Dr. John Boyd, Holywood, N. Ireland
John, in the prologue to his Gospel, i. 1-18, introduces us to the central Figure of his evangel by the name of "the Word". Why he does so we cannot easily prove, but we note that in current Jewish and Greek thought there was a conception of the Creator of the world under this title. The term was used by John without explanation, as though such an expression had a meaning well-known to his readers.
The Jew knew it. He appreciated the fact that creation was the outcome of the speaking of God, Ps. 50. 1, the work of the Word of Jehovah, Ps. 33. 6. In the Old Testament the Word of God is also personified as a physician, Ps. 107. 20. and as a messenger, Ps. 147. 15.
Greek philosophers had been searching in vain for some means of making God intelligible to man. In their speculations they also had employed this term. Philo, an Alexandrian Jew, steeped in Greek philosophy, had propounded an erroneous view of The Word, It may well be that John's Gospel was written partly to counteract this false conception.
John was conscious that he possessed the true answer to this hitherto insoluble enigma, and used the expression that human reason had chanced upon in its search after truth. But with him it was removed from the precarious foundation of philosophy and mythology, and set upon the imperishable rock of inspiration. For him The Word was identical with the historical Christ.
The introductions of the first three Gospels present to us one view of the Lord Jesus Christ, namely. His humanity. Matthew is taken up with the nature of His advent; Mark straight away launches us into His work; Luke explains the conditions on earth into which He came. John's introduction is different. He raises us above the earth. He is coupled not so much with His humanity as with His deity; not so much with His appearance in time as with His eternal pre-existence; not so much with His earthly as with His heavenly relationship. While the synoptists show that Jesus who was a real man was the Christ, John demonstrates that the Christ was God Himself.
In the New Testament the Lord Jesus Christ is called The Word only in John's writings. In his Gospel, 1. 1-2, he tells of the Person thus designated, and in verses 3-5, of His work prior to His incarnation. Verse 1 sets before us three propositions concerning The Word: (i) His Eternal Pre-existence, (ii) His Personal Distinction and Intimate Association in the Godhead, (iii) His Essential Identity as God.
In the Beginning was The Word. Three times in Scripture the words "the beginning" are used without directly specifying what was begun, Gen. 1. 1; John 1. 1; 1 John 1. 1. In 1 John 1. 1 we get the beginning of the manifestation of Him who was the Eternal Life, a time fixed by the qualifying terms that follow. In Gen. 1.1 we get the beginning of creation, but in John 1. 1 "the beginning" is anterior to the other two. It is the earliest beginning towards which our thoughts could search. The verb "was" (imperfect tense) reminds us that, however far our thoughts go back to what we conceive as the beginning, then He had prior existence for then "the Word was". This verb affirms the existence of One called The Word even before the creation of the world, for He who was in the beginning created these things. In Him was hidden from all eternity all that God has to say to man. By the term "the Word" is meant the One who was the expression of deity, Heb. 1. 2. He expressed God in creation, John 1. 3; Rom. 1. 20; in speech, John 12. 49; in works, John 5. 36. "The Word", we are told, was eternally the expression of God.
The Word was with God. The Word had a close relationship to God, yet a distinct personality. The Greek preposition used here is pros, towards, with the implication that The Word was face to face with God, Mere man could not thus dwell with God, Exod. 33. 20. While it postulates a personal distinction in the Godhead, it infers an intimate knowledge and understanding the One of the Other. Compare v. 18.
The Word was God. To say that The Word was only divine might suggest a plurality of gods. This would be error. Yet he was God. He possesses all the attributes of the essence of God; He was in the form of God, Phil. 2. 6; His essential Being was God, Heb. i. 3. So essentially was He one with God that all things we attribute to God are true of The Word.
What a marvellous crescendo of wonder and worship is produced in our hearts by this description of The Word! He existed eternally, and in that existence He ever possessed an intimate relationship with God. Yes, He is God in very essence. In verse 2 we get these three thoughts linked together,, not a mere repetition of facts, but a further lesson. The Word, who was God, who had such an intimate relationship with God, possessed the same relationship to God in the beginning. Verse 2 informs us that His connection with God was eternal, just as verse 1 states that. His existence was eternal. Throughout all the ages He was with God. Eternally He was God.
All Things were Made by Him, This is a definite act of The Word, an act of expression of God. Creation sets forth the everlasting power and divinity of God, Rom. 1. 20. Creation is the work of Him whom John calls The Word. Thus the thought of The Word being the expression of God is grander than merely being His mouthpiece, for to The Word here is ascribed power, wisdom, might. In the former part of the verse the emphasis is laid on the "all things", stressing the magnitude of the work. In the latter part we are told that no detail of all the created things, no matter how small or insignificant to our eyes, had its origin apart from the creative act of The Word. The consideration of the vast universe impresses us with the mighty work of creation, but the realization that each petal of the wayside flower is a result of the handiwork of the same Creator causes us to marvel at the particularizing greatness of the One who has become our Saviour. We need not fear, for the very hairs of our head are all numbered. Each one of us is precious in His sight.
In Him was Life. This expresses a further stage in the work of creation. Only One who was God could produce life, Exod. 8. 16-19. The Word, who made all things, gave them life. He was the well-spring of life for all living things -vegetable, animal, human.
While life was given to all animate things, to man alone was light given. Light is more than truth. It is the revelation and understanding of the reason for things; it is the knowledge that He who is over all is God. As man saw life in evidence in creation, he should have appreciated this light. This was Paul's argument in his address on Mars' Hill. God made all things; God gave life, and man ought through these to seek and find God. Thus The Word, through creation and through life, revealed God to man. Men failed to apprehend this light, even though it was shining in their hearts. Their hearts had become darkened because, while knowing God in creation, they glorified Him not as God, Rom. 1. 21. Note the gradual descent in John 1. 1-5 from the sublimity of the eternal relationship in the Godhead to the depths of man's misapprehension of the purposes of God. In verses 1-2 we get the Godhead supreme, eternal; in verse 3 the creation of all things; in verse 4 life is given to some of these created things, and light made possible to man; in verse 5 light is not apprehended by man.
The Word Became Flesh. In these words we have set before us another activity of The Word, another expression of God. This is God's last word to man. In this the apprehension of God's light was realized in His fulness of grace and truth. Through The Word becoming flesh it was possible for us to become children of God.
The manifestation on the stage of history of the divine Word is set before us in verses 6-18 as follows:
1. The Revelation of the Incarnate Word, by John the Baptist, 6-9.
2. The Rejection of the Incarnate Word, by the world in general, and by Israel in particular, 10-n.
3. The Reception of the Incarnate Word, by those who thus become the children of God, 12-13.
4. The Recognition of the Incarnate Word, by those who have received Him, 14-18.
The Word partook of our human nature in all its frailty and infirmity, but without its sinfulness. The Word tabernacled among us. Just as the tabernacle was Jehovah's dwelling-place in the wilderness in the midst of His people, so the flesh was the tent in which The Word dwelt, in the wilderness of this world amongst His own. As the glory of Jehovah filled the tabernacle in the wilderness, Exod. 40. 34, so there was a glory filling the body in which The Word tabernacled, for He was "full of grace and truth", "We beheld His glory", says John. As they listened to His teaching; as they saw His mighty works; as they witnessed His sufferings., they saw manifested in Him grace and truth. They saw His glory, a glory such as became Him who was the only begotten of the Father, a glory like unto the Shekinah glory of the tabernacle in the wilderness.
With John, the word "glory" is used here of the sum total of the attributes of God. It is the revelation of the grandeur of Him who is the Object of our faith. Through the incarnation of the Eternal Word has been displayed to us the grace of God; grace that brought salvation; grace to help in time of need; grace that is about to be revealed as the Lord comes for His own. Well might John say, "and grace for grace", a phrase that implies one supply of grace superseding the former. The believer is taught to expect a more remarkable display of the grace of God in the future than that which has astonished him in the past. The Word becoming flesh brought also the truth, the revelation of God to men. The only begotten Son dwelling in the place of intimate communion, the bosom of the Father, and penetrating into the thoughts and intents of the Father's heart, reveals to us His father-character, His heart of love towards those who have become His children. In The Word was life; through Jesus Christ by grace came life eternal, given to those who have become children of God. The life which was in The Word was the light of men; through Jesus Christ came the truth, the revelation of the loving heart of God to His children. Thus is the identity of The Word with the historic Jesus Christ firmly established.
Let the believer rejoice as he appreciates the far-reaching effects to him personally of the incarnation of the Son of God. He worships the Eternal Word, the Creator, the Giver and Sustainer of life, the One who brought light to man. If that were all, he might still be in the darkness of verse 5. But, glory be to His name, The Word became flesh, tabernacled among us, and fully revealed the Father's heart by dying for us. By reason of this the believer has been received into the family of God, has been made a partaker of the divine nature, and joys in the love of God his Father. Well might he bow the knee and worship Him to whom one day every knee shall bow.
Thou art the Everlasting Word, the Father's only Son, God manifestly seen and heard, and heaven's beloved One.
In Thee most perfectly expressed, the Father's glories shine, Of the full deity possessed, eternally divine!
Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou, that every knee to Thee should bow!