The Lord Jesus as the Word of God in John’s Gospel
J. Wesley Ferguson, Antrim, N. Ireland [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
References to the Lord Jesus as the ‘Word of God’ occur in John’s gospel, 1. 1-5, 14. Here He is seen as eternally divine, the Creator of everything, the source of life and light, yet become truly human in His incarnation.
Significantly, He is referred to in similar language in two other New Testament passages, both by John. In the first of these, 1 John 1. 1 (some scholars do not accept that this refers to the Lord Jesus personally), the emphasis is on His true human flesh, visible and tangible. In the second, Rev. 19. 13, He is seen seated on a white horse and coming to take up His kingdom after putting down all rebellion. Both contexts refer to His manhood but both require that we acknowledge His deity.
We often, quite correctly, refer to the fact that, as the Word of God, He expresses what and who God is. We quote in support John 1. 18, ‘No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him’. We should probably insist that this principle applies not only in the days of His flesh, but also to any context in which people are granted a sight of God. Compare Isaiah 6. 5, with John 12. 36-41.
We should also see in the title of ‘Word of God’ an indication of the authority of God manifested in our Lord’s words and actions. This would link the title with words as a vehicle of power, not just a means of explaining or communicating.
The purpose of this article is to set out a few of the contexts in John’s Gospel in which these two sides of the title are illustrated, His manifestation of the nature of God, and His demonstration of the authority of God.
As the Word He makes the Father known
In John’s Gospel the Lord Jesus usually speaks of making ‘the Father’ known. His relationship with His Father is a prominent theme as He testifies repeatedly to His own divine status. When John refers to His incarnation in verse 14 of chapter 1, he states that, ‘we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father’, showing that the glory seen in the Son is the same as that belonging to the Father, but now manifested to people on earth. This reference is followed quickly by verse 18, quoted above.
In chapter 9, in the healing of the man born blind, the Lord Jesus explained that the blindness was not due to anyone’s sin, but it was ‘that the works of God should be made manifest in him’. He then proceeded to heal the man, manifesting how God works. Again in chapter 11, in the raising of Lazarus, He explained that through the miracle Martha would ‘see the glory of God’, v. 40. In His first sign-miracle, in chapter 2, He ‘manifested forth his glory’, v. 11; here in chapter 11 it is the Father’s glory; and the two are inextricably linked. Small wonder, then, that John says in 12. 41, that Isaiah, ‘saw his (that is, Messiah’s) glory and spake of him’, in reference to the vision of Isaiah 6, when he saw Jehovah.
In response to Philip’s request in John 14 that He should show them the Father the Lord Jesus replied that ‘he that hath seen me hath seen the Father’. In that context He referred specifically to His words and works. It seems that it was in what was manifested in His words and works that men were to ‘see the Father’.
When He says in His prayer to the Father, ‘I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world, John 17. 6, He must mean that He has manifested the nature of the Father. The Father was in Him and He in the Father: the manifestation was inevitable.
He makes the Father known, then, in that His manifested glory is as the Father’s; His works are clear evidence of His divine nature; His words are not merely those of a man, but rather as fully divine as if the Father had said them; and in beholding Him those with spiritual eyesight could see the Father.
As the Word He demonstrates the authority of God
That the Lord Jesus demonstrated the authority of God is indicated from the start of the Gospel in His reference to His creatorial power, ‘All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made’, John 1. 3. In Genesis 1, after the initial background description, there is this striking statement, ‘And God said, Let there be light: and there was light’. The moving force was the spoken word of God, His word of authority. John attributes to the Word both life and light, John 1. 4; and verse 14 of the same chapter makes it clear that this Word ‘became flesh, and dwelt among us’ RV. This is a clear identification of the Word with Jesus Christ. He has all the infinite power that was demonstrated in creation, for He is the Word of God.
When He wanted to link a group of men with Himself He called them with an authority that brooked no questions. He found Philip and simply said, ‘Follow me’. The same authority, maintained throughout the Gospel, is illustrated again in chapter 21 when Peter’s improper interest in what John should do was brushed aside by the Lord with the added command, ‘follow thou me’, in verse 22. We may contrast the relationship which John the Baptist had with his disciples, and that which the Lord Jesus had with His. We remember that John’s disciples were worried that men were deserting him to follow Christ, only to be assured that this was exactly what John wanted, for, ‘He must increase, but I must decrease’, John 3. 30. John’s was a limited leadership, and subject to a supreme and higher control.
Significantly, before the Lord Jesus’ first sign-miracle, in chapter 2, His mother Mary, with remarkable intuition, advised, ‘Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it’. Those who served Him were not in a position to negotiate terms with Him; His word was law.
Even in a very different situation, when his disciples were in need of comfort and reassurance, there is the same sense of His absolute control. They were afraid when they saw Him walking on the water towards the boat. His word of reassurance went into no explanation; He merely said, ‘It is I; be not afraid’. The absolute power which could still a storm or enable Him to walk on water was sufficient to calm their fears without need for assurances as to how His coming was the answer to their fears.
The same absolute authority is manifested in His challenge to His own in chapter 12. He is going to the cross to take His life of self-giving to its logical conclusion when He will give Himself for our sins. This sacrificial principle is at the root of all fruitfulness, He says, that the grain of wheat must die before it can be fruitful. Then He enunciates the challenge and its attendant promise, ‘If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour’, v. 26. Notice what is implicit in this sentence: His followers are His servants; He is their Lord; and He has a right to expect that they will follow without question; He is leading them to an unnamed place of implied fulfilment; their reward from the Father is assured. He has absolute authority to make promises and expect obedience.
In chapter 15 He commands His disciples that they love one another. It is clear that it is likely to be a costly love, for He follows the command with the statement that if the world should hate them it hated Him first. We remember that the ultimate test of love, which He here commands, is the readiness to lay down our lives for our friends. He has led the way by laying down His life in sacrifice for us. But we must trace this to its source, for our Father proved His love for a guilty world in being ready to give His own Son sacrificially for us on the cross. All love and sacrifice are based on this foundation principle. What we are noting here is His authority to make such commands, a moral authority, which ultimately resides in His sovereign, divine love.
As the Word He has absolute right to command
In addition to these major principles of sovereign authority, especially over His own, there are many examples of situations in which He gives terse commands as He goes about His ministry. For example, in His first sign-miracle He orders, ‘Fill the waterpots with water’, then almost immediately, ‘Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast’. In the same chapter He establishes His authority to command in His Father’s house with, ‘Take these things hence’, John 2. 16.
In two instances His commands show more than simply His authority. When He deems it time to change His conversation with the Samaritan woman from the subject of water to that of guilt, He suddenly confronts her with, ‘Go, call thy husband, and come hither’, John 4. 16. This brings back to her all her guilty past, for He will have no prevarication, and in effect He told her everything that ever she had done. Divine omniscience moved out in grace to bring salvation to her. He said to the nobleman of Capernaum, ‘Go thy way; thy son liveth’, John 4. 50. He had power to heal and omniscience to know that healing had taken place, though it happened at a distance. His word of pardon to the sinful woman has similarities to these two examples, ‘Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more’, John 8. 11. He had authority to pardon her, for He alone knew her heart and it was divine pardon.
Two miracles show His power put forth in a word. In 5. 8 He commands the paralytic, ‘Rise, take up thy bed, and walk’. The power to walk was contained in the word of command as the man in faith responded. In the same way, His loud cry, ‘Lazarus, come forth’, had the power to impart life. It was in accord with His claim in 5. 25, ‘The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live’. Granted, that claim was in respect of spiritual life to those who hear in faith the message of life, but this last signmiracle exemplifies His authority to speak life into the dead, whether they are spiritually or physically dead. Interestingly, His word of power was put forth in a context where the believers who were present were given tasks to do, which were within their power, and He then did what they could not do. He has life in Himself, and He has authority to impart life. This is the ultimate example of His word of authority.
One’s mind turns to 2 Corinthians 4. 6, ‘For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’. The power, the authority, the glory of the Father are seen in the Son. His word commands, reveals, empowers, and quickens, for He is the Word.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Wesley Ferguson is in the assembly in Antrim in N. Ireland. He ministers the word throughout the Province and the UK and is the author of numerous magazine articles, and recently authored ‘Genesis’ in the Ritchie series ‘What the Bible Teaches'.