The Word Became Flesh (John 1:14)

John here writes a statement that is one of the profoundest ever written because it summarises the incredible experience of the Son of God. The apostle says that the Son became something that he was not before without ceasing to be what he always had been. We can consider some points he makes about what happened.

The title of Jesus
John here calls Jesus the Word and we can see that he has been using it since the beginning of the chapter. Why does he use this word to describe Jesus? So we can look back to how he uses it previously. In verse 1, we can see that John uses the title when describing the contact that Jesus had with God before verse 14 occurred. It was contact because John says that Jesus was with God – ‘with’ means contact.

What does John say about this contact? First, he says that it was eternal because it took place before what he calls ‘the beginning’. By ‘the beginning’, he probably refers to the original creating of all things. This contact had been going on eternally, without beginning. Second, John says that the contact was endearing – we can see this in the preposition ‘with’ that John uses when he says that the Word was with God. ‘With’ here means face-to-face, a way of saying that there was constant delight and satisfaction between the Father and the Son. This is not surprising because they are equal in power and glory.

Then in verse 3, John says that the Word was the creator of all things. When we read the account of creation in Genesis 1, we note the constant refrain, ‘and God said.’ The phrase points to ‘power’, to be able to do what he wanted. It also points to wisdom, because he knew what to make. And we can see that it points to love because he chose to make it for the benefit of others, for humans.

In the next verse, John says that the Word was the communicator in the sense that he revealed things to people before he came. I suspect John is saying that the Word gave spiritual light to individuals before he was born. Some of those people are mentioned in the Old Testament. Who told Job and his friends about God? The Word did. Who told Jethro about God? The Word did. Who told Abel about God? The Word did? Everyone who knew anything about God did so because the Word arranged it.

John may be saying more than the Word was the source of spiritual light. In addition, he was the source of natural light, of the ability to help sinners bring about environments in which pleasant things could take place. Take Genesis 4:20, for example. Who enabled Jabal to become a herdsman, or who enabled Jubal to make music, and who enabled Tubal-cain to work with metals? The Word did. He made it possible, through common grace, for society to function. And he did so although the darkness was trying to overcome it.

The taking – by the Word
John says that the Word ‘became’ flesh. When we think of individuals, we know that there are some things they can become and some things they cannot become. For example, an engineer can become a teacher. Yet if he is a white engineer, he cannot become a black engineer. He may wish to do so, but he cannot do so. So there is a limit to what we can become.

What could God become? And if he could become something, what options would he have? The only thing that God could become was a creature. After all, he is the divine Creator. There cannot be another divine being, there is only one God, and there can only be one God, the eternal One with no beginning and no end. So if he was going to become something, he would have to make it. This is an obvious fact.

One would assume that God would become something similar in some ways to himself. So maybe he would become a good angel, a creature who had never suffered the consequences of the fall as Adam had done when he sinned at the beginning.  Yet John says that the Word did not become an angel, but instead he became flesh, he became human, and a lowly one at that. John does not say that Word became regal, but flesh; not king-like, but lowly. The apostle has in mind human nature in its insignificance, weakness, and fragility. Yet we must recall that the Word did not become a sinner.

An amazing thing is that the Word became this without ceasing to be God. He retained the abilities of deity while adding to his divine person a human nature. This means that when he was laid in the manger he was still the eternal Word with his unique contact with the Father and the Holy Spirit, with his creatorial abilities, and with his communication skills. We bow before this amazing sight in Bethlehem, God and man in two distinct natures, but one person forever. The taking of a human nature was permanent as far as the Son of God is concerned. He became what he was not without ceasing to be what he was.

The travelling
John says that the Word dwelt among us. So John is referring to something that happened to those he calls ‘us’, which is a reference to the disciples. He uses a word that can be translated as ‘tabernacled’. Some say he means that the Word looked like a fragile tent. Yet I suspect that he is alluding to the tabernacle in the Old Testament in which God met with his people. Obviously, when Jesus came, God was meeting with his people.

Perhaps John is suggesting that, as with the tabernacle before it was replaced by the temple, Jesus was to live in this lowly condition for a short time before ascending to heaven where his humanity would be glorified. The Saviour was in a state of humiliation then, but he is not in such a state now because he has been highly exalted in heaven. His lowly condition was temporary and John could be indicating this when he uses this description.

Maybe John is saying even more when he connects Jesus with the tabernacle. Until David captured Jerusalem, there was not a settled place for the tabernacle to be placed. Before then, when the children of Israel were in the desert, the tabernacle was moving around the area. Is John alluding to the fact that Jesus, when he was his disciples, was constantly on the move? I would suggest John is saying that because he goes on to say what he saw.

The testimony
John mentions that the disciples saw the divine glory of Jesus and mentions two details concerning it. First, he says the glory was unique – it was one that could only be connected to the eternal Son of the eternal Father. I suppose John is saying that everything Jesus did he did in connection with the Father and for the glory of the Father. After all, Jesus did say that the Father was always with him and that he always did what pleased the Father. It is similar to what he had been experiencing in John 1:1, except that now he was doing so in a very different place, on the earth that was marred by sin.

Second, John says that the glory he saw in Jesus was ‘full of grace and truth’. In a sense, that is what John’s gospel is all about. He mentions several situations, each of which are very different from one another, and yet in each of them Jesus revealed that he was full of grace and truth. We could note the way he spoke to Nicodemus the Jewish religious leader and to the woman of Samaria. From one point of view, there is an obvious contrast between those two individuals. Nevertheless, with regard to each Jesus instructed them about God and how they could relate to him. Nicodemus was told that he needed to be reborn and the woman of Samaria was informed that she had to drink of the water of life. John was aware of both those incidents.

We can also remind ourselves that the sufferings of Jesus were connected to grace and truth. From his account of the cross we discover that John and some female followers of Jesus stood near the cross as Jesus died. They saw what happened at Calvary and while John does not mention all that occurred there he would have known about them. How did Jesus reveal when was on the cross that he was full of grace and truth? Think of how he prayed for the soldiers, of how he spoke to the penitent criminal, and how he arranged for the care of his mother.

And we can think of how Jesus on the day of his resurrection revealed that he was full of grace and truth. In the closing chapters of his account John brings in various people who describe what they experienced. He begins with Mary Magdalene and tells how Jesus spoke kindly to her, but also informed her that the old earthly relationships were over and that he would soon ascend to heaven. John also mentions how Jesus appeared to his disciples later that day and expressed his desire to donate peace to them from him.

John reminds his readers that Jesus was balanced perfectly at all times. We have known Christians who did not always retain such a balance and therefore responded wrongly in a situation. This could never be said about Jesus. We are not surprised because we know that he was sinless. Yet we should admire his balance. After all, it is this balance that makes him beautiful in the eyes of his people who confess that they need both his grace and his truth. And this beauty connected to the balance is permanent.

Why did John write this verse? For the same reason why he wrote each verse in his gospel, which is that his readers might believe that Jesus is the Christ (John 20:20). This verse is John’s version of what we call the Christmas story and he describes the greatness and the grace of the Saviour.

What did John and the other witnesses do when they were in the presence of Jesus? They gazed with wonder. They found him so attractive that they could not turn their eyes away. If anyone met them after such an occasion and asked them who they saw or met, I suspect that their reply would have been, ‘I looked at Jesus.’ The more they looked, the more they saw. And the more they saw, the more they loved because they saw that he was the Saviour sent from God to speak to them about the way of salvation and to go to the cross to deliver them from their sins.

Read more

© (2017)