made God known as none else had or could do (compare John 14:7-9; Matthew 11:25-27).

Through Jesus Christ, God’s final Word to man, God is revealed as never before, not in the sheer glory of a shining brightness (although a glimpse of that was given at the Transfiguration), but in the fullness of His personality, in His behaviour, in His thought and in His presence. Now we can know what God is really like, for He has sent us His likeness in human form, His final Word to man, and through that Word we can be saved.

We can sum up by considering that behind these last verses (14 onwards) there is a deliberate connection with the Exodus narrative, especially Exodus 33. There God came down to dwell among men in His glory within the tabernacle (Exodus 33:9; Exodus 40:34). Here God comes down, made flesh, to dwell in a humanity which is His tabernacle, and reveals His glory. There the Law was given (Exodus 32:15; Exodus 33:13; Exodus 34:1), here grace and truth come. There God was seen in veiled form in a cloud (Exodus 33:9), here He is more fully revealed, though veiled in flesh. There Moses spoke with God ‘face to face’ (Exodus 33:11), yet in a cloud, for he could not see His glory (Exodus 33:20; Exodus 33:22), here we behold His glory, seeing Him face to face. The new covenant is more real and personal, more glorious, than the old. It is the beginning of a new deliverance.

NOTE. Extract from Plummer’s Commentary on John In The Cambridge Bible Series Re The Word.

John 1:1

(1) In the Old Testament we find the Word or Wisdom of God personified, generally as an instrument for executing the Divine Will. We have a faint trace of it in the ‘God said’ of Genesis 1:3; Genesis 1:6; Genesis 1:9; Genesis 1:11; Genesis 1:14, etc.

The personification of the Word of God begins to appear in the Psalms, Psalms 33:6; Psalms 107:20; Psalms 119:89; Psalms 147:15. In Proverbs 8, 9 the Wisdom of God is personified in very striking terms. This Wisdom is manifested in the power and mighty works of God ; that God is love is a revelation yet to come.

(2) In the Apocrypha the personification is more complete than in O. T. In Ecclesiasticus (c. B.C. 150—100) Sirach 1:1-20; Sirach 24:1-22, and in the Book of Wisdom (c. B.C. 100) Wisdom of Solomon 6:22 to Wisdom of Solomon 9:18 we have Wisdom strongly personified. In Wisdom of Solomon 18:15 the 'Almighty Word' of God appears as an agent of vengeance.

(3) In the Targums, or Aramaic paraphrases of O.T., the development is carried still further. These, though not yet written down, were in common use among the Jews in our Lord's time; and they were strongly influenced by the growing tendency to separate the Godhead from immediate contact with the material world. Where Scripture speaks of a direct communication from God to man, the Targums substituted the Memra, or ' Word of God.' Thus in Genesis 3:8-9, instead of 'they heard the voice of the Lord God,' the Targums have 'they heard the voice of the Word of the Lord God ;' and instead of 'God called unto Adam,' they put 'the Word of the Lord called unto Adam,' and so on. ' The Word of the Lord' is said to occur 150 times in a single Targum of the Pentateuch.

In the Theosophy of the Alexandrine Jews, which was a compound of theology with philosophy and mysticism, we seem to come nearer to a strictly personal view of the Divine Word or Wisdom, but really move further away from it. Philo, the leading representative of this religious speculation (fl. A.D. 40—50), admitted into his philosophy very various, and not always harmonious elements. Consequently his conception of the Logos is not fixed or clear. On the whole his Logos means some intermediate agency, by means of which God created material things and communicated with them. But whether this Logos is one Being or more, whether it is personal or not, we cannot be sure; and perhaps Philo himself was undecided.

Certainly his Logos is very different from that of S. John; for it is scarcely a Person, and it is not the Messiah. And when we note that of the two meanings of Logos Philo dwells most on the side which is less prominent, while the Targums insist on that which is more prominent in the teaching of S. John, we cannot doubt the source of his language. The Logos of Philo is preeminently the Divine Reason. The Memra of the Targums is rather the Divine Word ; i.e. the Will of God manifested in personal action; and this rather than a philosophical abstraction of the Divine Intelligence is the starting point of S. John's expression.

To sum up :—the personification of the Divine Word in O. T. is poetical, in Philo metaphysical, in S. John historical. The Apocrypha and Targums help to fill the chasm between O.T. and Philo; history itself fills the far greater chasm which separates all from S. John. Between Jewish poetry and Alexandrine speculation on the one hand and the Fourth Gospel on the other, lies the historical fact of the Incarnation of the Logos, the life of Jesus Christ.

The Logos of S. John, therefore, is not a mere attribute of God, but the Son of God, existing from all eternity, and manifested in space and time in the Person of Jesus Christ. In the Logos had been hidden from eternity all that God had to say to man ; for the Logos was the living expression of the nature, purposes, and Will of God. (Comp. the impersonal designation of Christ in 1 John 1:1.) Human thought had ' been searching in vain for some means of connecting the finite with the Infinite, of making God intelligible to man and leading man up to God. S. John knew that he possessed the key to this enigma. He therefore took the phrase which human reason had lighted on in its gropings, stripped it of its misleading associations, fixed it by identifying it with the Christ, and filled it with that fullness of meaning which he himself had derived from Christ's own teaching.


Verse 19

‘And this is the witness of John when the Judaisers sent priests and Levites to him from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”

There were many ideas around at this time as to whom God would send to help His people. Some expected the return in bodily form of Elijah the Prophet himself (Malachi 4:5), remembering that he had never died but had been taken up by God alive (2 Kings 1:11), others expected a uniquely great prophet ‘like Moses’ (Deuteronomy 18:15), others expected a Messiah (in Greek ‘Christos’ - ‘anointed one’) - or even more than one Messiah - who would, by God’s power, deliver Israel, a deliverance usually thought of as happening by raising up an army from among the Jews. Thus they wanted to know exactly what John’s claim was.

‘The Judaisers.’ In this case the Pharisees (John 1:24). They sent Priests and Levites of their number because these would be seen as having special authority, for the priests were officially guardians and teachers of the truth. The Levites were Temple servants. The Pharisees would have had a special interest in his act of baptising (drenching) in water those who responded to his teaching, for they too practised many kinds of washings. But nothing of an initiatory flavour like John’s (unless we count the bathing required of proselytes. That, however, was self-administered and intended to remove the uncleanness of the Gentile world to which they had belonged).


Verses 19-51

John the Baptiser’s Testimony to Jesus and the Calling of Disciples (John 1:19-51).

The portrayal of John the Baptiser by the writer is in interesting contrast to the John the Baptiser portrayed in the other Gospels. But an examination of the text soon brings out that this difference is mainly one of emphasis. It is soon apparent that, unlike the other writers this author is not concerned to describe the ministry of John per se, but rather to place all the emphasis on John as a witness to Jesus. Indeed the passage begins with the phrase, ‘and this is the witness of John’ (John 1:19). He does not contradict Matthew and Luke, he supplements them. Even the approach of the Jewish leaders questioning him about whom he was claiming to be, and the significance of his baptism, leads up to John’s testimony concerning Jesus.

It should also be noted that this witness of John was very much based on Jewish ideas. He states that he is not the Messiah, or Elijah, or the Prophet. He is rather the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, cited in terms of Isaiah 40:3. He is ‘the voice of one crying in the wilderness’ (just as the Qumran covenanters saw themselves in similar terms). His baptism is a pointer to the fact that the Coming One, Who is to be ‘made manifest to Israel’ (John 1:31), will pour out the Holy Spirit on (‘drench with the Holy Spirit’) His followers (John 1:33) in accordance with such Old Testament promises as Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 44:1-5. And when John the Baptiser finds terms to use to describe Jesus it is as ‘the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world’ (John 1:29) and ‘the drencher with Holy Spirit’ (John 1:33) and ‘the Son of God’ (John 1:34). Even John’s disciples see Jesus in terms of ‘the Messiah’, ‘the Son of God’, ‘the king of Israel’, the One ‘of Whom the Torah and the Prophets wrote’ (John 1:41; John 1:45; John 1:49). And Nathaniel is seen to have been meditating on what was very much an Old Testament story. Apart from Son of God there is no trace of the language found in John 1:1-18, demonstrating how careful the writer was to actually reproduce what John taught.

What should further be noted is that what we learn of John here is very much, although indirectly, supported by what we find in the Dead Sea Scrolls, including the excitement of the approach of ‘the end times’ (the days of the Messiah(s)), the anticipated coming of ‘the Prophet’, and the application of Isaiah 40:3 to a current situation, in their case to their own situation. They too saw themselves as ‘the voice crying in the wilderness’.

It has often been asked what connection John the Baptiser had with the desert communities like Qumran, and the answer can only be that we do not know. But certainly he must have met with people connected with such communities and have learned something of what they taught, and some have even considered the possibility that he was brought up in one such community. But however that may be John is clearly unique and independent in his thinking. The only community that he calls on men to respond to is the coming of the Kingly Rule of God, and his requirement is that they be baptised once for all as a foretaste of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Thus he is both exclusive and inclusive. But there is no hint that he is forming a new sect.

John the Baptiser’s Testimony to Jesus (John 1:19-34).

As a popular and influential preacher it was always a certainty that at some stage John the Baptiser would come under the scrutiny of the Jewish leaders (‘the Jews’, or ‘Judaisers’), for it was a solemn responsibility of the priesthood to test out all who put themselves forward as prophets, and the Rabbis (Scribes) saw it as their own personal responsibility. We should note here that in John’s Gospel the term ‘the Jews’ does not refer to all Jews but usually to the Jewish religious authorities, such as the Sadducees and to the more conservative of the Pharisees, and especially to those who were antagonistic to Jesus. Possibly it is therefore better translated ‘the Judaisers’. For all that we know of John confirms his enlightened Jewishness.

It was these Jewish leaders who sent selected Priests and Levites (temple servants) to interview John. It was the responsibility of the Priests to check out anyone who was making special claims and they wanted to know what claims he was making for himself (v. 19). They knew that he was baptising people in the River Jordan and this suggested to them that he was claiming some special authority.


Verse 20

‘And he confessed and denied not, and he confessed, “I am not the Christ (Messiah)”. And they asked him, “What then. Are you Elijah?”, and he says, “I am not”. “Are you the prophet?”, and he answers, “No”.’

John immediately discounted any of these ideas. First he discounted the idea that he was the Messiah (v. 20). The ‘Christ’ or ‘Messiah’ means ‘anointed one’. The idea behind the term was mainly of a Davidic king empowered by God who would come and intervene on behalf of God’s people, freeing them from tyranny, especially that of the Romans, usually by force of arms. (Kings of Israel and Judah were ‘anointed’ with oil when they were crowned). Others saw him as coming as a great teacher who would win the hearts of men to follow what they themselves believed in. ‘The prophet’ was in anticipation of a fulfilment of Deuteronomy 18:18. It was a general expectancy of the time, and is one we find very much in evidence at Qumran.

‘And he confessed and denied not’. John the Baptiser was true to his call to witness to Christ. He did not make great claims for himself but was speaking with the thought of pointing away from himself to the ‘coming One’. He did not deny the truth about himself.

Then, when asked if he was Elijah, he emphatically replied ‘No’. This was because he wanted them to know that he was not in fact the original Elijah returned in the flesh. He rated himself in lowly terms. Nevertheless Jesus would point out that while he was not literally Elijah, hewasthe fulfilment of the one promised by Malachi, one who was like Elijah (Matthew 11:14; Matthew 17:12). John also stressed that he was not the great expected prophet (v. 21). It is clear from all this that he wanted them to realise that he was ‘nothing special’. Like all great men of God he did not have an exalted opinion of himself.

The threefold question demonstrates the wide range of views. They did not conceive how one person could fulfil all the promises. Note how John’s replies become shorter and shorter. He did not want men to look at him. He was not the Word, it was Jesus Who was the Word.


Verse 22-23

‘They therefore said to him, “Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?”. He said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness - ‘Make the way of the Lord straight’ - as Isaiah the prophet said”.’

On being pressed he connected himself with the words of Isaiah 40:3. He claimed not to be an important personage but only to be a voice, ‘the preparer of the way’, pointing to and making ready for the coming activity of God (v. 23). Just as when great kings were making a journey men would go before them to straighten up the roads and make them passable, so John had come to prepare the way for another, by straightening up men’s lives and removing from them all the hindrances that had built up in them. This passage is applied to him in all four Gospels. Thus John is ‘the Voice’, the introducer, Jesus is ‘the Word’ the full revelation of God. (As mentioned above this same passage was cited by the Qumran community about themselves)


Verse 24

‘And they had been sent from the Pharisees’.

The Pharisees were probably the most influential religious group in the eyes of the common people. They had originated from the Hasidim, the ‘separated ones’, who during the time of fierce religious persecution of the Jews a century or two earlier had stood firm for the Law (the Torah - ‘instruction’ - which was composed of the books of Moses, the first five books in the Bible), for circumcision and for the Sabbath, all of which had put them under sentences of death.

They were not a large group, possibly numbering around six or seven thousand, but having become convinced that the only hope for the future, and for eternal life, lay in complete fulfilment of the Law of Moses and obedience to the covenant, they had set about that task, and in order to do so hedged the Law around with hundreds of other interpretations of that Law which they sought to fulfil, many of which were not moral but ceremonial. Thus they lay great emphasis on ceremonial washings in various circumstances, at all times of the day, and in avoiding uncleanness, which included avoiding contact with those who did not follow their ceremonial ideas.

As always when men become ‘over-religious’ many of them became hypocritical, observing the outward requirements while failing in what mattered most, compassion and mercy. Many became censorious and ultra-critical, including, as was to be expected, many of their great teachers (later given the technical name of ‘the Rabbis’), although not all must be included within this criticism. It was against these ultra-critical Scribes and Pharisees that Jesus made His attacks, for they were the ones who followed Him around and sought to test Him out.

And it was because of their intense interest in religious matters that they had come to test out John, and as proponents of ceremonial washings they were especially interested in his baptism which they failed to understand.

It was of course right that they should want to ensure that he was a true prophet. That was the responsibility of the Jewish authorities. What was wrong was the attitude in which they did it.


Verse 25

‘And they asked him and said to him, “Why then are you baptising if you are not the Christ, or Elijah, or the prophet?”

They were puzzled by his baptism. They recognised that it must have some great religious significance but it was one they did not understand. Nor were they sure where he felt he had obtained the authority to perform such a baptism. If he did not see himself as the expected Messiah, or as Elijah, or as the great Prophet, why was he baptising? They almost certainly saw his baptising as a special aspect of ceremonial washing, although recognising that it was once for all, and wanted to know his credentials for introducing such an idea. To bring about such a new approach he had to be someone of outstanding importance.


Verse 26-27

‘John answered them, saying, “I baptise with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, even He who comes after me, the clasp of whose sandal I am unworthy to unloose”.’

His reply was that he was baptising with water in preparation for the coming of Another, someone who was already standing among them, and was yet unknown to them, someone so great that he, John, was not worthy to untie His sandals.

The writer does not bring out the significance of John’s baptism here, for he says little about the teaching of John, (although he does bring out its significance later in, for example, the visit of Nicodemus - chapter 3). He is aware that it is well known from elsewhere, and he leaves that to others and does not consider it necessary. But it is so important for the meaning behind the Gospel that we must consider it briefly.

John proclaimed a ‘baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ (Mark 1:4 : Luke 3:3), and the connection between repentance from sin and his baptism is made clear by John himself. However, he also goes on to declare that his baptism is a precursor to the age of the Spirit (Mark 1:8; Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:15-16; John 1:30-34), and he specifically parallels his baptism with water with Jesus’ coming ‘baptism (drenching) with the Holy Spirit’. It is this fact which makes clear the significance of John’s baptism.

He constantly used harvest imagery. The Pharisees and Sadducees were like snakes fleeing from the burning cornfields (Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:7) and should rather ‘bear fruit’ (Matthew 3:8). The judgment is like the axe laid to the root of the trees that do not bear fruit (v. 10). The One who is coming comes with a winnowing fork in His hands to gather the wheat into the granary and to cast the chaff into the fire (v. 12). So all the time John has in mind pictures of fruitfulness and harvest, of the threshing floor and overflowing barns, and of the clearing of chaff and of ‘dead’ trees. This powerfully suggests that when he speaks of his baptism in the light of the coming of the Spirit he has in mind the pictures common in the Old Testament prophets of fruitfulness and blessing caused by the coming of the rains, which are constantly connected with the coming of the Spirit (Isaiah 44:3-6; Isaiah 32:15-18; Joel 2:28-29 see also Isaiah 55:10-13; Isaiah 59:19-21).

At that time, says the prophet Isaiah, the Spirit will be ‘poured out from above’, the land will flourish and the desert will become fruitful, and justice and righteousness, peace and confidence will abound (Isaiah 32:15-18). It is clear here that the pouring out of the Spirit includes the thought of the pouring out of rain producing fruitful harvests, although there is no doubting that it also includes a life changing activity in the hearts of men.

This is especially confirmed by Isaiah 44:4-5. “I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground. I will pour My Spirit upon your children, and my blessing upon your offspring”. The people will flourish “like the grass at the coming of the rainy season, like willows planted by flowing rivers”. Once again we have the life-giving rain, but here the pouring out of the Spirit is on the people, who will thus each say ‘I am the Lord’s’ (v. 6). Compare Isaiah 35:6-7; Isaiah 41:17-20; Isaiah 55:10-13; Isaiah 59:19-21; Joel 2:23-29; Ezekiel 34:26-27 which all see the future blessing in terms of rain pouring down, floods of water, abundant fruitfulness, and so on.

Most of us vaguely recognise the importance of rain to our lives but it is not seen as hugely important to many of us. However, that is because we do not benefit from it directly and find it uncomfortable to go out in. But to people who lived in a land where their very lives depended on the sequence of the rains it was very different. No rain meant famine and hardship, even starvation and death. Rain was the source of life, the life-giver, the greatest of all boons to man. All their festivals concentrated on the need for rain. So the prophetic words touched a deep chord in all their hearts.

John clearly had these Scriptures in mind when he preached, and it is surely beyond all doubt that this is what his baptism signified, the drenching with life-giving rain that produces fruitfulness and blessing. We can compare how Jesus must also surely have had these Scriptures in mind when He speaks of being ‘born from above’ (John 3:6). Thus John’s baptism is a picture of the coming of the life giving Spirit in terms of rain, and he is seeking to prepare the way for this by bringing the people to repentance from sin and baptising them as a symbol of what God is about to do on those who respond to Him. The idea is not of washing from sin but of the giving of life and the transformation of the heart. That was why he baptised with water. And it pointed ahead to, and prepared the way for, the coming outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Contrary to popular opinion there are no grounds for connecting John’s baptism with cleansing. The Old Testament washings never cleansed. They were only preparatory to cleansing, removing the earthiness prior to waiting before God ‘until the evening’. Furthermore the often cited full scale bath of the Gentile convert to Judaism was carried out by the person himself, not by someone who ministered to him. And it was simply part of the process by which he left the Gentile world behind. He was ridding himself of the stain of all his past offences against Jewish ritual cleanness. It could have no connection with what John was proclaiming. (Nor did the Pharisees see his baptism in that way. Had they thought that he was suggesting that ‘they’ needed to be purified from a past life of ‘uncleanness’ they would have protested vigorously, for they daily ‘cleansed’ themselves by various washings).

But the writer here is more concerned with the fact that John is a witness to Jesus, and his emphasis is more on ‘there stands One among you whom you do not know, even He who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie’. He wants it to be clear that John simply prepares the way for another, for ‘the Word of God’, Who is so far superior to him that he is not even fit to unfasten His sandals.

‘Whom you do not know.’ John could say elsewhere, ‘and I knew Him not’ (John 1:31), so that these are not words of blame. But they are a warning to them to keep their eyes open and recognise Him when He comes. Their guilt lay in the fact that when they did see Him they still refused to recognise Him.

‘Even He who comes after me.’ Again John stresses that he is only the pointer of the way, pointing to a Greater yet to come. Yet behind his words lie the thrilling promise that ‘He is coming’.

‘The clasp of whose sandal I am unworthy to unloose.’ When men visited a home someone would unfasten their sandals, a job done by the meanest servants. John is here saying that Jesus will be so superior to him that he is not even worthy to be the meanest of servants to Jesus.


Verse 28

‘These things were done in Bethany beyond Jordan where John was baptising’.

We are now told that this took place in ‘Bethany, beyond Jordan’ (v. 28). The appellation is to distinguish the village from the better known Bethany, and indeed ‘Bethany beyond Jordan’ was so little known that it was soon changed in manuscripts to the better known Bethabara to indicate where it was. This is one indication of the familiarity of the author with Palestine. These things were rooted in history as the use of an insignificant place name confirms.


Verse 29

‘On the morrow he sees Jesus coming to him and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”.’

‘The morrow, the next day’. This whole passage links a number of events over a period of days. The writer, who was present and saw what took place, could never forget those never to be forgotten days when he first saw Jesus. And prominent among those memories was the way in which John the Baptiser, when he saw Jesus coming towards him, turned to the people and declared to them, Who Jesus was. ‘See’, he says, ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’. Here John is connecting Jesus with the suffering servant and prophet spoken of in Isaiah 53, the lamb (amnos, as here) who was led to the slaughter, who was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities, and who bore our sins and carried our sorrows (Isaiah 53:7 with John 1:4-5 in context). He would suffer for the sins of his people, as He Himself would later confirm (Luke 22:37; Mark 10:45). By this time the Servant was seen by some as a Messianic figure. Thus the Targum of Jonathan speaks of a ‘Servant Messish’.

The writer will also often later centre on the Passover, and although he nowhere in fact mentions the Passover lamb, it is possible he also has the Passover lamb in mind when he refers to the Passover. Indeed it might be argued that it was because he saw Jesus as replacing the Passover lamb that he never mentions it. The Passover Lamb was Himself visiting Jerusalem. Certainly it is difficult to avoid the implication that the One Who died at the Passover was the Passover lamb (made explicit in 1 Corinthians 5:7). And while that lamb was initially not specifically propitiatory, it now had to be offered in the Temple through the priests, and therefore included propitiatory elements.

Nor should we overlook the daily sacrifice, which was propitiatory and was an important part of the Passover. But whatever was most directly in John’s mind it is clear that he was thinking in terms of a sacrificial offering. Thus he saw Jesus as One Who would in some way be a sacrifice for the sins of the world, and this could only link back to Isaiah 53:10, with its emphasis on the guilt offering, while indirectly including the Passover lamb and the daily offering.

It should be noted that in the Septuagint (LXX - an important Greek version of the Old Testament) the Passover lamb is not ‘amnos’ but ‘probaton’, however, LXX does see it as taken from among the ‘amnoi’ (e.g. Exodus 12:5), and the words are paralleled in Isaiah 53:7. (And John the Baptiser is thinking in Hebrew and Aramaic not Greek).


Verse 30

‘This is He of whom I said, after me comes a man who is become before me, for He was before me.’

John the Baptiser now expands on what he has said. Here was the One for whom he was preparing the way, the One who ranked before him because of His inherent superiority and who by right of that superiority would take over.

‘Who is become before me’. Jesus has not yet emerged into the limelight, but John already recognises that The One Who is to come is classed as his superior and is placed ‘before him’ by inherent right. And this right lies in His total genuine superiority, and in His pre-existence - ‘for Hewasbefore me’.


Verse 31

‘And I did not know Him, but that he would be revealed to Israel. This was why I came baptising with water.’

‘But that He would be revealed to Israel’. John had begun to preach knowing that ‘the coming One’ was to follow him, and would be made known to Israel, and that he himself was preparing the way. What he had not known was who He was nor how He would be revealed.

He admits that he had not realised at first who Jesus was, even though Jesus was his cousin, but he had come to recognises Jesus’ superiority to himself (Matthew 3:14), and he now stresses that he had come to realise at Jesus’ baptism that He was the One for Whom he was preparing, for he had seen the Holy Spirit descending and remaining on Him, and had realised from this that He was the One Who would drench (baptizo = drench, inundate) in the Holy Spirit as promised by the prophets.

This stresses the significance of John’s baptism. It was a message in picture form illustrating the future work of Jesus. In the Old Testament the coming of the Spirit in the new age is regularly depicted in terms of rain pouring from the heavens, of floods of water, and of new fruitfulness (e.g. Isaiah 32:15-18; Isaiah 44:4-5). Thus John’s baptism declares the near approach of this coming age of the Spirit, which could be seen as present in the coming of Jesus. It is an acted out parable in line with those of previous prophets.


Verse 32-33

‘And John bore witness saying, “I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of Heaven, and it abode on Him. And I did not know Him. But He Who sent me to baptise with water, He said to me, on whoever you shall see the Spirit descending and abiding on Him, the same is He who baptises with the Holy Spirit”.’

In accordance with the writer’s principle to emphasise spiritual meaning rather than physical events he does not describe the baptism of Jesus. He rather depicts it through the mouth of John. ‘John bore witness’. This is the writer’s constant emphasis. John is a witness and not the Person Himself. But as such his credentials are from God. He is a reliable witness sent by God.

‘He Who sent me to baptise (drench) with water.’ We note here that John was actually commissioned to carry out the acted parable of drenching people as a symbol of drenching in the Holy Spirit, just as God had of old sent His prophets to act out symbols before the people.

‘The Spirit descending as a dove from Heaven.’ This confirms the accounts in the other Gospels where the descent is ‘like a dove’. Some visible manifestation was observed when the Spirit came on Jesus which reminded people of a dove. The dove was a symbol of purity and gentleness. It was also a sign that the time of judgment had come to an end (Genesis 8:10-11).

‘It abode on Him’. This was no temporary blessing, it ‘remained’ on Him. In contrast with those who were at times ‘filled (pimplemi) with the Holy Spirit’ for specific but temporary purposes, He was ‘full (pleres) of the Holy Spirit’ continually (Luke 4:1). The word ‘abide’ is found constantly throughout the Gospel to indicate the relationship between Jesus and the Father, and the relationship His people can have with Him. It is a word expressing close relationship.

‘He Who drenches (baptises) with the Holy Spirit’. The coming of the Spirit promised in the prophets would take place through the authority and power of Jesus, through Whom all the promises would be fulfilled. He had the Holy Spirit within His gift (John 15:26; John 16:7), and through Him the Holy Spirit would drench (baptizo) His people. John’s baptism was picturing this coming event and marking out those who were preparing themselves by repentance to receive it. They were being prepared for the coming of Jesus (see Luke 1:15-17).


Verse 34

“And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

What he has seen now enables him to bear witness that ‘this is the Son of God’. It is possible that the Baptiser did not realise the full significance of his own words. It may be that he was thinking more of Jesus as the coming Messiah, the great future king (as would Nathaniel later in the chapter), for the kings of Israel were looked on as ‘sons of God’ by adoption (Psalms 2:7; 2 Samuel 7:14). But that his thoughts went deeper than that is suggested by his earlier statement ‘Who was before me’. (It was not a recognised Messianic title). He may thus rather have had in mind Isaiah 9:6 where the Messiah is seen to be ‘the Mighty God’. There is no doubt, however, that the writer intends the term to be taken in its full significance by his readers and hearers.

So John the Baptiser sees Jesus as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 (the Lamb of God) and the coming Spirit filled king of Isaiah 11:1-3. This ties in with the voice at Jesus’ baptism, ‘this is my son (Psalms 2:7), the beloved in whom I am well pleased (Isaiah 42:1)’ It may well have been there that John the Baptiser realised the full significance of Jesus.

In Matthew’s Gospel we learn that John had not wanted to baptise Jesus because he felt he (John) was unworthy (Matthew 3:14). He felt rather that it was Jesus Who should baptise him. But Jesus there replied that it was becoming for Him to ‘fulfil all righteousness’, that is, ‘do all that is fully right’. He wished to identify Himself with the people of God and do all that was right for them, even though He had no need to repent. This further stresses that that baptism was not one of ‘cleansing’ but rather indicating response to the times of the Holy Spirit.


Verses 35-37

‘Again on the next day John was standing, and two of his disciples, and he looked on Jesus as he walked and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God”. And the two disciples heard him speak and they followed Jesus.’

The section begins with John reiterating to two of his disciples that Jesus is ‘the Lamb of God’. The repetition emphasises the importance of the idea to the writer. It indicates that the idea of Jesus’ atonement was seen by him as crucial. When two of the disciples of John the Baptist heard this they immediately left John to follow Jesus in order to find out more about Him. One of these was Andrew (John 1:40) and the other is unnamed. It is extremely likely that the other was the writer, for he never refers to himself by name, and it explains why he knew the time when it occurred. So it is John the Baptiser who unconsciously has established the nucleus for the twelve Apostles, and he gladly sends them to Jesus. They had been his disciples. Soon they would follow Jesus.

The interchange which now takes place between Jesus and the two is full of subtlety and meaning. At the time it was commonplace, but now the writer sees a deeper significance in the questions and answers.


Verses 35-51

Disciples Begin to Gather to Jesus (John 1:35-51).

The great teachers of Israel would often have bands of ‘disciples’ who gathered round them to learn from them, and then to pass on their teaching. Here we learn that Jesus also began to attract disciples. This passage is a deliberate way of stressing that here is a greater than John, for some of John’s disciples leave him in order to follow Jesus, (and that is how John wanted it). It is interesting in that the passage indicates almost casually the time when certain events took place (v. 39, 43) suggesting that they sprang readily to the writer’s mind because he had been present, and thus shows that its source was close to the events when they occurred. Time references like this keep occurring in these passages, even when they have no obvious significance other than to give a time note.


Verse 38

‘And they said to him, “Rabbi, (which means, being interpreted, ‘Master’), where do you abide?”

It is probable that the writer, who has thought about it for many years, intends this too to have a deeper meaning. ‘Where are you staying’, yes, but also ‘where do you continually dwell?’ The answer to the latter is, of course, ‘with the Father, in His love (John 15:10) and in His presence’.

At this time the address ‘Rabbi’ could be given to any respected teacher. Later it would become a technical term for official Jewish teachers. But it is very much a Jewish form of address.


Verse 39

‘They came therefore and saw where he dwelt, and they remained with him that day. It was about the tenth hour.’

So in response to Jesus’ invitation they go to where He is staying and spend the day with Him, presumably being taught by Him. But behind it may well lie the implication that they also became enlightened by Him as to His eternal dwelling place (‘they saw where He dwelt’). They became aware that He was truly from God. The reference to the tenth hour suggests someone who was there. He remembers the time of day because he was involved.


Verse 40

‘One of the two who heard John speak and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.’

In a passage where names are continually given the total silence as to the name of Andrew’s companion is profoundly significant. It cannot have been forgotten. Too many remembered that day, and after all they were the first disciples of Jesus. We must therefore see the silence as deliberate, and in the face of the fact that the name of the Apostle John is never mentioned in the Gospel the inevitable conclusion is that it was the writer himself, and that the writer was the Apostle John.


Verse 41

‘He first finds his own brother Simon and says to him, “We have found the Messiah (which is being interpreted ‘the Christ’)”.

Andrew then seeks out his brother Simon (Peter) and declares that they have found ‘the Messiah’. Once someone has truly found Christ they cannot help but seek to tell others. That is a proof of their genuineness.

At this stage, in their first enthusiasm, it is clear that they consider Jesus to be the expected Messiah. That was what John was pointing to. Such was the expectancy of God’s coming deliverance in those days that it was almost inevitable. But as time goes by that belief will fade, for as they go about with Him they will find that He does not behave as they expect the Messiah to behave. He does not even claim to be the Messiah when speaking to Jews, or in public. Indeed everyone will be puzzled. Even John the Baptiser will begin to have his doubts (Matthew 11:2-6; Luke 7:19-20). It is thus not surprising that less enlightened men (at the time) will feel the same.

But Jesus is aware that He has to re-educate them. He has not come with force of arms but with force of words. He has not come to achieve earthly success but to gain a heavenly victory (something brought out in the other Gospels by His Temptation). Thus He will continue on His way and let them watch Him and gradually come to an understanding of Who and What He is. The Messianic claim in the way that they understood it would not only have been dangerous, it would have been wrong. He was not an enemy of Rome. In His purposes Rome was an irrelevance, and He would not die for a cause He was not interested in. He had come to seek and to save the lost and to establish a heavenly kingdom, a kingdom ‘not of this world’ (John 18:36). But this as yet was something that they could not understand.

The final certainty that Jesus is the Messiah will in fact come later, when Jesus will redefine the term in terms of the suffering Son of Man (Matthew 16:16 and parallels and John 6:69). So here His response will be to speak of Himself as ‘the Son of Man’, stressing His oneness with humanity (v. 51), but with the later intention of revealing a deeper meaning for that title too as the One Who comes out of suffering to receive the throne of God and enter into glory (Daniel 7:13-14). The writer, however, brings in Andrew’s use of the term Messiah because he wants his readers to know that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. (In fact even after Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah his disciples are having difficulty with the subject (Mark 10:35). They still have the wrong idea).

‘First finds’. Does this mean ‘first’ before doing anything else? Or first before finding others? It is probably the former. (There are variant readings, but the differences are not really important).


Verse 42

‘He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked on him and said, “You are Simon, the son of John, you will be called Cephas (which is by interpretation, Peter)”.’

‘He brought him to Jesus.’ What a multitude of meaning lies in those words. Humanly speaking the great Peter owed his conversion to Andrew. And it is a reminder that that is what we are to seek to do. To bring men to Jesus.

So Simon comes to see for himself, and on seeing Simon, Jesus declares that one day he will be renamed Peter (petros in Greek, cephas in Aramaic - meaning a stone). Already He sees in Simon the raw material of an effective, spiritual leader. This renaming is mentioned again in Matthew 16:18, but in both cases the change has the future in mind. Jesus never actually addresses Peter as such by this name until Peter’s acts of betrayal, when He wishes both to warn him and to encourage him (Luke 22:34; Mark 16:7). His becoming ‘the rock-like one’ is yet a long way off.

When we remember how Peter so often got things wrong, and how he failed Jesus at the last, it is an encouragement to us all to know that God knew what he would become in the end. In the same way God knows too what we will become. Once we are in Christ He does not judge us as we are, but as what He knows we will become.


Verse 43-44

‘On the next day he determined to go forth into Galilee, and he finds Philip, and Jesus says to him, “Follow me”. Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter.’

‘The next day’ they go to Galilee and there Jesus calls Philip to follow Him. This seems the most likely meaning. Having determined to go, He goes, and then He finds Philip. It may, however, be that Philip was also in Judea at the time. The very presence of Andrew and the others suggests that they were all there at one of the great feasts.

Here Jesus is now clearly claiming the authority to ‘call’ disciples, for Philip is the first one that Jesus positively calls in this way. This calling of disciples is in contrast to the Rabbis whose disciples simply chose to follow them. Those called by Jesus probably saw themselves as the initial recruits in His army. They would not, however, have been surprised that he shared in the ministry of John. They would have seen the forming of a loose ‘covenant community’, dedicated to God, as an initial stage in the establishing of that army. We can compare how the Qumran covenanters saw themselves as a religious community who, at the right time, would compose the army of the Lord. Is it significant that He does not make this open statement of His intentions until He goes to Galilee? While Jesus is always forthright when it is necessary He does not openly court trouble. Or was it because He did not want to upstage John the Baptist? Andrew, Peter and John have only expressed interest. They will receivetheirdefining call later (Luke 5:1-11). Again the writer shows his familiarity with the personal details of other disciples. Philip is from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. He knew it well. Familiarity explains why he mentions it at all.

‘He determined’. He had a specific plan in mind. Now He must commence His ministry and He chooses to do it in Galilee.

It is significant that He does not ‘call’ any of those who were disciples of John at this stage. What exquisite tenderness He showed. Andrew, Peter and John will be called later, but only when they have openly ceased to be recognised as ‘John’s disciples’. John must be allowed his day, and although he would have been quite willing for Jesus to do so, Jesus will not trespass on his ministry. This indeed explains why their call was delayed.


Verse 45

‘Philip finds Nathaniel and say to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses, in the Law, and the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph”.’

Philip then seeks out Nathaniel (probably the same as Bar-tholomew, who is elsewhere linked with Philip (Matthew 10:3)) and tells him that they have found the One of Whom Moses and the prophets spoke, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph’. It was quite common in those days for people to have two or three names, Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic.

‘Moses --- and the prophets.’ The prophets are linked with Moses not with the Law. Philip says that both Moses and the prophets wrote of Jesus, Moses doing so in the Law (the Torah). Thus he is claiming that Jesus is One Whom God has constantly prophesied will come, even in the Torah. He would have in mind such verses as Genesis 49:10 ff.; Numbers 24:17. It is clear that Nathaniel assumes that he means the Messiah (see John 1:49). The full title of Jesus is given to stress his royal descent through Joseph to help to substantiate the claim. All would know of Joseph, for in Jewish eyes he was heir to the throne of David.


Verse 46

. ‘And Nathaniel said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”. Philip says to him, “Come and see”.’

Nathaniel replies with what was possibly a well known joke in Bethsaida, ‘can anything good come out of Nazareth?’. It may, however, have been a popular proverb. Alternately it may be that Nathaniel is thinking of the fact that no prophecy known to him has forecast a ‘coming one’ from Nazareth. Nazareth was a very small, out of the way, town in the hills, even though from its height it overlooked a main highway.. The phrase emphasises that Jesus has come in lowliness and humility. Philip’s reply is simple. ‘Come and see’. He is confident that Nathaniel will be impressed.

It is a reminder to us that if we are seeking to win men to Christ we can do nothing better than to take them to Jesus. It is in portraying Christ truly that we will make Him attractive, and there is no better way of doing this than to persuade them to read the Gospel of John.


Verse 47

‘Jesus saw Nathaniel coming to him and says to him, “Look, an Israelite indeed in whom is no guile”.’

When Jesus sees Nathaniel He declares, ‘See, a true Israelite who is without guile’. The idea is taken from Psalms 32:2 - ‘blessed is the man --- in whose spirit there is no guile’ - the epitome of the true Israelite. This impresses Nathaniel, who was clearly a very pious man, and he is curious to know how Jesus knows this about him.


Verse 48

‘Nathaniel says to him, “From where do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree I saw you”.

Nathaniel is puzzled by Jesus’ first statement and so he asks, ‘From where (or how) do you know me?’ Jesus is claiming knowledge about him. He wonders what the source is.

Jesus replies, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you’. It is clear from Nathaniel’s reply that this must have had some significance for Nathaniel for he is even more impressed. Perhaps he had just been meditating on Psalms 32 himself, or thinking of Jacob and Esau (see Genesis 27:35 and note John 1:50 below), or perhaps what he had been thinking to himself while under the fig tree was of great religious importance and related to thoughts about the coming king and the days of deliverance (compare Simeon in Luke 2:25). Whatever it was, he wonders how Jesus could have known it. Indeed he considers that there can be only one explanation, this man has extraordinary powers.


Verse 49

‘Nathaniel answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God. You are King of Israel”.’

This awareness of Jesus convinces Nathaniel that his friend Philip is right. ‘Rabbi,’ he says in awe, ‘you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel’ (v. 49). Notice the juxtaposition of the two phrases. It would appear that to him the one equates with the other, although ‘Son of God’ was not as far as we know a recognised designation for the Messiah. He had recognised that the promised king has come. It may, however, be that his thought went further than that and that what Jesus had said had so impressed him that he considered Him unique in His relationship to God without defining it too specifically.

However, even if at this point in time in the Gospel reference to ‘the Son of God’ has in mind the ‘coming king’ as God’s adopted son, the Messiah, its deeper significance, which will dawn on them later, is what the writer wishes to bring out. (It should be noted that ‘Son of God’ was not, as far as we know, a recognised Messianic designation. But that a coming king could be recognised as the son of God is implicit in Psalms 2:7; compare 2 Samuel 7).


Verse 50

‘Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.” And he says to him, “In very truth I say to you, you will see the Heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man”.’

Jesus reply is, ‘Does your faith rest on the fact that I saw you under the fig tree?’ (‘and knew what you were thinking’ is implied). Then he tells him that more wonderful things are yet in store for him, beyond what he could even have conceived. ‘You will see Heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man’.

Jesus probably did not mean this to be taken literally. It is rather a reference back to Jacob’s dream at Bethel (Genesis 28:12) which had indicted that he was the chosen of God and under God’s protection. Perhaps this had been included in Nathaniel’s earlier thoughts under the fig tree, as he pondered Jacob’s experience and connected it with his guile (Genesis 27:35), and as therefore in contrast with the man without guile pictured in Psalms 32:2. Now he is learning that a greater than Jacob is here Who can read all his thoughts.

Jacob had received his vision when he had left home and was about to enter a strange and foreign land. It had been a confirmation that God was with him and was watching over him wherever he went, and that world events were under heavenly control. The message Jesus is conveying is that He too is leaving home, aware of the period of hardship that lies ahead, and that He too will know the presence of His Father watching over Him, and will have special heavenly connections. It will be a period that will stress the closeness of His relationship with the Father, and will result in a new period of fulfilment of the promises of God, and He is indicating that Nathaniel will have a part in that future, and will come to recognise Jesus’ unique relationship with the Father, and share in its blessing.

Notice again Jesus’ reference to Himself as the Son of Man. This is the title under which he constantly reveals Himself. Others have declared Him ‘the Lamb of God’, ‘the Son of God’, the King of Israel’, ‘the Messiah’, the ‘Drencher with the Holy Spirit’, but He wishes to link Himself closely with mankind as the Son of Man. However, what Jesus says here suggests that He already thought in terms of the ‘son of man’ in Daniel 7:13-14 who approaches the throne of God in order to receive kingship and glory. It was a suitable term by which to indicate His Messiahship, whilst at the same time avoiding the suggestion that He had in mind an earthly conflict.

This depiction of Jesus as using the term ‘son of man’ rather than any other is in line with the other Gospels, and a further confirmation that the writer does not seek to alter the tradition. He does, however, certainly select those sayings which reflect the Son of Man’s heavenly glory. He wants it to convey the idea both of genuine Messiahship and of heavenly connections and authority. In order to see this we will look at the passages where the Son of Man is mentioned:

· 3:13 ‘And no one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended out of heaven, even the Son of man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, so that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.’ Here Jesus sees the Son of Man in terms of a figure who ascends to Heaven, as the Son of Man did in Daniel 7:13-14. But Jesus adds here the thought that this indicated that he had first descended from Heaven. The thought may be His own, or it may be that He saw the descent of the Son of Man from Heaven as is in accordance with Jewish tradition (the idea of a glorious son of man appears in Jewish apocalyptic literature). Thus His connection with Heaven is being made clear. Yet He is also as the Son of Man to be lifted up (on the cross) in order that those who believe in Him may have eternal life. We see here both His humiliation and His glory, and His mission to give eternal life to those who believe in Him.

· 5:26 ‘For as the Father has life in Himself, even so gave He to the Son also to have life in Himself, and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is a son of man.’ Note here the equating of ‘the Son’ with the Son of Man. Here it is as the Son of Man that He is given authority to exercise judgment, a clear indication that He will have taken His position on His heavenly throne (Daniel 7:14).

· 6:27 ‘Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which abides to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you, for Him the Father, even God, has sealed.’ Here the Son of Man is seen as a figure sealed by God for the purpose of giving eternal life to those who work the works of God, which includes believing in Him Whom He has sent (John 6:29). He is God’s chosen One, and once again He is connected with the giving of eternal life.

· 6:53 ‘Jesus therefore said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have not life in yourselves.’ Here life is to be found by, having crucified Him (eaten His flesh and drunk His blood in accordance with Jewish idiom), coming to and believing (see John 6:35) in the Son of Man as the One Who has died for them (see on chapter 6). Thereby they will ‘have life in themselves’. Here the Son of Man is clearly a substantial figure, for it is by partaking of Him that people will find life.

· 6:62 ‘What then if you should behold the Son of man ascending where he was before?’ This ties in with John 3:13-14 and confirms both His pre-existence in Heaven and the certainty of His return there.

· 8:28 ‘Jesus therefore said, When you have lifted up the Son of man, then will you know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself, but as the Father taught me, I speak these things.’ Here the Son of Man must be ‘lifted up’ as in John 3:14. The reference is clearly to the cross where the people of the world will kill Him as in John 6:53. It may also include the thought of His resurrection.

· 9:35 ‘Jesus heard that they had cast him (the blind man who had been healed) out, and finding him, he said, Do you believe on the Son of God (or ‘the Son of Man’)?’ The text here is not certain so we have included it as a reference to the Son of Man. The point here is that the Son of Man is important enough to be ‘believed in’, and Jesus then immediately indicates that He is the Son of Man.

· 12:23-24 ‘And Jesus answers them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abides by itself alone, but if it die, it bears much fruit.’ Here the glorification of the Son of Man is connected with falling into the ground and dying. In Daniel 7 the son of man also comes out of suffering in order to be glorified.

· 12:34 ‘The crowd therefore answered him, We have heard out of the Law that the Christ abides for ever: and how do you say, The Son of man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of man?’ Here the crowds have picked up on the fact that the Son of Man must be lifted up, and it makes them want to know Who Jesus is talking about.

· 13:31 ‘When therefore he (Judas) was gone out, Jesus says, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him, and God will glorify him in himself, and immediately will he glorify him.’ As with the ‘lifting up’ so the glorification of the Son of Man includes both His being glorified on the cross and His being glorified at His ascension, the latter in line with Daniel 7:14.

It is clear from these verses that Jesus depicts the Son of Man as a heavenly figure who descends from Heaven to earth, is lifted up on the cross so as to become a giver of eternal life to those who believe in Him, and is raised again and ascends into Heaven from where He will judge the world, having received the glory due to Him. These ideas are built on, but go far beyond, the picture drawn in Daniel 7:13-14. In this designation Jesus is seen as both Messiah and Son of God.

Someone may still ask, how does what is spoken of in John 1:19 onwards fit in with the later calling of the disciples as described in the other Gospels? The answer is that this was an initial connection made with these disciples who were, however, in the main still disciples of John. As we have seen it is only to Philip, who had not been following John, that He says ‘follow me’ at this point. Others who are disciples of John will be called to follow later, but Jesus ever has in mind a desire not to push John to one side (see John 4:1-3). Once they have left John and returned home to their businesses, and John is in prison, it will be a different matter. Once more we are impressed with the accuracy of John’s writing.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on John 1:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/john-1.html. 2013.


Lectionary Calendar
Friday, June 22nd, 2018
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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