Your Savior – was He man, God, or what? Where did He come from? How did He get here? Was He really divine? Could it be true that Christ and the God of the Old Testament are one and the same person? Many have asked these most basic of all questions. Here from the book of John are the answers.
Most all human beings either have or have had a “best friend,” or a “closest buddy,” someone with whom they share a side of themselves seldom seen by others.
Though Christ loved all men, He was especially close to His disciple John. The apostle himself revealed this warm relationship in his own gospel. He is a bit bashful about mentioning himself in the first person – although he wasn’t at all hesitant about mentioning the other disciples by name.
He is the only one of Christ’s biographers who was bold enough to point out Simon Peter as the man who severed the servant’s ear during Jesus’ arrest in the garden (John 18:10). Yet he never mentions himself by name in his entire book; when he writes of “John,” he refers to John the Baptist.
At His last Passover, “Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, ’I tell you the truth; one of you is going to betray me.’ His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclaiming next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciples and said, ‘Ask him which one be means’ (John 13:21-24). Who was this “disciple whom Jesus loved”?
Some days after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, Peter engaged in an extended discourse with the risen Christ. Concluding the conversation, “Peter turned and saw following them the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast, at the (last Passover) supper and had said, ‘Lord who is it that is going to betray you?’ When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord what about this man?” Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain (alive) until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’” (John 21:20-22).
Verse 24 then reveals the identity of this disciple and future apostle: “This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true.” This could be none other than the author of “the gospel according to John.” John remained alive to write the book of Revelation long after Peter’s martyrdom. Apparently John was the only apostle whose life did not end in martyrdom. It is thought that, although imprisoned, he was allowed to live out his last day in relative peace on the Isle of Patmos.
John was also favored to be among the small inner circle of disciples who witnessed a foretaste of the Kingdom of God in vision. “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart” (Matt. 17:1). There they saw Jesus transfigured before them with Moses and Elijah.
It was also John who was the first disciple to believe Christ had risen from the dead. Shortly after Christ’s resurrection Mary Magdalene came and saw that the tomb was empty. “So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved” (John 20:2). John outran Simon Peter and went in first (vs. 3-7). “Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed” (v. 8).
Perhaps in part because of his special closeness to Jesus, John was given of God a deeper and broader understanding of his Savior. Matthew, Mark and Luke each begin their “mini biographies” of Jesus with an account of John the Baptist or with the conception of the human Jesus.
But John’s beginning pre-dates even the events in the Old Testament: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God: all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:1-3). Verse 14 explains who this “Word” was: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we (the disciples) have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” Jesus Christ is the only heavenly Being who ever became a fleshly human being and lived in this world.
These very few verses tell us a great deal about the nature of Jesus Christ:
He was God;
He was with another Being called God from the very beginning;
He as the “Word” (Greek Logos) or Spokesman for the Father (“No one has ever seen God,” meaning the other Being called God, verse 18).
John’s first letter and two of Paul’s epistles provide us with an excellent commentary on these beginning scriptures in the 4th gospel. As if of habit, John begins his first epistle with “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life, the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (I John 1:1-3).
This letter, as the first verses of John’s Gospel, makes it plain that the Being with whom they had lived, worked, played, swam and fished with was none other than a member of the Godhead, with, and like God the Father.
The apostle Paul wrote: “He (the Father) has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son (Jesus Christ), in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the first- born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things” (Col. 1:13-17; compare with Eph. 3:9). Paul here points out the broad and massive extent of the work and authority of the pre-human Christ.
John emphasizes over and over again, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the pre-existence of Christ as God before His human birth. It is a prominent theme running throughout his entire Gospel. Notice it again in the very first chapter. “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not” (John 1:10). If He made the world, then He preceded His own creation. Yet when He came in the human flesh, the vast majority of those who had the opportunity to know Him rejected their own Creator.
John the Baptist picks up this same theme. “John bore witness to him, and cried,’ This was he of whom I said, He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me’” (John 1:15). Was the Baptist indulging in some kind of spiritual doubletalk here? No! John the Baptist was begotten and born into the human flesh before Jesus was (Luke 1:35-36; 57-60). But Jesus was God long before John was ever conceived. The Baptist repeats it in verse 30:”After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.”
John revealed that Christ possessed powers that no normal human being had, although He was certainly subject to the pulls and temptations of the flesh (Heb. 4:15).
When Christ called Nathanael to a discipleship (and future apostleship),”Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Nathanael said to him, ‘How do you know me?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’ Nathanael answered him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God!’ Jesus answered him, ‘Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things (miracles) than these’” (John 1:47-50).
Notice also the last three verses of John, chapter two. “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in his name when they saw his signs which he did; but Jesus did not trust himself to them, because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man” (vs. 23-25). Christ the Creator had made mankind and He knew all about people’s human weaknesses.
John knew Jesus’ true origin. Quoting Christ Himself, John 3:13 declares: “No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man.” John continues this theme in the second half of the chapter: “He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth belongs to the earth, and of the earth he speaks; he who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one (the vast majority) receives his testimony; he (only a few) who receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for it is not by measure that he gives the Spirit” (vs. 30-34).
While Jesus Christ was yet in heaven (before His human birth), our Savior saw and heard the message that He later spoke on earth. Here, in a conversation with the religious leaders of His generation, He said: “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from (heaven) and where I am going (heaven)” (John 8:14). He continues in verse 23 and 28: “You are from below, I am from above, you are of this world, I am not of this world. When you have lifted up (put to death) the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me.”
Backtracking to verse 26, “but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” Verse 38: “I speak of what I have seen with my Father.” Verse 42: “I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.”
In this very long dialogue of Jesus, the Pharisees brought up the subject of Abraham (the greatest of Jewish national heroes). Jesus explained to them: “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad” (v. 56). The One who became Christ actually walked and talked with Abraham (Gen. 12:1-4; 13:14-18; 17:1-22; 18:1-33; 22:1-2). Of course, these religionists simply didn’t grasp what Jesus was saying. “The Jews then said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am’” (vs. 57-58).
Jesus Christ was the same God who walked and talked with Moses in the wilderness – the same “I Am” (Ex. 3:14) who brought the children of Israel out of Egypt. Paul makes this plain. “I want you to know, brethren that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the (Red) sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. For they drank from the same supernatural Rock which followed them, and the (‘that,’) Rock was Christ” (I Corth. 10:1-4).
This same Personage in the Godhead presided over the Flood in Noah’s day. Peter gives us the facts: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also he (Christ) went and preached unto the spirits (demons) in prison; which sometime were longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a-preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water” (I Peter 3:18-20).
But we find the most emphatic statements about the pre-existence of Jesus Christ in the book of John. The book’s major emphasis is on the undeniable fact that Jesus Christ was God before His human birth. Even the Pharisee Nicodemus said to Jesus: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God” (John 3:2).
Jesus told the leaders of this smallish sect: “My Father works hitherto, and I work. Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:17-18). If you have sons or daughters, they are on the same plane and level of existence as yourself. They are not inferior beings like animals. Jesus was equal with God in the sense that He existed on the same God-plane that the Father did. True, the Father was and is greater in authority – “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).
Continuing His discussion with the Pharisees, Christ drove home the point that He was indeed God’s Son: “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all that he himself is doing; and greater works than these will he show him, that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will” (John 5:19-21). Jesus possesses the same powers that the Father does, because He too is God.
Christ said: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Not that they are the same Being, but they are one in purpose, one in plan, and most of all, one in the sense that they are members of the same God family. If anyone in that generation saw Jesus, they saw how One in the God family would act if He were here on earth – and specially the Father. “And Jesus cried out and said, ‘He who believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And he who sees me sees him who sent me’” (John 12:44-45).
We have firmly established the fact that Jesus was God before His human birth. Notice just one more verse to that effect: “And now, Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made” (John 17:5). Jesus was a glorified God-Being before he ever was a man on earth. In fact, Jesus has eternally existed as God. But He divested Himself of His former glory and came down to this earth as a human being to (among many other things) die for the sins of all mankind. Paul wrote to the Philippian brethren: “Have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a stake” (Phil 2:5-8).
Paul then brings out the fact that Jesus is now restored to His former glory (vs. 9-11). John also wrote of Jesus’ resuming His Godship. Notice Christ’s words in the true Lord’s Prayer: “And now I am no more in the world, and I come to thee” (John 17:11).
Earlier Jesus had said to His disciples: “What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?” (John 6:62.) Later they did see just that (Acts 1:9). Notice John 7:33: “Then said Jesus unto them, Yet a little while am I with you, and then I go unto him that sent me.”
Concerning the occasion of Christ’s last Passover, John begins: “Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was (very soon to) come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father” (John 13:1). John repeats this vital theme over and over again, “I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again I leave the world and go to the Father” (John 16:28).
Jesus was God before His human birth; He was God in the flesh while a human being here on earth; and He is now very God at the right hand of the Father in heaven. But must we stop there in our knowledge?
Jesus said to Mary Magdalene: “Tough me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (John 20:17).
In this verse, Jesus was equating Himself (though He was their Lord and Master – John 13:13) with His disciples and future apostles. What is the real significance of this statement? Christ Himself gives us the answer in John 10. “The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘We stone you for no good works, but for blasphemy; because you, being a man make yourself God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your law, “I said, you are gods” Ps. 82:6. If he called them gods to whom the word of God came (and scripture can’t be broken), do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming,” because I said, “I am the Son of God”’?” (Vs. 31-36.) This very vital passage of scripture reveals, believe it or not, that man’s ultimate destiny is to become a part of the God Family.
Notice John’s first letter once again: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he (Christ) shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (I John 3:2). Can you grasp what John is saying here? Even as God became man, so man may become God! The two planes are interchangeable under certain conditions.
Man is to become just as much God as Christ is God. That in a nutshell is the transcendent purpose of human life!
What can every man and woman do to ensure that this wonderful event does indeed happen to them? Verse 3: “And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he (Christ) is pure.”
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