I can’t even contain my excitement about beginning a study of the book of John. John is like a big flashing neon sign illuminating Jesus, and it’s so fun to read.
John’s gospel gives us such a beautiful picture of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. It’s different in tone and content from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, which are collectively known as the synoptic gospels. John strategically includes different miracles of Jesus, clearly assuming that his audience was already familiar with many of Jesus’ works from the synoptic gospels, and he includes some additional stories and sermons of Jesus.
John also gives us expertly integrated symbols and lessons, like when Jesus asks the Samaritan woman for a drink from the well (4:7-8) and then pursues a conversation with her that ends with Jesus’ claim to be the source of living water that wells up to eternal life (4:9-15). Another time, Jesus feeds five thousand people (6:1-14), and a few verses later we read that Jesus is the bread of life (6:25-40). Look for these symbols as you read, and for contrasts like light versus darkness, fleeting versus eternal, life versus death.
John opens with a lovely passage known as the Christ hymn, a poem of praise to the person and work of Christ. It’s meant to grab our attention and draw us into the epic story he is going to tell. He begins with, “In the beginning,” an obvious callback to Genesis 1:1, with which his audience would have been extremely familiar. But instead of moving forward through history from that point, he moves backward, into time before history when the Word was with God creating everything that has been created.
In Greek, the word translated as “the Word” is Logos, and it’s a word with more meanings than its English counterpart. It not only means “the spoken word,” but also “the thought expressed by the spoken word.” As one commentary puts it, “In the Logos had been hidden from eternity all that God had to say to man; for the Logos was the living expression of the nature, purposes, and Will of God.”
In the Old Testament we see the Word of God personified as sending out his divine will, throughout Genesis 1 and the Psalms. In Proverbs 8 and 9 the wisdom of God is likewise personified as an attribute of his divinity. The wisdom of God speaks in Proverbs 8:23: “I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be.” Sound familiar?
But John is not speaking metaphorically here; he is speaking historically. He truly wants us to understand by his words that Jesus is the incarnation of the Word of God and is divinely one with God the Father. This is a great mystery to us. But that’s precisely John’s point. Jesus is not just a philosopher, he is not just some great moral teacher. Jesus is God. John doesn’t want to teach us theology; he wants us to fall in love with the God-man Jesus so that in him we may have life.
While all of the gospels cover the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, John spends a full 40 percent of his gospel on the last week of Jesus’ life on Earth. He points us with startling clarity toward the purpose and objective of his writing, showing that everything about Jesus leads us to his cross and his empty tomb. John wants us to understand that Jesus is the “Yes!” and “Amen!” to all of God’s promises (2 Cor. 1:20).
When we fix our eyes on Jesus, we see the Father. As we walk through the gospel of John together over the coming months, we will travel closely along with Jesus and we will see him care for God’s people in many ways. Frederick Bruner says, “We long to know who God is and what God thinks and does. In Jesus, his most personal Word, God has ‘spoken’ to us in the most human way possible, giving us his innermost thoughts and heart, in deeds that are as profound as his words, and the believing human race has experienced deep help ever since.”
Knowing Jesus in this way is life changing. Like the woman at the well, we can be transfixed and transformed by an authentic encounter with Jesus Christ. I’m so excited to see how God moves and shapes us as we come to know more about who Jesus was and what he was all about. So now, on with the beginning!
Written By: Jess Upshaw Glass