Text: John 1:1-18
Download: Rooted in Jesus: The Gospel of John Study
First impressions are so important. What has been the strangest way that you have ever been introduced? I remember when I was introduced to the entire town when Jean and I moved to Japan. They said they were excited that I was going to bring some of that “Texas Spirit” to them. The only problem?I’m not from Texas. I’m from Wisconsin – I had only lived in Texas for a short time before moving to Japan.I didn’t know whether I should just stop the Texas connection right there and embarrass my hosts for their mistake, or just play along with it and don a cowboy hat and a fake Texan accent for as long as we lived among them. I ultimately laughed it off afterward, and it wasn’t a big deal.
John takes a different approach than the other Gospel writers in introducing Jesus to his readers.Whereas the other Gospel writers either begin their introduction to Jesus with his birth or the beginning of his ministry, John is a bit more ambitious in his prologue. In the first 18 verses of Chapter 1, John contends that the coming of Jesus Christ into the world is the pivotal event in all of history. That is quite an introduction!
In addition to giving us our first glimpse of this history-changing personality, John also uses his prologue to introduce the important themes of his gospel. To help us clearly identify these themes, it is important to understand how John has structured this passage. It seems that John is employing a literary device called a chaism.
A “chiasm” describes the conscientious shaping of a passage according to an X shape (the Greek letter “chi” is X-shaped, chiasm). In general a chiasm places parallel words or phrases at the top and the bottom of the passage and also includes subsequent parallels . . . which often draws attention to a central passage, which serves as the focus or the climax of the rhetoric. By providing clarity and focus, a chiastic structure draws an audiences attention to significant materials both by means of repetitive parallels and by highlighting the center of the figure, presumably the major thrust of the passage.
Looking at John 1:1-18 we can see at least seven parts to this chiasm.
Verses 1-5 and 16-18 both focus on the nature of the Word, verses 6-8 and verse 15 on John the Baptist’s testimony to the Word, and verses 9-11 and verse 14 on the incarnation of the Word.Verses 12-13 then comprise the climactic center, highlighting the positive reception to the Word.
Each of these parallels introduces themes that John weaves through his account of the life of Jesus. Lets shortly look at each one:
The Nature of the Word (verses 1-5,16-18):
Many works of literature have famous opening lines. Charles Dickens knew how to start off a book; his Tale of Two Cities begins, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times , it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” I’ve always preferred his Christmas Carol, which baldly states ”Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.” Great opening for a book often read to young children! Of course, many of you may be more familiar with “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”. The Bible has a great opening line: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Through the ages, Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others have cracked open the covers of history’s bestseller and been greeted by that familiar yet controversial claim of God’s absolute rule and ownership over all of his creation. It is the familiarity of the phrase that John banks on as he begins his gospel: “In the beginning . . . (yeah, yeah, haven’t we read this before) was the Word (Wait . . . what?).” What is this Word thing and how did it get in my Bible? John makes some astonishing claims about this Word.
1) His Origin: The Word was preexistent with God from before creation. Both verses 1 and 2 claim that He was in the beginning, existing before anything that was made. He himself was not part of the created order, but existed eternally with God.
2) His Identity: In two short phrases in verse 1, John encapsulates the central mystery of the Word’s identity. “He was with God”, that is, He has his own identity and is not to be identified with God the Father, yet “the Word was God”, fully sharing in His divine nature. The relationship between the Word and the Father is further pressed in verse 18. “No one has seen God” yet “the Only God – the one who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Here again, the Word is called the “Only God” and “the one who is at the Father’s side.” This interplay between the differentiation and the unity of the Word and the Father is a theme that we will meet again in John.
3) His Ministry: In verse 4 we see that the Word was the agent of creation, “All things were made through him and without him not anything was made that was made. In verses 17-18, we see that he is the agent of revelation. In the person of Jesus Christ, He has made God known to us and revealed to us the fullness of grace and truth.
4) His Blessings: “In Him was life,” John writes in verse 9, “and the life was the light of men.” Importantly, his light is inextinguishable: “the darkness has not overcome it”. No matter how bleak this world gets, the Word will claim victory in the end. In verse 16, Jesus offers us out of his fullness “grace upon grace”, or maximum divine favor. While grace and truth were not absent from the Old Testament period, the fullness of grace and truth is realized in the person of Jesus.
The first great theme of John is the radiant and revealing Word of God.
The Witness to the Word (Verses 6-8, 15)
In order to establish the nature of the Word of God as he is revealed in Jesus, it has been suggested that John set up his book as a sort of legal proceeding with a strong judicial character. If this is the case:
one might reasonably expect witnesses to be called and evidence to be presented to establish a case. The Fourth Gospel abundantly fulfills this expectation. Witnesses are prominent in this Gospel. One only has to mention John the Baptist, the Old Testament Scriptures, the words and works of Christ and the forensically described activity of both the apostles and the Holy Spirit to see the validity of this remark for the Fourth Gospel.
In verse 6 of the prologue, John introduces us to the first of these witnesses, John the Baptist. He is sent “as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.” In verse 15 John testifies about the preexistence of the Word become flesh in Jesus. Later in the chapter, in verse 23, John testifies that his role is to go before the Lord as Isaiah had prophesied he would. And it was indeed John who was the first to identify Jesus as the incarnation of the eternal Word and the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” in verse 29. John also bore witness that he saw the Spirit of God descend on Jesus at His baptism. The conclusion of John’s testimony, the first of the many witnesses in the book of John, is fo
und in verse 34: “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”As we continue through the book of John, we will hear the testimony of other witnesses, making the same case: Jesus is the Son of God.
The Incarnation of the Word (9-11,14)
The true light – the Word – came into the world, his own creation and to the people whom he had formed.He even came to be among his own people he had chosen - the Jews. Verse 14 states that the eternal word “became flesh and dwelt among us”. Literally, he tabernacled among us – set up his tent in our midst. The word harkens back to the days when God was present among his people leading them by his glory. “We have seen his glory,” John says in verse 14, “glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Yet verses 10 and 11 introduce the first mention of hostility in the Gospel:
He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.
As John presents his case through his Gospel, as his witnesses speak, we begin to see the battle lines drawn. Hostility toward the Word of God becomes a central theme in this gospel. We still see this today.You can talk about spirituality all you want. You can talk about your faith tradition, or your religious experiences. Talk about God or invoke prayers to a higher being. But don’t talk bout Jesus at all. Don’t pray to Jesus. Don’t you dare even say Merry Christmas. It’s like someone has turned on the light when you’ve just awaken in the middle of the night – “turn it off! It hurts my eyes,” you cry. This is the challenge- the dare – of the book of John. We beheld his glory – can you? Can you come face to face with the glory of God in Jesus Christ and stand before him? Or will you run away, or worse strike out against him? The incarnation is not simply a historical or theological event – it is a personal one.
The Purpose of the Book: Receive and Believe (12-13)
The brings us to the middle of the Chiasm and to the main thrust of the book:
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
The language of “receiving Jesus” is very commonplace today, but it is very rarely used in the New Testament. However, it is a very important phrase, particularly as John defines receiving Jesus as “believing in His name” which implies “trust in his power and authority” This is the point John hopes to bring us to through his book. In fact, at the end of his Gospel, in Chapter 20:30-31, John tells us explicitly:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but 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.
Those who trust Jesus acknowledge his as their master and authority, and to them he gives the authority, or right, to become God’s children. While Jesus is God’s “only begotten” Son, or the Son of His same nature, we who believe in Him become his special children by adoption, born entirely of God. This is John favorite picture of what it means to be related to God as a believer – we become his child. He becomes our Daddy. Not a Dad like our earthly dads who sometimes let us down or drive us too hard or have difficulty demonstrating affection, but one who has lavished his love upon us, one who, when he could have had anything, chose us. Do you know that Daddy? Have you become his child? It is my prayer that as you read through the book of John, you become more deeply rooted in Jesus and come to know more and more the Father’s love for you.
Personal Application: Please write out your commitment to study and understand John’s testimony about Jesus in his Gospel. Will you be open-minded enough to consider his claims about Jesus? After writing out your commitment to read the book of John and continue this short study, please sign and date it.
 Neyrey, Jerome H., The Gospel of John (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007): 38.
 Blomberg, Craig, Jesus and the Gospels (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997): 210.
 Neyrey, 38.
 Blomberg, 213.