In the Beginning Was the Word (John 1:1-18)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project
Words work world

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:1-3) The majestic opening of John’s Gospel shows us the limitless scope of the Word’s work. He is the definitive self-expression of God, the one through whom God created all things in the beginning. He stretches out the cosmos as the canvas for the expression of God’s glory.

The Word is working; and because his work began in the beginning, all subsequent human labor is derived from his initial labor. Derived is not too strong a word, because everything people work with was created by him. The work God did in Genesis 1 and 2 was performed by the Word. This may seem too fine a point to press, but many Christians continue to labor under the delusion that the Messiah only began working once things had gone irredeemably wrong, and that his work is restricted to saving (invisible) souls to bring them to (immaterial) heaven. Once we recognize that the Messiah was working materially with God from the beginning, we can reject every creation-denying (and thus work-denigrating) theology.

Therefore we need to correct a common misunderstanding. John’s Gospel is not grounded in a dichotomy of the spiritual versus the material, or the sacred versus the spiritual, or any other dualism. It does not portray salvation as the liberation of the human spirit from the shackles of the material body. Dualistic philosophies such as these are regrettably common among Christians. Their proponents have often turned to the language of the Gospel of John to support their views. It is true that John frequently records Jesus’ use of contrasts such as light/darkness (John 1:5; 3:19; 8:12; 11:9-10; 12:35-36), belief/unbelief (John 3:12-18; 4:46-54; 5:46-47; 10:25-30; 12:37-43; 14:10-11; 20:24-39) and spirit/flesh (John 3:6-7). These contrasts highlight the conflict between God’s ways and the ways of evil. But they do not constitute a division of the universe into dual sub-universes. They certainly do not call Jesus’ followers to abandon some sort of “secular” world in order to enter a “spiritual” one. Instead, Jesus employs the contrasts to call his followers to receive and use the power of God’s spirit in the present world. Jesus states this directly in John 3:17, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Jesus came to restore the world to the way God intended it to be, not to lead an exodus out of the world.

If further evidence for God’s ongoing commitment to the creation is needed, we may turn to John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and lived among us.” The incarnation is not the triumph of the spirit over the flesh, but the fulfillment of what the flesh was created for in the beginning. And the flesh is not a temporary base of operations, but the Word’s permanent abode. After his resurrection, Jesus invites Thomas and the others to touch his flesh (John 20:24-31) and later has a breakfast of fish with them (John 21:1-15). At the end of the Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to wait “until I return” (John 21:22-23, NIV), not “until I get us all out of here.” A God hostile to, or uninterested in, the material realm would hardly be inclined to take up permanent residence within it. If the world in general is of such immense concern to God, it stands to reason that the work done within that world matters to him as well.