Chapter 1

 

Christ the Eternal Word

1:1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God.

 

This verse immediately takes us back to “the beginning”. What does “the beginning” mean? It is the beginning of time; so that whoever was there at the beginning existed before time began, and indeed created time (Gen. 1:1). At the very commencement of his gospel, John refers to the days of eternity, when nothing existed except God  There has never been a time when God did not exist (Psa. 90:2).  Even if we were not familiar with this fact, John spells it out for us here: God existed in the beginning.

But that is not the only point of the verse. Notice, “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God.” There was someone else with God in the beginning. This person must be as eternal as God is and so must be equal to God. He is described by John as “the Word”, he is also described as “the Son”, and later in this chapter is identified as the Lord Jesus Christ.

Not only was the Word with God in the beginning, the word was God. This introduces the teaching of the trinity, which John expounds in his first epistle (1 John 5:7). Jesus introduced the nature of God to His disciples, that He is one God in three persons: “the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).

When St. Patrick was asked by the Irish, “are there three Gods or only one?” he took a shamrock, showed it to them, and declared, “the shamrock has three petals, but it is only one shamrock. So there are three persons in the Godhead, but only one God”.

 

1:2. The Word was with God in the beginning.

 

John emphasises that although the Lord Jesus Christ was Himself God, yet he was with God, the Father in the beginning. None of the members of the trinity exist on his own, but are entirely interdepedent. The Son shares his self existence with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

 

1:3. All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.

 

John gives further testimony to the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ is equal with God. Not only was He with God in the beginning (meaning that He is eternal), but also since “all things were made by Him”, He is the Creator. It is accepted that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. The Lord Jesus, the Word of God, was the agent in that creation (Gen. 1:1-3). God the Father spoke, it was the Living Word who performed the action as the Holy Spirit moved in power on the face of the waters. All three members of the Godhead are equally credited with the act of creation, acting in unison. The words “without Him nothing was made that was made” clearly indicate that Christ Himself was not a created being.

 

Christ the Light of Life

1:4. In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind.

 

Vincent says that John’s thoughts here “move from the creation of the world in general to the creation of man specifically”. We may recall how God made man in the beginning. Having completed the heavens and the earth, the sun, and the moon, all the land, plants, and animals, fish, and birds, God had one more thing to do. He formed man’s boidy from the dust of the ground and, in a way which was unique to the creation of man, God imparted His own life into man by breathing into his nostrils so that the man became a living being, just as God is a living being. God in this sense made man in his own image, to share His life. .Man has no life other than that which is given by God. All that we have and are comes from God, and this is the force of John’s words here, “in Him was life”. Life was never ours, but always His; yet it is His gift to us. It is becuase man shares God’s life that he may have fellowship with God. When God later made woman from man, in the same image as man, she derived her life from man, God’s life. God did not need to breath again into Eve, for He had breathed His life to Adam for the whole human race. God has no need to breath into every baby that is born; each baby receives its life from its parents. This does not detract from the fact that God is the Creator; His one act of creation in the beginning being sufficient for the procreation of the race. The life that Christ imparted to man was the light of men. This is not natural light but the faculty of being a living being, the faculty of being able to understand and know God, to discern right from wrong. This is the light, given to man by the special impartation of divine life, which raises man above the lower order of creation and gives him dignity as a son of God (Adam is called the son of God in Luke 3:38) “When Christ, the word, breathed into man the breath of life and he became a living soul, he filled him with rational light and knowledge. Adam had a knowledge of God; his being & perfections; of the persons in the Trinity; of his relation to God, dependence on him, and obligation to him; of his mind and will and knew what it was to have communion with him.” (Gill)

 

1:5. And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it.

 

So what has happened between v4 and v5? A tremendous calamity! From the light given to man, John turns his attention to the darkness that is in man. If light is the knowledge of God then darkness is the willful ignorance of God. It began in Eden, where man thought to be wiser than God and disobeyed him. Ever since man opened the door to sin within his own nature, he has willfully tried to expunge the knowledge of God from his being (Rom. 1:18-21 ; Rom. 1:28). God said to Adam that on the day of his disobedience he would surely die, and mankind still remains in a state of spiritual death (Eph. 2:1). The image of God is us has been marred by sin; and this state of spiritual death is the darkness John speaks of. Being willfully ignorant of God, we are his enemies by our wicked actions, and separated from the life of God which he intended us to share (see Eph. 4:8 and Col. 2:21). Not only so, but unsaved man is influenced by evil powers greater than himself, for he walks according to the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2.2). This is the extent of the darkness in the human life. But there is good news; for although man is in this fallen state, God’s light shines on in the darkness. In Jesus Christ a light has been revealed which shows us as a way to escape from the darkness of sin and once more share the light of God’s image and glory. Tragically, such is the sinful condition of man’s heart that when this light was manifested did not understand or recognize it. The reason why John wrote his gospel is that we might know that Christ has come to give us light and to bring us back to God (Luke 1:78-79; Luke 2:29-32).

 

John the Witness

 

1:6-7. A man came, sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that everyone might believe through him.

 

God sent them a witness to tell men about the light that was coming into the world. It is no marvel that God sent them a sinful, human messenger, for who better to show other sinners their need of a Saviour. God’s intention was that through John the Baptist's testimony, all men might believe on the Lord Jesus and be saved.

 

1:8. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify about the light.

 

John is careful to point out that John the Baptist was not the Light, but that he merely bore witness to the Light.

 

1:9. The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

 

John refers to Christ as the true Light, to be fully trusted. He came to bring light to every one who has ever been or will be born in the world. This statement reveals that Christ is the only way to life; there is no other way to God (John 14:6).

 

1:10. He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him.

 

At the time of John the Baptist's ministry Jesus was already in the world. Even though He had made the world, the entire population of the human would have gone on without recognizing him unless He were in some way introduced to them; as he was by John, by God’s own testimony and by the miracles He did as recorded in John’s Gospel. and so on. Man is so far from God that God is a stranger to him; and God condescends to reveal Himself to men through His Son Jesus Christ.

 

1:11. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him.

 

The world was His, but in a particular way, the nation of Israel was His, for God had set them apart from all others to be His own people. John’s point is that even they did not welcome or receive Him. Although they possessed the extra light of Divine revelation given through the prophets, they still rejected Him. John does not intend to imply that Israel was worse than any other nation; but rather their rejection of Christ demonstarets the complete and utter fall of humanity from God.

 

1:12-13. But to all who have received him — those who believe in his name — he has given the right to become God's children — children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband's decision, but by God.

 

But praise God, even if the majority of people rejected Him, there were still those (even in Israel) who did receive him! John defines “receiving Christ” as believing or trusting in Him. All are free to choose to believe, but only those who do so are born of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. So the synopsis of this first chapter is clear. God made man to share His image and glory, but man fell from that privileged position because of his sin. The Lord Jesus Christ (the Light of Life) has come into the world to bring us back to God and restore in us His nature and glory. This work is wrought in those who receive Him, as by faith become children of God. Paul describes this as “regeneration of the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:5).  This new birth does not depend on a persons ancestry, nor his human effort. It is an act of God, performed by Him when a person trusts in Jesus Christ.

 

The Word Made Flesh

 

1:14. Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory — the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father.

 

Unlike Matthew and Luke, John does not go into the details of the virgin birth of Christ. He rather explains that He who was God and who was equal with God, became flesh. The word “became” can mean “to be married”; and in this context it denotes the unity of two natures, God and man. Jesus Christ was fully human and yet fully God; the two natures being perfectly united together. John could honestly say that Jesus lived among us and we saw His glory. Christ’s glory shone through again and again in the events which John witnessed: His calming of the storm, walking on water, changing water into wine, healing the sick, rasing of the dead, in his transfiguration, and chiefly in His own resurrection. John records all these events in His Gospel so that others might believe (John 20:30-31). His glory was the glory of the Son of God, who had come from the Father, full of grace and truth. Westcott says “grace corresponds with the revelation of God as Love and Truth with the revelation of God as Light.” Christ came to forgive man without condoning sin in man. He came to bring salvation without ignoring the justice of God. As Paul says, He provided a way in which God “might be just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-26 ; Psa. 85:10).

 

The Word Made Fulness

 

1:15. John testified about him and shouted out, "This one was the one about whom I said, 'He who comes after me is greater than I am, because he existed before me.' "

 

John the Baptist testified that Jesus was the Son of God. John the apostle had been one of the Baptist’s followers this is how he had first learned of Jesus.

 

1:16. For we have all received from his fullness one gracious gift after another.

 

Everyone who receives Jesus Christ as their Saviour (and John includes himself among them) receives His fullness. All that He is is now ours (Col. 2:9-10).

 

When we receive Christ we receive all that he is. He is ours, we are his, and we feed on and rejoice in him evermore. How is this fulness received; on what basis is it bestowed? Not on the basis of works but by grace; for it is “grace upon grace”. All the blessings we receive in Christ are given freely to us without any merit on our part.

 

1:17. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ.

 

Christ is greater than Moses. Moses brought the law, God’s holy standard, which showed man his sin but gave him no power to change. Jesus Christ brought grace and truth by which man is brought back into a right relationship with God, justified from the law’s demands and by the indwelling spirit is enabled to live a life that is pleasing to God.

 

1:18. No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known.

 

There has never been a person in the history of the world who has ever seen God. God is Spirit, and invisible. Not even the angels have ever seen Him. But there was One who knew the invisible God so well that when he became man he could speak from his own experience about God. He came from the bosom of the Father, being essentially one in nature with him. This is the One whom John has introduced us to in the prologue - the Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God.

 

The Voice in the Wilderness

 

These verses are a record of the witness John gave to the Priests and Levites that were sent from Jerusalem.

 

1:19. Now this was John's testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?"

 

The fame of John the Baptist had spread from Galilee throughout all Judea and to Jerusalem (Matt.3:5).   On hearing the substance of John’s fiery preaching and that he was baptising people in water the Sanhedrin sent priests and Levites to determine whether he was the Christ, the anointed one of God, that had been promised to them (Luke 3:15). Notice that they were very cautious in what they asked him. They did not directly ask if he was the Christ but “who are you” for John was very cutting in his remarks to the Pharisees and Sadducess that had come to see him (Matt. 3:7 ; Luke 3:7).

 

1:20. He confessed — he did not deny but confessed — "I am not the Christ!"

 

John did not refuse to answer but openly acknowledge that he was not the Christ.

 

1:21. So they asked him, "Then who are you? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not!" "Are you the Prophet?" He answered, "No!"

 

They further questioned him in an argumentative manner if he was the prophet Elijah. Undoubtedly they had the prophecy of Malachi in mind (Mal.4:5). He answered them “no”.

 

1:22. Then they said to him, "Who are you? Tell us so that we can give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?"

 

They were still not satisfied with his answers for he had not yet told them who he was and they had to report back to their superiors.   So they asked him to give an account of himself.

 

1:23. John said, "I am the voice of one shouting in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way for the Lord,'  as Isaiah the prophet said."

 

John had no doubts as to who he was and quotes from Isaiah the prophet that he was the one spoken of as being the forerunner or herald of the Christ (Isa. 40:3).  The one who would prepare the way for the people to receive the Lord.

 

1:24. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees

 

Those who were sent to question John were of the Pharisees who composed a great part of the Sanhedrin.  

 

1:25. So they asked John, "Why then are you baptizing if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?"

 

It was not the practice for Jews to be Baptist in water only those Gentiles who had embraced the Jewish religion.   What the Pharisees were in fact saying to John was that if he is not the Christ or the prophet Elijah what authority did has he in changing the religious customs by baptising Jews.

 

The Humility of John the Baptist

 

1:26. John answered them, "I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not recognize

 

John told them that he did indeed baptise with water and then immediately turns their attention from himself to focus it upon One who was standing amongst them that they did not yet know. Jesus had not revealed himself to them at this time.  Although not stated in this verse the inference is that the One who stood amongst them would baptise them with something more than water (Matt. 3:11). John clearly says in verse 33 that  he would baptise them with the Holy Spirit.

 

1:27. Who is coming after me. I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandal!"

 

Although John came before the Lord Jesus Christ in time he did not in position. It was the menial task of a slave to undo the thongs that kept sandals on the feet of their masters. Although John was well known and honoured by many people he accounted himself as not good enough to even untie the sandals of Christ.   Such was the greatness of his humility.

 

1:28. These things happened in Bethany across the Jordan River where John was baptizing.

 

All these things were done in a place called Bethany on the east side of the river Jordan. Nearly all the best ancient manuscripts have Bethany and not Bethabara: this is not the Bethany just outside Jerusalem where Lazarus lived.

 

The Testimony of John

 

1:29. On the next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

 

The day following Jesus came to John as he was baptising in the Jordan and the moment he saw Him the Holy Spirit within John confirmed that Jesus was the Christ (Luke 1:15). John indentifies Him to the crowds as “the Lamb of God”. The people would understand what John was saying for they were accustomed to the daily offering of a lamb morning and evening in the Temple (Ex. 29:38-39) also in keeping the Passover; although they would not accept that the Messiah would be “led as a lamb to the slaughter” (Isa. 53:7). He further declares Him to be the One who “takes away the sin of the world”. While the Jews were familiar with a lamb being offered for their sins the idea of One being offered to take away the sin of the world was beyond them.    Later in His ministry Jesus would declare that it was because God so loved the world that He gave His Son (John 3:16). First of all then John bore testimony that Jesus Christ was the one who would give his life upon the cross as a sacrifice for rhe sin of the world, for your sin and mine.

 

1:30. This is the one about whom I said, 'After me comes a man who is greater than I am, because he existed before me.'

 

He confirms that this is the one he meant when he said that someone greater than he was amongst them. In doing so he bears witness to the pre-eminence of Christ, that He is far above all (Eph.1:21 and Col. 1:18). He also testifies to the pre-existence of Christ as the apostle John has already said at the beginning of the chapter.

 

1:31. I did not recognize him, but I came baptizing with water so that he could be revealed to Israel."

 

Although John and Jesus were related (Mary and Elizabeth) he did not know him to be the Christ until Jesus came to be baptised by him. The reason why John was baptising the people was in preparation for the revealing of the Messiah to the people of Israel.

 

1:32. Then John testified, "I saw the Spirit descending like a dove from heaven, and it remained on him.

 

He continues to give a witness that he saw the Holy Spirit came down on Jesus in the shape of a dove and remained upon Him (Mark 1:10).

 

1:33. And I did not recognize him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'The one on whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining — this is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.'

 

He again states that he did not know or recognise that Jesus was the Christ until this happened but that God who had sent him to baptise in water told him that the one whom he saw the Holy Spirit descend and remain upon He is the Christ, the Anointed One (Isa. 61:1). This is the One will not baptise those who have received Him as their Saviour in the Holy Ghost.

 

1:34. And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.

 

Finally John bears record that he saw this happen and testifies that Jesus is the Son of God even as the voice from heaven declared (Matt. 3:17).

 

A Personal Introduction to Christ

1:35-36. Again the next day John was standing there with two of his disciples. Gazing at Jesus as he walked by, he said, "Look, the Lamb of God!"

 

The day after John had identified Jesus as the Lamb of God, some time after Christ’s baptism and temptation, John again saw Jesus walking by. As he stood with two of his disciples he once more said “Look! The Lamb of God!” John was deliberately trying to draw their attention to Jesus as the one whom they should follow from then on. John’s work was done as he pointed all men to the Saviour.

 

1:37. When John's two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.

 

These two disciples heard John and so followed after Jesus. One of them was certainly Andrew, the other is likely to be John.

 

A Personal Invitation from Christ

1:38. Jesus turned around and saw them following and said to them, "What do you want?" So they said to him, "Rabbi" (which is translated Teacher), "where are you staying?"

 

Jesus knows all things and so knew the hearts of Andrew and John, yet he turns to ask them, “What are you looking for?” Christ draws us to himself. Andrew and John were looking for him, so they answered “teacher, where are you staying?” The disciples saw the need of a teacher who would instruct them in the things of God. They would find out that Jesus was more than a teacher.

 

1:39. Jesus answered, "Come and you will see." So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. Now it was about four o'clock in the afternoon

 

Christ invites them to join him that they might see where he lived. It must have been wonderful to have a private interview with Jesus. Commentators disagree as to whether the text means they stayed until 4pm, or stayed the night for it was already 4pm. Either way, they were doing something of greatest importance to us all - getting to know Jesus. We too should make sure that we spend time with Jesus, getting to know him by praying and reading his word and by fellowship with other Christians.

 

Jesus does not simply call us to live a certain way of life - he calls us to come to him. His invitation is for everyone (Matt. 11:28). Jesus does not force himself on His disciples. As they seek, so he draws them to himself by question and invitation. Not only has Christ given an invitation to all, He will receive all who come to Him (John 6:37).

 

A Personal Invitation to Christ

1:40-41. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two disciples who heard what John said and followed Jesus. He first found his own brother Simon and told him, "We have found the Messiah!" (which is translated Christ).

 

The very next day Andrew went to find his brother Simon to tell him, “We have found the Christ!” Telling others about Jesus is so simple. We don’t have to wait and learn a lot before we can do that. Andrew did it straight away. There is no time to be lost if we are to tell others about Jesus. Peter was ready to listen.

 

1:42. Andrew brought Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon, the son of John. You will be called Cephas" (which is translated Peter).

 

He allows Andrew to lead him to Jesus. Simon’s first meeting with Christ is remarkable. Without ever having met before, Jesus reveals to Simon that he knows his name and all about him. Yet he will change his name, for he would make a new man of him. Simon son of John would become Peter, a son of God, whose name means Rock, strong and like his Saviour the eternal rock (Hab. 1:12).

 

A Powerful Indication of Christ

1:43. On the next day Jesus wanted to set out for Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me."

 

The day after, Jesus wanted to return to Galilee, and went out to find Philip, another of John’s disciples (Acts 1:21-22) to call him to follow him. Jesus would repeat this call to the others whom He chose to be his disciples, including Peter and Andrew (Matt. 4:19), James and John (Matt. 4:21-22) and Matthew (Matt. 9:9). In fact Jesus calls all of us to follow Him (Matt. 16:24).

 

1:44-45. (Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter.) Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law, and the prophets also wrote about — Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.

 

Philip was from the same town as Andrew and Simon, Bethsaida. It is likely that Philip went to see Nathaniel (also called Bartholomew) when he arrived back in Galilee with Jesus, for Nathaniel lived in Cana, and the next chapter depicts Jesus and his disciples being in that city. Philip had obviously been instructed in the Messianic prophecies of the old testament - probably by John the Baptist. When he finds Nathaniel he tells him "We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote--Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.

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1:46 Nathaniel replied, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip replied, "Come and see.

 

Nathaniel is skeptical. “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Obviously the town was not well thought of. Nathaniel's opinion was almost correct, for we see by their reaction to the Lord Jesus Christ in what kind of people they were (Luke 4:28-29). But there was at least one good thing to come out of Nazareth. Philip's answer is simple, “Come and see for yourself.” It is never enough to hear about Jesus from others, we must come and meet him for ourselves.

 

1:47. Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and exclaimed, "Look, a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit!"

 

As Nathaniel approached, the Lord Jesus who knows all men reveals to Nathaniel that He knew all about his heart. He describes him as a true son of Israel, in whose spirit was no guile, that is nothing pretended. Nathaniel was a man to speak his mind, whether he offended others or not.

 

1:48. Nathanael asked him, "How do you know me?" Jesus replied, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you."

 

Nathaniel knew Christ’s assessment of him was true, so he asks, “How do you know me?” Jesus’ reply again reveals a knowledge which can only be possessed by God himself. “I saw you when you were still under the fig tree, before Philip called you.” How could he see that? He was miles away at the time! He did not see it as man, but as God, through the Holy Spirit, he knew it.

 

1:49. Nathanael answered him, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel!"

 

This was evidence enough for Nathaniel. He is only the second person, after John the Baptist, recorded to have recognized Christ as the Son of God and the rightful King of Israel, in other words the Saviour God promised to David - the Messiah or Christ (2 Sam. 7:12-13).

 

1:50-51. Jesus said to him, "Because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these." He continued, "I tell all of you the solemn truth — you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."

 

Jesus was delighted with Nathaniel's faith. Indeed to find such faith in Israel was not usual. Since Nathaniel had believed on such little evidence, he would be privileged to see far greater evidence of Christ’s divinity. It is possible that Jesus literally meant that he would see heaven open and the angels of God coming and going as they ministered to Jesus. But it may have another meaning. Christ is making reference to the time when Nathaniel's' ancestor Jacob dreamt of a ladder fixed between earth and heaven on which the angels came and went as messengers from God. Christ is the One mediator between God and men and so is the channel of all God’s blessings (1 Tim. 2:5). Christ is heaven opened; He is the link between heaven and earth. Nathaniel would witness the evidence of this in Christ’s healing and deliverance ministry; in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection which brought us redemption and peace with God; in Christ’s victorious  return to heaven in a cloud of glory - accompanied by, though not assisted by, the angels of God. These are the greater things which Nathaniel became a witness. Go to John 2

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