The author of this well-known Gospel narrative is the apostle John, who in his own writings is often called the disciple whom Jesus loved. John probably was a cousin of Jesus (chapter 19:25) and was at first a disciple of the Baptist with his brother James. It was his personal contact with Jesus, “having seen and touched the Word of life,” that later enabled him, through divine inspiration, to write this Gospel narrative in his own peculiar way.
It is probable that he wrote his narrative when an old man, perhaps between 80 and 90 years of age. From various recordings it is quite certain that he was in Ephesus at the time. The Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke) had undoubtedly already been written.
“Still waters run deep”. This we also see in John. He was a quiet type of man, much different in character from Peter, but deep in thought. His Gospel writing is as profound in many ways as it is loved by God’s people. John often goes deep, and therefore is not nearly as easy to understand in his writing as many may think him to be. The reason for this profoundness lies in the fact that throughout the narrative he shows that the historical Jesus is the eternal Son of God, yea God Himself. This is the very heart of this Gospel, and therefore the theme of it. This seems to have been the predominating thought in John’s mind when he wrote about the doings of Jesus. He mentions only the greatest miracle; of Jesus and the many conversations with the Jews that concentrate on that point. Having introduced Christ as the eternal Son of God, not making any mention of His birth, etc., like Matthew and Luke, John shows how this self-revelation of Jesus passes on to publicity (with Nicodemus, etc.). Then it meets great opposition in the unbelief of the Jews, but the more unbelief he encounters the greater becomes the manifestation of this marvelous self-revelation. Finally it reaches the climax (of Jesus’ sojourn) in the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Then He is crucified and the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God reaches its highest point in the victory of the resurrection.
Questions:—Why do we speak of the Gospel according to John, Matthew, Mark and Luke? Why is it so important to believe that the Christ is God Himself?
The Prolog (vss. 1-18) is more than a mere introduction, it sums up the contents of the entire Gospel, showing that it is the Word (the Logos) who is the very heart and center of all of God’s works in time. Therefore it is Christ later (whose divine nature is the Logos) who is the Saviour of men, and the only one who possibly can give men the life of God. It is really plain stupidity to speak of Christ as a secondary measure or a repair man in the scheme of salvation.
Questions:—1. Why is it unscriptural to maintain that Christ merely restored that which Adam lost? 2. What does the “covenant of works” teach in re this matter?
The Word, vss. 1-2.
In the beginning was the Word. The Word here is the second Person of the Holy Trinity. But why called the Word? A word is a thought uttered or expressed. We need many words to convey our thoughts. But all the fullness that is in the Father, the first Person, is expressed in one mighty Word, the Son. He is the express image of the Father. Of this Word John says three things. He was there already in the beginning, when God created all things. He was also with God, in the original: to God; the Son faces the Father so that the Father always beholds Himself in the image of the Son. Finally, the Word is God Himself, and no one less than that.
The Significance of the Word, vss. 3-5.
All things were made through Him. In plain words this means that the Father created all things through the Son. All of God’s thoughts, reflected in the Son, were taken out of the Son and realized in time. That is creation. Therefore creation is a reflection of God’s thoughts, wisdom and glory and the heavens also declare the glory of God, Ps. 19. Cf. Rom. 1:20.
This same Word was the light and life of men. He possessed life, being God Himself. This implies a contrast with all living beings who came into existence by a creative act of the Logos. Now life and light are inseparably joined together, also in nature. We need light for life, and life to have light. Light emanates from life, which is fundamental. In nature the living, active sun radiates light which gives us life. So Christ is the life who gives light, and therefore life. He gives true, spiritual life, the life with God. The darkness (fallen men) comprehendeth it not. The light was not appropriated by the darkness, but rather rejected by it. Men do not want Him who is the very source of all true life, they prefer death.
Questions:—1. Mention some things in creation which are a revelation of God. 2. Is creation as rich in revelation now as before the fall? 3. Who was the source of life for Adam since Christ had not yet come? 4. When especially did the darkness manifest that it did not and would not comprehend the light of the Word?
The Witness of the Light, vss. 6-9.
The world must know the Light of the Logos. Therefore God sent a man to bear witness of Him, The Baptist. A witness was John and not a mere preacher of the Light, having beheld with his own eyes the Word, incarnated. His one work at all times was to show men the Son of God. Therefore he also became a mighty preacher. But the Jews who in general liked John, must not mistake John for the Christ, vs. 8. In his preaching he told them that the true Light had now come, it was here, the Light that lightens every man coming into the world. Every man coming into the world has the innate light of the Word. Through the testimony of the Spirit every man knows that God is. But now it is here, says John, with us, to give a complete testimony.
Questions:—How must we explain the last part of verse it? Do the heathen also know that God is?
Reaction to the Light, vss. 10-11.
Take notice now how that men reject God and the Word even though they are dependent upon Him, made by Him and He in every way manifested Himself to them. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, but (not and) the world knew Him not. The horror and shame of it! But there is more. Within this greater circle of the world lies a lesser one in which the shame and rejection is even greater. The Logos came unto His own, but His own received Him not. He came to His own land, country and homeland. Canaan was God’s own in a peculiar way, Israel was God’s peculiar people. She belonged to no one else. If therefore anywhere in the world the incarnate Logos should have been received, it should have been by his people. But His own received Him not. It is plain that no one cares for God, but all reject Him.
Questions:—What is the deepest cause of this consistent rejection? In which way does the world know the Logos and in which way not? Does the expression “fullness of time”, referring to the time when Christ came on earth, mean that Israel was waiting for Him?
Those Receiving Him, vss. 12-13.
But O how blessed are those who do receive (sometimes also translated accept) Him. They are called the sons of God and have the glorious right and privilege to receive that name. Being sons of God they are His image-bearers and heirs of all that God possesses. It implies eternal blessings and happiness. And who are they who so receive Him? All those who in the midst of this world believe in His name. But does not every man reject Him, even Israel? Yes all man by nature, except those who are born, not of blood, etc. vs. 13. Physically we are born of blood, of the will of man and of the flesh. But those who are born of God, regenerated, they receive Christ and believe, etc.
Questions: Can we in any way speak of accepting Jesus? Is it Reformed to sing: Ye must be born again? Who are they that are born again?
The Word Become Flesh, vss. 14-15.
This verse may well be called the climax of the entire Prolog, but the fact should not be overlooked that what is now recorded as the climax already lies in that which John wrote from vs. 4 on. The Word become flesh is the wonder of all wonders. God in our flesh, sin excepted, the Almighty united with dust, the Eternal One with creatures of time, the Infinite with the finite. Oh that Babe in the manger! This tabernacling with men (so in the original) is the very heart of all covenant fellowship of God with His people. The result of His appearing in the flesh on earth is that we behold His glory, as of the Only Begotten of the Father. We saw the Word of life, looked upon it, and even touched it, says John in his first epistle. It is marvelous to say the least. Through His flesh (the human nature) the Word (the Son of God) manifested all His marvelous glories. Men saw them in all the gracious words he uttered and the deeds He performed. It was most wonderful for He was full of grace and truth. Being full of grace means that in Him was manifested the love of God as it saves and beautifies His people, though dead in sins and miseries. Being the truth He was the true and full revelation of God over against all false presentations, as well as the faint types and shadows that had been given before. Vs. 15 shows that it was this testimony that John the Baptist gave, losing himself completely that Christ might be exalted.
Questions:—Did the Son leave heaven when He became flesh? Does the Son reveal more glory through His human nature now than when on earth?
Partaking of this Grace, vss. 16-17.
Vs. 16 take; up the thought again of vs. 14, to dwell on the riches that are in Christ Jesus, the Word become flesh. They are the riches of the Lamb, Rev. 5:12, the unsearchable riches of Christ, Eph. 3:8. And Scripture abounds with similar expressions. In Him is the fulness which is inexhaustible. He never loses anything, no matter how much we draw, but remains the infinite fountain of all grace and truth: the more you draw from Him, the more abundantly He gives of the water that springs into eternal life. Just as the sun is not darkened by the whole world enjoying its light, so is Christ our Lord an infinite source of all grace. The fountain always runs over, full of grace. And we have received of Him, says the apostle, grace for grace, i.e. grace after grace. As the days come and go a new supply takes the place of the grace already bestowed, as wave follows wave upon the shore. It is grace for the child of God, new and ever greater. One measure of it assures another. It is like a stream flowing constantly, every day, every hour its banks are full, ever fresh volume; coming down from above. (Lenski). This the law given by Moses could never give us. The law could bring nothing but condemnation and death with its strict and just demands. But in Christ is all our salvation. By His grace the law is fulfilled and in Him is the full truth over against all the “weak” revelations of God given in the O.T. types and shadows. In the Word become flesh is our all.
Questions:—If the law couldn’t save, why did God give it? Gal. 3:24. Does the elect sinner also receive grace for grace when he lives in sin? Why is this fullness of grace in Christ such a comfort for the sinner?
Source of this Fulness, vs. 18.
In this capacity of being the fullness of grace and truth Christ revealed Himself when on earth and still does today. Therefore this revelation of Him is so blessed. And why is it so blessed, really? Because it is the revelation of God, who is the fountain and source of all that is good. No, no one ever saw God. And see Him we must to know Him. This is and forever will remain impossible for earthly creatures. But the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him unto us, i.e. set Him forth completely. From Him we have first-hand, complete and reliable information about God. Therefore all is in Christ, the Word become flesh. The entire Gospel according to John is written from this viewpoint.
Questions:—In which way does Christ declare the Father unto us today? Does He do it in more than one way? Will the saints actually see God face to face in heaven?
Jewish Enquiries, vss. 19-22.
With these verses we have the beginning of the attestation of Christ as the Son of God in His public ministry. First of all we have the testimony of the humble and therefore great Baptist.
It seems as if the apostle John takes for granted the general history of John the Baptist. This is possible since his Gospel narrative was written sometime after the Synoptics had already made their appearance. But we must remember, to understand the setting of these words, that at this time the Baptist had reached the very height of his ministry and influence. The excitement he caused grew to huge proportions among the people. Thousands flocked to him. Therefore the central authorities at Jerusalem felt constrained to send out an official committee to make a firsthand investigation.
It is in this that we can also see the Divine purpose of John. God will have him prepare the way before Christ, which includes giving clear testimonies of Christ in his popularity. God would therefore have these Jews come in the presence of the multitudes to the famous John for information, in order that they might receive the testimony concerning His Son.
Priests and Levites are sent. The emphasis in their first question falls on Thou. Thou, who art thou? The striking feature is the elaborate way in which John replies. It was a full and clear-cut confession, knowing that many considered him to be the Messiah. He will seek no honor for himself. I am not the Christ. Is he then possibly Elijah? The Jews expected Elijah to come again, literally from heaven, to prepare the way for Christ, basing their assumption on Mai. 4:5. Now the Elijah of whom Malachi is speaking is definitely John the Baptist. Yet John gives a negative answer because the Jews were looking for the literal, not the antitypical Elijah which he was. Then, too, Moses had spoken of another prophet to come, He would be the prophet. Deut. 18:15, Art thou then the prophet ?
But an answer they must have, being a committee. No, they are not personally concerned about John’s identity. They must bring more or receive heavy censure for having left the main part of their task undone. What sayest thou of thyself?
Questions:—Did John fully understand his position in connection with the Messiah? Why didn’t John immediately point them to the Christ, instead of giving all these negative answers?
John Identifies Himself, vs. 23.
In his answer the entire stress is on his work and office, none on his person; he is merely a voice with a message. His answer is, of course, a quotation from Is. 40:3. It means that as a voice crying in the wilderness to the people, he will prepare the way of the Lord, by preparing the people for the coming Messiah. But again, why not give these men a plain clear-cut answer? Fact is that this is the best answer he could give them, the Scriptures themselves. John identifies himself as the one about whom Isaiah is speaking. Do they believe the Scriptures? Then let them compare his work with this prophecy. But this they do not do, because genuine interest in his work is lacking.
Questions:—In which way did John prepare the way for Christ? What did he emphasize in his preaching? Did these Jews profess to believe the Scriptures?
The Question Regarding John’s Baptism, vss. 23-28.
Now it is a question of baptism. It is generally agreed upon that the former questions and the last one are of a different nature. The former may have been put by the Sadducees, while the last one came from the Pharisees, who were vitally interested in rituals of worship, such as baptism. If John himself admitted that he was none of the persons mentioned, how then, dared he to baptize? A baptism of this nature, and with such proportions the Jews may have expected, but then by the Messiah. The answer is another unique one. I baptize with water. Sure, they all knew that. But Christ would pour out His Spirit and baptize with the Spirit. Of this the O. T. also spoke. “But’’, says John, “baptize only with water; it is only a water ceremony, and thence a means of grace”. And the implication is that He whose forerunner I am, whose way I am making straight, will baptize with more than water. And He is standing right in the midst of them. He is so great that John, great in the eyes of all the people, is not worthy of such menial service as loosening his shoe latchets. This was done in these days by the humblest slave. And this great One is right in their midst. This should have caused intense interest, but none of the kind. They cared not for the Christ, they always reject Him. Vs. 28 tells us about the place where these things took place. The author evidently considers it to be of great importance. By all means look it up on your map.
Questions:—Who were the Pharisees? The Sadducees? Why do you think they were so interested in John’s person? How do you explain John’s popularity in the light of Christ’s unpopularity?
John’s Testimony to the People, vss. 29-34
Day after day the Baptist witnesses of the Christ, and each time he comes closer to Him. On the day after the enquiry of the committee of the Jews he gave a direct unmistakable testimony of Christ to the people. The setting very likely was similar to that of the previous day with a multitude of people around him. While Jesus is coming to him (not only being in the midst of the crowd) possibly to gather his disciples and to be testified of by John, John literally shows them who the Messiah is. Perhaps he even stretched out his hand to indicate the person he had in mind. Behold, the Lamb of God. God’s Lamb is right in their midst. Thousands, yea tens of thousands had been sacrificed in the past, but now, behold God’s Lamb.
This is he of whom he spake before. No, John didn’t know him either as the Christ (he may have known Jesus personally for a long time, being a relative of Him) but God made known to him who Jesus was in order that John with his baptism would make Him manifest to Israel. Therefore the Lord gave him the signs with the baptism of Jesus which had already taken place. And having seen these signs, he bears record to the people: this is the Son of God. Israel, here before us is the Son of God, the promised Messiah! (Notice how the theme of the Gospel again is brought to the foreground).
Questions:—How did John make Jesus manifest to Israel with his baptism? Of what is the dove a symbol? Some say of purity and innocence, others of humility and meekness equipping Jesus for His work, and others that as the Spirit hovered over the waters with creation (Gen. 1:3) so He does in the new creation. What do you think?
John Testifying to two of his Disciples, vss. 35-42.
The Baptist is willing to lose all for the sake of Christ, his own position as well as his disciples. Seeing Jesus walking the next day he once more says: behold the Lamb of God. The two disciples understand him and leave him and follow Jesus, a stranger to them as yet. Seeing them coming to him Jesus takes the initiative, asking them what they are seeking? This question has tremendous implications, spiritually. What are they looking for? In answer they would like to know where Jesus lives that there they later or now may engage a private conversation with Him.
We are told who one of these was, Andrew. The other very likely was John, who never mentions his own name. Andrew finds his brother Peter. Notice the interest these men have in the Messiah. He tells Peter that he has found the Messiah, which implies a seeking in the past. True Israelites they were. And coming to Jesus, the Lord immediately tells Peter what he shall be in the future.
Questions:—Can the expression: he first findeth his own brother, in vs. 41 mean that the other disciples, John, also found his own brother? Why did Jesus change Simon’s name? Would this also change his character?
Jesus Finds two more Disciples, vss. 43-51
The next day Jesus went to Galilee and finds Philip of Bethsaida. (Look upon your map). Notice how Philip, being keenly interested reports all to Nathanael. These men are acquainted with the Scriptures. But, asks Nathanael, can any good thing come out of Nazareth. Being from Galilee he must have known that Nazareth had a poor reputation, perhaps was morally degenerate. And then the Good One come from there? But Jesus
soon wins him, by manifesting His exceptional powers. He portrays Nathanael’s character but also tells him that he already saw him under the fig tree. Sure, then Jesus saw him and knew him already as a vessel meet for His use. Notice the response of faith on Nathanael’s part. But he will see greater things, says Jesus: angels ascending and descending upon the Son of man. This reminds us of Jacob. In short the meaning is that there will be perfect contact and communion between heaven and Christ here on earth. This will become plain to them in the marvelous works of Jesus.
Questions:—Was Jesus omniscient, like God? How many disciples does Jesus have by this time?