In this commentary on the Gospel of John, pastor R. Kent Hughes explores John’s unique emphasis on the deity of Christ and the enduring significance of Jesus’s words and works.
About the Author
R. Kent Hughes (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is senior pastor emeritus of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, and former professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hughes is also a founder of the Charles Simeon Trust, which conducts expository preaching conferences throughout North America and worldwide. He serves as the series editor for the Preaching the Word commentary series and is the author or coauthor of many books. He and his wife, Barbara, live in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, and have four children and an ever-increasing number of grandchildren.
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The Greatness of Christ
IT IS RIGHTLY SAID THAT each of the Gospels presents Christ with a distinctive emphasis. Matthew emphasizes his kingship, Mark his servanthood, Luke his manhood, and John his Godhood. Certainly all the Gospels present all four truths, but their separate emphases have allowed them unique functions in telling the story of Christ.
John is unique in his powerful presentation of Jesus as the great Creator-God of the universe. His massive vision of Christ has been used countless times to open the eyes of unbelievers to who Jesus is and the way of redemption.
This Gospel's continuing effect on Christians is equally profound because in John's account believers find an ongoing source for expanding their concept of the Savior's greatness. The serious student of John will find that each time he returns to the Gospel, Christ will be a little bigger — something like Lucy's experience with the lion Aslan (the Christ symbol in C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia) as she again gazed into his large, wise face.
"Welcome, child," he said.
"Aslan," said Lucy, "you're bigger."
"That is because you are older, little one," answered he.
"Not because you are?"
"I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger."
My hope is that as we work our way through the wonders of this book, we will find Christ bigger and bigger and bigger.
The prologue to John's Gospel (1:1–18) is considered to be one of the most sublime sections in all of Scripture. Some believe it was an early Christian "Hymn of the Incarnate Word," for Christ's incarnation is its subject, and it is marvelously poetic. Even more, it introduces us to some of the major ideas of the book: the cosmic Christ who came as light into the world, suffered rejection, but gave "grace upon grace" (v. 16) to those who received him. This hymn gives us a sense of the matchless greatness of Christ (vv. 1–3), the greatness of his love (vv. 4–13), and the greatness of his grace (vv. 14–18).
As John begins this introductory song, the force of what he says is so staggering that the words almost seem to bend under the weight they are made to bear. The opening three verses are an amazingly congealed expression of the greatness of Christ.
The Greatness of Christ (vv. 1–3)
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 were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (vv. 1–3)
"In the beginning was the Word." There never was a time when Christ did not exist because the word "was" is in the Greek imperfect tense, which means "was continuing." In fact, the entire first verse bears this sense. "In the beginning was continuing the Word, and the Word was continuing with God, and the Word was continually God." Or as one of my friends accurately (though ungrammatically) concluded, "Jesus always was wasing!" That is precisely it. Jesus Christ is preexistent. He always was continuing.
If you are like me, this kind of thinking makes for a super-headache. Our minds look backward until time disappears and thought collapses in exhaustion. Thus we begin our thoughts of the greatness of Christ. (The same thought can be found in 2 Corinthians 8:9, Philippians 2:6ff., and Colossians 1:17.)
Eternally in Relationship
Next the apostle adds, "And the Word was with God." Literally, "the Word was continually toward God." The Father and the Son were continually face-to-face. The preposition "with" bears the idea of nearness, along with a sense of movement toward God. That is to say, there has always existed the deepest equality and intimacy in the Holy Trinity.
Again our minds stagger as we think of Jesus as always having continued (without beginning and without end) in perfect joyous intimacy with the Father.
Moreover, as the final phrase of verse 1 adds, "And the Word was God." The exact meaning is that the Word was God in essence and character. He was God in every way, though he was a separate person from God the Father. The phrase perfectly preserves Jesus' separate identity, while also stating that he is God. This was his continuing identity from all eternity. He was God constantly.
The simple sentence of verse 1 is the most compact and pulsating theological statement in all of Scripture. Jesus was always existing from all eternity as God, in perfect fellowship with God the Father and (though not mentioned) the Holy Spirit. He is the cosmic Christ.
Finally, Jesus is the Creator of the universe. "All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made." The fact of Christ's Creatorship is the consistent witness of the New Testament. Colossians 1:16, 17 says: "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." Hebrews 1:2, 3 adds: "In these last days [God] has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power." Revelation 4:11 states: "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created." Also 1 Corinthians 8:6 says: "Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist."
There are about one hundred billion stars in the average galaxy, and there are at least one hundred million galaxies in known space. Einstein believed that we have scanned with our largest telescopes only one billionth of theoretical space. This means that there are probably something like 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars in space (ten octillion). How many is that? 1,000 thousands = a million; 1,000 millions = a billion; 1,000 billions = a trillion; 1,000 trillions = a quadrillion; 1,000 quadrillions = a quintillion; 1,000 quintillions = a sextillion; 1,000 sextillions = a septillion; 1,000 septillions = an octillion. So ten octillion is a 10 with twenty-seven zeros behind it. And Jesus created them all!
Not only is he the Creator of the macrocosm of the universe, but also of the microcosm in the inner universe of the atom. The text in Colossians explains that he holds the atom and its inner and outer universe together ("in him all things hold together").
We can trust such a God with everything. Because he is Creator, he knows just what his creation, his people, need. It was said of Charles Steinmetz, the mechanical genius and friend of Henry Ford, that he could build a motor in his mind, and if it broke down he could fix it in his mind. So when he designed it and actually built it, it ran with precision.
One day the assembly line in the Ford plant broke down. None of Ford's men could fix it, so they called in Steinmetz. He tinkered for a few minutes, threw the switch, and it started running again.
A few days later Ford received a bill from Steinmetz for $10,000. Ford wrote back, "Charlie, don't you think your bill is a little high for just a little tinkering!" Steinmetz sent back a revised bill: "Tinkering — $10. Knowing where to tinker — $9,990."
Only Jesus knows where the tinkering should be done in our lives to keep us in perfect running order. Christ always knows which screw to turn, which belt to loosen, and the most beneficial octane.
He is our Creator. Are you resting in him? Have you entrusted your life to him? Considering the greatness of Christ, nothing else makes any sense at all.
The Greatness of Christ's Love (vv. 4–13)
The greatness of Christ's love is apparent from the opening line of John where he is mystically identified as "the Word." Though much can be said about this term because of its rich history in Greek literature, its main significance here is that Christ has always sought to reveal himself. An interpretative paraphrase could well read, "In the beginning was the Communication." Ever since man's creation, Christ has sought to communicate with him in love. That Christ was always "the Word" should remind us that he has always loved us, for the nature of love is to express itself, to find an object.
In verses 4–13 the metaphor of Christ as light stresses the revelation, rejection, and reception of his love as it came to the world.
In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
In clearest terms, Christ is described as light: "In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness" (vv. 4, 5). There is ample Scriptural evidence that Christ is light in a physical sense, for he appears as such in his glory (see Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2, 3; cf. John 17:5). But the emphasis here is on his being spiritual, life-giving light to a dark world. Verse 9 reveals that all humanity benefits from his light: "The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world." Romans 1:19, 20 explains that this happens through nature and conscience.
The thought of our Lord being spiritual light gives us a heartening insight into his loving attempt to reach the world. Where light goes, darkness is dispelled, revealing the true nature of life. No place with the slightest crack can withhold its presence. "The light shines in the darkness." Literally this means it shines continually in the darkness, meaning that Christ is continually bombarding every corner of our hearts of darkness through the work of his Holy Spirit in nature, conscience, and the Scriptures.
Whether you are with or without Christ, meditate upon Christ being light, and you will better understand how much he loves you.
But how was our Lord's loving light received?
Sadly, the majority of mankind rejected the light. Verse 5 concludes, "And the darkness has not overcome it." Other translations read that the darkness did not "overpower" it. The light met with tremendous resistance. Verses 10, 11 round out the description in terms that are tragically absurd as we bear in mind the immense description of Christ that has gone before: "He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him." Think of it! The One who said, "Let there be light," the One whose love constrained him to shine his saving light through creation and conscience, the One who mercifully sheathed his light in a human body so that he might bring light to men, the One who set aside a special people for himself to be a light to the nations, was rejected! Yet today he is still light and continues to seek to pry his way into hostile hearts. Amazing love!
And though many reject him, some respond.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (vv. 12, 13)
Those who receive the light become children of God. This is a stupendous truth. Apparently John never got over it because when he was an old man he wrote, "See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are" (1 John 3:1). This ought to be the refrain of our lives if we have believed in him.
Furthermore, the future holds out to us the bright prospect of becoming like the risen Christ himself. John followed his statement of wonder with a statement of even greater wonder: "Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2). C. S. Lewis, in his great sermon "The Weight of Glory," preached at St. Mary's, Oxford, elaborated on the implications of being children of God.
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people.
A dizzy joy at our future as God's children should pervade all our ways.
Coming into this marvelous life is a matter of incredible simplicity. Becoming one of God's own comes by receiving Jesus, which verse 12 explains by saying, "all who did receive him, who believed in his name," which means believing on who Jesus is and receiving him as our own. In the language of John 1, the cosmic Christ, the eternal Creator who became one of us, took our sins upon himself and paid for them, was resurrected and now sits at the Father's right hand. Do you truly believe in his name, in him? That is the question. There is nothing to join, nothing to sign. Simply believe.
Oh, the greatness of Christ and his love. Receive it now if you have not done so before.
The Greatness of Christ's Grace (vv. 14–18)
As we close this study of John's prologue, the mention of grace becomes prominent. Verses 14–17 (excepting the parenthetical reference to John the Baptist in verse 15) all refer to grace:
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. ... For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (vv. 14, 16, 17)(Continues…)
Excerpted from "John"
Copyright © 1999 R. Kent Hughes.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
A Word to Those Who Preach the Word 13
1 The Greatness of Christ (1: 1-18) 15
2 The Extended Christ (1:4, 5, 9-14) 23
3 The Greatness of the Good News (1:12, 13) 29
4 The Greatness of Grace (1:14, 16, 17) 37
5 The Essentials of Witness (1:19-37) 43
6 Angels Ascending and Descending (1:43-51) 51
7 The Transforming Power (2:1-11) 59
8 The Cleansing of the Temple (2:12-22) 67
9 On Being Born Again (3:1-8) 77
10 "How Can These Things Be?" (3:9-21) 85
11 "He Must Increase, but I Must Decrease" (3:22-30) 93
12 The Heart That Ministers (4:1-9) 101
13 The Ministering Heart's Message, Part I (4:1-15) 109
14 The Ministering Heart's Message, Part II (4:16-26) 117
15 Thinking Rightly about God's Love (4:23, 24) 125
16 The Ministering Heart's Approach to Life (4:27-42) 133
17 Growing Faith (4:46-54) 141
18 On Healing Spiritual Paralysis (5:1-18) 149
19 Conflict over the Sabbath (5:1-18) 157
20 The Claims of Christ (5:19-30) 165
21 Receiving the Witness of the Word (5:37-47) 173
22 What Kind of Savior? (6:1-26) 181
23 Appropriating Christ's Power and Sufficiency (6:1-14) 189
24 God's Children in the Storms of Life (6:16-21) 197
25 Dining on the Bread of Life (6:26-35, 47-58) 205
26 Rivers of Living Water (7:1-39) 215
27 Christ the Divider (7:40-52) 225
28 On Having the Light of Life (8:12-20) 231
29 Ultimate Separation-Ultimate Union (8:21-30) 239
30 Up from Slavery (8:31-36) 247
31 Ultimate Ancestry (8:37-47) 253
32 The Way of Seeing (9:1-41) 259
33 The Good Shepherd, Part I (10:1-18) 267
34 The Good Shepherd, Part II (10:19-30; Psalm 23) 275
35 "Lazarus, Come Out!" (11:1-46) 283
36 Eternal Profiles (11:47-57; 12:1-11) 295
37 A New Kind of Royalty (12:12-26) 303
38 The Effects of the Cross (12:27-36) 309
39 On Being People of the Towel (13:1-17) 317
40 Radical Love (13:18-35) 325
41 The Fall and Rise of the Apostle Peter (13:36-38) 333
42 "Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled," Part I (14:1-6) 341
43 "Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled," Part II (14:12-27) 347
44 On Bearing Fruit (15:1-11) 355
45 Loving the Branches (15:12-17) 363
46 "If the World Hates You …" (15:18-16:14) 371
47 Disclosures of the Spirit (16:7-16) 379
48 From Sorrow to Joy (16:16-33) 387
49 Christ's Prayer for Glory (17:1-5) 395
50 Christ Prays for His Disciples (17:11-19) 403
51 Christ Prays for His Own (17:20-26) 411
52 Who Arrested Whom? (18:1-11) 417
53 Pilate before Jesus, Part I (18:24-40) 425
54 Pilate before Jesus, Part II (19:1-16) 433
55 Christ's Crucifixion, Part I (19:17-22) 441
56 Christ's Crucifixion, Part II (19:23-30) 447
57 The Fact of the Resurrection (20:1-31) 455
58 A Fish Breakfast in Tiberias (21:1-14) 465
59 The Highest Priority (21:12-17) 473
60 On Loving and Following Christ (21:18-23) 481
Scripture Index 497
General Index 509
Index of Sermon Illustrations 515