A couple weeks ago I began to study the Gospel of John. My hope is to go through the entire book… entirely on my own (i.e. without a bible study book leading me)! It was a little overwhelming when I first started, and still is, but I have been so amazed with how God has led me through my study so far and taught me about his word. Seriously, what I discovered kind of blew my mind. Today, I’m excited to be sharing with you my breakdown of the very beginning of this gospel: John 1:1.
Setting the Stage: The Creation Account and the Gospel of John
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.John 1:1
Even if you are only remotely familiar with your Bible, the first three words of John 1:1 should be ringing a major familiarity bell right now. Like, MAJOR.
Because not only are these words the opening words of the Gospel of John, but they are also the opening words of the entire bible and belong to probably the very first verse you memorized as a toddler. That’s right, those words also belong to the famous, ever familiar Genesis 1:1.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
The fact that these two verses begin the exact same way is not a coincidence. John purposefully began his book that way because he wanted his reader’s minds to instantly jump to the cataclysmic creation account that kicks off the rest of the Bible story. Why? Because in this opening section of scripture, we are introduced to the main character of the Bible story.
More specifically, God the Father creating the heavens and the earth, and (from verse 2) the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters. Right smack dab at the beginning of the story, we’ve already been introduced to the first two members of the Holy Trinity. But here’s what’s really interesting: The introductions stop there. The creation account continues, with God speaking light, the sky and sea, dry land, and everything else that we are familiar with as being a part of planet earth into existence. There’s absolutely no mention of a third member of the trinity being there at the beginning of time. Where is God the Son? John 1:1 answers that question for us.
John starts his book by saying: “In the beginning was the Word.” Not too much later in John’s book, we learn that the Word is actually Jesus himself– the Son of God, the third member of the Trinity who was “missing” from the creation account in Genesis.
God the Son was there. He was with God (in addition to that other confusing part inherent in the doctrine of the trinity where he also was God, but, you know, while still being his own separate person). In fact, verse three reveals that God the Son, or the Word, wasn’t only there, but he had a central role in creation. In fact, “all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). Okay, okay, I know I said I was only doing verse one but context is important! With just a few strokes of ink, John reveals that the whole person of God –the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit– were all present in eternity past and, in fact, all that was spoken into existence was done so through the Son to begin with.
So what’s John’s point?
Well, my friends, what you just witnessed was a masterful laying of the foundation to the argument for the deity of Christ– a major theme in the book as a whole.
The Deity of Christ
Through all of this “in the beginning” creation talk, John is unabashedly emphasizing the deity of the Word. The Word was in the beginning too. He had an intimate hand in creation. He is not just some new being on the scene who was willing to play a part in God’s plans for salvation. He is God, just as much as God the Father is God and the Holy Ghost is God.
This is important, because there’s some people out there who, though they may admit that Jesus was a real guy who had some wise sayings, say he wasn’t really God. Afterall, wouldn’t that be ridiculous (especially if you don’t believe that God exists in the first place)? But, you know, it doesn’t really matter that Jesus wasn’t God anyway, because all that stuff he said about love are good goals to shoot for!
Oh, but friends, don’t ever let ANYONE let you slip into that kind of thinking. If all Jesus was was some wise dude with good goals to shoot for, then you and I have been wasting our time and might as well burn our bibles and become Budhists, or better yet, Atheists. If all Jesus was was some random carpenter from Nazareth then there is absolutely no logical reason why anyone should devote their lives to following him. If Jesus is not God, then the claims he made are discredited, and the promises and joy he offered are void– and to listen to him would be the most foolish thing you could ever do.
But, if Jesus is God, then every single word he said cannot be ignored, no matter how much you may dislike it or how uncomfortable it makes you. If Jesus really is God, then there is no picking and choosing what parts of the Bible you are going to listen to and what parts you aren’t. You either take it all and believe, or you leave it all and go to hell.
The deity of Christ is central to the validity of the Gospel. Without it, there is no forgiveness of sins, no eternal life, and no joy and ultimate purpose fulfilled, because there is no power to forgive, no life to offer, and no purpose to be fulfilled other than being a generally nice person before you die and cease to exist.
This is why John gives so much emphasis to the deity Christ. Without it, the entire Gospel falls apart– but with it, an irrevocable foundation to our faith is laid. A foundation that cannot be torn asunder– not by a thousand demons, or a hundred doubts, or a nation and culture literally hell-bent on driving themselves into further and further immorality and the murder of the unborn.
The Meaning Behind the Name: Why Does John Call Jesus the Word?
Up to this point, we’ve ignored probably one of the most confusing parts of John 1:1 (at least, to me), and that’s John’s choice to call Jesus the Word. Why not just simply call him Jesus? Or Messiah? Or the Son of God or Christ? Or any of those other titles that most Bible readers are going to be a lot more familiar with? Why does John feel the need to pull out an entirely new name for Christ?
All good questions that come with a perfectly reasonable answer. Just like John uses the phrase “in the beginning” to teach his readers something important about the identity of Christ by bringing to mind the creation account, John’s identification of Jesus as the Word is meant to reveal important aspects of who Christ is by carrying with it some strong Genesis 1 overtones. So, the first question is, what are those overtones? What part(s) of the creation account is John trying to remind us of?
Well, what is a word? A word is something you say or speak. And what is God doing throughout almost all of Genesis 1? He’s speaking! In fact, the short phrase “and God said” shows up nine times in chapter one. So let’s look at what God’s speach or his word (hint, hint) do in chapter one and then compare them with what Christ is and does.
Okay, first, in the beginning, we see God’s Word taking something that was without form and void (v. 1) and making it into something tangible and physical. So, in what ways does this relate to Jesus and who he is? Well, Jesus is the incarnation of God, God in the flesh. So, Jesus, as the Word, or God’s Word, is the physical and tangible manifestation of the person of God who was previously without form –at least in the human sense– just like the world was at the beginning of time. That’s the first parallel. Without even having to say the word “incarnation,” John is already giving us hints as to the origin of Christ and how exactly he relates to God as a man.
Similarly, it was God’s speech, his word, that at the beginning of time took chaos and darkness and brought into it beautiful order and brilliant light. And guess what? In John 8:12 we learn that Jesus is the light of the world, and that whoever follows him “will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Jesus, God’s Word, came into the chaotic darkness of sin twisted humanity to bring light and order and life, just like God did through his words at the beginning of time. Jesus is the light of the world. He died on the cross, taking the punishment that every single one of us deserved for our rebellion against him, and then rose from the dead. By doing so, he made a way for all of us to be forgiven of our sins and enter into eternal life, which is not just going to heaven, but having a personal relationship with our Creator. See how much you can learn from just one name! John is able to pack so much meaning into a single word! There are so many riches to be found in the smallest details of scripture if we just look. And we’re not even done, there is still one more parallel that can be drawn from this unique name of Christ.
At the beginning of time, it was God’s word that was the catalyst of creation, just as Jesus, the Word, not only literally had a hand in creation himself, but also, by coming to earth, dying, and being raised again, set into motion the events that will lead to his second coming and the new creation of the world. That is the second part of the Gospel. Not only do we, in Christ, have forgiveness of sins and eternal life, but God has promised us that one day he will return and banish sin once and for all. For all those who believe in him, he will make for us a new and perfect world to dwell in with new and perfect bodies, free of disease and our own sinful desires. We will get to dwell with him in this brilliant paradise for ever, and ever, and ever, with no end and no death and no tears and no pain. What a glorious hope to cling to!
The Main Character of the Story
John does not disappoint. He packed v. 1 of his book with amazing and beautiful truths about Christ and the God that we serve. And amidst all of the things that God taught me, there is one thing that really stuck out to me as I uncovered the layers of who our God is. It’s this final thing that I’d like to leave you with today. It’s simply this: God really is the main character of the story. All things, when boiled down to it, revolve and rely upon God’s actions, not upon the actions of man. God began history by creating the world of his own accord. God saved history by entering into it of his own accord. And God will remake history by forming a beautiful and perfect new world of his own accord. Everything that happens, even our own salvation, is because God moved first. That’s main character material folks.
Some of you may not know that I am, first and foremost, a fiction writer (not a blogger). And one of the things that I have been learning is that the main characters of my books need to be proactive. They need to have a goal that they are always striving for and that readers can get behind. Otherwise, what’s the point? Inactive MCs make bad (and boring) protagonists, and they won’t be likeable to the reader. When we pick up a story, we want it to have a hero that is doing something, and more than that, that is doing something good. Ever wonder why?
Because that is exactly the kind of story that we live in! We live in a story with an amazing, proactive hero who does earth shattering things all for our good and his glory.
Life. Is not. About you.
Life is about God. We live in HIStory. And that’s a hard lesson to learn– it’s one I’m still struggling to learn. But we have to, because until we do, we will never be able to see how our miniscule, unimportant subplot will be able to weave into the greater arc of the story. There is glory, there is joy, there are rewards to be claimed, treasures to be uncovered, dragons to be fought, swords to sharpen, and armies to defy. But we will never be able to do so if we cannot accept that all glory won, joy given, rewards claimed, treasures uncovered, dragons slain, swords sharpened, and armies defied are because of the true hero who is fighting for us and has offered his strength for the quest at hand. We are weak, but he is strong.
And at the end of the day, all glory –ALL glory– belongs to him.