Was Jesus man, God or what? Where did he come from? Was he really divine? Here, from the book of John, are the answers.
ALMOST ALL human beings either have or have had a "best friend," or a "closest buddy" — someone with whom they have shared a side of themselves seldom seen by others. Though Jesus loved all men, he was especially close to his disciple John. The apostle himself revealed this warm relationship in his own gospel. John is a bit hesitant about mentioning himself in the first person although he wasn't at all hesitant about mentioning the other disciples by name. He is the only one of the gospel writers who was bold enough to point out Simon Peter as the man who severed the servant's ear during Jesus' arrest in the garden (John 18:10). Yet he never mentions himself by name in his entire book; when he writes of "John," he refers to John the Baptist.
"The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved"
At his last Passover, "Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, 'I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me. His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, 'Ask him which one he means'" (John 13:21-24, The New International Version). Who was this "disciple whom Jesus loved"? Some days after Jesus' resurrection from the dead, Peter engaged in an extended discourse with the risen Christ. Concluding the conversation, "Peter turned and saw following them the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper and had said, 'Lord who is it that is going to betray you?' When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, 'Lord, what about this man?' "Jesus said to him, 'If it is my will that he remain [alive] until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!' " (John 21:20-22, RSV — throughout, unless otherwise stated). Verse 24 then reveals the identity of this disciple and future apostle: "This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true." This could be none other than the author of "the gospel according to John." John remained alive to write the book of Revelation long after Peter's martyrdom. Apparently John was the only apostle whose life did not end in martyrdom. It is generally thought that, although imprisoned, he was allowed to live out his last days in relative peace on the Isle of Patmos. John was also favored to be among the small inner circle of disciples who witnessed a foretaste of the kingdom of God in vision. "And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart" (Matt. 17:1). There they saw Jesus transfigured before them, with Moses and Elijah. It was also John who was the first disciple to believe Christ had risen from the dead. Shortly after Christ's resurrection, Mary Magdalene came and saw that the tomb was empty. "So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved …" (John 20:2). John outran Simon Peter to the tomb, but the impetuous Peter went in first (verses 3-7). "Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed" (verse 8).
John's Deep Understanding
Perhaps in part because of his special closeness to Jesus, John was granted a deep and broad understanding of his Savior. Matthew, Mark and Luke each begin their "mini-biographies" of Jesus with accounts of events occurring broadly within the (human) lifetime of Christ. But John's account of the beginning predates even the events in the Old Testament. It is the real beginning of the Bible, describing events that occurred before even Genesis 1:1. It reads: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made" (John 1:1-3). Verse 14 explains who this "Word" was: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we [the disciples] have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father." Jesus Christ is the only heavenly being who ever became a fleshly human being and lived in this world. These very few verses tell us a great deal about the nature of Jesus Christ: 1) He was God; 2) He was with another being called God from the very beginning; 3) He was the "Word" (Greek: Logos) or Spokesman for the Father. The Father is referred to in verse 18: "No one [no human] has ever seen God," meaning the other being called God. John's first letter and two of Paul's epistles provide us with an excellent commentary on these beginning scriptures in the fourth gospel. As if by habit, John begins his first epistle: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us — that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ" (I John 1:1-3). This letter, like the first verses of John's gospel, makes it plain that the being with whom they had lived, worked, played, swam and fished was none other than a member of the Godhead — with, and like, God the Father. The apostle Paul wrote: "He [the Father] has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son [Jesus Christ], in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things..." (Col. 1:13-17; compare with Phil. 2:5-11, NIV). Paul here
"Jesus was God before his human birth; he was God In the flesh while a human being here on earth; and he is now very God at the right hand of the Father in heaven (John 16:28)."
points out the broad and massive extent of the work and authority of the pre-human Christ.
John's Theme — the Godship of Christ
John emphasized over and over again, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the preexistence of Jesus Christ as God before his human birth. It is a prominent theme running throughout his entire gospel. Notice it again in the very first chapter. "He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not" (John 1:10). If he made the world, then he preceded the creation. Yet when he came in the human flesh, the vast majority of those who had the opportunity to know him rejected their own Creator. John the Baptist picked up this same theme and is quoted by John the apostle. "John bore witness to him, and cried, 'This was he of whom I said, "He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me"'" (John 1:15). Was John indulging in some kind of spiritual doubletalk here? No! John the Baptist was begotten and born into the human flesh before Jesus was (Luke 1:35-36, 57-60). But Jesus was God long before John was ever conceived. The Baptist repeats it in chapter one, verse 30: "... After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me."
Jesus' Supernatural Knowledge
John revealed that Christ possessed powers that no normal human being had, although he was certainly subject to the pulls and temptations of the flesh (Heb. 4:15). When Christ called Nathanael to a discipleship (and future apostleship), "Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, 'Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile.' Nathanael said to him, 'How do you know me?' Jesus answered him, 'Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.' Nathanael answered him, 'Rabbi, you are the Son of God!...' Jesus answered him, 'Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things [miracles] than these' " (John 1:47-50). Notice also the last three verses of John, chapter two. "Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did; but Jesus did not trust himself to them, because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man" (verses 23-25). Christ the Creator had made mankind and he knew all about people's human weaknesses.
Jesus — From Heaven
John knew Jesus' true origin. Quoting Christ himself, John 3:13 declares: "No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man." John continues this theme in the second half of the chapter: "He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth belongs to the earth, and of the earth he speaks; he who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one [the vast majority] receives his testimony; he [only a few] who receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for it is not by measure that he gives the Spirit" (verses 31-34). While Jesus Christ was yet in heaven (before his human birth), he saw and heard beforehand the message that he later spoke on earth. In a conversation with the religious leaders of his generation, he said: "Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from [heaven] and where I am going [to God's throne in heaven]" (John 8:14, NIV). He continued in verses 23 and 28 (back to RSV): "You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world …. When you have lifted up [crucified] the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me." Backtracking to verse 26, "... but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him." Verse 38: "I speak of what I have seen with my Father.... " Verse 42: "... I came not of my own accord, but he sent me."
Jesus — The Lord of the Old Testament
In this very long dialogue of Jesus, the Pharisees brought up the subject of Abraham (the greatest of
Christ in the Book of John John had an unusually close, friendly relationship with Jesus. He seemed especially to understand where Jesus came from, where he was going, and what he was all about. Below are references from John's gospel on the nature of Christ. Christ created the world: John 1:1-3; 1:10. He was the Lord of the Old Testament: John 1:15, 30; 5:46; 8:56-58. He is one with God the Father and equal to him: John 5:17-18; 10:30, 33, 38; 12:44-45; 15:23; 17:11, 21-26; 19:7. He rules over everything: John 3:34-35; 5:19-23, 26-27; 16:15. He became a man: John 1:14. He came down from heaven: John 3:13, 31; 6:38, 41, 51, 58, 62; 8:14, 21-23. He was sent by God the Father: John 3:16-17, 34; 4:34; 5:30; 6:29, 44, 57; 7:28-29, 33; 8:42; 9:4; 11:42; 16:27-28; 17:7; 20:21. His authority was from God the Father: John 7:16-18; 8:16, 26-29; 12:44, 49-50; 14:24; 15:15. He went back to heaven: John 6:62; 7:33-34; 8:21; 13:1-3, 33; 14:1-3, 12; 16:27-28; 20:17. He will come again: John 5:25-29; 14:3; 21:22-23.
the Jews' national heroes). Jesus explained to them: "Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad" (verse 56). The one who became Christ actually walked and talked with the patriarch Abraham (Gen. 12:1-4; 13:14-18; 17:1-22; 18:1-33; 22:1-2). Of course, these religionists simply didn't grasp what Jesus was saying. "The Jews then said to him, 'You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?' Jesus said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am' " (verses 57-58). Jesus Christ was the same God who walked and talked with Moses in the wilderness — the same "I AM" (see Ex. 3:14) who brought the children of Israel out of Egypt. Paul makes this plain. "I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the [Red] sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea …. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the ['that,' AV] Rock was Christ" (I Cor. 10:1-2, 4). This same personage in the Godhead presided over the Flood in Noah's day. Peter gives us the facts: "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also he [Christ] went and preached unto the spirits [demons] in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water" (I Pet. 3:18-20, AV).
From Creator to Son
But we find the most emphatic statements about the preexistence of Jesus Christ in the book of John. The book's major emphasis is on the undeniable fact that Jesus Christ was God before his human birth. Even the Pharisee Nicodemus said to Jesus: "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God …" (John 3:2). Jesus had told the leaders of the Pharisees: "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God" (John 5:17-18, AV). If you have any sons or daughters, they are on the same plane and level of existence as yourself. They are not inferior beings like animals. Jesus was equal with God in the sense that he existed on the same God — plane that the Father does. True, the one whom we know as the Father was and is greater in authority — "my Father is greater than I" (John 14:28, KJV). Continuing his discussion with the Pharisees, Christ drove home the point that he was indeed God's Son: "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all that he himself is doing; and greater works than these will he show him, that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will" (John 5:19-21). Jesus possesses the same powers that the Father does, because he too is God. Jesus Christ said: "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30). Not that they are the same being, but they are one in purpose, one in plan and, most of all, one in the sense that they are members of the same God family. If anyone in that generation saw Jesus, they saw how one in the God family would act if he were here on earth — and specifically the Father. "And Jesus cried out and said, 'He who believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And he who sees me sees him who sent me' " (John 12:44-45).
Jesus Resumed Glorified Godship
We have firmly established the fact that Jesus was God before his human birth. Notice just one more verse to that effect: "And now, Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made" (John 17:5). Jesus was a glorified God being before there ever was an angel or man on earth. In fact, Jesus has eternally existed as God. But he divested himself of his former glory and came down to this earth as a human being to (among many other things) die for the sins of all mankind. Paul wrote to the Philippian brethren: "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:5-8). Paul then brings out the fact that Jesus is now restored to his former glory: "Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow [God does not allow human beings to worship other human beings or even angels — only members of the God family], in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (verses 9-11). John also wrote of Jesus' resuming his Godship. Notice Christ's words in the true Lord's prayer: "And now I am no more in the world... and I come to thee" (John 17:11, KJV). Earlier Jesus had said to his disciples: "What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?" (John 6:62, KJV.) Later they did see just that (Acts 1:9). Notice John 7:33 (KJV): "Then said Jesus unto them, Yet a little while am I with you, and then I go unto him that sent me." Concerning the occasion of Christ's last Passover, John begins: "Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was [very soon to] come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father... " (John 13:1, KJV). John repeats this vital theme over and over again. "I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father" (John 16:28, KJV).
Incredible Destiny of Man
Jesus was God before his human birth; he was God in the flesh while a human being here on earth; and he is now very God at the right hand of the Father in heaven. But must we stop there in our knowledge? Jesus said to Mary Magdalene: "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God" (John 20:17, KJV). In this verse, Jesus was equating himself (though he was their Lord and Master — John 13:13) with his disciples and future apostles. What is the real significance of this statement? Jesus himself gives us the true answer in John 10. "The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, 'I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?' The Jews answered him, 'It is not for a good work that we stone you but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God.' Jesus answered them, 'Is it not written in your law, "I said, you are gods"? [see Psalm 82:6] If he called them gods to whom the word of God came (and scripture cannot be broken), do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, "You are blaspheming," because I said, "I am the Son of God"?' " (verses 31-36). This very vital passage of Scripture reveals, believe it or not, that man's ultimate destiny is to become a part of the God family. Notice John's first letter once again: "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he [Christ] shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" (I John 3:2, KJV). Can you grasp what John is saying here? Even as God became man, so man may become God under certain conditions. Man is to become just as much God as Christ is God. That in a nutshell is the transcendent purpose of human life! What can one do to ensure that this wonderful event does indeed happen to him? Verse 3: "And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he [Christ] is pure."