Bible Notes Online - John 1 - ESV
Commentary

v1-5: An early declaration of the person of Jesus Christ. Matthew opens with Christ the son of David, and the son of Abraham; Mark refers to him as the Son of God.

The deity of Christ is stated as a fact, much as the opening verses of Genesis declare the existence of God. In John's first letter, this same truth is a test of doctrinal orthodoxy.

v1: Christ is God the Word; His eternal title was the Word, hence v14. Here too is unity with the Father in character, and in His very person.

v2: Eternal, from everlasting to everlasting, Mic 5.2; He did not begin His existence at Bethlehem.

v3: All things were created as God spoke (Gen 1; Ps 33). Christ is therefore the creator and sustainer of all things. Nothing has any existence apart from God, yet God is separate from His creation.

v4-5: The perfection and excellence of Jesus Christ; this follows from His full deity. It is not just an absence of sin, error, failure, carelessness, but a fullness and maturity of character; mercy and truth, righteousness and peace (Ps 85.10). Godly character is effectively defined and perfectly exemplified in Jesus Christ.

Christ is the light, without blemish (sun-spot). Sunlight breaks into a rainbow, a sign of God's promises, which are Yes and Amen in Christ. In a rainbow are various distinct colours, making a perfect whole; in Christ is a rainbow of character, perfect in each aspect, and perfect as a whole.

The statements about Christ are true, whether or not people believe them. Naturally, He is beyond understanding, and yet He made Himself known, not as a man sent from God, but as the Word made flesh. The writer clearly distinguishes John, who bore witness to the light, and Jesus, who is the light.

v6: The witness of John Baptist. A witness speaks not of himself, but of another, and so John was pleased to point others to Christ (v15, 20, 29). His ministry and calling were from God, "a man who was sent from God," and his responsibility was to "make straight the way for the Lord" (v23). He had a great privilege and responsibility in announcing the coming of the Messiah.

v7: "Through Him," for salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ. This is not just the acceptance of certain statements of fact, but belief in a real person.

v8: Scripture insists, without degrading John in any way, that he was not that light; and his own testimony was consistent with that. A clear distinction is important, Mark 6.14; 8.28. We must neither over-value man, nor under-value Christ.

v9: All people are blessed through Jesus Christ, even though many remain ignorant of Him. There is no light through another; all others are thieves and robbers.

v10: The creator of the world came into the world, but people did not know. They failed to recognise who He really was.

v11: His own people, the Jews, did not recognise Him, although He came first to them. See Matt 10.5-6; Rom 1.16.

v12: Adoption; Christ brings us into special relationship with God. This depends upon our believing and receiving; this was true then, and is true now.

v13: Our response to Christ;

  • not of human descent, or earthly family;
  • not of the will of the flesh, husband's decision;
  • not of the will of man, human decision;
  • but from God, 6.37,44.

We are born of God, who is the giver of life. Where a person's birth is in some confusion, as is often the case today, Christ brings the privilege and security of adoption.

v14: The key verse of John's gospel, and perhaps the key verse of the Christian faith.

The Word became flesh; the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God became man, deity clothed in humanity.

The incarnation was not the creation or origin of the Son of God; Gal 4.4-5, God sent forth His Son. The incarnation was God's plan, Matt 1.21; Luke 19.10; John 3.16-17; Rom 5.8; Phil 2.6-7.

Christ's birth was by the will of God, as in v13; the virgin did conceive and bear a son, consequently that son was without sin, for He had no male human seed, and Christ was always free from sin. In contrast we are born in sin (Ps 51.5), we are dominated by sin, are objects of wrath, subject to condemnation.

He dwelt / tabernacled amongst us; no recluse or hermit existence, but a man who lived and worked with people, He ate, He slept, He went to a wedding, and a funeral. He had real human experience; Hebrews and Luke esp. explain this truth.

We beheld His glory; the glory of the Father was perfectly revealed by the Son, the "One and Only," or "Only begotten," v18, and margin, see Heb 1.3; 2 Pet 1.16-18. His whole life reveals the Father's glory; and the very character of God is declared to mankind. Note too that His biographers were eye-witnesses.

His glory, such that wise men worshipped the young child, people marvelled at His words of graciousness and wisdom and authority. None could bring an accusation of wrong-doing. In every respect He was pure and perfect and excellent.

Full of grace; the giving to one undeserving; the very gift of Christ to the world was a mighty act of grace. But Father and Son both demonstrated divine grace; the Son who was rich beyond human imagination, enjoying the glorious perfection of heaven, became poor; there was material poverty, as Mary and Joseph offered the smallest offering in the temple (Luke2.24), and Jesus Himself borrowed a penny to illustrate a sermon, but He was born a Jew (the most hated nation), and became subject to persecution, criticism, misunderstanding; He was truly a man of sorrows. He became poor "for your sakes" (2 Cor 8.9) bringing inestimable blessing into human lives.

Full of truth; He declared and demonstrated the mind of God. Again, not just the absence of sin and lies and error, and no half-truth, deceit, exaggeration, but rather utter perfection, perfect wisdom and application.

v15: Given the glorious truths of v14, it is no wonder that John proclaimed that Christ is preferred, for He preceded. Jesus must be given greater honour.

v16: Christ gave of His fullness; He is able to give, we are not; power went out from Him. We become partakers of the divine nature, indwelt by the Spirit of Christ. In this respect, we receive, not from other believers, but from Christ Himself.

One blessing after another, or grace for grace; the abundance and 'free-ness' of grace; there is the replacement of O.T. covenant with N.T. grace.

v17: Moses was great, but he could not reveal the full character of God, only Christ could do that. The law was given through Moses, God's agent and messenger, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ, God's message.

v18: The bare statement, no one has seen God at any time; previous visions and dreams in the O.T. were therefore imperfect representations, in that God veiled Himself in some way, see Ex 33.20; God is spirit, therefore invisible, but He has revealed Himself through Jesus Christ.

The Son was at the Father's side; they were forever intimately related; perfect likeness, perfect understanding, perfect revelation. God the Father can only be known through God the Son. Throughout the OT, we understand that the appearances of God (e.g: to Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, etc.) were appearances of the Word, the image of the invisible God (Jn 12.39-41; Col 1.15). The invisible God has been made visible through Jesus Christ.

v19-28: John's testimony at Bethany, on the other side of the Jordan. We see that John had a real impact, with many being baptised by him (Matt 3.5), and priests and Levites came to question him.

The Jews expected the coming of the Christ (v20), of Elijah (v21), and the Prophet (v21).

He declared that he was not the Christ, but the one preparing the way, as prophesied in the scriptures. The reference to Is 40.3 is significant, indicating that the One to come was the Messiah, the Lord.

The reference to Elijah is to Mal 3.1-3, 4.4-6; many saw Elijah as the one who would prepare the people for the Messiah’s coming. In Matt 11.14, the Lord Jesus did refer to John as having come in the spirit of Elijah.

The Prophet is a reference to Deut 18.18; the NT indicates that this scripture refers to Christ Himself, Acts 3.22; 7.37.

John's own words of personal humility, avoiding attention for himself, and seeking to point others to the coming Saviour.

John baptised people as a preparation for Christ's coming, see v31. It was a bold thing to baptize; normally, only proselytes were baptized, not those who were already Jews; this explains the question put in v25.

v29: John's words here can describe no one else, for Christ is utterly unique. He points unbelieving listeners to the Lamb of God; in v36 he pointed believers to the Lamb of God. The Lamb takes away the “sin” of the world, referring to all human rebellion. (It is a singular, collective, noun.)

v30-34: John's further words about Christ. God had previously spoken to John, calling him into His ministry, and giving him signs to look for. Upon seeing these things, he confidently declared Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God.

John said, "I saw the Spirit .. as a dove." This phrase is used in no other circumstance, and was one of the signs of the Messiah. The Spirit remained on Him, setting apart Christ from all others who preceded Him. This is also a pointer to the blessing of the Spirit for all who are in Christ. The N.T. community of God's people are those whom Christ has baptised with His Holy Spirit.

v35-36: John's call to his own disciples, that they might follow Christ, and become His disciples. The true witness of Christ calls men and women to follow Christ, not to follow the witness.

v37: John was happy to see then follow Christ, see 3.29-30.

We are not to seek followers for ourselves; this temptation can easily come to us. Christ's followers receive Christ's baptism (v33), and no human leader can match this blessing.

v38-39: Communion with Christ, "Where are you staying?" They remained with Him that day, from the tenth hour (4.00 pm), see Mark 3.14; 6.31; the divine call is first that we might be with Christ.

"Come...and you will see," were Christ's invitation to them; He gave them time. He promoted friendship and hospitality. They grew in their appreciation of Him; Andrew, one of the two here, addressed Jesus as "Rabbi," but this soon changed to "Messiah." Such growing appreciation of Christ is key to real spiritual growth.

v40-42: Personal witness, to bring others to Christ; John Baptist spoke to Andrew, Andrew spoke to Peter, Philip spoke to Nathanael. We may criticise the method by which Christ finds His followers one by one, thinking it slow and inefficient. But that is His way, and these men later turned the world upside down.

Although other events involved more people, such as Jesus feeding the 5000, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, there is much personal one-to-one work. Examples include the Ethiopian Eunuch, Philippian jailer, Lydia, etc.

Our message is of the Messiah; we have not found a religion, but we have found a real person, the only Saviour of mankind.

v43: Jesus spoke to Philip, reflecting His authority, for His is Lord.

v44: These men were all living in a small area around Galilee, knowing each other. It seems likely that the Lord Jesus also already knew them. He knew their hearts.

v45: Philip's understanding of Jesus was also not complete; he had yet to discover more about Christ. But he still witnessed; our lack of knowledge of Christ is no reason for silence in witness.

v46: Nathanael's question;

  • difficult for Philip to answer;
  • the answer was in Christ;
  • Nazareth's poor reputation, which Christ associated with;
  • Nathanael's own prejudice, which Christ dealt with.

Later, Nathanael served with Philip, Matt 10.3; Mark 3.18; Luke 6.14.

v47: Nothing false, no guile; Jesus' opinion of Nathanael; he was a true Israelite. This is what God had always looked for.

v48: "I saw you," for nothing is hidden from Christ, another proof of His deity, for nothing is hidden from Him, see 3.19-21.

We do not need to attribute all Christ's knowledge here to His ability as Son of God; He had lived as a man in Galilee, and doubtless knew much about the young men He was calling to serve.

Living close to Christ is an indication of our sincerity rather than our sinlessness; it is in living close to Christ that we learn to reject sins, and to walk in His ways.

v49: No wonder Nathanael confessed Christ to be the King of Israel, the Son of God. The true Israelite had found the true king of Israel.

v50-51: Jesus' words refer to Jacob's ladder, Gen 28.12. It was set on the earth, speaking of Christ's incarnation; its top was in heaven, for Christ is the only way we can reach Heaven. Once in Christ, on the ladder, we have the assurance of angelic help.