“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us …”
We’re a couple of days away from Christmas, and to a lot of people, this time of the year means a lot of things. It means time with the people who mean the most to us, our family, our friends, and more. It’s a time to reflect on the year that’s gone by (oh so fast). But let’s not forget what this season is really all about. And that is when God in human form came to this earth, in the form of Jesus Christ.
That’s what Christmas is really all about. But let’s dig into this a little bit more, shall we? Let’s take one of the most popular passages used around Christmas time (and one of my personal favourites), dissect it, and see what it’s telling us.
Here’s John 1:1-14:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Let’s break this down into three terms and focus on each one. Those terms being Word, light, and witness. Let’s begin with the Word.
N.B. Just to forewarn you, there is a fair bit of Greek in here, so be prepared for that.
To give a bit of context to this passage, this is the introduction given to us in the gospel of John. Probably written by the apostle John somewhere between AD 65 and AD 95, this is the consensus across the board in terms of scholarship, with most scholars landing around AD 95.
John chooses to start his account of the life of Jesus with this rather poetic telling of the incarnation account. Unlike Matthew and Luke, you’ll find no wise men, no angels, no stable, not even a glimpse of Herod. Instead, we see a short introduction to who Jesus is, and how He is God.
Right from the start, John gives us a clue as to who he is speaking of (if we didn’t already know it before). Deciding to use three words we see in the book of Genesis, those being in the beginning, the apostle was trying to let his readers in on who Jesus really is, by tying Him to the creation as given to us by Moses. John uses the Greek equivalent to the Hebraic word Bereshit, which is the name of the book of Genesis in Hebrew, and translates to in the beginning. So John here is essentially here doing what we often see on popular TV shows when we see a narrator tell us what happened previously on the show.
We see John use the term logos to refer to Jesus, we translate it as the word. Logos like most Greek words has numerous different translations, however, the vast majority of those relate to speech, teaching, and doctrine. In fact, in terms of the etymology of this term, the term logos had never been used to denote a person until Jesus. So what does that tell us? It tells us two things, that John (or whoever penned the gospel at his direction) was well-versed in the Greek language, and secondly (and more importantly) that Jesus was the living embodiment of the principles God had laid out in the Tanakh (the Old Testament). It’s an amazing literary tool when you think about it. Combine it with his of the phrase, in the beginning, John is telling us that not only was Jesus there with God from the time of the creation of the world (and before that) but now He was the living embodiment of God’s revelation to His people. That boggles the mind, doesn’t it?
John confirms for us that Jesus is God in human form in verse 1 when he says, “and the Word was with God, and the word was God”. Here John uses an interesting literary technique, combining the Word and God together, but also separating them. This is done on a technical level using the terms pros (with) and eimi (was), rendered in the text as en. Pros means nearby or towards, where eimi means to be or to exist. Take that at a more technical textual level, what you get is John saying that saying that the Word was near God and existed as God. So for those out there who claim to be believers and argue against the trinitarian nature of God, John 1 refutes them very handily.
We then see another previously on phrase here, repeating that the Word was with God in the beginning. This is a means of simply confirming what he said at the beginning of his gospel. He is making it clear that the Word has always existed, and has always existed as and with God.
According to John, nothing has been made that was made. While this may to some be a bit wordy, it is actually a simple concept to understand. And it is this. Everything that has ever been made on the earth, that is the product of God, God made everything and makes everything.
Then finally in terms of specifically addressing the usage of the term logos, we’re told that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Here John uses the term skenoo which translates as tabernacle. Now The Message translation puts this quite well by saying that the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood. While this is quite true, there is so much more to it than that. See the use of this word, suggests that we should understand what the tabernacle is. So what is it? Well, the tabernacle was the portable temple, built under God’s instruction to Moses, it was the earthly dwelling place of God that was carried with the Israelites as they travelled through the wilderness prior to conquering the land of Canaan. The tabernacle was a fixture for the Israelites until the time of Solomon when the first temple was built, but notice that John doesn’t use the term temple, he’s using the term tabernacle. Now is conjecture on my part, but I think there is an element of prophecy here, see the Jews would go on to reject Jesus who was (and is) the promised Messiah, so God’s people rejected Him. This led to the grafting in of the Gentiles, who did accept Jesus as the Messiah. So this statement could be prophetic, as it indicates that God’s dwelling place would not be in a fixed location, but would be mobile, and more importantly, it would be among those who accepted Him as Lord and Saviour.
John concludes by adding an extra layer to the personhood of the Word. Saying that the Word is the only son of the father. Again going into the Greek here, the term John uses here for only son is the term monogenes, this translates as begotten (denoting a genetic relationship), essentially saying that the Word is the only child (by biology) of God. He uses the term pater to denote God as the father, pater means father (or male ancestor) but was also used in the ancient world to refer to God, as He is our heavenly father. So John is saying that Jesus is both God and the begotten son of God. It’s a lot to get your head around quite frankly, and to be honest there is no way to adequately explain that in a way that we as humans can fully understand it because every possible earthly explanation fails. As this relationship is clearly like nothing we would ever see on a natural level.
If anything comes close to putting the concept of the Trinity which John is clearly pointing to here, this excerpt from a video produced by Lutheran Satire may do it:
“The Trinity is a mystery that cannot be comprehended by human reason but is understood by faith and is best confessed in the words of the Athanasian Creed which states that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance. That we are compelled by the Christian faith to confess that each distinct person is God and Lord and that the deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is one equal in glory, coequal in majesty.”
Now, let’s move on to the light.
John starts addressing the light in verse 4 where he says, in Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The word light that is used in the Greek is the word phos. The word phos when used in a literal sense, it translates to light, fire, or heavenly body (such as a star). However, John is clearly using phos in a metaphorical sense, he clearly isn’t saying that the Word is a star, or a fire, or a literal light. He is speaking metaphorical, so the definition of the phos changes here, included in those definitions are, truth and its knowledge, spiritual purity, reason, and most importantly, the light of God. Put this together with the of men reference that John makes, it becomes a case of the life that the Word brought was the light of God to all mankind.
“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
The Word is the light, and the Word is the true light. This statement also gives us a clue about the identity of the Word. How we get to that is by taking the understanding of what John means by men (everybody, the entire world) and looking for where that comes up again in scripture. Here’s one example of this, it’s found in John 8:12 and is one of the I Am statements. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Who says that again? It is Jesus Christ. Here John gives the identity away, by saying that the Word is the light of the world. John 9:5 tells us that as long as Christ is in the world, He is the light of the world.
John also tells us what happened with the Jews, they rejected Him. But that’s not the end of the story, because to those who accepted Him, He would give the right to become the children of God. Now, that’s good news!
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”
Now not to be confused, John who writes the gospel account is not the same John referenced here as the witness. It’s John the Baptist. However, John makes it know to us that John the Baptist was sent to be a witness of the coming Messiah. John the Baptist was to proclaim that the light of the world was coming into the world. He was not the light of the world, but was merely one sent to proclaim its arrival into the world.
This principle of witnessing to the work that the light was about to do is very similar to our call as Christians to bear witness to the work that Jesus has already done through His life, death, and resurrection. We are called to tell the people the truth of the gospel, the truth of what Jesus Christ has done for each and every one of us. We are called to also bear witness to the light. Now, our witness is not the same kind of witness that John was called to, He was called to prepare the way for Jesus to start His ministry, for us we’re called to proclaim the work that Jesus has already done and play a part in continuing it.
The question is, will you play your part in continuing the mission of Jesus.
So in closing, let me encourage you this Christmas to spend some thinking about the true meaning of Christmas. That being that God came to this earth in the form of Jesus Christ as a baby. To live on this earth, to die for our sins, and to rise again on the third day, conquering both sin and death in the process.
As you’re spending time with your family and the ones you love over these next few days. Don’t forget about the love that God extends to each and every one of us through the first Christmas.
God bless, and I’ll see you very soon.