When I think of John 1 (English, Greek), I think of a text that a visiting or interviewing preacher would probably use for a home run sermon. I am not sure why I think this because there is so much to John’s prologue (1:1-18) that doing it justice is a pretty big undertaking. This post is going to point out a few things that I have found helpful in understanding the prologue to the gospel of John. The other gospels give us clues to who Jesus is from early on in their gospels. John starts out point blank – Jesus is God. He doesn’t talk about his infancy or the prophesies concerning his birth or his lineage. He goes back way before all of those things came to be – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” Without this on the front end what is about to happen isn’t going to make a whole lot of sense. He starts the story with the very beginning of everything and how Jesus Christ was present in the very beginning. He was active in creation and active in giving life to that creation. That is important to understand on the front end because throughout his ministry Jesus will continue to use his authority to transform creation and by those signs (8 of them in John) our response should be belief with the result of having life through Him.
Following the 8th and final sign, the resurrection of Jesus (which is the only sign in the “Book of Glory”…the other 7 signs being in the first 12 chapters), and the testimony of Thomas in 20:24-29 we get the purpose statement of the gospel – “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. All of these things are reflected in John’s prologue (1:12-13).
Believe – 98 times in John, 34 in the other three Gospels
Life – 66 times in John, 69 in the rest of the New Testament
Truth – 85 times in John, 78 in the rest of the New Testament
What is also mentioned is the fact that in order to make the kingdom of God come in all of its fullness it had to come as the Word made flesh. There will be several voices proclaiming who Jesus is in the Gospel of John. Even the Gospel itself is a voice recalling who Jesus was and what he has done. But there is only one Word and that Word has the power to create, transform, and even give life. John 1:14 – “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the father, full of grace and truth.” Here is the first instance of “monogenes” – the “one and only.” This is the same word used in John 3:16 of Jesus that basically means “unique.” The translation “only begotten” is not entirely accurate as this term is used in Hebrews 11:7 of Isaac as Abraham’s “unique” son. Abraham had other children. Jesus is still God’s only Son but it is important to realize that there is more to that term than that. We also find the pairing of “grace and truth” which was a common pairing in the Old Testament (Psalm 25:10, 61:7, 86:15, Proverbs 20:28 and later in Revelation 19:11. “Grace” appears 6 times in John all in the prologue. Truth appears twice in the prologue and 50 times in the remaining chapters.
The prologue closes by mentioning the law and Moses. Moses knew God “face to face.” Jesus is God and as the TNIV translates 1:18 – “and is in closest relationship with the Father,” which literally says, “Is in the bosom of the Father.” Jesus is entirely connected with God. He is not on a conversation level connection with God. He is God. When he is on earth as the Word made flesh he is a connecting point between heaven and earth. The Jewish temple was thought of as the connection between heaven and earth. In Jesus that is changed from a place to a person. Where Jesus goes, God is. No one else could claim that. That is why in John 1:51 Jesus tells his new disciples, “Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man…”
Structure of 1:1-18
Many believe John wrote the first 18 verses and 20:30ff after finishing the body of the gospel. In the first 18 verses we get many of the major themes of the gospel and are introduced to John the baptist. These verses have a very specific structure known as a chiastic structure that pivots on the central theme of the Gospel of John – that these things were done so that we would believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the incarnate Word. Craig Blomberg lays it out nicely:
A) 1:1-5 – The nature of the Word
B) 1:6-8 – John the Baptist
C) 1:9-11 – Incarnation
D) 1:12-13 (center) – Positive reception of the Word
C) 1:14 – Incarnation
B) 1:15 – John the Baptist
A) 1:16-18 – The nature of the Word
The prologue also gives us hints at John’s broader structure of the gospel. 1:11 foreshadows 1:19-12:50 (the Book of Signs) and 1:12 foreshadows 13:1-20:31 (the Book of Glory). Sorry if these thoughts are a little random. I just need all of these in one place for future reference!
Matt, I had never read that John’s Prologue was chiastic. Obviously I haven’t been reading the right people. Sounds like Blomberg’s book is well worth buying. Thanks for the study.
Thanks for your work here. It’s been a while since I’ve done any real study of the John 1.