John 1: 1-5, 14, 29-34
RMB I thought, dear brethren, that we might speak together as to the personal glories of our Lord Jesus. The Lord’s day is a particularly suitable opportunity for doing that, when the saints have already been occupied with His love and glory, and we trust that in going over verses that might be familiar to us we should not only be freshly established in the truth, but that by the Holy Spirit we should also receive a fresh view of Christ Himself. The scriptures that we have read are very profound, so we shall need to be careful how we speak of them, and I am sure we would all appreciate the need for a worshipful spirit as we approach such verses. I was thinking that the opening verses of this gospel tell us about His Person, they tell us what He was and where He was. It says, He was “with God” and He “was God”. It brings out that He was God as to His Person, and also that He is eternal as to His existence. So these are the glories that belong to Him because of who He is. Then in verse 14 we have what He “became”. It says that “the Word became flesh”; that is, He became something that He was not before; and in the paragraph beginning at verse 29 we see that as a result of what He became others of His glories have come on to our view. The principal ones there are that He is the Lamb of God, He is the One who baptises with the Holy Spirit, and He is the Son of God. These are glories of Christ that have come before us as a result of what He has Himself become.
JSG I do believe with you that it is greatly profitable for us to be occupied with the Lord Jesus personally. I should like to enquire as to John’s use of the title “the Word”, whether you could say something about why it is used in connection with these eternal glories of which you first spoke.
RMB Well, I think it has been said that that title, “the Word”, was one by which the Lord Jesus was known to His disciples, as may be indicated by Luke 1: 2. We understand it involves that there was in Himself all that was necessary to make God known. So John is using a title that was familiar to the disciples, and he is showing us what the greatness of this Person was.
JSG It is a very extensive thought then. The Lord has several distinct things to say in this gospel as to what He Himself is: “I am the light of the world” (John 8: 12), for example, and other expressions of that kind. But to think of it as such a comprehensive and perfect expression of God Himself would increase our appreciation of the Lord’s personal glory, would you say?
RMB Yes. These verses help us to understand how great He is because it says that He “was God”. So we need to understand that Jesus is God in His Person. But it also says that He was “with God”. And the scripture emphasises that point because in verse 2 it says, “He was in the beginning with God”. It brings out His eternal existence.
GCB The Spirit of God has infinite wisdom in the use of language and expression which we do not have. It just occurred to me as we have taken up this scripture that the name “Jesus” did not apply in a past eternity, “the Son of God” would not apply in a past eternity, but the Spirit of God has used this word to identify the Person. Would you say more about that?
RMB I think we have been taught that though the Lord Jesus has many names and titles, no single one of them is sufficient to describe everything about His Person. I think John is taking up a title in “the Word” that the disciples were familiar with, and he is saying, 'This is who He is'. Maybe for the persons he was writing to this was further light as to His greatness.
GCB The question arises in my mind as to why we so seldom use this title now?
RMB Did you have any thought about that yourself?
GCB No, I did not; but it may be that it is because the Spirit of God is infinitely wise, as guarding against the mistakes that come in in Christendom. He uses this title to preserve the impression of who the Person is; whereas we know that there are those who speak of “the eternal Son”. This scripture does not say that here, it says, “the Word”.
RMB Well, that just emphasises the importance of keeping to the words of Scripture. We know that much has been made in Christendom of seeking to put things into a creed or into a formula, but man is not capable of producing a sentence, or a collection of sentences, that is able to embrace every aspect of the truth of this holy Person. We have simply to keep to the words of Scripture. I am sure there is preservation in that.
RHB The two statements in the verse that He “was God” and “was with God” are perhaps difficult for us to grasp at the same time. Can you elaborate on that for us a little?
RMB The statement that “the Word was God” is a reference to His nature, that as to His Person He is God, He has deity. The fact that “the Word was with God” shows, speaking carefully, that He had His own distinct existence. It was not that this Person whom we speak of as “the Word” came into existence at a point in time. The fact is, “He was in the beginning with God”. He had His own distinct existence “with God”. What do you think about it?
RHB I think that is a helpful way of putting it. In the last verses you read there are three Persons referred to. John says, “he who sent me to baptise”, which I take it is a reference to God, or God the Father as we would know Him (because it says that John was sent from God); “he who sent me to baptise with water, he said to me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending”; and then there is the One upon whom the Spirit descended and abode; so that the Persons of the Godhead had a distinct existence before, as the Old Testament bears out. The scripture that asserts that “God is one” in the epistle, and “the mediator of God and men one” (1 Tim 2: 5) we have to hold to, but God has been revealed to us in this way, and it is that that we have to accept as revelation, do we?
RMB Yes, we do, and by simply accepting what these simple but profound statements say we are preserved from many errors. So, for example, throughout Christendom there is a very common error that the Lord Jesus derived His deity from the Father. Persons have struggled to understand the expression, “the only-begotten Son”. There is in the creed the expression that He was “begotten of the Father before all worlds . . . begotten, not made”. This simple statement, “He was in the beginning with God”, would show us that that is not the truth; and that the Lord Jesus did not derive His deity from anyone because He “was God”. So these things preserve us in our minds, and in the way we approach these most profound truths.
RHB Indeed, later in this gospel he says distinctly that, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8: 58), which is an assertion of that truth that He had an existence prior to incarnation, which is often disputed. The simple reading of the scripture makes that clear.
RMB Yes it does, so that it is important to understand that Those we refer to as the three Persons of the Godhead have always existed, but They have only been revealed as such as a consequence of the incarnation. There are very clear allusions to the Trinity in the Old Testament. Consider the name Jehovah, for example: while we sometime hear it said that the Lord Jesus is the Jehovah of the Old Testament, and that is certainly true as a general principle, there are instances where that name is used of the Father and, at least on one occasion, of the Holy Spirit, see eg JND Collected Writings vol 9 p298; vol 30 p39.
AM The word “beginning” here is not qualified, is it? It is not the beginning of something, it is simply “the beginning”. As far back as man can go, He was there.
RMB Yes, it would take us back beyond the beginning that is referred to in Genesis. So it is before even the beginning of time, which really our finite minds are not able to properly apprehend.
DAS I was just thinking about what is said here, “All things received being through him”, and about what you referred to in Genesis. There it is “God”. Note a to Genesis 1: 1 refers to “Deity in the absolute sense”. Does that bring out what you are saying as to the glory of this Person; who He is as God?
RMB Yes, it is interesting that the act of creation is attributed to Him. We speak of the three Persons of the Godhead, but the active work of creation is attributed in the New Testament to the second Person, to our Lord Jesus. Again, the Scripture emphasises it: it not only says, “All things received being through him”, but adds, “without him not one thing received being which has received being”. What would you say about that?
DAS Only that it leaves nothing out. I was just thinking that it says, “In the beginning God ...”. I wondered whether it emphasised to our minds the glory of His Person in deity.
RMB And creation in the true sense of the word is something which only belongs to God. It is only God that can bring something into being out of nothing.
RHB Is there a further thought in Colossians 1: 16, that “all things have been created by him”, and then it adds “and for him”? This goes as far as Himself being the Creator, but it is a very substantial thought that everything has not only been created by Him but it has been created for Him, would you say?
RMB There is another scripture which develops that. Revelation 4: 11 says, “Thou art worthy, O our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honour and power; for thou hast created all things, and for thy will they were, and they have been created.” All things have been created for His will, for His pleasure; and of course that would come down to each one of us.
MIW Does the thought of “the Word” convey, amongst other things, what is expressed?
RMB Yes, I think it does.
MIW So that the One that dwelt among them, what was expressed, what they took account of in Him, was the expression of God Himself. In that respect it would go back to creation; what was expressed was God Himself, do you think, by this blessed divine Operator?
RMB Yes, I think when we come to verse 18, “No one has seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him”, we begin to see what is involved in that, do you think?
MIW Yes, John 1: 18 involves what was expressed as He came into manhood.
RMB Verse 4 says, “In him was life”. Verse 3 tells us that He created all things, but there was one thing that was not created, and that was life, because it was in Him inherently. Then he adds, “and the life was the light of men”. What do you say about that?
KGS That blessed Person gave effect to everything that was for God. Is that right?
RMB Yes, but He had life in Himself. It is something else which marks Him out as distinctive. Then, “the life was the light of men”. It is a very precious thought that the “light of men” is not a body of doctrine, nor a creed, but the life which has come on to view in one blessed Man.
JSG I was wondering whether what Peter says in his confession in John 6: 68-69 helps at all, where he says, “Thou hast words of life eternal; and we have believed and known that thou art the holy one of God”; and whether the reverence with which they would be in the presence of such a Person, and listen to His words, and watch His movements, ought to be carried in our souls as you mentioned it earlier. But the character of life that has been introduced as light for men is of that distinct nature, is it not?
RMB Yes, something has come on to our view. That is what John brings out in the opening verses of his first epistle. “In him was life”, it was there all the time in Him inherently, but as a consequence of His becoming Man it has come on to our view. Now life consists of relationships and communications. I remember a brother observing that he thought John 17 might be an example of this. John 17 would have been light for the disciples as they saw the way that the Lord Jesus spoke to His Father, and as they heard what He spoke about. They may not have understood it all then, but it would have been a revelation to them of the character of this life.
JSG Very good. So what you say implies that the prime way in which life is expressed would be in our relations with God. It would reveal the true character of our life according to God.
RMB So verse 14 that we then read tells us what this Person became. When we think of what He “was”, as described in the opening verses, it makes all the more glorious what He “became”.
RHB Reference has been made to the thought of what is expressed, and Paul in writing to Timothy says that “God has been manifested in flesh”, 1 Tim 3: 16. That is a complete thought, if we can use that word reverently of God. It is not a partial revelation, but all that God is in His infinitude has come within the range of finite minds such as ours through coming into flesh. Is that the sense of it?
RMB That should greatly affect our hearts, to think that One who was there in the beginning with God, One who was Himself God, should become flesh. These things may be familiar to us, but I think that the Spirit of God would seek to work them into our affections that we might be enlarged in our appreciation of His blessed Person and His wonderful movements in grace.
RHB The presentation in Philippians 2, that He emptied Himself, and humbled Himself, and became obedient (v 7, 8), seems to emphasise more those moral features and the humility of His descent; but this presentation seems to convey more a sense of majesty about it, that such a One should become flesh.
RMB Yes, and the way that it is presented in verse 14 shows us that it was His own act. The Authorised Version reads, “the Word was made flesh”, but evidently Mr Darby thought it more accurate to translate it this way; and that seems right, that the coming into flesh of the Word must have been His own act.
These things are intended to enlarge in our hearts as we reflect on them prayerfully: the Holy Spirit would enlarge our understanding of them. But one point I think it important to see is that some of the confusing ideas as to the Trinity that are abroad stem from the erroneous idea that by coming into flesh there has been a fundamental change in God. Whereas it is important to understand that when the Word became flesh He came into a new condition, but there was no change in His Person.
MIW Referring to what our brother said earlier, we can draw on that scripture in 1 Timothy 3: 16, and the way the hymn writer puts it:
God manifest in flesh, O wonder of His universe!
It was the greatest matter, was it not, that in such a One coming into manhood there is the full manifestation of God Himself. Hence the use of the title, “the Word”. It is a complete thought.
AM The Lord Jesus in becoming flesh came into that condition of relative lowliness, but that detracts nothing from Him, but it is in fact an added glory. It is pure moral excellence that was seen in Him as becoming flesh, that we would never have seen otherwise.
RMB That is what I had in mind, when we come to the paragraph beginning at verse 29, that further glories have unfolded to our view as a result of this wonderful coming into flesh of “the Word”. But I only made the earlier remark so that we might be preserved in a right understanding in our minds, that He has come into a new condition but there has been absolutely no change in His Person. It is not that as a result of the incarnation God has become something else. There has been no change as to His Person though in a new condition.
MIW I am just enquiring as to your use of the term “condition” which I understand: the Word becoming flesh would refer to His manhood, would it not, so that it is a continuing thought? Is that right? He came into a condition of flesh and blood. He is not in a condition of flesh and blood now, but the thought of the Word having become flesh remains, does it not, because it connects with His manhood?
RMB Yes; so He became, or began to be, something that He was not before. The point I was emphasising was that that relates to the condition into which He came and not to any change in His Person. Would you agree with that?
MIW Yes. I was raising the question really because the thought continues now at the present time, although the Lord Jesus is now in conditions of glory above. The thought is that it is a continuing matter.
RHB In the epistle where it speaks of God sending His Son “in likeness of flesh of sin, and for sin” (Rom 8: 3), it had in view that He came into a condition in which He could die, does it not? It had in view that He took upon Himself a flesh-and-blood condition in order that He might lay down His life to accomplish the will of God.
GCB And He remains a Man for ever, does He?
RMB Yes. There is a distinction between the condition of humanity that Christ entered into as having become flesh (John 1: 14), which He retains for ever in His body of glory, and His taking part in blood and flesh, Heb 2: 14. The latter refers to what He entered into in order to suffer and die, and which was finally laid down in His death.
GCB We find no indication in Scripture otherwise; and our link is with that glorious Man, and evidently our links with Him are eternal.
RMB I suppose one scripture that would confirm that is the verse in 1 Corinthians 15, which refers to the Son being placed in subjection (v 28), do you think? That describes “the end”.
GCB Yes, that is the very end of time there. Is that right?
RMB That is right. He says, “Then the end”, v 24. So in those verses he is describing how things would be at the end, and of course the great ultimate is “that God may be all in all”; but that includes something which is very deep to understand, it includes the Son also being brought into subjection. That must be an allusion to His place in manhood.
GCB No doubt the title “the Son” would involve His manhood as well.
RMB The Scriptures certainly seem to speak of Him as the Son of God in connection with His incarnation and what flows out of that.
JSG I would like to ask, as to the reference at the close of Philippians 3 to “his body of glory”, as to the present condition of the Lord. It is not exactly revealed to us, but it is so described by Paul. He says in 1 Timothy 2, “God is one, and the mediator of God and men one, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all”, vv 5, 6. So that the One about whom Paul was writing, who was known to believers as having given Himself a ransom for all, was known as “the man Christ Jesus” in His present place.
RMB And John 1: 14 brings in this very touching additional thought that He “dwelt among us”. What would you say about that?
JSG I would be glad of your thought, but it suggests the expansion which John gives in his first epistle, in the first chapter, as it was referred to earlier, what was seen and handled.
RMB That is good. It shows that He was not just passing through. He “dwelt among us”. We know He was not to be here permanently, but He came to stay for a time, and that is a very blessed thing to contemplate when we think of who He was and where He had come from.
JSG We must speak reverently about these precious things, but to think of such a One described in the Scriptures as “the Word”, having been in circumstances which are described in a way involving where men move, such as in a boat and at the house, causes us to wonder at the lowliness of this remarkable incoming.
CCDR John’s epistle begins with, “That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes; that which we contemplated, and our hands handled, concerning the word of life”, 1 John 1: 1. It emphasises the reality of all these things you are speaking about. It would have greatly impressed John, would it not, handling, seeing, and now reporting and contemplating?
RMB Yes; the lovely thought that comes out there is that there was something that was “with the Father” (v 2) that has come within our range. If it had remained with the Father we would never have known about it; but how near it came! “That which we have seen with our eyes”, John says, “and our hands handled.” That is very close.
CCDR I was thinking of the reality of these things. It would have greatly impressed these early disciples and it should impress us. What we are speaking of is not something that is ethereal, but this is the true humanity of Christ; yet that is something which is, in one sense, beyond us.
RMB That last point is important, that there is what is beyond us, and there always will be as to His Person, because He said Himself that “no one knows the Son but the Father”, Matt 11: 27. We cannot work it all out in our minds, that as to His Person He is God and yet He became a real Man, but we keep these things in our minds, on the one hand His eternal existence, and, on the other, the way in which He has come near to us.
DAS So it speaks of what we can contemplate. Is that where we get help, and where we should seek the Spirit’s help - in contemplation, recognising, as you have said, that there must always be because of His Person what is beyond us? We cannot comprehend Him even as having become Man, can we? But we can contemplate, would that be right?
RMB Yes, I think that is most important, because we can see what terrible error persons fall into where the mind of man is introduced. So we need to be kept subject in our hearts and minds, and ready to be taught by the Holy Spirit, because He would surely bring Christ’s glories before us where we are open for it.
GCB You remember a little earlier it was said that this brings out the majesty of His becoming flesh. It would take impressions from the whole of the Scriptures to bring out the detail of His becoming flesh, would it not? And of course the Holy Spirit’s service is essential to that; linking on with what our brother said as to contemplating. Here we see majesty; but there is so much to contemplate, is there not?
RMB Yes, there certainly is. We might now consider the verses from verse 29. What we see there is that as a consequence of Him becoming flesh more glories come to light. The first one is that He is the Lamb of God. That John should introduce it in a chapter where he has already spoken of the deity of the Lord Jesus and His eternal existence, gives a lustre to the fact that He should take on this title as “the Lamb of God”.
RHB What does that title convey to us?
RMB I would be glad if we could enquire about it together, but I connected it a little with Genesis 22: 7 and 8: Isaac said, “Behold the fire and the wood; but where is the sheep for a burnt-offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself with the sheep for a burnt-offering”. God has provided Himself with a Lamb. Man was unequal to that. “Behold the fire and the wood”: the tokens of God’s judgment. Who could face that fire? But the word is, “God will provide himself with the sheep for a burnt-offering”. I wondered whether that is what is set forth in the Lamb of God. What do you think of that?
RHB I think that is a helpful connection. God has provided what was necessary to meet the case, the sin of the world. There was no other, was there? God has provided One who was great enough to take it away. Is that the force of it, that it is drawing attention to the greatness of His Person, that He was great enough to take it away? Every other man has contributed to it, but on to view came a Man who was great enough to remove it from God’s sight, and that stands in its own glory. It is quite apart from what He has done for me personally, which I appreciate; but is seeing the magnitude of what He has accomplished for God what bows our hearts in worship?
RMB I certainly think that in verse 29 it His Person and His work from God’s side. It involves the removing of the stain of sin from the universe. So we might ask what is involved in taking away the sin of the world.
RJG It involved the cost of Him dying. What is your thought?
RMB I am sure that that is the great basis of it - His great sacrificial work. But I wondered whether it would extend beyond that, whether it would include His new-creation work, and His work in judgment. But what do others say about that?
GCB Tell us about His new-creation work please.
RMB Firstly there is His work in judgment; which we see in Revelation 20, that He puts things away. That is the point of it there, not exactly that persons should be condemned, although it will include that, but things are put away. Then, having done that, He is able to bring in what is new. As far as new creation is concerned, that has already begun in the hearts of believers. What do you think?
GCB Perhaps I have been too limited as to new creation. God says at the end, “I make all things new”. We know of course it must be close to the work of Christ, but you have in mind what the Lord Jesus does in that matter?
RMB Yes, I think one of the things that has been said in the ministry is that He takes away the sin of the world by bringing God in (F E Raven vol 5 p21). So John says in his epistle that “the darkness is passing and the true light already shines”, 1 John 2: 8. The taking away of sin, thinking of it from God’s side, is of course based on Christ's mighty sacrificial work; but it is something that He will complete before that glorious day when He will offer up a perfect universe for the pleasure of God.
RJG We get a reference in Revelation 5 to the Lamb acting for God.
RMB That is a good connection. I suppose what is specially emphasised in Revelation 5 is that He is morally qualified to undertake the work of carrying out the government of God on the earth. A great search is made for someone who is “worthy” and “able” to do it, and no one is found until attention is drawn to the Lamb. What comes out there is that it is by His sufferings, it is by the way through which He has passed, that He has demonstrated that He is morally qualified to take up every question for God.
MIW Does the use of the singular, “the sin”, bring out the greatness of what this blessed divine Operator has done for God? It is a complete matter, clearing the ground entirely of what was against God. That paves the way for what is completely new in new creation.
RMB Yes, it is important to understand not only that the incoming of sin has had the effect of bringing about the fall of man, so that we are guilty as sinners, but it has come into the universe. It has come even into the heavens, sin and the stain of sin, and we can understand that before God could rest every last vestige of it must be taken away.
CCDR Does the scripture in Isaiah 14: 12-15 as to Lucifer support what you are saying as to sin in the heavens? What have you in mind as to that?
RMB It would be in that connection, because Satan’s place is in heaven until he is cast down out of it. Therefore, I believe it right to say, the incoming of sin has caused an unsettlement even among the angels. I do not think the angels would ever have doubted that in the end God would resolve that question, but until the coming in of Christ they would not have known how He was going to do it. Which is why, for example, the gospel is something “which angels desire to look into”, 1 Pet 1: 12.
RHB It says of Him in John’s epistle that He “has been manifested, that he might undo the works of the devil”, 1 John 3: 8. That is an extraordinarily comprehensive statement as we think of what those works are in their extent and in their intricacy and in their poisonous effect. But there is One who has been manifested to undo them. That is a great joy for God, but it is to be a great joy for those of us who have been delivered by Him, do you think?
RMB If we think of the corruption and the confusion that the devil has introduced, we can see that only one so great as our Lord Jesus is capable of unravelling that, and resolving all the questions of good and evil.
JSG I wanted to ask about whether Hebrews 10, where you get the Lord saying, “Lo, I come . . . to do, O God, thy will” (Heb 10: 7), presents the Lamb of God beyond all the sacrifices which went before. And it says, “He takes away the first that he may establish the second; by which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”; whether that would not in some way link with the thought of sacrifice which is conveyed in the name “Lamb of God”, v 8, 9. In the previous chapter there is the reference to His having “been manifested for the putting away of sin by his sacrifice” (v 26), and then appearing “to those that look for him the second time without sin for salvation” (v 28), so it is entirely finished so far as believers are concerned when He comes. But your enquiry is as to how it goes beyond that as to the effects of sin in the whole creation.
RMB Only to bring out the greatness of His Person. The emphasis in verse 29 is not on the greatness of the sin of the world, but on the greatness of the One who is able to take it away. What you say is helpful; and there would be a connection because “Lo, I come . . . to do, O God, thy will” links with what we were saying as to it being His own act that the Word should become flesh.
JSG You have something further in mind as to the other references in this final paragraph?
RMB Well, I think our time has gone. Perhaps it is something for us to think about, the fact that He was marked out as the One who baptises with the Holy Spirit. How great must a Man be to be able to baptise with the Holy Spirit? And then, finally, that He is manifested to be the Son of God. Those are things for us to contemplate.