A Bible Lesson on John 1:1-18

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This is essentially a copy of an earlier post that will serve as the first in a series of lessons on John’s Gospel.  It concerns the prologue to the book, a magnificent statement concerning the nature of Christ, and provides basic historical orthodox Christology.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

This should remind us of Genesis 1.  John is intentionally paralleling the opening verses of Genesis describing how God brought the world into being.  But in fact, the beginning John is talking about here is before the beginning of Genesis 1.  Before God began to create the world, before the beginning of time, there was the Word.

“Word” carries the meaning of God’s creative power.

Psalm 33:6a  By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,

It also carries the meaning of God’s revelation.  The Scriptures have always been known as His “Word.”  God’s Word has been thought of as His personified wisdom that is coeternal with Him and assisting in the creation.  (See, e.g. Proverbs 8:1, 22-30.)  The Greeks thought of the Word or “logos” as the orderly principles that govern the universe.  All of these meanings are there, but John is speaking of a person who, it becomes obvious as we read on, is Jesus.

The Greek tense of “was the Word” is one that indicates continuation.  The phrase then essentially says “the Word that is now was the Word before creation began.”

This “Word was with God.”  This person is in some sense separate from the Father.  Otherwise, the “with” makes no sense.  The New English Bible renders it “What God was, the Word was.”

But it is also true that this person (that is at one with the Father in purpose, and has been with the Father from eternity) is God.  This is a strong clear statement of the deity of Christ right up front in the book of John.  It is so fundamental that the cults almost always do some strange and unwarranted thing to make this verse something other than it is, a grand statement of the mystery of the Trinity.  For example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses add an “a” (that isn’t there or implied in the Greek construction) to make Jesus some supposedly lesser god (with a little “g”).

F.F. Bruce said of verse 1, “John intends that the whole of his Gospel be read in the light of this verse.  The deeds and the words of Jesus are the deeds and the words of God; if this is not true, the book is blasphemous.”

2 He was in the beginning with God.

3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Genesis says that God created.  John tells us that Christ was the agent of creation.  These verses were especially pointed in late 1st century when they were written.  The Gnostic heretics were maintaining that matter was inherently evil, that only “spirit” was good.  They had invented a theology of creation where matter was brought into being by some evil force, not God.  John plainly refutes that.  He reaffirms what Genesis 1:31 says.  God created the physical universe and it was good.  He insists that it was the person Jesus whom he knew as a human being who was the One who created all things.

4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

Here are two more of the important words/themes of John: “life” and “light.”

Self-existent life was in Him from before time (not the derived life that you and I have from Him as creatures).  Christ breathed physical life into man at the beginning, and John tells us as the book goes on that Jesus brings new life, abundant life, eternal life.

Eternal life, forgiveness of sin, is the light, the illumination that the Word brings into our sin-darkened lives even now.

5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

In Genesis 1:2 God spoke light into being, scattering the physical darkness.  Light is essential for vision.  It is essential to life.  Darkness is not something fundamental in itself, it is rather the absence of light.  When light comes, it shatters the darkness.  Darkness never ever triumphs over light.  Bringing a candle into a dark room never puts out the candle, rather the candle lights the room.

“The darkness has not overcome it.”  The light of Christ, God’s Word to man, is not in jeopardy from man who is running around with his eyes closed.  “overcome” could also be translated “understood.”  If man insists on keeping his eyes closed and rejecting the light that God has provided, there will be no real understanding of the way things really are.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

John the Apostle now refers to John the Baptist.  Note the contrast between the way that John talks about John the Baptist and how he talks about Jesus.   Jesus is the Word that was with God in the beginning with God and was God.  John the Baptist is simply a human being sent by God to do the job of a herald.  It was an important job (one commissioned by God) but there is no comparison whatsoever between the two persons.

It is worth noting that the “was” in this verse this is a different word than in verse 1.  This is a created “was” and not an eternally existent “was.”

7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.

The words “witness” and “bear witness” or “testify” are common in John’s Gospel.  They have a legal ring to them.  They are much more common in John than in the other Gospels.  (John uses “witness” 14 times, the other Gospels only 4 times total.  John uses the word “testify” 33 times.)   John says that John the Baptist came as a witness so that we might believe.  The word “believe” is central in the Gospel of John.  It’s used 98 times in the book.  The meaning is to adhere to, trust in, rely upon, abandon oneself to God.

8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The Apostle is anxious to see that we don’t mess this up.  John the Baptizer is not the star of this show.  If he or we have any place of importance, it is in pointing to Jesus.  Properly understood, the Gospel leaves no place for Christian “celebrities,” including John the Baptist.  This Gospel stresses John’s role as a witness over his role as a baptizer.

9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

As Paul says in Romans, every person is given the light of general revelation.  That light is a reflection of the source of light, Jesus.  In that sense, there has from the beginning of time been light coming into the world.  But now, with the announcement of John the Baptist, Jesus was coming physically into the world.  This is the “true” light.  The word translated “true” here means real, genuine, perfect, or substantial.  It is another key one in John’s Gospel.

The light was coming into the “world.”  Sometimes in John “world” means the physical creation.  Sometimes it means humanity.  Other times it refers to the systems of humanity, set up in disregard of and opposition to the will of God.

10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.

Here, the “world” probably has a couple of different intended meanings.  The glory of God is evident in the physical creation, but the system of humanity apart from the purposes of God chooses not to recognize that.

11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.

“He came to his own.”  The physical world is, after all His creation.  It does clearly belong to Him.  That is one meaning.  Another more specific one has to do with the Jewish nation.  The Jews are God’s own not only by creation, but by special choice.  They were Jesus’ people by birth and if anyone should have received the Word, it was them.  But by the time that John was writing, it was clear that the Jewish nation was not going to embrace Him as Messiah or Savior.

12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,

 For John, there is no difference between receiving and believing.  They are the same thing.  To receive/believe is again to rely upon, cleave to, trust in, depend upon.  “in His name” is in the real character of who/what He is.

Some translations say “power” to become children of God.  The word means a rightful authority.  To the remnant who gave the Word His rightful welcome when He came, He gave adoption/admission into God’s very family.

13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

The point is that the new birth is totally God’s provision and it’s not the same kind of thing as physical birth.  We don’t become children of God in the same way we get born into this world.  Kinship with God is not something that is passed down from our parents.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The Word “became” flesh.  There are lots of other ways that something like this could have been said, that would not have simultaneously preserved the fully deity and full humanity of Christ.  This is an expression that makes Christ fully human without making Him only a human.  The phrase rendered by the ESV “dwelt among us” means “tabernacled among us, set up His tent among us.”  It ought to remind us of the tabernacle that God ordered built by the children of Israel in the desert.  That was a place where His visible presence dwelt, where His glory rested.  This is the fulfillment of that Old Testament picture.  The glory of God, His visible presence, dwelt in Jesus, right among us sinful people.

“We have seen His glory.”  The “we” is probably meant to be the Apostles and other first-hand witnesses.  John throughout His Gospel gives us first-hand eyewitness details that are meant to help us be firmly rooted in faith.  John is here asserting that what follows is authentic.  The “glory” probably includes the general excellence of the sinless life of Christ and His sacrifice on Calvary and triumph over death.  But it surely also has specific reference to His transfiguration, of which John was indeed an eyewitness.

“the only Son” is another clear reference to the deity of Christ.  No good Jew would use that kind of terminology about anyone but God Himself.  This One was “full of grace and truth.”  These two ideas are also central in John.  The assertion here is that Jesus is the wellspring of these things.  They pour originally from Him.

15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’ “)

John the Baptist understood his place.  He wasn’t the main attraction, but rather only the announcer for the main attraction.  He took pains in his preaching to make this clear. The “was before me” is literally “he was first in respect of me” i.e. he had absolute primacy over me.   John the Baptist understood the eternal preexistence of Christ.

16 And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

“from his ‘fullness'” is from the sum total of all that is in God.  Christ’s grace has spilled out on all people.  Whether people ultimately accept God’s offer of pardon or not, it is incredible mercy that is shown in that He offers us pardon, that He patiently awaits our repentance.

The phrase that the ESV renders “have received, grace upon grace” is apparently literally something like “have received love in place of love” or “have received grace instead of grace.”  Barclay suggests that it thus could also carry the idea that different circumstances of life call for different manifestations of grace.  We need one thing in times of prosperity and another in times of adversity.  We need one thing in our arrogance and another in our despair.  And all of these we receive through Christ.

17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

The law, given through Moses, was grace from God.  It shows us our sinfulness and rebellion against God and foreshadows in the sacrificial system God’s provision for our reconciliation to Him.  It was indeed grace coming from God.  But the grace that was revealed in Jesus was the fulfillment of the law.  It permanently and effectively dealt with our sin problem.  It is indeed love in place of love.  John now names the Word.  He’s talking about Jesus of Nazareth, One he knew in space and time.

18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

In the Old Testament there had been a few instances where people had been given a partial glimpse of God.  Moses glimpsed His backside as He passed by.  But no one had dared, so to speak, “to look God in the face.”   But Jesus, the only God, has entered the world of humans and has been for us the complete visual aid.  He showed us everything we need to know about the character and nature of God.  He has made God known to us, and this same Jesus is presently at the side of the Father.  There is a perfect man in the throne room of the universe!

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Colossians 1:15-23

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This lesson is from a series on the cross of Christ prepared by the elders of Grand Avenue Baptist Church in Ames, Iowa. It treats Colossians 1:15-23. An outline is:

  • Christ Preeminent (verses 15-19)
  • Alienation and Hostility (verse 21)
  • Peace Through the Blood of the Cross (verses 20, 22)
  • Steady Lives (verse 23)
  • Some Implications

We will consider the verses of the text in order, with the exception that we’ll handle verse 21 before verse 20. After making our way through the text, we’ll consider some further implications/applications of the wonderful truths that it teaches.

These verses of Colossians 1 constitute one of the grandest statements in all of Scripture about the identity of Jesus. They are fundamental Christology, central to orthodox historical Christian faith. Together with John 1 and Hebrews 1 they summarize a proper high view of Jesus. In particular, verses 15-19 expound the preeminence of Christ.

Colossians 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

He, Christ Jesus, is the “image of the invisible God.” The Greek word rendered “image” carries the ideas of both likeness and manifestation. The difference between the two is this. Human beings were created in the image of God. We were made to in some ways be a reflection of who He is. We were made to carry His likeness, as an image in a mirror. But you and I and all other humans are fallen. We fail to adequately represent Him. All that we are not, Jesus is. He is the manifestation or revelation of the invisible God. He perfectly represents and reveals God in a way that we can understand. Jesus is the perfect and only acceptable representation of God. Any other representation of the invisible God that we would look to is an idol.

Jesus is the “firstborn of all creation.” The English rendering “firstborn” makes us naturally think “child” and “first in time.” But the context of the passage (indeed already verse 16) and the rest of Scripture make it clear that this is not intended. The correct sense of the word “firstborn” is “supreme” in rank and dignity. The “firstborn” in a Jewish family held the honored position. Jesus is the honored One over all that is.

Colossians 1:16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authoritiesall things were created through him and for him.

Christ rightly holds this honored position over the universe, firstly because He is the ground or agent of creation. All created things owe their existence to Him. This is absolutely everything, visible and invisible, the totality of all creation. This includes every created being of any authority in the universe. As everything and everyone owe their existence to Christ, all is subordinate to Him. These all were made by Him.

Secondly, He is the goal or end of all creation. He is the ultimate goal of the whole universe. From start to finish, the whole created order is bound up in Christ. The 19th century English commentator Joseph Lightfoot said that “As all creation passed out from Him, so does it all again converge towards Him.” In Christ is the purpose of all creation. He is the end of all things. All things were created through and for Him. They were created for Him and presently exist to give Him glory. That’s true of all things and all living beings.

Colossians 1:17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Christ is preeminent by virtue of being both the source and object of creation. And there is more! It is He who holds creation together. All the laws and principles by which this world is ordered and is not chaotic are expressions of who He is. He is not only Creator and the final Goal of the universe, it is He who presently sustains it. It “coheres” in Him. It continues and is preserved in Him. Again quoting Lightfoot: “He impresses upon creation that unity and solidarity which makes it a cosmos instead of a chaos.” The universe begins, continues, and ends in the person of Christ. In Him it has form.

The foolishness of our time, when people dare to talk in terms of “Jesus being savior without being lord,” should strike us as obscene in light of these verses. It’s Him, from beginning to end and in the middle! Humans dare not talk or think in terms that make us independent of Him. It is through Him that the very world is sustained! His sustaining power is revealed not in that He somehow gives us a boost when we need it, but rather in our very existence!

Paul now turns from the relationship of Jesus to the natural creation to His relationship to the church.

Colossians 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.

He is the head of the body. He is supreme in the church. He is the One who guides and governs the church. No part of a human body can function or even exist without its head. No part of the church can truly function or exist independent of Christ. He is the controlling member of the church, and we have an organic dependence upon Him. It is He who gives life and causes the church to grow. He is both organic and ruling head of the church.

Christ’s place as Head of the church is as appropriate as His preeminence over creation. Verse 18 says He is the “beginning.” This Greek word is a substantial one, that means “first principle,” “source,” and “creative initiative,” and indicates priority in both time and rank. No Christ, no church. What makes this true? It is the crucifixion and resurrection. He was first in both time and position to rise permanently from the dead. And His resurrection guarantees that of His people, the church.

He is “firstborn” from the dead, and the wording used in verse 15 to describe Christ and the natural order, is used again here in 18 to describe His preeminence in the church. In both the creation of the physical world, and in the creation of the new covenant and a redeemed people, Jesus is the whole story. A new creation, the church, came into being by the same Person who spoke the physical world into being. And He is supreme in both rank and dignity among ones raised from the dead.

Colossians 1:19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,

A better rendering of verse 19 is probably “It pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell.” The meaning is that the Father delighted in the incarnation. The phrase “fullness of God” means “the totality of the divine powers and attributes.” Jesus is no semi-god. He is truly and completely God. Just as verses 16 and 17 explain the appropriateness of the preeminence of Christ in natural creation stated in verse 15, verses 19 and 20 (that we’ll come to in a few minutes) explain the appropriateness of the preeminence of Christ in the church (the assembly of those who have victory over death) that is stated in verse 18. His preeminence is appropriate in that He’s fully God, and in that by His work we are alive to God eternally.

Believers, this is our Faith. The Christ in whom we trust, is the second person of the Trinity, the ground of all being, the present Sustainer of all that is, the preeminent One in the universe, the preeminent One in the church. That should take our breath away. This is Christ Jesus.

What then is man’s natural relationship to Him? Look ahead to verse 21. Paul describes the Colossians before conversion.

Colossians 1:21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,

The natural state of man post-Genesis 3 is hostility toward God. The tense of “were alienated” here emphasizes that the state is a continuous one. Unregenerate humans are continually alienated from God and hostile in mind. It’s not isolated small inadvertent errors under discussion, but a consistent condition of alienation and hostility accompanied by evil deeds (acts contrary to the will of God).

Many are unrealistic/un-Scriptural about this truth in the 21st century, wishing to assume that people are generally interested in and are looking for God. But humans by and large are not looking for God. The Bible says that humans are in rebellion, doing things their own way, hostile toward God in their constant thinking. Humans are largely hiding from God. People will take a bit of a neutered tame “god,” that can be controlled and manipulated. But a God who is the center of all that is? That’s a different matter. The children in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles had to learn that Aslan was no tame lion. We must learn that God is no tame “god.”

Verses 15-19 are glorious truth for the redeemed soul, but they leave no room for you or me at the center of the universe. They are thus an affront to fallen human pride and presumptuous independence. They don’t even leave room for you or me to somehow carve out some little piece of the universe where God is not relevant and we can do as we please. The Psalmist said

Psalm 139:7 Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?

He is present in and real Lord over all that is.

Verses 15-19 leave no room for us to establish our own righteousness and legitimate place in His presence. What God requires of those who are to dwell happily with Him is to love Him and be like Him. What is required is genuine goodness. The written Law of God teaches us some of how genuine goodness behaves and doesn’t behave. It cannot be exhaustive, covering every circumstance in all of life, and it need not be exhaustive in order to accomplish its purpose. It is enough to show us that we are not good and cannot possibly make ourselves so. If we do on occasion manage to keep the letter of God’s law, we fail in spirit. There’s no point in pleading innocence on murder when Jesus tells us that anger is murder. There’s no point in pleading innocence on adultery when Jesus tells us that lust is adultery. There’s not one of us that is innocent of covetousness. And when Jesus summarizes the intent and heart of the law and prophets as loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul mind, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves, we are completely undone. We don’t love either God or others more than ourselves. In our natural post-Genesis 3 state we are not lovers of God, but haters. In Romans 1 Paul put it this way:

Romans 1:28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.

Romans 1:29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips,

Romans 1:30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,

Romans 1:31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

Romans 1:32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Humans are as Paul describes the former lives of the Colossians, alienated and hostile. We are rebels at war with God. In light of the glorious truths about Christ expressed in verses 15-19, we are fools fighting a self-destructive futile battle against the absolutely perfect central figure of all existence.

What then can possibly save a person from complete and utter loss? Thank God for the cross! Look now at verse 20. (For making a complete sentence, I’ll start again with verse 19.)

(Colossians 1:19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,)

Colossians 1:20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

It pleased the Father that in Him all fullness should dwell … and (it pleased the Father) through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, making peace by the blood of His cross. The Father was pleased for Christ to make peace for us through the cross. It’s the cross of Christ that makes possible a happy end of humanity’s futile war against God. How does the insolent rebel lay down arms and receive welcome into fellowship with the Sovereign King that he has completely disrespected? For there to be peace with God, something profound must happen. There is real guilt to be atoned for, deep wrongs to be forgiven, and, in fact, there is an entire world to be set right. Because of the fall, not only are humans alienated from God, but the whole of creation is out of whack and waiting anxiously for its redemption. Hear Romans 8:19-22.

Romans 8:19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.

Romans 8:20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope

Romans 8:21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Romans 8:22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

Here in Colossians 1:20 we are taught that the setting right of all things is a product of the reconciliation of humans to God. The Father was pleased to provide this in Christ, in the shedding of His blood on the cross. In the cross alone is there reconciliation between God and man. It’s “through Him.” There is no other source, nor need for any other source. How are you and I and the whole creation reconciled to Him? How is there peace with God? It is by the blood of the cross.

In light of this truth, the post-modern “pluralistic” story that “all religions are equally nice (or un-nice) and Jesus and so and so were both good teachers” is completely silly. Verse 20 is either true or false. Jesus is either our only peace with God through the blood of His cross, and is all in all, or He’s not. And if He is, He alone is worthy of our attention.

(Colossians 1:21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,)

Colossians 1:22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,

We who were continually alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has in His body of flesh, by His death, reconciled. He’s made peace for us and all creation. For what end? For what purpose? He has worked to “present us holy and blameless and above reproach.” His intent and good pleasure is to make us fit for His presence. No laboring to keep a finite set of rules could possibly do that in and for us. In Christ, by His sacrifice, we are no longer under the curse of failing to fully keep God’s perfect will, some of which is laid out in the written law. Jesus, our substitute, bore our guilt on the cross and gave us His genuine righteousness, His genuine goodness. There is Peace and there is holiness, real goodness, through the cross and only through the cross.

This righteousness/real goodness is not yet complete in behavior, but is complete in position. He presents us holy/sacred/separated and blameless/without blemish, above reproach/irreproachable in the sense of not being open to any charge. He has in principle already made us holy, made us genuinely good. He’s presently changing our behavior and affections and making us holy, making us genuinely good.   And we can have confidence that He in the future will finish this good work for eternity.

Paul now comments briefly on the kind of lives this should produce. He says that “He (God) has reconciled us

Colossians 1:23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Those living in the gracious reconciliation provided in the cross of Christ, will be stable and steadfast in the Christian faith. The Gospel will be the constant center of their attention. They will cling to the mercy shown them in Jesus. The cross of Christ will be the frame of all their thinking, and speaking, and doing. It will wholly govern their hearts. They won’t be distracted or moved from its contemplation. Their entire hope will be in the work of Christ. They will live in the “hope of the Gospel that (they) have heard.” They will live steady sound lives in the Gospel.

Having poured over this passage, let’s conclude by considering some things that it should do in us. Knowing about it, without letting it work in us, would be pointless. So here are some applications. I am sure you will find others as you meditate on the passage in the next couple of days.

In light of Colossians 1:15-23: Let us wonder at the majesty and glory of the Son of God. It is true that He’s a friend and a constant companion. But let us not treat Him as common or familiar. Let us maintain a proper awe and reverence for Him. This One who made peace for us with God is the Creator and Sustainer of all that is. He’s the beginning and the end of all things. Let us wonder at His majesty.

In light of Colossians 1:15-23: Let us be realistic (Biblical) about ourselves, constantly grateful, and always generous. Let us constantly remember that we were by nature and choice haters of God, rebels without any hope, and that it pleased the Father that the majestic preeminent Son of God should die in our place, giving us peace with Him through the blood of the cross. Therefore, let us be both humble and full of His praise. Let us be as gracious with each other as He has been with us.

In light of Colossians 1:15-23: Let us hate our sin. There is a fine old hymn called “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted.” It begins “Stricken, smitten, and afflicted, see Him dying on a tree” speaking of Christ. One of its verses is then:

Ye who think of sin but lightly
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed,
See who bears the awful load;
‘Tis the Word, the Lord’s anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God.

We see on the cross the guilt and weight of our sin. It is so awful that only the cross of the preeminent Christ could make peace for us. Let us hate it.

In light of Colossians 1:15-23: Let us be realistic (Biblical) about others and their condition. Let us plead for mercy for the souls of those still without the peace of the cross. Parents, let us plead daily for the salvation of our children. Grandparents, let us plead daily for the salvation of our grandchildren. Believers, let us all pray constantly that God would grant repentance and true faith to both those we know and care about, and to those we’ve never met, to the praise of His name.

In light of Colossians 1:15-23: Let us be steady and settled, anxious about nothing. Let us be joyful in the Faith. The cross is not only the imperative that we continue stable and steadfast, it is the means by which we can do so. If the very Creator and Sustainer of the universe died on the cross to secure peace with God for us, what is there to fear? What else does He need to do to show us that in Him all is well? Let us take heart and take comfort in the blood of the cross. Let us live in the joy of the peace of the cross.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Hebrews 1:1-2:4

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This is a lesson not in the current ISSL cycle.  It, like lessons from Colossians 1 and John 1, concerns a passage providing a grand and substantial statement of who Christ is.  The passage is important basic historical orthodox Christology.

The best guess is that the letter to the Hebrews was written fairly early, before the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 AD.  It is pretty clearly written to Jewish Christians, some of whom seem tempted to throw over their faith in Christ as Messiah and Savior and return to Judaism.  As the author carefully lays out the foolishness of such a move in light of what really is, he gives us a rich statement of the absolute superiority of Christ in every realm of life and in comparison to every being and institution.  The book thus stands as a pivotal link between the Old and New Testaments, explaining clearly and comprehensively who Christ is and what it is that He has done for us.

The first four verses of Hebrews constitute a single sentence in the Greek, that powerfully introduces the author’s thesis of the comprehensive superiority of Christ.

Hebrews 1:1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 

Note first that it is God who is the subject of this sentence.  It is He that has spoken.  It is He who is the beginning point.  Had He remained silent, you and I would be in a world of hurt, in darkness and confusion, with no means of sanity or light.  But God spoke.  It’s not that man reasoned and inquired, but that God spoke.

The author jumps right to his thesis, and it is one of both continuity and discontinuity.  Contrary to post-modern thinking, what happened in the past is relevant.  God spoke in the past.  That’s relevant to now, but incomplete, says the author.  The Old Testament is full of examples of “at many times and in many ways.”  There was the preaching of Noah and the flood, the dream of Joseph, the burning bush in the desert and the plagues on Egypt, the still small voice to Elijah after the storm, the prophetic acts of Jeremiah, Ezekiel lying on his left side for 390 days, etc., etc., etc.  Indeed God spoke in many different ways and at many different times.  Those were all relevant, but incomplete.

2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 

“in these last days” means much more than just “recently.”  The sense we should have in light of the usage of this kind of language in the Old Testament is “once for all at the consummation of the ages,” the final and complete revelation is in His Son.  That is not to downplay the importance or relevance or trueness of the things that God spoke to the forefathers, but the fact is that the revelation of Jesus is something else entirely.  All that went before pointed ahead to Jesus.  Jesus points ahead to no one.  Instead, He reveals the Father as clearly as He can be revealed to us humans. F.F. Bruce said “The progression is one from promise to fulfillment …”

Think about what we should hear in the language/word choice here.  In the phrase “his Son” we ought to hear “of the same essence.”  Prophets are creatures like you and me.  A “Son” is of the same nature as the Father.  As “heir,” all things exist for Him.  But it is not as if Christ is somehow going to come into these things when the Father gets tired and decides to retire.  Instead Christ was intimately involved in the creation of all that is.  It’s been His from the start!  That is, He is “through whom he also created the world.”

The next verse goes on to say a series of magnificent things about the Son, things that make it abundantly clear that while there is continuity with the former things, Jesus is something else entirely.

3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 

He is the radiance of God’s glory.  This is the outshining of God’s glory.  His brilliance visible to us.  The picture is that of light bursting from a brilliant lamp, and that light is God’s.  This person Jesus is being described as the dazzling shining forth of the one true and living God.  Remember that this is almost surely before 70 AD and the author already sees clearly the eternal deity of Christ in a way that ought to completely silence skeptical modern liberal theologians.

He is the exact imprint of His nature.  The picture here is that of a stamp and a corresponding impression.  As far as you and I are concerned, if we have seen the impression, we know what the stamp looks like.  We shouldn’t push this figure further than is intended.  There is not a sense in which the Father is the original and the Son is a derivative from Him.  That’s not what’s being said.  Rather, the emphasis is on the perfection of Christ’s representation of the Father to us.  He is the exact representation and embodiment of what the Father is.  To see Christ is to see what the Father is like.

He upholds the universe by the word of His power/by His enabling word.  This is not the pagan picture of a “god” like Atlas with the world on shoulder.  This is the Biblical picture of Christ holding together the very essence of all that is (as in Colossians 1:17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.)  The Jews knew much more clearly than modern man that if God for a micro-second ceased to work at sustaining the universe, it would cease to be.  This is miles from the deist/clock-maker picture of God and His creation.  And it is Jesus the crucified and risen Messiah who is seen to be at work in this.

“after making purification for sins …”  We pass from what Christ has done and is in the cosmos to what He’s done and is in relation to mankind.  The Greek tense here is such that this is to be understood as a finished and complete work.  It’s done.  Glory to God!  Every halfway honest human being must face this matter somehow.  We’re guilty and we know it.  And the author says of the Son that He has made provision for our most fundamental need, not only to somehow escape wrath, but to be made genuinely right and pure.  The Son has made that possible.

He sat down at the right hand of majesty on high.  Jesus, God’s final Word to us, His work completed, now sits in the place of highest honor in heaven.  He is our seated high priest and king.  The Aaronic priests would still be standing, their work incomplete, in fact never capable of being complete.  Jesus of Nazareth, eternal Son of God, born a human being of the Virgin Mary, Messiah, crucified and risen, now is in the place of highest honor in heaven, figuratively seated, His salvation work done.  There is a wonderful contrast in this verse.  Jesus is ceaselessly the radiance of God’s glory, He continuously upholds the universe by the word of His power, but He once for all at a single point in time gave Himself for your salvation and mine, and that work completely finished, He sat down.  His cry on the cross was “It is finished.”

4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

This sounds strange to us because we really think very little about angels.  But the Jews held them in highest regard.  For one thing, they held that angels were somehow intermediaries in the giving of the law.  The point here is that both by virtue of who Christ has been from before the beginning of time and by virtue of what He has done in time and space, Jesus is infinitely superior to both human prophets (verse 1) and angels.  Angels are messengers of God in both name and function.  Christ is God.  There simply is no comparison.

Again we should not hear the “having become” and “inherited” to imply that in the past Christ was inferior to beings He created.  That is a silly impossibility.  The emphasis is on what is now evident.

The “name” here is almost certainly “Son.”  What is greater, to be God’s Son or to be a created being like a man or an angel?

5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”?

The writer begins a series of Old Testament quotes.  The first is Psalm 2:7 I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.  This was understood by early Christians to be Messianic, to apply to David and the son of David, God’s Messiah … on the other hand, it cannot apply to an angel.  The “I have begotten” might originally have referred to the coronation of David.  In the present context, it may refer to the incarnation or the resurrection.  It certainly does not refer to any kind of creation, and the fundamental intent is to show the present relationship as superior to that of a Creator/creature relationship.

The second quote of the verse comes from 2 Samuel 7:14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.  The original context is God promising to build David an everlasting dynasty.  Again, here the emphasis is the relationship of the Father to the Son.  It is one of sameness of essence.

6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”  

This is in all likelihood a reference to the birth of Christ.  The right place of angels at the birth of Christ was to worship.  On the other hand, some commentators think that the reference is to the 2nd coming and that a better rendering here might be “And when he again brings …” Either way, God’s angels and all of us ought to worship Christ.

7 Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.”

“he makes his angels …”  Angels were created, created to serve.  The Son’s place is different.  He is to rule.  Creatures serve, the Son, of the same essence as the Father, rules.

8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.

9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

The quote in verses 8 and 9 is exactly Psalm 45:6-7  Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;

Messiah’s kingdom, the kingdom of Christ, is forever and ever.  It is beyond the realm and influence of time.  It is not subject to change or decay.

Messiah’s kingdom is characterized by righteousness and uprightness.  It’s the hallmark of Christ’s reign.  Why?  Because righteousness is central to His nature and His affection.  He loves righteousness.  It’s who He is.  The One who perfectly fulfilled the law, of necessity hates lawlessness.  He is personally the embodiment of righteousness, and both the Father and the Son take great  joy in the Son’s perfection and vindication of uprightness.

10 And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands;

11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment,

12 like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.”

Verses 10-12 are a quote from Psalm 102:25-27  Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,  27but you are the same, and your years have no end.  In the original context this description concerns the Father.  The writer of Hebrews applies the verses to the Son.  He understands, with John, that the Son was there at creation, that the Son is eternal, that the universe is passing, but the One who made it is “the same,” that He is unshakable and unchangeable.  We are to understand that that which is created is simply not in the class of its Creator.

13 And to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?

This is a quote of Psalm 110:1 The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”  The picture here is one of enthronement, sovereignty, and absolute power.  It is not a picture rightly applied to any created being, including an angel.  At no time are angels ever seen as sitting.  Rather, they are at work serving.  Christ is thus superior.  It is this Psalm to which Jesus alluded at His trial and which allusion was condemned as blasphemy.  Mark 14:62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

14 Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?

The contrast is between angels presently at work carrying out the will of the Father on the behalf of men and women, and the Son, His work of redemption completed, sitting at the right hand of the Father.

2:1 Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 

2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 

The argument here is that if, properly enough, a Jew would pay attention to the Jewish law and religion, how much more should he pay attention to the salvation provided by God in Christ.  We must pay closer attention, lest we drift away from it.  Our fallen hearts tell us that we can coast, that we can rest this side of the grave, that things really don’t have to be taken all that seriously.  But that simply isn’t true.  If the picture of Christ that the writer has painted is at all correct, we dare not be indifferent.

3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 

4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on John 1:1-18

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This is a lesson not on the current ISSL schedule.  It concerns the prologue to John’s Gospel, a magnificent statement concerning the nature of Christ.  The passage provides basic historical orthodox Christology.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

This should remind us of Genesis 1.  John is intentionally paralleling the opening verses of Genesis describing how God brought the world into being.  But in fact, the beginning John is talking about here is before the beginning of Genesis 1.  Before God began to create the world, before the beginning of time, there was the Word.

“Word” carries the meaning of God’s creative power.

Psalm 33:6a  By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,

It also carries the meaning of God’s revelation.  The Scriptures have always been known as His “Word.”  God’s Word has been thought of as His personified wisdom that is coeternal with Him and assisting in the creation.  (See, e.g. Proverbs 8:1, 22-30.)  The Greeks thought of the Word or “logos” as the orderly principles that govern the universe.  All of these meanings are there, but John is speaking of a person who, it becomes obvious as we read on, is Jesus.

“was the Word”  The Greek tense is one that indicates continuation.  The phrase then essentially says “the Word that is now was the Word before creation began.”

This “Word was with God.”  This person is in some sense separate from the Father.  Otherwise, the “with” makes no sense.  The New English Bible renders it “What God was, the Word was.”

But it is also true that this person (that is at one with the Father in purpose, and has been with the Father from eternity) is God.  This is a strong clear statement of the deity of Christ right up front in the book of John.  It is so fundamental that the cults almost always do some strange and unwarranted thing to make this verse something other than it is, a grand statement of the mystery of the Trinity.  For example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses add an “a” (that isn’t there or implied in the Greek construction) to make Jesus some supposedly lesser god (with a little “g”).

F.F. Bruce said of verse 1, “John intends that the whole of his Gospel be read in the light of this verse.  The deeds and the words of Jesus are the deeds and the words of God; if this is not true, the book is blasphemous.”

2 He was in the beginning with God.

3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Genesis says that God created.  John tells us that Christ was the agent of creation.  These verses were especially pointed in late 1st century when they were written.  The Gnostic heretics were maintaining that matter was inherently evil, that only “spirit” was good.  They had invented a theology of creation where matter was brought into being by some evil force, not God.  John plainly refutes that.  He reaffirms what Genesis 1:31 says.  God created the physical universe and it was good.  He insists that it was the person Jesus whom he knew as a human being who was the One who created all things.

4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

Here are two more of the important words/themes of John: “life” and “light.”

Self-existent life was in Him from before time (not the derived life that you and I have from Him as creatures).  Christ breathed physical life into man at the beginning, and John tells us as the book goes on that Jesus brings new life, abundant life, eternal life.

Eternal life, forgiveness of sin, is the light, the illumination that the Word brings into our sin-darkened lives even now.

5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

In Genesis 1:2 God spoke light into being, scattering the physical darkness.  Light is essential for vision.  It is essential to life.  Darkness is not something fundamental in itself, it is rather the absence of light.  When light comes, it shatters the darkness.  Darkness never ever triumphs over light.  Bringing a candle into a dark room never puts out the candle, rather the candle lights the room.

“The darkness has not overcome it.”  The light of Christ, God’s Word to man, is not in jeopardy from man who is running around with his eyes closed.  “overcome” could also be translated “understood.”  If man insists on keeping his eyes closed and rejecting the light that God has provided, there will be no real understanding of the way things really are.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

John the Apostle now refers to John the Baptist.  Note the contrast between the way that John talks about John the Baptist and how he talks about Jesus.   Jesus is the Word that was with God in the beginning with God and was God.  John the Baptist is simply a human being sent by God to do the job of a herald.  It was an important job (one commissioned by God) but there is no comparison whatsoever between the two persons.

It is worth noting that the “was” in this verse this is a different word than in verse 1.  This is a created “was” and not an eternally existent “was.”

7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.

The words “witness” and “bear witness” or “testify” are common in John’s Gospel.  They have a legal ring to them.  They are much more common in John than in the other Gospels.  (John uses “witness” 14 times, the other Gospels only 4 times total.  John uses the word “testify” 33 times.)   John says that John the Baptist came as a witness so that we might believe.  The word “believe” is central in the Gospel of John.  It’s used 98 times in the book.  The meaning is to adhere to, trust in, rely upon, abandon oneself to God.

8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The Apostle is anxious to see that we don’t mess this up.  John the Baptizer is not the star of this show.  If he or we have any place of importance, it is in pointing to Jesus.  Properly understood, the Gospel leaves no place for Christian “celebrities,” including John the Baptist.  This Gospel stresses John’s role as a witness over his role as a baptizer.

9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

As Paul says in Romans, every person is given the light of general revelation.  That light is a reflection of the source of light, Jesus.  In that sense, there has from the beginning of time been light coming into the world.  But now, with the announcement of John the Baptist, Jesus was coming physically into the world.  This is the “true” light.  The word translated “true” here means real, genuine, perfect, or substantial.  It is another key one in John’s Gospel.

The light was coming into the “world.”  Sometimes in John “world” means the physical creation.  Sometimes it means humanity.  Other times it refers to the systems of humanity, set up in disregard of and opposition to the will of God.

10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.

Here, the “world” probably has a couple of different intended meanings.  The glory of God is evident in the physical creation, but the system of humanity apart from the purposes of God chooses not to recognize that.

11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.

“He came to his own.”  The physical world is, after all His creation.  It does clearly belong to Him.  That is one meaning.  Another more specific one has to do with the Jewish nation.  The Jews are God’s own not only by creation, but by special choice.  They were Jesus’ people by birth and if anyone should have received the Word, it was them.  But by the time that John was writing, it was clear that the Jewish nation was not going to embrace Him as Messiah or Savior.

12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,

 For John, there is no difference between receiving and believing.  They are the same thing.  To receive/believe is again to rely upon, cleave to, trust in, depend upon.  “in His name” is in the real character of who/what He is.

Some translations say “power” to become children of God.  The word means a rightful authority.  To the remnant who gave the Word His rightful welcome when He came, He gave adoption/admission into God’s very family.

13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

The point is that the new birth is totally God’s provision and it’s not the same kind of thing as physical birth.  We don’t become children of God in the same way we get born into this world.  Kinship with God is not something that is passed down from our parents.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The Word “became” flesh.  There are lots of other ways that something like this could have been said, that would not have simultaneously preserved the fully deity and full humanity of Christ.  This is an expression that makes Christ fully human without making Him only a human.  The phrase rendered by the ESV “dwelt among us” means “tabernacled among us, set up His tent among us.”  It ought to remind us of the tabernacle that God ordered built by the children of Israel in the desert.  That was a place where His visible presence dwelt, where His glory rested.  This is the fulfillment of that Old Testament picture.  The glory of God, His visible presence, dwelt in Jesus, right among us sinful people.

“We have seen His glory.”  The “we” is probably meant to be the Apostles and other first-hand witnesses.  John throughout His Gospel gives us first-hand eyewitness details that are meant to help us be firmly rooted in faith.  John is here asserting that what follows is authentic.  The “glory” probably includes the general excellence of the sinless life of Christ and His sacrifice on Calvary and triumph over death.  But it surely also has specific reference to His transfiguration, of which John was indeed an eyewitness.

“the only Son” is another clear reference to the deity of Christ.  No good Jew would use that kind of terminology about anyone but God Himself.  This One was “full of grace and truth.”  These two ideas are also central in John.  The assertion here is that Jesus is the wellspring of these things.  They pour originally from Him.

15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’ “)

John the Baptist understood his place.  He wasn’t the main attraction, but rather only the announcer for the main attraction.  He took pains in his preaching to make this clear. The “was before me” is literally “he was first in respect of me” i.e. he had absolute primacy over me.   John the Baptist understood the eternal preexistence of Christ.

16 And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

“from his ‘fullness'” is from the sum total of all that is in God.  Christ’s grace has spilled out on all people.  Whether people ultimately accept God’s offer of pardon or not, it is incredible mercy that is shown in that He offers us pardon, that He patiently awaits our repentance.

The phrase that the ESV renders “have received, grace upon grace” is apparently literally something like “have received love in place of love” or “have received grace instead of grace.”  Barclay suggests that it thus could also carry the idea that different circumstances of life call for different manifestations of grace.  We need one thing in times of prosperity and another in times of adversity.  We need one thing in our arrogance and another in our despair.  And all of these we receive through Christ.

17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

The law, given through Moses, was grace from God.  It shows us our sinfulness and rebellion against God and foreshadows in the sacrificial system God’s provision for our reconciliation to Him.  It was indeed grace coming from God.  But the grace that was revealed in Jesus was the fulfillment of the law.  It permanently and effectively dealt with our sin problem.  It is indeed love in place of love.  John now names the Word.  He’s talking about Jesus of Nazareth, One he knew in space and time.

18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

In the Old Testament there had been a few instances where people had been given a partial glimpse of God.  Moses glimpsed His backside as He passed by.  But no one had dared, so to speak, “to look God in the face.”   But Jesus, the only God, has entered the world of humans and has been for us the complete visual aid.  He showed us everything we need to know about the character and nature of God.  He has made God known to us, and this same Jesus is presently at the side of the Father.  There is a perfect man in the throne room of the universe!

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.