God’s Word, delivered in person
Jesus is God’s Word1 When everything started, Jesus was already there.
He was the living Word of God.
He was with God. He was God.
2 The Word was right there with God all along.
3 With this Word, God spoke creation into existence.
If it’s part of creation, the Word created it.
4 He brought everything to life.
Then he turned the lights on inside people.
5 God’s life-giving light shines in the darkness.
And darkness can’t do a rotten thing about it.
John the Baptist wasn’t the Light6 God introduced a man into this story. He sent John. 7 John’s mission: Tell people about the Light who’s coming. Do it so that when the Light arrives, everyone might believe in him. 8 John wasn’t the Light. John was an advance man who came to get people ready to receive the Light.
9 The true Light who would spiritually enlighten everyone would soon step into the world. 10 Suddenly, there he was. He was in the world he had created. But the world had no idea who he was. 11 He came to this world that belonged to him. But most of the people—his people—wouldn’t have anything to do with him. 12 Some welcomed him into their lives and believed in him. He gave those people the right to become God’s children. 13 People aren’t born into God’s family the way they’re born into human families. This kind of birth has nothing to do with physical desires or with anyone’s decision to have a child. It has everything to do with God.
God’s Word comes to life14 The Word came to life as a human who lived among us. He was the Father’s only Son and he astonished us. He overwhelmed us with his kindness and honesty. 15 John told people about him. John said, “This is who I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming who is more important than me because he was alive before I was.’” 16 Because of everything God’s Son has to offer, we’ve been given one kind gift after another. 17 Moses brought us the laws. Jesus the Messiah brought us kindness and honesty. 18 No human has ever seen God. But God’s only Son—who is near and dear to God’s heart—teaches us about him.
John the Baptist takes hostile questions19 This is the testimony John gave when Jewish priests and Temple associates called Levites came from Jerusalem to interrogate him. They started with this question: “Who on earth are you?” 20 John answered them simply, “I’m not the Messiah.” 21 They pressed him, “Who are you, then? Are you Elijah?” “No I’m not,” John said. They asked, “Okay then, are you the Prophet?” He said, “No.” 22 They told John, “Well come on, who are you? Tell us. We were sent here to get an answer to this question. We’ve got to take an answer back with us.” 23 John said, “I’m the one the prophet Isaiah was talking about when he said:
‘I’m a voice crying out in the barren land,
“Get ready, the LORD is coming. Clear the road.”’”
Here comes the Lamb29 The next day, John caught sight of Jesus headed toward him. John said, “Look, here comes the Lamb of God. He’s going to get rid of this world’s sin. 30 This is who I was talking about when I said, ‘After my work is done, someone is coming who is more important than me because he was alive before I was.’
How John recognized the Messiah31 I didn’t realize who he was earlier. I started baptizing people so we could all find out who he is.” 32 Then John said, “I saw the Spirit come down, like a dove descending from the sky. It settled on him. 33 I didn’t know who he was until then. But the one who told me to start baptizing people gave me a sign. He said, ‘Watch for the Spirit to descend and settle on someone. That’s the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I’m telling you that I saw it with my own eyes. I’m an eyewitness. This man is God’s Chosen One.”
Jesus starts attracting disciples35 A day later, John was standing with two of his disciples. 36 He saw Jesus walking around. He watched him intently, then he erupted: “Everyone, look! The Lamb of God!” 37 When John’s two disciples heard that, they started following Jesus. 38 Jesus turned around and asked the two men, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi (which means Teacher), where are you staying?” 39 Jesus told them, “Come. You’ll see.” So they went with him and spent the night because it was already about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two disciples of John who started following Jesus was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. 41 The first chance Andrew got, he tracked down his brother Simon and said, “We found the Messiah!” (which is “Christ” in Greek). 42 Andrew took Simon to meet Jesus. Jesus looked hard at Simon and then said, “You’re Simon, John’s son. But now you’re going to be known as Cephas” (which translates as “Peter”).
43 The next day, Jesus decided to go to Galilee, where he met Philip. Jesus invited him to come along, “Follow me.” 44 Philip’s hometown was Bethsaida, where Andrew and Peter came from. 45 Philip went looking for Nathanael and told him, “Remember the one who Moses and the prophets wrote about? We found him. His name is Jesus. He’s the son of Joseph, and he comes from Nazareth.” 46 “Really?” Nathanael said. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said, “Come and see for yourself.” 47 Jesus watched as Nathanael approached. Then Jesus said, “Here comes the real deal, a true son of Israel. He doesn’t have a deceitful bone in his body.” 48 Nathanael said, “How did you know that about me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you there under the fig tree just before Philip spotted you and called out to you.” 49 Nathanael said, “Rabbi, it’s true. You are the Son of God and the king of Israel!” 50 Jesus said, “You believe that just because I saw you under the fig tree? Well, we’re going to top that like you wouldn’t believe.” 51 Then Jesus said, “I’m telling you the absolute truth. You’re going to see the sky open and God’s angels coming and going for the Son of Humans.
The original Greek word is Logos. Greek scholars such as Heraclitus said logos was the wisdom behind all of creation. This all-present wisdom created everything and it guided creation along the way. For many Jewish scholars then and now, God’s Word pulled the trigger on Creation, whether or not that involved pulling the trigger on the Big Bang. “God said, ‘Lights.’ Lights came on…God said, ‘Land, grow a garden.’…The land grew a garden” (Genesis 1:3, 11-12). John doesn’t identify Jesus as the Word until a few paragraphs later, gradually working up to it by describing the Word as the one who “came to this world that belonged to him. But most of the people—his people—wouldn’t have anything to do with him” (1:11). Jesus came to earth as a living, breathing expression of God’s message to humanity, summed up in what is perhaps the most famous Bible verse, John 3:16.
This is God the Father at work through Jesus, some Bible scholars explain, since Genesis 1 says God created the universe.
John may be pointing back to the Creation story, when God turned on the lights and “put darkness in its place” (Genesis 1:5). But John also seems to be pointing toward Jesus, who is often described as a source of spiritual light. “Gentiles of Galilee…who live in darkness will see the light—a powerful light. For those people who live in this land, under the shadow of death, it’s dawn, for the light has come” (Matthew 4:15-16). “And Jesus himself says, ‘I am the light of this world” (8:12).
John may have been six months older than Jesus. John’s mother was six months pregnant when God sent Gabriel to Nazareth to tell Mary she would soon get pregnant through the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:26). But John was talking about Jesus alive as the Word, from before the beginning of Creation.
Elijah is the prophet who is famous for not dying. He got swept up into heaven by a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11). Some Jews expected Elijah to come back and help prepare the people for the Messiah’s arrival (Malachi 4:5).
Jesus later said John was mistaken about that. Jesus told a crowd in Galilee, “You may or may not believe this, but John is the Elijah that the prophets said would come” (Matthew 11:14).
Some Jews expected God to send a prophet of the caliber of Moses, based on a prediction in Deuteronomy 18:15, 18.
Pharisees were one of several groups of Jews. It was a bit like Methodists being one of many groups of Christians. Pharisees were known for not only strictly keeping the laws of Moses, but also for keeping hundreds of other laws that were a bit like the rules in church manuals today. For example, Jewish law said Jews should not work on the Sabbath. Pharisees defined what they considered work—such as healing people. Pharisees taught that practicing medicine on the Sabbath was forbidden except when someone was at risk of dying that day.
Sometimes called Bethany beyond the Jordan. The site today is identified as Al-Maghtas, about six miles (9 km) north of the Dead Sea, on the eastern side of the Jordan River, in what is now the country of Jordan. It’s about a day’s walk from Jerusalem, some 20 miles (32 km), as the dove flies. Today it’s an archaeological site. The site has been added to the World Heritage List by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Christian pilgrims, since Roman times, have venerated the site as the place where John the Baptist performed baptisms. Archaeologists have uncovered the ruins of a monastery and the remains of churches and ponds reportedly used for baptism.
Bible experts say this refers to his sacrificial death. The Bible says sin is a capital offense in God’s eyes. But God set up a system of animal sacrifice, allowing his people to sacrifice animals to atone for sin, so the people didn’t have to die (Leviticus 17:11). But the Bible says Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice once and for all (Hebrews 10:10), rendering animal sacrifice obsolete. Romans destroyed the Jewish Temple about 40 years later, in AD 70, ending the sacrificial system since Jews taught that the Jerusalem Temple was the only place they were allowed to offer sacrifices.
John likely knew Jesus because of the connection their mothers had with each other (Luke 1). But he didn’t seem to realize Jesus was the Messiah.
A title for the Messiah. “Chosen One” tracks with a prophecy about a leader who receives the Spirit: “He is my chosen one, who pleases me. I have put my Spirit upon him” (Isaiah 42:1 New Living Translation). Some ancient manuscripts substitute the phrase with “Son of God.” Bible experts are divided over which is correct.
“Cephas” was a name familiar to people who spoke Aramaic, a common language in what is now Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Among people who spoke Greek, the international language of the day, the name translated as “Peter.” It’s a bit like “Stephen” in English is “Esteban” in Spanish.
Jesus may have been referring to Psalm 32:2, “the man…in whose spirit there is no deceit!” (New American Standard Bible). But he may also have been thinking of the dark side of Jacob, father of the 12 tribes of Israel. Jacob cheated his brother and his father, provoking his brother Esau to say to their father “No wonder you named him Jacob. He has cheated me twice“ (Genesis 27:36). “Jacob” sounds like the Hebrew for “heel” as well as “cheater.” Jacob was given his name because at birth he was seen grabbing the heel of his twin brother, Esau. “He grabbed your heel” later became a Hebrew saying that meant someone cheated you.
Usually translated “Son of Man.” This is a title Jesus used a lot to describe himself. In the Jewish Bible the phrase contains hints of divinity in some passages and humanity in others—perhaps a perfect phrase for describing someone Christians would say was fully God and fully human. Hint of the divine: the prophet Daniel “saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven” (Daniel 7:13 New Living Translation). Hint of the human: God often described Ezekiel as a mere mortal by using the phrase “son of man” (Ezekiel 2:1 New Living Translation).
John calls Jesus “the living Word of God” (1:1). “Word” meant different things to different people. Which of the following interpretations of “Word” do you think best describes Jesus?
- Greek “logos,” representing the wisdom behind all creation.
- God’s power to speak Creation into existence.
- God’s message to people delivered not by prophets, but in person.
- The Bible, in the flesh.
It could seem hard to know what John thought about who or what Jesus was. When the world began, John says Jesus was already there as the message of God to humanity, “the living Word of God” (1:1). Jesus was with God. Jesus was God. How can you be with someone, yet be that someone—let alone being the message that someone wants to pass along?
John’s book has an introduction that scholars call the Prologue, John 1:1-18. John says a lot about Jesus in this intro. What is one line or one idea that captures your attention, intriguing you or perhaps moving you?
No one ever seems to say how John the Baptist knew who Jesus was. All we know is that they were somehow related. Jesus was Mary’s boy. John, possibly born just a few months before Jesus, was Elizabeth’s boy. Elizabeth was Mary’s “elderly relative” (Luke 1:36). How do you think John discovered that his job in life was to introduce Jesus to the world? Guesses are all we have. So, go for it.
“No human has ever seen God” (1:18). Oh yeah? “The LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11 New American Standard Bible). And Jacob named a plug of ground “Face of God” because Jacob said, “I saw the face of God with my own eyes, yet I was allowed to live” (Genesis 32:20).
If John knew what he was talking about when he pointed everyone to Jesus and the promised Messiah, why didn’t know he was the promised Elijah? When Jewish leaders asked if he was, he said, “No” (1:21). Jesus said otherwise: “You may or may not believe this, but John is the Elijah that the prophets said would come” (Matthew 11:14). Why trust what John said about Jesus if John knew so little about himself?
Why do you think John baptized people? Jews didn’t baptize people until John the Baptist came along, as far as scholars say they can tell. Jews did take ritual baths. These weren’t to wash off the physical dirt. They washed off spiritual dirt so they were fit to worship in God’s house, the Jerusalem Temple. The bath, called a mikveh (MICK vuh), cleansed people from ritual defilement caused by childbirth, contact with a corpse, skin disease, and emission of bodily fluids. One group of Jews called Essenes took ritual baths every day, so they would be ready to join the Messiah’s army when he came to lead the Jews to freedom. Do you think John’s baptism was similar to these ritual baths?
John told the people he baptized with water but that someone is coming “who will baptize with the Holy Spirit” (1:33). Some students of the Bible say this suggests that since the Holy Spirit came in Bible times (Acts 2) and remains with us (John 14:16), we don’t need to get baptized with water anymore. How do you react to that?
Did John see the Holy Spirit, or a dove, or something else? Bible writers don’t seem to agree. Mark says when Jesus was baptized, he saw “the Spirit of God coming down like a dove landing on him” (Mark 3:16). The footnote to Mark’s report of this event (Mark 1:10) suggests that Jesus saw a vision of the Holy Spirit coming down to him like a dove. But the Gospel of Luke says “The Holy Spirit came down in physical form, like a dove” (Luke 3:22). John said he saw the Spirit come to Jesus. “I saw the Spirit come down, like a dove descending from the sky. It settled on him…the one who told me to start baptizing people gave me a sign. He said, ‘Watch for the Spirit to descend and settle on someone. That’s the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I’m telling you that I saw it with my own eyes. I’m an eyewitness. This man is God’s Chosen One.” How do you react to the apparent inconsistency in the reports?
Jesus tells Nathanael, “I saw you there under the fig tree just before Philip spotted you and called out to you” (1:48). Apparently, Jesus wasn’t anywhere near the tree, and Nathanael didn’t notice if Jesus had binoculars (invented 1825). Nathanael declared Jesus the “Son of God” (1:49). Isn’t that a little rash, given that the near-creedal statement of the Jews is that there’s only one God: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4 New American Standard Version).
Why do you think Jesus described himself as the Son of Humans, which most Bibles translate as the Son of Man?
LIFE APPLICATION. It can sound like Greek mythology to describe Jesus as a God who “came to life as a human who lived among us” (1:14). The Greek’s top god, Zeus, took human form to impregnate a human who gave birth to a son who was both human and divine: Hercules. In the Bible, when Mary asks how she can have a child since she’s a virgin, an angel says, “The Holy Spirit will come to you. Power Most High will cover you” (Luke 1:35). How can we distance the story of Jesus from tall tales of Greek mythology?
LIFE APPLICATION. Jesus makes a big promise to Nathanael. “I’m telling you the absolute truth. You’re going to see the sky open and God’s angels coming and going for the Son of Humans” (1:51). What’s the closest you’ve come to experiencing anything like what Jesus described?