John 1:9 “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.”
The prologue or introduction to John’s Gospel in John 1:1-18 is among the post profound sections of scripture. Jesus is presented as none other than God in human flesh. Central to the prologue is the assertion of John 1:14 “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” As the reader traces the various titles and descriptions of Jesus Christ throughout the prologue, three major titles can be used to better understand the exact identity of Jesus Christ: “The Word”, “The Life” and “The Light”. Today’s post aims to unfold these titles and use them to understand the Person of Jesus Christ and His incarnation revealed in John 1:1-18
Jesus Christ “The Word”
First, the term “Word” is used in John 1:1 and 1:14 to describe the Deity of the Son as pre-existing with the Father before time began. The term “Word” comes from the Greek word “logos” (λόγος) and would had been very familiar to both the Gentile and Jewish reader’s of John’s Gospel. For the Jew, λόγος would had corresponded to the personified figure of “The Word” we see in the Hebrew Old Testament scriptures. When God created the heavens and the earth in Genesis 1, over fifteen verbs indicate the act of “speaking”, “blessing” or “saying”. The Psalms repeatedly depict the activity of “The Word” (Hebrew = ha da-bar; הדְּבַר) Psalm 33:6 states – “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, And by the breath of His mouth all their host.” Psalm 107:20 – “He sent His word and healed them, And delivered them from their destructions.” Psalm 147:5 plainly notes – “He sends forth His command to the earth; His word runs very swiftly.” For John to say that the personified “word” was the very One with whom He spent time with, saw do miracles, beheld being crucified, experienced as the post-resurrected Savior and observed ascend into heaven would had been astonishing.
Likewise, this term “logos” (λόγος) would had been equally significant to the Gentile or Graeco/Roman mindset. In the literature of antiquity, (λόγος) was the ground of reason (i.e logic, derived from logos) and the very essence that held all of the invisible creation together. In Greek thought, (λόγος) was an impersonal force or abstract principle that permeated all of reality. The Alexandrian Jew Philo employed this Greek term in his writings by associating it with the creative activity of the God of the Old Testament. For John to take up the pen and assign not only personal qualities to λόγος but to say that “The Word” became flesh, i.e a man, would had astounded the Graeco/Roman mindset.
Theologian Michael Horton comments about this title “The Word” in John’s Gospel: “According to this Gospel, the God who acted in Christ to create the world has now acted in Christ to redeem it in history.”1 When we consider the origin of John’s description of Jesus Christ as “The Word” or “Ho Logos”, there can be no adequate explanation other than his source was Christ Himself and the superintending Divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology notes: The source of John’s logos doctrine is in the person and work of the historical Christ. Jesus is not to be interpreted by logos: Logos is intelligble only as we think of Jesus (W.F. Howard, IB 8:442). Its expression takes its full suitability primarily from the OT connotation of ‘word’ and its personification of wisdom. Christ is God’s active Word, his saving revelation to fallen-humanity. It is not accidental that both the Gospel and Christ who is its subject are called “the word.” But the use of logos in the contemporary Hellenistic world made it a useful ‘bridge’ word.”2
Jesus Christ “The Life”
Just as the title “Word” or λογος conveys the Personalize Deity of the Son being revealed in His assumption of humanity (i.e the incarnation), this second title “life” or “zoe” (ζωὴ) communicates much the same. Early on in redemptive history, God is revealed as the source of life. Clearly the creation records of Genesis 1 and nearly sixty other texts affirm the fact that God is the source of life. Job states in Job 33:4 “The Spirit of God has made me, And the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” The fact that “giving life” or being the very essence of life itself is the unique mark of the God of Old Testament revelation. When we arrive at the New Testament, John himself records Jesus expressing this link in John 5:24 “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes.” Both the Persons of the Father and the Son are portrayed in John has sharing in the same Divine nature and being able to perform identical functions. The Apostle John Himself writes in 1 John 1:2 “and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us.” The phrase “the eternal life” is used on at least three occassions to describe the very life of God Himself as revealed in the Person of the Father (Acts 13:46; 1 Timothy 6:12) Such a phrase is also used to describe the incarnation of Jesus Christ as the very manifestation of full Deity in human flesh. (1 John 1:2)
Jesus Christ “The Light”
Thus far we have explored in brief the titles “The Word” and “The Life” that appear in John 1:1-4. By far the most commonly used title of the three being highlighted in this post is the title “The Light”. If the pattern for the other two titles holds, we can say from the onset that John’s description of Jesus as “The Light” is yet another affirmation of His Deity. A quick survey of John’s usage of this title in his Gospel and writings will unfold the significance of Jesus Christ as “The Light”. John 1:9 – “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.” John 3:19 – “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” John 8:12 – “Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” John 12:46 – “I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.” 1 John 1:5 – “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 2:8 – “On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining.” Revelation 22:5 – “And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.” The logic that is gleaned from these texts with regards to Jesus Christ’s identity as “The Light” can be summarized in the following syllogism:
1. God is the Light 2. Jesus Christ is called “The Light” Therefore Jesus Christ is God
This logic in John’s writings affirms what the scripture teaches about the essence of God’s Deity. Psalm 36:6 tells us that “in His light we see light”. Isaiah 60:1 prophetically speaks about the coming Messiah who is equated in power and glory with Yahweh – “Arise, shine; for your light has come, And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Daniel sees what appears to be a pre-incarnate vision of the Eternal Son in Daniel 10:6 “His body also was like beryl, his face had the appearance of lightning, his eyes were like flaming torches, his arms and feet like the gleam of polished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a tumult.” Such a description matches John’s description of Jesus in Revelation 1:14-15 “His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. 15 His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters.”
What the titles “The Word”; “The Life” and “The Light” reveal about Jesus’ Incarnation
John 1:1-3 begins with the Pre-existence of Jesus Christ in eternity with the Father. As “The Word” He is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being. (Hebrews 1:1-2) The phrase in John 1:1 “and The Word was with God” (kai theos hayn ho logos = καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος) speaks of the equality of the Word with full undiminished Deity. John 1:14 reintroduces this title by showing how “The Word” has came from eternity into time and has done so through incarnating Himself in human flesh. It could be said that John 1;1-3 is concerned with unfolding the Son’ Eternal Deity.
John 1:4 develops the second title of Jesus Christ as “the life”. In the title “The Word” or “Logos” we saw reference to Jesus’ Eternal Deity. In the title “The Life”, Jesus’ is revealed in terms of the Excellence of Deity.
The third title in John 1:5-13 which describes Jesus as “The Light” conveys by its very nature not only sight and warmth, but it also conveys information and thus illumination. When astronomers for example study the light coming from the sun or distant stars, they can tell from that one beam of light the following information: temperature, chemical composition, distance, the star’s velocity relative to its journey within it’s host galaxy, the host galaxy’s velocity in relationship to the surrounding space, the rate of rotation, whether or not the star has planets revolving about it and several other details.
When it says at the end of John 1:18 that Jesus Christ has “explained” the invisible Deity with which He shares with the Father, Jesus Christ as “The Light” is conveying the full-orbed revelation of information of God. Only in Jesus Christ can we truly know God – since Jesus Christ is God. Likewise, in Jesus Christ redeemed people can have true fellowship with God, since Jesus Christ is also fully man. Hence the title “The Light” reveals that Jesus Christ is the very Illumination of Deity. Hence the Son is the One who appeared as the Light shining in the world in His various appearances in the Old Testament. (John 1:9; Hebrews 1:1-2)
As the Apostle writes on into John 1:10-13, the illuminating power of the Deity of Jesus is rejected at large by Gentiles (1:10) and the Jewish nation to whom He offered Himself as Messiah and King in the four Gospels (1:11). However notice John 1:12-13 “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, evento those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
John 1:14-18 then closes out the prologue with the central affirmation of the “Word being made flesh”. The Apostle takes a wide-angle lens and begins to pan-out from His detailed description of Jesus Christ as the Word, The Life and the Light. By viewing the “Word made flesh” in 1:14, the Apostle John reminds the reader of the testimony of John the Baptist who not only beheld the incarnate Son but baptized him and thus was his forerunner! Moreover, John 1:18 essentially gets us back to the same spot as John 1:1, only with one distinction, whereas the Son was pre-incarnate in John 1:1 as co-equal in power and authority with the Father in John 1:1-3, John 1:18 presents the same Person of the Son as incarnate Deity who is back with the Father.
The aim of this post was to to take some time to unfold three titles of Jesus Christ and how they aid in interpreting His incarnation as revealed in John 1:1-18 – The Word; The Life and The Light. As “The Word”, Jesus Christ is revealed in His Eternal Deity which He retain while in the flesh. Second, as “The Life” Jesus is revealed in the Excellence of His Deity which he displayed while operating in human flesh. Then finally as “The Light”, Jesus is revealed the illumination of His Deity as God in human flesh.
1. Michael Horton. The Christian Faith – A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way. Zondervan. 2012. page 463
2. Walter Elwell, Editor. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology – Second Edition. Baker. Page 697. 2001