Analysis

1:1-18 – Prologue

The first 18 verses of John are a prologue to the Gospel, and are written in a markedly different style of Greek. They are carefully crafted, concise and almost poetic.^[1]^ Scholars are divided over whether this passage was a pre-existing Christian hymn which John adapted or whether it was written by John at the time of writing the Gospel.^[2]^ This passage clearly functions as an introduction to the Gospel and raises many of the major themes of the Gospel.

While Matthew and Luke open their gospels with the birth narrative of Jesus, and Mark begins with the start of Jesus’ public ministry, John opens with the start of the universe. The prologue moves from before pre-existence (John 1:1-2), through creation (John 1:3), the history before the incarnation (John 1:4-5), John the Baptist (John 1:6-7) and finally to Jesus’ incarnation and the results (John 1:9-18).^[3]^ This vision of salvation history shows the cosmic importance of the Gospel of Jesus.

1:19-51 – From John to Jesus

The rest of the chapter 1 shows a trend away from the ministry of John the Baptist towards Jesus. In John 1:19-28, John is asked if he is the messiah. He replies that he is not, and that he is preparing the way for one who is to come after him (presumably the messiah).

John 1:29-34 describes John baptising Jesus. John calls Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. This is a reference to Isa 53:7 and to the lamb which is sacrificed on Passover (Jesus was crucified on Passover). This is the first hint that Jesus was going to die, and that his death would be for the forgiveness of sins. John then gives his first testimony about Jesus, testifying to what he saw when he baptised him (see Trial and Witness in the Gospel of John). The Holy Spirit descending on Jesus is a very important sign of his kingship and that he is the start of the New Age (see Holy Spirit in the Gospel of John and Eschatology in the Gospel of John). This is also the first time that Jesus is given the messianic title Son of God.

John 1:35-51 continues the trend away from John to Jesus by showing some of John’s disciples turning to follow Jesus. When Andrew tells his brother Peter about his encounter with Jesus, he boldly declares “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41), introducing this major theme (see Messiah in the Gospel of John. Phillip is the first disciple in the Gospel that Jesus directly calls (John 1:43), and he tells Nathaniel. The conversation with Nathaniel is somewhat mysterious, as Jesus reveals supernatural knowledge of Nathaniel. Maybe Jesus t was simply showing the fact that knew where Nathaniel was sitting, or maybe Nathaniel had an extraordinary experience that Jesus was referring to.

Leon Morris suggests:

"It seems probable that Nathanael had had some outstanding experience of communion with God... and that it is this to which Jesus refers. Whatever it was, Nathanael was able to recognize the allusion. It is difficult to explain Jesus’ knowledge of the incident on the level of merely human knowledge. Nathanael had never met him before this moment. We are required to understand that Jesus had some knowledge not generally available to the human race (cf.)."^[4]^ Nathaniel’s response (John 1:49) is exactly the response called for by the Gospel (John 20:31). Jesus’ final statement is an important one for the Gospel; this miraculous knowledge is just the starting point of a ministry of miraculous “signs” pointing to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah and the Son of Man who reveals God, culminating in his death and resurrection.

See also

Online commentaries

Notes

  1. Köstenberger, Andreas J., John. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004. 19 ff.
  2. Harris, Elizabeth, Prologue and Gospel; The Theology of the Fourth Evangelist. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1994. 18-21.
  3. Köstenberger, 19
  4. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [Rvd.], p. 146