John 1 - Believer's Bible Commentary
John begins his Gospel by speaking about the Word, but he does not explain at first who or what the Word is. A word is a unit of speech by which we express ourselves to others. But John is not writing about speech but rather about a Person. That Person is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. God has fully expressed Himself to mankind in the Person of the Lord Jesus. By coming into the world, Christ has perfectly revealed to us what God is like. By dying for us on the cross, He has told us how much God loves us. Thus Christ is God’s living Word to man, the expression of God’s thoughts.
1:1 In the beginning was the Word. He did not have a beginning Himself, but existed from all eternity. As far as the human mind can go back, the Lord Jesus was there. He never was created. He had no beginning. (A genealogy would be out of place in this Gospel of the Son of God.) The Word was with God. He had a separate and distinct personality. He was not just an idea, a thought, or some vague kind of example, but a real Person who lived with God. The Word was God. He not only dwelt with God, but He Himself was God.
The Bible teaches that there is one God and that there are three Persons in the Godhead-the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All three of these Persons are God. In this verse, two of the Persons of the Godhead are mentioned-God the Father and God the Son. It is the first of many clear statements in this Gospel that Jesus Christ is God. It is not enough to say that He is “a god,” that He is godlike, or that He is divine. The Bible teaches that He is God.
1:2 Verse 2 would appear to be a mere repetition of what has been said, but actually it is not. This verse teaches that Christ’s personality and deity were without beginning. He did not become a person for the first time as the Babe of Bethlehem. Nor did He somehow become a god after His resurrection, as some teach today. He is God from all eternity.
1:3 All things were made through Him. He Himself was not a created being; rather He was the Creator of all things. This includes mankind, the animals, the heavenly planets, the angels-all things visible and invisible. Without Him nothing was made that was made. There can be no possible exception. If a thing was made, He made it. As Creator, He is, of course, superior to anything He has created. All three Persons of the Godhead were involved in the work of creation: “God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). “The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2). “All things were created through Him (Christ) and for Him” (Col. 1:16b).
1:4 In Him was life. This does not simply mean that He possessed life, but that He was and is the source of life. The word here includes both physical and spiritual life. When we were born, we received physical life. When we are born again, we receive spiritual life. Both come from Him.
The life was the light of men. The same One who supplied us with life is also the light of men. He provides the guidance and direction necessary for man. It is one thing to exist, but quite another to know how to live, to know the true purpose of life, and to know the way to heaven. The same One who gave us life is the One who provides us with light for the pathway we travel.
There are seven wonderful titles of our Lord Jesus Christ in this opening chapter of the Gospel. He is called (1) the Word (vv. 1, 14); (2) the Light (vv. 5, 7); (3) the Lamb of God (vv. 29, 36); (4) the Son of God (vv. 34, 49); (5) the Christ (Messiah) (v. 41); (6) the King of Israel (v. 49); and (7) the Son of Man (v. 51). The first four titles, each of which is mentioned at least twice, seem to be universal in application. The last three titles, each of which is mentioned only once, had their first application to Israel, God’s ancient people.
1:5 The light shines in the darkness. The entrance of sin brought darkness to the minds of men. It plunged the world into darkness in the sense that men in general neither knew God nor wanted to know Him. Into this darkness the Lord Jesus came-a light shining in a dark place.
The darkness did not comprehend it. This may mean that the darkness did not understand the Lord Jesus when He came into the world. Men did not realize who He really was, or why He had come. Another meaning, however, is given in the NKJV margin: the darkness did not overcome it. Then the thought would be that man’s rejection and enmity did not prevent the true light from shining.
1:6 Verse 6 refers to John the Baptist, not the John who wrote this Gospel. John the Baptist was sent from God as a forerunner of the Lord Jesus. His mission was to announce the coming of Christ and to tell the people to get ready to receive Him.
1:7 This man came to testify to the fact that Jesus was truly the Light of the world, so that all people might put their trust in Him.
1:8 If John had tried to attract attention to himself, he would have been unfaithful to his appointed task. He pointed men to Jesus and not to himself.
1:9 That was the true Light. Other persons down through the ages have claimed to be guides and saviors, but the One to whom John witnessed was the genuine Light, the best and the truest Light. Another translation of this verse is, “The true Light, which, coming into the world, gives light to every man.” In other words, the expression coming into the world may describe the true Light rather than every man. It was by the coming of the true Light … into the world that every man was given light. This does not mean that every man has received some inward knowledge concerning Christ. Neither does it mean that all men have heard about the Lord Jesus at one time or another. Rather, it means that the Light shines on all people, without regard to nationality, race, or color. It also means that by shining on all men, the Lord Jesus has revealed men in their true character. By His coming into the world as the perfect Man, He has shown how imperfect other men are. When a room is in darkness, you do not see the dust on the furniture. But when the light goes on, the room is seen as it actually is. In that same sense, the shining of the true Light reveals man as he actually is.
1:10 From the time of His birth in Bethlehem until the day He went back to heaven, He was in the very same world in which we now live. He had brought the whole world into being and was its rightful Owner. Instead of recognizing Him as the Creator, men thought that He was just another man like themselves. They treated Him like a stranger and an outcast.
1:11 He came to His own (things or domain, NKJV marg.). He was not trespassing on someone else’s property. Rather, He was living on a planet which He Himself had made. His own (people) did not receive Him. In a general sense, this might refer to all mankind, and it is true that most of mankind rejected Him. But in a special sense, the Jewish nation was His chosen, earthly people. When He came into the world, He presented Himself to the Jews as their Messiah, but they would not receive Him.
1:12 So now He offers Himself to all mankind again and to those who receive Him, He gives the right or authority to become children of God.
This verse tells us clearly how we can become children of God. It is not by good works, not by church membership, not by doing one’s best-but by receiving Him, by believing in His Name.
1:13 To become a child in a physical sense, one must be born. So, also, to become a child of God, one must have a second birth. This is known as the new birth, or conversion, or being saved. This verse tells us three ways by which the new birth does not take place, and the one way by which it does. First, the three ways by which we are not born again. Not of blood. This means that a person does not become a Christian through having Christian parents. Salvation is not passed down from parent to child through the blood stream. It is not of the will of the flesh. In other words, a person does not have the power in his own flesh to produce the new birth. Although he must be willing in order to be saved, yet his own will is not enough to save him. Not of the will of man. No other man can save a person. A preacher, for instance, may be very anxious to see a certain person born again, but he does not have the power to produce this marvelous birth. How, then, does this birth take place? The answer is found in the words but of God. This means simply that the power to produce the new birth does not rest with anything or anyone but God.
1:14 The Word became flesh when Jesus was born as a Baby in the manger at Bethlehem. He had always existed as the Son of God with the Father in heaven, but now chose to come into the world in a human body. He dwelt among us. It was not just a short appearance, about which there might be some mistake or misunderstanding. God actually came to this earth and lived here as a Man among men. The word “dwelt” means “tabernacled” or “pitched His tent.” His body was the tent in which He lived among men for thirty-three years.
And we beheld His glory. In the Bible, “glory” often means the bright, shining light which was seen when God was present. It also means the perfection and excellence of God. When the Lord Jesus was here on earth, He veiled His glory in a body of flesh. But there were two ways in which His glory was revealed. First, there was His moral glory. By this, we mean the radiance of His perfect life and character. There was no flaw or blemish in Him. He was perfect in all His ways. Every virtue was manifested in His life in exquisite balance. Then there was the visible outshining of His glory which took place on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1, 2). At that time, Peter, James, and John saw His face shining like the sun, and His garments gleaming like bright light. These three disciples were given a preview of the splendor which the Lord Jesus will have when He comes back to the earth and reigns for a thousand years.
When John said, “We beheld His glory,” he was referring primarily, no doubt, to the moral glory of the Lord Jesus. He and the other disciples beheld the wonder of an absolutely perfect life lived on this earth. But it is likely that John also included the incident on the Mount of Transfiguration as well. The glory which the disciples saw indicated to them that He was truly the Son of God. Jesus is the only begotten of the Father, that is, Christ is God’s unique Son. God did not have any other Son like Him. In one sense, all true believers are sons of God. But Jesus is the Son of God-in a class all by Himself. As the Son of God, He is equal to God.
The Savior was full of grace and truth. On the one hand, full of undeserved kindness for others, He was also completely honest and upright, and He never excused sin or approved evil. To be completely gracious and at the same time completely righteous is something that only God can be.
1:15 John the Baptist bore witness that Jesus was the Son of God. Before the Lord entered upon His public ministry, John had been telling men about Him. When Jesus arrived on the scene, John said, in effect, “This is the One I have been describing to you.” Jesus came after John as far as His birth and ministry were concerned. He was born six months after John and presented Himself to the people of Israel some time after John had been preaching and baptizing. But Jesus was preferred before John. He was greater than John; He was worthy of more honor, the simple reason being that He was before John. He existed from all eternity-the Son of God.
1:16 All who believe on the Lord Jesus receive supplies of spiritual strength out of His fullness. His fullness is so great that He can provide for all Christians in all countries and in all ages. The expression grace for grace probably means “grace upon grace” or “abundant grace.” Here grace means God’s gracious favor which He showers on His beloved children.
1:17 John contrasts the OT period and the NT era. The law that was given through Moses was not a display of grace. It commanded men to obey and condemned them to death if they failed to do so. It told men what was right but did not give them the power to do it. It was given to show men that they were sinners, but it could not save them from their sins. But grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. He did not come to judge the world but to save those who were unworthy, who could not save themselves, and who were His enemies. That is grace-heaven’s Best for earth’s worst.
Not only did grace come through Jesus Christ, but truth came by Him as well. He said of Himself, “I am … the truth.” He was absolutely honest and faithful in all His words and works. He did not show grace at the expense of truth. Although He loved sinners, He did not love their sins. He realized that the wages of sin is death. And so He Himself died to pay the penalty of death that we deserved, in order that He might show undeserved kindness to us in saving our souls and giving us a home in heaven.
1:18 No one has seen God at any time. God is Spirit and therefore invisible. He does not have a body. Although He did appear to men in the OT in visible form as an Angel or as a Man, these appearances did not reveal what God is really like. They were merely temporary appearances by which He chose to speak to His people. The Lord Jesus is God’s only begotten Son;1 He is God’s unique Son; there is no other son like Him. He always occupies a place of special nearness to God the Father. Even when He was here on earth, Jesus was still in the bosom of the Father. He was one with God and equal with God. This blessed One has fully revealed to men what God is like. When men saw Jesus, they saw God. They heard God speak. They felt God’s love and tenderness. God’s thoughts and attitudes toward mankind have been fully declared by Christ.
1:19 When news reached Jerusalem that a man named John was telling the nation to repent because the Messiah was coming, the Jews sent a committee of priests and Levites to find out who this was. The priests were those who carried on the important services in the temple, while the Levites were servants who attended to common duties there. “Who are you?” they asked. “Are you the long-awaited Messiah?”
1:20 Other men might have seized this opportunity for fame by claiming to be the Christ. But John was a faithful witness. His testimony was that he was not the Christ (the Messiah).
1:21, 22 The Jews expected Elijah to return to the earth prior to the coming of Christ (Mal. 4:5). So they reasoned that if John was not the Messiah, then perhaps he was Elijah. But John assured them that he was not. In Deuteronomy 18:15, Moses had said, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear.” The Jews remembered this prediction and thought that John might be the Prophet mentioned by Moses. But again John said that it was not so. The delegation would have been embarrassed to go back to Jerusalem without a definite answer, and so they asked John for a statement as to who he was.
1:23 He said, “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness.’ ” In answer to their query, the Baptist quoted from Isaiah 40:3, where it was prophesied that a forerunner would appear to announce the coming of Christ. In other words, John stated that he was the forerunner who was predicted. He was the voice, and Israel was the wilderness. Because of their sin and departure from God, the people had become dry and barren, like a desert. John spoke of himself simply as a voice. He did not pose as a great man to be praised and admired, but as a voice-not to be seen, but only to be heard. John was the voice, but Christ was the Word. The word needs a voice to make it known, and the voice is of no value without a word. The Word is infinitely greater than the voice, but it can be our privilege, too, to be a voice for Him.
John’s message was, “Make straight the way of the LORD.” In other words, “The Messiah is coming. Remove everything in your life that would hinder you from receiving Him. Repent of your sins, so that He can come and reign over you as the King of Israel.”
1:24, 25 The Pharisees formed a strict sect of the Jews who prided themselves on their superior knowledge of the law and on their efforts to carry out the most minute details of the instructions of the OT. Actually, many of them were hypocrites who tried to appear religious but who lived very sinful lives. They wanted to know what authority John had for baptizing if he was not one of the important persons they named.
1:26, 27 “I baptize with water,” said John. He did not want anyone to think that he was important. His task was simply to prepare men for Christ. Whenever his hearers repented of their sins, he baptized them in water as an outward symbol of their inward change. “There stands One among you, whom you do not know,” John continued, referring, of course, to Jesus. The Pharisees did not recognize Him as the long looked-for Messiah. In effect John was saying to the Pharisees, “Do not think of me as a great man. The One you should be paying attention to is the Lord Jesus; yet you do not know who He really is.” He is the One who is worthy. He came after John the Baptist, yet He deserves all the praise and preeminence. It was the duty of a slave or servant to untie his master’s sandals. But John did not consider himself worthy to perform such a humble, lowly service for Christ.
1:28 The exact location of Bethabara (or Bethany, NKJV marg.), is not known. But we do know that it was a place on the east side of the Jordan River. If we accept the reading Bethany, it cannot be the Bethany near Jerusalem.
1:29 The next day after the visit of the Pharisees from Jerusalem, John looked up and saw Jesus coming toward him. In the thrill and excitement of that moment, he cried out, “Behold! The Lamb of God who bears the sin of the world!” The lamb was a sacrificial animal among the Jews. God had taught His chosen people to slay a lamb and to sprinkle its blood as a sacrifice. The lamb was killed as a substitute and its blood shed so that sins might be forgiven.
However, the blood of the lambs slain during the OT period did not put away sin. Those lambs were pictures or types, pointing forward to the fact that God would one day provide a Lamb who would actually take away the sin. All down through the years, godly Jews had waited for the coming of this Lamb. Now at last the time had come, and John the Baptist triumphantly announced the arrival of the true Lamb of God.
When he said that Jesus bears the sin of the world, he did not mean that everyone’s sins are therefore forgiven. The death of Christ was great enough in value to pay for the sins of the whole world, but only those sinners who receive the Lord Jesus as Savior are forgiven.
J. C. Jones points out that this verse sets forth the excellency of the Christian atonement:
- 1. It excels in the NATURE of the victim. Whereas the sacrifices of Judaism were irrational lambs, the sacrifice of Christianity is the Lamb of God.
- 2. It excels in the EFFICACY of the work. Whereas the sacrifices of Judaism only brought sin to remembrance every year, the sacrifice of Christianity took sin away. “He put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”
- 3. It excels in the SCOPE of its operation. Whereas the Jewish sacrifices were intended for the benefit of one nation only, the sacrifice of Christianity is intended for all nations; “it takes away the sin of the world.”2
1:30, 31 John never grew weary of reminding people that he was only preparing the way for Someone greater than himself who was coming. Jesus was greater than John to the same extent that God is greater than man. John was born a few months before Jesus, but Jesus had existed from all eternity. When John said, “I did not know Him,” he did not necessarily mean that he had never seen Him before.
Since they were cousins, it is probable that John and Jesus were well acquainted. But John had not recognized his Cousin as being the Messiah until the time of His baptism. John’s mission was to prepare the way of the Lord, and then to point Him out to the people of Israel when He appeared. It was for this reason that John baptized people in water-to prepare them for the coming of Christ. It was not for the purpose of attracting disciples to himself.
1:32 The reference here was to the time John baptized Jesus in the Jordan. After the Lord went up out of the water, the Spirit of God descended like a dove and remained upon Him (cf. Matt. 3:16). The writer goes on to explain the meaning of this.
1:33 God had revealed to John that the Messiah was coming and that when He came, the Spirit would descend upon Him and stay on Him. Therefore, when this happened to Jesus, John realized that this was the One who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a Person, one of the three Persons in the Godhead. He is equal with God the Father and God the Son.
Whereas John baptized with water, Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. The baptism with the Holy Spirit took place on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:5; 2:4, 38). At that time, the Holy Spirit came down from heaven to dwell in the body of every believer and also to make each believer a member of the church, the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13).
1:34 On the basis of what he saw at the baptism of Jesus, John testified positively to the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God who was foretold as coming into the world. When John said that Christ was the Son of God, he meant that He was God the Son.
1:35, 36 The next day referred to here is the third day that has been mentioned. John was with two of his own disciples. These men had heard John preach and believed what he said. But as yet they had not met the Lord Jesus. Now John bore public witness to the Lord. On the previous day, he had spoken of His Person (the Lamb of God) and His work (who takes away the sin of the world). Now he simply draws attention to His Person. His message was short, simple, selfless, and all about the Savior.
1:37 By his faithful preaching, John lost two disciples, but he was glad to see them following Jesus. So we should be more anxious for our friends to follow the Lord than for them to think highly of us.
1:38 The Savior is always interested in those who follow Him. Here He showed His interest by turning to the two disciples and asking, “What do you seek?” He knew the answer to the question; He knew all things. But He wanted them to express their desire in words. Their answer, “Rabbi, where are You staying?” showed that they wanted to be with the Lord and to get to know Him better. They were not satisfied merely to meet Him. They longed to have fellowship with Him. Rabbi is the Hebrew word for Teacher (lit. “my great one”).
1:39 He said to them, “Come and see.” No one with a genuine desire to learn more of the Savior is ever turned away. Jesus invited the two to the place where He was staying at the time-probably a very poor dwelling, compared to modern homes.
They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day (now it was about the tenth hour). Never had these men been so honored. They spent that night in the same home as the Creator of the universe. They were among the very first members of the Jewish nation to recognize the Messiah.
The tenth hour is either 10 a.m. or 4 p.m. The earlier time (Roman) is generally preferred.
1:40 One of the two disciples was Andrew. Andrew is not as well known today as his brother, Simon Peter, but it is interesting to notice that he was the first of the two to meet Jesus.
The name of the other was not given to us, but almost all Bible scholars assume that it was John-the one who wrote this Gospel. They reason that humility kept him from mentioning his own name.
1:41 When a person finds Jesus, he usually wants his relatives to meet Him too. Salvation is too good to keep to oneself. So Andrew went quickly to his own brother Simon with the thrilling news, “We have found the Messiah!” What an astounding announcement this was! For at least four thousand years, men had waited for the promised Christ, God’s Anointed One. Now Simon hears from the lips of his own brother the startling news that the Messiah was nearby. Truly they were living where history was being made. How simple Andrew’s message was. It was only five words-“We have found the Messiah”-yet God used it to win Peter. This teaches us that we do not have to be great preachers or clever speakers. We need only to tell men about the Lord Jesus in simple words, and God will take care of the rest.
1:42 Andrew brought his brother to the right place and to the right Person. He did not bring him to the church, the creed, or the clergyman. He brought him to Jesus. What an important act that was! Because of Andrew’s interest, Simon later became a great fisher of men, and one of the leading apostles of the Lord. Simon has received more publicity than his brother, but Andrew will doubtless share Peter’s reward because it was Andrew who brought him to Jesus. The Lord knew Simon’s name without being told. He also knew that Simon had an unstable character. And finally, He knew that Simon’s character would be changed, so that he would be firm as a rock. How did Jesus know all this? Because He was and is God.
Simon’s name did change to Cephas (Aramaic for stone), and he did become a man of strong character, especially after the Ascension of the Lord and the Descent of the Holy Spirit.
1:43 This is now the fourth day we have read about in this chapter. Bosch points out that on the first day we see John only (vv. 15-28); on the second we see John and Jesus (vv. 29-34); on the third we see Jesus and John (vv. 35-42); and on the fourth day we see Jesus only (vv. 43-51). The Lord walked northward into the region known as Galilee. There He found Philip and invited him to be a follower. “Follow Me!” These are great words because of the One who spoke them and great because of the privilege they offered. The Savior is still issuing this simple, yet sublime, invitation to all men everywhere.
1:44 Bethsaida was a city on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Few cities in the world have ever been so honored. The Lord performed some of His mighty miracles there (Luke 10:13). It was the home of Philip, Andrew, and Peter. Yet it rejected the Savior, and as a result it was destroyed so completely that now we cannot tell the exact spot where it was located.
1:45 Philip wanted to share his new-found joy with someone else, so he went and found Nathanael. New converts are the best soul-winners. His message was simple and to the point. He told Nathanael that he had found the Messiah who had been foretold by Moses and the prophets-Jesus of Nazareth. Actually his message was not entirely accurate. He described Jesus as being the son of Joseph. Jesus, of course, was born of the Virgin Mary and had no human father. Joseph adopted Jesus and thus became his legal father, though not His real father. James S. Stewart comments:
It never was Christ’s way to demand a full-fledged faith for a beginning. It never was his way to hold men back from discipleship on the ground of an incomplete creed. And quite certainly that is not his way today. He puts himself alongside his brethren. He bids them attach themselves to him at any point they can. He takes them with the faith that they can offer him. He is content with that as a beginning; and from that he leads his friends on, as he led the first group on, step by step, to the inmost secret of who he is and to the full glory of discipleship.3
1:46 Nathanael had problems. Nazareth was a despised city of Galilee. It seemed impossible to him that the Messiah would live in such a poor neighborhood. And so he voiced the question that was in his mind. Philip did not argue. He felt that the best way to meet objections was to introduce men directly to the Lord Jesus-a valuable lesson for all who are seeking to win others to Christ. Don’t argue. Don’t engage in prolonged discussions. Just bid men to come and see.
1:47 Verse 47 shows that Jesus knew all things. Without any previous acquaintance with Nathanael, He declared him to be an Israelite indeed, in whom there was no trickery or deceit. Jacob had gained a reputation for using business methods that were not entirely honest, but Nathanael was an “Israel”-ite in whom there was no “Jacob.”
1:48 Nathanael was obviously surprised that a total Stranger should speak to him as if He had known him previously. Apparently he had been completely concealed when he was sitting under the fig tree. Doubtless the overhanging branches of the trees and the surrounding foliage hid him from view. But Jesus saw him, even though he was so hidden.
1:49 Perhaps it was the power of the Lord Jesus to see him when he was shut off from human view that convinced Nathanael, or this knowledge was perhaps given to him in a supernatural way. In any event, he now knew that Jesus was the Son of God and the King of Israel.
1:50 The Lord had given Nathanael two proofs that He was the Messiah. He had described his character, and He had seen Nathanael when no other eyes could have seen him. These two proofs were sufficient for Nathanael, and he believed. But now the Lord Jesus promised that he would see greater proofs than these.
1:51 Whenever Jesus introduced a saying with the words Most assuredly (lit. “Amen, amen”4), He was always about to say something very important. Here He gave Nathanael a picture of the time in the future when He would come back to reign over all the earth. The world will then know that the carpenter’s Son who lived in despised Nazareth was truly the Son of God and Israel’s King. In that day, heaven will open. The favor of God will rest upon the King as He reigns, with Jerusalem as His capital.
It is likely that Nathanael had been meditating on the story of Jacob’s ladder (Gen. 28:12). That ladder, with its ascending and descending angels, is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the only access to heaven. The angels of God will ascend and descend upon the Son of Man. Angels are servants of God, traveling like flames of fire on His errands. When Jesus reigns as King, these angels will travel back and forth between heaven and earth, fulfilling His will.
Jesus was saying to Nathanael that he had seen only very minor demonstrations of His Messiahship. In the future Reign of Christ, he would see the Lord Jesus fully revealed as God’s anointed Son. Then all mankind would know that Someone good did come out of Nazareth.