John 1:1-18 form what has come to be known as ‘The Prologue.’ Only John gives us an introduction like this. Matthew and Luke begin with birth narratives while Mark begins with Jesus’ baptism. John begins with an 18 verse introduction intended to answer basic questions about Jesus. Questions like: Who is He? Why did He come? Where is He from? As John answers these questions we cannot help but find ourselves simply astounded. Concerning this prologue the study notes in the Gospel Transformation study Bible say this, “The prologue of John’s gospel is like the opening movement of a grand symphony. It is meant to grab our attention and draw us into the story – the story of all stories.”[i]R.C. Sproul in his commentary on John likewise states, “No portion of the New Testament captured the imagination and the attention of the Christian intellectual community for the first three centuries more than this brief section.”[ii]
As it captured them, may God now capture us.
“In the beginning…” These first three words are words we should all be familiar with. John isn’t the only one to begin his writing with them, Moses begins Genesis with them as well. That John uses the same words here is intended to teach us that just as God did His work of creation then, God is now doing His work of new creation here. How does God intend to carry out His work of new creation? v1-3 continues, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” Think back to Genesis again. In Genesis we see God creating all things by speaking them into existence saying each time “Let there be…” and there was. Now in this work of new creation it’s clear that God’s bringing it about by something John calls “the Word.” This Word is not only present in beginning of all things, John says the Word is God and the Word is with God. When John says the Word is God shows that the Word is Deity. When John says the Word is with God he shows that the Word is distinct or distinguished from God. Both full-blown Deity and divine distinction are present in this ‘Word.’
To further add to this did you notice there’s an addition in v3 that’s not in v1-2? v3 refers to the Word as “Him.” This prohibits us from speaking of the Word as an impersonal force or some kind of vague power. That John refers to the Word as ‘Him’ means the Word is a Person, indeed one of the three Persons in the Trinity. To further add again, when taking into account the Greek translation of Word, which is ‘logos’, leads us to even more. The ‘logos’ was a Greek philosophical concept used to convey an abstract force that brought harmony, order, and reason into the universe. So in order for the Greeks to be wise or on the right path to wisdom they had to be in touch with the logos. Well John uses this loaded Greek term here in the beginning of his gospel to teach us the true meaning of ‘logos.’ It’s not an impersonal force that brings harmony, order, and reason into the universe, no, the ‘logos’ is none other than God’s divine self-expression. Hebrews 1:1-3 confirms this saying, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days God has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom He also created the world. He (the Son) is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature…” This Word of John 1:1-3 is none other than the Word God spoke to create the world in Genesis 1. But it’s more than just language, the Word is God wrapped in skin, or to say it another way God’s very Son.
If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, that’s normal. John is a very simple writer, but the way he combines simplicity and profundity often leaves us wondering if we’ve understood all his intends us to. Try to think of it like this. If I want to know who a person is, I listen to what they say because a person’s words reveal what they are thinking. Well, do you want to know who God is? Do you want to know what God’s thoughts are? Praise the Lord God is and He is not silent! God has revealed Himself by speaking, and His Word to us is His very Son!
Historically this prologue is significant. Throughout the history of the Church many have rejected these very things, taught other things, been tried by Church councils, and condemned as heretics for teaching false doctrine about Christ. Men such as Arius, Apollinarius, Eutychus, and Nestorius are some examples of men who denied the truths taught in John 1 and instead believed Jesus is something less. Arius, using his term homoiousios, denied the full deity of Christ and put forth the idea that Christ was the first or greatest ‘created’ being who was of a different nature than God. This was denied by the Council of Nicea (325 AD) but it was Athanasius who led the charge arguing for homoousios, namely, that Christ was of the exact same nature as the Father. These things made up the following Nicene Creed produced from this council.
Later, Apollinarius believed the divine logos took the place of a rational human soul in Christ and therefore made Christ not fully human. This was denied by the Council of Constantinople (381 AD) where a full deity and full humanity were both upheld. Later Nestorius taught that the two natures of Christ were so distinct from each other that Christ was a combination of two separate persons. Around the same time Eutychus taught that the two persons of Christ were so unified that almost all distinctions between them disappeared. Both of these were denied by the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) and the following Chalcedonian Creed produced from it. The creed makes an argument using the Greek word hypostasis (which is where the phrase ‘hypostatic union’ comes from) meaning that Christ’s divine and human natures are united in one being. Or to say it another way, Christ’s work as Savior involved both His natures and if He were without one of these natures, or if these natures were mixed or confused, there would be no salvation for us.
From all of these false teachers and false teaching the early Church came to embrace four specific things about Christ. First, Jesus Christ is fully divine. Second, Jesus Christ is fully human. Third, the divine and human natures of Christ are distinct. And fourth, the divine and human nature of Christ are united in one Person. Anything less than this is a departure from true Christology.
In more modern times the Jehovah’s Witnesses have altered the translation of John 1:1 because they reject Jesus’ deity. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, also altered the translation of John 1:1 for the same reason. Sincere as these people may be, to deny the truth of Jesus’ deity is to reject Christianity. Remember what I said earlier, as this small flathead was fundamental to my work in the shop, the truths taught in John 1 (and many other places) is fundamental to Christian belief. To move away from it will still leave you with many beliefs, but those beliefs will not be Christian to any degree.
When we move ahead to John 1:4-5 we see John bring up themes that are all found in abundance within Genesis: life, light, and darkness. Not surprisingly these are some of the major themes of John’s gospel. Specifically in v4-5 we see that while God spoke the world into being and shattered the dark void during creation, so too God sent His Word into the world and the Word’s life and light shatter the dark void of this sinful world during new creation. The Word of v1-3 in v4-5 is the source of life and this life is the source of all light in the world and in men. No wonder why John includes the time when Jesus said, “I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). It is true, light and darkness are opposites. It’s also true that some speak of the Christian life as a battle between these opposites. Though this is true to a degree, do not believe the lie that they are opposites of equal power. The light of the Word, the light of Christ overcomes all darkness.
This is why John would later write this in 1 John 2:8, “…the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.” So through the Word life and light come into the darkness, and even though some may mock at the song or phrase, when one comes to faith in Christ one truly has ‘seen the light.’