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In The Beginning Was the Word

In the Beginning was the Word

I was working in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2008 during the Great Recession when all my aspirations crumbled within a single month. I lost my job at a prestigious architectural practice along with many others, I could no longer afford my rent, and soon after that, my fiancé (we were barely engaged) broke up with me. At the same time, I was going through a serious crisis of faith, not losing my faith, but transforming my Christian faith that while disorienting was also very exciting. It was, as you might imagine, a very lonely and painfilled season of my life. I was also halfway through studying for a master's in New Testament Greek. Yet, through this in much prayer and contemplation, I was learning to have a grand picture of God.


Sometime during this season of mine, one of my friends talked to me after a prayer service and described some of the difficulties he was facing. In earnest I thought I would offer him some of the wisdom I had learned, I encourage him to develop a big picture of God. Do you know what his answer was? He said, “Thanks, I’ll pray about that, and see if it’s right for me.” “What?!” I thought, “Why do you want to pray about that? Surely all of us should develop a grand picture of God, irrespective of our circumstances?”


This is what John the Evangelist does for his readers in John 1:1–18. And so, this is what I want to do for you, and share a magnificent picture of God from this passage.


In the beginning was the Word

Writing to a mixed audience of both Jews and Gentiles, John the Evangelist begins his Gospel with some of the most dramatic words in the New Testament, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”


If you study Biblical Greek, this is where all students begin, it’s the most basic Greek in the New Testament, and yet its content is theologically rich.


For the original Jewish readers, John transports their mind to the very beginning of the Torah, בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Instead, he writes in Greek, “Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος,” meaning, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Jewish readers would have expected the phrase, “In the beginning God created…”, as we read in Genesis 1:1, but John places the focus on the Word’s pre-existence.


As we will soon discover, John calls Jesus “the Word,” Logos in Greek. This would have challenged the boundaries of first-century Jewish monotheism. This isn’t about Christ’s co-existence with God, but as we will see, it’s about the active relationship and interaction between two holy members of the Divine Trinity.


For the Gentile readers, this is deeply philosophical, imbued with Stoic and Gnostic meaning. John lived in Ephesus for an extended period, but 600 years before John, the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus lived there. He coined the word, “Logos” which stood for “the reason why, why things are the way they are.” It’s the underlying principle of order, reason, and unity that governs the entire cosmos.


John takes this concept of logos that was still very prominent in Ephesus, and now much of the ancient Graeco-Roman world and applies it to Jesus Christ, calling him the Logos, the Word.


Jesus is the ultimate reason “why” everything exists. The whole universe was made for him. He was the Logos before there was creation. Jesus is the reason why we are here. Everything is summed up in him. He is the “reason why.”


The concept of the Logos also shows up in the Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria. He too had Greek (Hellenistic) influence. Alexandria was famous for its Ancient Egyptian university, and the famous translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, called the Septuagint which was translated there. Likewise, Philo was interested in translating Hebrew thought into Greek, and so he took the word, “Logos” and argued that it should not be understood as an “it” but rather as a “he.” He personalized the concept of the Logos. And so, we can see how John takes the Logos of Heraclitus and the Logos of Philo and combines them.


Yes, the Logos, the Word is the organizing principle, the “why” at the root of everything, but the Logos is also personal, he has personality, he is eternal; he is deity, he is God, yet he is also human, he is Jesus Christ.


John also looks to the Old Testament where the phrase “the Word of God” is often used, both in the act of creation, and in deliverance and judgment (Genesis 1:3, 6, 9; Psalm 33:6; 107:20; Isaiah 55:1). God’s “Word” in the Old Testament is his powerful self-expression in creation, revelation, and salvation.


“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” provided a powerful start to John’s Gospel. You see, the gospel is about the inbreaking of the kingdom of God into our world, and the good news that a new heavenly King has come and lived among us, but more than that the gospel is a person, it’s Jesus Christ!


The Life and Light of Christ

John proclaims that Jesus is the underlying principle of order, reason, and unity that governs all of creation, “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:3). It’s one thing for a single New Testament author to describe Jesus as the creator, “the reason for why,” it’s quite another when two others testify the same thing:


The Apostle Paul writes, “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16-17).


The Author of Hebrews 1:2 says, “But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.”


Jesus is the creator of the cosmos, and therefore he’s the source of both the physical and the spiritual life. And this life is the light of those who believe, a light for their moral decisions, giving guidance to walk in the revealed will of God.


Jesus is the source of life, but he is also the light of the world. There is a dramatic battle going on, and John explains that the light of Christ “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (verse 5). Christ came to destroy the works of Satan and death by bringing the gift of life (1 John 3:8b; Colossians 2:15).


Don’t think of light and darkness as opposites, they are not. Darkness is nothing other than the absence of light. Before creation, “darkness was over the surface of the deep” (Genesis 1:2), until God said, “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3).  At no time other than creation could it more appropriately be said, The light shines in the darkness. This was God’s first creative act, but the Word is both the light of creation and the light of redemption.


We have a light that shines in our dark world. This same light shines bright even in our darkness, it casts a spotlight on our sin, gives light in our situations when there seems to be no hope, and this light gives life, not death. I love how the prophet Isaiah says it:


The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2)


A Witness to the Light

Jesus Christ comes bursting into the created order of humanity and their rebellious affairs which oppose its Creator. This light of Christ anchors itself on the world stage to set things right, reorder society, and set up his kingdom of light.


But just before Christ makes his day view, God sends a witness, John the Baptist, to confirm based on his knowledge, the truthful reality of this divine light. Yet, as John the Evangelist makes clear, the Baptist was not himself the light, but only one who bears witness to it. John the Baptist knew Jesus personally, after all, he was Jesus’s cousin. He gave witness to Christ so that others may believe and put their faith in the Light.


The coming of the light of Christ was not an endorsement of the world and its rebellion. No, it is a testimony to the character of God’s love. This love is to be admired not because the world is so big and his love can reach into every part of it, but instead, because the world is so bad, and yet God still sends his Son into the very heart of our world because he knows it needs a savior.


Becoming Children of the Father of Lights

God the creator of the cosmos enters into his creation in the person of Jesus Christ. This is what Christmas is all about. No other religion has a creator god who becomes part of the creation, along with the doctrine of grace, this is unique to Christianity.


Jesus came unto his people, the people of Israel, and yet many of them rejected him, those whom God had chosen. Those who should have received him with open arms rejected him. This was more than an intellectual rejection; it was a wilful refusal to accept and believe in Jesus as the long-awaited messiah. This was true of many Jews of Jesus’s day, and is still true of many, many people today, across all cultures.


This unbelief is the primary sin that John’s Gospel seeks to address by establishing true faith in the hearts of his readers by writing his gospel. This unbelief refers first and foremost to a rejection of Jesus’s claim of equality with God and his revelation of the Father through his teaching and miracles.


In verse 12 there is a big “but.” But some did receive him, and they believed. They became sons and daughters of God, they were adopted into his family irrespective of whether they were part of God’s chosen nation or not. Through the new birth in Christ by faith, God begins creating a new humanity. This is why in John 3 Jesus talks about being born again. It’s metaphorical for becoming a new creation by an act of God. And so, by becoming born again we become children of the Father of Lights.


The Light Became Human

The Word became flesh in the person of Jesus, the Son of God, and dwelt among his people. God knows what it is like to be human because he became a man in the incarnation of Christ. He has experienced our life, hard work, exhaustion, hunger, poverty, humiliation, suffering, and also our hopes and joys.


Jesus left his glory in heaven when he took on humanity. But John says “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1 John 1:14b). This glory is Jesus Christ’s willingness to incarnate and his obedience to his father, his love of humanity, his long-suffering as a human, his patience, kindness, and wisdom.


There is a fascinating contrast in the Baptiser’s words when he says, “He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” He knew Jesus personally, but he had an even deeper understanding that no one else did at the time. John knew that Jesus came before him, as we read in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word.” Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am!” (John 8:48–59).


God dwelled in the tent of meeting, and later in the temple, secluded from everyone, now, God has chosen to walk among us in the open, he has chosen to dwell amongst his people in a yet more personal way. The “tent of meeting” was the place where the Lord “would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” (Exodus 33:11). Now, John tells us, God’s Word, his self-expression, has become flesh. This is supreme revelation! Moses begs God, “Now show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18) and God shows up declaring to Moses, “The Lord the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:5–7). The incarnate Word is the true shekinah glory, the ultimate manifestation of the presence of God amongst human beings. God lived among us in Jesus Christ, and he will dwell with us again as Revelation 21:3 tells us, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’”


Grace Upon Grace

John contrasts the law of Moses with the grace that comes through Jesus Christ. He is not suggesting that we do away with the law, and Matthew 5:17–18 tells us that Jesus came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. Yet, he also comes bringing grace and truth.


John writes how from the fullness of Christ we have received grace upon grace. This grace is not only the sum total or the fullness of grace but also the superabundance of God’s grace. Grace is the undeserved favor and love that God gives to us through Jesus Christ without earning or deserving it. It’s a free gift given out of God’s pure love and generosity.


Christ canceled the record of sin that stood against us through the atonement he made on the cross, therefore freeing the Christian. However, our freedom came with a price, the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. So let us live in a way that honors the price paid—The price was paid by God himself!

The Father of Lights Revealed

No one has seen God, except his only Son, Jesus Christ. And as John explains, Jesus is himself God. I love the language that is used here, εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς, meaning, “who is at the Father’s bosom.” Think of this as the closest proximity and intimate relationship with the Father. And Jesus has truly revealed to us what God is like because he knows him intimately. Later on in John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9b). And so, Jesus reveals the Father to us in an unprecedented way.

So, why was Jesus, the Divine Logos sent into the world? The answer, at least in part, was to reveal the Father so that we might believe and have life eternal. The formidable New Testament scholar, D. A. Carson penned this magnificent poem called, “The Prologue.”


The Prologue


Before there was a universe,

Before a star or planet,

When time had still not yet begun —

I scarcely understand it —

Th’ eternal Word was with his God,

God’s very Self-Expression;

Th’ eternal Word was God himself —

And God had planned redemption.

The Word became our flesh and blood —

The stuff of his creation —

The Word was God, the Word was flesh,

Astounding incarnation!

But when he came to visit us,

We did not recognize him.

Although we owed him everything

We haughtily despised him.

In days gone by God showed himself

In grace and truth to Moses;

But in the Word of God made flesh

Their climax he discloses.

For grace and truth in fullness came

And showed the Father’s glory.

When Jesus donned our flesh and died:

This is the gospel story.

All who delighted in his name,

All those who did receive him,

All who by grace were born of God,

All who in truth believed him —

To them he gave a stunning right:

Becoming God’s dear children!

Here will I stay in grateful trust;

Here will I fix my vision.


Jan 17

Thanks Rob, This opening verse of John plus "and the Word became flesh" were the words I shared in my Christmas letter, They were on my mind because of a sculpture I had seen a year ago in the foyer of St Martin-in-the-fields just off Trafalgar Square. The immensity of the block of stone with a little baby almost invisible unless you stand on your toes opened my heart to some more of the wonder of the eternal Word becoming flesh. Here are a couple of links to "In the Beginning" by Michael Chapman

Replying to

Thank so much for sharing. I love the sculture, I had a look at it. - Robert

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