The Incarnate Word

The Incarnate Word

What follows is the apostle John’s Gospel account of the birth of Christ. Although unique, it is not altogether different from the birth narratives in the other Gospels. John’s Gospel begins with the words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1). This appears to be a short and simple verse when you first read it. Even the words are short. But what does this verse or these words mean?

So that we may better understand it, I will begin with an explanation of a Greek word. The Gospel of John was, of course, written in Greek, and what we are reading is an English translation of what John wrote. In the opening verses, John keeps using the word logos. “Logos” is translated in English in the first verse by the word, Word. But logos in the Greek means much more than just word. It also means reason or thought. We get the word logic from it. Logic is the science of thinking. Perhaps the English word “thought” will help most in understanding the Greek word logos. We can speak of a thought in our minds or the thought of our minds, but we sometimes use the word another way. No doubt you have said or heard someone say, “What is the latest word on the Middle East situation?” When we use word that way, we want to know what is the latest information or thought, either spoken or written, about what’s going on in the Middle East. When the Greeks used logos they understood it in this sense. It would mean the information itself, or the latest thinking expressed either in speech or writing.

The Eternal Word

Now in the first chapter of John, Logos is used as a name for Christ. He is the Word. He is the very “Thought” of God. He is the One through whom God’s wisdom is made known. Through Him God is expressed or revealed to men.

Now what is said about the Logos or the Word in verse one? In the beginning was the Word.” What is this “beginning”? In Genesis 1:1 we are told that God created all things in the beginning. It is this beginning which is spoken of here. It is the beginning of everything that was created; of everything, therefore, which had a beginning. According to verse one, did the Word begin then? No, that is not what it says; rather, it states that in the beginning the Word “was.” Now the word that we commonly use to describe the state of things before time began is eternity. Thus the first thing that we learn about the “Word” is that He existed in eternity—before time began!

Now right off that tells us something about the Word. The world didn’t exist in eternity. Men didn’t exist in eternity, neither did the angels. Only God existed in eternity. Therefore, if the Word existed in eternity, the Word must be God.

Let us continue and see what else this verse tells us: The Word was with God.” If the Word existed in eternity, He must have existed along with God, for we know that God existed in eternity. But this verse tells us more than that. The word with here means that the Word existed in fellowship with God. We might say that the Word was God’s eternal companion.

The Divine Word

What else does this verse tell us? The Word was God.” We can’t make those words any simpler. The Word or Christ was and is God!

Perhaps by this time you are a little confused. It might not seem too hard to understand how the Word could exist along with God in eternity, but if the Word is God’s companion, how can the Word be God Himself? What is taught here is the doctrine of the Trinity, a doctrine which we as creatures cannot and will never fully understand. You see, God is not a man and He does not exist in the way we do. God does not have a body as men do. God is a spirit, but God is not just a great angel either. God created the angels, although they are spirits and do not have bodies. But there is nothing in all of God’s creation that can be compared to God’s own existence, so don’t be surprised if you find it difficult to understand the doctrine of the Trinity.

Perhaps this may help a little. Suppose that there were only three men in the world, and that these three men were identical triplets. Now there would be three persons, but each of the persons would be a man and each would have the same human nature. Each would have the same abilities and intelligence. There would then be three human persons, but each of these persons would be just as fully and completely and entirely man as the others.

Now remember, the above is only an illustration. Don’t think that it really describes the Trinity, because you could still say about those men that they were three separate men as well as three persons. You cannot say that about God. There are not three Gods. There is only one God, but He exists in three persons. These persons are God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. But it does help to remember that while there are three persons in God, these persons have the same nature. They are all equally and fully God. That is what is expressed in the first verse of John 1. The Word, who is God the Son, is a distinct person in the being of God. For that reason it can be said, He was with God.” But the Word, who is God the Son, is not less than God. He is fully and truly God, as are the other persons of the Godhead. And so the verse adds, And the Word was God.”

The Begotten Word

Now look at verse 18 in your Bibles. The best Greek text reads: “The only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” You see how well that fits in with what we have just seen in verse one. In verse 18 the Word is called the only begotten God,” or in other words, “God the Son.” In verse 1 it is said, The Word was God.”

The words “Father” and “Son,” as names of two persons of the Trinity do not always mean what those words mean as applied to men. Among men, there are three things at least that we can say of fathers and sons: First, the father must exist before he can have a son, so that the son is always younger than his father. Second, a son is often like his father, a “chip off the old block.” And third, there is a love that exists between fathers and sons. But when the Word is called the Son of God, it does not mean that God the Father is older, or existed before God the Son. It does mean that the Son is like the Father, having exactly the same nature as the Father. And it also means that there is a perfect, eternal love between the Father and the Son.

Now let’s see some other things which we are told about God the Son: “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (v. 3). Here we are told that He was the Creator of all things. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (v. 4). Here we read that He is the source of all life. Thus, John tells us some tremendous things about the nature and work of God the Son: 1) He exists in eternity. 2) He is God’s eternal companion. 3) He is God. 4) He is the Creator of all things. 5) He is the source of all life.

Back in the fourth century there was a heresy in the Church called Arianism (not to be confused with Arminianism). These people claimed that the Son is not equal to the Father, but He was created by the Father at a point in time. Today we have people who are saying the same things—Jehovah Witnesses, and they call themselves Christians. Though they use scriptural language and often quote Scripture, their doctrine is thoroughly unscriptural. They are making the same error as that of the Jews who crucified Jesus since they also refused to believe that Jesus was truly God, charging Him with blasphemy because He claimed to be equal with God (cf. Matt. 26:63–65; Jn. 5:18). We must be prepared to point out their error and not be led astray by them.

The Word with Us

Getting back to our Scripture passage, John is ready to tell us the most amazing thing that can ever be said in human language. God Himself, God the second person of the Trinity, God the Creator of the world, God the Eternal One, took on a human nature and came and lived and died among men! “And the Word became 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” (Jn. 1:14). John puts a picture before us as he writes these words. The picture is taken from the Old Testament. In preparing for His coming into the world as Savior, God the Son called out a nation to be His own people. That nation was the nation of Israel. God redeemed the Israelites from the land of Egypt and brought them to the land of Canaan. He gave them His law and added precious promises of the day when He would come Himself to save them.

When God brought the Israelites from Egypt He showed them how they ought to worship Him. At that time the people were living in tents, for they were traveling on the way to the promised land. God commanded that the people should build a house for Him. And because they were on the move, the house was to be portable, i.e., a tabernacle or tent. This tabernacle or tent was called the Tent of Meeting (cf. Ex. 33:7–10; 40:34–35). It represented God’s dwelling among His people and was to remind them that God Himself dwelt among them (cf. Ex. 25:8–9; 34:9; Num. 3:23, 29, 35).

In heathen temples there was always an idol to be found in the inmost shrine. But in the inner room of God’s tabernacle there was no image of God. Instead, there was just a box covered with gold, containing, among other things, the Ten Commandments. On top of the box was a golden lid with the figures of angels (cherubim) worshiping. This golden box and lid represented the throne of God. Over it God revealed His glory in a brilliant light called the Shekinah. That bright light, or shining cloud, was the visible sign of God’s glory; it represented that holiness, righteousness and power which are the out-standing characteristics of God’s nature (Num. 7:89; cf. Ex. 25:22; Lev. 16:2).

John is speaking in verse 14 with that picture in mind. He says that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory.” In the Old Testament God had shown His presence among His people in a symbol—the bright light which shone in the tabernacle, the tent of God’s dwelling. In the coming of Christ, we have the reality of which the tabernacle was only a picture. In Christ God has really come to dwell, to tabernacle, to tent with His people. In Christ, John and the other disciples saw, face to face, the righteousness, holiness and power which are really God’s glory. The high priest who went into the tabernacle saw a light which was a symbol of God’s presence, but John and others saw and knew God the Son Himself and walked and talked with Him on earth (compare with Hebrews 9).

In taking a human nature, God the Son did not cease being God. That would be impossible. John does not say that the Word became flesh and therefore lost His glory. Rather, he says, the Word became flesh and we beheld His glory.” The result of God’s taking a human nature is that His glory is revealed among men. There is one word that describes this which we should all know—incarnation; that word means God taking a human nature—the Word became incarnate. John does not describe here how the miracle of the incarnation took place. We are told in the other gospels that Jesus was born by a miracle—born of the Virgin Mary (cf. Matt. 1:18–25).

Now you know how the world honors great men—presidents, kings, athletes, movie stars, etc. How much honor then would be given to God Himself when He came into the world which He had made! Almost as amazing as John’s words about the incarnation are his words which tell us how God in the flesh was received by men: “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (Jn. 1:10–11). Here God was in the world He made, and the world did not even know Him! Verse 11 adds something even more shocking. God came to His own people, the people of Israel whom He had prepared for His coming through the centuries, by the types of prophets, visions, miracles, etc.

The word which John uses here may even suggest the thought of God’s own home. God came to the people and place that was His own, but what happened? His own people did not, would not, receive Him! And as you read through this Gospel of John, you will see what happened when God walked the streets of Jerusalem, and how He was rejected, despised, stricken, smitten, and finally crucified by those to whom He came. It is still happening today, even in the name of religion. Nevertheless, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16).

You and I may receive Him. We may believe in Him. We may become the sons of God through God’s saving power: But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (Jn. 1:12–13), and all because the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Amen and Amen!

Rev. Vernon Pollema
Bakersfield, CA
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