(John 1:1-5 ESV) In the beginning was the Word, and
the Word was with God, and
the Word was God.
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.
4 In him was life,
and the life was the light of men.
5 The light shines in the darkness, and
the darkness has not overcome it.
To set the mood,
“In the beginning” is en archē, the two words that begin Genesis in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament that served as the scriptures for most Mediterranean Jews in the Roman world). The allusion is unmistakable.
The allusions continue. “Made” translates egeneto, which is translated as “let there be” or “there was” or “it was so” in Genesis 1:3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 13, 15, 19, 20, 24, 30, and 31.
The reference to “life” is to zoē, found in —
(Gen 2:7 ESV) then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
And, of course, the several references to “light” and “darkness” refer back to —
(Gen 1:3-5 ESV) 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
Now, the modern mind goes immediately to the propositional truths — which we need to get to. But before we get there, we have to read the text as a First Century Jew would have read the text — and that’s in light of Genesis. We modern folk want desperately to read the text in light of the Nicene Creed. We want to discover orthodox truths to affirm our sound faith. But the ancient Jew would ask, “How is the coming of Jesus like the coming of light in Genesis 1?”
You see, the image John is painting is this: The coming of Jesus to Palestine in ancient Rome is as momentous an event as the creation of light by God in Genesis 1:3-4. And so, to understand what the coming of Jesus means, we need to reflect on the coming of light.
Recall the text —
(Gen 1:1 ESV) In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
This is the scene immediately before the creation of light. The world was empty and chaotic. It was covered in darkness. The translators’ notes to the NET Bible explain,
The Hebrew word simply means “darkness,” but in the Bible it has come to symbolize what opposes God, such as judgment (Exo 10:21), death (Psa 88:13), oppression (Isa 9:1), the wicked (1Sa 2:9) and in general, sin. In Isa 45:7 it parallels “evil.” It is a fitting cover for the primeval waste, but it prepares the reader for the fact that God is about to reveal himself through his works.
This is the parallel. Before Jesus, the world was covered in darkness. It was characterized by separation from God and therefore sin, death, and oppression. But the coming of Jesus changed all that — but not entirely.
Just as the creation of light begins the seven days of creation, the coming of Jesus begins the re-creation of the world by the Logos — the word of God. It’s not that the creation was completed in a word, but that it began with a word — a beginning that makes the conclusion as inevitable as Saturday coming at the end of the week. God’s Sabbath rest will come for his people, and this is certain because God’s light promises that the work of re-creation, once begun, will be finished.
And just as the first creation culiminated in the placing of man and woman in the midst of God’s temple, as God’s image, walking with God, God’s re-creation will conclude in the same way.
Are there echoes of Greek philosophy and Jewish wisdom literature here? Probably. But that’s not the point. The point is to call us back to the Creation — those seven days when God spoke the world into existence — and to assure God’s people that the coming of Jesus is the Creation all over again. Creation 2.0.
Now, again, imagine yourself as a First Century Jew reading this text and reflecting on it with an Eastern mindset. John has just told you that Jesus came into darkness! The people of God, the chosen, the elect, the holy nation entrusted with the temple and the Law! The Jews are called “darkness” — just as are the Gentiles.
This is no mere insult. This is a crushing blow. There is no light and no life apart from Jesus — even for the Jews. Even with the prophets and the Holy Scriptures, all was darkness — separation from God — before Jesus came.
Is this hyperbole? Is John merely exagerrating for effect? Or is he making the deadly serious point that whatever the Jews’ relationship with God might have been before Jesus, now that the Light of the World has come, there is no other path to salvation?
And if this is true for the Jews, surely it’s doubly true for the Gentiles! God separates the light from the darkness. There is no twilight. Just light and darkness — and separation — and, indeed, one of the major themes of John’s Gospel is the utter separation between those with faith and those without, those who are saved and those who are damned.
Indeed, John’s Gospel gives us a glimpse of the Glory that is Jesus and his unimaginable grace and generosity — but also the sharp line that divides light from dark, life from death, and faith from unbelief.
You see, God said, “Let there be light” and the light was good, but the light did not destroy the darkness. Rather, God separated the light from the darkness, and the world was no longer without form and void, but darkness still existed — banished from the face of God by his Word calling forth light.