If we are to understand and appreciate the beginning of this Gospel, we must look at the past and try to understand the background in the use of this strange phrase–the Word. There are two sources, Hebrew and Greek.
The Hebrew background relates to the power of the word. One may see this in the creation story in which God spoke, and it happened. A similar example is seen in Isaac who had been deceived by Jacob and Isaac blessed Jacob instead of Esau. There was nothing that Isaac would do to revoke the blessing he gave Jacob.
The Greek background begins about 560 BC in Ephesus with a philosopher named Heraclitus. He believed that everything was in a state of flux, change. Everything was changing from day to day and from moment to moment. His famous illustration was that it was impossible to step twice into the same river. You step into a river, you step out. If you step into it again, the river has gone by and you step into a different river. For Heraclitus everything was like that, everything was a constantly changing state of flux. But if that be so, why was not life completely chaos? How can there be sense in a world where there was constant flux and change? The answer of Heraclitus was that all the change and flux was not haphazard, but was controlled and ordered, following a continuous pattern all the time. What controlled it? The answer: the Logos (the Word), the reason of God.
For Heraclitus the Logos was the principle of order under which the universe continued to exist. Heraclitus went further. He held there was a pattern to the physical, there was also a pattern in the events of the world. He held that nothing moved with aimless feet; in all life and in all the events of life there was a purpose, a plan, and a design. It was the Logos that controlled all of this.
Hereaclitus took the issue one step more. What was it in us individually that told us the difference between right and wrong? What made us able to think and reason? What enabled us to choose right and to recognize the truth when we see it? Same answer, the logos of God dwelling within.
Greek thought was all about the Logos. It saw in the Logos the creating and guiding and directing power of God, the power which made the universe and kept it going. So John the Gospel writer is now saying to the Greeks, “for centuries you have been thinking and writing and dreaming about the Logos, the power which made the world, the power which keeps the order of the world, the power by which men think and reason and now, the power by which men come into contact with God. Now the most awesome and wonderful thing has happened, The Logos has become embodied in Jesus the Christ, the Logos come to earth, the Word made flesh.
The Chinese Bible used the Tao in this verse. But the Tao does not become embodied in a person. There is a sense in Lao-tsu and Confucius who talked about the Tao as the way to live, but it was purely up to one to live by one’s own effort. Here the Logos, or Word takes on human form and lives among us and gives us the Holy Spirit to enable us to live in obedience.
With this in mind, let us turn to explore the meaning of this great verse of Scripture.
I. The Logos or Word is Eternal. 1, 14
The Logos or Word was there at the very beginning of all things. We can return to the first verse of Genesis in which God created the heavens and the earth. The Logos or Word was not one of the created things. The Word was before that. It is hard to imagine the beginning of the World from nothing. God spoke and it happened by his Word. The Word is not part of the material world which came into being in time; the Word belongs to Eternity and was there with the Father before time and the world began. We refer to this as the “pre-existence of Christ.”
In many ways this idea of the pre-existence of Christ is very difficult to grasp. But it does mean one very simple, very practical, and very tremendous thing. If the Word was with God before time began, if God’s word is part of the eternal scheme of things, it means that God was always like Jesus.! The whole New Testament tells us this story, that God was always been like Jesus. What Jesus did was to open a window in time that we might see the eternal and unchanging love of God.
II. The Word is with God–fellowship
What does this mean? It means that there has always been the closest relationship between the Logos and God. To put it in our terms, between the Father and the Son.
Let me take a simple analogy. If we want to know what someone really thinks and feels about something, and if we are unable to approach the person ourselves, we do not go to someone who is merely an acquaintance of that person, to someone who has known him only for a short time; we go to someone who we know to be an intimate friend of many years standing. We know that he will be really able to interpret the mind and heart of the other person to us.
It is something like this that we learn about Jesus. The Word embodied in the humanity of Jesus has always been with the Father. In simple terms, Jesus is on intimate terms with the Father and there are no secrets kept from him. Jesus is the one person in all the universe who can reveal to us what God is like and how God feels toward us.
This sense of oneness with God relates to a sense of community. We are driven to talk about the Trinity at this point and we will more later, but it is important to note that the Trinity involves a sense of community, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in a harmony and unity of love.
This community is reflected in the idea of man’s life and existence. We are to live in community in love. God wills community for us because of the nature of God.. When we think of the family where Christ is Lord there is supposed to be a relationship of love, a community of love. Love seeks equality in this relationship. The husband loves his wife, the wife loves her husband, their love is expressed in the life of children. Love is expansive. It reaches out, it grows, it deepens. I thought I loved my wife when we were married, but that love is not as deep as the love that I have now for her. A loving family reflects the loving relationships of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
There is another application in the passage here. There are a group of people known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses who have their own translation of the Bible, called the New World Translation. Their translation of this passage says that the Logos was a god. They deny that the Logos was eternal. Instead, they speak of the Logos as a created being. They deny the Trinity and the deity of Christ. Such a being is regarded as savior and in so doing they are in a position of idolatry since the early Christians worshiped Christ as Lord and God. This means that something less than God would bring salvation to us. There is a favorite quote I like by P.T. Forsyth, “A half-god cannot redeem what it took a whole God to make.” That is part of the importance of the Trinity. Our salvation rests on God, not on a created being.
III. The Word was God–Divine Nature
We are driven to develop some understanding of the nature of God out of this passage. The Christians of the past have thought long and hard on the proper way to think about God in the Christian sense. The idea of the Trinity came out of this passage as well as others.
How shall we understand this? In the past one of the greatest mind of the Christian history was Augustine who wrote a treatise on the Trinity. He developed some analogies and since his time other analogies have been developed to talk about the Trinity.
A. There are physical analogies and we can look at a few.
First, there is the analogy of water which can be seen as a liquid, it can be solid as in ice, and it can be vapor as in steam.
Second, there is the analogy of an egg in which there is a shell, a yoke, and the white.
Third, there is the analogy of humanity, I am a father, a son, and a brother. In this I am only one person while we must speak of God as tri-personal. In a similar analogy, one can speak of one humanity in which there is father, son, and brother.
Fourth, the analogy of a triangle, three sides to a triangle, father, son, and Holy Spirit, but only one triangle. If these analogies are useful for you, fine, but if not, remember that we are grasping for material ways of trying to understand a Being who is Infinite. Think about how immense the universe is and how difficult it is to know it, and then think about a Being who created this who is greater than the Universe.
B. Psychological analogies. Augustine used some analogies that have the advantage of inter-penetration.
The first is the trinity of memory, intelligence and will. All of this is part of me, one person, but it helps to understand that memory, intelligence and will permeate my whole psychological life. It would be difficult to isolate my memory from my intellect, and my will from both of them. There is an inter-penetration or permeation of these parts of my life.
Second, there is the analogy of lover, beloved, and Spirit of love. If God is love, then there is a beloved, and a Spirit of love between them. In contrast, there are unitarians, people who reject the Trinity, who do not speak of God as love. Muslims have 99 names for Allah, but love is not one of them. If one were to speak of God as love in the unitarian sense, there was no one around to love except Himself. From a human standpoint, we have come to regard persons who only love themselves as deviant in behavior. Fortunately, for us, God’s love in the Trinity is a reaching out kind of love to another person, and God loves and because of this, he created us to share his love.
Third, there is the analogy of a Father and Son. If God is a Father, He must always have had a Son. This is why one speaks of the Son as Eternal with the Father. God is Father from eternity as the Son is eternal with Him. In the human sense we always talk about a beginning point for being a father, but that is not so with God. He has always been the Father with the Son.
The wonderful startling truth is reached in verse 14, in which the Divine Word became flesh and dwelled among us. This gives us a better understanding of why Christmas is so important to the Christian community. It is the birth of a Savior, Immanuel, which means God with us. That is the meaning of the passage here in John.
You may never have thought much about the Trinity, but the idea is important for it involves a number of related ideas. Without the Trinity and the revelation of this to us, we would know little about God. Heracalitus had some ideas that were important but we would not know they were true without the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.
Without the Trinity, there would be no salvation, and we would be left to our own devices. God has done for us what we could not do ourselves, that is give us salvation by faith, not works.. Without the Trinity there would be no regeneration since there would be no Spirit to indwell our lives and transform us. We have been given great and precious promises in Jesus, in his life and death, and resurrection.
The idea of the Trinity is difficult to comprehend, but it is because man is only an image of God, a reflection, and God is greater than we are. Augustine wrote about it saying, “We say three persons not in order to express it, but in order not to keep silent.”
In contrast, the Tao was a way of human achievement. The Word becoming flesh is the way of God’s activity to bring Man to himself.
The marvelous truth is expressed in v.12. To all who receive him, who believe in his name, he gives the power and right to become children of God. I need to ask you, havc you received Jesus as Lord and Savior, that you might have everlasting life? God has done the most awesome thing, he has come into the world, but there is a response necessary from us.
Will you respond?