Check out the first section of the commentary I am writing on The Gospel of John.
As John begins to write his eye witness account, he considers his audience. In the city of Ephesus, where he is writing from, the crowd is primarily Greek with a handful of Jews in the mix. John seeks a way to communicate his message in a way that both groups will understand. He starts off by saying "In the beginning was the Word". Both Jews and Greeks would have related to this. The Jews would have probably agreed that God and his Word are eternal, without beginning or end, and exist outside and before time while yet working within time. The Greeks, who were highly influenced by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, believed in the philosophical concept of the Logos or the Word. So John, writing in Greek, says "In the beginning was the Logos", the Greeks would have understood it as a key term referring to a rational structure to the cosmos that orders and controls the universe. This power of reasoning was the origin of all things but not that of the material which everything else arose. In short both would have agreed that if creation was a painting, then the Word was the painter and not a part of the painting itself. So John unites both Jews and Greeks under this and then he makes a shift away from both.
He says next “The Word was with God, and the Word was God." This would have challenged the Greeks idea of the Word being only a law of reasoning or logic and refined it so it would point to a Lawgiver, the Supreme Being who runs and governs the universe and holds all things together. The Jews believed that God's Word was the unknown, but active agent that God used to carry out his will throughout time and the way he revealed himself to his people by word of the prophets. To the Jews when he said "The Word was God" this would have seemed on the surface to be extremely blasphemous. At first glance it would have seemed like some pagan polytheistic garbage. What John is doing is dancing around this idea of a Trinitarian God. He is not saying that there is more than one God, rather that there is one God who is three persons. Some of the Jews may have understood where he was coming from. If they were to dig down into the Scriptures that they had access to they would have seen verses like Psalm 110:1 that say “The Lord says to my Lord;" Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." What John is doing is setting up to transition again, this time to pointing directly to the Messiah, bringing the Jews back to a familiar place.
He then says "He was with God in the beginning." This personalizes it. The Word is a "He". So who is this "Eternal Word"? Revelation 19:13, who John is also the author of, tells us that Jesus is the Word of God. So in opening John tells us that Jesus in his very nature is God and that he is eternal without beginning or end, and has been with God since eternity passed. In verse 3 John tells us that Jesus was also involved in the creation of the universe, that all thing where created through him.
John goes on to say that "In him was life, and that life was the light of men." So Jesus is also the light and the life. You can hear the longing for this light in verses like Psalm 43:3 which says "Send forth your light and truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountaintop the place where you dwell." In Isaiah 9:2 it says “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light, on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." The truth is that we are in a state of spiritual death; we are dead in our sins. We are lost and wandering around in darkness, separated from God. In Christ though, we can have life. He has conquered sin and the grave. Jesus is a beacon of hope that shines into the darkness and illuminates the way back into relationship with God. I like what the little side note says in my Bible. It says “Jesus is referred to as the Word of God because Jesus is all that God wanted to say to us." What John is saying through those is that God has made a way through his son to pull us out of the darkness and up from the grave. Ephesians 5:14 says " Wake up, O Sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." Jesus is our hope and our salvation.
John says next that "The light shines through the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it." Other translations might say “the darkness has not understood it". I think that both are true. Jesus is perfect and sinless and brings light to us, making it possible to walk with him. Hebrews 5:15 say "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weakness, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Jesus comes along side of us and leads us and leads us on paths of righteousness as the 23rd Psalm says.
Other translations say that "the darkness has not understood the light." In 1 Corinthians 1:18 it says that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" The light of Christ is a call that demands to be answered. Some who have seen this light have wanted to suppress the truth in unrighteousness as Romans 1 says. They are like someone whose eyes have adjusted to the darkness and who jerks the covers over their eyes when someone else turns a light on or opens the curtains in the morning. They act like a cockroach that scurries to find a dark place when the light is turned on. When their sin is exposed they refuse to let go of it and walk in the light. If we try to cover our sin, God will reveal them, but if we repent and reveal them God will cover them.
Before we move on let recap what John has revealed to us about Jesus in these first five verses. John tells us that Jesus:
• Is The Word
• Is with God
• Is God
• Was involved in creation
• Is Life
• Is Life
Let’s take a look at Hebrews 1:2 which I believe also highlight all these aspects as well.
God... has in these last days spoken to us by his Son [The Word], whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds [Involved in creation]; Who being the brightness of His glory and express image of His person [The Light] and upholding all things by His power [Was God], when He by Himself purged our sins [The Light] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high [With God]. It's beautiful isn't it!