In this video, we explore the opening of John’s Gospel and what it means for Jesus to be called the Word of God.
Tim: In the Bible, there are four accounts of the life of Jesus that altogether are called the Gospel. And the Gospel of John begins by introducing Jesus as the “Word of God.”1
Jon: What does that mean, for a person to be a word?
Tim: Yeah. It’s a great question. Let’s check it out. So John’s account has twenty-one chapters, and it begins with a carefully designed prologue2 that places Jesus’ story in a cosmic context. It starts like this:
Narrator: “In the beginning was the Word.”3
Jon: “In the beginning”—that’s how the story of the whole Bible begins. “In the beginning, God created the skies and the land.”4
Tim: Right. John is claiming that to really understand who Jesus is, you need to start way, way back in the beginning. And what was God doing in the beginning? He was speaking his creative word into the darkness.
Tim: Picture a king who can get things done just by speaking a word. That’s how God speaks in Genesis one, ten times. And each word turns the dark chaos into an ordered cosmos that is full of life.
Jon: Creation hears the Word and obeys.
Tim: Now think about it. A person’s word is their word because it embodies their thoughts. But as it goes out from them, it becomes separate. It’s this idea that John explores next.
Narrator: “And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”8
Tim: Notice how John has designed this opening statement so the outer lines are about the Word’s eternal nature—“he’s from the beginning.” And then the center lines are a claim about the Word’s identity.
Jon: The Word is both with God and is God. They’re two and also one.
Tim: Now, after these opening lines are six more paragraphs that are arranged in two matching groups. The first three tell the story of Jesus with imagery drawn from the scroll of Genesis. Creation began with God bringing light into darkness. And now with the coming of Jesus, God is beginning a new creation.
Narrator: “In him was life, and that life was the light of humanity. And the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness did not overcome it.”9
Jon: In the next paragraph, we meet a new character, John the Baptizer.
Tim: Yeah. He was preparing Israel for something new that God was going to do, by bearing witness to Jesus when he arrived.
Narrator: “John came as a witness, so he could bear witness to the light so that everyone could believe through him.”10
Tim: After this, the third paragraph explores the choice people face when God’s light enters the world through Jesus. Some choose to stay in the dark, but others enter the light and are recreated—reborn—as new kinds of humans.
Narrator: “Unto his own he came, but his own did not receive him. But to those who did receive him, he gave authority to become children of God to those who believe in his name.”11
Jon: So these three paragraphs summarize the story of Jesus as God’s Word bringing light to the darkness—all imagery from Genesis.
Tim: Right. And now watch. John will go back and retell the same story again, but this time with imagery taken from the scroll of Exodus.
Narrator: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And we saw his glory, the glory of the one and only, from the Father…”12
Tim: So the eternal Word of God entered into creation by becoming a mortal human named Jesus.
Jon: And he dwelt among us?
Tim: Yeah. The Greek word for “dwelt” is skaynein (σκηνειν). It means literally “to live in a tent.” John is comparing Jesus to the sacred tabernacle that Moses built at Mount Sinai, the place where God’s glorious presence came to live and unite with his people.
Jon: So Jesus is a human tabernacle?
Tim: Yeah. He’s the reality to which the tabernacle pointed, the place where God and humanity are united as one.
Jon: Next we get another mention of John the baptizer who’s bearing witness to Jesus saying:
Narrator: “This is the one of whom I said, ‘The one who comes after me actually precedes me, because he was long before me.’”13
Tim: After this, John tells abouts how he and his friends actually met Jesus, and how they made the choice to follow and trust him and so were transformed by his light.
Narrator: “From his fullness, we all received grace upon grace. The Torah was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Messiah.”14
Tim: John was an Israelite, part of the family that received, through Moses, the generous gift of the Torah that shared God’s word and wisdom. And now, through Jesus, John and his fellow Israelites have received the ultimate gift of God’s truth and love, Jesus himself.
Jon: And this time, God’s word isn’t written—it’s a person.
Tim: Exactly! Now to wrap things up, John concludes the prologue with words that echo the opening lines.
Narrator: “No one has ever seen God. The one and only God, who is in the lap of the Father, that one has made known…”15
Tim: So on the one hand, God is transcendent and above all—totally other.
Jon: And if that were the end of the story, God would remain distant from us.
Tim: But then John starts talking about this one and only God who’s in the lap of the Father.16
Jon: Yeah. What does that mean?
Tim: Well, remember in the prologue opening, John used the image of God and God’s word. Now he uses another image of a father whose son is sitting really close.
Jon: A king and his word, a father and his son—they’re both ways of saying the same thing?
Tim: Right. John wants to make clear that the Jesus he knew was both distinct from God and also God. And as God’s Word and Son and light and glory, Jesus came to make known …
Jon: Yeah. To make known what?
Tim: Yeah! Exactly. In Greek, John doesn’t say. He actually leaves the sentence open.
Jon: He forgot to finish the last sentence?
Tim: No! It’s on purpose. It’s John’s invitation to keep reading the story, so you can discover for yourself what Jesus wants to make known to you. Ultimately, John sees the whole story of the Bible as an invitation to know and be known by the Father and the Son who together are the one God.