John 1:1-5 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Since we began looking at John’s Gospel three Sundays ago, we’ve zoomed in a little tighter each week. On the first Sunday, we started with an overview of the entire Gospel. Then, last week, we looked a little more closely at the first 18 verses, John’s introduction. And now, this morning, we’re going to zoom in again on vs.1-5.
I don’t know if there’s a more significant passage on the nature of Jesus Christ than our passage for this morning. Of course it’s easy to make dramatic statements like that, and hard to really quantify them. Nevertheless, wherever this passage falls on the official significance-of-the-nature-of-Jesus Christ list, it’s without question near the top. In it, John makes nine specific claims about “the Word;” that is, about Jesus, the Christ: The Word was in the beginning (1), the Word was with God (1), the Word was God (1), the Word was a person (2), all things were made through the Word (3), in the Word was life (4), within the life of the Word was the light of men (4), the light of the Word shines in the darkness (5), and the light of the Word overcomes the darkness (5).
Because every one of these claims is exemplified in the life and teaching of Jesus throughout in John’s Gospel, it’s important that we get our heads around them now. That way, we’ll be in a better position to appreciate them when we see them in action.
The big idea of this passage is that the Christness of Jesus was even more awesome than anyone could have imagined. And the big takeaways are more fervent worship, eager obedience, and well-founded hope. Let’s pray that God would grant all three.
THE WORD WAS IN THE BEGINNING (1A)
Matthew’s Gospel begins, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
Mark’s begins, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Luke’s Gospel begins with a bit longer first sentence, but with the same sentiment, ” Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught [about Jesus].
Each of the other three Gospels begins in a manner that we might expect, promising to tell the story of Jesus. John’s Gospel, on the other hand, begins differently, “In the beginning was the Word.”
Two questions ought to rise straight to the surface of our minds. First, in the beginning of what? And second, what is “the Word”? Let’s consider each in reverse order.
What Is “the Word”?
The answer to this first question is both simple and profound. It’s simple in that for John, “the Word” is Jesus (vs.2, 14). It’s profound in the reason for which John chose that title. By referring to Jesus as “the Word,” John was indicating that Jesus is the full and final revelation from God. This is what we read a bit more directly in Hebrews 1:1-2, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…”.
John’s central point here, in referring to Jesus as the Word of God, is that Jesus is the incarnate manifestation of God’s power and wisdom. Jesus would speak only that which is true and He would perfectly accomplish all of the purposes for which He was sent. And so we can trust Him and follow Him and do so in the knowledge that He will never lead us to the wrong place or fail to bring us to the right place. He is the Word of God and you can trust Him, Grace! We’ll see this more clearly in passages like John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.'”
In the Beginning of What?
But that leads us to the second question. Jesus, the Word of God, was in the beginning of what? Just like the first, the answer to this second question is both simple and profound. Simply, John clearly meant to draw his readers’ attention to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The “beginning” refers to the creation of time and space, heaven and earth, of all that has been made.
The profound part of the answer to this question is that this is a statement concerning the preexistence, or the eternality, (or aseity) of Jesus. Even though it isn’t as obvious in the translation, grammatically, it’s entirely clear that John 1:1 is speaking of the fact that the Word, Jesus Christ, existed (“with God” as we’ll see in a minute), continually before anything that was made was made.
We’ll see this lived out in Jesus’ life and teaching in passages like John 17:5, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” What a claim. What a Christ!
THE WORD WAS WITH GOD (1B)
The Word was in the beginning and the Word was “with God” at that time (1). Again, this is a staggering claim that John made. Not only has Jesus existed eternally, but He has done so “with God”. That too is a part of the John 17:5 passage I just read, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”
Embedded in this claim–that Jesus was with God from the beginning–is the very purpose of our being. We too exist to be with God. Contrary to what most people think when they think of Christianity, Christianity is not mainly a sexual ethic or list of rules or prohibitions. Christianity is not mainly about Sunday mornings or giving money. And the main offer of Christ isn’t your best life now. Christianity, at its very core, is an offer of eternal fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. And it’s available to us because Jesus has eternal fellowship with the Father.
This will become clear in the Gospel in passages like John 17:20-21 where Jesus prays for His followers, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us…
I imagine you can already tell that there is a sense in which John is building in his portrayal of Jesus. That He is the Word, the manifestation of God’s power and wisdom, is remarkable. That He has been that eternally, is more shocking still. That He has eternally been that in the presence of God is yet another level. What’s next? How could John’s claims get any more staggering? Well, we’ll see as we consider the third claim John made.
THE WORD WAS GOD (1C)
What’s been hinted at already is made explicit in the final clause of v.1. We might ask how it’s possible for Jesus to be the Word, the eternal, incarnate power and wisdom of God, who lived forever in fellowship with God. And here John tells us that it is possible because Jesus is God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
What we have here is a fairly explicit statement concerning the very nature of God. It’s clear that Jesus is not the Father (for He was with God), but it’s also clear that He shares in the divine nature with God. We’ll come back to this again and again throughout John’s Gospel (as I mentioned in the introduction sermon).
John 5:18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
John 8:58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
John 10:30 “I and the Father are one.”
John 20:28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
Ultimately, this is the source of our hope in every one of Jesus’ promises, and especially His ability to atone for our sins and bring us into fellowship with God. It is because He is God, the sovereign ruler of all, the Word, that He is able to accomplish His every purpose and that His promises will never fail. It is also because He is God that He did not have sin of His own to be atoned for. It is because He is God that He was able to die for all of the sins for all who would receive Him. And it is because He is God that He can legitimately offer everlasting fellowship with Himself! What a claim. What a Christ!
THE WORD WAS A PERSON (2)
The second verse, ” He was in the beginning with God,” is simply a restatement of the beginning of the first verse, with one slight (albeit critical) addition. If all we had was John 1:1, we wouldn’t have any real understanding of what John was talking about concerning the Word. The word we translate as “Word” (logos) was a common enough word in both Greek and Jewish culture. For the Greek it referred to the impersonal idea of reason or knowledge. It wouldn’t have been surprising at all to hear that reason existed eternally with the gods. Likewise, to the Jew it referred most specifically to “God’s powerful self-expression in creation, revelation, and salvation” (Carson, 116), and more generally to God’s wisdom. Again, it is not hard to imagine a faithful Jew nodding along in agreement when John claimed that this was with God from the beginning.
What we find beginning in v.2 (and more significantly still in v.14), however, is the idea of the “Word” being a “He” (literally, “the one who”); that is, a person. This would have been unintelligible to the Greek and at least a bit eye raising to the Jew. Proverbs describes wisdom personified (as a woman), but John is talking a bit differently still.
The Word, the logos, for John was no mere abstract concept. It was far more than a simple declaration that God is eternally wise or eternally working. It is a declaration, once again, that the Word was a person. And this too is directly tied to our purpose in life. Our ultimate end, through faith in Jesus, is not fellowship with an abstract principle, but with a person, the fullest and most complete and perfect person, Jesus Christ. It is not an overstatement to say that all the good we’ve ever sought in friendship or marriage or parenting or in any other person is found fully in Jesus. Every relational need that we’ve ever felt is found fully in Jesus. Likewise, none of the things in another person that break or limit our fellowship with them are found in Jesus. His highest promise is that He will withhold nothing of Himself from us when He comes back for us from heaven.
1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
Are you getting a sense of how truly remarkable John’s introduction is and how truly staggering is his description of the Christ is? Well, he’s not done yet.
ALL THINGS WERE MADE “THROUGH” THE WORD (3)
Another question that we might ask from John’s opening words is, what was Jesus doing “in the beginning with God”? There is certainly more to the answer than what John gives us in v.3, but there is not less. That is, John fills us in on an important piece of the answer.
3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In the beginning Jesus was with God, creating the universe! The passage we’ve considered several times in Hebrews echoes this, “…through whom also [God] created the world.” That’s quite an accomplishment to have on your resume.
Without getting too far into the weeds, John reveals something really remarkable within this remarkable claim. Consider again, the very beginning of Genesis.
Genesis 1:3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light
Genesis 1:6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters7 … And it was so
Genesis 1:9 And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so
Genesis 1:11 And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so
Genesis 1:14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night…” And it was so
Genesis 1:20 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens…And God saw that it was good.
Genesis 1:24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds…” And it was so.
Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”…and behold, it was very good.
Do you see what this means? “God said” and it “was so”. That is, God created all that He made through simply speaking it into existence. He created through His Word. He created, John wrote here, through Jesus. Jesus was the Word through which God made all that has been made.
What a claim. What a Christ! Grace, ” these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
IN THE WORD WAS “LIFE” (4A)
The sixth claim made by John was that in the Word was life. In v.4, John wrote, “In him was life…”. From the previous point, this may seem redundant. That is, we just saw that God made all that has been made, including all living beings, through Jesus. In other words, it doesn’t sound like anything new to say that “in him was life.”
That might be part of what John meant in the beginning of v.4, but that’s far from all of what he meant. The main point here is that Jesus doesn’t simply give life, He is life! As we saw earlier, in John 14:6 Jesus didn’t say “I have the life”. He said “I am the life”. Similarly, when we get to passages like 5:26, we’ll get an even fuller sense of what John had in mind. There, Jesus taught, “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.”
There are so many implications of this that it’s hard to even begin to address them. Many will come out as we see this reality play out in the Gospel. Let me simply mention two here. First, to say that Jesus offers eternal life, is to say that Jesus offers Himself eternally. We’re seeing over and over in these opening verses that the greatest gift we might receive is Jesus! Jesus is eternal life. Jesus is salvation. Second, this means that issues of life are not ultimately tied to the dignity of the person (although it is tied to that too), but to the dignity of Jesus. The fact that Jesus is life is at the heart of how we ought to think of birth, infertility, abortion, birth defects, murder, and euthanasia, for instance. If He is life and all life has life in Him, there are few things that should cause us to tremble more than undervaluing or devaluing life in all who are made in His image.
To have life in any sense is to have Jesus in some sense, for in Him is life. And to have eternal life is to have Jesus in the fullest sense. What a claim. What a Christ.
WITHIN THE LIFE OF THE WORD WAS THE “LIGHT OF MEN” (4B)
Seventh, in v.4, John wrote, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”
OK, Grace, I know I say this kind of thing fairly often in my preaching, so I wouldn’t blame you if it produces a diminishing rise in attention. Nevertheless, this is a big deal. It means two things that are absolutely critical to the living in this world.
First, every day, all day, we are all (every person on earth) faced with choices—moral and ethical choices, logistical choices, relationship choices, worldview choices, job choices, family choices, education choices, entertainment choices, money choices, clothing choices, housing choices, food choices, and on and on. Further, every choice every one of us makes is made on some basis; on some set of beliefs or preferences or goals or desires or authorities.
In this short, simple clause, in the second half of the fourth verse of his Gospel, John declared that the Jesus alone is the true light, the only true source of wisdom and understating, the only true source of reason and rationality, and within all of that, the only legitimate basis on which we can make our countless every day choices. Jesus alone illuminates the way things truly are.
This is what Jesus meant in John 14:6 when He said “I am the way and the truth.” This is also what He meant in John 8:12 when He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Second, the fact that in Jesus was life, and the life was the light of men, means that the light comes only, fully and truly after the life. It is only once we have new life in Jesus—the new life, which is Jesus—that the illuminating, wisdom we need to live as we were made to live in this world comes. The reason for this will become clear in the next, and second-to-last point. But what a claim. What a Christ!
THE LIGHT OF THE WORD SHINES IN THE DARKNESS (5A)
We just saw that the wisdom and understanding, the light, of Jesus always, only comes on the other side of life in Jesus. The reason for that, John tells us in the first part of v.5, is that we are born in darkness. That is, we are born in sin. The light isn’t shining into light. It’s shining into darkness. And the most definitive characteristic of darkness (in the morally contrasting sense in which John/Jesus uses it), is that it is opposite, opposed to, hates light. Apart from the life of Christ, we love the darkness. But John wants his readers to understand that once the light of Christ shines upon us and through it, the life-giving grace of God, we see!
5 The light shines in the darkness…
This, we’ll see more clearly in passages like John 3:19, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For now, let’s praise God that while we were still in the darkness the light of Christ shown into it. Praise God that God did not wait until we came to the light on our own that He sent the light to shine in our darkness while we were still in it.
THE LIGHT OF THE WORD OVERCOMES THE DARKNESS (5B)
Finally, and most gloriously, not only did the light shine in the darkness, but it did so victoriously.
5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
This is big news in the literal and immediate sense—there were some who tried to kill Jesus and snuff out His life. Nevertheless, He rose from the dead—they could not overcome Him. But it is bigger news still in the eternal and eschatological sense. Grace Church, there will never be a single speck of darkness that will gain victory over the light of Jesus the Christ. Because of the cross and empty tomb, never, anywhere, ever, will darkness overcome the true light of Jesus. Neither Jesus, John, nor I are ignorant of the evil that seems to be winning all over the world. So this will certainly need some explaining. And that will come when we get to passages like John 12:35: “So Jesus said to them, ‘The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.’”
For now, however, and in conclusion, believe the promise of John and Jesus, that the darkness has not, nor will it ever, overcome the light, which is Jesus, who is the glorious Christ. Place your hope in that and you will not be put to shame. Seek your rest in that and you will know peace.
The Word was in the beginning (1), the Word was with God (1), the Word was God (1), the Word was a person (2), all things were made through the Word (3), in the Word was life (4), within the life of the Word was the light of men (4), the light of the Word shines in the darkness (5), and the light of the Word overcomes the darkness (5). What claims. What a Christ!