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Portraits of Christ: John's gospel


John’s Gospel opens with a fascinating prose prologue in chapter 1 that essentially summarizes the themes of the entire book. It introduces Jesus in a manner that emphasizes his deity, then John the Baptist who prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry, and finally, the spiritual essence of Jesus’ public ministry and outreach, and his ultimate rejection.

John begins with the language of creation, showing that Jesus was always with the Father, was involved in creation, and was thus eternal. John describes him as the Word (logos in Greek), which conveys multiple meanings. For Jewish people, it meant the Scriptures, meaning that Jesus himself is the ultimate revelation of God to us, because he himself is God, more so that the written word of God (the Old Testament, at this time). It also reminds Jewish readers of how God spoke the world into existence in Genesis 1, as well as divine wisdom personified in the wisdom literature such as Proverbs (the personification of wisdom in Proverbs 1-10). For Greeks, logos meant the rational order and principles of the universe, and the meaning of the universe and everything - “life, the universe, and everything” in the words of a popular sci-fi novel.

In John 1:10 states that, depending on your Bible translation, that the world did not recognize him, or did not overcome him. Actually, both are sensible, possible translations of the Greek, and I think that John is making a deliberate word play here to say that the world did not recognize him as their creator, and in their ignorance and hard-heartedness, they tried and failed to vanquish him. But they could not vanquish the holy one of God. Jesus is the victor in the resurrection over sin and death, and John’s book of Revelation will continue this theme of Christ as victor.

Presenting Jesus deliberately as eternal God, and as light in contrast to the world’s darkness, in this chapter, emphasizes Jesus not only as God, but as the mysterious God who is to be feared and revered. That is, fear in the Old Testament sense, not in the sense of human psychological fear. For lack of a better word, ‘fear’ is used to convey a profound sense of awe and wonder about God, because he is so beyond our human understanding. This theme is particularly developed in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. John applies this to Jesus, because John, after years with Jesus in person, is in awe and wonder of who Jesus is. This God is beyond our understanding and knowledge. We can only know him because he came and revealed himself to us, most importantly, when he came as the God-man of Jesus Christ.

John wants to convey to us this sense of profound awe and reverence as we think about God in general, and as we think about who Jesus is and what he has done. He is not to be taken lightly. He is not just an intellectual curiosity, or an important religious figure. He is the profound and mysterious God. We are not to take him for granted. We are not to take our relationship with him lightly. He is the holy God, and Jesus has done so much for him. We are to respond to him in love, in awe and reverence, and in profound heart-felt worship.

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