Read John 1:1–18.
“Maybe if they had invested in better street signs, more people would have escaped the volcano,” I said, hoping to lighten the mood. Laurin didn’t respond. She just stared at her phone, trying to make sense of the map we had downloaded.
It was like something out of a twisted reality show: take a newly married couple, place them in middle of an ancient city, blindfold them, and spin them around. Then set them loose to find their way out with just a few minutes until their cruise ship departs.
It wasn’t quite as dramatic as that, but it was our honeymoon, and we did find ourselves lost in the middle of Pompeii’s ruins for the better part of an afternoon. When we did finally stumble upon a landmark we could locate on our map, we discovered the problem: our virtual tour guide app was using outdated information. The authorities who run the archaeological site had recently moved some things around—not the ancient ruins, of course, but the tourist entrance to those ruins. We thought we had started our trek into the city where our map began, but in reality, we had started somewhere else. Without realizing it, we had meandered our way into the center of a maze.
How you begin matters. If you don’t start out with a proper sense of where you are and where you’re going, you’ll soon find yourself lost. The author of the Fourth Gospel knows this, so He graciously begins by taking us back to the beginning. He wants us to find our bearings, because He’s about to take us on an amazing adventure and doesn’t want us to get disoriented.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Back in Genesis 1, the Lord spoke His Word, and creation came into being. John is about to introduce his readers to this Word, but first he invites us to consider that the Word is both God and yet distinct from God. It won’t do to mash them together, nor will it work to pull them apart. The Word is Yahweh, and yet the Word is with Him. He is sent from God, and yet He is God.
This is one of the mysteries of the Trinity, but it isn’t new to John. It was there in the Old Testament whenever God shows up in bodily form. He is there with His people on earth while still reigning in heaven. (See Genesis 18 and Joshua 5 for examples.) Or consider the opening chapter of the book of Jeremiah. “The word of the LORD came to me, saying…” (1:4). What comes to your mind? The “word of the LORD” is a message, right? Perhaps Jeremiah heard something in his spirit, or maybe it was an audible voice or even a vision. But then read what the prophet records just a few verses later: “Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth” (v. 9, emphasis added). “The word of the LORD” is now simply “the LORD,” and He’s apparently there with Jeremiah in the form of a man.
I know—it’s difficult to wrap one’s head around. And John doesn’t help in that regard; he simply confirms what the Old Testament reveals.*
But John also isn’t just rehashing bits of Scripture for the fun of it. He has something big to reveal: “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” (John 1:14). The rest of his Gospel will unpack this, but at the outset, he wants us to know who we’re about to meet.
Jesus is the Word made flesh. This is not some temporary embodiment like we see in many of the divine appearances in the Old Testament. The Son of God took our humanity upon Himself. The Word is now fully God and fully man. Heaven and earth have come together in the person of Jesus. And just as the presence of God dwelled in a tent alongside His people in the desert (Exodus 33:7–11), the Lord has come to live among His people once again.
There’s a lot more we could say about these opening verses of John’s Gospel. Ironically, the writings of John are where most seminary Greek classes begin, because John’s use of the language is often considered simplistic. Yet there’s nothing simplistic about what he’s written. I imagine a person could spend an entire lifetime just plumbing the depths of these eighteen verses and never complete her task.
We’ll come back here to explore concepts like light, life, grace, and truth. John isn’t done with those topics. But for now, know this: the reason Jesus came was so that we might believe in His name and become children of God (John 1:12–13). This is where the story is headed. God sent His Word into the world so that He might bring us home to the Father.
We have our map in hand. We know where we’re starting from, and we know where we’re going. Let’s get moving.
* Here’s another eye-opening detail: Though the Gospel of John was penned in Greek, the commercial language of the Roman Empire, Aramaic was still the common tongue for Jews in the Holy Land. In the Aramaic translations of the Old Testament, God is referred to as the “Word” more than 600 times. It’s likely that John’s first readers would have made the connection.