The gospel of John starts with a descriptive illustration of God's word going out from creation.
John 1:1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2. The same was in the beginning with God. 3. All things were made through him. Without him was not anything made that has been made. 4. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn't overcome*n it. WEB
The language of this passage is challenging, and takes same thought to understand the meaning. For normal objects, the statements "A was with B" and also that "A was B" would seem to be inconsistent, so we are not looking for a precisely literal meaning, but rather one that is using language in an illustrative way.
In order to broaden the understanding, we can look at other sections of the Bible with similar concepts and language. A very obvious connection is to the very opening words of the Bible in Genesis 1:1,
Genesis 1:1: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2. Now the earth was formless and empty. Darkness was on the surface of the deep. God's Spirit was hovering over the surface of the waters. 3. God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. WEB
John 1:1 appears to have a reference to Gen 1:1 in using the phrase"in the beginning", so it is worth thinking of it against that context. In Gen 1, the process of creation was expressed in the form of "God said, ..." This ties in well with the idea of "the word". In Genesis we see that the process of creation was signalled words, and in particular, the words of God. That means that the word of God was there right from the beginning.
2. The Word over Time
By looking through the rest of the chapter, we can see the significance of the word of God. Initially, it was used in the creation process, but then that same word continued to have a role in the world.
In v6, we see John introducing himself as a messenger coming to speak the word of God to the world as a witness.
John 1:6: There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. 7. The same came as a witness, that he might testify about the light, that all might believe through him. WEB
John 1:14: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. NKJV
This is presented as a very special case of the word being revealed. For so long that word had been given by God through the scriptures and the prophets, but at that point, the word became available as a whole in a person. That person, quite obviously was Jesus, the son of God.
John 1:17: For the law was given through Moses. Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18. No one has seen God at any time. The one and only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him. WEB
Prior to that time, the law that had been given through Moses had been considered the definitive source of the word of God, but now there was another to rival that position. Jesus revealed a greater message, and a message of grace and truth. So much did Jesus represent the word of God, that he was the one who declared him. It was a sufficient substitute for being able to see God.
Some people have taken the statement of John 1:14 to indicate that “the word” in John 1 is precisely Jesus. That would require that Jesus lived right from before creation, but was known as “the word” up until the time of his birth. However, this is not logical in itself, and doesn't fit the progression of the revealing of the word through John 1.
Instead, in John, we would see it that God's word has been from the beginning, and revealed in many ways, starting with creation, and then through Moses and the prophets. In more recent times, his word has now been revealed through Jesus. There's nothing in this passage to suggest that the word is precisely Jesus any more than it is precisely the prophets.
The opening of the book of Hebrews his this same theme,
Hebrews 1:1: God, having in the past spoken to the fathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2. has at the end of these days spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds. WEB
God and the Word
Given the basic structure of John 1, there remains the question of what the message was of the first verse. It is focussing initially on the word, and how that is what drove the creation process. The next phrase is “The word was with God”. We may ask, what does it mean for a word to be with someone?
An answer can be found by looking at the first epistle of John. In John 1:2, the same Greek phrase appears, but this time connecting different things.
1 John 1:1: That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we saw, and our hands touched, concerning the Word of life 2. (and the life was revealed, and we have seen, and testify, and declare to you the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was revealed to us); WEB
There are some overall similarities between this and the first gospel of John, but the focus is slightly different. In verse 2, the same phrase appears to say that “eternal life was with the father”. Here the intent is fairly clear. It is answering the question “where does the eternal life come from?” The answer is that the eternal life was with the Father.
Similarly, back in the Gospel of John, again it is a question being answered. From the first phrase “In the beginning was the word”, the question would be “where does the word come from? - or where could I find it?”. The answer is again that the word was with God.
Normally we would start with God, and then talk about His word, but here it is presented the other way around to emphasise the theme of the word. The next phase makes the connection more complete. It states “the word was God”. Already we know that the word came out from God, but this statement is even stronger. It states that not only is this word the expression of God, but it is the entire expression of God.
The point being made here is that the word of God is enough to fully represent God himself. It was not necessary to see his face, or to make an idol to see him, because one could know him entirely through his word. Creation was given as an example to prove this, showing that even the creation of the world needed just the word of God for it to happen.
John extends that significance by describing how Jesus fully represent the word of God in his life. It is explained more in chapter 14 how Jesus displayed the word of God,
John 14:24: He who doesn't love me doesn't keep my words. The word which you hear isn't mine, but the Father's who sent me. WEB
Quite clearly, that is how the word became human. Jesus chose to be the mouthpiece of God's word, in his speech and in his actions. This is why Jesus could say that there was no need for the disciples to actually see God, as when Philip asked,
John 14:8: Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us." 9. Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you such a long time, and do you not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father. How do you say, `Show us the Father?' WEB
3. Words as Identity
The Still Small Voice
In the 9th century BC, king Ahab was king over Israel, and he and his wife were known for the Baal worship. One of the big Biblical highlights of that time as a big showdown between Ahab and the prophet Elijah on top of Mt Carmal.
1 Kings 18:22: Then Elijah said to the people, "I, even I only, am left a prophet of Yahweh; but Baal's prophets are four hundred fifty men. 23. Let them therefore give us two bulls; and let them choose one bull for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, and put no fire under; and I will dress the other bull, and lay it on the wood, and put no fire under. 24. You call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of Yahweh; and the God who answers by fire, let him be God." All the people answered, "It is well said." WEB
It was a huge and very visible challenge, and Yahweh, God of Israel, was the clear victor. It showed to Ahab the King that his Baal didn't have the power that the the true God of Israel had, as demonstrated through Elijah.
Against this context, the wife of Jezebel still continued to persecute him, leaving him despondent. When hiding in a cave, a message was given to him:
1 Kings 19:11: He said, Go forth, and stand on the mountain before Yahweh. Behold, Yahweh passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before Yahweh; but Yahweh was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but Yahweh was not in the earthquake: 12. and after the earthquake a fire; but Yahweh was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. 13. It was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave. Behold, there came a voice to him, and said, What are you doing here, Elijah? WEB
One of the messages here is just what it was that represented God. They were all his acts, but yet God was not in the grand and dramatic ones. Instead of being in the show of strength, God was in the voice. Indeed, that voice was just a gentle blowing, but yet it is what represented God.
Strength of Words
The strength of words is not an isolated theme in the Bible. The writer to the Hebrews, when talking about faith, talks about how the word stands behind the physical,
Hebrews 11:3: By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. NKJV
So we know that the creation came about through the word of God, and so that everything we see was formed out as a result of something intangible. The word of God is not directly visible, but yet all visible things have a basis in it.
Similarly, Peter showed how both creation and destruction have been called by that word,
2 Peter 3:5: .. there were heavens from of old, and an earth formed out of water and amid water, by the word of God; 6. by which means the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished. WEB
The concept of words is not restricted to the word of God. We as humans also have words, and we may expect that just as the word of God defines who God is, so our words define who we are. The Bible supports this notion, by emphasising how important the words are that we speak.
Jesus was very clear that the words that a person spoke were very important when speaking to the Pharisees.
Matthew 15:11: That which enters into the mouth doesn't defile the man; but that which proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man." WEB
The Pharisees had been trying to define who they were by the actions they did in following the law. However, the argument here is that their words were very important, because that was how they related to other people.
Similarly, James uses an analogy of a ship. A ship is something very large which is guided by something very small.
the tongue - rudder steeing the ship
James 3:4: Behold, the ships also, though they are so big and are driven by fierce winds, are yet guided by a very small rudder, wherever the pilot desires. 5. So the tongue is also a little member, and boasts great things. See how a small fire can spread to a large forest! WEB
It is even a more telling analogy now, where the commands that turn a ship are just electronic signals flowing in a wire. The same issue applies, in that what we say can have a profound effect on other people.
We also know that our spoken words, along with our actions, define who we are.
Proverbs 15:2: The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, But the mouth of fools gush out folly WEB
As this proverb bears out, we know who people are from the words they speak.
4. The New Creation
After describing the importance of the word, John 1 goes on to describe a true light, of which John the Baptist witnessed,
John 1:9: The true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world. 10. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world didn't recognize him. WEB
This light represented the work of Jesus in brighting the light of God into the world. Just as the physical light was the first part of the physical creation, here John is talking about a spiritual light which was to become the start of a spiritual creation. It was a spiritual creation to be based on the word of God through Jesus.
This is the centrepiece of the word-imagery, because just as the word spoken of God brought about the creation of Genesis, so does the word of God bring in a new creation. Then also Jesus represents the word of God and has a special role in both this new creation.
In Colossians 1, this new creation is spoken of as the kingdom of the Son,
Colossians 1:12: giving thanks to the Father, who made us fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; 13 who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the Kingdom of the Son of his love; 14. in whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins; 15. who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16. For by him were all things created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and for him. WEB
Colossians 1:17: He is before all things, and in him all things are held together. 18. He is the head of the body, the assembly, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. WEB
For us, this new creation is something very important. It isn't a physical trees, animals and plants type of creation like that of Genesis, but rather one that includes the orders of things, like thrones and dominions, and invisible things like the principalities and powers.
Ephesians 2 describes more about the relationship Jesus' followers have in this kingdom. There it talks about our lives becoming a creation of Christ,
Ephesians 2:4: But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, 5. even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6. and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, WEB
The power in the new creation imagery is that it expresses a new life for us. Even though we are condemned to death from sin, the new life we have in Jesus offers us a new hope. Along with the new hope, the new life brings us to be a new person,
Ephesians 2:10: For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them. WEB
Ephesians 2:19: So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, 20. being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone; 21. in whom the whole building, fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord; WEB
This temple is a new creation built through the word of God. The word had come through the prophets in the past, but then it came through the Son, and the apostles. They all form the foundations of this kingdom.
Ephesians 4:11: He gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, shepherds and teachers; 12. for the perfecting of the saints, to the work of serving, to the building up of the body of Christ; WEB
To look at the bigger picture of what this new kingdom would bring, we can look to the prophecy of Isaiah. Isaiah 11 speaks of Jesus and how he would come and alter the Earth.
Isaiah 11:1: There shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots shall bear fruit. 2. The Spirit of Yahweh shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Yahweh. 3. His delight shall be in the fear of Yahweh; and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither decide after the hearing of his ears; 4. but with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and decide with equity for the humble of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; and with the breath of his lips shall he kill the wicked. 5. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. 6. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. 7. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8. The sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. 9. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Yahweh, as the waters cover the sea. WEB
With this vision, we see that the new creation of the Kingdom of God does indeed reach further than ideas and words. Just like the mustard seed that would grow into a tree, so the new creation in Jesus has a humble start, but yet a grand future. It contains both the spiritual aspects of sin forgiven, and also the physical aspect of a world without sin.
Although this physical transformation of the world has not year occurred, it is visible to us through the word of God. That means that it isn't far-off and out of reach for us.
Luke 17:20: Being asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come, he answered them, "The Kingdom of God doesn't come with observation; 21. neither will they say, `Look, here!' or, `Look, there!' for behold, the Kingdom of God is within you." WEB
We can look at the picture of Isaiah, and know what the world will be when Jesus returns to conclude the process.
Just as with the original creation, the fact that God's word has gone out for this new creation means that it is also as good as done. It is that same word, the word of God that is behind it. That very evidence we have of the creation around us is the evidence that the kingdom of God will be completed.
The core of the message of John 1 is about the word of God, and how that word describes God. God is so well defined by his word, that he could enact creation through it. It also means that we don't need to see the face of God, or any image, to fully experience who he is. Instead, we can learn who he is from his words, and the life of those who lived out his word. In particular, his son Jesus became a human representation of the word of God.
The very special message of the word of God is of a new creation. It is a creation in Jesus that has already started. Believers in Christ can become a new person in Christ in this creation.
However, this lays down to us both a hope and a challenge. The joy is that the glories of the kingdom are set down and promised with the same word that brought about the creation of the world. The challenge is that there is still a question about our involvement.
Just like God, we can be known by our own word. If we listen to ourselves, we should be able to find out who we really are. Then the question for us is, do those words sound like the words of a person in the new creation in Christ, or are they the words of a person from the dying creation around us?
Luke 4:4: Jesus answered him, saying, "It is written, `Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.'" WEB
It is an option that is given to us, we can live by just the bread of this world, or we can live by the word of God. The important thing to remember is that because of the power of the word of God, it is all real. We don't have to wait to see God, and we don't have to wait to know his Kingdom. It's all there right now, if we will listen to it.
It is such a positive word too, because of the veracity of the promise of the kingdom world after the return of Christ. So it is something we can have joy in sharing with as many people as we can reach with the message of the Gospel. We have joy too, because we can come to know the great God of the universe through his word, and furthermore share in his inheritance though association in the new Creation with Christ.