New European Commentary


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1:1 In the beginning- John's Gospel expresses the same truths as the other Gospels, but in more spiritual and abstract terms. He chooses to record the Lord's more enigmatic and spiritual words, whereas the synoptics tend to record His more plain speaking. The Gospel records are transcripts of how men like John taught the Gospel message. John's Gospel was clearly aimed by him at Jewish people who were under the influence of pagan ideas and concepts which later morphed into Gnosticism. He uses the very terms they used, but redefines them. This takes some getting used to, and we are handicapped by not knowing the full range of terms he was seeking to redefine and reposition in a Christian context.

"The beginning" refers to the beginning of the Lord's ministry, both later in John (Jn. 2:11; 8:25 "the same I said unto you from the beginning"; 15:27 "You have been with me from the beginning"; 16:4 "These things I did not tell you at the beginning"; also 1 Jn. 1:1; 2:7,13,14,24; 3:11); and in the other Gospels too ("The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus", Mk. 1:1; "[we] who from the beginning were eyewitnesses", Lk. 1:2). But there can be no doubt that the allusion is to the creation at the beginning of the physical world; but John is to use that in order to describe the huge power unleashed through the Spirit in the creation of a new world, a world of persons reborn, what Paul later terms the "new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17).

The Comforter passages make it clear that the disciples were to witness as Christ to this world exactly because they had been with the Lord from the beginning. John's gospel is his obedience to that. And so he explains that he is recounting how things were from the beginning off the Lord's ministry. And Luke does the same, writing that he too was a witness from the beginning and is therefore testifying to what he had seen (Lk. 1:2).

But just as the Lord's words can be read on various levels, so the ideas of John's Gospel can be. "The beginning" translates a noun, arche, a word which can just as comfortably be translated 'the chief one'. And indeed it is translated similarly at times throughout the New Testament- "magistrate", "corner", "prince" etc. The ultimate "beginning", arche, chief one, was of course the Lord Jesus. Col. 1:18 is clear: "Who is the beginning [arche], the firstborn from the dead", of the new creation, the world of persons created in and through Him. So in the beginning, in the Lord Jesus, was the word, the logos, the message preached which had perfect congruence with His person. John's later writings also call Him "the beginning" (Rev. 1:8; 3:14; 21:6; 22:13).

The whole prologue is set out as a hymn. The New Testament is full of very high adoration for the Lord Jesus. Since those words and phrases were chosen under the inspiration of God, His Father, we would be better advised to stick with them rather than try to invent our own terms and analogies in order to express His greatness. The structure of the original text of the prologue to John's Gospel regarding the word, and also Phil. 2:9-11 regarding the exaltation of Jesus, are arranged in such a way that they appear to be hymns which were sung by the believers. Pliny the Younger (Epistle 10.96.7) writes of the Christians "singing hymns to Christ as to a god"; surely he had in mind these passages. It can often be that we adopt the very position falsely ascribed to us by our critics; and perhaps that's what happened here. The critics of early Christianity wrongly claimed that the Christians thought of Jesus as God; and this eventually became their position for the most part, although it was not originally.

Was the Word-   
The essential logos of the Gospel is the message of Christ crucified. There in the cross is the kernel of everything; there was the “beginning" of the new creation. John later speaks of the Lord Jesus as being the ‘faithful martyr’ in His death, and thereby being “the beginning [saw] of the [new] creation of God" (Rev. 3:14). The beginning was not only at the beginning of the Lord’s ministry; the essential beginning of the new creation was when the blood and water came out of His side.  Yahweh Himself was totally bound up in the death of His Son. God was there with Him and in Him, to the extent that He was in Christ there, reconciling the world unto Himself. In this sense, the logos of Christ and the death of the cross “was God". There the Father “was with" the Son [see notes under 16:25,32].

In Hebrew thought, it was quite common to speak of God as having an intention which was then fulfilled. Indeed, this kind of thing is found in the literature and epics of other Semitic languages. Thus the Exodus record records God's commands regarding the tabernacle, and then Moses' fulfilment of them. The prologue to John speaks of God's logos, His word or intention, coming to "flesh" in the Lord Jesus. This is classic Hebrew thinking, albeit written in Greek. We will demonstrate below that in Hebrew thought, a representative can be spoken of as being the person who sent them, or whom they represent. Thus the Hebrew way of reading John 1:1-14 would never come anywhere near interpreting it as meaning that 'Jesus is God'. This is a result of not reading the passage against its Hebrew background.


“The word”

Just look at the many times this phrase occurs in the Gospel records. It doesn’t mean ‘the whole Bible’. It means clearly enough and without any dispute ‘the Gospel message’ (e.g. Mk. 2:2; 4:33; 16:20; Lk. 3:2; Jn. 12:48; 14:24; Acts 4:4; 11:19). The Gospel was preached to Abraham in that it comprises the promises to Him and their fulfilment in Jesus (Gal. 3:8). That word of promise was “made flesh” in Jesus; “the word of the oath” of the new covenant, of the promises made to Abraham, “maketh the son” (Heb. 7:28). This is just another way of saying that the word– of the promises, of the Gospel- was made flesh in Jesus. Note how in Rom. 9:6,9 “the word” is called “the word of promise”- those made to Abraham. The same Greek words translated 'Word' and 'made' occur together in 1 Cor. 15:54- where we read of the word [AV " saying" ] of the Old Testament prophets being 'made' true by being fulfilled [AV " be brought to pass" ]. The word of the promises was made flesh, it was fulfilled, in Jesus. The 'word was made flesh', in one sense, in that the Lord Jesus was " made...of the seed of David according to the flesh" (Rom. 1:3)- i.e. God's word of promise to David was fulfilled in the fleshly person of Jesus. The Greek words for " made" and " flesh" only occur together in these two places- as if Rom. 1:3 is interpreting Jn. 1:14 for us. But note the admission of a leading theologian: “Neither the fourth Gospel nor Hebrews ever speaks of the eternal Word…in terms which compel us to regard it as a person”(1).

" In the beginning was the word"

John’s Gospel tends to repeat the ideas of the other gospel records but in more spiritual terms. Matthew and Luke begin their accounts of the message by giving the genealogies of Jesus, explaining that His birth was the fulfilment, the ‘making flesh’, of the promises to Abraham and David. And Mark begins by defining his “beginning of the gospel” as the fact that Jesus was the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophets. John is really doing the same, in essence. But he is using more spiritual language. In the beginning was the word- the word of promise, the word of prophecy, all through the Old Testament. And that word was “made flesh” in Jesus, and on account of that word, all things in the new creation had and would come into being. Whilst John is written in Greek, clearly enough Hebrew thought is behind the words. "The Hebrew term debarim [words] can also mean 'history'" (2). The whole salvation history of God, from the promise in Eden onwards, was about the Lord Jesus and was made flesh in His life and death.

Luke’s prologue states that he was an “eyewitness and minister of the word…from the beginning”; he refers to the word of the Gospel that later became flesh in Jesus. John’s prologue is so similar: “That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheldthe word of life” (1 Jn. 1:1 RV). Jn. 1:14 matched this with: “The word was made flesh, and we beheld his glory”. John 6 shows how John seeks to present Jesus Himself as the words which give eternal life if eaten / digested (Jn. 6:63). And some commented: “This is a hard saying, who can hear him?” (Jn. 6:60 RVmg.), as if to present Jesus the person as the embodiment of His sayings / words.

Jesus was the word of God shown in a real, live person. All the principles which Old Testament history had taught, the symbology of the law, the outworking of the types of history, all this was now living and speaking in a person. Luke’s Gospel makes the same point as John’s but in a different way. Over 90% of Luke’s Greek is taken from the Septuagint. All the time he is consciously and unconsciously alluding to the Old Testament as having its fulfilment in the things of Jesus. As an example of unconscious allusion, consider Lk. 1:27: “A virgin betrothed to a man”. This is right out of Dt. 22:23 LXX “If there be a virgin betrothed to a man…”. The context is quite different, but the wording is the same. And in many other cases, Luke picks up phraseology from the LXX apparently without attention to the context. He saw the whole of the OT as having its fulfilment in the story of Jesus. He introduces his Gospel record as an account “of those matters which have been fulfilled” (Lk. 1:1 RV). And “those matters” he defines in Lk. 1:2 as the things of “the word”. The RV especially shows his stress on the theme of fulfilment (Lk. 1:20, 23, 37, 45, 54, 55, 57, 70). In essence he is introducing his Gospel just as John does.

In passing, it is interesting to reflect upon the Lord’s comment that where two or three are gathered together in His Name, He is in their midst. For this evidently alludes to a Rabbinic saying preserved in the Mishnah (Aboth 3.2) that “If two sit together and study Torah [the first five books of Moses], the divine presence rests between them”. The Lord was likening Himself (His ‘Name’) to the Torah, the Old Testament word of God; and His presence would be felt if that Law was studied as it ought to be.

In confirmation of all this, it has been observed that " The numerical use of logos in the Johannine writings overwhelmingly favours " message" (some 25 times), not a personified word; and elsewhere in the NT the use of " word" with genitival complement also support the message motif: " word of God" ..." word of the Kingdom" ..." word of the cross" " (3). So our equation of " the word" with the essence of the Gospel message rather than Jesus personally is in harmony with other occurrences of logos. That said, there evidently is a personification of sorts going on. Personifications of the word of God weren't uncommon in the literature of the time. Thus Wisdom of Solomon 18:15 speaks of how "Thine all powerful word leaped from heaven down from the royal throne". Because "for the Hebrew the word once spoken has a kind of substantive existence of its own" (4) , e.g. a blessing or curse had a kind of life of their own, it's not surprising that logos is personified.

One way of understanding the prologue in Jn. 1 is to consider how it is interpreted in the prologue we find in John's first epistle. It appears that John's Gospel was the standard text for a group of converts that grew up around him; John then wrote his epistles in order to correct wrong interpretations of his Gospel record that were being introduced by itinerant false teachers into the house churches which he had founded. For example, " God so loved the world..." (Jn. 3:16) seems to have been misunderstood by the false prophets against whom John was contending, to mean that a believer can be of the world. Hence 1 Jn. 2:16 warns the brethren that they cannot 'love the world' in the sense of having worldly behaviour and desires. On the other hand, John saw the faithful churches to whom he was writing as those who had been faithful to the Gospel he had preached to them, as outlined in the Gospel of John. He had recorded there the promise that " You will know the truth" (Jn. 8:32), and he writes in his letters to a community " who have come to know the truth" (2 Jn. 1), i.e. who had fulfilled and obeyed the Gospel of Jesus which he had preached to them initially. This thesis is explained at length in Raymond Brown(5) .

With this in mind, it appears that the prologue of 1 Jn. is a conscious allusion to and clarification of that of Jn. 1. Consider the following links:

In the beginning was the word

What was from the beginning

The word was with God

The eternal life which was with [Gk. in the presence of] God

In [the word] was life

The word of life

The life was the light of men

God is light

The light shines in darkness

In Him there is no darkness at all

The word became flesh

This life was revealed

And dwelt amongst us

and was manifested to us

We beheld his glory

What we looked at

Of his fullness we have all received

The fellowship which we have is with

Through Jesus Christ

the Father and with his son

The only Son of God

Jesus Christ


You will note that the parallel for "the word" of Jn. 1 is 'the life' in 1 Jn. 1, the life which Jesus lived, the type of life which is lived by the Father in Heaven. That word was made flesh (Jn. 1:14) in the sense that this life was revealed to us in the life and death of Jesus. So the word becoming flesh has nothing to do with a pre-existent Jesus physically coming down from Heaven and being born of Mary. It could well be that the evident links between the prologue to John's Gospel and the prologue to his epistle are because he is correcting a misunderstanding that had arisen about the prologue to his Gospel. 1 Jn. 1:2 spells it out clearly- it was the impersonal "eternal life" which was "with the Father", and it was this which "became flesh" in a form that had been personally touched and handled by John in the personal body of the Lord Jesus. And perhaps it is in the context of incipient trinitarianism that John warns that those who deny that Jesus was "in the flesh" are actually antiChrist.


(1) G.B. Caird, Christ For Us Today (London: SCM, 1968) p. 79.

(2) Oscar Cullmann, The Christology Of The New Testament (London: SCM, 1971) p. 261.

(3) Raymond Brown, The Epistles of John (Garden City: Doubleday, 1982) p. 164.

(4) C.H. Dodd, The Interpretation Of The Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: C.U.P., 1960) p. 264.

(5) The Community of the Beloved Disciple (New York: Paulist, 1979) and in his The Epistles of John (Garden City: Doubleday, 1982). These are lengthy and at times difficult reads, and I can't agree with all the conclusions, and yet I'd heartily recommend them to serious Bible students. One pleasing feature of his writings is his frequent admission that Trinitarian theology is an interpretation of what the NT writers, especially John, actually wrote- and they themselves didn’t have the trinity in mind when they wrote as they did. He comments on the hymn of Phil. 2 about Christ taking the “form of God”: “Many scholars today doubt that “being in the form of God” and “accepting the form of a servant” refers to incarnation” [The Community Of The Beloved Disciple p. 46].

And the word was towards God, and the word was Divine- That is a strictly correct translation. The word of the Gospel, which is epitomized in the life and person of the mortal Lord Jesus, was Divine. John is writing for Jews, whose supreme focus upon God led them to ignore the possibility of His deep manifestation in other persons or things. John is emphasizing that the message of the Gospel, the life and person of His Son, is the essence of Him. To believe in God meant to believe the Gospel of the Lord Jesus. To reject that was to reject God Himself.

Not believing in God and not believing in His word of the Gospel are paralleled in 1 Jn. 5:10. God is His word. The word “is” God in that God is so identified with His word. David parallels trusting in God and trusting in His word (Ps. 56:3,4). He learnt this, perhaps, through the experience of his sin with Bathsheba. For in that matter, David "despised the commandment (word) of the Lord... you despised me" (2 Sam. 12:9,10). David learnt that his attitude to God's word was his attitude to God- for the word of God, in that sense, was and is God. By our words we personally will be condemned or justified- because we too ‘are’ our words. When Samuel told Eli of the prophetic vision which he had received, Eli commented: “It is the Lord” (1 Sam. 3:18). He meant ‘It is the word of the Lord’; but he saw God as effectively His word. “The word”, the “word of the Kingdom”, “the Gospel”, “the word of God” are all parallel expressions throughout the Gospels. The records of the parable of the sower speak of both “the word of God” (Lk. 8:11-15) and “the word of the Kingdom” (Mt. 13:19). The word / Gospel of God refers to the message which is about God, just as the “word of the Kingdom” means the word which is about the Kingdom, rather than suggesting that the word is one and the same as the Kingdom. “The gospel of God” means the Gospel which is about God, not the Gospel which is God Himself in person (Rom. 1:1; 15:16; 2 Cor. 11:7; 1 Thess. 2:2,8,9; 1 Pet. 4:17). So, the word of God, the word which was God, the Gospel of God, was made flesh in Jesus. “The word of Jesus” and “the word of God” are interchangeable (Acts 19:10 cp. 20; 1 Thess. 1:8 cp. 2:13); as is “the word of the Gospel” and “the word of Jesus” (Acts 15:7 cp. 35). The word wasn’t directly equivalent to Jesus; He manifested the word, He showed us by His life and words and personality what the Kingdom was like, what God is like; for the word which He “became” was about God, and about the Kingdom. He was the entire Gospel, of God and of His Kingdom, made flesh. He could speak of His words abiding in us (Jn. 15:7), and yet make this parallel to He personally abiding in us (Jn. 15:4,5; 14:20). "The word was God" can't mean that the word is identical with God- for the word "was with God", or "was in God's presence". The NEB therefore renders: "What God was, the Word was". G.B. Caird suggests the translation: "In the beginning was a purpose, a purpose in the mind of God, a purpose which was God's own being" (1).

In the person of Jesus, there was an uncanny and never before, never again experienced congruence between a human being and his words. And our witness should be modelled on His pattern- we should be the living embodiment of the doctrines we preach. The message or word of Jesus was far more than the words that He spoke from His lips. In one sense, He revealed to the disciples everything that He had heard from the Father (Jn. 15:15); and yet in another, more literal sense, He lamented that there was much more He could tell them in words, but they weren't able to bear it (Jn. 16:12). His person and character, which they would spend the rest of their lives reflecting upon, was the 'word' of God in flesh to its supremacy; but this doesn't necessarily mean that they heard all the literal words of God drop from the lips of Jesus. I have shown elsewhere that both the Father and Son use language, or words, very differently to how we normally do. The manifestation of God in Christ was not only a matter of the Christ speaking the right words about God. For as He said, His men couldn't have handled that in its entirety. The fullness of manifestation of the word was in His life, His character, and above all in His death, which Jn. 1:14 may be specifically referring to in speaking of how John himself beheld the glory of the word being made flesh. It seems to me that many of us need to learn these things in our hearts; for our preaching has so often been a matter of literal words, Bible lectures, seminars, flaunting our correct exposition of Bible passages and themes. When the essential witness must be of a life lived, a making flesh of the word which is God. To ignore this will lead us into literalistic definitions of literal words, arguments about statements of faith, endless additions of words and clauses to clarify other words...whereas " the word" which the Lord Jesus manifested was not merely human words. There was far more to it than that. It was and is and must ever be a word made flesh. This is why nothing can replace personal witness and personal, one on one teaching as the way that conversions are really made. And yet increasingly we tend to try to use media to preach- TV, CDs, internet, video, tapes etc. There is nothing personally 'live' in all this; there can be no communication of truths through their incarnation in our own personalities. And yet this was how God communicated with us in His Son; and how we too reveal His word in flesh to others.

“The word was God”. The words of the Lord Jesus were the words which He had 'heard' from the Father. But this doesn't mean that He was a mere fax machine, relaying literal words which the Father whispered in His ear to a listening world. When the disciples finally grasped something of the real measure of Jesus, they gasped: "You do not even need that a person ask you questions!" (Jn. 16:30). They had previously treated Jesus as a Rabbi, of whom questions were asked by his disciples and then cleverly answered by him. They finally perceived that here was more than a Jewish Rabbi. They came to that conclusion, they imply, not by asking Him questions comprised of words and hearing the cleverly ordered words that comprised His answers. The words He spoke and manifested were of an altogether higher quality and nature than mere lexical items strung together. Here was none other than the Son of God, the Word made flesh in person. And this, of course, was why the unbelieving Jews just didn't understand the literal words which He spoke. They asked Him to speak plainly to them (Jn. 10:24); and the Lord's response was that their underlying problem was not with His language, but with the simple fact that they did not believe that He, the carpenter from Nazareth, was the Son of God. Is it going too far to suggest that all intellectual failure to understand the teaching of Jesus is rooted in a simple lack of faith and perception of Him as a person?

As the word of God, the message of God in flesh, Jesus was God’s agent, and as such could be counted as God, although He was not God Himself in person. P. Borgen brings this out in an article ‘God’s Agent In The Fourth Gospel’ (2). He quotes the halakic or legal principle of the rabbis, that “An agent is the like the one who sent him”, and quotes the Babylonian Talmud Qiddushin 43a: “He ranks as his master’s own person”. This, therefore, was how those in the 1st century who understood Jesus to be God’s agent would have understood Him. John Robinson, one time Anglican Bishop of Woolwich, observed that popular Christianity “says simply that Jesus was God, in such a way that the terms ‘Christ’ and ‘God’ are interchangeable. But nowhere in Biblical usage is this so. The New Testament says that Jesus was the Word of God, it says that God was in Christ, it says that Jesus is the Son of God; but it does not say that Jesus was God, simply like that”(3). And he goes on to apply this good sense to an analysis of the phrase “the word was God” in John 1. He argues that this translation is untenable because: “In Greek this [translation “the word was God”] would most naturally be represented by ‘God’ with the article, not theos but ho theos. Equally, St. John is not saying that Jesus is a ‘divine’ man… that would be theios. The NEB, I believe, gets the sense pretty exactly with its rendering, ‘And what God was, the Word was’. In other words, if one looked at Jesus, one saw God”- in the sense that His perfect character reflected that of the Father (4). The lack of article ["the] before "God" is significant. "In omitting the article before theos, the author intends to say that the Logos is not actually God but only... a divine emanation" (5).

(1) G.B. Caird, The Language And Imagery Of The Bible (London: Duckworth, 1988) p. 102.
(2) In Religions In Antiquity (Leiden: Brill, 1968) pp. 137-148.
(3) John Robinson, Honest To God (London: S.C.M., 1963) p. 70.
(4) Ibid p. 71.
(5) Oscar Cullmann, The Christology Of The New Testament (London: S.C.M., 1971) p. 266.

1:2 This existed, in the beginning, with God- The word, not the Lord personally, existed in the beginning with God. As noted above, the essence of the Gospel was not made up by God at the time of Jesus, as John's Jewish audience tended to think. His purpose in His Son had been from the beginning; in whatever way one wants to read "the beginning". Be it the beginning of the Christian message or the beginning of creation. God is not making up His story as He goes along, as it were. That was the typical Jewish objection to the Gospel; that it is something new, and they preferred to stay with what they considered to be the original. The point is that the original essence of God was the things concerning His Son and His Kingdom.

The Hebrew idea of being "with" someone can carry the idea of being 'in their presence'. 2 Kings 5:1,2 speak of how Naaman was "with" his master, and the RVmg. gives "before" or 'in the presence of' as a translation of this idiom. He is paralleled in the record with the maid who was "before" (RVmg.) her mistress, Naaman's wife. When we read that the word was "with" God, the idea is that the word was always before God, in His presence, in His perspective. Applied to an abstract idea like the logos, surely the idea is that God always had this plan for a Son before Him, in His presence / perspective.

The idea of a “word” being “with” God or even another person has an Old Testament background. Job comments: “Yet these things you have concealed in your heart, I know that this is with you" (10:13; NIV “in your mind”). Similarly Job 23:13, 14: "What his soul desires, that he does, for he performs what is appointed for me, and many such decrees are with him". God’s essential plans are therefore ‘with Him’, in this figure of speech. When those plans are revealed in words, i.e. they are openly verbalized, it would be true to say: "I will instruct you in the power of God; what is with the Almighty I will not conceal" (Job 27:11). Wisdom, personified as a woman, was “with God” before creation- it was not ‘with’ the sea, but it was ‘with’ God (Job 28:14; 8:22,30). To hold a plan in one's own mind is to have it ‘with’ them. The Hebrew text of Gen. 40:14 bears this out, when Joseph is begged: “Remember me with yourself”. So for the essential purpose of God in His Son to be ‘with’ Him does not in any sense imply that a person was literally ‘with’ God in Heaven. Note the parallel between the word of God and the work of God in Ps. 106:13: “They soon forgot his works; they waited not for his counsel”. Whatever God says / plans comes to concrete fulfilment; and the idea of a Son was always in His mind. That word became flesh, became real and actual, in the person of Jesus.

The basic idea in John 1 is repeated in Proverbs 8. In the beginning, there was a logos / word / intention with the Father. His ‘idea’ of having a Son was not thought up at the last minute, as some sort of expediency in order to cope with the unexpected problem of human sin, as some of the critics and false teachers of the first century taught. In fact, it wouldn’t be going too far to say that John actually has Proverbs 8 in mind when speaking about the logos being in the beginning with the Father. Prov. 8:22-31 (ASV) reads: “Jehovah possessed me in the beginning of his way, Before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, Before the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth, When there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, Before the hills was I brought forth; While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, Nor the beginning of the dust of the world. When he established the heavens, I was there: When he set a circle upon the face of the deep, When he made firm the skies above, When the fountains of the deep became strong, When he gave to the sea its bound, That the waters should not transgress his commandment, When he marked out the foundations of the earth; Then I was by him, as a master workman; And I was daily his delight, Rejoicing always before him, Rejoicing in his habitable earth; And my delight was with the sons of men”.

The key issue is whether “wisdom” in Proverbs is in fact the Lord Jesus personally. A brief glance at Proverbs surely indicates that wisdom is being personified as a woman. Wisdom in Proverbs stands at the gates and invites men to come listen to her. She dwells with prudence (Prov. 8:12), and in Solomon’s time cried out to men as they entered the city (Prov. 8:1-3). None of these things are intended to be taken literally. “Wisdom” is wisdom- albeit personified. Wisdom was “possessed” by God- and yet the Hebrew word translated “possessed” is defined by Strong as meaning ‘to create’. When God started His “way” or path with men, He had principles and purpose. He didn’t make up His principles as He went along. And this was what was being said by John’s first century critics. Therefore John alluded to Proverbs 8 in explaining that the essential purpose of the Father was all summarized and epitomized in the person of His Son; and that logos was created / conceived by the Father from the very beginning. Note that Prov. 8:24,25 describes wisdom as being “brought forth” by the Father from the beginning. Again, God as it were hatched a plan. Even if we were to equate wisdom with Jesus personally, He was still created / brought forth from the Father. Somewhat different to the false Trinitarian notion of an ‘uncreate’ Jesus who ‘eternally existed’. Wisdom was the “master workman” (Prov. 8:30), or ‘the one trusted / believed in’ (Heb.)- in the sense that all of God’s natural creation was made according to and reflective of the principles of “wisdom”. John’s allusion to Prov. 8 shows that this “wisdom” was above all to be embodied and epitomized in God’s Son. From this it follows that the whole of the natural creation was designed with the Lord Jesus in mind. Somehow it speaks of Him; will be used by Him; and will in some sense be liberated and redeemed by Him from “the bondage of corruption” to share the glorious liberty of us God’s children (Rom. 8:21-24). And perhaps this is why we sense that the Son of God was strangely at peace with the natural creation around Him, and could so effortlessly extract deep spiritual lessons from the birds, flowers and clouds around Him. “Then I was by [Heb. toward] him” (Prov. 8:30) is the idea behind the Greek text of Jn. 1:1: “The word was [toward] God”. It wasn’t Jesus personally who was with God or God-ward; it was the word / wisdom / logos which was, and this was then “made flesh” in the person of the Lord Jesus. And this logos was the "wisdom" in Proverbs.

We’ve demonstrated that John’s Gospel begins with the idea that the “word” of God in the Old Testament was made flesh in the person of the Lord Jesus. But John actually continues that theme throughout his Gospel. He continually refers to things which the Jews saw symbols of the Torah- and applies them to Jesus. Examples include the bread / manna and water, and also light. The Assumption of Moses speaks of the Torah as “the light that enlightens every man who comes into the world”- and this is exactly the language of Jn. 1:9 about Christ. Bearing this in mind, it is interesting to discover that nearly all the phrases used in the prologue to John’s Gospel are alluding to what Jewish writers had said about the “Wisdom of God”, especially in Proverbs and the apocryphal writings known as the Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus (1). And they understood “Wisdom” to primarily refer to the Torah. For example, Jn. 1:14 RVmg. states that the Lord Jesus as the word made flesh “tabernacled amongst us”. Yet Ecclus. 24:8 speaks of Wisdom ‘tabernacling’ amongst Israel. Skenoo, the verb ‘to tabernacle’, is of course related to the noun skene, the tabernacle. As Israel lived in tents in the wilderness, God too came and lived with them in a tent- called the tabernacle, the tent where God could be met. The idea was that God wasn’t so far from them, He chose to come and be like them- they lived in tents, so He too lived in a tent. He didn't build a huge house or palace to live in- because that's not how His people lived. He ‘tented’ in a tent like them. This pointed forward to the genuine humanity of the Lord Jesus; for the human condition is likened to a tent in 2 Cor. 5:1. So rather than proving that ‘Jesus was God’, this whole prologue to John’s Gospel actually proves otherwise.

The language of pre-existence was applied by the Jews to the Torah and Wisdom, and so when John demonstrates that the ultimate Wisdom / Torah / logos / word which was from the beginning has now been fulfilled in and effectively replaced by Jesus, he’s going to reference that same ‘pre-existence’ language to make his point. As an example, the Mishnah stated (Aboth Nathan) that “Before the world was made the Torah was written and lay in the bosom of God”(2). John’s desire is that his fellow Jews quit these fanciful ideas and realize that right now, in Heaven, the Son of God is in the bosom of the Father (Jn. 1:18). He right now is the word-made-flesh. The uninspired Jewish writings spoke of the descent and re-ascent of Wisdom (1 Enoch 42; 4 Ezra 5:9; 2 Bar. 48:36; 3 Enoch 5:12; 6:3), and Philo especially connects Wisdom and the Logos. It seems that these wrong Jewish ideas found their ways into Christianity, and were taken over and wrongly applied to Jesus. Indeed I would go so far as to argue that John's 'Logos' passage in Jn. 1:1-14 is in fact a deconstruction of those wrong ideas; he alludes to them and corrects them, just as Moses alluded to incorrect pagan myths of creation and shows a confused Israel in the wilderness what the true story actually was.
(1) This is shown at great length throughout Rendel Harris, The Origin of The Prologue To St. John’s Gospel (Cambridge: C.U.P., 1917).
(2) Cited in C.H. Dodd, The Interpretation Of The Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: C.U.P., 1953) p. 86.

1:3 All things created came into existence on account of it; and without it nothing created came into existence- The "it" can as well be translated "him". Speaking of the logos as a person was quite common amongst the Jews- and they in no way understood that God could have any other god in existence or equal with Him. One of the most thorough surveys of the logos theme concludes: "It is an error to see in such personifications an approach to personalisation. Nowhere either in the Bible or in the extra-canonical literature of the Jews is the word of God a personal agent" (1). It was the apostate Jew Philo who began to speak of the logos as "the second God, who is his logos... God's firstborn, the logos" (2). And it was this interpretation which obviously came to influence Christians desperate for justification of their idea of a Divine Jesus; but such justification is simply not to be found in God's word. All talk of a "second God" is utterly unBiblical.

However, whilst in a sense the logos was God's word, plan and intent personified, it became actual flesh / concrete reality in the person of Jesus. That God created and accomplished the physical creation by His word was an obvious Old Testament doctrine (Is. 55:11). By the time John was writing his Gospel [somewhat later than the others], the idea of believers being a new creation in Christ would have been developed in the early ecclesia (2 Cor. 5:17 etc.). The Greek translated “made by…” occurs often in John’s Gospel. It clearly describes how the Gospel of the Lord Jesus ‘made’ new men and women; lives were transformed into something new. The phrase is used in the immediate context of John 1: “to become [‘be made’] the sons of God” (1:12), in that grace and truth came [‘were made’] by Jesus (1:17). “All things” therefore refers to the “all things” of the new creation. Note how Jesus came unto “his own things” (1:11 N.I.V.), i.e. to the Jewish people. “All things” which were made by him therefore comfortably refers to the “all things” of the new creation- which is just how Paul uses the phrase (Eph. 1:10,22; 4:10; Col. 1:16-20). Quite simply all of us, in “all things” of our spiritual experience, owe them all to God’s word of promise and it’s fulfilment in Christ. This is how totally central are the promises to Abraham! “All things were made by him”!

Consider other occurrences of “made by” in John’s Gospel:
4:14 The water of the life of Jesus shall be [‘made’] in the believer “a well of water springing up into everlasting life”
5:9,14 the lame man “was made” whole
10:16 the believers shall be made (RV ‘shall become’) one flock
12:36 may be [‘made’], RV ‘become’, “the children of light”
15:8 So shall ye be [‘made’] my disciples
16:20 Your sorrow shall be turned [‘made’] into joy.

All these examples speak of the creative power of the Lord Jesus in human lives, through the agency of the Spirit. This Spirit was poured out as a result of His sacrifice. The very same Greek words are used in 19:36 [cp. Lk. 24:21] in describing the cross: “These things were done [s.w. ‘made’]". All things of the new creation were made on account of His cross.

"Apart from him not a thing came to be" (Jn. 1:3) is a phrase repeated by the Lord Jesus in Jn. 15:5, where He says that "apart from me" we can bring forth no spiritual fruit. The things that came into being in Jn. 1:3 would therefore appear to be the things of the new life enabled and empowered in Christ. In this sense Jesus can be described as the creator of a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17), a new world, but a world of persons. The allusion is indeed to the power unleashed at the natural creation but the reference is not to that, but to the new world of believers in Christ. But in practice, it is the word of the Gospel, the message of Jesus, which brings this about in the lives of those who hear and respond to it. We are born again by the word, the “seed” of the living God (1 Pet. 1:23 RV mg.). In this arresting, shocking analogy, the “word” of the Gospel, the word which was made flesh in the person of Jesus, is likened to the seed or sperm of God. We were begotten again by “the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creations” (James 1:18). In God’s word, in all that is revealed in it of the person of our Lord Jesus, we come face to face with the imperative which there is in what we know of Him to be like Him. In this feature of God’s word, as it is in the Bible record and therefore and thereby as it is in and of His Son, we have the ultimate creative power, the dynamism so desperately needed by humanity, to transform our otherwise shapeless and formless lives. And in a multitude of lives, “All things were made by him”. As the Lord Jesus was sent into this world, so are we. We evidently didn’t personally ‘pre-exist’; and so we cannot reason that He did because He was sent by the Father. ‘Sending’ in Scripture can refer to being commissioned to speak forth God’s word (Is. 48:16; Jer. 7:25; Ez. 3:4,5; Zech. 2:8-11). Thus God is often described as sending forth His prophets. We too must allow ourselves to be sent forth as our Lord was, making the word of the Gospel flesh in us as it was in Him. For like Him, we personally are the message which we preach. The word of God / the Gospel is as seed (1 Pet. 1:23); and yet we believers end our probations as seed falling into the ground, which then rises again in resurrection to be given a body and to eternally grow into the unique type of person which we are now developing (1 Cor. 15:38). The good seed which is sown is interpreted by the Lord both as the word of God (Lk. 8:11), and as “the children of the Kingdom” (Mt. 13:38). This means that the word of the Gospel becomes flesh in us as it did in our Lord. The word of the Gospel is not, therefore, merely dry theoretical propositions; it elicits a life and a person. We will be changed; not just physically, but we will each be given our own, unique ‘body’, as Paul puts it. There will be eternal continuity between who we now become, and who we grow into throughout eternity. This is the amazing power of the word of the Gospel; for this is the seed, which transforms the essential you and me into a seed which will rise up to great things in God’s future Kingdom. In all this, the Lord was and is our pattern. “All things were made by him”.

(1) G.F. Moore, Judaism In The First Centuries Of The Christian Era (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1927) Vol. 1 p. 415.
(2) References in James Dunn, Christology In The Making (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1980) p. 221.

1:4  In it was life, and that life was the light of men- "Life", zoe, in John's Gospel means spiritual life, the life which is eternal in the sense that it is the kind of life we shall eternally live. Many times, John records the Lord offering eternal life to us now. We shall of course die, but we can live today the life we shall eternally live. The "it" or "he" here is clearly to be understood as the Lord Jesus; He was "the word made flesh" according to :14, but even before :14 the idea is presented to us. The prologue to John's letter states that the Lord is "the word of life" (1 Jn. 1:1). The life was "in", within, the Lord Jesus in the sense of 5:26: "The son has life in Himself". "Eternal life... is in His Son" (1 Jn. 5:11,20). He was the life as He was the light; "I am the life... I am the light" (11:25; 14:6). His Spirit, His mind within, was the life which is to be the light of our whole existence. In this sense the believer in Him, through receiving His Spirit of life and living, has life within (6:53).

The real life was lived in the human Jesus. His life was the life which we shall eternally live in God's Kingdom. It's why such a relatively large percentage of the New Testament is taken up with the four Gospel records of His life. It is that life which is the light of men, i.e. those who believe. For John goes on to lament that many in the Jewish world had refused that light and life. Indeed, they had sought to kill that life in crucifixion. The light of our lives is to be the life the Lord lived and still lives. Our focus is to be wholly upon Him. This is the essence of Christianity, Christ-ness; and not true theology in itself. The connection between the life and 'seeing' it is found several times later in John. Those who disbelieve in the Son of God do not "see life" (Jn. 3:36). His life is not their light. Those who follow Him have "the light of life" (8:12). John's Gospel consistently speaks of "life" being given to the believer by the Lord; but the "life" in view is His own life. This is another way of expressing the gift of the Spirit.

"The light" is used by the Lord in John's Gospel to refer to His living amongst men. His brief life in first century Palestine was the time when "the light" was seen by the world; but He urged men to believe in Him whilst they had that light. His life was the light- the believer will "have the light of life" (Jn. 8:12), the Lord's life. As long as He was in the [Jewish] world, He was the light to that world (9:5). They were to walk after Him whilst they had that light (12:35); "while you have light, believe in the light" (12:36). And yet there are clear statements that the light continues to shine now in the lives of the believers. The paradox is resolved by connecting it with the promise of the Holy Spirit comforter. The Lord comforted the disciples that although He was indeed physically leaving them, yet through the gift of His Spirit it would be as if He were still present amongst them. And so indeed the Lord was "the light" during His mortal life, lived amongst the darkness of men in Palestine. But that light continues to shine, in that He is present amongst the believers, and they live as if in the light of His presence. To join in the first century disciples in following the Lord Jesus, focused on living His life, having His Spirit, thinking His thoughts... is to "walk in the light". And that is the closest the NT ever comes to offering a 'basis of fellowship'; if we walk in the light, then we have fellowship with one another (1 Jn. 1:7), even if we may have differences of interpretation and theology. Or as Paul puts it, we are "of one mind" if we strive to have the one mind, that of the Lord Jesus. John's later work, Revelation, concludes by speaking of how the light of the Lord Jesus shines both now and eternally. Our living in the light of Him is what shall eternally continue, and defines the nature of our eternal experience. It is utterly critical, therefore, that in this life we come to a total focus upon Him.

1:5 This light shines in the darkness, but the darkness cannot understand it- As noted on :4, "the light" was the life lived within the mind of the Lord Jesus during His mortal life. But He shines on, in that those who follow Him in turn have His life and light within them, and thus become "the light of the world" just as He was. It is true in Him as well as in us, that we are the light that shines in the darkness (1 Jn. 2:8). But "the darkness" refused to understand it. Judaism therefore was "the darkness"; John saw no common ground between true Christianity, and those who rejected the Lord Jesus as the total and defining light of their path. They were in darkness; for not following Him means walking in the darkness, stumbling around with no ultimate sense of direction (12:35). And that is the Lord's opinion of all non-Christian religion. Those who preferred the darkness did so because they didn't want the light of the Lord's perfect character to reveal their sins (3:20,21). The darkness refers to hating ones' brother (1 Jn. 2:9,11), and Judaism hated their brother Jesus, as well as being characterized by bitter hatred amongst themselves, as witnessed by the various opposing sects within Judaism. To walk focused upon the life and character of the Lord Jesus means we are walking in the light, and hatred of our brethren will not characterize that walk. This is a sober warning to those who name the name of Christ but hate their brethren in Christ. They are clearly not focused upon Him and His light, having refused to receive His Spirit.

The allusion is clearly to how the light shone out of the darkness at creation. The Lord Jesus is therefore "light" to us in the sense that He illuminates. The initiative is His; we are the subjects of His action. This is the grace / gift of the Spirit. Paul understood the illumination of the light as something happening within the hearts of believers: "God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness has shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6). I have to emphasize- this is His action, performed by grace upon the hearts of His people.

3:19-21 and 12:32-46 [see commentary there] suggest that one level of meaning of Jesus as “light of the world" was that in the darkness that came over the land at the crucifixion, He upon the cross was the light of a darkened world. The Lord was “the beginning of the [new] creation of God" (Rev. 3:14); each believer who enters the spiritual world is enlightened by the light of Christ crucified. The Lord on the cross is the epitome of all that He was and is; His life, His word / logos, His Spirit.

John’s Gospel is full of reference to Essence concepts. It’s been widely argued that John’s language alludes to the threat of incipient Gnosticism, and this may be true. But it’s likely that John was written quite early, even before AD70. In this case, when John speaks of light and darkness, children of light and darkness, the Jewish ‘Satan’ / adversary to Christianity as “the ruler of this world”, he would also be alluding to these common Essene ideas. For John, following the light means following Jesus as Lord; the darkness refers to the flesh, the desires within us to conform to the surrounding world and its thinking. His point, therefore, is that instead of fantasizing about some cosmic battle going on, true Christians are to understand that the essential struggle is within the mind of each of us.

1:6 It happened that a man of God was sent. His name was John- AV "Sent from God", para God. The similarity of language was in order to emphasize that the in the same way as the Lord was sent from God, so was John. There is no way therefore that such language refers to any superhuman descent of a pre-existent being, because it is used of John the Baptist. Indeed this is but one of many examples of where John’s Gospel uses exalted language to describe the person of Jesus- but actually, if one looks out for it, John uses the very same terms about all of humanity. Here are some examples: 

About Jesus

About humanity generally or other human beings

Came into the world (9:39; 12:46; 16:28; 18:37)

1:9 [of “every man”]; 6:14. ‘Came into the world’ means ‘to be born’ in 16:21; 18:37

Sent from God (1:6; 3:28)

3:2,28; 8:29; 15:10

A man of God (9:16,33)


‘What I saw in my Father’s presence’ (8:38)

The work of ‘a man who told you the truth as I heard it from God’ (8:40)

God was His Father


He who has come from God (8:42)


The Father was in Him, and He was in the Father (10:37)

15:5-10; 17:21-23,26

Son of God (1:13)

All believers are ‘the offspring of God Himself’ (1:13; 1 Jn. 2:29-3:2,9; 4:7; 5:1-3,8)

Consecrated and sent into the world (17:17-19)


Jesus had to listen to the Father and be taught by Him (7:16; 8:26,28,40; 12:49; 14:10; 15:15; 17:8)

All God’s children are the same (6:45)

Saw the Father (6:46)

The Jews should have been able to do this (5:37)

Not born of the flesh or will of a man, but the offspring of God Himself

True of all believers (1:13)


1:7- see on  Lk. 1:14.

This one came as a witness to testify about the light, so that all might believe in the light- Potentially, all Israel could have believed in the light and been saved. John's mission could have been totally successful; but human beings were allowed their freewill, and so that potential wasn't realized. The Gospel of John is a transcript of his preaching of the gospel, and it seems that he was involved with preaching to converts of John the Baptist. He writes to his converts perhaps alluding to this by saying that although they had believed / received the witness of men, i.e. John the Baptist, they needed to accept that the far greater witness to the Lord Jesus was that given by God in the gift of the Spirit, the life of Jesus within them (1 Jn. 5:9,10,11). This general scene is not unknown today- those who say they are convinced Jesus is the Messiah because He fulfilled prophetic witness about Himself; and yet they are apparently resistant to receiving the gift of His Spirit within them.

1:8- see on Lk. 12:49,50.

John was not the light, but was sent that he might testify concerning the light- As noted on :7, John was witnessing to the disciples of John the Baptist, and some of them apparently felt that he was an end in himself. They were not giving due weight to his message about the Lord Jesus; instead they were just approvingly focusing upon his calls for repentance and criticism of Jewish society.

1:9 The true light, who by coming into the world enlightens every man- The true light may refer to the Lord as the antitype of the shekinah glory which appeared in the darkness of the tabernacle. Judaism in moral darkness are thereby associated with the tabernacle system. The AV offers "which lighteth every man that cometh into the world". But whichever translation we choose, the parallel is still established between "the world" and "every man". The world is the world of believers. Those who enter that world of newly created persons are enlightened by the Lord Jesus as "the true light". This is something He does to them, and is not merely a function of their own academic study of Scripture. The same word is used of how the Spirit enlightens our eyes to perceive that which cannot be 'seen' by natural unaided faculty (Eph. 1:18; 3:9). We have been "enlightened"  by the Spirit (Heb. 6:4; 10:32; 2 Tim. 1:10). And the same word is used of how we shall eternally be enlightened; but that process begins now (Rev. 21:23; 22:5).

1:10 He was in the world, and though the world had originated on account of him, the world recognised him not- "The world" in :9 is the world of the believers. The world "originated on account of him" = AV "the world was made by him". The parallel is clear with "All things were made by him" (:3), and as noted on :3, the "all things" refer to the "all things" of the new creation. The phrase is used that way by Paul several times. "He was in the world" could likewise be understood as referring to the "world" of the new creation; for if the reference is to the literal world, then the statement seems too obvious to need making. The parallel in the prologue of 1 Jn. 1 would be John's reference to how the early believers had seen, touched and handled the word, the Lord Jesus. He had been amongst them. But then "the world recognised him not" appears to shift the reference of "the world" away from the world of believers, the new creation, to the Jewish world- defined in :11 as "His own", i.e. the Jewish people generally, or perhaps those of Nazareth in particular, who did not accept Him. At first blush, this may seem unacceptable to have two different meanings for "the world" within one verse. But I suggest the contrast is purposeful; the point being that there are two worlds in view, that of the believers or the new creation; and the Jewish world, who rejected the Lord. They were literally worlds apart; there was no overlap between them. And that is a theme of John's message.

John appeals for men to be baptized with the twice repeated personal comment: “...and I knew him not”, in the very context of our reading that the [Jewish] world “knew him not” (Jn. 1:10, 31,33). He realises that he had withstood the knowledge of the Son of God, just as others had. See on Jn. 3:29.

Understanding "the world" as a world of persons rather than the physical world of material "things" is reflected in the way that John uses the term kosmos. So many interpreters have assumed that kosmos refers to the physical, literal world; whereas deeper reflection surely indicates that it refers rather to the world of persons. Thus "the world was made on account of Him [Christ], and the world did not know him" (Jn. 1:10; 1 Jn. 3:1-3) doesn't mean that Jesus created the literal planet; but rather that the world of persons was made on account of Jesus, but that world didn't know or accept / recognize Him. It is this "world" into which 'every believing man comes' (Jn. 1:18); and it is the "sin of the world" (Jn. 1:29) which Christ bore- not the sin of the literal planet, but the sin of the world of persons who want their sins to be carried by Him. God sent His son into the world to save it, and loved this world through giving Christ for it (Jn. 3:16)- clearly referring to the world of persons rather than the physical planet. The Lord in Lk. 11:49-51 speaks of the creation of humanity as "the foundation of the world"- for He says that Abel was slain at "the foundation of the world"- i.e. of the world of persons. In the same way as these passages in John have been misread as referring to a literal, physical, concrete world, so we too tend to see this world more as a world of things than a world of persons. For seeing the world as a world of persons demands a huge amount from us, and the kind of sensitivity to humanity which leads ultimately to the death of the cross. The new creation was brought into being by the cross. The Jewish world’s rejection of the Lord was crystallised in the crucifixion.

1:11 He came to his own people- This may specifically refer to the Lord's rejection by "His own" at Nazareth. The context here speaks of both the word which was “in the beginning”, and of Jesus personally, whom John had witnessed to. Acts 10:36-38 RV puts this in simpler terms: “He sent the word unto the children of Israel, preaching the gospel of peace by [in] Jesus Christ… that word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, beginning from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; even Jesus of Nazareth”. The sequence and similarity of thought between this and John 1:1-8 is so great that one can only assume that John is deliberately alluding to Luke’s record in Acts, and stating the same truths in spiritual terms: ‘In the beginning was the word of the Gospel which was with God. And then John came witnessing to Jesus, and then the word as it was in Jesus came to the Jews…’. Paul pleaded with his fellow Jews: “Brethren, children of the stock of Abraham…to us is the word of this salvation sent forth” (Acts 13:26 RV). Yet he also wrote that in the fullness of time, God “sent forth His Son, made of a woman” (Gal. 4:4). The Son of God was “the word of this salvation” / Jesus. “The word was God”.

And they of his own people rejected him- The Greek specifically avoids stating that all His own people rejected Him; for the faithful minority accepted Him. "His own people" is a clear statement of the Lord's humanity, wedged within a context which is a hymn to His greatness. Frequently in the New Testament we meet this kind of juxtapositioning of language emphasizing Christ's humanity alongside terms which emphasize His Divine side. This is typical Hebraic logic, whereby blocks of material are placed next to each other, in order to create a dialectic between them which leads to the intended conclusion. Back in Exodus, we find Pharaoh's heart hardened by God, and yet him hardening his own heart. Greek thinking panics here- for it works by step logic, logically reasoning from one statement to another. There appears to our European minds to be a crisis of contradiction, which many find worrying. But the Hebrew mind is far less phased. Rather the two seeming contradictions are weighed up and the conclusion reached- e.g. that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, but God confirmed him in this. The language used about the Lord Jesus in the New Testament is similar. John Knox got somewhere close to understanding this when he wrote that "we do not experience the humanity and divinity of Christ in ways as separate as this language suggests; we are aware of them together". John's Gospel is maybe the most evident example. In the context of all the high, lofty language relating the Lord Jesus to the logos, that was God from the beginning, we read of Him coming "to his own", eis ta idia, his own heritage of people and place; and being rejected by "his own people", hoi idioi, the Jews of his time and setting (Jn. 1:10-12). It is the "son of man" who is spoken of as having descended from Heaven (Jn. 3:13; 6:62). Truly "the Christ of John is actually more human than in almost any of the other New Testament writings". So often does John's Gospel baldly speak of the Lord Jesus as "the man": Jn. 4:29; 5:12; 8:40; 9:11, 24; 10:33; 11:47, 50; 18:14, 17, 29; 19:5.

1:12- see on Jn. 3:3; 3:13.

But whoever accepts him, those who believe in his name, to them he gave the right to become children of God- "Accepts" or "receives" is the term used of receiving the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:38; Rom. 5:17; 1 Pet. 4:10). The idea is not of our intellectually accepting truths, but of receiving what we are given. And we are given Him, His life, His Spirit; or as it is here expressed, the power or force to become God's children. This power is clearly that of the Spirit, given to those who show their belief in His Name by baptism into it. This gift of the Spirit is alluded to in the next verse, and the ideas here are developed further in 3:3-5 in talking of the birth of the Spirit rather than that of the flesh. Rom. 8:16 is clear that we become "the children of God" (same Greek words as here) through the work of the Spirit. John four times uses the term "children of God" when writing to his converts, those who had heard the gospel of John and been baptized (1 Jn. 3:1,2,10; 5:2). He saw them as God's children because the Spirit had worked in them to make them His.

1:13  These were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God- The context has spoken of the work of the Spirit in forging the children of God (see on :12); and these words are taken further in 3:3-5 where we find that birth of the flesh is contrasted to the birth of the Spirit which comes through water baptism.

The contrast between human will and God's will recalls the two kinds of "world" spoken of (see on :10). The Lord’s death was as a result of Him being given over “to their [man’s] will" (Lk. 23:25 s.w.), but the birth of the new creation was by the will of God. This phrase is frequently associated with the Lord’s death (e.g. Acts 2:23; Lk. 22:22; Mt. 26:42; Jn. 4:34; 5:30; Heb. 10:9,10; Gal. 1:4; 1 Pet. 3:17,18). We were born by the will of God, i.e. the death of the Lord fulfilling that will. The later references in John to the Lord coming to do God’s will refer to His coming in order to die the death of the cross. John’s account of how blood and water issued from the Lord’s pierced side is an evident allusion to childbirth; he saw the ecclesia as being born out of the pierced body of the Lord at the time of His death.

1:14 For this, the word became flesh, and indwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth- The climax of this verse is "Full of grace [gift] and truth". The gift or grace of the Spirit was given as a result of the Lord's death and glorification. Here we have the explanation of "For this..."; the preceding verses have spoken of the gift of the Spirit, and this was made possible by the Lord's humanity, death and resurrection.

Because Jesus was the only Son of God, therefore He is full of the Father’s grace and truth. Jn. 1:14 makes this connection between fullness and only Sonship. Because of the wonder of this, we should therefore hear Him, respecting and thereby obeying His word simply because of our appreciation of who He is and was- the Son of God (Lk. 9:35). And yet this description of Him as the begotten Son of God connects with how we have just read that we too are to be born of God and not of the flesh, if we accept the spirit of Jesus.

It seems that in the Lord Jesus alone we see the perfect fusion of "grace and truth" (Jn. 1:14); in Him alone mercy and truth met together, in His personality alone righteousness and peace kissed each other (in the words of the beautiful Messianic prophecy of Ps. 85:10).  Somehow it seems that we both individually and collectively cannot achieve this. We are either too soft and compromise and lose the Faith, or we are too hard and lose the spirit of Christ our Lord, without which we are "none of his" (Rom. 8:9).

"We beheld his glory" makes John's Gospel his personal testimony. It would seem that the Gospels were so clearly etched in the minds of the first century believers because the message of the Gospel was preached in the form of reciting a 'Gospel', a record of the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. This is why 'gospel' as in the message and 'Gospel' as in the four Gospels are the same word, although this seems to be overlooked by many. The Gospel according to Matthew is the good news about Christ which Matthew preached and then wrote down. John of all the Gospel writers makes it openly apparent that his preaching of the Gospel is based around a recital of the things which he himself saw and heard in the Lord's life (1:14; 19:35; 21:24). His Gospel is full of what have been called "the artless notes of the authentic eye-witness" (e.g. his comment that "the house was filled with the odour of the ointment"). John begins his preaching of the Gospel by saying that he had beheld the glory of the Lord Jesus (Jn. 1:14)- and I suggest he was referring to how he beheld the cross and the Lord’s manifestation of the Father’s glory there (Jn. 17:24). The cross, the glory of the Lord shown there, was what motivated John’s preaching, just as it should ours. The cross impels us to witness.

The continuity of personality between the human Jesus and the now-exalted Jesus is brought out by meditation upon His “glory”. The glory of God refers to His essential personality and characteristics. When He ‘glorifies Himself’, He articulates that personality- e.g. in the condemnation of the wicked or the salvation of His people. The Lord Jesus had that “glory” in what John calls “the beginning”, and he says that he and the other disciples witnessed that glory (Jn. 1:14). “The beginning” in John’s Gospel often has reference to the beginning of the Lord’s ministry. There is essentially only one glory- the glory of the Son is a reflection or manifestation of the glory of the Father. They may be seen as different glories only in the sense that the same glory is reflected from the Lord Jesus in His unique way; as a son reflects or articulates his father’s personality, it’s not a mirror personality, but it’s the same essence. One star differs from another in glory, but they all reflect the same essential light of glory. The Lord Jesus sought only the glory of the Father (Jn. 7:18). He spoke of the glory of God as being the Son’s glory (Jn. 11:4). Thus Isaiah’s vision of God’s glory is interpreted by John as a prophecy of the Son’s glory (Jn. 12:41). The glory of God is His “own self”, His own personality and essence. This was with God of course from the ultimate beginning of all, and it was this glory which was manifested in both the death and glorification of the Lord Jesus (Jn. 17:5). The Old Testament title “God of glory” is applied to the Lord Jesus, “the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8; James 2:1). It is God’s glory which radiates from the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). Jesus is the brightness of God’s glory, because He is the express image of God’s personality (Heb. 1:3). He received glory from God’s glory (2 Pet. 1:17). God is the “Father of glory”, the prime source of the one true glory, that is reflected both in the Lord Jesus and in ourselves (Eph. 1:17). What all this exposition means in practice is this. There is only “one glory” of God. That glory refers to the essential “self”, the personality, characteristics, being etc. The Lord Jesus manifested that glory in His mortal life (Jn. 2:11). But He manifests it now that He has been “glorified”, and will manifest it in the future day of His glory. And the Lord was as in all things a pattern to us. We are bidden follow in His path to glory. We now in our personalities reflect and manifest the one glory of the Father, and our blessed Hope is glory in the future, to be glorified, to be persons (note that- to be persons!) who reflect and ‘are’ that glory in a more intimate and complete sense than we are now, marred as we are by our human dysfunction, sin, and weakness of will against temptation. We now reflect that glory as in a dirty bronze mirror. The outline of God’s glory in the face of Jesus is only dimly reflected in us. But we are being changed, from glory to glory, the focus getting clearer all the time, until that great day when we meet Him and see Him face to face, with all that shall imply and result in. But my point in this context is that there is only one glory. The essence of who we are now in our spiritual man, how we reflect it, in our own unique way, is how we shall always be.

It’s evident to even the most casual reader that there are many connections between John’s Gospel and the Revelation. John’s later writing, just like Paul’s, was shot through with references to the Gospels. The same phrases and words are used. But the question is, What is the connection between them? One comment I have in answer to this is to observe that much of the language of the Gospel of John relating to the present status of the faithful is repeated in Revelation and applied to the faithful in their future glorification. This observation is best explained by examples: 

John’s Gospel

The Revelation

God tabernacled amongst us in the person of Jesus (Jn. 1:14 RVmg.)

“The tabernacle of God is with men” at the second coming of Jesus (Rev. 21:3)

Rivers of water flow now in the experience of the believer (Jn. 7:38,39)

The river of water of life bursts forth once Jesus is enthroned upon earth in the future (Rev. 22:1)

The manna / bread of life is given to the believer now (Jn. 6)

Those who overcome will be given “the hidden manna” to eat at the Lord’s return (Rev. 2:17)

At the crucifixion, the prophecy of Zech. 12:10 was fulfilled when the Jews looked upon the Christ whom they had pierced (Jn. 19:37)

The same Zech. 12:10 passage is quoted in Rev. 1:7 and given a future application, to the response of the Jews at the Lord’s second coming.



I would suggest a chronological progression in Jn. 1:14:
“The word was made flesh"- His birth
“And dwelt among us"- His life
“And we beheld his glory, full of grace and truth"- His death on the cross. Christ’s glory is elsewhere used by John with reference to the glory He displayed on the cross (Jn. 12:38-41; 12:28; 13:32; 17:1,5,24). John thus begins his Gospel with the statement that he saw the Lord’s death. However, it is also so that John “saw his glory" at the transfiguration; and yet even there, “they saw his glory" (Lk. 9:32) as “they spake of his decease which he should accomplish". His glory and His death were ever linked. The fullness of grace and truth is one of John’s many allusions to Moses’ experience when the Name was declared to him- of Yahweh, a God full of grace and truth (Ex. 34:6 RV). The Name was fully declared, as fully as could be, in the cross. The Law gave way, through the cross, to the grace and truth that was revealed by Christ after the Law ended (Jn. 1:17). In His dead, outspent body grace and truth finally replaced law. John goes on to say that the Son has declared the invisible God (Jn. 1:18)- another reference to the cross. The implication may be that as Moses cowered before the glory of the Lord, even he exceedingly feared and quaked, we likewise should make an appropriate response to the glory that was and is (note John’s tenses) displayed to us in the cross. Mark how the naked man, covered in blood and spittle, was there declaring God’s glory. Aaron the High Priest bore the judgment for Israel’s sins, in another anticipation of the cross, whilst arrayed in garments of glory and beauty (Ex. 28:30). And so was the naked Lord arrayed, for those with spiritual sight. Thus the word was manifested in glory through the cross; and thus 1 Cor. 2:1,2 links the crucified Christ with “the testimony of God". See on Jn. 19:19.

The essential logos of God in Christ was articulated not only in the birth of the Lord, not only at the start of His, but supremely in His death. John’s Gospel is packed with allusion to Moses. Here the reference is to Moses cowering in the rock, beholding the glory of Yahweh and hearing the declaration of the Yahweh Name. Speaking of His forthcoming death, the Lord was to say: “And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them" (John 17:26). This second declaration of the Name was to be in His death. The same allusion back to the declaration of Yahweh in Ex. 34 is to be found in John 12:27-28: “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again". This second glorifying of the Name was surely in the Son’s declaration of the Name in His death. And this connects will with the evidence elsewhere presented that the Yahweh Name was closely connected with the Lord’s death, in that ‘Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews’ in Hebrew would have used words, the first letters of which spelt ‘Yahweh’. John’s claim that he beheld the glory of God’s Son may therefore be a specific reference to the way he describes his own ‘seeing’ of the crucifixion in John 19:35: “And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe". He seems to be saying: ‘I saw Him there. I really and truly did’. He uses the same kind of language in 1 Jn. 4:14: “we have seen and do testify [cp. “his record is true"] that the Father sent the son to be the saviour of the world" in the cross.

“The only begotten of the Father" is a phrase nearly always used in the context of the Lord’s death (e.g. Jn. 3:16). The love of God was defined in the way the Lord laid down His life in death (1 Jn. 3:16); but it is equally defined in that “God sent his only begotten son into the world, that we might live" (1 Jn. 4:9). God sending His son into the world was therefore in His death specifically [see notes under 3:14-18]. And it was through this that life was won for us. As He hung covered in blood and spittle, as He gasped out forgiveness for His enemies, God’s Son as it were came into the hard world of men. The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not and does not overcome it. There, the word, the essential love and grace and judgment and mercy of Yahweh, was made flesh, and tabernacled amongst us.

The common translation “dwelt" can give the sense that John is merely saying ‘Jesus lived in Israel’; but there is far more to it than that. In clear allusion to his Gospel, John opens his first letter by speaking of the Lord Jesus, whom “we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled [a reference to the taking down of the body and embalming?], of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness [cp. 19:35] , and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us" (I Jn 1:1-3). The manifestation of the Son was supremely in His death (1 Jn. 3:5,8; 4:9 cp. Jn. 3:16; Heb. 9:26 Gk.; 1 Tim. 3:16; Jn. 17:6 cp. 26). And John exalts that they saw this, and now they too declare / manifest it to the world. One cannot behold the cross of Christ and not witness it to others. John says that he beheld “his glory". Christ’s glory is elsewhere used by John with reference to the glory He displayed on the cross (Jn. 12:38-41; 12:28; 13:32; 17:1,5,24). However, it is also so that John “saw his glory" at the transfiguration; and yet even there, “they saw his glory" (Lk. 9:32) as “they spake of his decease which he should accomplish". His glory and His death were ever linked. The fullness of grace and truth is one of John’s many allusions to Moses’ experience when the Name was declared to him- of Yahweh, a God full of grace and truth (Ex. 34:6 RV). The Name was fully declared, as fully as could be, in the cross. The Law gave way, through the cross, to the grace and truth that was revealed by Christ after the Law ended (Jn. 1:17). In His dead, outspent body grace and truth finally replaced law. John goes on to say that the Son has declared the invisible God (Jn. 1:18)- another reference to the cross. The implication may be that as Moses cowered before the glory of the Lord, even he exceedingly feared and quaked; we likewise should make an appropriate response to the glory that was and is (note John’s tenses) displayed to us in the cross. All of God’s word was made flesh in the crucified body of the Lord Jesus. The very essence of Yahweh and all His self-revelation was epitomised there. Therefore when the Son of man was lifted up, men knew the truth of all God’s words [see notes on 8:21-28].

The Lord was “full of grace and truth". Yet according to Phil. 2:7 RV, on the cross the Lord emptied Himself. Yet there He was filled with the essence of Yahweh’s own character; for the RV of Ex. 34 stresses that Yahweh is a God whose name is full of grace and truth. On the cross He was emptied of self and yet totally filled. The fact that the word was made flesh in the crucifixion explains why the atonement is described time and again with metaphors, as if it is a struggle for language alone to convey what happened. In the person of the crucified Christ, the ideas, the language, the words… became real and concretely expressed in a person. There is far more revealed by meditation upon the cross than can ever be put in words. There, the word, all the words, were made flesh. It is possible to see the fulfilment of the idea of the word being made flesh in Pilate's mocking presentation of the bedraggled Saviour: "Behold the man!”. Rudolph Bultmann commented: "The declaration "the Word became flesh" has become visible in its extremest consequence”. There in the spat upon Son of God we see humanity as it is meant to be; "the flesh", "the man" as God intended, unequalled and unmatched in any other human being.

John uses the same word for 'dwelling' in writing in Revelation of how the Father and Son shall dwell with men, and shall be their sole light, the only light that shines forth in their experience and existence. These ideas are all used here in 1:14 and the context regarding what He is doing now in the hearts of His people. This gift of His life is therefore a pre-experience, a foretaste, of the life we shall eternally experience. In this sense we "have eternal life" now. We live the life we shall eternally live- His life. Paul puts in another way when he says that the Spirit is given to us as the foretaste or deposit guaranteeing our final salvation (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5).

How exactly was the word made flesh in the person of Jesus? It was not simply a question of the nature of His birth. ‘The word’ was a title given to the Lord in recognition of His achievement in being and becoming the ‘word made flesh’. It wasn’t something which automatically happened to the Lord, as an irresistible process in which He played no part. The Lord’s Old Testament allusions, His familiarity with and use of His Father’s words doubtless had a lot to do with His becoming ‘the word made flesh’. If Paul alluded to the words of the Lord Jesus once every four verses on average, it is to be expected that the Son of God quoted and alluded to His Father’s word even moreso. And this is what we find, when we search the Lord’s words for their allusions to the Old Testament.

An example of the Lord’s perhaps unconscious usage of His Father’s words is to be found in His exasperated comment: “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you?” (Mt. 17:17). Of course the Lord would have spoken those words and expressed those ideas in Aramaic- but the similarity is striking with His Father’s Hebrew words of Num. 14:27: “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation…?”. As a son comes out with phrases and word usages which ‘Could be his father speaking!’, so the Lord Jesus did the same thing. What I am saying is that the Lord was not merely quoting or alluding to the Father’s Old Testament words, in the way that, say, Paul or Peter did. As the Father’s Son, He was speaking in the same way as His Father, no doubt saturated with the written record of the Father’s words, but all the same, there were those similarities of wording and underlying thinking which are only seen between fathers and sons. And His words of Mt. 17:17 = Num. 14:27 seem to me to be an example of this.

The level, depth and multiplicity of Old Testament allusions becomes the more amazing when we accept that these were spoken words, some of them clearly spoken unprepared and off-the-cuff. Literature can be crafted to pack multiple allusions. But when a speaker produces such a depth of allusion, one can only marvel at his intellectual depth. But with the Lord, it reflects His utter familiarity with the Father’s word, grasping the real spirit of it all. He breathed it, thought it, spoke it, lived it. And in all He said, this was reflected. He truly was “the word made flesh”. The following are just a few examples from the first words of Jesus; but the list can be continued. The simple fact is that on average, the Lord is alluding to the Old Testament at least 3 times in every verse! This means that every phrase of every sentence He is recorded as speaking- is alluding to His Father’s word. It would’ve been like an orphaned son ‘finding’ his late father’s words. He would read the words with such delight, and somehow eagerly pick up their sense in the way nobody else could.

The Words Of Jesus

Old Testament Allusions

Mt. 3:15 Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.

Ez. 18:19,21 fulfill righteousness

Mt. 4:4 It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, butby everyword that proceedeth out of the mouth of God

Dt. 8:3 direct quote

Mt. 4:7 It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.

Dt. 6:16 direct quote

Mt. 4:10 Get thee hence, Satan: forit is written, Thou shalt worshipthe Lord thy God,and him only shalt thou serve.

Dt. 6:13 direct quote

Mt. 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Ps. 40:17; Is. 41:17; 61:1

Mt. 5:4 Blessed are they that mourn:

Is. 61:1-3; 66:2

for they shall be comforted.

Is. 40:1

Mt. 5:5 Blessed are the meek:

Ps. 37:11,20; Is. 60:21; Prov. 22:24,25; 25:8,15

for they shall inherit the earth.

Gen. 15:7,8; Ex. 32:13

Mt. 5:6 Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

Gen. 49:18; Ps. 17:15; 119:20; Jer. 23:6; Is. 45:24; 51:1; 55:1; 65:13

Mt. 5:7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

2 Sam. 22:26,27; Ps. 18:25,26

Mat 5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Ex. 33:20; Job 19:25-27; Ps. 17:15; Is. 6:5; 38:3,11


If you follow through some of those allusions- and there are surely many more that I’ve not picked up- it becomes apparent that the Lord had a mind capable of operating on several different levels of allusion at once. So it was not simply that He was hyper-familiar with His Father’s word. He had the intellectual ability, with all the intelligence of God’s very own Son, to think and speak on several levels at once. Hence His words were absolutely full of God’s thoughts and words. He was so fully and deeply “the word made flesh”. And in analyzing from where in the Old Testament the Lord quoted, we find that He had His favourite places- just as we’d expect from a genuine man. He appears to have been especially fond of the references to the “Servant” in the latter half of Isaiah; and also of the Psalms. He quotes from them both literally and freely, with all the confidence and appropriacy of a person who is thoroughly familiar with the text. But the way and extent to which He applied it all to Himself makes Him in very reality “the word made flesh”.

It wasn't only in words but in actions too that the Lord was the word made flesh. The Lord Jesus lived life; He didn't just let events happen to Him. Much as I respected Harry Whittaker both as an individual and an expositor, I can never understand why throughout his monumental Studies In The Gospels, he repeatedly makes the point that the Lord Jesus didn't go around consciously trying to fulfil Bible prophecy. My reading of the Gospels tells me that the Lord did do exactly this. The writers stress that He did action X or spoke word Y in order to fulfil Bible prophecy A and B. He consciously made the word flesh in Himself. A case can be made that He carefully planned out His ministry; He didn't just let events happen to Him. I don't find it hard to believe that He consciously engineered the timing of His own death to be at Passover time, after a three and a half year public ministry. He purposefully seems to have pressed all the buttons in Jewish expectations to lead them to revolt against the dashed expectations they had of Him. His actions in the temple could be read as almost asking to be killed. He knew what makes people tick and act to an an extent we can't begin to understand. He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem to die there (Lk. 9:60). He laid down His life- it wasn't taken from Him.


1:15 John testifies of him and cries out, saying: This was he of whom I said: He that comes after me is ranked above me! For he was senior to me- The record of John urgently crying out is perhaps mentioned because John was preaching to some who considered John the Baptist as the saviour, and were focused upon him rather than the Lord Jesus. John's message repeatedly featured his statements that he was nothing and the Lord everything.

John's comment that he came "after" Jesus, and that Jesus was the redeemer rather than he himself contain a strange allusion to the words of the redeemer-who-was-incapable-of-redeeming in Ruth 4:4- Boaz told him that "I am after thee", but in the end the incapable-redeemer plucked off his shoe as a sign of unworthiness to redeem (Ruth 4:7). And John surely also had this in mind when he commented that he was unworthy to unloose Messiah's shoe (Jn. 1:27). The allusions are surely indicative of the way John felt like the unworthy / incapable redeemer, eclipsed before Boaz / Jesus.

1:16- see on Eph. 3:19.

Of his fullness we all received, with grace upon grace- As noted on :14, the allusion has been to Moses nervously beholding God's glory and the declaration of His Name, Yahweh the God full of grace and truth. Moses was seen as the unapproproachable acme of spirituality; but now all who have perceived the Lord's glory have seen as Moses did. And so much more. That fullness of the name declared in Ex. 34:4-6 ["A God full of..." grace and truth] has now been received by us. And it is piled on- grace upon grace. We are not like Moses merely beholding a theoretical statement of these things, but actually participating in them and receiving them, through the power of the Spirit. The Spirit is clearly in view as "grace" is used, 'gift', so often referring to the gift of the Spirit.

"His fullness" is literally 'His filling'. The word and idea is often used in the context of being filled with the Spirit. We have been filled with what the Lord Jesus was full of- the Spirit, the characteristics of the Name. Again, the idea of filling suggests something done to us, so long as we are open to it, rather than a self-filling by our own intellectual effort. If we are in the body of Christ, in that body we receive "the fullness of Him that fills all in all" (Eph. 1:23). Eph. 3:19 is specific that it is through the indwelling of the Spirit, in the "inner man", "in our hearts by faith", that we are "filled with all the fulness of God". Through the Comforter, the gift of the Holy Spirit which "shall be within you", "your joy may be filled up" (Jn. 16:24 s.w.); hence the Lord's disappointment that at that time, "sorrow has filled up your heart" (Jn. 16:6). He wished for that to be displaced by the filling of the Spirit, which would be of joy and not sadness. The Lord's spirit of joy would be filled up in the hearts of His followers, "within themselves" (Jn. 17:13). The reference is continually to internal filling, "within", rather than to the external miraculous gifts of the Spirit. Rom. 15:13 uses the same word: "The God of hope fill you [up] with all joy and peace... through the power of the Holy Spirit". The Lord ascended to Heaven and received the Spirit so that He might fill up all things of the new creation (Eph. 4:10). And thus Eph. 5:18 simply exhorts: "Be filled with the Spirit". We are to be open to it, and we shall be filled with it.  The same word and appeal is to be found in Phil. 4:19; Col. 1:9; 2:10; 4:12. It is a major New Testament teaching that cannot be ignored. Hence John later appeals to his converts to allow themselves to be filled with joy (1 Jn. 1:4; 2 Jn. 12).

The Father’s whole spirit / attitude is of wanting to lavish grace. Our spirit likewise must not be mean- totting up the cost of all the things the visitors have eaten, etc. But God’s lavishing of grace is not only in material things, but supremely in His patient forgiveness and salvation towards us. Are we super abounding in forgiveness, or do we grudgingly offer it only upon evident repentance from others? Such legalism is associated with Moses, but grace and truth, "grace upon grace”, came by the Lord Jesus (Jn. 1:16). Grace is 'ever increasing' ("grace upon grace") in that as we grow in Christ, we perceive that grace more and more. God not only forgives, but He delights in doing so (Is. 62:14; Mic. 7:18); the way He is spoken of as ‘delighting’ in spiritually weak Israel is part and parcel of Him lavishing grace as He does (Num. 14:8). It must be so awful to have such a wonderful spirit of lavishing grace and love, consciously giving out life and patient forgiveness to so many; and yet not be appreciated for it, to have puny humans shaking their fist at God because they die a brief moment of time sooner than they think they should, to have tiny people arrogantly questioning His love. 

1:17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ- The Lord is here presented as the mediator of a different covenant, with far superior blessing mediated. The contrast is between the law being "given", and the gift / grace of the Spirit 'coming'. We have not been given a set of commandments and left to get on with it. Grace and truth have come to us, and we saw on :16 that these things have entered within our very hearts. There are many Christians today who have received nothing from their religion but a set of commandments 'given' to them; they need to open themselves to allow the coming of grace into their hearts, the gift of the Spirit. We have just read that it was the personality of the Lord Jesus which was full of grace and truth (:14). But His personality, His Spirit, enters ['comes'] to us. For through the Comforter, the promised Holy Spirit which "shall be within you", He 'comes' to us, in the fulness of His personality and character (Jn. 14:18). John's later greeting to his converts "Grace be with you... in truth" (2 Jn. 3) was therefore no mere standard introduction to a letter; he believed that grace and truth really could enter them in abundance, and he wished this for them.

1:18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made Him known- "Made Him known" or [AV] "declared" is another allusion to the declaration of God's Name and the fullness of His character and glory in physical form to Moses (see on Ex. 32:30-32; Lk. 16:23; 1 Cor. 8:4-6). Again, all believers are positioned with Moses, who was denied his request to see God. But effectively, we have seen God in His Son; he who perceives / sees the Son has seen the Father. John parallels the word becoming flesh, with the Son declaring the Father who cannot be seen (Jn. 1:18). This is a reference to the declaration of Yahweh’s Name to Moses, at which time Moses was reminded that God cannot be physically seen. Thus the declaration of the Yahweh Name to Moses is paralleled with the word / Name being made flesh. The Father glorified His Name in the Son (Jn. 12:28), who was the word of God.

John here makes clear allusion to Moses. This alludes to Moses being unable to see God, whereas the Lord now is cuddled in the bosom of the Father- such closeness, such a soft image, even now in his heavenly glory! The Lord declared God's character in His perfect life and above all on the cross (Jn. 17:26).

Again, the making known or declaration of God is something done to us. And it is done to us by the Lord Jesus through His Spirit. We are given "the spirit of... knowledge in the revelation [declaring / making known] of Him" (Eph. 1:17).

1:19 And this is the witness of John, when the Jews sent from Jerusalem priests and Levites to ask him: Who are you?- We wonder if that delegation included the zealot Saul of Tarsus, for as noted elsewhere, he continually alludes to the words and character of John the Baptist. These priests and Levites had been sent from the Jerusalem Pharisees, with whom Paul was associated (:24).

1:20 He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed: I am not the Christ!- This is a play on ideas. We would rather expect: 'He denied that he was the Christ'. But John did not deny- i.e. that Jesus was the Christ; he proclaimed that he was not the Christ, but Jesus was. The same word for "confessed" is to be found in 9:22, where any who confessed Jesus as Christ was to be put out of the synagogue. It was this threat which kept many from believing openly in the Lord, and some were even led to deny the Lord Jesus as Messiah and instead claim to be followers of John the Baptist. But John points out that John the Baptist bravely refused to deny Jesus as Christ, he confessed Him as Christ. 

John's Gospel features the Lord Jesus confidently stating "I am...". The context is set for this by the way John's Gospel begins by describing how John the Baptist said "I am not..." ("I am not the Messiah", Jn. 1:20; 3:28; "I am not [Elijah]", Jn. 1:21; "I am not worthy", Jn. 1:27. By confessing his own weakness, who he was not, John the Baptist was paving the way for the recognition and acceptance of Jesus. And our self-abnegation will do likewise.

1:21 And they asked him: What then? Are you Elijah? And he said: I am not. Are you the prophet? And he answered: No-John knew surely that he was the Elijah prophet- for he consciously was preparing the way of Messiah and calling Israel to repentance. He was preaching in the very wilderness area from where Elijah had been taken up at the conclusion of his ministry; and he surely consciously chose to dress with the hairy garment and leather belt which had been Elijah's badge of office (1 Kings 1:8; 2:13,14). It's also been pointed out that the Essenes and other Jewish groups at the time taught self-baptism, whereas John was consciously baptizing people himself, as if he saw himself as specifically preparing them for something. The Lord Himself of course understood John to have been the Elijah prophet. And yet- John denies he is Elijah, but focuses instead on how he is but a "voice". I therefore conclude that his humility was such that he was totally downplaying his office- as if to say 'I am so much a mere voice, that effectively I'm not the Elijah prophet- the message I preach is so far more important than the office I bear'. Those who bear 'offices' in the church of Jesus would do well to have his spirit. Perhaps this is why he seems to have made very few personal disciples- although thousands were baptized by him, having been so impressed by his message. The Epistles of Clement number his disciples at about 30; and Jn. 4:1 comments that the Lord Jesus made more disciples than John did. I take this as a fine reflection upon his selfless witness, focusing so much on his message rather than developing any personal following. He was 'the friend of the bridegroom', the one who arranged the marriage of the bridegroom and sought out the bride. And that, really, is what we are about too, with all the sense of dedication and earnestness which a such a person has when aiming to find a partner for one they know to be a truly good man.

1:22 They replied to him: Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. How do you describe yourself?- This recalls the concern of the local Roman governors to have some reason for sending Paul to Rome for trial. The Jewish angst about men like John the Baptist was not because they had done anything wrong, but because of the hard to define touching of conscience achieved by their preaching of the Lord. The AV "What sayest thou of thyself?" alludes to the way that a teacher was supposed to confidently introduce themselves and their mission in words which were uniquely theirs. The Lord alludes to this when He insists that He does not "speak of Myself" (12:49; 14:10) but only speaks the Father's words. Perhaps He learnt that from John's example, who refused to speak of himself but just quoted the Father's words (:23).

1:23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet: I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord- When asked who he was, John’s reply was simply: “a voice”. He was nothing; his message about Jesus was everything. In all this there is a far cry from the self-confident, self-projecting speaking off the podium which characterizes so much of our ‘preaching’ today. So John’s appeal to repentance was shot through with a recognition of his own humanity. It wasn’t mere moralizing. We likely don’t preach as John did because we fear that confronting people with their sins is inappropriate for us to do, because we too are sinners. But with recognition of our own humanity, we build a bridge between our audience and ourselves. See on Lk. 3:7.

"Make straight" translates a Greek word which without doubt means "immediate", or in old English "straightway". It is translated like this multiple times. The way for the Lord Messiah to come to Jerusalem in glory could have been made immediate if Israel had truly responded to John's message. There was therefore a passion and urgency in John's call for repentance. "The way of the Lord" is the term later used for the Christian path (e.g. Acts 18:25). The implication is that the Lord is ready to come any moment, is on His way to Zion- and the quicker we make His way "straight", the quicker He will arrive.

1:24 These priests and Levites had been sent from the Pharisees- As noted on :19, Saul may well have been amongst them. The message of John the Baptist would have been another of the goads of conscience which he was kicking against by refusing to accept the Lord.

1:25 Again they asked him: Why then do you baptize, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?- Like many today, they mistakenly assumed that to baptize people, you need authority. They also indicate their belief that before Messiah's revelation, there is to be mass baptisms of Jews. The command to all in Christ to go forth and preach-and-baptize (the command is all one) would have been shocking to a first century Jewish audience, who believed that only Messiah Himself or “the prophet” could baptize (Jn. 1:25). The implication of the Lord’s command was that all in Him are in fact Him, in their preaching of Him.

John’s humility is brought out by the way John fields the question as to whether he is “the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?”. He could have answered: ‘I am the Elijah prophet’- for the Lord Himself said of John that “this is Elijah”, with perhaps conscious reference back to this question (Mt. 11:14). But John didn’t answer that way. His reply was simply to speak of the greatness of Christ and his unworthiness to be His herald (Jn. 1:26,27). John’s humility is brought out yet further by reflection on the fact that he clearly baptized huge numbers of people, and yet also had a group of people known as ‘the disciples of John’. Clearly he didn’t intend to found a sect, and was so taken up with trying to prepare people for the Lord’s coming that he simply wished to lead them to some level of repentance and baptize them, without necessarily making them part of ‘his disciples’. John's low self-estimation is seen in how he denied that he was "Elijah" or the "prophet" whom the Jews expected to come prior to Messiah (Jn. 1:21). The Lord Himself clearly understood John as the Elijah prophet- "this is Elijah" (Mt. 11:14), He said of John. John wasn't being untruthful, nor did he misunderstand who he was. For he associates his "voice" with the voice of the Elijah prophet crying in the wilderness, and appropriates language from the Elijah prophecy of Mal. 4 to his own preaching. His denial that he was 'that prophet' therefore reflects rather a humility in him, a desire for his message to be heard for what it was, rather than any credibility to be given to it because of his office. There's a powerful challenge for today’s preacher of the Gospel.

1:26 John answered: I baptize in water; but in the midst of you stands one whom you do not know- The other Gospels all go on to say "I baptize in water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit". That latter teaching is pointedly omitted in John, and we wonder why, given the frequent references to the gift of the Spirit earlier in this chapter. Perhaps the idea is that those addressed in the synoptics were indeed baptized with both water and Spirit, but the group addressed here were baptized in water but rejected baptism of the Spirit, because they refused to know or recognize the Lord Jesus as Messiah. The gift of the Spirit involves the Lord Jesus being in our midst, and He was in their midst, but they did not know or recognize Him; rather like the Corinthians having the Spirit amongst them, but not being spiritual (1 Cor. 3:1).

1:27 He that comes after me, his shoelace I am not worthy to untie- Untying the shoelaces, or carrying the sandals, are idioms for 'being a herald'. John doesn't mean that he did not do this because he was not worthy to do so; he means that he was doing the work of a herald, which he was not worthy to do. His witness to the Lord is continually laced with his own confession of weakness and unworthiness. Given that his moral standards were apparently radically higher than those around him, such humility has much to commend it. It ought to be the hallmark set upon all our witness to the Lord, and it will make our appeal the more compelling. Perhaps John was somehow aware that any who would not carry the Lord's cross with Him were "not worthy" of Him (Mt. 10:38 s.w.).

1:28  This incident took place in Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing- Wherever this place was, it was "on the other side" of the Jordan river, on the East bank. We wonder why John chose to baptize there, rather than on the West bank. The other name given in the manuscripts for this place is Bethabara, 'house of the ford / crossing point'. Perhaps John wanted them to perceive their baptism as a crossing over Jordan with Joshua / Jesus into a promised land.

 Perhaps John’s Gospel purposefully inserts the comment that John the Baptist baptized many people after stating that he was not worthy to be doing what he was doing as the Lord's herald. It is as if to draw a link between his humility, and the success in preaching which he had. Paul perhaps directs us back to John when he says that we are not “sufficient” to be the savour of God to this world; and yet we are made sufficient to preach by God (2 Cor. 2:16; 3:5,6 RV). How terribly wrong it is for missionary service to be gloried in and somehow a reason for those who do it to become puffed up in self-importance.

1:29 The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him, and he said: Behold! The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!- John the Baptist beheld the Lord Jesus walking, and commented that He was then, as He walked, the lamb of God (with all the sacrificial overtones of that phrase), that takes away, right then, three years before the cross, the sin of the world. The essence of what the Lord did on the cross was in fact ongoing throughout His life. John saw every man as in the desperate, urgent intensity of Passover night, needing to identify with the slain lamb. John sees Jesus and saysLook! The lamb of God…". The three words for “see", “says" and “Look!" are uniquely repeated in Jn. 19:26, where again we have the lamb of God, now sacrificed, on the cross. "Takes away" is the word used by John to describe the cry of the Jews: "Away with Him!" (19:15). Here we see how human volition, however bad, is used within God's plan of salvation. The "world" whose sins are taken away is the world of believing persons, as mentioned earlier in this chapter. The Lord was thereby the creator of that world. The "world" simply cannot be understood as the literal universe. For it is persons who sin and whose sin is taken away by the Lord.

1:30 This is he of whom I said: After me comes a man who is ranked above me. For he was senior to me- Again we see John's repeated self deprecation in presenting the Lord Jesus to others. John the Baptist was actually older than the Lord Jesus; he therefore meant that Jesus was “before” him in the sense of being more important than him. C.H. Dodd interprets this passage as meaning: “There is a man in my following who has taken precedence over me, because he is… essentially my superior- C.H. Dodd, Historical Tradition In The Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: CUP, 1976) p. 274. See on Jn. 8:58.

1:31 I did not perceive him, but so he should be made manifest to Israel, for this reason I come baptizing in water- John has just lamented that his audience do not know or perceive the Messiahship of Jesus (:26). Now he uses the same word in saying that he too did not know or "perceive Him". He is seeking to build a bridge between himself and his audience, admitting that he who is now heralding Jesus as Messiah did not at one stage "perceive Him", presumably referring to how whilst they were growing up and in their 20s, John did not perceive that the Lord was in fact God's Son. This shows that John did not spend his entire time from childhood to 30 years old in the deserts. He had met his relative Jesus of Nazareth in that period, but had not perceived Him as Son of God and Messiah. This itself is an artless testament to the Lord's perfection and humility; He who never sinned, neither by ommission nor commission, was never perceived as anything unduly special. Not even by someone as spiritually inclined as John, who would surely have heard the stories of the virgin birth from his mother Elizabeth.

One obvious encouragement to be hopeful in our witness is the Biblical implication that all men and women, potentially, have the possibility of responding to the Gospel. It was so in the first century- John the Baptist had the potential to convert all Israel, for He came "that all men through him might believe" (Jn. 1:7), so that Christ "should be made manifest to (all) Israel" (Jn. 1:31). The entire nation could have converted; but they didn't.

"That (Christ) should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water" (Jn. 1:31) seems to make baptism a pre-requisite for accepting Christ. Indeed, Jewish theology expects baptism to be associated with the coming of Messiah and the Elijah prophet. Therefore the Jews asked John: "Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias?" (Jn. 1:25). See on Mt. 17:11. For Israel to call upon themselves the Name of the Lord when they repent, it is fitting that Elijah baptizes them into His Name. Zech. 13:1 may hint at latter day baptisms among repentant Jewry: "In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David... for sin and for uncleanness". Israel will call upon themselves the Name of Yahweh our righteousness by being baptized into the Name of the Father and Son (Jer. 33:16).

1:32 And John testified, saying: I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and it remained upon him- As noted on :31, John did not perceive that his relative Jesus was God's Son. It was not until he saw the Spirit descending on the Lord that he realized that his relative Jesus was the Son of God. It was by the activity of the Spirit that he came to this perception. His earlier not knowing or perceiving who Jesus was thereby enabled him to build a common platform with the Jews who still would not know or perceive Him (:24 s.w.).

1:33 - see on Mt. 3:8.

I would not have perceived him except He that sent me to baptize in water, He had said to me: Upon whomsoever you shall see the Spirit descend and remain upon him, the same is he that baptizes in the Holy Spirit- As noted on :31 and :32, John was preaching preparation for the coming of Messiah without knowing who Messiah was. It was not until the Lord's baptism that he realized. We wonder why, therefore, he met Jesus with the comment that 'I have need to be baptized of You, and not You by me'. Maybe he said that out of deep respect of his relative Jesus as a better man than him, which again reflects his humility. For it was only after the Lord's baptism that the Spirit came upon Him, and John realized that this was the Son of God.

The Spirit descending and remaining upon the Lord was the sign that He was God's Son. The same word, often translated "abide", is used of how the Spirit is to both come and abide with all believers after they receive it at baptism. The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, was intended to come and dwell / remain within the hearts of the recipients (Jn. 14:17 s.w.).The gift of the Spirit is the proof that God abides / remains within us if we allow the Spirit to abide / remain within our hearts; and this is the proof that we are "the sons of God" (1 Jn. 3:24; 4:13). The Lord's baptism is therefore intended to be programmatic for us all. All who are baptized receive the gift of the Spirit, which accounts for that zeal and verve within them after baptism; but so many do not let it abide. The Corinthians had been given the Spirit, but by the time Paul wrote to them, they were "not spiritual" (1 Cor. 3:1).

1:34 I have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God- John's later references to our need to testify that Jesus is Son of God, to witness publically to what we "have seen", is therefore all an appeal to follow the example of John in witnessing.

1:35  The next day John was standing with two of his disciples- Out of those who came out into the desert to be baptized, some remained with John and devoted themselves to his teaching. We must remember that not until he had baptized the Lord did John understand that He was the Son of God. We can better understand why his disciples needed to be properly baptized into Jesus in Acts 19; for if they were John's disciples before the Lord's baptism and had then returned from the desert, they would not have been taught that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God.

1:36 And he watched Jesus as he walked and said: Behold! The Lamb of God!- We sense here John's deep love and admiration of the Lord, watching His from a distance and uttering words of adoration. Again we see his selfless spirit, asking his own followers to instead follow Him. John's usage of the term "Lamb of God" suggests he was one of the few who perceived that the Lord must die, and His blood was required to save Israel.

We can read of the cross, speak of it; and yet totally fail to realize the powerful imperatives which abound in its’ message. Andrew and John heard John the Baptist call Jesus the “lamb of God”, and followed Him, in apparent acceptance that He was the Messianic sacrifice. And yet in reality, they could not at that time accept the saying that Jesus was to die at Jerusalem in sacrifice, and that they were to shoulder His cross and follow Him there.

1:37 And the two disciples, hearing him speak, followed after Jesus- The followers of John went off and followed the Lord. This was just what John wanted. This is in sharp contrast to the gaining of personal following which so many Christian preachers have been guilty of. The two disciples were Andrew (:40) and presumably John, who always avoids mentioning his own name in his preaching of the Gospel which we have transcripted here in the Gospel of John. John's encouragement of others to "follow after Jesus" is therefore based upon his own personal example. And in this again we have a pattern for our witness.

1:38 Jesus turned around, and observing they were following him, said to them: What do you seek? And they replied: Rabbi (we would say Teacher). Where are you staying?- The disciples were asked: “What seek ye?”, and they reply: “Where dwellest thou?”. Remember that this is John, one of them, recording their response (see on :37). It’s as if he’s pointing out how inappropriate was their response to Jesus; rather like the record of Peter wanting to build a tent for Jesus, Moses and Elijah so they stay a bit longer. They had responded inappropriately- and yet they urged their hearers and readers to respond appropriately.

John is highlighting how they misunderstood. They asked where the Lord was abiding that night, thinking in terms of a physical house, and for a limited time- maybe just that night. But as John will demonstrate at length, the Lord abides not in houses, nor temporarily, but permanently in the hearts of believers through His Spirit. ‘Abiding’ is a major theme in John. Several times he records how the Lord Jesus ‘abode’ in houses or areas during His ministry (Jn. 1:38,39; 2:12; 4:40; 7:9; 10:40; 11:6), culminating in the Lord’s words that He would still abide with them through the Spirit gift, but would physically leave them soon (Jn. 14:25). The repeated teaching of the Lord is that actually, He will permanently abide in the heart of whoever believes in Him. And all the stories of Him ‘abiding’ a night here or there prepare the way for this. Those hearts become like the humble homes of Palestine where He spent odd nights- the difference being that there is now a permanent quality to that ‘abiding’, “for ever”. This is how close and real the Lord can come to us, if His words truly abide in us.

1:39 He said to them: Come, and you shall see. They went therefore, and saw where he stayed; and they stayed with him that day. It was about the tenth hour- As noted on :38, the Lord abides in hearts through the Spirit. But that will only be perceived if we ourselves come after Him, consciously following Him in our thinking and life decisions.

Consider the way that Jesus says: "Come and see"- and somehow Philip finds himself soon afterwards using those very same words when talking with his friend Nathanael: "Come and see" (:46). And so reflection upon the actual words of Jesus, a love of them, allowing them to abide in us, is a major part of what it means to be a Christian, a Christ-like one. Consciously or unconsciously, we shall beging to speak, think and reason as He did; to have His spirit in us, both developing it consciously, and being open to receiving it. This is where those red letter Bibles, which print the words of Jesus in red, are really a helpful focus for us.

In John, the Lord often invites men to "come" (Jn. 1:39; 4:16; 5:40; 7:37; 21:12); and members of “the bride" also, quite naturally and artlessly, invite others to "come" too (Jn. 1:41,45,46; 4:29). My point is that the natural response of the one who hears is to say to others "come". It won't be something which has to be done as a great act of the will, we won't need to be fed with ideas by some preaching Committee; he that hears will say, "Come".

1:40 One of the two that had heard John and had followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother- We wonder why in :35 and :37 "the two" were not immediately introduced to us in the narrative as Andrew and the disciple whom Jesus loved (John). I suggest it is in order to help us play Bible television with the scene, of men totally transfixed in observing the Son of God; all personal issues, even their names, became subsumed beneath He was and is all and in all.

1:41 The first thing he did was to find his brother Simon; and he said to him: We have found the Messiah (we would say Christ)- Andrew “found” Christ and then [s.w.] ‘finds’ his brother for Christ. What we hear and learn we naturally desire to spread to others. To immediately share ("the first thing he did") the good news about the Lord Jesus is something which comes absolutely naturally to those who find Him. It is this spirit which needs to be, and indeed can be, even in those who were as it were schooled into Christ through a Christian upbringing.

Peter’s proclamation of Jesus as Messiah half way through Mark’s record of the Gospel (Mk. 8:29) is presented by him as a climax of understanding. And yet according to Jn. 1:41, Andrew and Peter had known this right from the start. The implication is surely that they, as simple working men, probably illiterate, had merely repeated in awe words and phrases like “Messiah” and “Son of God” with no real sense of their import. Yet again, the Lord gently bore with their misunderstandings, and Peter of his own initiative, 18 months later, came to gleefully blurt out the same basic ideas but with now far deeper insight- although he still incorrectly perceived the Messiah as one who would not suffer but provide instant glorification. Thus the spiritual growth of the disciples is revealed.

1:42 He took him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said: You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas (we call him Peter)- There is reason to think that like Paul, Peter is held up as a pattern for all who would afterwards believe. The way Peter is brought to Jesus and named by him has evident connection with the bringing of Eve [cp. the whole bride of Christ] to Adam [cp. Christ] to be named (Gen. 2:22,23 = Jn. 1;41,42).

"Son of John" is "Barjona", and could as well be read as 'Son of Jonah'. The Lord’s comment ‘Simon bar Jona’ may have reflected His understanding that Simon Peter had the characteristics of Jonah even then. The incident of Peter being called to accept the Gentiles occurred in Joppa, where Jonah likewise had struggled with the problem of preaching to the Gentiles.

"Cephas" or "Peter" means literally 'rocky', and Peter of course is portrayed as anything but rock-like in his faith. He started drowning on the water, denied the Lord, was later influenced by the Judaizers to betray the principles of Gentile salvation by grace. But with righteousness imputed, he was counted indeed as a rock. He did endure to the end; and the Lord sees not as we do. He saw Peter's basic faith as solid and loved him for it; the temporary moments of weakness were insignificant in the final picture of the man. We too need to stop focusing upon the temporal failures of others and respect them for their continued faith; for so many fall away from their basic faith despite appearing the pictures of stable church members.

1:43 The next day Jesus decided to go into Galilee; and he found Philip. Jesus said to him: Follow me- Jesus ‘found’ Philip, and he in his witnessing ‘found’ Nathanael (Jn. 1:43,45). Our finding of men for the Lord reflects His finding of us. The Lord realized His new converts were from Galilee; perhaps they even knew Him from His earlier life there. He may have fixed holes in their boats for all we know. But He realized that their faith would be deepened by having to witness to Him, and demonstrate their association with Him, in their home area. See on 2:1. The command to witness is largely for our benefit; for we become more deeply conscious of our faith when we have to explain it to others, especially family members and acquaintances.

1:44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter- "City" is misleading. These fishing villages were just hamlets, collections of houses where most people were either relatives or related by marriage. A fair case can be made that many of the disciples were related to each other. See on :43.

1:45- see on Lk. 2:49.

Philip found Nathanael and said to him: We have found him, of whom Moses in the law and the prophets wrote! Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph- See on :41 for the significance of finding others for the Lord as a result of our being found by Him. Truly, God is in search of man; and so is His Son. As we distribute invitations to this world to know Him, He is not indifferent. He wishes their success. All the apparent disinterest in our witness is not met by Him indifferently, nor should we ever consider it a reflection of His displeasure or distance from us. The way Philip speaks of "Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph" suggests that they had earlier known Him, but never had any clue that He could be the Messiah. John the Baptist likewise knew Him but didn't realize He was Messiah until the theophany after the Lord's baptism. In this we see an artless insight into the Lord's utter perfection; that despite never sinning, nobody had the slightest suspicion that He was God's Son or Messiah. He achieved His sublime perfection and the good deeds that went with it somehow incognito.

1:46 And Nathanael said to him: Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Philip said to him: Come and see- Like many primitive people, there was the sense that all people from a particular town or area are "not good". We have here an insight into the Lord's utter humanity; He was known as one "out of" Nazareth, He spoke and acted like a man from Nazareth. We can also reflect that His earlier history of having been born in Bethlehem was presumably unknown to people. Mary and Joseph had kept all that to themselves, and the Lord Himself had not spoken of it.

The teaching of both Old and New Testaments concerning the ultimate value and meaning of the individual person was radical stuff, so radical that it was rarely fully understood even amongst the people of God. For example, it was important to know where a person was from- because people from certain areas were understood as being a certain person. Hence the Jewish refusal to accept that Jesus could be Messiah, because He was from Galilee, and "out of Galilee arises no prophet" (Jn. 7:52), indeed nothing good could come out of Nazareth (Jn. 1:46). This led to what we would call today stereotyping and racism. People didn't travel very far, and so this of itself reinforced some of the stereotypes. Horizons were extremely limited for the average person. Vergil could say that "to know one Greek is to know them all"; and Philo likewise made total generalizations about Egyptians in his writings. Paul refers to the common maxim that "Cretans are always liars... lazy drunkards" (Tit. 1:12)- but goes on to appeal to the Cretan believers to not be like that, to challenge and break the stereotype! It's the same with the Corinthians- the very term "Corinthian" meant a drunkard, shameless man. And yet it was in this very city that so many were called to the Lord, and He attempted to turn them away from that very stereotype they had been born into. And the very fact that the Son of God was from "that despised Nazareth" was the ultimate deconstruction of this understanding- that leaders, kings etc. could only come from some areas and not others. We need to ask ourselves whether we don't follow the same kind of stereotypes when we assume things about people- he's from that family, she's from that country, they're from that church / ecclesia... These attitudes deny the wonderful meaning and value of the individual of which our Lord showed us in His teaching, life, death and current work amongst us.

He was “despised and rejected of men”, as Isaiah had foretold so long before. It’s perhaps hard to feel from our distance the extent to which Galilee was despised by the Jerusalem Jews. Although Jerusalem to Galilee is only around 100 km., “only in exceptional circumstances will someone living in Jerusalem have travelled to the distant province of Galilee, as the Life of Josephus shows… a journey to Rome would be more likely for a better class Jerusalem dweller than one to provincial Galilee, which was the back of beyond… the people of Judaea despised the uneducated Galileans and were not particularly interested in this remote province”. Yet it was exactly from here that the Son of God came! It was from the parochial, the ordinary, from the nothing special, that God’s holy child came forth to change this world. So if you too feel a nobody, a cut below the rest, held back by your background… this is the very wonder of God manifestation. It’s through you and me, the kids from the backstreets, the uneducated, the duffers, the dumbers… that God Almighty reveals Himself to this world.

1:47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, and said of him: Behold, a true Israelite in whom is no deceit!- This is surely another case of imputed righteousness; for Nathanael had just discounted the Lord's Messiahship on the basis that He was unlikely to be a good man, seeing He haled from Nazareth. The allusion is to Ps. 32:2 "Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity and in whose spirit there is no guile / deceit". There is deceit in the spirit of every man; but imputed righteousness means that this is not the case for the believer before God.

The Lord’s basic understanding of us is that we are to become brethren in Him. He ever sought to teach the disciples to not only worship and respect Him, but to rise up to emulate His example, and to act and feel as part of Him. When He saw Nathanael under the fig tree, He commented that here was a man who had the good side of Jacob, an Israelite indeed, in whom was no guile. But the Lord then goes on to liken Himself to Jacob, saying that Angels would ascend and descend upon Him as they had upon Jacob (Jn. 1:47,51). What He was basically trying to say to His new disciple was that ‘You’re like Jacob! But, I’m like Jacob too. And you will powerfully realize the significance of this a bit later on’. He was seeking always to build up an identity between Himself and His followers. This is so different to admiring a man as one admires a picture, and assenting to him as a leader. This is about a unique and intimate relationship, bonding and identity with Him. Nathanael no doubt puzzled over the Lord’s enigmatic words, as we likely have also done. His enigmatic style was to provoke just such reflection, to lead Nathanael to realize the force of the identification with Him which the Lord was inviting.

1:48- see on Mk. 7:29.

Nathanael said to him: How is it you know me?- The Lord had not mentioned Nathanael's name; instead He had imputed righteousness to him (see on :47) and called him a man in whom is no guile, i.e. He had used a Messianic title (1 Pet. 2:22) about a man. So by asking "How is it you know me?", I suggest Nathanael is questioning how this man from Nazareth could talk of him in such exalted terms. 

Jesus answered: Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you- An Israelite dwelling under his fig tree is the language of Israel at peace with God, especially in the future Messianic Kingdom of God on earth (Mic. 4:4). The Lord is saying that even before Nathanael had been called to the Gospel, he had been foreknown and had been imagined as in the future Kingdom, written in the book of the redeemed from the foundation of the world. This predestination is an aspect of God's grace, as Paul explains in Romans 8. As noted above, the Lord had imputed righteousness to Nathanael, and asks him to respond to the fact that he had been chosen for the Kingdom from the beginning.

1:49 Nathanael answered him: Rabbi, you are the Son of God. You are King of Israel- When the disciples first encounter Jesus, they heap upon Him the Messianic titles of Judaism: Rabbi, Messiah, the one described in the Law and prophets, Son of God, King of Israel. And yet the other Gospels bring out how Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Son of God is in fact due to a special revelation from the Father, and was somehow a seminal point of faith and comprehension which Peter had reached (Mt. 16:16,17). Surely the point of the apparent contradiction is to show that over time, the disciples started to put meaning into words; the Jewish terms and titles which they had once so effortlessly used, they came to use with real appreciation. We have shown elsewhere that a mature appreciation of the name and titles of the Father and Son is indeed a mark of spiritual maturity.

1:50 Jesus replied: Because I said to you: I saw you underneath the fig tree- do you believe? You shall see greater things than these!- Grasping the wonder of foreknowledge and predestination (see on :48) is indeed a reason to believe. But the wonders of our personal salvation are far smaller than the greatness of God's total activity in and through His Son (:51).

Nathanael had been sitting under a fig tree when he was called to the Lord- and this was apparently the classic place where trainee rabbis sat and studied. If this is indeed the case, then the Lord’s calling of him to be a disciple / follower was saying: ‘Don’t seek to be a rabbi. Be a disciple / follower of me, as a way of life, always’. Nathanael's focus was to be upon the wonder of God's work in His Son, rather than aiming to be a spiritual teacher of others. Our aim must be to make men and women sit at the Lord’s feet and learn of Him themselves. Discipleship is to be what we are all our lives. Consider the contrast: ‘disciples’ in the schools of other rabbis expected to one day graduate and become teachers themselves, with disciples at their feet. But no, the Lord saw all of us, including those who have learnt of Him the longest and deepest, to always be disciples, awed by God's activity in His Son (:51).

1:51 And he said to him: Truly, truly, I say to you. You shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man- See on :47 for the connections with Jacob, and Nathanael being a Jacob-ite.

 The allusion to Jacob's vision of Gen. 28:18 is clear. That vision was to show Jacob the extent of Angelic care of Him- and this was repeated for Jesus. However, the context of v. 50 is that Nathanael marvelled at Jesus' knowledge. Jesus seems to be saying that they would see even greater spiritual revelation ("Heaven open") because of the ministry of  the  Angels  to Him, ministering spiritual knowledge to Jesus to communicate to His disciples. This would imply that apart from directly ministering spiritual revelation to Jesus, the Angels also imparted specific 'physical' knowledge to Jesus- e. g. about Nathanael under the fig tree.

Nathaniel thought he really believed in the Lord Jesus. The Lord commented: "You shall see (usually used in John concerning faith and spiritual perception)  greater things than these... you will see heaven opened, and the Angels of God ascending and descending upon the son of man" (Jn. 1:51 RSV). It was Jacob who saw Heaven opened and the Angels ascending and descending. And Christ's comment that Nathaniel was "an Israelite (Jacob-ite) indeed, in whom is no guile" (i.e. Jacob without his guileful side) is a reference to Jacob's name change. It confirms that Nathaniel was to follow Jacob's path of spiritual growth; he thought he believed, he thought he saw Christ clearly; but like Jacob, he was to comprehend far greater things.  

"Hereafter you will see heaven opened, and the Angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man" was a prophecy of what was to happen “hereafter", and it seems relevant to the cross. Heaven, in the sense of the Most Holy place, was opened by the veil being torn down at the Lord’s death. By the blood-shedding of Jesus, the way into the Holiest was made manifest. There is evident allusion to Jacob’s vision of the ladder reaching to Heaven; and surely the Lord is saying that He is going to become the ladder to Heaven, linking Heaven and earth, when Heaven is opened by Him in the future. And that point was surely the crucifixion. Significantly, He says: “You will see...", another hint that the disciples, especially John, saw the crucifixion. They may well have “seen" in the Johanine sense of perceiving that there, unseen, Angels were ascending and descending in ministration. John also records how the Lord saw Himself as the gate / door (10:9), just as Jacob described what he had seen as “the gate of heaven". The stone upon which he slept, lifted up and anointed with oil to become the corner-stone of the house of God, Beth-el, was all prophetic of the Lord’s death and rising up again (Eph. 2:20-22).

The theme of the Spirit is never far away in John's writings. "Greater things" is the language of what would happen when the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, was given (Jn. 14:12). The Lord foreknew Nathanael, but after His death the Spirit would be released [Angels ascending and descending] and under His command [upon the Son of Man] would be involved even more powerfully in the lives of God's children like Nathanael.