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. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. (John 1:1-6)
From the Atheist and Agnostic to the Hindu and the Muslim very few would disagree that Christmas celebrates the birth of a truly historical and human figure named Jesus. But once you make the claim that Jesus was not only fully human but also the eternal and divine Son of the God disagreement begins. The Bible insists that Jesus was more than fully human, that he was more, even, than the perfect, sinless human, for it declares that he was fully divine and fully human, that he was God in human flesh.
John’s Gospel reveals Jesus’ divinity particularly clearly, and it does this essentially by introducing him as ‘the Word of God’, the logos who is a personal self-revelation of God, and by recording a series of ‘I am’ sayings in which Jesus seems to identify himself with Yahweh, with the ultimate ‘I am who I am’. He is presented as ‘the Son of God’ throughout the New Testament; and all twenty seven books ring with the great cry that ‘Jesus is Lord’.
The Greek word logos is one of John’s Gospel’s most distinctive words. Although logos sometimes means Jesus’ message and sometimes points to Jesus himself, it always means something more than just the words spoken. John’s Gospel begins with the Son’s ‘heavenly genealogy’ in chapter 1 verses 1-18 which makes it clear that the fully human Jesus is also the eternal Word, the full revelation of the fully divine God. It reveals, for example, that God’s Word: is involved in creating and sustaining the world (Genesis 1; Psalm 33:6-9; 147:15-18); is invested with divine power and authority (Psalm147:15; Isaiah 55:11); and reveals God’s thoughts, concerns and purposes (Psalm 119:9, 105).
By identifying Jesus from the outset as the logos, John’s Gospel implicitly declares that Jesus was involved in creation, that he is invested with divine power, that he is the revelation of God, and that he is closely identified with God’s wisdom. All these ideas are then developed throughout John’s Gospel. John’s ‘prologue’ introduces a whole series of concepts which are expanded in the Gospel (such as light, life, truth, glory and the world), but it contains three basic ideas about Jesus which reveal the main characteristics of the Son as the logos.
John’s introduction also demonstrates the relation the Son has with the Father. John 1:1-2 echoes Genesis 1:1 and declares the Son’s pre-existence. John simply states that the logos was with God and was God: this underlines the Son’s divinity without blurring the distinction between the personal quality of the Son and the personal quality of the Father.
The Word was not created, He creates
John 1:1-2 reveals that the logos has the nature of God, but although the Word is God, God is more than the Word. We should recognise that John does not distinguish between the creative power of the Son and the creative power of God, but that he does distinguish the Son from creation. This means the Word was not created but always existed with God.
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. John 1:14
John 1:14 explains that the divine logos became human flesh and dwelt among men. We see this means that God ‘pitched his tent’ or ‘tabernacled’ in humanity, and that this points directly to the Old Testament tabernacle. This shows that John’s proclamation of the Son as the eternal Word does not dilute Jesus’ humanity; instead, it places the Son firmly in history as a flesh-andblood human being and it reveals him as a divine being who is in constant and eternal communion with God. Yahweh: I am what I am!
John’s Gospel uses the personal pronoun ‘I’ more frequently than any part of the Bible: this adds both dignity and authority to Jesus and to his words. John uses the Greek word ego, ‘I’, 134 times to attract attention to the Son – and to prepare us for the emphatic personal pronoun ego eimi, ‘I am’ which he seems to use to stress the Son’s full divinity.
Jesus’ ‘I am’ sayings are important because the phrase is used in the Old Testament as God’s personal name. God introduced himself to Moses, in Exodus 3:14, as Yahweh, ‘I am what I am’. For Jews, this invested the emphatic personal pronoun ‘I am’ with special divine significance. John records seven sayings in which Jesus uses ego eimi, ‘I am’, to describe himself:
I am the bread of life (6:35) I am the light of the world (8:12) I am the door of the sheep (10:7) I am the good shepherd who gives his life (10:11) I am the resurrection and the life (11:25) I am the way, the truth and the life (14:6) I am the true vine (15:1).
In every case, the ‘I am’ saying reveals a different divine function of Jesus – to sustain, illuminate, admit, care for sacrificially, give new life, guide and make reproductive. These are staggering claims, which are all first introduced in John’s prologue.
Through these seven sayings, Jesus makes personal what is declared in theory in the prologue – he reveals himself to be the divine embodiment of everything that people seek.
Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” John 8:57-58
In John 8:57–58, Jesus was asked whether he had seen Abraham. Jesus’ questioners thought that his reply was blasphemous, and took up stones to kill him – they understood him to be claiming that he was the divine ‘I am’ of Exodus 3:14, Deuteronomy 32:39; Isaiah 43:10 & 46:4.
The crowds’ reaction in John 18:5–6 further underlines the divine significance of Jesus’ repeated claim to be the great ‘I am’.
Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?” They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am He.” And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them. Now when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground. John 18:4-6
The force of Jesus’ absolute use of ego eimi in John 8:24, 58 & 13:19 must shape our understanding of his seven ‘I am’ sayings. We can say that they convey exclusively divine qualities. This Christmas let us be clear that the most accurate body of ancient literature available to mankind, the Bible, declares that a man named Jesus was born in into history, That he was the Word made flesh. He is not just fully man but also fully God, He is truly the only begotten Son of God!