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The reader who opens the Gospel of John at once notices a marked difference between it and the three preceding gospels. They begin with the times of Jesus Christ upon the earth, while the fourth carries the reader back to the unknown period that lies before the dawn of Creation. The question will at once arise why John introduces his history of Christ with the profound exposition of the WORD which occupies the first eighteen verses of this chapter. It must always be kept in mind that he wrote many years later than the authors of the other Gospels, wrote far away from Judea among a people deeply imbued with the philosophical spirit of Grecian civilization. At Ephesus he was in a center of Grecian culture, and even the church would be more or less affected by the prevalent speculations of the philosophers. In the earlier part of the century there lived at Alexandria in Egypt, a great center of Grecian learning where the greatest library of the ancient world was gathered, a Jew named Philo, born about b.c. 20, who, writing in the Greek language, had indulged in, or rather had gathered from various sources, a system of profound speculation upon the nature and essence of the Divine Being. He held that the absolute Deity was incapable of coming in contact with, or influencing matter, or manifesting himself to other intelligences, but that he gave forth certain divine powers or influences, which surround God as the members of a court surround an earthly monarch. The highest of these he called the Logos, or Word, a term that not only indicates Reason, but is the expression of thought in language. He also held that God was pure and absolute Light. His philosophy would possess little interest for us were it not for the fact that it was developed into a system called Gnosticism which reached its climax in the second century, and was already, before the close of the first century, a troublesome heresy. It took the idea of Philo of an absolute Deity, and taught that there were various emanations from God, among which were Reason, the Word, Power, Light and Life, which were all a kind of lesser deities. Even Jehovah, the revealed God of the Jews, was one of these inferior deities, and Jesus Christ was another, but a higher manifestation. These theories had begun to disturb the church before the death of Paul who refers to them a number of times (Col. 2:18; 2 Tim. 2:16–18), and John at Ephesus would at once come in contact with their subtle influence.
He therefore, in the very outset of his Gospel, shows that these speculations do not harmonize with the revelation of Jesus Christ. The first eighteen verses are the profoundest exposition of the unity of the God-head, and the absolute divinity of the Word manifested in the flesh, that was ever penned. The first section (verses 1–4) contains a description of the essence of the Divine Word. He was before time began, was in association with God and was God. He was also the uncreated source of all created things, was the Power of God; and was also the Light, and the fountain of existence, the Life of men. He is not only these 26things, but is shining in upon the darkness. This Word became flesh and dwelt among men in the person of Jesus Christ, who is, therefore, God, divine, the Power, the Light, the Life, the light and life of men. To him the prophets have borne witness, and most of all, John, who was not himself the Light, but came as a witness of the Light. These grand declarations, which cover the ground of the Gnostic heresy, and which show its errors, are kept in view in the whole Gospel. The Son of man is revealed as the Son of God, as Divine, the Light of the world, the Resurrection and the Life, the Bread and Water of Life, and as the manifestation of the Father, the whole reaching its climax in the declaration, “These things are written that you might believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
This Word (logos), which John introduces without explanation, is not used in the sense of Philo and the Gnostics, as representing Reason, nor is it ever used in that sense by the writers of the Bible. Nor is it an attribute of God, but an acting reality, personal, instead of an abstraction or personification, a Person who appeared upon the earth in human form. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the Word of God, not because he speaks the word, nor because he is spoken of, nor because he is the author and source of the word as spoken in the Scriptures, but because the Word dwells in him, acts through him, and speaks from him. He is not only the Word, but the Light and Life, for similar reasons; the Light dwells in and shines from him, and the Life lives in and works from him. It is because he is the Light that he has filled the world with light; because he is the Life that the dead of the earth hear his voice, become new creatures, live a new life, and the world itself is regenerated. It is because he is the Word that he spake as never man spake, spoke in the morning of time, and at his voice order came out of the primeval chaos, spoke to the dead when he was upon the earth, and they rose from the tomb, and shall speak to those that are in their graves and they shall hear his voice and come forth in the resurrection. It was this Word which was pre-existent, before time, that was manifested in the fulness of time in the flesh to carry out the gracious ends of divine love.
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