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The Beginning of Christ's Ministry
Summary —The Word Made Flesh. The Witness of John. John's Disciples Pointed to Christ. The Lord Calls His First Disciples. An Israelite Indeed.
1–3. In the beginning was the Word, etc. The first fourteen verses are introductory. In order to set at rest all controversy the Divine nature of Jesus, John glances, in the first three verses, back to the beginning, recorded in Genesis, and affirms: (1) That he who was afterwards manifest as the Christ existed before creation began; (2) that he was present with God; (3) that he was divine; (4) that he was the Word; (5) that by or through him were all things made that were made (verse 3). The first chapter of Genesis helps us to understand its meaning. God said, “Let there be light,” “Let there be a firmament,” “Let the earth bring forth,” etc., and it was done. God exhibits his creative power through the Word, and manifests his will through the Word. There are mysteries belonging to the divine nature and to the relation between the Son and the Father that we have to wait for eternity to solve. They are too deep for human solution, but this is clear: that God creates and speaks to man through the Word. As we clothe our thoughts in words, God reveals his will by the Word, and when that Word is clothed in flesh, as the Teacher of men, we recognize it as Jesus Christ.
4, 5. In him was life. He had life in himself, and hence is a fountain from whence life flows to man. Death could not hold him, because in him is life, and he became “the Resurrection and the Life” for us. The life was the light of men. The life that Christ bestows enlightens men. He is the Light of the World. His light chases away the darkness of the earth, though, when John wrote, the darkness did not receive it. Men, in darkness, had eyes and saw not. All history demonstrates that Christ is the Light of the World; every redeemed soul recognizes the fact.
6–8. There was a man sent from God. The writer now speaks of a witness to the Light, John, a man sent from God. He was called to his work from his mother's womb. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light. John came, not so much as a reformer, as a witness. His work, as declared by Malachi, was to be a messenger to go before the Lord. In all his preaching he testified of 325Christ. He pointed his own disciples to Jesus. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness. An early heretical sect held that John the Baptist was the Messiah. The apostle is explicit, in order to correct this error.
9. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. The Revision reads, “There was the true light, even the light which lighteth every man, coming into the world.” Grammatically, both in the Greek and the English, coming may belong to the light, or every man. We believe that it should agree with light. That was the true or real Light who, when he comes into the world, enlightens every man. Jesus says (John 12:46), “I am come a light into the world.”
10, 11. The tenth verse declares: (1) That he was in the world, (2) the world was made by him, (3) it did not recognize him. The next verse states (1) that he came, personally, to his own. He took upon himself a fleshly form and came to the race to which he was united by fleshly ties; (2) his own received him not. The world is humanity in general, which knew him not; his own is the Jewish nation, who received him not.
12. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God. The Revision reads, “Children of God,” which is better. While the nation rejected him, some received him. To such as receive him in every age he gives power to become the children of God. The manner in which he is received is given: Even to them that believe on his name. It is not declared that they are made children by believing, but to the believer he gives the “power to become” a child. When one believes in Christ, his faith becomes a power to lead him to yield himself to God and to receive the Word into his heart.
13. Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh. The Jews prided themselves on being Abraham's children, and trusted in their blood for salvation. To be a son of God is not a fleshly birth at all, but the spirit of the subject is born of God. In John 3:1–8, the Savior explains this birth more particularly.
14. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. The Word assumed a human form and became incarnate as the child of Mary. We beheld his glory. His Divine glory. See Luke 9:32; John 2:11.
15. John bare witness. At the time of Christ's baptism when the Spirit descended. See 1:33.
16. Of his fulness. Of grace and truth. See verse 14. His grace and truth hath blessed “us” (the saints) all. Grace for grace. Grace (favor) has been added to grace; one blessing piled upon another.
17. The law was given by Moses. It was not a system of grace, nor could it make men perfect; in contrast with it the system of grace and truth (see verse 14) was given by Jesus Christ. 326
18. No man hath seen God, with bodily eyes, but he was manifested as the Word, and at last the “only begotten Son hath declared him.” “He that hath seen me,” said Christ, “hath seen the Father. The Father is in me and I in him.”
19. This is the record of John. The writer now plunges at once into his history. He passes by the childhood of the Lord, John's ministry, and comes at once to the time when Jesus, thirty years old, is acknowledged by the Father as the Son of God. When the Jews sent priests and Levites. The Jewish rulers, the Sanhedrim, the court or parliament of seventy-one members who ruled Israel. The delegation sent to John was official. His preaching in the wilderness of Jordan had stirred the whole land, and they were sent to ascertain his character. Matthew, Mark, and Luke use the term Jews very seldom, John often, a proof that he wrote far away from Palestine and for Gentiles.
20–23. Some conjectured that John was the expected Christ; others that he was Elijah who was first to come (Mal. 4:5); others that he was “that prophet,” the one predicted by Moses (Deut. 18:15); but he declared that he was none of these. When they insisted that he should declare who he was, he quoted Isaiah, and said he was The voice of one crying in the wilderness. See note on Matt. 3:3. His work was preparation for the Lord.
24. Were of the Pharisees. See notes on Matt. 3:7.
25. Why baptizest thou then? If he were Christ, or Elias, or “that prophet,” they could understand why he should establish a new religious rite, but if none of these, why should he do so? Their perplexity shows that the baptismal rite was new to them. There is no proof that Jewish proselyte baptism of Gentile converts existed at this period, save the assertion of the Talmud, written two or three centuries after this. Josephus, who wrote in the time of the apostles, is silent about it.
26, 27. I baptize with water. See notes on Matt. 3:11. 327
29. The next day John seeth Jesus. Here Jesus first appears, in person, in John's account, who omits all the details given by Matthew and Luke of his earlier life. He was now thirty years old, and came from Galilee to Jordan to be baptized of John. This interview was after the baptism (verse 33), and probably after the Temptation. Behold the Lamb of God. Innocent like the lamb, to be offered as a lamb, “led as a lamb to the slaughter” (Isa. 53:7). The lamb was commonly used as a sin offering (Lev. 4:32), and when John points to Jesus as the Lamb of God he can only mean that God had provided him as a sacrificial offering. The sin of the world. Not of Jews only, but of Gentiles. John points to Jesus as the world's Savior.
30. This is he of whom I said. See verse 27. Was before. Existed before I was born.
32–34. I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove. See Matt. 3:16, and notes. It was revealed to John that the Christ would thus be revealed. Indeed it was the anointing of the Spirit that made Jesus the Anointed, the Christ.
35. Again the next day after, John stood, and two of his disciples. In verses 19–28, the account is given of the visit of the priests and Levites, sent by the Sanhedrim to John. “The next day” after this, John sees Jesus and points him out as the Lamb of God, giving a discourse of which, in verses 19–34, we have a synopsis. On the “next day” after this, the third day after the deputation of the Sanhedrim, and the second after the return of Jesus from the wilderness, Jesus stood with two of his disciples. One of these two, we learn from verse 40, was Andrew; the other, we have reason to believe, was John, the apostle.
36. Behold the Lamb of God! On the preceding day John had recognized Jesus in a public discourse as “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” Now he personally points the disciples to him. 328
40, 41. One of the two … was Andrew. Afterwards an apostle. He has the honor of being one of the first two disciples of Jesus. Findeth his own brother Simon. Simon Peter. In true missionary spirit Andrew at once and first sought his own brother. We have found the Messias. The Christ promised by the prophets. Messiah is the Hebrew word meaning the same as Christ.
43. Findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me. This is the first recorded instance of the Savior calling a disciple to follow him. Philip, it must be borne in mind, is not Philip, “one of the seven,” but “one of the Twelve,” a citizen of Bethsaida of Galilee, and a fellow-townsman of Andrew and Peter.
45. Philip findeth Nathanael. As we learn from John 21:2, Nathanael was a Galilean, his home being at “Cana in Galilee.” His name only occurs in these two places. He is supposed to have been one of the Twelve, the same one mentioned in the other Gospels as Bartholomew, which means “son of Tolmai.” The use of the name in John 21:2 favors this hypothesis. We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write. There was only one to whom this could refer, “The prophet like unto Moses,” the Messiah; and when Philip names Jesus of Nazareth, Nathanael is at once skeptical whether the Messiah could come out of Nazareth, an insignificant and despised place.
46. Come and see. That is the best answer to the skeptic. Bring him to Christ, let him consider him, and what he has done for mankind. The strongest proof that Jesus is the Christ is Jesus himself. 329
48. Whence knowest thou me? Nathanael, who had never met Jesus before, was surprised to hear himself spoken of as one known. When thou wast under the fig tree. There was something about this answer that filled Nathanael with astonishment. Under the shade and shelter of the fig tree he had some rare experience that is not recorded, and that he supposed unknown to man. That Jesus knew of it and read his soul startled him and dissipated his unbelief.
49. Thou art the Son of God; the King of Israel. Philip had said, “Jesus, the son of Joseph,” as he supposed, but Nathanael, convinced, declared him the Son of God. This is the first confession of the divinity of Jesus.
51. Ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending. Jacob, old Israel, in his dream at Bethel, saw the ladder that reached to heaven with the angels upon it (Gen. 28:12). Christ is that ladder, the way from earth to heaven, the way heaven sends messages to the world and the way we must go to reach it. Nathanael would be permitted to see that Jesus was the Mediator, that through him the Father speaks to man; that through him there is intercommunication between earth and heaven. 329
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