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Tuesday, January 29 2019

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

LOOKING AT THE WORD: We choose to spend quality time with people we love. That’s why the Son of God chose to leave heaven for earth, not because we are so lovable, but because he is so sacrificial in his loving (John 3:16). That God would be so gracious as to live in a world where people continued to spurn him is incredible! Yet that’s exactly what happened when God became a man.

GOD’S FLESH “And the Word was made flesh” – It was not uncommon in Greek and Roman mythology for gods and goddesses to masquerade in human form, but most philosophers of that period would have been scandalized by the thought of a god becoming a real man; nor would they have understood why deity would want to. Following the lead of Plato, most considered the human body to be a prison house for the spirit of man. Jews tended to stumble over Christ’s deity while the Greeks tripped over his humanity. The early period of church history was rife with heretical thought, portraying Christ as not quite God (Ebionites and Arians), or not quite human (Docetists, Gnostics, and Apollinarians), or not quite either (Eutychians and Nestorians).

What brought order out of this theological chaos was the stabilizing testimony of Scripture which sets forth the deity and humanity of Christ with equal passion and certainty. The church fathers eventually affirmed both truths. By its very nature, the hypostatic union of God with man in the person of Christ has always been and remains today a spiritual mystery. No creature, either in this world or the next, will ever be able to fully understand the mind of God on this matter. It will instead continue to be a source of endless wonder and worship around the throne of the Lamb (Revelation 5:1-14).

When John wrote “the Word was made flesh”, he was not implying the deity of the Word was lost or had been diminished in any way. Nor was he saying Jesus was half man and half God. Theologians will sometimes speak of Christ as a “theanthropic” person, by which they mean Christ is 100% God and 100% man, albeit without a sin nature (as was Adam when he was first created). Stated another way, he is the “God-man”. Köstenberger writes at this point, “The affirmation that ‘the Word was made flesh’ takes the opening statement in 1:1 one step further: that same Word now has been born as a human being.”[1]

Church history tells us that John moved to the city of Ephesus, and for a time, pastored the church there. Christ had nicknamed John and his brother James as Boanerges, which means, “Sons of Thunder”. Evidently, neither one was shy about letting his views be known. Gnosticism was just starting to emerge as a growing philosophical movement toward the tail end of the first century. This fact may have been the Holy Spirit’s spur to have John be so blunt in his wording about the Word being made flesh. John is equally direct in 1 John 4:2-3 “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: 3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.”

GOD’S PRESENCE “. . . and dwelt among us” – The word “dwelt” comes from the verb skēnŏō. In a general sense, it means to dwell or to take up residence. The related noun, skēnē means a dwelling, abode, lodging, hut, tent, or accommodation. What makes this significant is this is the Greek word used for the tabernacle in the Septuagint. John’s use of this word and his allusion to Israel’s experience in the wilderness was intentional. During Israel’s wilderness wanderings, the presence of the Lord was made visible to Israel, through the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. It must have been exhilarating for John to think back to his own experience of being led by the presence of God as Christ walked beside the disciples through the hills of Galilee.

Over seven hundred years earlier, Isaiah wrote “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). For John and his fellow disciple, Matthew, who quoted this verse in his own Gospel account (Matthew 1:23), this was not just a verse they had memorized in synagogue. The truth of Immanuel, “God with us,” was lived out in the daily experience of the disciples when Christ “dwelt among us”.

GOD’S GLORY “and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father”

  • “we beheld” – The verb John chose to use is thĕaŏmai, which has the sense of an attentive looking or gazing at something or someone with surprise, amazement or astonishment. It also carries with it a sense of approval, love, or admiration. Growing up in Nazareth, Jesus was thought to be the son of a carpenter. What captured the astonished attention of the disciples, was the discovery that Jesus was much more than a carpenter. 
  • “glory” – When the disciples beheld Christ, what they saw was glory.
    • The Glory of His Miraculous Power: The disciples saw in Jesus an everyday ordinary man who possessed extraordinary power. From the very beginning of his public ministry, Christ demonstrated power that only God possessed by changing water into wine. John writes, “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him” (John 2:11). Christ miraculously fed over 5,000 men, and then later that night, he walked out on the water to his disciples. Mark writes “And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered” (Mark 6:51). Every ensuing miracle of Christ met a human need, but also confirmed his identity as the Son of God.
    • The Depth of His Character: When Moses asked to see God’s glory, God answered that he would not be allowed to see his face but would hear of all God’s goodness (his character) as God passed by (Exodus 33:18-23). Jesus’ character was on display as he taught the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) or when he spoke to the disciples about the need to have a servant’s heart in ministry (Matthew 20:25-28). Christ’s character was also on display when he demonstrated compassion for a leper by not only healing him but touching him as he did so (Mark 1:40-41); or when his own servant’s heart moved him to wash the disciple’s feet the night before his crucifixion (John 13:4-17). The glory of the Father’s character was the same glorious character the disciples saw in Jesus Christ.
    • The Splendor of His Light: God’s glory in scripture often manifested itself in a physical way. For example, God’s presence on Mount Sinai was demonstrated by smoke and fire along with a thick cloud, lightnings, loud thundering, and the sustained sound of a trumpet (Exodus 19:18-19). The glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle of Moses with a thick cloud (Exodus 40:34), and later the Temple of Solomon (1 Kings 8:11, 27). Accompanying the angels’ birth announcement to shepherds, we read “the glory of the Lord shown round about them” (Luke 2:9). The best example though, of the disciples seeing Christ’s glory on display was on the Mount of Transfiguration where Christ’s face shown like the sun (Matthew 17:2).
  • “glory as of the only begotten of the Father” – John mentions the word “glory” twice in John 1:14 to show his readers the importance of what the disciples observed when they beheld Christ. They saw not the glory associated with kings and the heroes of men, but glory belonging to God alone. Commenting on the phrase “as of”, Büchsel writes, “Though ὡς {hōs} can introduce a comparison, it can also introduce a solid fact . . . In all the verses in which ὡς introduces a fact the noun is without article {as it is here in John 1:14} . . . His glory is not just compared with that of an only child; it is described as that of the only-begotten Son.”[2] Christ stands alone in his unique relationship to the Father. There was never a time when the Father was not the Father nor the Son the executor of the Fathers will. The Son is not simply “like” the Father. The Son and the Father are one (John 10:30); or as expressed in Hebrews 1:3, “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (see also Philippians 2:6).

GOD’S FULLNESS “full of grace and truth.” A recurring theme in the Old Testament is that God stayed true to his covenant (in faithfulness) granting merciful kindness to Israel even in the face of that nation’s faithlessness. Psalm 100:5 reads, “For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth {or faithfulness to promise} endureth to all generations.” In Psalm 118, God’s relationship to Israel is celebrated by the phrase “for his mercy endureth forever.” Likewise, Jesus’ ministry in the New Testament demonstrates these same qualities of gracious kindness and tender mercy to sinners while staying faithful and true to the full revelation of the Old Testament.

APPLICATION AND MEDITATION: Believers do not physically walk with Jesus the way the disciples did. However, Christ promised just before his arrest and crucifixion that he would send another comforter from the Father (John 16:5-14). That happened on the day of Pentecost. Today we have the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, who leads us just as surely as God led Israel in the wilderness or as Christ led his disciples through the hills of Galilee. The glory of Christ fills every page of the gospel record. Let his presence change the way we view ourselves and how we relate to the world around us. The more we let the light of the Word take root in our soul, the more we’ll discover our will being brought into conformity to God’s will for us; and in doing so, we will also discover a new energy, purpose, and joy in every area of life.

[1] Andreas J. Köstenberger, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 41.

[2] Friedrich Büchsel, “Μονογενής,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich,Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 740–741.

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Dr. Mike Davidson

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