CONCISE NOTES ON JOHN’S GOSPEL
Each of the four gospels gives us a fresh aspect of the person of the Lord Jesus, and they complement and reinforce one another.
Matthew’s gospel takes the form of the title-deeds of the Sovereign, supporting His claim to the land of Israel as the True Isaac, the son of Abraham, and His right to the throne of David, as the True Solomon.
Mark gives us the timesheet of the Servant of Jehovah, who came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
Luke’s gospel has the character of a treatise, or written narrative, in which he describes God’s Ideal Man, the Saviour of men.
John’s gospel is a testimony to the Deity of the Lord Jesus, and is arranged to this end. His goal is to bring men to the point where they believe that Jesus, (the historical person) is the Christ, (the one predicted in the Old Testament), the Son of God, (the one who is detailed in the New Testament), John 20:30,31.
John begins with an introductory section consisting of eighteen verses, and introduces the theme of the knowledge of God through His Son. The climax to this opening passage is found in the very last phrase, “He hath declared Him”, John 1:18. The apostle reaches that point by showing us the various ways in which the Lord Jesus has made God known, culminating in His personal appearance in the world as the Word made flesh.
John chapter 1 contains seven self-contained yet related sections, in which various aspects of the revelation that Christ gives of the Father are set out. We could look at them as follows:
Verses 1-5 Information about the Word.
Verses 6-13 Interventions by the Word.
Verses 14-18 Insight through the Word.
Verses 19-28 The Word in relation to John the Baptist: The Preferred One.
Verses 29-34 The Word in relation to the world: The sin-bearer.
Verses 35-42 The Word in relation to believers: The Example.
Verses 43-51 The Word in relation to Israel: The King.
THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN, CHAPTER 1, VERSES 1 TO 18
1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
1:2 The same was in the beginning with God.
1:3 All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made.
1:4 In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.
1:5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
1:7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.
1:8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
1:9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
1:10 He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.
1:11 He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.
1:12 But as many as received im, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name:
1:13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
1:14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
1:15 John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was He of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for He was before me.
1:16 And of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.
1:17 For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
1:18 No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.
SECTION 1 VERSES 1-5
INFORMATION ABOUT THE WORD
THE ETERNAL EXISTENCE OF THE WORD
1:1 In the beginning was the Word- When the first thing that had a beginning began, then the Word already was. This is a clear indication of His eternal existence. That the Lord Jesus is meant is evident from verses 14 and 17, but John deliberately refrains from giving Him any personal name here, however, so that we may concentrate on His attributes. A word is an expression of what is in the mind, so John is telling us that if God is going to be told out, it must be through Him who, because He is the Word, is able to perfectly express His mind. He is not a Word, one option among many, but the one and only discloser of the mind of God. John does not borrow the idea of the “Word”, or Logos, from Philo, (a Jewish philosopher who lived just before the coming of Christ), since this man’s teachings led to the Gnostic heresy which John and Paul write against. Rather, John took his word from the Jewish commentaries on the Old Testament which often replaced the name of God with the Hebrew for word. So, for instance, they quote Jacob as saying in Genesis 28:20 “If the Word will be with me”.
The use of the word “beginning” shows there is clearly a link with Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created”, but whereas Moses is starting at the beginning and going forward, John is starting at the beginning and going backwards into eternity, before time was. Thus John is telling us of One who is able to bring eternal realities within the reach of men.
THE DISTINCT PERSONALITY OF THE WORD
And the Word was with God- If the first phrase tells of the pre-existence of the Word before time began, and therefore indicates His eternal being, this phrase tells of His co-existence. To be with God tells us much more than that the Word was in the presence of God, although this is true. By using a preposition that indicates “motion towards”, John is informing us that the Word was actively towards God, concentrating, in eternal perfection, on Him. This gives us great confidence, for it indicates that there is perfect harmony between the Word and God- their interests are the same, and nothing disturbs their communion. This being the case, believing in His name is a safe thing to do, for it forges a link with God that cannot be broken. The fact that weight is given to both “Word” and “God”, is indicative of the distinct personality of the Word.
THE SUBSTANTIAL GODHOOD OF THE WORD
And the Word was God- A clear statement as to the Deity of the Word. Note that although there are distinctions of Persons in the Godhead, for “the Word was with God”, yet there is identity of essence, for “the Word was God”. This expression assures us that the One who is pre-existent, and co-existent, is co-equal with God as well. This truth is emphasized not only in the teaching of the Lord Jesus, (see for instance John 5:17-29 and 10:30), but also in His miracles, which clearly demonstrated His Deity. For example, He who had made the vine on the third day, Genesis 1:12,13, now acts on another “third day”, John 2:1, as He accelerates the lengthy process by which rainwater is made into vintage wine, and thus manifests His power as Creator, “And His disciples believed on Him”, John 2:11.
There are those who, denying the clear statement of Deity which this statement makes, translate this phrase as “The word was a god”, meaning that He was no more than an angel. Orthodox grammarians say the following: “The order of words in the Greek text is- Theos (predicate), eis (verb), ho (article), logos, (subject). The predicate asserts something about the subject, and the article before logos marks that word out as the subject, although not standing first in the sentence. The order of words has to do with emphasis, which is here thrown upon the predicate, theos, God. Theos stands first, without the article, referring to God as being infinite, etc. A definite predicate nominative has the article when it follows the verb, but not when it is before the verb. Here, theos is the definite predicate nominative before the verb, and therefore has no article, and must be rendered “The Word was God”. The absence of the Greek article does not make a predicate indefinite when it comes before the verb, as in this instance”. An example from the Greek version of the Old Testament is found in 1 Kings 18:39, when the people exclaimed, “The Lord, He is the God”. The very same construction is found there as is found here, but it would be totally inappropriate to make the people say, “The Lord, He is a god”, since the whole point of the conflict on Mount Carmel was to show that the Lord was the only true God, not just one god amongst many.
1:2 The same was in the beginning with God- John makes it clear that the truths stated in verse one were all true together at the beginning- there was no development or progress. It was not that He was the Word, and then was with God, and then was God, but rather that He who was with God, and was God, was this eternally, for the nature of God cannot change. Deity does not develop, but is ever infinite. “I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed”, Malachi 3:6- a great comfort to the remnant in Israel as they faced four hundred years of change until Christ came. Their preservation in those times is testimony to the unchangeableness of God. We who wait for the second coming of Christ may likewise take heart.
THE CREATORIAL MAJESTY OF THE WORD
1:3 All things were made by Him- Having stated fundamental truths as to the nature of the Word, John now indicates the way in which the Word showed Himself to be God, even by bringing all things into being, something only God can do. Literally rendered, the verse reads- “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him not even one thing came into being which has come into being”. John is writing about things coming to be that did not exist before- they are not revealed from their hiding-place. “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear”, Hebrews 11:3. All things came into being by, or through, the Word when “He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.” Psalm 33:9. It follows logically, then, that He is not part of creation. There are those who appeal to this word “by” to say that the Word was only a high angelic intelligence, who was used by God to make all things as His subordinate. But in Romans 11:36 it is said of God that all things are through Him, (and the apostle uses the same word as “by” here), so on this theory of subordination, God Himself must be acting for another! This, of course, is impossible.
Perhaps as he penned these words the apostle John thought of the language of Isaiah 44:24, “I am the Lord that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by Myself:” Isaiah declared that the Lord, the God of heaven, had made all things by Himself, yet John, a sincere believer in the One True God, did not hesitate to say that the Word had made all things. Since John was inspired by the same Spirit as Isaiah was, then we are forced to the conclusion that the Word is God, not only by the plain statement of verse 1, but also by the fact that He is Creator.
And without Him was not anything made that was made- there is no secret store of matter that derives its origin from some other power-source. Note how John puts things positively and negatively, (“all things were made by Him…without Him was nothing made…”), in order that the truth might be hedged about on every side. The first phrase “all things were made by Him”, might be thought by hostile minds to refer only to things, and not beings with life, leaving the way open to say that the Word was created first, and then brought things into existence. This second statement of the apostle instantly and conclusively disposes of such a blasphemous notion. Everything that has moved from non-being to being has done so through the Word, therefore the Word did not come into being, but ever is.
1:4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men- He is the source of life in all its forms, whether plant, animal, human, angelic. God is the Living God, 1 Thessalonians 1:9, and since the Word is God, in Him is life. The fact that John says life is in Him, rather than that He has life, emphasises the idea of the communication of life from a source, for life is in Him, with the implication that it can be in others. This is developed in verses 13,14.
The things God has created are designed to shed light on who and what He is:
His power, Psalm 147:4,5; Hebrews 1:3.
His greatness, honour, majesty, and wisdom, Psalm 104:1,24.
His gift of life, breath and all things, Acts 17:25.
His providential care, Psalm 104:10-23; Acts 14:17.
His impartiality, Matthew 5:45.
His eternal power and Godhead, Romans 1:20.
His glory, Psalm 19:1.
It is vital to see the distinction between existing and having life. Life and death are states of existence. When a man dies he changes from one state of existence to another state, but he does not cease to exist. All men shall exist for ever, but only believers will live for ever. The unsaved will exist for ever in the Lake of Fire, which is the second death, Revelation 21:8.
1:5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. The diversity and magnificence of creation was not only for God’s pleasure, Revelation 4:11, but was also designed to enlighten men with regard to God as Creator. Sadly, men refused the testimony of the things around them, for that which may be known about God through creation, although clearly seen, was not received, and instead of worshipping God they suppressed the truth of His Creatorship and began to worship idols. See Romans 1:18-23. So it is that the light of creation shone, but because of sin man’s understanding was perverted, and is described as darkness, for he was in the dark as to the truth presented to him. In such a situation, radical action is needed, so the next verses tell how that God sent John the Baptist to initiate a new era by introducing God’s Son as the Unique and Final unfolding of God.
SECTION 2 VERSES 6-13
INTERVENTIONS BY THE WORD
1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John- John now gives to us ways in which the Word manifested Himself. In verses 1-5 God’s Creator glories are spoken of, now God’s grace in all its glory is dealt with. John the Baptist is the bridge between the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament. Christ said of him that “the law and the prophets prophesied until John”, Matthew 11:13. He was sent from God as the prophets had been of old, but there is special mention of his name, which means “Jehovah is gracious”. At his naming, John’s relatives proposed to call him Zecharias, after his father, but his father indicated that he should be called John. Zecharias had been struck dumb by the angel who announced that Zecharias and Elizabeth would have a son, for he had not believed him. Significantly, then, the Levitical priest, (whose lips should keep knowledge, Malachi 2:7), was dumb until “Jehovah is gracious” is named. Then his dumbness was removed and he praised God. John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elijah, Luke 1:17, and we note that Elijah came suddenly on the scene in 1 Kings 17:1 as he stormed into Ahab’s palace and announced a message from “the Lord God of Israel, before whom I stand”. Ahab had begun to stand before the idol of Baal to worship him, but Elijah stood before God. So we read of John here that he was sent from God; that is, sent from being beside God, listening to His voice. He comes out to tell what he has heard. Note the foretelling of John’s ministry in Isaiah 40:3-8 where the prophet asks “what shall I cry?” and then receives his answer.
1:7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light- John the apostle never calls John the Baptist by that name. He is emphasising his testimony to Christ and not his own particular ministry. The word for witness, “marturia”, gives us the word martyr, and John did indeed seal his testimony with his blood. Christ has a five-fold witness to His person, namely the Forerunner, the Father, His words, His works, and the Old Testament scriptures John 5:31-39.
That all men through him might believe. The glory of God seen in creation only led men to know God in an intellectual way, as Romans 1:21 says. To come to believe God men need a word from Him, whether from Old Testament prophets or Christ Himself. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, John’s message is “Repent!” In John’s gospel the emphasis is on faith. But repentance and faith are two sides of the attitude of submission to God He is looking for. He who has truly repented towards God also puts faith in the Lord Jesus, see Acts 20:21.
1:8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. John presents a contrast to Christ is several ways. Here, he is a lamp, as the Lord Jesus called him, John 5:35, whereas Christ is the light. A lamp gives a certain amount of light because it is supplied with resources outside of itself, as Zechariah 4:1-7 indicates. The light, however, is the source, and is not in any way limited to giving a partial illumination.
1:9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. John soon returns to the subject in hand, but he will give more detail of John’s testimony in verse 19 onwards. He has mentioned him here because he represents the final intervention of the Word in the affairs of men before coming personally. The true light lightens every man, for He is God’s only way of enlightening, either in the Old Testament or the New. In old times it was indirectly, now directly. He is the test as to whether any statement is true or not. Stephens 1550 reads as follows, “The true light was that which lightens every man coming into the world”. This does not mean universal salvation, but it does mean universal opportunity. John writes for the whole world, not just for Israel. As Zacharias, John the Baptist’s father said, “the dayspring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death”, Luke 1:78,79.
1:10 He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. In case we wonder how He was the light of those who were born before He came, John tells us He was (already) in the world in Old Testament times as He intervened in grace, judgement, and providence. The same tense for the verb “to be” used here is also found in verse 1, where the point is that the Word already was when the first thing that had a beginning began. He especially made the truth (light) known through creation, hence the reference here to all things being made by Him. Despite the clarity of the revelation through creation, (and Romans 1:20 makes clear that through creation men could clearly know about God), the world did not get to know Him.
1:11 He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. Now John uses the word came, for he is now referring to the incarnation. “His own” is the same expression as is used in 16:32, where every man went to his own home.
He came to His own world, for “The earth is the Lord’s”, Psalm 24:1.
He came to His own land. The land of Israel was His, for three reasons. First, because He is creator of the ends of the earth. Second, because of His purpose through Israel, hence God said that the land was His, it although it could be sold temporarily, it was not to be sold for ever, Leviticus 25:23. Third, because He was the True Isaac, the seed to whom God gave the land of promise, Genesis 15:18.
He came to His own home-town, Bethlehem, for He is heir to all that is promised to David, and Bethlehem was David’s city. There is a distinct possibility that the inn at Bethlehem was David’s ancestral home, where Boaz and Rahab had also lived, and possibly bequeathed to Chimham in 2 Samuel 19:37-40. See also 1 Kings 2:7. How significant if there was no room in what was literally His own home!
He came to His own tribe, “for it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah”, Hebrews 7:14.
He came to His own city, for Jerusalem is the city of the great king, Matthew 5:35, but He was taken outside of its walls and crucified.
The second “His own” is different, for it means His own people. He who had every claim to Israel, was refused His due place. “The Son of Man hath not where to lay His head”, Luke 9:58. “Every man went to his own home. Jesus went to the Mount of Olives”, John 7:53; 8:1. It is noticeable that whereas the Devil and demons recognised Him, the animals (ass), birds, (cockerel), and fish responded to Him, the winds and the waves obeyed Him, but His own chosen people rejected Him!
1:12 But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: There were exceptions to the general rule, and John now tells how a new company was formed whom He could call His own, 13:1. They were like the woman of Luke 7, who gave to the Lord what Simon the Pharisee withheld from Him, namely, a welcome. Descent from Abraham never had secured spiritual blessing on its own, for they only are the true sons of Abraham who believe as he did, see Romans 4:11-13. Christ has the ability to give to men the authority to become (take their place as) the sons (children) of God. He has this authority because He has control of the spiritual world as well as the physical. “Even as Thou hath given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given Him” John 17:2; “As the Father has life in Himself, even so hath He given the Son to have life in Himself”, John 5:26. John reserves the title of Son for the Lord Jesus, and always refers to believers as children, except in Revelation 21:7, where there is an allusion to the Old Testament.
John needs to introduce the idea of believing, since many in Israel were trusting in being born naturally of Abraham. John speaks of those who believe on His Name, but has not told us any personal name for the Word yet, but will proceed to do so throughout the rest of the chapter. This believing on His name is the same as receiving Him. The various titles used of Christ throughout the chapter build up a profile of His person and character, and this is summed up in His name. The godly of old time were greatly interested in the name of God, and now there is opportunity to know it.
1:13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. Three negatives come first, to deal with the wrong thoughts of the Jews about the rights of birth. To them, descent from Abraham was everything, as John 8:30-42 shows. The Lord had to firmly point out to them that Abraham had more than one child, and if they persecuted Him as Ishmael had persecuted Isaac, then they, like Ishmael, had no right to be in the father’s house. If they believed on Him as the Son of the Father, however, they would be free as Isaac was. See also Galatians 4:26,31.
Not of blood- Ishmael could have claimed rights as being of Abraham’s blood-line, but he was cast out. Isaac and the sons of Keturah, (Genesis 25:1-6), could also have claimed natural descent, but this did not put them in the family of God. Only personal faith can do this, Romans 4:9-12.
Nor of the will of the flesh- nothing which self can determine can effect the new birth. Abraham adopted the custom of the time and used his wife’s maidservant to give him a son, Genesis 16:1-16, but Ishmael was born after the flesh, Galatians 4:29.
Nor of the will of man- Abraham, thinking that he was departing this life without a son and heir, had made Eliezer his servant “the son of possession of his house”, Genesis 15:2 margin, a term meaning one who would inherit from him. This was the will of Abraham coming into view, irrespective of the will of God, which, in fact, was to give him a proper son.
Notice that being born again and believing are linked together, just as they are in John 3:1-16. These two things happen simultaneously, as a person responds to the movings of the Spirit through the word of God. Peter speaks of being born again through the incorruptible word of God which liveth and abideth for ever, 1 Peter 1:23, and James concurs, saying that God, of His own will has begotten believers with the word of truth, James 1:18. The mention of the word of God tells us that faith’s response to God’s word is needed before a soul can be born again. It is not a matter of God being coerced into blessing us, but rather of God sovereignly ordaining that a person is born again when they believe. The Calvinistic notion that a person must be born again before they can believe is not only contrary to the Scriptures just cited, but makes God bestow new life upon a person before they have believed. God does not bless unbelieving sinners in this way.
SECTION 3 VERSES 14-18
INSIGHT THROUGH THE WORD
THE CHANGED CONDITION OF THE WORD
As we turn to verses 14-18, we may see the apostle’s progress of thought more easily if we omit for the moment all parenthetical and explanatory matter, and read as follows; “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth…no man hath seen God at any time; the Only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him”. In the intervening statements there is the experience of John the apostle, the exclamation of John the Baptist, the experience of all believers, and then the example of Moses.
1:14 And the Word was made flesh- Note the “and”, which links back to verses 1-3; “In the beginning was the Word…and the Word was made flesh”. Intervening verses have spoken of His pre-incarnation involvement with the world He had created, but now John speaks of the Word as He is made in the likeness of men. Eternity is meeting time; God is coming into flesh; He who was with God is now with men. The change is radical and His manhood is vital- just as vital as His Godhood. He cannot be either Last Adam, Kinsman Redeemer, Mediator, or High Priest, unless He is truly man, for all these offices depend on His death, and unless He takes flesh and blood He cannot die, Hebrews 2:14.
Whereas in verses 1-3 we have been told what the Word is, now we are told what He became, for this is the sense of the word “made” here. Several things are involved in this.
First, He gained the attributes of man without losing the attributes of God. He who is in the form of God took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men, Philippians 2:6,7. It is in John’s Gospel, that especially emphasizes the Deity of Christ, that He describes Himself as “A man that hath told you the truth”, John 8:40. His manhood is real, for He was born of Mary, but His manhood is ideal, for He was not begotten of Joseph.
Second, He united manhood and Godhood for ever in His person. John insists in his epistle that one way of discerning an anti-christ is by asking whether he believes Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, 1 John 4:2. 3. The sense of the participle he uses for “come” is, “having come in the flesh and continuing to be in the flesh”. The precision of the Greek language expresses the truth that the manhood Christ has taken, He will never discard. The Jesus of Nazareth who was here, is the Jesus of Nazareth who spoke to Saul of Tarsus from heaven, Acts 22:8; the same Jesus that is crowned with glory and honour in heaven, Hebrews 2:9; and the same Jesus that will come again to earth, Acts 1:11.
Third, He did not merely come in man’s guise, as angels have done when visiting men, but became flesh. Not flesh in contrast to spirit, (as if He became a body, or clothed Himself with one), but flesh consisting of spirit and soul and body, the constituent parts of man, 1 Thessalonians 5:23. When Isaiah spoke of all flesh seeing the salvation of God, he meant all mankind. So Christ became flesh by taking the nature that man has. Adam was a real man before he sinned, so a sinful nature is not an integral part of man. Christ can be, and is, real man, without having a sinful nature.
Fourth, He now possesses two natures, yet remains one Person. He never spoke of Himself as “Us”, as the Godhead does at times, Genesis 1:26; 3:22; 11:7. Who can begin to understand the great mystery of godliness, that “God was manifest in flesh”? 1 Timothy 3:16. We dare not pry or probe, for to “lift the lid of the Ark” is to invite Divine judgement, 1 Samuel 6:19. If the god Dagon “fell on his face to the earth before the ark of the Lord”, 1 Samuel 5:3, how much more should we, before Him of whom the ark speaks.
Fifth, the attributes of both natures, His Godhood and His manhood, are properly ascribed to the one Person. This means, for example, that the one who stilled the storm was a man, even though to still storms is Divine work, Psalm 107:23-30, and the one who slept in the boat was God, even though the God that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep, Psalm 121:4. We ought not to say that He slept as a man and stilled the storm as God. He both slept, and stilled the storm, as one blessed, undivided Person.
THE MANIFEST GLORY OF THE WORD
And dwelt among us- or literally, “pitched His tent among us”. In wilderness days, God had “walked in a tent and in a tabernacle”, 2 Samuel 7:6, but now in a deeper sense God has made His presence known in the midst of Israel again. The reason God was able to be amongst His people of old time was because of the work of atonement, Leviticus 16:16. If the Word is God, can He be here on any lesser basis? Clearly not, but John the Baptist is able to announce Him as the one who would bear away the sin of the world, and on the basis of what He would do at Calvary, Christ can be amongst men despite their sin.
And we beheld His glory- John and his fellow apostles saw with calm and detailed scrutiny the glory of Christ, He giving them ample opportunity to do so. With this we may compare the experience of Moses when he requested a sight of the glory of God- he was put in the cleft of the rock, covered with God’s hand, and only saw the back parts or afterglow of God’s glory. There were no views of Christ’s glory barred to the apostles, however, for the knowledge of the glory of God is in the face of Jesus Christ, 2 Corinthians 4:6, and that face is not veiled.
The glory as of the only begotten of the Father- If an earthly only begotten son and his father were to manifest their relationship in an ideal way, there would be a glory about that relationship. How much more so when the Son and the Father are both Divine persons! And this is precisely the glory that John saw and wrote about. As God’s only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus is deeply loved of His Father, and stands in dignified and intimate relationship with Him. This relationship is expressed in mutual affection, complete unity of intention, and absolute confidence. These things, perfectly expressed by the Son when here, are glorious, and John was privileged to see the glory of them. Thereafter the apostles recorded what they saw and heard, so that others might have a share in the sight of the glory too.
Full of grace and truth- The grace of Christ is known by His readiness to bless freely, without any expectation of a return. His truth is seen is His absolute conformity to that which is real and ideal, for truth may be defined as “That which corresponds to the ideal”. The glory of God which Moses asked to see in Exodus 33:18,19 was known by the proclamation of what His name was, Exodus 34:5-8. Moses simply heard the recital of various aspects of the Name of God, whereas John saw them worked out in practice in the life of God’s Son. The proclaimed name of God may be resolved into two components; grace, (merciful, gracious, longsuffering, abundant in goodness, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving), and truth, (abundant in truth, by no means clear the guilty, visiting the sins of the fathers). Of these two things Christ is full, and since grace reveals the God who is love, 1 John 4:8, and truth reveals the God who is light, 1 John 1:5, and Christ is full of grace and full of truth, by Him God is told out to perfection.
THE DECLARED PRECEDENCE OF THE WORD
1:15 John bare witness of Him, and cried saying, “This was He of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me, for He was before me”- Here is the exclamation of John, who was of Levi’s tribe, as to the suitability and worthiness of God’s chosen. The tribe of Levi had sided with Moses at Sinai when the people broke God’s law, Exodus 32:26, and now their representative is siding with the one who came in grace. The apostle John never calls the forerunner John the Baptist, but rather describes him as a witness, or testimony bearer. Here John testifies of Christ’s superiority. The words “He was before me”, show that John the Baptist has grasped the truth as to the Deity of Christ, and therefore His fitness and ability to display God. As to birth, the Lord Jesus was after John, but as to worth, He has precedence. All the prophets and the law prophesied until John, Matthew 11:13, and it is fitting that this representative of the law should bear witness to the superiority of Him who came in grace.
THE RECEIVED FULNESS OF THE WORD
1:16 And of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace- John describes the experience of all believers when he speaks of all receiving His fulness. Since the grace and truth expressed in Christ is the outworking of Divine Life, and the believer shares in that life when he is born of God, then at that moment of new birth grace and truth are received out of His glorious fulness. All that His grace bestows and His truth reveals is made good to us.
Any pleasing and Christ-like features which God can see in His people, have been produced only because we have received of His fulness of grace and truth. That grace is regulated by truth, lest we turn it into sentiment or licence. The truth is accompanied by grace, lest we turn it into legality. Moreover, the apostle assures us that the grace we receive from Christ, whether initially or constantly, exactly corresponds to our need at the moment, so that the grace (expressed in Christ), corresponds to the grace (we need from Christ).
1:17 For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ- note the word “but” is in italics, for John is putting two parallel statements in sharp contrast. The word “for” is present because John sees the need to explain why grace and truth are needed, and also to tell us how the constant supply of them is maintained.
Moses gave the law to Israel, but he did not see the glory of God when the tables were intact. It was only when the law had been broken that he appealed for a sight of the glory on the basis of the grace of God- it was not found in the law. Note the references to grace in Exodus 33:12,13,16,17; 34:9. Whereas the Law was given through Moses on cold, unyielding tables of stone that were external to the mediator, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, expressed in a living person, the Word become flesh. Instead of grace and truth being abstract ideas, they are now fully expressed in a person. This had not happened before, and the law certainly could not have brought it about. Since grace and truth are expressed in Jesus Christ, they remain in all their glory.
THE UNIQUE ABILITY OF THE WORD
1:18 No man hath seen God at any time- an echo of the words of God to Moses, “There shall no man see Me, and live”, Exodus 33:20. The physical eye cannot look upon God, but the spiritual eye can, as He is made manifest in Christ, who said, “He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father” John 14:9. John the apostle, who did see Him with the physical eye, does not give any description of Him as to His appearance, even though he says “That which we have seen…declare we unto you”, 1 John 1:3. So the sight is not physical but spiritual, the discerning of the glory as in verse 14.
The only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him- Having excluded everyone else by the phrase “No man hath seen God at any time”, John brings his opening section to a climax by telling us three further things about the Word.
First, John declares that the Word is the Son of God, and as such is in direct and intimate relationship with the Father. Sonship involves the sharing of character and nature, and since God’s character and nature are eternal, so must the Sonship of Christ be eternal. In John 10:30,36, “I and My Father are one”, and “I am the Son of God”, are used by Christ as identical terms. To be the Son of God is to be God.
Second, He is only begotten Son, which tells of His uniqueness. Although it is God’s will that His people should be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He might be the firstborn among many brethren, yet the sonship of these brethren is derived, for they are sons by adoption, Galatians 4:5,6, Romans 8:15, having been slaves before. His Sonship is distinct, for if the sonship of believers was only a question of degree, with the Word merely being closer to God in some way, then He could not be the only begotten Son. His sonship, therefore, is a matter of kind, not of degree.
The title only begotten is also one of affection, as it was in the case of Isaac. He was not physically Abraham’s only son, (the equivalent of only begotten), for there was Ishmael. But spiritually considered, he was the darling of his father’s heart. So Christ in a far deeper way is the eternal object of His Father’s affections.
Third, He is said to be in the bosom of the Father. This indicates intimacy. Not only is the Lord Jesus in eternal relationship with the Father as His only begotten Son, but also is privy to His counsels and purpose. When Peter wished to enquire of the Lord in the upper room, he did it through the one who was leaning on His bosom at supper, John 13:21-25. From his position of nearness and affection, John was able to enquire of the Lord, and receive an answer. John was in Christ’s bosom because he had moved there, whereas Christ is eternally in the bosom of the Father, such is the force of the word “being”. He is uniquely able to disclose to us what is in the Father’s heart. The word bosom here and in John 13:23 means “a bosom, or hollow thing”. What a contrast with Moses, who was placed in the clift (or “bored out place”) of the rock whilst God’s glory passed by. The law was written on hard tables of stone, whereas grace is made known by a living Christ. It is appropriate, then, that Moses the lawgiver should be hidden in a hollow in a cold, hard rock, whereas Christ is in the hollow of the Father’s bosom.
As one who is in eternal relationship with the Father, is deeply loved of the Father, and who fully knows the mind of the Father, the Son of God is uniquely able to declare Him, and this He has done fully. He is the Word, the discloser of God’s thoughts, and has discharged the responsibility laid upon Him when He was sent to declare God. In words and deeds of grace and truth, as detailed in the rest of John’s gospel, the Lord Jesus told out the Father, and thus the glory of God is revealed in a way that can be understood and appreciated. There is no Divine hand now, as there was with Moses, shielding us from the sight of the glory. All is revealed, and God may be known by those who have the capacity to know Him. And it is the possession of eternal life which gives that capacity. “For this is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent”, John 17:3.