“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” [John 1:1; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Version (1995) unless otherwise indicated].
Over the past few days, much of the Christian Church world has celebrated the Feasts of the Epiphany (January 6) and the Baptism of Jesus (first Sunday after Epiphany, usually the third Sunday after Christmas). Epiphany celebrates the revelation of Jesus to the nations of the world. Its primary focus is on the coming of the wise men (Matthew 2:1-12); other recommended Scripture readings for the day speak of His ministry to the Gentiles (e.g., Matthew 12:14-21).
The baptism of Jesus, however, brings us back to the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, as He was revealed by God to the Jewish nation while being baptized by John the Baptist:
“Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’ But Jesus answering said to him, ‘Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he permitted Him. After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased’” (Matthew 3:13-17).
The Gospels of Matthew and Luke begin by reporting Jesus’ miraculous birth; Luke includes the birth of John the Baptist. On the other hand, John’s Gospel begins before the dawn of time. The Word of God existed with the Father and was God. After that, John bounces his focus between two persons: the eternal Word of God, who became a man, Jesus Christ; and John the Baptist, who bore witness to the coming of the Word, Lord, and Messiah.
Many ministries urge new followers of Jesus to read the Gospel of John before any other book of the Bible. Those who read it for the first time would be wise to keep a few things in mind. First, John wrote with a different emphasis than the other Gospel writers. Matthew, Mark, and Luke read more like a historical account of His life. They record what He did, said, and how He died and rose. They present “just the facts” (as TV detective Joe Friday would say). Luke summarized his intentions:
“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4).
In contrast, John has a much more stylized, subjective, and analytical approach. Whereas Matthew, Mark, and Luke try to be informative, John is admittedly trying to make a persuasive argument:
“Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31).
This different purpose explains the substantial differences between John and the other three Gospels.
In this context, John began his Gospel by introducing Jesus as the Word of God, who existed before the world was created and through whom all things were created (John 1:3). Then, he skipped over the birth and childhood of Jesus (which Matthew and Luke thoroughly describe) and introduced the ministry of John the Baptist. Instead of focusing on his message of repentance, John summarized how his message bore witness to the coming of the Messiah.
Many of the key themes of John’s Gospel are introduced in John 1:1-18. These verses mention such concepts as light, life, grace, truth, belief, glory, and testimony or witness, and they frequently recur in later chapters. John 1:18 speaks of Jesus as “the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father.” John 13:23 speaks of a beloved disciple—most likely John himself—reclining near the bosom of Jesus at the Last Supper. The similar choice of wording is striking; perhaps John, thinking of his close friendship with Jesus, was attempting to compare it to Jesus’ intimacy with the Father. Maybe he wanted us to think that Jesus had intimately bound Himself with humanity just as He was already bound to the Father.
If you plan to read John’s Gospel all the way through for the first time, read the first chapter, especially the first 18 verses, slowly and carefully. They set the stage for the rest of the book.
In the coming weeks, I will share a few more meditations on John 1:1-18. The passage offers a lot of insight on the subject of Jesus’ deity. This post provides an introduction to this series of articles.
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