John 1 – The Word and the Witness
A. John: The fourth Gospel.
1. The Gospel of John is the fourth section of what some call the four-fold gospel, with four voices giving different perspectives on the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Christian writers as early as Origen (A.D. 185-254) understood that there are not really four gospels, but there is one four-fold gospel.
a. The Gospel of John was probably the last of the four written, and written in view of what the previous three had already said. This is one reason why John’s account of the life of Jesus is in many ways different from Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
b. There are significant events in the ministry of Jesus that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all include yet John leaves out, including:
· Jesus’ birth.
· Jesus’ baptism.
· Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.
· Confrontations with demons.
· Jesus teaching in parables.
· The Last Supper.
· The agony in Gethsemane.
· The Ascension.
c. The first three Gospels center on Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. John centers his Gospel on what Jesus said and did in Jerusalem.
d. Each of the Gospels emphasizes a different origin of Jesus.
· Matthew shows Jesus came from Abraham through David, and demonstrates that He is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament (Matthew 1:1-17).
· Mark shows Jesus came from Nazareth, demonstrating that Jesus is a Servant (Mark 1:9).
· Luke shows Jesus came from Adam, demonstrating that Jesus is the Perfect Man (Luke 3:23-38).
· John shows Jesus came from heaven, demonstrating that Jesus is God.
e. However, it is wrong to think that the Gospel of John completes the story of Jesus. John wrote that the story of Jesus is so big that it can never be completed (John 21:25).
2. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the three synoptic gospels. The word synoptic means “see-together” and the first three Gospels present the life of Jesus in pretty much the same format. The first three Gospels focus more on what Jesus taught and did; John focused more on who Jesus is.
· John shows us who Jesus is by highlighting seven signs (miracles) of Jesus. Six of these miracles are not mentioned in the first three gospels.
· John shows us who Jesus is by allowing Jesus to speak for Himself in seven dramatic I AM statements, which were not included in the first three gospels.
· John shows us who Jesus is by giving the testimony witnesses who testify about the identity of Jesus. Four of these witnesses speak in the first chapter alone.
3. John is a Gospel written for a specific purpose: that we might believe. A key verse for understanding the Gospel of John is found at the end of the book: But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:31).
a. The Gospel of John has even helped scholarly skeptics to believe. The oldest surviving fragment of the New Testament is a portion of John 18, found in Egypt and dating well before A.D. 150 indicating wide circulation by that early date.
b. John doesn’t tell us much about himself in the Gospel record he wrote, but we can put a few things together about him from the Gospel records.
· John’s father was Zebedee.
· John’s mother was Salome, one of those to go to the tomb early on the morning the resurrection of Jesus was discovered.
· John’s brother was James.
· John was a partner in the fishing business with Peter.
· John and his brother James were given the nickname, “Sons of Thunder.”
4. The Gospel of John is a beloved gospel. Because of its paradoxical combination of both simplicity and depth, John has been called “a pool in which a child may wade and an elephant may swim.”
a. “Its stories are so simple that even a child will love them, but its statements are so profound that no philosopher can fathom them.” (Erdman)
b. So, if we give diligent attention to entertainment, sports, music, or the news, how much more should we give careful attention “when a man is speaking from heaven, and utters a voice plainer than thunder?” (John Chrysostom)
B. Prologue to the Gospel of John.
This remarkable, profound portion is not merely a preface or an introduction. It is a summation of the entire book. The remainder of John’s Gospel deals with the themes introduced here: the identity of the Word, life, light, regeneration, grace, truth, and the revelation of God the Father in Jesus the Son.
1. (1-2) The pre-existence of the Word (Logos).
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
a. In the beginning: This refers to the timeless eternity of Genesis 1:19 (In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth). John essentially wrote, “When the beginning began, the Word was already there.” The idea is that the Word existed before creation or even time.
i. John makes it clear that the Word is not just the beginning, but it is the beginning of the beginning. He was there in the beginning, before anything was.
ii. Was the Word: “Had the Word a beginning? John says, ‘No: for if we reach back to any beginning, there already was in existence the Word.’ At once it is evident to John’s vision ‘The Word’ is no other than God the self-existent.” (Trench)
iii. “This description is given in order that we may at once grasp a continuous history which runs out of an unmeasured past, and the identity of the person who is subject of that history.” (Dods)
b. In the beginning was the Word: Word translates the ancient Greek word Logos. The idea of the logos had deep and rich roots in both Jewish and Greek thinking.
i. Jewish rabbis often referred to God (especially in His more personal aspects) in terms of His word. They spoke of God Himself as “the word of God.” For example, ancient Hebrew editions of the Old Testament change Exodus 19:17 (Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God) to “Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet the word of God.” In the mind of the ancient Jews, the phrase “the word of God” could be used to refer to God Himself.
ii. The Greek philosophers saw the logos as the power that puts sense into the world, making the world orderly instead of chaotic. The logos was the power that set the world in perfect order and kept it going in perfect order. They saw the logos as the “Ultimate Reason” that controlled all things. (Dods, Morris, Barclay, Bruce, and others)
iii. Therefore in this opening John said to both Jews and Greeks: “For centuries you’ve been talking, thinking, and writing about the Word (the logos). Now I will tell you who He is.” John met both Jews and Greeks where they were at, and explained Jesus in terms they already understood.
iv. “John was using a term which, with various shades of meaning, was in common use everywhere. He could reckon on all men catching his essential meaning.” (Morris)
v. “The word being thus already in use and aiding thoughtful men in their efforts to conceive God’s connection with the world, John takes it and uses us to denote the Revealer of the incomprehensible and invisible God.” (Dods)
c. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God: With this brilliant statement, John 1:1 sets forth one of the most basic foundations of our faith – the Trinity. We can follow John’s logic:
· There is a Being known as the Word.
· This Being is God, because He is eternal (In the beginning).
· This Being is God, because He is plainly called God (the Word was God).
· At the same time, this Being does not encompass all that God is. God the Father is a distinct Person from the Word (the Word was with God).
i. So, the Father and the Son (the Son is known here as the Word) are equally God, yet distinct in their Person. The Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Father. Yet they are equally God, with God the Holy Spirit making one God in three Persons.
ii. The Word was with God: “This preposition implies intercourse and therefore separate personality. As Chrysostom says: ‘Not in God but with God, as person with person, eternally.’” (Dods)
iii. And the Word was God: “This is the true form of the sentence; not ‘God was the Word.’ This is absolutely required by the usage of the Greek language.” (Alford)
iv. “Luther says ‘the Word was God’ is against Arius: ‘the Word was with God’ against Sabellius.” (Dods)
v. And the Word was God: “Everything that can be said about God the Father can be said about God the Son. In Jesus dwells all the wisdom, glory, power, love, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth of the Father. In Him, God the Father is known.” (Boice)
d. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God: The Watchtower (the Jehovah’s Witnesses) bible, called New World Translation, translates this line quite differently. The Jehovah’s Witness translation reads like this: “In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” Their translation is used to deny the teaching that Jesus is God, and is a wrong and misleading translation.
i. The claim of the Watchtower defending their translation of John 1:1-2 is that because before the second time “God” is used in the passage, no article appears (it is written “God” and not “the God”). In answer to this approach to Greek grammar and translation, we can only refer to the multitude of other times in the New Testament where “God” appears without the article. If the Watchtower were honest and consistent, they would translate “God” as “god” every place it appears without the article. But it seems that this grammatical rule only applies when it suits the purpose of backing up the doctrinal beliefs of the Watchtower. The Greek text of Matthew 5:9, 6:24, Luke 1:35 and 1:75, John 1:6, 1:12, 1:13, and 1:18, Romans 1:7 and 1:17, shows how the Watchtower translates the exact same grammar for “God” as “God” instead of “god” when it suits their purpose.
ii. In the main resource the Watchtower uses to establish their claim (The Kingdom Interlinear), the Watchtower quotes two well-known Greek authorities to make them appear to agree with their translation. But they both have been misquoted, and one of them, Dr. Mantey has even written the Watchtower, and demanded that his name be removed from the book! Another “scholar” whom the Watchtower refers to in their book The Word – Who Is He? According to John, is Johannes Greber. Greber was actually an occult-practicing spiritist, and not a scholar of Biblical Greek.
iii. Real Greek scholars do not recognize the Jehovah’s Witness translation of John 1:1-2.
· “A GROSSLY MISLEADING TRANSLATION. It is neither scholarly nor reasonable to translate John 1:1 ‘the Word was a god.’ But of all the scholars in the world, so far as we know, none have translated this verse as Jehovah’s Witnesses have done.” (Dr. Julius R. Mantey)
· “Much is made by Arian amateur grammarians of the omission of the definite article with ‘God’ in the phrase ‘And the Word was God.’ Such an omission is common with nouns in a predicate construction. ‘A god’ would be totally indefensible.” (Dr. F.F. Bruce)
· “I can assure you that the rendering which the Jehovah’s Witnesses give John 1:1 is not held by any reputable Greek scholar.” (Dr. Charles L. Feinberg)
· “The Jehovah’s Witness people evidence an abysmal ignorance of the basic tenets of Greek grammar in their mistranslation of John 1:1.” (Dr. Paul L. Kaufman)
· “The deliberate distortion of truth by this sect is seen in their New Testament translations. John 1:1 is translated: ‘…the Word was a god,’ a translation which is grammatically impossible. It is abundantly clear that a sect which can translate the New Testament like that is intellectually dishonest.” (Dr. William Barclay)
e. He was in the beginning with God: This again makes the point that the Father is distinct from the Son, and the Son distinct from the Father. They are equally God, yet they are separate Persons.
2. (3-5) The work and nature of the Word.
All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
a. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made: The Word created all things that were created. Therefore He Himself is an uncreated Being, as the Apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 1:16.
i. “In Genesis 1:1, GOD is said to have created all things: in this verse, Christ is said to have created all things: the same unerring Spirit spoke in Moses and in the evangelists: therefore Christ and the Father are ONE.” (Clarke)
b. In Him was life: The Word is the source of all life – not only biological life, but the very principle of life. The ancient Greek word translated life is zoe, which means “the life principle,” not bios, which is mere biological life.
i. “That power which creates life and maintains all else in existence was in the Logos.” (Dods)
c. The life was the light of men: This life is the light of men, speaking of spiritual light as well as natural light. It isn’t that the Word “contains” life and light; He islife and light.
i. Therefore, without Jesus, we are dead and in darkness. We are lost. Significantly, man has an inborn fear towards both death and darkness.
d. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it: Did not overcome it is another way to translate the phrase, “did not comprehend it.”The light cannot lose against the darkness; the darkness will never overcome it.
i. Comprehend: “The Greek verb is not easy to translate. It contains the idea of laying hold on something so as to make it one’s own. This can lead to meanings like ‘lay hold with the mind’, and thus ‘comprehend’…[Yet] The verb we are discussing has a rarer, but sufficiently attested meaning, ‘overcome’. It is that that is required here.” (Morris)
ii. “In the first creation, ‘darkness was upon the face of the deep’ (Genesis 1:2) until God called light into being, so the new creation involves the banishing of spiritual darkness by the light which shines in the Word.” (Bruce)
3. (6-8) The forerunner of the Word.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
a. There was a man sent from God: John the Baptist bore witness of the light, that all through him might believe. The work of John the Baptist was deliberately focused on bringing people to faith in Jesus the Messiah.
i. “The testimony of John is introduced not only as a historical note but in order to bring out the aggravated blindness of those who rejected Christ.” (Dods)
b. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light: John the Baptist’s work was remarkably well received and widely known. It was important for the John the Gospel writer to make it clear that John the Baptist was not that Light, but that He pointed towards and bore witness of that Light.
i. He was not that Light: “Possibly this was directed toward the sect that survived John and perpetuated his teaching but had not knowledge of the completion of the work of Christ (Acts 18:24-25; 19:1-7).” (Tenney)
ii. “We know him as ‘John the Baptist’ but in this Gospel the references to his baptism are incidental… But there is repeated reference to his witness.” (Morris)
iii. The matter of witness is a serious thing, establishing truth and giving ground for faith. Yet, witness “does more. It commits a man. If I take my stand in the witness box and testify that such-and-such is the truth of the mater I am no longer neutral. I have committed myself. John lets us know that there are those like John the Baptist who have committed themselves by their witness to Christ.” (Morris)
4. (9-11) The rejection of the Word.
That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.
a. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world: John did not mean that the Word gives this light to everyone in the ultimate, saving sense. He meant that the reason why anyone is born into a world with any love or care or goodness at all is because of the true Light and the light He gives to the world.
b. The world did not know Him: This is strange. God came to the same world He created, to the creatures made in His image, and yet the world did not know Him. This shows how deeply fallen human nature rejects God, and that many reject (did not receive) God word and Light.
i. He came to His own: “We might translate the opening words, ‘he came home’. It is the exact expression used of the beloved disciple when, in response to Jesus’ word from the cross, he took Mary ‘unto his own home’ (John 19:27; cf. 16:32). When the Word came to this world He did not come as an alien. He came home.” (Morris)
ii. “It is said of ‘His own’ that they did not ‘know’ Him, but that they did not receive Him. And in the parable of the Wicked Husbandman our Lord represents them as killing the heir not in ignorance but because they knew him.” (Dods)
iii. “This little world knew not Christ, for God had hid him under the carpenter’s son; his glory was inward, his kingdom came not by observation.” (Trapp)
5. (12-13) The receiving of the Word.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
a. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: Though some rejected this revelation, others received Him and thereby became children of God. They became children of God through a new birth, being born… of God.
i. “The end of the story is not the tragedy of rejection, but the grace of acceptance.” (Morris)
ii. As many as received Him: The idea of “receiving Jesus” is Biblically valid. We need to embrace and receive Him unto ourselves. As many as received Him is just another to say those who believe in His name. “Faith is described as ‘receiving’ Jesus. It is the empty cup placed under the flowing stream; the penniless hand held out for heavenly alms.” (Spurgeon)
iii. The right to become children of God: “The word children (tekna) is parallel to the Scottish bairns – ‘born ones.’ It emphasizes vital origin and is used as a term of endearment (cf. Luke 15:31). Believers are God’s ‘little ones,’ related to him by birth.” (Tenney)
b. Not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God: John reminds us of the nature of the birth. Those who received Him are born of God, but not of human effort or achievement.
i. “They are ‘not of bloods’. The plural is curious…The plural here may point to the action of both parents, or it may refer to blood as made up of many drops.” (Morris)
ii. This new birth is something that brings change to the life. “The man is like a watch which has a new mainspring, not a mere face and hands repaired, but new inward machinery, with freshly adjusted works, which act to a different time and tune; and whereas he went wrong before, now he goes right, because he is right within.” (Spurgeon)
6. (14) The Word became flesh.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
a. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us: This is John’s most startling statement so far. It would have amazed both thinkers in both the Jewish and the Greek world to hear that the Word became flesh.
i. “The most general expression of the great truth He became man. He became that, of which man is in the body compounded…The simplicity of this expression is no doubt directed against the Docetae of the Apostle’s time, who maintained that the Word only apparently took human nature.” (Alford)
ii. The Greeks generally thought of God too low. To them John wrote: the Word became flesh. To ancient people, gods such as Zeus and Hermes were simply super-men; they were not equal to the order and reason of the Logos. John told the Greek thinkers, “The Logos you know made and ordered the universe actually became flesh.”
iii. The Jews generally thought of God too high. To them John wrote: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Ancient Jews had a hard time accepting that the great God revealed in the Old Testament could take on human form. John told the Jewish thinkers, “The Word of God became flesh.”
iv. God has come close to you in Jesus Christ. You don’t have to struggle to find Him; He came to you. Some think they go from place to place to try and find God, and continue their search. More commonly they stay at a place until God draws close to them – then they quickly move on.
v. “Christ entered into a new dimension of existence through the gateway of human birth and took up his residence among men.” (Tenney)
vi. “Augustine afterwards said that in his pre-Christian days he had read and studied the great pagan philosophers and had read many things, but he had never read that the word became flesh.” (Barclay)
b. And dwelt among us: The idea behind this phrase is more literally, dwelt as in a tent among us. From the sense and the context, John connected the coming of Jesus to humanity with God’s coming to and living with Israel in the tent of the tabernacle. It could be stated, and tabernacled among us.
i. “And tabernacled among us: the human nature which he took of the virgin, being as the shrine, house, or temple, in which his immaculate Deity condescended to dwell. The word is probably an allusion to the Divine Shechinah in the Jewish temple.” (Clarke)
ii. “Properly the verb signifies ‘to pitch one’s tent’.” (Morris) “The association in John’s mind was…with the Divine tabernacle in the wilderness, when Jehovah pitched His tent among the shifting tents of His people.” (Dods)
iii. The tabernacle was many things that Jesus is among His people:
· The center of Israel’s camp.
· The place where the Law of Moses was preserved.
· The dwelling place of God.
· The place of revelation.
· The place where sacrifices were made.
· The center of Israel’s worship.
iv. “If God has come to dwell among men by the Word made flesh let us pitch our tents around: this central tabernacle; do not let us live as if God were a long way off.” (Spurgeon)
v. “The Shechinah means that which dwells; and it is the word used for the visible presence of God among men.” (Barclay)
c. We beheld His glory: John testified to this as an eyewitness, even as John the Baptist testified. John could say, “I saw His glory, the glory belonging to the only begotten of the Father.”
i. The word beheld is stronger than the words “saw” or “looked.” John tells us that he and the other disciples carefully studied the glory of the Word made flesh.
ii. ‘The verb ‘beheld’ is invariably used in John (as, for that matter, in the whole New Testament) of seeing with the bodily eye. It is not used of visions. John is speaking of that glory that was seen in the literal, physical Jesus of Nazareth.” (Morris)
d. Full of grace and truth: The glory of Jesus wasn’t primarily an adrenaline rush and certainly not a sideshow. It was full of grace and truth.
i. “Beloved, notice here that both these qualities in our Lord are at the full. He is ‘full of grace.’ Who could be more so? In the person of Jesus Christ the immeasurable grace of God is treasured up.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “These two ideas should hold our minds and direct our lives. God is grace, and truth. Not one without the other. Not the other apart from the one. In His government there can be no lowering of the simple and severe standard of Truth; and there is no departure from the purpose and passion of Grace.” (Morgan)
7. (15-18) Bearing witness to God’s new order.
John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’” And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.
a. He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me: John the Baptist’s testimony was rooted in his understanding of the pre-existence of Jesus. He knew that Jesus was before him in every sense.
i. “In antiquity it was widely held that chronological priority meant superiority. Men were humble about their own generation, and really thought that their fathers were wiser than they – incredible as this may sound to our generation!” (Morris)
b. Of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace: This new order has an inexhaustible supply of grace (grace for grace, the figure of speech similar to sorrows upon sorrows) and truth, contrasting with an order of rigid laws and regulations given through Moses.
i. Grace for grace: “Literally it means ‘grace instead of grace’. Clearly John intends to put some emphasis on the thought of grace. Probably also he means that as one piece of divine grace (so to speak) recedes it is replaced by another. God’s grace to His people is continuous and is never exhausted. Grace knows no interruption and no limit.” (Morris)
c. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ: This describes and demonstrates the fullness of grace announced by John the Baptist and brought by Jesus Christ. God the Word, Jesus Christ, brought a different order than the one instituted by Moses.
i. Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ: “Here, then, as in Paul’s writings, Christ displaces the law of Moses as the focus of divine revelation and the way to life.” (Bruce)
d. No one has seen God at any time: Jesus, the Word, is the perfect declaration of the unseen God. The Father and the Son belong to the same family, and Jesus has declared the nature of the unseen God to man. We don’t have to wonder about the nature and personality of God. Jesus has declared it with both His teaching and His life.
i. “The noun God (theon) has not article in the Greek text, which indicates that the author is presenting God in his nature of being rather than as a person. ‘Deity’ might be a more accurate rendering. The meaning is that no human has ever seen the essence of Deity.” (Tenney)
ii. “The sight of God here meant, is not only bodily sight (though of that it is true, see Exodus 33:20; 1 Timothy 6:16), but intuitive and infallible knowledge, which enables him who has it to declare the nature and will of God.” (Alford)
iii. Who is in the bosom of the Father: “The expression signifies, as Chrysostom observes, Kindred and oneness of essence: – and is derived from the fond and intimate union of children and parents.” (Alford)
C. The testimony of John the Baptist.
1. (19-22) Religious leaders from Jerusalem question John the Baptist.
Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?”
a. Now this is the testimony of John: We have already learned that John the Baptist came for a witness (John 1:7 and 1:15). Now we learn what his testimony regarding Jesus was.
i. The Jews: “Here for the first time we come upon the use of the term ‘the Jews’ in this Gospel to denote not the people as a whole but one particular group – here, the religious establishment in Jerusalem.” (Bruce)
ii. “Thus the parents of the man born blind were certainly members of the Jewish nation, but they are said to fear ‘the Jews’ (John 9:22).” (Morris)
b. I am not the Christ: With emphasis, John told the Jewish leaders who he was not. He did not come to focus attention on himself, because he was not the Messiah. His job was to point to the Messiah.
i. “John completely rejected that claim; but he rejected it with a certain hint. In the Greek the word I is stressed by its position. It is as if John said: ‘I am not the Messiah, but, if you only knew, the Messiah is here.’” (Barclay)
ii. He confessed, and did not deny: “Sincerely and studiously; he put away that honour with both hands earnestly, as knowing the danger of wronging the jealous God.” (Trapp)
iii. It was important for John the Gospel writer to make clear to his readers that John the Baptist did not claim to be more than he was. “As late as A.D. 250 the Clementine Recognitions tell us that ‘there were some of John’s disciples who preached about him as if their master was the Messiah.’” (Barclay)
c. Are you Elijah? It might be easy for the priests and Levites from Jerusalem to associate John with Elijah because of his personality and because of the promise that Elijah would come before the Day of the LORD (Malachi 4:5-6).
i. John was careful to never say of himself that he was Elijah. Yet Jesus noted that in a sense, John was Elijah, ministering in his office and spirit (Matthew 11:13-14 and Mark 9:11-13).
d. Are you the Prophet? In Deuteronomy 18:15-19 God promised that another prophet would come in due time. Based on this passage, they expected another Prophet to come, and wondered if John was not he.
2. (23-28) John explains his identity to the religious leaders.
He said: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the LORD,”’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees. And they asked him, saying, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.” These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
a. I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Quoting from Isaiah 40:3, John explained his work – to prepare the way of the LORD. His baptism prepared people, cleansing them for the coming King. The idea was, “Get cleaned up, get ready for a royal visit.”
i. “John’s real function was not to teach ethics, but to point men to Jesus. ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’ is a call to be ready, for the coming of the Messiah is near.” (Morris)
ii. The religious leaders wanted to know who John was, and he wasn’t really interested in answering that question. He wanted to talk about his mission: to prepare the way for the Messiah.
b. Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ: The Pharisees wondered about John’s authority if he was not actually one of the prophesied ones they had in mind. Yet John’s work of baptizing perfectly suited his calling, as he explained.
i. “His baptism was apparently distinctive in that he administered it personally; it was not self-administered as proselyte baptism was.” (Bruce)
c. I baptize with water: John’s baptism demonstrated the humble willingness to repent, be cleansed, and prepare for the coming Messiah. Yet John’s baptism gave nothing to help someone keep clean. The work of Jesus and His baptism of the Holy Spirit represents more than John’s baptism.
i. Jewish people in John’s day practiced baptism. It was an outgrowth of ceremonial washings, but only for Gentiles who wanted to become Jews. In submitting to John’s baptism, a Jew had to identify with Gentile converts. This was a genuine sign of repentance.
ii. “It is not unlikely that John’s baptism followed the pattern of proselyte baptism, which required a renunciation of all evil, complete immersion in water, and then reclothing as a member of the holy communion of law-keepers.” (Tenney)
iii. “The novelty in John’s case and the sting behind the practice was that he applied to Jews the ceremony which was held to be appropriate in the case of Gentiles coming newly into the faith…to put Jews in the same class was horrifying.” (Morris)
d. There stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me: John explained to the religious leaders that he was not the focus of his work, but the One who was already among them. John’s work was to prepare the way for the One.
e. Who sandal strap I am not worthy to loose: To untie the strap of a sandal (before foot washing) was duty of the lowest slave in the house.
i. Among Rabbis and their disciples, there was a teacher-student relationship that had the potential for abuse. It was entirely possible that a Rabbi might expect unreasonable service from their disciples. One of the things which was considered “too low” for a Rabbi to expect from his disciples was the untying of the Rabbi’s sandal strap. John said he was unworthy to do even this.
ii. “‘Every service which a slave performs for his master’, said one rabbi, ‘a disciple will perform for his teacher, except to untie his sandal-strap.’” (Bruce)
iii. These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan: “The interview took place at Bethany (House of the ferry-boat) on the east bank of the Jordan at the spot called in Origen’s time Bethabara (House of the ford) — the traditional place of the passage of the Ark and the nation under Joshua (Joshua 3:14-17).” (Trench)
3. (29) John the Baptist’s testimony: Jesus is the Lamb of God.
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
a. The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him: By most reckonings, this was after John baptized Jesus and after the 40 days of temptation in the wilderness. Jesus came back to see John in his baptizing work.
i. “Some weeks probably had elapsed since Jesus received baptism at John’s hands; he had been away since then, but now he is back, and John draws the crowd’s attention to him.” (Bruce)
ii. “Since then verse 29 must be understood as happening after the baptism, it must have happened after the Temptation also. And in this supposition there is not the slightest difficulty.” (Alford)
b. Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! At the dawn of His ministry, Jesus was greeted with words declaring His destiny – His sacrificial agony and death on the cross for the sin of mankind. The shadow of the cross was cast over the entire ministry of Jesus.
i. John didn’t present Jesus as a great moral example or a great teacher of holiness and love. He proclaimed Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. It wasn’t “Behold the great example” or “Behold the great teacher” – it was Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
ii. “He used ‘the lamb’ as the symbol of sacrifice in general. Here, he says, is the reality of which all animal sacrifice was the symbol.” (Dods)
c. Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! In this one sentence, John the Baptist summarized the greatest work of Jesus: to deal with the sin problem afflicting the human race. Every word of this sentence is important.
i. Behold!John said this as he saw Jesus coming toward him. As a preacher, John first saw Jesus himself and then told all his listeners to look upon Jesus, to behold him.
ii. The Lamb of God: John used the image of the sacrificial lamb, represented many times in the Old Testament. Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of every time that image is displayed.
· He is the lamb slain before the foundation of the world.
· He is the animal slain in the Garden of Eden to cover the nakedness of the first sinners.
· He is the lamb God would Himself provide for Abraham as a substitute for Isaac.
· He is the Passover lamb for Israel.
· He is the lamb for the guilt offering in the Levitical sacrifices.
· He is Isaiah’s lamb to the slaughter, ready to be shorn
· Each of these lambs fulfilled their role in their death; this was an announcement that Jesus would die, and as a sacrifice for the sin of the world.
iii. Who takes away: The sense of the original combines the words to bear and to take away. Jesus bears sin, but in the sense of bearing them upon Himself and taking them away. “The verb ‘taketh away’ conveys the notion of bearing off.” (Morris)
· “John does not say ‘the sins,’ as the Litany, following an imperfect translation, makes him say. But he says, ‘the sin of the world,’ as if the whole mass of human transgression was bound together, in one black and awful bundle, and laid upon the unshrinking shoulders of this better Atlas who can bear it all, and bear it all away.” (Maclaren)
iv. The sin: Not the plural sins, but the singular sin – with the sense that that the entire guilt of humanity was collected into one and placed upon Jesus. “Only afterwards could the Evangelist, as he looked back, have caught the Baptist’s full meaning.” (Trench)
v. Of the world: The sacrifice of this Lamb of God has all the capacity to forgive every sin and cleanse every sinner. It is big enough for the whole world. “He will give Himself as the expiatory Sacrifice not only of the sins of His people, but of the germ of all sin in Adam’s descendants, the sin of the world, the apostasy in Eden: thus wide and deep is the Baptist’s vision.” (Trench)
4. (30-34) John the Baptist’s testimony: Jesus is the Son of God.
“This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.” And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”
a. For He was before me: John the Baptist was actually born before Jesus – and John knew this (Luke 1). When John said He was before me, he spoke of the eternal pre-existence of Jesus. John knew that Jesus was eternal and that Jesus was God.
i. After me comes a Man: “The Greek term aner is introduced here; it means ‘man’ with emphasis on maleness – an emphasis that is lost in the more generic anthropos. The use of aner intimates the headship of Christ over his followers in the sense of the man-woman relationship.” (Tenney)
b. Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit: God gave John the Baptist the sure sign to know the Messiah. He would be the one on Whom the Holy Spirit descended upon from heaven. John was a reliable witness regarding Jesus, because he had confirming evidence from God.
i. “Jesus received nothing at His Baptism that He had not before: the Baptist merely saw that day in a visible symbol that which had actually and invisibly taken place [at the conception of Jesus].” (Trench)
ii. “If the cleansing with water was associated with John’s ministry, the bestowal of the Spirit was reserved for the one greater than John.” (Bruce)
c. I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God: The solemn testimony of John the Baptist was that Jesus is the Son of God. He is the Son of God in the sense shown in John 1:18 – the One who perfectly declares the nature and personality of God the Father.
i. The gospel of John emphasizes John’s role as a witness, not a baptizer. Witnesses give testimony as to what they have seen and experienced, in an effort to establish the truth. Beyond that, they are unreliable and operate on hearsay – not direct evidence.
ii. “In naming Him ‘The Son of God,’ the Baptist speaks with unclouded vision: he means nothing less than the full Christian doctrine that the Man Jesus is also the eternal Son of the eternal Father, co-equal, co-eternal.” (Trench)
iii. Witnesses are not neutral – they are committed to the truth of their testimony, or they are unreliable witnesses. John was a reliable witness, and knew who Jesus was because of what he saw with his own eyes.
D. The testimony of the first disciples.
1. (35-39) Two of John’s disciples begin to follow Jesus.
Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), “where are You staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day (now it was about the tenth hour).
a. John stood with two of his disciples: The Gospel writer tells us that one of these two was Andrew (John 1:40). The other of the two is not identified, but for several reasons it is reasonable to think it was John the Gospel writer himself, who appears several times in his Gospel, but is never specifically named.
i. “Who the other disciple was, is not certain: but considering (1) that the Evangelist never names himself in his Gospel, and (2) that this account is so minutely accurate as to specify even the hours of the day, and in all respects bears marks of an eye-witness, and again (3) that this other disciple, from this last circumstance, certainly would have been named, had not the name been suppressed for some special reasons, we are justified in inferring that it was the Evangelist himself.” (Alford)
ii. And looking at Jesus: “Attentively beholding, embleqav, from en, into, and blepw, to look-to view with steadfastness and attention.” (Clarke) “A characteristically searching look turned upon an individual.” (Morris)
b. Behold, the Lamb of God! John already said this of Jesus in John 1:29. Perhaps by this time – after Jesus had returned from His temptations in the wilderness – John said this every time he saw Jesus. To him, it was the most important thing about Jesus.
c. And they followed Jesus: The text does not specifically say, but the implication is that these two disciples did this with John’s permission and direction. John the Baptist did not care about gathering disciples after himself. He was perfectly satisfied to have these disciples leave his circle and follow Jesus. It fulfilled his ministry; it did not take away from it.
d. What do you seek… Come and see: Jesus asked these two disciples an important and logical question – and a question He continues to ask to all humanity today. For the answer, Jesus directed them to Himself, to live with Him, not to John or anyone else (Come and see).
i. What do you seek? “It was not an accident that the first words which the Master spoke in His Messianic office were this profoundly significant question, ‘What seek ye?’ He asks it of us all, He asks it of us to-day.” (Maclaren)
ii. “He probed them to find out whether they were motivated by idle curiosity or by a real desire to know him.” (Tenney)
iii. Jesus did not refer them back to John the Baptist, even though he knew a lot about Jesus. To be Jesus’ disciple, they must deal with Jesus directly. So Jesus invited John and Andrew to be a part of His life. Jesus didn’t live a cloistered, ultra-private life. Jesus taught and trained His twelve disciples by allowing them to live with Him.
e. Now it was about the tenth hour: This was such a memorable occasion for writer that he remembered the exact hour that he met Jesus. This is a subtle clue that one of the two disciples who came to Jesus from John was the apostle John himself.
2. (40-42) Andrew brings his brother, Simon Peter to Jesus.
One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas” (which is translated, A Stone).
a. He first found his own brother: Andrew met Jesus, and then wanted his brother Simon Peter to meet Jesus. Each time Andrew is mentioned in the Gospel of John, he is bringing someone to Jesus (also at John 6:8 and 12:22).
i. Through the centuries, this is how most people come to faith in Jesus Christ. A Peter has an Andrew who introduces him to Jesus. This is natural, because it is the nature of Christian experience that those who enjoy the experience desire to share their experience with others.
ii. “‘Andrew finds first of all his own brother Simon’: which implies that afterwards the brother of the other of the two was also found and brought to the same place and on the same day.” (Trench)
b. We have found the Messiah: This was a simply yet great testimony. Andrew knew that Jesus was the Messiah, the long expected Savior of Israel and the world.
c. You shall be called Cephas: In giving Simon a new name (Cephas or Peter, meaning A Stone), Jesus told Andrew’s brother what kind of man he would be transformed into. Before Jesus was done with Peter, he would be a stone of stability for Jesus Christ.
3. (43-44) Jesus calls Philip to follow Him.
The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
a. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me”: If we only had John’s Gospel we might think that this was the first time Jesus had met these men from Galilee. The other gospel accounts inform us that Jesus had met many of them before; yet this was His formal invitation to Philip.
b. Follow Me: There was nothing dramatic recorded about the call of Philip. Jesus simply said to him, “Follow Me,” and Philip did.
i. “The verb ‘Follow’ will be used here in its full sense of ‘follow as a disciple’. The present tense has continuous force, ‘keep on following’.” (Morris)
ii. “Bethsaida means ‘house of the fisherman’ or ‘Fishertown’. It lay a short distance east of the point where the Jordan enters the Lake of Galilee.” (Bruce)
4. (45-51) Nathaniel overcomes prejudice to follow Jesus.
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote; Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!” Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
a. Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets wrote: This was Philip’s testimony as a witness of Jesus Christ. He declared that He as the Messiah and the Savior predicted in the Old Testament.
i. “Nathanael is today generally understood to be the same person as Bartholomew, one of the Twelve; Nathanael being the personal name, Bartholomew (son of Tolmai) the patronymie.” (Trench)
b. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Nathanael responded to Philip’s announcement with prejudice. Hearing that Jesus came from Nazareth, Nathanael thought he had no more reason to think that He might be the Messiah or anyone important.
c. Come and see: Instead of arguing against Nathanael’s prejudice, Phillip simply invited him to meet Jesus for himself.
d. Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit! Jesus gave him a wonderful compliment. The sense is that there was nothing tricky or deceptive in Nathanael. He didn’t have a mask.
i. Deceit: “This last word is used in early Greek writers as a ‘bait’ (for catching fish). Hence it comes to signify ‘any cunning contrivance for deceiving or catching…It thus has the notion of ‘deceit’ or ‘craft’. It is used in the Bible of Jacob before his change of heart (Genesis 27:35, which is the point of Temple’s translation, ‘an Israelite in whom there is no Jacob!’” (Morris)
ii. “He is a proper Israelite, a type of the man pronounced ‘blessed’ by the Psalmist, the man ‘in whose spirit is no guile’ (Psalm 32:2).” (Tasker)
e. Under the fig tree, I saw you: It is possible Nathanael liked to pray and meditate upon God and His Word under the shade of an actual fig tree. Yet, under the fig tree was a phrase Rabbis used to describe meditation on the Scriptures. We can suppose that Nathanael spent time in prayer and in meditating on the Scriptures, and Jesus told him “I saw you” there.
i. “It is said of Rabbi Hasa in the tract Bereshith that he and his disciples were in the habit of studying under a fig tree.” (Trench)
ii. “Perhaps it was a place where Nathanael had recently sat in meditation and received some spiritual impression. It is impossible to be sure. Certainly the shady foliage of the fig tree made it a suitable tree to sit under in the heat of the day.” (Bruce)
f. You are the Son of God, the King of Israel: This was the testimony of Nathanael regarding Jesus. Son of God described the unique relationship of Jesus to God the Father, and King of Israel described His status as Messiah and King.
i. The Son of God: “Here, as there, the article is important. It indicates that the expression is to be understood as bearing a full, not a minimal content…Here was someone who could not be described in ordinary human terms.” (Morris)
g. You shall see greater things than these: Nathanael was amazed by what he already saw in Jesus, but Jesus told him that there was much, much more to see – greater things than these.
i. The promise to see greater things than these continues for the believer. “Have you known Christ as the Word? He is more; both Spirit and Life. Has He become flesh? You shall behold Him glorified with the glory He had before the worlds. Have you known Him as Alpha, before all? He is also Omega. Have you met John? You shall meet One so much greater. Do you know the baptism by water? You shall be baptized by fire. Have you beheld the Lamb on the Cross? You shall behold Him in the midst of the throne.” (Meyer)
h. You shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man: Jesus promised Nathanael a greater sign than he had seen before, even to see heaven open.
i. Jesus’ announcement of the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man probably connects with the dream of Jacob in Genesis 28:12, where Jacob saw a ladder from earth to heaven, and the angels ascending and descending upon it. Jesus said that He was the ladder, the link, between heaven and earth. When Nathanael came to understand that Jesus is the mediator between God and man, it would be an even greater sign (you will see greater things than these).
ii. “He now learns that Jesus is the real ladder by which the gulf between earth and heaven is bridged.” (Tasker)
iii. This seems like rather obscure reference, but it was extremely meaningful to Nathanael. Possibly it was the very portion of Scripture Nathaniel meditated on under the fig tree.
i. Son of Man: The idea behind this phrase is not “the perfect man” or “the ideal man” or even “the common man.” Instead, it was a reference to Daniel 7:13-14, where the King of Glory who comes to judge the world was called the Son of Man.
i. Jesus used this title often because in His day, it was a Messianic title free from political and nationalistic sentiment. When a Jewish person of that time heard “King” or “Christ” they often thought of a political or military savior. Jesus emphasized another term, often calling Himself the Son of Man.
ii. “The term, ‘The Son of man’, then points us to Christ’s conception of Himself as of heavenly origin and as the possessor of heavenly glory. At one and the same time and points us to His lowliness and His sufferings for men. The two are the same.” (Morris)
iii. This section of John shows four ways of coming to Jesus:
· Andrew came to Jesus because of the preaching of John.
· Peter came to Jesus because of the witness of his brother.
· Phillip came to Jesus as a result of the direct call of Jesus.
· Nathaniel came to Jesus as he overcame personal prejudices by a personal encounter with Jesus.
iv. This section shows us four different witnesses testifying to the identity of Jesus. How much more testimony does anyone need?
· John the Baptist testified that Jesus is eternal, that He is the man uniquely anointed with the Holy Spirit, that He is the Lamb of God, and that Jesus is the unique Son of God.
· Andrew testified that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ.
· Phillip testified that Jesus is the One prophesied in the Old Testament.
· Nathaniel testified that Jesus is the Son of God and the King of Israel.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission