In the gospel of John, we do not get a birth story of Jesus. Instead, we get a very unique description of Jesus. It is cosmic, not temporal. Here is what we read in the ASV:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness apprehended it not. There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came that he might bear witness of the light. There was the true light, even the light which lighteth every man, coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and they that were his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth. John beareth witness of him, and crieth, saying, This was he of whom I said, He that cometh after me is become before me: for he was before me. For of his fulness we all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. (John 1:1-18 ASV)
I picked the ASV because this is one of the last tranlsations to preserve that word “begotten,” which is HUGELY important (see this post for more on that). But this post isn’t about that word “begotten.” Instead, I want to concentrate on something rather strange. Look at that last line:
“No man hath seen God at any time”
“Oh yeah,” say most Christians. “Nobody saw God until Jesus made him known.” Right?
Well…. ….if that’s what you think, we need to take a trip to the Old Testament.
“No Man Hath Seen God At Any Time”
Think about that verse that nobody has ever seen God. Think about the explanation that “the only begotten Son,” who is Jesus, has made him known. With that in mind, I want to show you something all the way back in Exodus:
Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise up, and each would stand at his tent door, and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent. (Exodus 33:7-11)
Doesn’t that sound like Moses saw God?
With that in mind, things are getting a little weird when we read that “No man hath seen God at any time.” But maybe you can work this out in your mind about Moses not seeing the REAL God, but seeing some copy or manifestation of God.
Except, that gets harder to square with other things that we read in Exodus:
Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: and they saw the God of Israel; and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and as it were the very heaven for clearness. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: and they beheld God, and did eat and drink. (Exodus 24:9-11)
So, is the God of Israel “the real God”? If so, how did these seventy-four people see him? And to remove any confusion, not only did they get a glimpse of “the God of Israel,” they also sat down and ate. This was a rather extended encounter.
Yes, you read that right. Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and SEVENTY OTHER PEOPLE literally “saw the God of Israel.” So why does John say this:
“No one hath ever seen God at any time.”
This is getting…. ….Weird.
The Only Begotten Son . . . He Hath Declared Him
If you want to know why John says that about never seeing God, the answer to the question is quite simple. The only problem is that we do not understand the simple answer because we have not understood what is happening in the Old Testament. The main point that John wants you to know is this:
“the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.“
Who is this only begotten Son? That would be Jesus. It is John in his gospel that calls Jesus the only begotten son:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him. He that believeth on him is not judged: he that believeth not hath been judged already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil. (John 3:16-19)
That’s why the word “begotten” is so important. I will remind you that Jesus is not God’s ONLY son. See Luke 3:38 if you don’t believe me, or Genesis 6:1, or Job 1:6, or Job 2:1, etc. etc. Even “Satan” is numbered among the “Sons of God,” but only Jesus is the “only begotten Son of God.”
However, let’s return to the fact that the only begotten Son has “declared” God or “made him known.” This idea of Jesus being the manifestation of God himself is directly mentioned in the story of the gospel of John. Jesus addresses the issue himself:
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. (John 14:1-11)
Here is the point of this language and how it connects to the beginning of John’s gospel.
God the Father is the thing that “no one has ever seen.” Whenever he is described, he is described as pure LIGHT. Looking at God is like looking into the Sun. Nobody can see him:
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)
So God the Father is light. And if you remember where Jesus said he was going, he was going “to the Father.” And look what Saul/Paul sees when he is addressed by Jesus from Heaven. Guess what is involved? Yep, a darn lot of light:
At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. (Acts 26:13-15)
If you remember this story, Paul goes blind. It’s like that instruction not to look at the Sun times 1,000. That’s why John’s words “No man hath seen God at any time” isn’t some philosophical thing. It’s not some reflection on an unseen “spiritual” reality.
Nope. John is literally telling people what others have found out through experience: If you try to look at God, it’s not going to work out well for you. You can’t SEE God.
However, the “only begotten Son” is how people can interact with God the Father. If you want to know who God is, look at the only begotten Son of God. This is the second person of the trinity. He is “spiritual” in the same way that Satan, angels, cherubim, seraphim, and all of the other heavenly hosts are “spiritual.” These spiritual things are not visible normally, but they CAN be visible if they want to be.
Throughout all of human history, if you wanted to know about God the Father, you ALWAYS had to look at THE SON. This only begotten Son is named many things in the Old Testament, but most often, he is just called “the Lord.” He is called “YHWY” as a personal name to distinguish him from all the other “gods” who have names like Ishtar, Baal, Hercules, Zeus, Dagon, or whatever (not saying these are real names, but that is definitely what real entities have been called).
And we should not get confused that just because “Dagon” is a “Son of God” and Jesus is a “Son of God,” — or (to use the Hebrew term) one of the “elohim,” — that this term does anything substantive. It’s not that “Baal” and “YHWY” are on an equal playing field.
Nope. Not at all. It’s just a word/term that refers collectively to an unbelievably superior being and an unbelievably inferior being (both of whom are greater than we humans) all at the same time. Just as “mammal” can refer to a squirrel and Arnold Schwarzenegger, so “elohim” can refer to Jesus and Satan. I hope that’s clear.
When it comes to John’s gospel, he is making the point that this only begotten Son of God has made God the Father known. But not only did he do that with Jesus, this only begotten Son has ALWAYS had that job.
And that’s the important part of the next point of John’s introduction. This only begotten Son was ALWAYS making the Father known.
“In the Beginning Was the Word.”
When we read in John 1, we see that “In the Beginning was the Word.” These days, you are likely to hear that this “word” is actually the Greek word λόγος and that this is a Greek philosophical idea. You are likely to hear that John is borrowing this Greek philosophical idea about the “logos” to make some point about Jesus.
I’m here to tell you that IS NOT what is happening here. Instead, John is making a point of IDENTIFICATION. This identification is THE ENTIRE THEME of the book of John. (See this post for more on that subject about what Jesus is called in the book of John being a theme). The big point is that Jesus is “the LORD,” and the Jews simply CANNOT SEE that this is who he is.
But back to the introduction of John. What John is doing here is referencing a very well-known character in the Old Testament, and saying “That’s who Jesus is.”
What is funny, though, is that you have probably failed to SEE this character in the Old Testament, because you never realized when he was being referenced. Here is the first place the only Begotten Son is mentioned according to John’s identification:
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” (Genesis 15:1)
Did you catch it?
Here’s something you need to realize. Read that. Read it LITERALLY. Look at what it says. The word of the Lord came to Abram IN A VISION. Abram did not hear a disembodied voice. Abram SAW someone. Look what happens immediately after this:
But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:2-6).
Notice what happens here. Abraham SEES someone, and he identifies this someone as “Lord God.” And this “word of the Lord” both appears to him in a vision, and then “came to him” again. In other words, he came closer to emphasize a point: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” Not only that, this “word of the Lord” then “brought him outside.”
This is not a voice. This is A PERSON. What person is that? Let me make it clear:
“THE WORD OF THE LORD” IS THE LORD.
We need to think of “the Word of the Lord” as a title of a real entity. It is not some auditory voice.
“He Hath Declared Him”
That was Abraham’s encounter with “the Word of the Lord,” but he is not the only person who encounters this “Word of the Lord.” Look what else we read when we come to the book of 1 Samuel:
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. (1 Samuel 3:1)
Notice what that says, and notice what it MEANS. The “word of the Lord” was rare, and there was “no frequent VISION.” So yes, once again, the “Word of the Lord” is not an audible voice, even though the Word of the Lord has an audible voice. Instead, the Word of the Lord is THE LORD.
And that’s not all. Look at what we see regarding King Solomon:
Now the word of the Lord came to Solomon, “Concerning this house that you are building, if you will walk in my statutes and obey my rules and keep all my commandments and walk in them, then I will establish my word with you, which I spoke to David your father. And I will dwell among the children of Israel and will not forsake my people Israel.” (1 Kings 6:11-13)
As soon as Solomon had finished building the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all that Solomon desired to build, the Lord appeared to Solomon a second time, as he had appeared to him at Gibeon. (1 Kings 9:1-2)
There it is again! The Lord APPEARED to Solomon. And then he said something. And this “appearance” was the second time that Solomon saw the Lord. The “Word of the Lord” is VISIBLE. And to drive the final nail into this coffin, look what else it says in 1 Kings:
And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods. (1 Kings 11:9-10)
Guys… this is pretty obvious. This is a VISIBLE manifestation of God. And that’s not the only place it happens. We even get this idea in the Psalms:
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap;
he puts the deeps in storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!
For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm.
The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
the plans of his heart to all generations.
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!
The Lord looks down from heaven;
he sees all the children of man;
from where he sits enthroned he looks out
on all the inhabitants of the earth,
he who fashions the hearts of them all
and observes all their deeds.
The king is not saved by his great army;
a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
and by its great might it cannot rescue.
Did you notice that “The Word of the Lord” is treated as a “he” in this Psalm? Did you also notice that “The Word of the Lord” made everything? Do you see how that corresponds to what John says in his gospel:
All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:3)
You didn’t think John was making that up, did you? Anyway, look what else we read in the introduction to the book of Jeremiah:
The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah, the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month. (Jeremiah 1:1-3)
Now, this is a TERRIBLE English translation, because after saying “the Word of the Lord” came to Jeremiah, the English text says “it” came.
It is a terrible translation because the Hebrew says no such thing. The phrase translated “And it came” is actually a single Hebrew word – וַיְהִ֗י (way·hî). It’s a verb. The conjunction in Hebrew is a prefix, and so that’s where we get the “and.” The verb here is the verb hayah, which means “to fall out, come to pass, become, be.” And here’s the important thing. The verb is conjugated as SINGULAR AND MASCULINE.
Now why would a group of audible words that come to Jeremiah be conjugated as “singular” and “masculine”? That doesn’t seem to make any sense to describe an audible voice that comes to Jeremiah….
BECAUSE THAT’S NOT WHAT HAPPENED. “The Word of the Lord” is A PERSON. And if you don’t believe me, look at what it says next:
Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’;
for to all to whom I send you, you shall go,
and whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
declares the Lord.”
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me,
“Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to break down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”
Guys… did you see that? Not only does Jeremiah identify “the Word of the Lord” as “the Lord.” Not only that, look what we read:
“THE WORD OF THE LORD” HAS A HAND.
I hope you see where this is going. You see, I will repeat:
“THE WORD OF THE LORD” IS THE LORD.
And that’s not all. Look what it says in the first chapter of Ezekiel:
In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. On the fifth day of the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin), the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there. (Ezekiel 1:1-3)
There’s that hand again. And notice that Ezekiel saw VISIONS of God. And when Ezekiel describes what he was seeing, he says that “the Word of the Lord” came to him. In other words:
“THE WORD OF THE LORD” IS THE LORD.
And after Ezekiel spends a lot of time describing a movable throne with these SUPERNATURAL creatures that move the throne around, we get a description of what “the Word of the Lord” actually looks like:
And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.
Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. (Ezekiel 1:26-28)
Isn’t that funny? We get someone who looks like a human. Except, he’s very “shiny” or “fiery” to put it mildly. But wait… …remember what was that we read about what was underneath the God of Israel when Moses and the crew saw him?
“and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and as it were the very heaven for clearness.” (Exodus 24:10)
And look at what we see here in Ezekiel:
And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire;
And wait a minute… …what is it we read in Revelation about what it looks like when John saw Jesus enthroned in Heaven:
After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. (Revelation 4:1-6)
Guys…. I hope this is clear to you. John is describing THE SAME THING that Jeremiah saw, which is THE SAME THING that Moses, Aaron, and the crew saw. This is THE THRONE OF GOD which is IN HEAVEN. It’s not a metaphor. It is literally what they are SEEING. And guess who was enthroned?
THE WORD OF THE LORD WAS ENTHRONED.
And if I can just beat this point to a bloody pulp, let me also show you what Isaiah says about the Lord:
The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2:1)
Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and will defend this city. (Isaiah 38:4-6)
Guys…. Isaiah SAW a word. That’s not how words work. That’s because:
“THE WORD OF THE LORD” IS THE LORD.
Not only that, but this Word comes and then commands Isaiah to go tell other people things. And in a later part of the book, look how Isaiah describes the Lord when he is telling us about how things actually are:
Do you not know? Do you not hear?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
who brings princes to nothing,
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.
Guys… this is NOT a metaphor. You don’t put similes (“like grasshoppers”) in your metaphors. This is QUITE LITERAL. And ALL of the Old Testament is describing this in the same way.
I didn’t even mention Joel 1:1, Jonah 1:1 and 3:1, Micah 1:1, Zephaniah 1:1, Haggai 1:1 and 1:3, Zechariah 1:1, 1:6, 4:8, and 6:9, and other places in the Bible that have “the Word of the Lord” coming to (not “speaking” but COMING or ARRIVING) these prophets. Words don’t “arrive.” PEOPLE arrive. This is the weird way the Bible talks in the Old Testament because:
“THE WORD OF THE LORD” IS THE LORD.
The “Logos” of the Lord
Oh, but guess what, guys. That was all English, translated from the Hebrew text. But in the gospel of John, he is writing in Greek. Here is what John 1:1 says:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)
And here it is in Greek:
Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ Λόγος καὶ ὁ Λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν καὶ Θεὸς ἦν ὁ Λόγος (John 1:1)
How can I make the connection that John was talking about all of these Old Testament appearances of the Lord? Well, in the second century B.C., there was a pretty authoritative and widespread translation of the Old Testament rolling around the world called the Septuagint translation. That was a translation from Hebrew to Greek. And guess what the most consistent word that is used in the Septuagint Greek when turning those Old Testament quotes from “the Word of God” into Greek? Well, let’s look back at the things that I quoted above:
- Isaiah 2:1: λόγος
- Jeremiah 1:2: λόγος
- Jeremiah 1:3: λόγος
- Ezekiel 1:3: λόγος
- Jonah 1:1: λόγος
- Jonah 3:1: λόγος
- 1 Kings 6:11: λόγος
- Psalm 33:4: λόγῳ (which is just the Dative of the same masculine singular Greek word)
- Psalm 33:6: λόγῳ
- Joel 1:1: λόγος
- Micah1:1: λόγος
- Zechariah 1:1: λόγος
- Zechariah 1:7: λόγος
- Zechariah 4:8: λόγος
- Zechariah 6:9: λόγος
Do you see what this means?
Yeah…. ….I think you’re picking up on it.
John is identifying who Jesus is. He is pointing back to a ridiculously powerful God who has been with Israel from the very beginning, and saying “That was him.”
“The Word Became Flesh and Dwelt Among Us”
Not only does John make the important point that Jesus was the Word of God and divine. He also makes the important point that he “became flesh.” This is very important, and here’s why. As we previously discussed in this section, Paul notes who the REAL battle is against in the work of Jesus:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:10-12)
Now, that’s cool enough, but there is ANOTHER aspect of this. Look at the shocking thing that Paul says when talking about the evil spiritual forces who are opposing the work of Jesus Christ:
Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:6-13)
Do you see what that is saying? This is saying that the “rulers of this age,” who are the same “powers of the air,” WOULD NOT HAVE CRUCIFIED JESUS if they knew what was going on. Why? Because they wanted to hold onto the world. Despite this fact, God still gave “secret” and “hidden” wisdom that was made plain through the work of Jesus Christ.
In the next post, we are going to cover one of the stories where God “dwelt among us” but did not “become flesh.” It happened in the story of Gideon. And it is WILD. That will be covered in the next post.