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1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John begins his gospel very profoundly. Volumes could be written on this verse; we will try to do justice to it in a few pages. We here are introduced to "the Word" ("Logos" in Greek), whom John later reveals as Jesus Christ. In this verse, John speaks of Christ's eternal existence ("In the beginning was the Word"), His place of existence ("and the Word was with God"), and His deity ("and the Word was God"). The rest of John's gospel can be viewed as an expansion of this verse. More than any other gospel, John deals explicitly with Christ's deity, His worthiness to be not only respected as a great Teacher, but also worshipped as God.
To this end, before speaking of Christ's incarnation and of His humbling Himself by dwelling with us on earth, John introduces Him as existent before the creation of the universe: "In the beginning was the Word." The phrase, "In the beginning", of course, alludes back to the opening words of the entire Bible: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). Thus, "the beginning" of which John is speaking is the creation of the universe. John states unequivocally that Christ was there at the creation. In fact, in verse 3, John states that "the Word" played a major role in the creation of the universe. John is letting us know from the first sentence of his gospel that Christ was no ordinary man. In fact, John does not introduce Christ as a man at all until verse 14. For John, though he walked with Christ on this earth,--knew Him personally in the flesh, spoke with Him, learned from Him, laid his head on His bosom--I say, for John, Christ is primarily the second person of the Trinity, the Creator of the universe, worthy to be worshipped, God over all.
John tells us that in the beginning "was the Word". The verb "was" in the original language suggests a continuous state of existence. In other words, in the beginning, the Word "continually was". The Word was not created at the beginning, He already existed at the beginning. John is telling us that Christ is not a created being, but is an everlasting being, having no beginning or end. Paul also tells us: "He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together" (Col. 1:17). Christ Himself prayed to His Father of His pre-existence and His own glory: "And now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world began" (John 17:5). And Christ boldly proclaimed to some Jews who were challenging Him: "I tell you the truth,...before Abraham was born, I am!" (John 8:58). This point is all important. It is a trait of Christ that distinguishes Him from men. You and I had a beginning; we are created beings; we have no knowledge of times before we were born, nor did we exist then. Christ did, though. We, through Christ, may well be "to everlasting", but Christ is "from everlasting to everlasting."
"In the beginning was the Word." Why, "the Word"? Why does John use that term for Christ? First, we must know about the term in its original language. In Greek, "the Word" is "Logos". In addition to literally meaning "word", "Logos" was a not unfamiliar philosophical term in John's time. To various philosophers of the time, "Logos" had various shades of meaning. In essence, the "Logos" was the thought or force behind the universe, an explanation for the order of the universe. The specific characteristics and attributes of the "Logos"--its personality, its deity, its intelligence, etc.--depended upon the specific philosophy of the person using the term. John picks up this term and casts it in a Christian context. In doing so, he was using a term that many of his readers would be familiar with. In using the term synonymously with Christ, John was identifying succinctly that Christ is the thought behind the existence of the universe, its creative force.
The term "Logos" not only suits Christ in its philosophical meaning, but also its literal meaning, as the word "Word". What is the purpose of words? They express one's thoughts so that others can understand them; they communicate one's will; they reveal one's heart. And so Christ, as "the Word", expresses in a Man, the thoughts of God, communicates His will, and reveals His heart to us. God made Himself known to us through His "Word", Jesus Christ.
Christ is the clearest revelation of God to man. Our knowledge of God through Nature is inaccurate and incomplete, because Nature fell from grace when man fell from grace (cf. Rom. 8:17). So, since Nature is fallen, it cannot reflect accurately a holy God. Likewise, our knowledge of God through our own reasonings is flawed, because we ourselves are flawed and fallen. Moreover, even our knowledge of God through the written word of the Old Testament is insufficient because written words have limitations. The written word can say, "Love your neighbor", but how can we know what this really means without an example of such love? Christ is such an example, a living example of the attributes of God given in the Old Testament: His love, His power, His holiness, His faithfulness, His righteousness, His worthiness to be praised above all else.
Christ makes God knowable. It only makes sense that God, the Creator of this magnificent universe, would at some point in time make Himself clearly known in some way. He has chosen to do so through Christ. God, by revealing Himself through Christ, and making Himself knowable to men, shatters the premise of the agnostic. Philip, Christ's disciple, once entreated (as so many of us do): "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us" (John 14:8). Jesus answered him: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). God went to great lengths to make Himself known. He humbled Himself and became a man. The agnostic shows contempt for God by ignoring His revelation through "the Word", Jesus Christ.
Next John says: "The Word was with God." The preposition "with" can be taken in two ways: positionally and ideologically. Both of these interpretations can apply to Christ's relationship to God. Christ is "with" God positionally, in that He is dwelling with the Father, "at His right hand in the heavenly realms" (Eph. 1:20). Christ is "with" God ideologically, in that His thoughts are God's thoughts, His will God's will, as Christ Himself said: "I and the Father are one." (John 10:30).
Finally, John states: "The Word was God." In doing so, he succinctly establishes the doctrine of the Trinity. "The Word was with God, and the Word was God." The two phrases can only be reconciled by concluding that more than one person makes up God. The "Word" is God; and then, the "Word" is "with" the rest of God. We know from other passages in the Bible that the rest of God is the Father and the Holy Spirit. John's phrases describe the equality, yet distinction, of Christ with the other persons of the Trinity.
Admittedly, the doctrine of the Trinity is a difficult concept to grasp. If we think in human, earthly terms, we cannot picture such a God: three persons making up one God. But, what makes us think that we can fully understand God? Many, when they come across something difficult in the Bible, throw up their hands (or throw away the Bible), saying that it's all nonsense, saying that (because they do not understand it) it can't be true. To them, God can never be more complex than their frail understanding, or different than their limited expectations. However, I personally would not want to serve a God that I could fully understand. I thank God that He is a complex being that is beyond my comprehesion. I praise Him that in His surpassing wisdom, He does things that are beyond my expectations.
The deity of Christ, the fact that "the Word was God", is the foundation of the Gospel of John, and indeed, the foundation of Christianity. A religion based upon merely a human Christ fails through weakness and absence of authority. But, the stated fact that "the Word was God" makes us sit up and take notice of what follows in John's Gospel. Christ was not just from God, but was God; Christ was not merely a messenger, but was God Himself. All that follows, being read in light of this, takes on a transcendant authority. If Christ was not God, we could give or take what He said; but since "the Word was God", we must pay attention. If we reject the fact that "the Word was God", we reject the entire Gospel (and Christianity itself) because John, by stating this in the first verse, makes this fact foundational to all that he goes on to say. That "the Word was God" is more important to John than that "the Word became flesh", for we are not told this until verse 14. We too should view Christ as God as a more important concept than Christ as man, and live our lives with the fact that "the Word was God" ever before us.
May You be glorified, Lord Jesus Christ, God over all, through all eternity. May Your words and Your life on earth be our supreme authority. May our lives reflect our understanding that You are God. In Your name, the name above all other names, we pray these things, Amen.
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