In the Beginning Was the Word
From Gospel Translations
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
The Gospel of John is a portrait of Jesus Christ and his saving work. It focuses on the last three years of Jesus’ life—and especially on his death and resurrection. It’s purpose is clear in John 20:30–31: “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.” The book is written to help people believe on Christ and have eternal life.
Written for Non-Christians—and Christians
But don’t get it in your head that the book is therefore only for unbelievers. Believers on Jesus must go on believing in Jesus in order to be saved in the end. Jesus said in John 15:6, “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” And in John 8:31, he said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.”
So when John says, “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,” he meant that he was writing to awaken faith in unbelievers and sustain faith in believers—and in that way lead both to eternal life. And there may be no better book in the Bible to help you keep on trusting and treasuring Christ above all.
An Eyewitness Account
This portrait of Jesus is written by an eyewitness who was part of these infinitely important events. Five times in this Gospel we find the unusual words “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (13:23; 19:26; 20:2, 7, 21:20). For example, at the very end it says in John 21:20, “Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them.” Then four verses later (21:24), it says, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things and who has written these things.” So the one called “the disciple whom Jesus loved”—who was there leaning on his shoulder at the Last Supper (13:23)—wrote this book as his divinely inspired witness to the events of Jesus’ life and what they meant for us.
One of the reasons that I say it is divinely inspired is that this is what Jesus promised to do. He said in John 14:26, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” And in John 16:13, he said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak.”
In other words, Jesus chose his apostles as his representatives, saved them, taught them, sent them, and then gave them, through the Holy Spirit, divine guidance in the writing of Scripture for the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20). We believe that John’s Gospel is therefore the inspired word of God.
John’s First Three Verses
Those words—“word of God”—bring us to the first words of John’s Gospel. John 1:1–3, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” These are the verses we focus on today.
“The Word”: Jesus
First, we focus on the term Word. “In the beginning was the Word.” The most important thing to know about this Word is found in verse 14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Word refers to Jesus Christ.
John knows what he’s about to write in these 21 chapters. He is going to tell us the story of what Jesus Christ did and what he taught. This is a book about the life and work of the man Jesus Christ—the man that John knew and saw and heard and touched with his hands (1 John 1:1). He had flesh and blood. He was not a ghost or an apparition appearing and vanishing. He ate and drank and got tired, and John knew him very closely. Jesus’ mother lived with John in the last part of her life (John 19:26).
Therefore, what John is doing in John 1:1–3 is telling us the most ultimate things about Jesus that he can. It took John more than three years to figure out the fullness of who Jesus was. But he does not want his readers to take more than three verses to find out what took him so long to know. He wants us to have in our minds, fixed and clear, from the beginning of his Gospel, the eternal majesty and deity and Creator rights of Jesus Christ.
Jesus in His Infinite Majesty
That’s the point of verses 1–3. He means for us to read this Gospel worshipfully, humbly, submissively, awestruck that the man at the wedding and at the well and on the mountain is Creator of the universe. Do you see this and feel this? This is not my design. This is not the structure of my sermon. This is the structure of the book. This is the way John wrote—the way God meant for him to put it together. You or I might have written it in a way that subtly lets Jesus’ identity grow on the readers so that they wonder, Who is this man?
But John says no. “In the very first words out of the end of my pen, I will stun you and blow you away with the identity of this man who became flesh and dwelt among us. So there is no mistaking.” John means for us to read every word of this Gospel with the clear, solid, amazed knowledge that Jesus Christ was with God and was God and that the one who laid down his life for us (John 15:13) created the universe. John wants you to know and believe in a magnificent Savior. Whatever else you may enjoy about Jesus, John wants you to know and treasure Jesus in his infinite majesty.
But still we should ask, Why did he choose to call Jesus “the Word”? “In the beginning was the Word.” My answer to that question is this: John calls Jesus the Word because he had come to see the words of Jesus as the truth of God and the person of Jesus as the truth of God in such a unified way that Jesus himself—in his coming, and working, and teaching, and dying and rising—was the final and decisive Message of God. Or to put it more simply: What God had to say to us was not only or mainly what Jesus said, but who Jesus was and what he did. His words clarified himself and his work. But his self and his work were the main truth God was revealing. “I am the truth,” Jesus said (John 14:6).
He came to witness to the truth (John 18:37) and he was the truth (John 14:6). His witness and his person were the Word of truth. He said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31), and he said, “Abide in me” (John 15:7). When we abide in him we are abiding in the Word. He said that his works were a “witness” about him (John 5:36; 10:25). In other words, in his working he was the Word.
Jesus: God’s Decisive, Final Message
In Revelation 19:13 (by the same author as the Gospel), he describes Jesus’ glorious return: “He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.” Jesus is called The Word of God, as he returns to earth. Two verses later John says, “From his mouth comes a sharp sword” (Revelation 19:15). In other words, Jesus strikes the nations in the power of the word of God that he speaks—the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). But the power of this word is so united with Jesus himself that John says that he doesn’t just have a sword of God’s word coming out of his mouth, but he is the Word of God.
So as John begins his Gospel, he has in view all the revelation, all the truth, all the witness, all the glory, all the light, all the words that come out of Jesus in his living and teaching and dying and rising, and he sums up all that revelation of God with the name: He is “the Word”—the first, final, ultimate, decisive, absolutely true and reliable Word. The meaning is the same as Hebrews 1:1–2: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” The Son of God incarnate is God’s climactic and decisive Word to the world.
Four Observations About Jesus
Now what does John want to tell us first about this man Jesus Christ whose deeds and words fill the pages of this Gospel? He wants to tell us four things about Jesus Christ: 1) the time of his existence, 2) the essence of his identity, 3) his relationship to God, and 4) his relationship to the world.
1) The Time of His Existence
Verse 1: “In the beginning was the Word.” The words “in the beginning” are identical in Greek to the first two words in the Greek Old Testament: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” That’s not an accident, because the first thing John is going to tell us about what Jesus did is that he created the universe. That’s what he says in verse 3. So the words “in the beginning” mean: Before there was any created matter, there was the Word, the Son of God.
Remember: “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31). John begins his Gospel by locating Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, in relation to time, namely, before time. Jude exults in this truth with his great doxology: “To the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 1:25). Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:9 that God gave us grace in Christ Jesus “before the times of the ages.” So before there was any time or any matter, there was the Word, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. That is who we will meet in this Gospel.
2) The Essence of His Identity
Verse 1, at the end: “The Word was God.” One of the marks of this Gospel is that the weightiest doctrines are often delivered in the simplest words. This could not get simpler—and it could not get weightier. The Word, who became flesh and dwelt among us, Jesus Christ, was and is God.
Let this be known loud and clear that at Bethlehem—indeed, at all true Christian churches—we worship Jesus Christ as God. We fall down with Thomas before Jesus in John 20:28 and confess with joy and wonder, “My Lord and my God!”
When we hear the Jewish leaders say in John 10:33, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God,” we cry out, “No, this is not blasphemy. This is who he is, our Savior, our Lord, our God.”
Do you see what this means for our series on the Gospel of John? It means that we are going to spend week after week getting to know God, as we get to know Jesus. Do you want to know God? Come with us, and invite others, to come and meet God as we meet Jesus.
If a Jehovah’s Witness or a Muslim ever says to you: “This is a mistranslation. It should not read, ‘The Word was God.’ It should read, ‘The Word was a god.’” There is a way right here from the context that you can know that’s wrong even if you don’t know Greek. I’ll show it to you in just a moment in the last point. But first, let’s look at his relationship to God.
3) His Relationship to God
Verse 1, the middle of the verse: “The Word was with God.” “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This is the heart of the great historic doctrine of the Trinity. Some day I may preach a message just on this doctrine from the rest of John and the other Scriptures.
But for now simply let this straightforward statement stand in your mind and sink into your heart: The Word, Jesus Christ was with God, and he was God. He is God, and he has a relationship with God. He is God, and he is the image of God, perfectly reflecting all that God is and standing forth from all eternity as the fullness of deity in a distinct Person. There is one divine Essence and three Persons—three centers of consciousness. Two of them are mentioned here. The Father and the Son. We learn those names later on in the book. The Holy Spirit will be introduced later.
Since we see in a mirror dimly and we know only in partial ways (1 Corinthians 13:9, 12), do not be surprised that this remains to us a mystery. But don’t throw it away. If Jesus Christ is not God, he could not accomplish your salvation (Hebrews 2:14–15). And his glory would not be sufficient to satisfy your everlasting longing for new discoveries of beauty. If you throw away the deity of Jesus Christ, you throw away your soul and with it all your joy in the age to come.
So we have seen 1) the time of his existence (before all time), 2) the essence of his identity (“the Word was God”), and 3) his relationship to God (“the Word was with God”). And now we close with his relationship to the world.
4) His Relationship to the World
Verses 2–3: “He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” The Word who became flesh and dwelt among us, taught us, healed us, rebuked us, protected us, loved us, and died for us created the universe. Remember to retain the mystery of the Trinity from verse 1. Don’t leave it as soon as you get to verse 3. “All things were made through him.” Yes, another was acting through the Word. God was. But the Word is God. Therefore, don’t let yourself diminish the majesty of the work of Christ as Creator. He was the Father’s agent, or Word, in the creation of all things. But in doing it, he was God. God, the Word, created the world. Your Savior, your Lord, your Friend—Jesus is your Maker.
Jesus Was Not Made
Now, suppose a Muslim or a Jehovah’s Witness or someone from any brand of Arianism (the ancient heresy from the fourth century) says, “Jesus was not God, was not eternal—not eternally begotten—but rather Jesus was created. He was the first of creation. The highest of the high angels.” Or as the Arians said it, “There was when he was not.” John has written verse 3 precisely in a way that makes that impossible.
He did not just say, “All things were made through him.” You might think that is enough to settle it. He is not a creature; he created creatures. But someone could conceivably say, “Yes, but ‘all things’ does not include himself.” It includes everything but himself. So he was created by the Father, but then with the Father created all other things.
But John did not leave it at that. He said, in addition (the last part of verse 3), “. . . and without him was not any thing made that was made.” What do the final words “that was made” add to the meaning of “without him was not any thing made”? “Without him was not any thing made that was made.” They add this: They make explicit and emphatic and crystal clear that anything in the category of made, Christ made it. Therefore, Christ was not made. Because before you exist, you can’t bring yourself into being.
Christ was not made. That is what it means to be God. And the Word was God.
May the Lord help us to see his glory. And worship him. Amen.