John 1 – God became man

Erkki Koskenniemi
Elina Salminen

The hymn beginning the Gospel 1:1-18

The beginning of the Gospel of John is breathtaking. Without any warning the author leads his readers – or rather listeners – into incredible heights. The first eighteen verses create the so-called "logos hymn", a lovely psalm about the Word of God and how the Word became flesh.

The first section in the hymn reflecting the Old Testament is familiar to all Bible readers. Interestingly, the Gospel of John begins almost in the same way as the story of creation. The message is clear: we are talking about the most fundamental issue here.

There is also another writing in the Old Testament, that resembles the beginning of the Gospel of John. Recognizing it requires good knowledge of the Old Testament. It is Proverbs 8. It paints an adorable picture of the Wisdom that was God’s instrument in creation. We are talking about the particular Wisdom, the Word of Scripture. The Logos Hymn teaches us to see that the Wisdom is Jesus, God’s only son. Due to this specific section in the Bible, the Church confesses that “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” Like that, immense depths of "the logos hymn" begin to unfold. God’s only Son came down from His glory to bring light into the darkness of the world.

Most people who lived with Jesus, were incapable of seeing His glory. Those to whom God gave the ability to see, realized that the merciful God had come down to live among His people. What that meant is explained in the last verse of the hymn in the most amazing way: Previously (in verse 14), the narrator talks about “the only Son from the Father”. Only in verse 18, the author adds an important word: Jesus is “the only begotten God”.

Right from the first verses we encounter a typical theology of John. One of its essential word pairs are "light" and "darkness". Exactly the same word pair continuously appears in the First Epistle of John. Because of sin, the whole world lived in miserable darkness. When Christ came down on Earth, the world encountered enormous light. Some realized it, but not everybody. Who has found Christ, has passed form darkness into light, or - as John says elsewhere - from death to life.

The witness of John the Baptist 1:19-28

In all of the four gospels, John the Baptist is an essentially important character. The first evangelist Markus starts the narration of Jesus's activity by describing how Jesus came to John the Baptist and became baptized. John the evangelist partly places his witness already inside "the logos hymn". It seems that by this point the evangelist assumes his readers know already a lot. He doesn't even tell about the baptism of Jesus, but directs all his attention to the witness of John the Baptist. This is only one example of the strong artistic touch of the fourth evangelist: it is not necessary to reveal everything; only the core of the events and their meaning is essential to tell.

Those who came to John the Baptist were “Jews”. That is the word John mostly uses when describing the Israelites that rejected Christ, often without specifying any particular sects or parties. It was the time after the destruction of Jerusalem, and the differences for example between the supporters of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Herod's supporters had lost significance. John the Baptist was put into a test, and his answers were clear, showing way to us, future believers. He is not the Christ or Elijah, nor the prophet Moses had promised to come (Deuteronomy 18:18). The Baptist was “The voice of one crying” that Isaiah had prophesied about. His task was to tell about the coming of much greater person..

There are interesting features in the testimony of John the Baptist. Some of the disciples of John the Baptist continued their activities and gatherings after their teacher died. The evangelist surely directed his words also to them. Another interesting feature is the series of questions - especially the last two questions of it. John denied he’s Elijah. However, according to Matthew he actually was Elijah (Matthew 11:14), or at least he acted in the spirit of Elijah. The third waited character was the prophet promised by Moses. The expectations toward him were great, not only among Jews, but also among Samaritans. John rejected all these designations, and instead wanted to be witness of the one that was about to come.

Lamb of God 1:29-34

On the following day, John clarified his testimony. He now encountered Jesus and God revealed him the true essence of that man. Jesus is the reason why John had begun his working. The Baptist's forefinger points the word of God that became flesh.

While talking about "the Lamb of God" John had two words of the Old Testament in mind. The first of them relates to Easter. When God released his people from the slavery of Egypt, He gave a commandment to have an Easter Dinner. In the center of the meal was a lamb. God told his people to slaughter a lamb and smear its blood on the entrances to their houses. When the destroyer sent by God killed all firstborns in Egypt, the blood of the lamb served as a mark showing where God's People lived. Their firstborns avoided the destiny of being killed (Exodus 12). This section is also behind the later events (John 19:36). Another part talking about the Lamb in the Old Testament is The Book of Isaiah, chapter 53. Hence, already the first half of the opening chapter of the gospel places the Christ in His right place. Jesus is both the Son of God and God himself, and at the same time the one saving sinful people through his own blood.

According to the fourth gospel, Jesus’ first disciples were originally the disciples of John the Baptist. That is in a way confirmed also by Luke, who says that instead of Judas, a new apostle had to be chosen among those who had accompanied Jesus "since John had baptized him" (Acts 1:22) .

John describes the events in detail, and in a manner that is partly difficult to combine with the Synoptics. The main points are however the same: Jesus invites 12 disciples (John 6:67) and Peter has a special position among them. Two first disciples listened to John's advice and followed Jesus. One of them was Andrew, the other one's name was not mentioned. The Church has traditionally thought that he was a writer of this Gospel. The information is very uncertain, but not necessarily false. With Andrew, also Simon joined Jesus's company, whom Jesus gave the name Keppa, in Greek Petros and in Finnish Kallio. Synoptics linked the namegiving to Peter's Confession (Matthew 16:16).

Jesus left the Jordan River Valley and went to Galilee. On the journey, Philip followed him and told Nathanael that he had found Christ. Nathanael was sceptic, but soon realized that Jesus saw amazingly through his whole life. For the first time there was a tension between a miracle faith and a genuine faith. Nathanael started to follow Jesus because of a miracle. That was, of course, totally acceptable, but faith based on miracles remains fairly superficial. Real and true confession of faith can be heard e.g. from Martha. It is notable that Martha said it before Jesus rose her brother Lazarus from the dead: "Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world." (John 11:27). Jesus’s disciples did not yet share the same faith that echoes in Martha’s testimony or in the first half of the first chapter in Gospel of John, both in the beginning hymn and in John the Baptist’s witness. Yet disciples were allowed to stay in Jesus’s company and learn more and more.