Have you ever tried to explain something that was so epically amazing that you couldn’t quite put it into words? Sometimes I think that’s what the Apostle John faced. God chose him to describe incredible and breathtaking things to us…things that belong to Heaven and eternity…things that don’t quite mesh with our earth-bound limitations as we live in time. Some things, especially things related to God, are greater than the limits of human language.
When Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote their stories of the Gospel, they wanted to give a picture of Christ as the man who was God. Their stories begin with the birth of Jesus and all the glorious fulfillments of prophecy that surrounded it. They wanted to show that this man was truly Emmanuel, God with us. These three books were written in the early days of Christianity and were passed around as the young Churches were just beginning to understand who Christ was and what it meant to follow Him.
When the Apostle John wrote his Gospel, it was at a much later time. The Church had been established all over the Roman Empire through the work of missionaries like Barnabas and Paul. The first three Gospels had already been passed around to the local churches for decades along with the letters of Peter and Paul and James.
When you read the book of John, you will see that it is very different from the first three Gospels. John was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. He was also Jesus’ younger cousin. He was the man who stood with Jesus’ mother and Mary of Magdela at the cross. As Jesus suffered for our sins, He looked down and gave John the responsibility to watch over His mother once He was gone. John spent the rest of his life serving Christ by building the Church. The historical tradition of the Church says that John spent many of his years in Ephesus with Mary by his side. All of the other disciples were eventually put to death for their faith in Jesus, but John survived and went on to lead the early years of the second generation of the Church. He mentored men like Polycarp who would lead the faithful into the next century. John wrote three letters to the churches that are kept in Scripture, and he wrote the final book of the Bible. In the Book of Revelation, John told the Church the amazing story of the day he was taken up into Heaven to watch the future events of the end of time. He got to watch that epic moment, the Day of the Lord, when Christ will take His final victory over Satan and sin and death.
In Revelation, we see a picture of Jesus that moves far beyond the man that we read about in the Gospels who walked around on the earth. When John saw Christ come in His brilliant, majestic glory, he fell down on his face in fear! When he wrote it down, John tried to explain for us the image of the powerful and mighty King of kings and Lord of lords, the Almighty Ruler of the Universe who shines with radiant light and power. It helps us understand that when Jesus came to earth as a man, He had humbled Himself in breathtaking ways. He left His magnificent, rightful place seated on the very throne of God. And while He remained the God of all creation the entire time He walked the earth, His divine power was veiled, and He lived with the limitations of any human. Jesus not only set aside the wonder of His divine powers for us…He became a vulnerable infant and a servant.
When we see Jesus work miracles or know things with supernatural power, we know that He was not leaning in on His own divine power. He was responding to the will of God the Father and depending on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. When we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and put our trust in Him, that same Spirit comes and lives in us. Jesus set the example for us and then sent His Spirit to empower us to live like Him.
When John wrote his Gospel, he wanted to show how Jesus was not only the One who walked the earth. He was also the glorious, exalted Son of God who has existed for all eternity. He was the Son who left the throne and entered human time to bring us salvation under a New Covenant of grace. When He won the victory, He ascended back to His rightful place on the throne where He has an everlasting reign.
John also wanted to show that when Jesus came to establish the New Covenant, He didn’t just get rid of the old Jewish customs and the Temple worship. Jesus replaced it and became the center of worship and the life of faith. Everything can be found in deep, abiding love and relationship with Him! All of the Jewish traditions and symbols and ways of life were God’s way of creating a nation that pointed to the coming of His glorious Son, and once He came to earth, those old rituals were no longer necessary! There was a whole new way of life in Christ, and those who belong to Him are a whole new kind of covenant people!
Because teaching these things was John’s desire, he began his book in a very special way. Instead of telling the genealogy of Jesus or explaining how He was born (as Matthew or Luke did), John tells about the eternal life of Jesus, long before the plans of God for human salvation were set in motion. This is what John wrote:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him, not one thing came into being.”
John chose an interesting way to start his book. They sound a lot like the first words of the Old Testament: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Now John is giving us more details about Creation. In the Old Testament, “the Word of God” was a way of saying that God has spoken. And because God is all powerful, all wise, and perfect in all He does, everything He says is absolutely good and certain to happen just because He said so. When God speaks, things become!
Now John is showing us that as God the Father was creating the universe, Jesus was right there alongside Him. Jesus is the Word. He was with God, which means He had a relationship with God, yet He also was God. It is difficult to understand how Jesus could be both, but that is what the Bible teaches. Somehow, God the Father and God the Son are in a perfect relationship with each other, and yet they are One.
The New Testament reveals to us that when Scripture talks about “the Word,” it is talking about Jesus. Try reading John 1:1-5, but when you see the terms “Word” or “Him,” replace it with the name “Jesus.”
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in Him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
The whole universe sprang from Christ. Think of the magnificent stars and the solitary moon. Think of the roaring rivers and thundering waves. Every last thing that God made was made in the power of His Son. Somehow, the power of the Word of God the Father came through the glory of Jesus Christ. Another book of the Bible, written by the Apostle Paul, explains this a little bit more:
“He, [Jesus], is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
Wow. These grand truths are so great that they are hard for us to grasp. And that is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? The Most High God should be so much grander than we are that we cannot understand everything about Him! Trying to explain these things to each other is important. In fact it is a profoundly good thing for us to search out the things of God to the very edge of what is possible to know about the One who is infinitely greater than ourselves. But it is okay if some of it seems like a mystery! We don’t try to teach dogs to read or flowers to sing, do we? The difference between a human and a flower is much less than the difference between us and God! There are many things God can do and understand that we cannot. That great distance between humanity and God is the distance that Jesus bore in Himself so that He could offer His life for us, and John wanted to help us understand the outrageous, incomprehensibly beautiful thing that God did.