The Word Become Flesh
Topic: Gospels Passage: John 1:1–1:18
“THE WORD BECOME FLESH”
1 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.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
The Gospel of John opens with the same three words that introduce the Bible: “In the beginning.” It is a phrase that has become so familiar to us that, more often than not, we miss its wonder and amazement.
Just think with me for a moment what that phrase implies. A “beginning” suggests the start of something. But for something to “start” or “begin” there has something—or Someone—to get the process going. In Genesis 1:1, we are told that the Originator of that process is none other than God Himself. There we read that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” No argument, no counter-theories, no disputation...just a simple, yet profound, straightforward statement. Before anything existed, there was God.
That’s what theologians refer to when they speak of “the eternal pre-existence of God.” Never was there nothing. Always there was God. And as Genesis 1 further explains, everything that does exist does so because God spoke it into being. The ancient rabbis would ask, “What was there before God spoke?” And their answer was, “God’s silence.”
But God did not remain silent. He spoke through His creation and later through His revealed Word. And in the fullest and final revelation of Himself, God “has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:2), Jesus Christ. The fact that the opening words of Old Testament and the Gospel of John are identical is no accident, because the very first thing the writer of this book wants us to realize is that this Jesus is that very One who spoke all things into being. That helps to explain why He is referred to in this prologue as “the Word.”
Most of you are aware that the Greek term that John employs is “λογοs.” It has a rich history of meaning that makes for fascinating, yet time-consuming study that is well beyond the scope of this message. The ancient philosophers often employed it in reference to “reason,” and it was frequently associated with “wisdom”...or, as the Greeks called it “σοφια.” Given this latter relationship, parallels are sometimes drawn between John’s descriptions found here and the personification of “wisdom” of which we read in the Book of Proverbs.
What has been helpful to me in understanding John’s concept of “λογοs” is to consider it as “an expression or explanation of that which it represents.” For example, a thought or an idea may exist in a person’s mind, but there it remains until it is expressed by a “word.” The “word,” therefore, is the “embodiment” of the thought or idea. That thought or idea is no less real without being stated, but in order to be understood by another person it must find expression. And, as John will state in verse 18, because “No one has ever seen God,” Jesus Christ—the “λογοs” of God—has revealed Him. As the incarnate “Word,” He is the visible expression of the eternal, invisible God. We need to see that here at the outset.
John introduces this One to us by means of three identifying descriptions. The first one that we find is that of...
The Word in eternity as God (1:1-5).
Allow me to read these first five verses again:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There is enough material in this brief paragraph for several sermons. In fact, each phrase is worthy of much reflection and considerable meditation. Some commentators believe that verses 1 through 5 were actually a hymn composed by John and sung by believers when they gathered as the early church. Here in this paragraph we find the concepts of the“λογοs,” the “life,” and the “light”...all designations of the Christ.
It is noteworthy that the word “λογοs” appears only five times in the New Testament in reference to Jesus, and three of those five times are here in verse 1. In the first place, we are told that “In the beginning was the Word.” As we have already noted, prior to creation the Word—this One who, in time, would become the visible manifestation of God—existed. As someone else has said, “When the beginning began, the Word was already there.” “I the beginning...the Word” was eternally present.
Next, we read that “the Word was with God.” Prepositions are one of the most important parts of speech in Greek grammar. The one that John uses here in describing the relationship of “the Word (being) with (‘προs’) God” does not merely imply “proximity” or “being in the presence of,” but further suggests “equality, while maintaining distinction of identity.” We will see this more clearly later in the book when Jesus repeatedly bears witness of who He is.
But even here it becomes a critical theological point when we consider the third thing that John tells us, namely that “the Word was God.” Please note that the text does not say that “the Word was a god,” in the manner that Jehovah’s Witnesses try to translate the phrase (cf. New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures). Jesus was not just “another god,” nor did He somehow “become God.” He was, is, and forever will be the one and only God.
So, here we have—and by way of reiteration in verse 3—an allusion to the Trinity, a fundamental aspect of the Gospel that John will develop throughout this book.
Verse 3 identifies this One as the Creator: “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” Creation has not always existed...it came into being by “the Word.” Before each of the six creative days in Genesis 1, we read, “And God said, ‘Let there be...’” (Genesis 1:3. 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, and 24). By means of “the Word,” God spoke creation into existence through the One who is here identified as “the Word.”
Colossians 1:15-17 further confirms this when it testifies of Christ, saying, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
This is the One of whom John writes. As we trace the footsteps of Jesus throughout this book, keep in mind just who this Man named “Jesus” truly is. In his Gospel account, John bypasses the birth and human genealogy of Christ and gets right into the “signs” and words that affirm that He is that long anticipated Messiah and the very Son of God. “The Word” is God!
Here in verse 4, John adds that “In him was life.” “Life” not only existed in Him, but He was its very Source. In time, Jesus would also testify this concerning Himself. For example, in John 11:25, He refers to Himself as “the resurrection and the life,” and in John 14:6, He declares to His disciples, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
This “life,” John further states, “was the light of men.” These two themes—“light” and “life”—will recur time and again throughout the book. As “the life,” He will raise Lazarus from the dead (cf. John 11:38-44), and as “the light,” He will heal the man born blind (cf. John 9:1-7). But “the life” and “the light” of Jesus refer to far more than any physical healings, penetrating deeply into the soul of man...into his deepest needs.
Both “life” and “light” have enemies. They are called “death” and “darkness” respectively. Those contrasts exist in perpetual conflict as the inevitable illustrations of “salvation” and “sin.” Jesus—the eternal “Word”—came to “overcome” sin, darkness, and death...and He did just that. In fact, that is the story that John the Apostle tells in this book.
But before we get there, we must meet another man named “John,” a man raised up by the Lord whose mission it would be to introduce...
The Word in time as Man (1:6-13).
Look with me at verses 6 through 8, where we read of “a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not that light, but came to bear witness about the light.” This “John” is, of course, none other than John the Baptist, the one described by the prophet Isaiah (40:3) and the Synoptic writers as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord” (Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4).
In Matthew 3:1, we are told that “In those days John the Baptist came preaching.” “Preaching” (“κηπυσσω”) is a one-word description of his work, and what a fitting description it is. It refers to the making of a public proclamation, and even more particularly to heralding the arrival of a king. Alexander Maclaren said that the term “implies the uplifted voice and the brief, urgent message of one who runs before the chariot and shouts, ‘The king! The king!’” The voice of prophecy, that had been silent for four hundred years, was heard once again through this stark and ascetic man. “Repent,” he cried out to all who would hear, “for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2).
Both the source and content of his message rested in the fact that he was “sent from God.” No doubt, he was looked upon by many as “eccentric” and “strange,” and yet he declared himself to be the forerunner to the Messiah. Although some thought him to be the Messiah, he made it quite clear that “He was not the light, but (had) come to bear witness to thet light.”
In verses 9 through 13, we find John the Apostle summarizing the message that John the Baptist faithfully taught, and telling us the manner it which it was received. The Coming One was “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” Exactly how that phrase should be interpreted has been the subject of discussion for years. The simplest and clearest explanation seems to be that the unveiling of “the Word” meant a “bringing out of the shadows” the full revelation of God for men to see. As Martin Luther taught, although all men are clearly not “enlightened” or saved by Jesus’ coming, He is nevertheless the only One through whom “enlightenment” or salvation may come.
Verse 10 explains, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” This is a truly remarkable statement. Just as the world “came to be” because of His “Word,” “the Word” came to be a part of His creation. The Creator visited—literally “stepped into”—His creation, and the very creatures He had made did not recognize Him or know who He was!
Stressing this point even further, John writes in verse 11, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” What we are unable to distinguish in English is the two different ways that John writes “own” in this verse. In the first instance, the grammatical gender is neuter, suggesting a “possession” or a “place;” but in the second instance it is masculine, signifying a “people.” Therefore, what this verse is saying is that the revealed “Word” entered the world He had made, and the people of that world did not “welcome” Him. The world did not recognize—and, as a result, rejected—its Maker. As Jesus’ story unfolds throughout John’s record, we are shocked to see again and again the shameful accuracy of that statement. And regrettably, we still see it to this very day!
“But,” as verse 12 points out, some do “receive” Him. And for all who do, “he (gives) the right to become the children of God.” The two verbs, “receive” and “believed” stand parallel to each other. To “receive” (or “welcome”) Him means to “believe in” Him. And to “believe in” Him means to accept all that is true about Him. And for those who “receive” Him in this way, they become related to God as if by birth. But it is not a “birth” of a kind that we might expect.
For as John goes on to explain in verse 13, “the children of God” are those “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” The interpretations of this verse are too numerous to sort through in this message. The plain sense—which should always be our “default” position—says that no one enters into a familial relationship with God by an act of his own volition. Despite the arguments of some, people do not become “the children of God” by natural descent, human decision, or personal choice. One becomes a “child of God” because he or she is born “of God.” In his comments on this passage, John Calvin wrote,
We are reckoned the sons of God, not on account of our own nature, nor from our initiative, but because the Lord begat us voluntarily, that is from spontaneous love. Hence it follows, first, that faith is not of our production, but is the fruit of spiritual generation. For the Evangelist says that none can believe save he who is begotten of God.
In his encounter with Nicodemus, which we will read about in John 3(:1-15), Jesus summarized this truth with a simple statement: “You must be born again.” As a fit summary of these first thirteen verses, we sight say—as one already has—“The Son of God became the Son of Man so that sons of men might become sons of God.” Ponder that, if you will.
But let’s return to John’s introduction to “the Word,” which is precisely what the writer does in verses 14 through 18. Here we find...
The Word incarnate with believers (1:14-18).
We must not forget who “the Word” is. He was “with God” and He “was God” from the very “beginning.” Before anything else existed, there was “the Word.”
But here in verse 14, John tells us that “the Word (this same One) became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The verb, “became,” stands out in stark contrast with the verb “was” in verse 1. What “was” in eternity—that is Deity—in time “became flesh.” Through the miracle of the Virgin Birth, first prophesied by Isaiah (7:14) and later attested to by the medical doctor Luke (1:35), the two distinct natures of God and man were united in the Person of Jesus Christ. Theologians refer to this as the “hypostatic union,” and it would occur only once in the entire course of human history. This is why Jesus is and forever will remain the unique—the one and only (“μονογενηs”)—Son of God.
When the text says that Jesus “dwelt (‘σκηνοω’) among us,” John is making an allusion to the Tabernacle of Israel, the place where God would meet with His people (cf. Exodus 25:8). Here the writer is telling us that in the One known as “the Word,” God “pitched His tent” and lived among His people. You may recall at that time of the Exodus and wilderness journey that the Lord manifested His presence among His people by means of “a pillar of cloud” by day and “a pillar of fire” by night (cf. Exodus 13:21). Within them resided His “glory”—the “Shekinah”—the visible expression of His Divine presence. Although God had condescended to dwell among His people, it was with reverential awe and great fear that He was ever approached. But now by means of “the Word”—the “λογοs”—God approached His people and invited them to “Come” to Him (cf. John 1:39).
The parenthetical insertion of verse 15 is more than a “flashback” to John the Baptist. It is his statement that is found here that adds substance to the argument regarding the eternal nature of “the Word.” It is his confirmation of the incarnation, if you will. In the measurement of time, John was born six months before Jesus. (We know that from Luke 1:26). But in terms of eternity, Jesus’ pre-existence was immeasurable. And so was His prominent position. When John the Baptist says, “He...ranks before me,” he refers to Jesus’ divine supremacy...His preeminence. In the words of Paul, from Colossians 2:9, “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells body.” And that is what the Apostle John alludes to when he writes, “The Word became flesh.”
If you have stayed with me, thus far, we both probably feel like exhaling. We have been treading some very deep, yet necessary theological waters today. If what we have been saying is new to you and presents an intellectual challenge, it may help you to know that church leaders have struggled to navigate this doctrine since shortly after Jesus “made His dwelling” among us.
In 451 AD, more than five hundred church leaders from across Christendom convened in the Asia Minor city of Chalcedon to debate how Jesus could possibly have possessed both human and divine natures. After four weeks of intense discussion, a creed was drafted and adopted that nearly sixteen centuries later remains the authoritative statement, apart from which no person or group may legitimately refer to themselves as truly Christian. The opening and essential part of the Chalcedonian Creed reads...
We then...all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to humanity; in all things like unto us, without sin.
This document continues to give us the definitive statement regarding the identity of “the Word.” To profess “belief in Jesus,” while denying either or both His Deity or humanity, is to remain under God’s condemnation for sin (cf. John 3:36). Writing in an epistle to the church a few years later, John noted that...
“Many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist” (1 John 4:2-3).
I don’t know if you have ever thought about it or not, but the Bible is a book written by God’s people for God’s people. The only ones who are ever able to truly understand its message are those who will receive it and believe it. Remember John’s purpose statement at the end of this book? There, he wrote, “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” (John 20:31).
Therefore, as he draws to a conclusion this prologue to his Gospel, he is addressing his fellow believers. In verses 16 and 17, he reminds them, “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” As necessary and essential as the Mosaic Law was in exposing man’s sin and need for salvation (cf. Romans 7:7), it took the Advent of Christ—the revealing of “the Word” to bring about “grace and truth” and the gift of eternal life to those who would “believe.”
I find it interesting that John has waited until verse 17 to mention Jesus by name. Until now He has been identified as “the Word,” “the light,” “the life,” and “the Son.” It’s as if John has been “baiting the hook” with these descriptors, as if to be asking the reader, “Who else could ‘the Word” be but Jesus Christ?”
This revelation of God through the incarnation would have been impossible had not God taken the initiative to reveal Himself to us. John expresses it this way in verse 18: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” How did He do that? Of all the possible ways by which God might have chosen in order to make Himself known, He did so through “the Word (becoming) flesh and (dwelling) among us.”
It is the Lord Jesus Christ who has “made (God) known” to us. Interestingly, that last phrase in John’s prologue is the translation of a single Greek word (“εξηγεομαι”), from which our English term, “exegesis,” is derived. In preaching, “exegesis” refers to the critical interpretation of Scripture. In other words, it is the process of discovering the intended meaning of biblical texts.
Good preachers do their very best to “exegete” well and to remain faithful to God’s revelation. But even the best of preachers—on their very best days—are less than perfect. Try as they may, even with God’s help, they are not inerrant. But as “the Word (who) became flesh,” Jesus Christ, is the perfect “Exegete.” He—and He alone—is the full and final revelation of God. Only He is the living demonstration of God, displaying Himself in a way in which eyewitnesses “have heard...have seen...looked upon and have touched.” That is why John could elsewhere call him “the word of life,” adding that “the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us (1 John 1:1-2).
Have you met this living “Word” of whom John writes? If not, he wants to introduce Him to you. We learn more about God-man Jesus from the Gospel of John than we do from the other three Gospels combined. That is not meant in any way to minimize the Synoptic writings, but rather to affirm John’s specific purpose for writing...which is to present Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of all those who would call upon His name.
Three years ago, in the days leading up to Easter, the Barna Group released the results of an extensive research project involving the American people. The results were quite revealing. While more than 85 percent of Americans believe that Jesus was an actual historical person, less than half of those believe that He lived a sinless life. Nevertheless, a majority of Americans profess to have made a commitment to Jesus. But even having said that, most still believe that their “good works”—at least in part—contribute to their salvation. Given these findings, it is obvious that the state of “American Christianity” is conflicted.
Sometimes that is true in the church as well. People can belong to a church for years—even an evangelical church where the Gospel is faithfully preached every Sunday—and still not understand that apart from the Creator God having entered the world among those whom He created, living the life they should have but could not, and dying the death and absorbing the wrath of God they deserved and could never pay, there simply is no salvation.
There is no “middle ground” when it comes to saying who Jesus is to you. In his classic statement, C.S. Lewis has left for us this reminder:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Throughout John’s Gospel we are going to encounter many contrasts: “light and darkness,” “life and death,” “love and hatred,” “truth and lies,” “salvation and sin,” “receive and reject.” It is impossible for the reader, once arriving at the end of John’s Gospel to remain in the middle. Each of us must decide on which side of His cross we align ourselves.
Who is Jesus Christ? It is a question we must all one day face. According to the testimony of John, He is “the Word (become) flesh.”
In addition to writing the Gospel that bears his name, John wrote three small epistles which appear near the end of the New Testament. In addition, he was also the author of the Book of Revelation in which he describes in prophetic vision the return of Jesus as the King who will vanquish all who have rejected Him. Listen to how John describes that apocalyptic scene, even as you consider your relationship with Him:
“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows, but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God” (Revelation 19:11-13).