John 1:1-5

John 1:1-5

SERIES: The Gospel of John

The Gospel Par Excellence

SPEAKER: Michael P. Andrus

Introduction:  Today we begin a new series on the Gospel of John.  After a lifetime of study of this book, one scholar calls it “the most amazing book ever written.  It is a pool in which a child can wade and an elephant can swim.” [i]  It is both simple and profound.  It meets the spiritual need of the unbeliever, the brand-new Christian, and the one with many years of maturity.  It has been called by many, “God’s love letter to the world.”

Sir Edwyn Hoskyns said of this book, “The critic may compare this Gospel with Philo and the Alexandrian philosophers, but did the poor and the unlearned, when they lay a-dying, ever ask their pastors to read to them out of the voluminous writings of Philo or of those like him?” [ii]  But the poor and unlearned, as well as the rich and educated, have for centuries found in the Gospel of John something that matters intensely both for life and for death.  

This book tells us that in the days of Emperor Tiberius and of the Tetrarch Herod Antipas, there was living in the land of Palestine a Jew named Jesus, who claimed that He was the rightful owner of all things, the bread of life, the living water, the good shepherd, the only way to God, the truth, the life, the one who would raise the dead at the last day, the proper object of faith and worship, and a person so completely and in every sense divine that He could say, “I and the Father are one.”

This, indeed, is astounding.  But even more amazing is this:  the writer of the book accepts all of these claims as being true!  Who is this author who demonstrates such startling gullibility?  

Introduction to John’s Gospel

The author.  Is he a total stranger, living in a country far removed from the scenes he describes, writing many years after the events, so that the “hero” of the story has by gradual stages become a miracle-worker, and then, as the laws of legend will have it, at length been transformed into a god?  Not at all!  Quite the contrary!  While the author probably wrote his Gospel from what is now Turkey rather than from Jerusalem, and while he wrote it at least thirty years after the fact, he was an eyewitness of virtually all the events he describes.  

Nor was he simply one of the crowd; he was one of Jesus’ twelve closest followers.  And within that group he belonged to the inner circle of three.  And of that inner circle he was Jesus’ most intimate friend, identified five times in the book as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 21:20). No human being knew Jesus better than he.  For 3 1/2 years he walked with Him from day to day, so that he had ample opportunity to observe His character faults and personality defects, had there been any.   At the Last Supper he reclined next to Jesus.  He stood by His cross.  He entered His tomb.  And yet he does not shrink from proclaiming Him to be God in flesh.

The author of the Gospel, if you hadn’t guessed it yet, is the Apostle John.  I state that as a fact because the evidence for his authorship is really quite overwhelming, though he is not named anywhere in the book.  Most likely he fails to mention his own name simply in the interest of modesty, not a quality well-known among modern authors. 

The purpose of the Fourth Gospel.  Here we find ourselves in an almost humorous situation.  Literally hundreds, maybe thousands of pages have been written by scholars trying to determine the purpose of the Gospel of John.  I have personally found proposals of at least a dozen different purposes in the books I have read.  And all of that in spite of the fact that the purpose is more clearly stated than that of any other Bible book.  Turn to John 20:30-31 for what John himself states as his purpose:  “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  

The purpose is clearly evangelism—that people might believe.  John has not tried to write an impartial history; rather he is avowedly out to win converts.  That does not mean he has juggled the facts but simply that he hasn’t attempted to write as an indifferent bystander.  He is writing, not as a news reporter, but rather as an editorial commentator.

That word “believe,” used twice in John’s purpose statement, bears a little closer examination.  To John belief does not refer to mere intellectual assent, nor is it a leap in the dark, something divorced from evidence.  Belief is faith in something, or someone, based on evidence, and then acting upon it.  In this case John singles out two truths deserving of belief.  One is that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the one appointed to be the Savior of mankind.  The other is that He is the Son of God. And John will pile evidence upon evidence to convince his readers.  If you are one who has assumed that Jesus was just a man, albeit an unusually good man, then the Gospel of John was written particularly for you.  

But believing these two things about Jesus is not an end in itself.  John’s wish is not merely that we change our minds about who Jesus is, but that “believing we may have life in his name.”  His point seems to be that we can exist apart from Jesus Christ, but we cannot really live.

The unique emphases of the Gospel of John.  A natural question to ask is “Why four Gospels?  Why not just one?” And the simplest answer is that all four emphasize different things.  We don’t have time to do a full comparison and contrast of the Gospels this morning, but we can briefly mention a few of the unique emphases of this one.  Because of the evangelistic purpose of this Gospel, it is not hard to understand why there would be an emphasis, first of all, on …

1.  The word “believe.”  This term is used more frequently in John’s Gospel than in any other book in the Bible—about 100 times.

2.  Another emphasis is “life,” and this term is closely connected to “believe.”  True life is a gift of God, granted when a person believes in the Son of God.  We don’t have to wait for eternal life until we die—He gives eternal life now, for eternal life is a quality of life that partakes of eternal dimensions.  John uses the term “life” more than twice as often as any other NT writer.

3.  A third emphasis is the contrast between light and darkness.  John uses the term “light” 23 times, more than double its usage in any other NT book. “Darkness” is used 14 times, more than any other writer.  It is most interesting, as we will see, that “darkness” is generally used, not of rank paganism but rather of respectable, cultured religiosity.  The most religious people in the NT, the Scribes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, were the ones most deeply ensnared in the web of spiritual darkness.

4.  Fourthly, there is an emphasis in John on the discourses of Christ.  Most of the verbal teaching of Jesus recorded by John is not found in the other three Gospels.  In contrast, the parables of Christ, which play such a prominent role in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are not found in John.  The discourses he records are full of deep theology, and the assimilation of them will give us insight into the mind of our Lord which we could gain in no other way. 

The content of the Gospel of John is divided into four major witnesses concerning Jesus.  First, we have the introductory witness—that of John the Author, that of John the Baptizer, and that of Jesus’ first disciples.  Secondly, there is the public witness through seven great miracles and seven public discourses.  The miracles are: 

changing of water into wine, 

healing of the nobleman’s son, 

healing of the lame man, 

feeding of the multitude, 

walking on the water, 

healing of the man born blind, 

and the raising of Lazarus. 

The seven discourses concerned: 

the new birth, 

the water of life, 

the divine Son, 

the bread of life, 

the life-giving Spirit, 

the light of the world, 

and the good Shepherd.  

Thirdly, we have the private witness of Jesus to His own inner circle of disciples by means of the Upper Room Discourse in chapters 13-16 and His high-priestly prayer in chapter 17.  And fourthly, there is the final witness of Jesus in His death and resurrection (chapters 18-20), with special attention given to His arrest, His trials, His crucifixion, and His resurrection.  The final chapter is an epilogue which shares some moving scenes from the post-resurrection ministry of Jesus just prior to His ascension.  

Now everything so far this morning has been introductory to the whole book of John.  I wish to take the remainder of our time to examine the prologue to the Gospel—the first five verses of chapter one.  Please give attention to the Word of God as found in John 1:1-5: 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

If the whole purpose of this Gospel is to stimulate faith in the Person of Jesus Christ, then it is not surprising that the author begins with four great affirmations concerning the absolute pre-eminence of Jesus:  He is the Word, He is God, He is the Creator, and He is the Light.  Let’s examine each of these in turn as we look at the prologue of John’s Gospel.   

The Prologue:  the absolute pre-eminence of Jesus (1-5)

Jesus is the Word.  (1)  Should there be any doubt that the Word here is Jesus, that doubt is erased in verse 14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”  Much has been made over the deep philosophical meaning behind the statement that Jesus is the Word (in Greek, logos).  Some theologians have attempted to trace the significance of this term back to the ancient Greek philosophers, but I believe that in their search for the profound they have missed the obvious.  What is a word?  A word is the means whereby a person reveals what he is thinking.  What then is the Word of God?  It is the revelation to us of what God is thinking.  The Bible is the Word of God written.  Jesus is the Word of God living.  When John calls Him “the Word,” he is telling us that God hasn’t chosen to reveal Himself as mere information, as so much data.  He has chosen to reveal Himself in a person, and that person is Jesus.  

I would not suggest, however, that John was unaware of the philosophical meaning of logos.  In fact, I believe it is with a stroke of divine genius that he seizes upon this term, in effect saying, “Listen, you Greeks, the very thing that has occupied your philosophical thought, and about which you have all been writing for centuries—the Logos of God—has come to earth as a man and we have seen him.”

Our second affirmation, and clearly the most important is that …

Jesus is God.  (1-2) This is probably the single most important theological statement separating orthodox Christianity from non-Christian religions (like Islam and Hinduism), from major cults (like Jehovah’s Witness and Christian Science), from popular heresies (like Scientology and New Age), and even from some mainline denominations.  The question before us this morning is simply this: Does the Gospel of John teach that Jesus is God—not merely divine but actual deity?  I believe the question can be answered with a resounding “yes.”  The first evidence is right here in verse 1.  The Word was not only there when everything began; He was not only with God; THE WORD WAS GOD!

Perhaps you are aware there is a version of the Bible called the New World Translation, published by a religious group which denies the deity of Christ.  In that version John 1:1 reads, “And the Word was a god.”  They justify the rendering on the basis that in the original Greek there is no “the” in front of the term “God.”  This, however, is a serious misunderstanding of Greek grammar.  The simple fact is there is not a reputable Greek scholar anywhere who will argue for their translation. Clearly the best way to translate the words are as found here—”and the Word was God.”

If John 1:1 was the only verse in the fourth Gospel which affirmed Jesus’ deity, we’d still have enough evidence to accept it, for this one passage is perfectly clear. But it is not the only one, and I think it would be well for us to look quickly at two others this morning.  The first of these is found is 5:18.  We’ll be looking at this passage in some detail several months from now, but let’s just note it in passing. Jesus has just healed the lame man at Bethesda, and the Pharisees are going bananas because He did it on the Sabbath.  We read in verse 16 of chapter 5:

“So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him.  Jesus said to them, ‘My father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.’  For this reason, the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” 

Please note something very interesting here:  the Jews who were present all interpreted Jesus’ actions and words as a claim to equality with God.  Yet many liberal scholars and cultists have the gall to say Jesus never claimed to be God.  The people who were there sure thought He did.  Do these 20th century skeptics somehow have greater insight into the meaning of His words than the original participants?

Next, turn to John 10:30.  Jesus has just made the astounding claim, “I and the Father are One.”  The heretics and cultists of our day are quick to tell us that “one” can mean “one in goal and purpose” and that Jesus is making no claim to a unity in essence with the Father.  But once again I prefer to understand Him the way His listeners understood Him, and verse 31 tells us, “The Jews took up stones again to stone Him.”  Is that an appropriate action for even hate-crazed people to take against a dreamer if all he is claiming is that his will is in tune with God’s will?  Hardly, and in fact verses 32-33 prove that was not their interpretation of His words:  “But Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many great miracles from the Father.  For which of these do you stone me?’  ‘We are not stoning you for any of these,’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.'”

Now we could examine many similar claims in John and in other parts of the NT, but these should suffice to cement in our minds that the Apostle is teaching that Jesus is God!  If so, it should be no surprise that verse 2 offers us an important companion truth, namely that Jesus pre-existed His own conception!  Jesus is unique in that He is the only individual who did not come into existence when conceived in His mother’s womb.  You and I began our existence—body, soul, and spirit—at the moment of conception.  That our physical bodies began then would be doubted by no one, but I believe even the immaterial part of us—our soul, spirit, mind, emotions, etc.—began then.  I reject the notion that some theologians offer to the effect that God has a soul bank up in Heaven, from which He deposits a soul into each fertilized human egg.  On the contrary, all that we are came into existence at the moment of conception.  

But not so with Jesus.  While His human body originated in His mother’s womb, that is not the case regarding His soul or spirit.  Since He was God, His spiritual nature existed from eternity past, and was joined to the tiny zygote that began growing in Mary’s womb in that miraculous event we call the Incarnation—God Himself taking on human flesh.  It took a virgin birth for this to happen.

Our first indication of Jesus’ pre-existence is in the very first phrase of John’s Gospel:  “In the beginning was the Word….”  It doesn’t take a genius to observe the intended parallel here to the opening words of Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  John is writing about a new spiritual beginning for mankind, so he uses words which call to mind the first beginning.  (And, incidentally, he also uses a number of other words which are found in that original account, like “life” and “light” and “darkness”).

Now thinking back to Gen. 1:1, is that verse stating that God came into existence at that time?  Or is it stating that in the beginning, whenever that was, God was already there?  Well, virtually everyone agrees that the latter is intended—namely that God is eternal.  Why then should we interpret it any differently when John 1:1 says, “in the beginning was the Word?”  The Apostle is conveying that there never was a time when the Word did not exist—He is eternal.  And, as if John wonders whether we caught his meaning in verse 1, he repeats the same truth in verse 2: “He was in the beginning with God.”  The term “with” denotes relationship and fellowship, and it indicates that God is more than a single person.  Of course, as we examine the rest of the Scripture, we discover that God exists in three persons, a Trinity.  He has always existed that way.  

Jesus is God and He therefore pre-existed His life here on earth.  Now our third affirmation is a logical deduction from the second, namely that since He is God …

Jesus is the Creator.  (3) Look at verse 3:  “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”  Gen. 1:1 makes it clear that “God created the Heavens and the earth.”  If Jesus is God, then it’s perfectly consistent for John to say that Jesus also is the Creator.  But there’s more to his affirmation than that.  The self-communication of God occurred initially in creation.  If Jesus is the Word, the epitome of God’s communication, it is only to be expected that He would also be the principal agent of creation.  

The truth of Jesus’ part in creation is stated both positively and negatively in verse 3.  By the way, earlier in our service we read from Colossians 1, where the Apostle Paul agrees with John:  “For by him (i.e., Jesus Christ) all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through him and for him.”  

And let me add further that if Jesus is the Creator of all things, then organic evolution cannot adequately explain the origin of the earth or the stars or mankind.  It may offer a partial explanation of some of the changes and development we see in geology and paleontology and biology, but it cannot explain origins.  Yet if you go to the zoo, or pick up a National Geographic, or watch any science documentary on TV, you get the distinct impression that organic evolution is the universally accepted explanation of all there is, except for those few “fundamentalist loonies” who continue to hold to a doctrine of creationism in the face of scientific proof otherwise.  

Despite this liberal propaganda we are faced with constantly, I would simply point out that you can’t have it both ways.  You can’t accept what the Gospel of John says about Jesus as Savior and still reject what it says about Jesus as Creator.  If John is mistaken about the latter, how can we trust him to tell us the truth about the former?

I’m not going to speak further about creationism today because two weeks from now we are honored to have a guest speaker, Dr. Walter Brown, who will demonstrate that it is simply not true that all eminent scientists scoff at the idea of special creation.  He will be speaking morning and evening, showing us there is good scientific reason to believe what John says here about Jesus Christ as the Creator.  Finally, John tells us that …

Jesus is the Light.  (4-5).  Look again at verses 4-9:  

“In him was life, and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.  There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.  He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.  The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” 

The Apostle here is preparing us for the thought he will develop throughout his Gospel, namely that Jesus is the life-bringer and the light-bearer.  Twice later in this Gospel Jesus Himself claims, “I am the light of the world.”

Again, I want to recall to your mind the words of Genesis 1:  “Let there be light.”  Similarly, in John 1 the Word is the source of light.  Every human being, according to verse 9, has been touched by the light.  Some men have run back into their cave of darkness.  Others have put on blindfolds.  Still others wear sunglasses.  But each has received enough illumination from the Word, from Jesus Christ, that they are without excuse (Rom. 1:28) for their refusal to bow down and acknowledge Him as Lord.  They have received some light from nature, some from the conscience that God has placed within every person, some from tradition, and some from direct teaching. 

It’s common for people who hear the Gospel for the first time to question whether those in less developed countries have received enough light to know the truth, and then to wonder about God’s fairness should those same people be judged for their unbelief.  I think there are legitimate issues to discuss here, and I would be most happy to discuss them with anyone, but my concern this morning is to ask you, “What have you done with the light you have received?”  Probably every man, woman, and child in this room has received 100 times as much light as the average pagan in Asia, Africa, or South America.  And if Scripture tells us those people are without excuse, what sort of explanation do you think you will give to God as you stand at the judgment?  By virtue of your attendance at this service alone, you have heard the Good News that Jesus, the Son of God, came to save sinners by dying in their place.  He calls upon all to repent and believe on His name.  

Conclusion:  We have seen four tremendous affirmations about Jesus that establish Him as absolutely pre-eminent.  Jesus is the Word, He is God, He is the Creator, and He is the Light.  May I remind you that these are not mere theological propositions which one should memorize; they are not just a creed that every good Christian should be able to defend.  What we have been talking about here is intensely personal and practical.  Jess Moody expresses his disdain for a lot of theological reasoning when he writes, “While we have resolved, resoluted, amended and where-as’ed, wrestling with theological issues, Bob, Mary, Sally and Billy have gone without any sure word from the Lord concerning the heartbreaking disintegration of their little home.”[iii]  

Frankly, these affirmations about Jesus have a great deal to do with marriage and career and hope and eternity.  They were written that you might believe and that believing you might have life in Jesus’ name.  And why do you need life?  Because you were stillborn, spiritually speaking, when you entered this world, and you need forgiveness for your sins and new life by faith in Jesus—real life, spiritual life, eternal life.  

There is an old story that R. Moffat Gantrey used to tell.  In an Oxfordshire village an old saint lay dying.  For over eighty years she had trusted Jesus on her spiritual pilgrimage, until her face had grown bright with heaven’s approaching glory.  A priest, under the misapprehension that none of his parishioners could find access to heaven unless he unlocked the gate, called to visit her.  “Madam,” he said, “I have come to grant you absolution.”  And she in her simplicity, not knowing what the word “absolution” even meant, inquired, “What is that?”  “I have come to forgive your sins,” was the reply.  “May I look into your hand?” she answered.  Gazing for a moment into the hand of the priest, she turned and looked him squarely in the face and said, “Sir!  You are an imposter.”  “Imposter!?!” the scandalized cleric protested. “Yes, sir, an imposter!  The One who forgives my sin has a nailprint in His palm.” 

“These things are written that you may believe, and that believing you may have life in His name.”  His and His alone.

DATE: September 20, 1992






Deity of Christ


[i] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, 7.

[ii] Ibid, 7.

[iii] Jess Moody, A Drink at Joel’s Place.