I have never understood why, when someone is looking at the life of Yeshua and wanting to know more, Christians tend to say “Read John.” In my mind, John is the worst way to see the gospel for the first time. There are a lot of reasons for this, but one of the most compelling to me is simply the first few verses:
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. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
Well that sounds pretty and enlightening and all, but what is it supposed to mean? If you grew up in the church, chances are good that you know that somehow, the “Word” mentioned means “Jesus”, and this passage establishes that He is God and at the same time God is more than one part, as He was also “with God”.
But why the Word? Why not just come out and say, “Jesus is God”? If it were my first time reading this I’d probably stop right here. If I don’t understand the first few verses, what luck will I have with the rest of the book?
My explanation when I was younger was pretty much “Well, John wrote Revelations too. He’s just used to acting all mystical.” and I wrote it off at that. But that’s not really a satisfying answer. After all, the book of John settles down a lot after that point and if you plug along, things do start to make sense.
So here’s my take on it now: John knew his audience. A lot better than we do now. Remember, he’s writing to Jews of that era, who would look at the language and at once realize what he was referencing. It’s basically a culture thing — if I was describing someone and said he laughed with a “Ho ho ho!” most Americans would start thinking about Santa and of the person I was describing in terms of Santa.
It’s the same way here. When John said “In the beginning…”, the Jews started thinking about Genesis 1:1:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Now for the cool part. In the creation story at Genesis 1, God makes Earth and everything in it. How? Through His word. Or I should say, Word. He speaks and creates. John is trying to show how, even from the very beginning, Jesus was with God and creating — He was God!
Why go to all the trouble? Jews in that culture knew that one of the fundamental parts of God is that He is one — it’s the first Commandment in the Ten Commandments. So the whole idea of Jesus being fully God and fully man (and being called therefore the “Son of God”) was difficult to get across — it sounded to them as if God was being split in two, which wasn’t possible because, like I said, God is one. But John shows here that even in the very first verse of the scriptures God talks about Himself in parts – His Word accomplishes His will. It’s still God creating, but now you have a separate part of God that is still Him. (it’s a really neat study to look at how the Trinity is represented in the Tanakh, I highly recommend it!)
Still think that’s a stretch? Well actually, God talks about himself and His Word as being separate yet one very specifically in Isaiah 55:11:
…so shall my word be that goes out of my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in that for which I sent it.
With the background we just talked about, that verse becomes a clear description of the Messiah, who, as we discover if we read more of John (1:14), eventually became the Word made flesh — that is, Jesus.
So, I still think John is a bad book to start with (I usually say Mark as it’s quick and to the point, then maybe Romans to lay it all on the line), but I like the first chapter of it a whole lot more now that I understand it better. It’s actually a really neat thought.