We are studying the Fourth Gospel, and so far we have looked at the first five verses. In these verses, Eleazar has taught us that the Word, Yeshua, existed from the beginning, He was with Yahweh—they are two different persons, but at the same time the Word possesses the same nature as the Father. Not only was He with Yahweh, but He was Yahweh. There is plurality in the Godhead and the Word also possesses divine nature. We also saw that the Word is the Creator of all things that exist, and we see in verses 4 and 5 that the Word is life and Light:
In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. John 1:4-5 NASB
Light and darkness are prominent themes in the Gospels and in the teaching of our Lord. They are employed as well by Peter and Paul. The symbols of light and darkness are not new in the New Testament; they are themes which are rooted in the Tanakh and which are drawn upon and applied in the New.
Light is a significant metaphor in Scripture, and the word "light" occurs on the very first and very last pages of Scripture and more than 250 times in between. Let's look at the very first place in which "light" appears in Scripture:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Genesis 1:1-2 NASB
So here we have the darkness over the earth:
Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. Genesis 1:3-5 NASB
This may seem like a straightforward account of physical realities of light and darkness, but it is much more than this. If you have studied the Genesis creation accounts in their Ancient Near East context, you know that a lot more is going on. In the ancient world the sea and the darkness were synonymous with gods of chaos and death.
In the ancient imagination, darkness was understood to be a problem, so the creation of light and the separation of light and darkness in Genesis intends to communicate Yahweh's dominance over (the gods of) darkness, death, and chaos.
At the beginning of this creation account, the earth was dark and in disarray (formless and void). At the end, it has light and is ordered. The progress is from darkness to light and for disorder to order. Light was created by God to separate darkness and light.
God creates light as something of an antidote to darkness. Light comes from God. Darkness is a problem that needs to be contained. It is from here that the prolific concept of light and dark as good and evil is born:
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Isaiah 5:20 NASB
So we could say that light and darkness are synonyms for good and evil. In the Psalms light and darkness are used symbolically. Light becomes the symbol for salvation:
The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread? Psalms 27:1 NASB
Light is a symbol for truth:
O send out Your light and Your truth, let them lead me; Let them bring me to Your holy hill And to Your dwelling places. Psalms 43:3 NASB
Light is a symbol of Yahweh's splendor and presence:
You have placed our iniquities before You, Our secret sins in the light of Your presence. Psalms 90:8 NASB
We see this idea of light in Yahweh's presence in the First Book of Adam and Eve:
11:10 Think, oh think of that garden in which there was no darkness while we lived in it. 11 But no sooner did we come into this Cave of Treasures than darkness surrounded us all around until we can no longer see each other, and all the pleasure of this life has come to an end."
12:9 For so long as we were in the garden we neither saw nor even knew what darkness was.
In this book Adam and Eve lament the darkness and what it does to them.
Light is essential to biological life; it is necessary for life to thrive and flourish and prosper, and the authors of Scripture recognize this. The simple connection between light and life is developed thoroughly, especially in the Psalms, and comes to refer not just to biological life or existence, but fullness of life in Yahweh's presence. Light in life indicates vitality and prosperity. Darkness, conversely, connotes death:
For You have delivered my soul from death, Indeed my feet from stumbling, So that I may walk before God In the light of the living. Psalms 56:13 NASB
As we saw from the Genesis account, it is God's Word that ushers in light. Yahweh's speech is light that illuminates and makes known. This concept is developed especially in Psalms as God's Word is described as a light and a lamp. Light is a metaphor for vision, sight, truth, knowledge, and wisdom. Darkness, conversely, indicates ignorance and blindness:
Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path. Psalms 119:105 NASB
"It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him. Daniel 2:22 NASB
Speaking of Christ, the prophet writes:
The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them. Isaiah 9:2 NASB
Light is symbolic of the Christ Who was to come:
The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner stone. This is the LORD'S doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which the LORD has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it. O LORD, do save, we beseech You; O LORD, we beseech You, do send prosperity! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD; We have blessed you from the house of the LORD. The LORD is God, and He has given us light; Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar. Psalms 118:22-27 NASB
As we come to the New Testament we see the metaphors for light developed in the Tanakh get applied to Yeshua and His followers. Matthew asserts that Isaiah's vision is fulfilled in Yeshua and says of His life:
"THE PEOPLE WHO WERE SITTING IN DARKNESS SAW A GREAT LIGHT, AND THOSE WHO WERE SITTING IN THE LAND AND SHADOW OF DEATH, UPON THEM A LIGHT DAWNED." Matthew 4:16 NASB
Here we see Light as eternal life/salvation. John teaches us this same truth:
In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. John 1:4 NASB
The Word, Yeshua, is Light and Life. Paul preaches Light as eternal life. Speaking before King Agrippa he says:
to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.' Acts 26:18 NASB
"That they may turn from darkness to light"—the central application would appear to be Isaiah 9:2. The Messianic light has shone, Yeshua the Messiah has come, and men must come out of their darkness and respond to His light.
"From the dominion of Satan to God"—being turned from the power of Satan to God indicates having the filth of sin removed and being clothed with righteousness and purity; and as Messiah's people, finding a new oneness in Him. We receive forgiveness, a complete removal of sin through the cleansing of the blood of Christ. Light is life!
So we see in these verses the biblical metaphors for Light applied directly to Yeshua. Yeshua's Light is virtuous, or good. Yeshua's Light gives vitality, or life. Yeshua's Light is the source of vision, or knowledge. But Yeshua and the New Testament writers who follow Him don't stop there. The Divine-Light, which is Yeshua, is also to be the Light within Yahweh's people:
"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16 NASB
Light not only reveals the true state of things, it also dispels darkness and illumines. The Light of the Gospel, as it shines forth in the life of those who follow Christ, dispels spiritual darkness and reveals the true nature of evil.
Now as we come to verse 6 in the Fourth Gospel there is an abrupt change here, and Eleazar turns his attention to John the Baptist in verses 6-8:
There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. John 1:6 NASB
If you can remember our first message in John on authorship, I said that John Eleazar, the author of this Fourth Gospel, was at one time a disciple of John the Baptist:
Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked upon Yeshua as He walked, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" 37 And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Yeshua. John 1:35- 37 NASB
Here we have two of John's disciples leaving him to follow Yeshua. Who are these two?
One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. John 1:40 NASB
Here we see that one of the disciples was Andrew. The other one is never named. This would be consistent with the author's practice of not naming himself! It seems safe to assume that when the writer makes any reference to another, unnamed disciple, he has in mind the disciple whom Yeshua loved. It is hard to believe that the writer has a number of different disciples that he is committed to keeping anonymous.
So Eleazar now shifts from talking about the Word and speaks about his former Rabbi, John the Baptist:
There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. John 1:6 NASB
Notice the contrast here: verse 1 says, "In the beginning was the Word"—here John/Eleazar uses the Greek verb eimi, which means: "to be" or "to exist" and suggests continued existence. At the beginning of eternity, when there was nothing else, "the Word" existed. But of John he says, "There came a man sent from God"—and "came" here is ginomai, which means: "to come to be," to enter into a different form of existence. This is the same word used in, "All things came into being through Him." The creation came into being. John the Baptist was a created being; there was a time when he was not. In contrast, there was never a "time" when the Word did not exist.
In verse 1 we are told that the Lord Yeshua simply was in existence, and he had been in existence. He was with God. He was eternally God, but in verse 6 John is said to be a man who has a beginning in existence, "There came to be a man sent from God." In other words, John became, Yeshua was, and that's the huge difference between the two.
In introducing John the Baptist, Lazarus stressed that "God" had "sent" him. The verb "sent" in Greek is apostello. The verb carries the sense of sending an envoy with a special commission. It is the verb form of the noun that Yeshua will use to signify the 12 men who will be the spiritual fathers of the New Israel.
Who is this "John" who was sent from God? John, first of all, was prophesied to come in the Tanakh:
"Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming," says the LORD of hosts. Malachi 3:1 NASB
Who is Malachi referring to as the messenger? The word "messenger" is malak, which is often translated as: "angel." But here it refers to Elijah:
"Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. Malachi 4:5 NASB
So the prophecy in Malachi speaks of Elijah, but there is nothing more distinctly affirmed in the New Testament than the identity of John the Baptist as the Elijah of Malachi:
And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" 11 And He answered and said, "Elijah is coming and will restore all things; 12 but I say to you, that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands." 13 Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist. Matthew 17:10-13 NASB
The disciples knew the prophecy about Elijah; apparently they thought it would be fulfilled physically. It was actually, literally fulfilled, but it was not physically fulfilled. This is an important interpretive principle; something can be fulfilled literally and spiritually, but not physically. John came in the Spirit of Elijah. Speaking to Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth, John the Baptist's parents, the angel said:
"And it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." Luke 1:17 NASB
The Jews expected the reappearance of the literal Elijah, and John replies to that mistaken notion in:
And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" And he said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" And he answered, "No."John 1:21 NASB
Yeshua tells them: "If you want to understand the second coming of Elijah, you've got to look at the spiritual."
"For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 "And if you care to accept it, he himself is Elijah, who was to come. Matthew 11:13-14 NASB
So we see that John the Baptist is the fulfillment of the prophecy of the coming of Elijah. As I said earlier, this is an important interpretive principle; something can be fulfilled literally and spiritually, but not physically. I believe we need to apply this principle to many of the eschatological texts of the New Testament. When you read 2 Peter 3 about the heavens melting and the earth being burned up and all that. If that is physical, none of us has any arguments as to whether that has happened, it hasn't. The earth is not toast. But if these are physical words describing spiritual realities, then it's going to change our paradigms. Yeshua said He was going to come in His disciples' life time. Was He mistaken? If these eschatological texts are understood spiritually, then the time frames don't have to be explained away. Yeshua meant exactly what He said. If we say these men were mistaken on the time references, then we are, in fact, questioning inspiration.
John is described in Isaiah as:
A voice is calling, "Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Isaiah 40:3 NASB
It was very common in the first century that when a king was going somewhere to visit, if he was coming to your town, he would be preceded by a herald, or a messenger. That messenger would say, "Prepare the way. Make straight the path." That meant the king was coming. The roads were so poor that immediately that town would have to get busy and repair the road so that the king could travel through. That is the imagery that's used here with John the Baptist as the messenger; in effect he says, "The King is right behind me, so get your road straight. Get your path prepared. He is coming."
Keeping in mind that verse 3 is a messianic prophecy, notice the words it uses. If you were to read Isaiah 40:3 in the Hebrew language that Isaiah was written in, it would read like this: "Make ready the way of Yahweh. Make Elohim's paths straight." Now, the significance of that is there's no question that John the Baptist is the herald of Yeshua and this text is again saying that Yeshua is Yahweh.
Yahweh was the covenant-making, covenant-keeping God. It is the God who entered into the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is the God who entered into the covenant with Moses with the Law. This was the personal God of Israel.
Mark gives us some added insight into this man John:
John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Mark 1:4 NASB
Notice where John was preaching: "in the wilderness"—the idea that this was happening in the wilderness is very significant, because throughout the life of the Hebrew people, significant things happened for them in the wilderness. When the nation of Israel was ready to enter into the Promised Land, they had to cross the Jordan and go into the land of promise. But the spies came back and said that the giants were too big; we can't take these guys. They did not have the faith to believe, so that entire generation had to die in the wilderness, and God raised up another generation who believed in Him and trusted Him.
The full import of the wilderness can be gleaned from 295 references to it in the Bible. What should immediately come to mind is Moses and the wilderness experience. The new revelation of God in Yeshua, like the old, was to be heralded by a wilderness experience, which would precede entry into the Promised Land.
Under the leadership of Joshua, they crossed through the Jordan River, went into Jericho and conquered the land of promise. Now years have passed, and John is calling them back out to the same wilderness by the Jordan as a way of saying, "We have got to start over. We need to go back out into the wilderness, because our lives and our religious world have become so corrupted and so off track that we really need to go all the way back to the wilderness. We need to repent of that sin and we need to start over." Baptism in the Jordan, the very river they passed through to enter into the land of promise, was all symbolic of this idea that it was a time for starting over. It was symbolizing: The Messiah is coming, and we need to turn back to God, we need a new fresh start. We need to prepare our hearts to listen to the Messiah and to follow Him."
John was no modern day fluff preacher, notice what he said to the religious leaders of his day:
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Matthew 3:7 NASB
John was telling it like it was. He dealt with issues other preachers would only dance around. And in a day when people soft-pedal the truth, it is exceedingly refreshing to find a man who stands for something and will tell you exactly what he believes. John was such a man.
Notice what else Mark tells us about this man:
And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. Mark 1:5 NASB
There was a huge revival movement. This is confirmed by Josephus, the Jewish historian, when he says: "Many flocked to him, for they were greatly moved by hearing his words…"
In order to understand the significance of what was happening, it is important to picture this tremendous scene. Some commentators estimate that there could have been between 200,000 and 500,000 people who participated in John's ministry in this way. Mark is not describing the appearance of a half dozen people who followed John. This prophet came on the scene in such a striking way that after the Spirit of God had prepared the people's hearts, the whole nation recognized John as a prophet, and the leaders even feared him after his death because of the people's high regard for him as a prophet.
You have to understand, too, that the trip from Jerusalem to the Jordan River was not just a little hike. It was 20 miles from Jerusalem to the Jordan, and it was a 4,000 foot drop. Imagine a 20-mile, 4,000 foot drop trip down to the river. As hard as that was, the trip back was doubly hard. This mass of people was making this incredible journey to identify with the message of John the Baptist as he prepared the way for the coming of the Christ.
Think of this! People walking 20 miles and more to hear a man preach.! And it was not a one-time event. The use of the imperfect tense indicates that they were continually going down to hear John and to be baptized.
This doesn't coincide with most modern church-growth experts. You don't begin a ministry out in the wilderness if you expect it to grow. You go where people are, and you say and do things that will attract them to your ministry. You have a "seeker's service" with contemporary music. And you advertise in the paper and on the radio. You form a welcoming committee. And you follow up with a visitation team.
Why were all these people going out to hear John? The last words of theTanakh, spoken nearly 400 years before John's arrival, announced his entrance and mission. This prophecy, along with that given through Isaiah, set forth the foundation of John the Baptist coming to prepare the way of the Lord. Israel had been without the voice of a prophet for four centuries and into that barrenness, Malachi's words echoed: "Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet…" The coming of Elijah was an event eagerly anticipated by the Jews in 1st century A.D., an event which would restore prophecy and bring them hope. The voice of prophecy had been silent for four hundred years, and they saw Elijah as the exemplar of the prophets. They were in constant anticipation of his coming and looked for him in any great prophetic figure who arose.
And John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey. Mark 1:6 NASB
Why does Mark tell us about John's clothes? What is the significance of this? This description about the dress and diet of John the Baptist is intended primarily to indicate clearly the identity of John as Elijah. After Ahaziah was told that he would die, the king asked for a description of the man who gave the message regarding death:
And they answered him, "He was a hairy man with a leather girdle bound about his loins." And he said, "It is Elijah the Tishbite." 2 Kings 1:8 NASB
Since the prophet has a hairy garment bound with a leather girdle about the waist, the king immediately recognizes this as the dress of the prophet Elijah. So when Mark describes the dress of John, he identifies him as the fulfilment of the prophecy of the coming of Elijah. This is very important. Elijah, the forerunner of the Messiah, has come!
So here, Eleazar introduces us to John, not in a sense of all of his biography, which we find in Matthew, Mark, and Luke; but here we are introduced to John only in the sense that we get a look at his ministry. And his ministry is defined in verse 7 in very simple terms:
He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. John 1:7 NASB
The word "witness" here is noun marturia, and means: "witness bearer" and the word "testify" is the verb martureo, and means: "to bear witness." Our English word "martyr," which means: "one who bears witness by his death," comes from the root for these words. The ESV puts it this way:
He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. John 1:7 ESV
Fourteen times in this Gospel the word witness (martureo, martus, martureia) is connected with John:
The next day he saw Yeshua coming to him and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29 NASB
"This is He on behalf of whom I said, 'After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.' John 1:30 NASB
"I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God." John 1:34 NASB
and he looked at Yeshua as He walked, and *said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" John 1:36 NASB
Hall Haris writes, "Witness" is also one of the major themes of the Fourth Gospel. The verb martureo occurs 33 times (compare to 1 time in Matthew, 1 time in Luke, 0 in Mark) and the noun marturia 14 times (0 in Matthew, 1 time in Luke, 3 times in Mark)."
John makes explicit why this witness is so necessary: "that all might believe through him." This is a purpose clause. Believing in the light happens through a witness to the light. There is no other way. Paul put it this way:
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. Romans 10:17 NASB
When John says, "so that all may believe…"—by "all" he doesn't means every single person. John's mission as depicted elsewhere limits the force of this language. He didn't come that every single individual in the whole world might believe. This is one of the many indications of the limited nature of the term "all" in various context:.
And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him." John 3:26 NASB
"All" in the sense of everyone was not coming to Christ for baptism. All does not always mean "all."
This is the first reference to believing in John's Gospel. It will occur 97 more times. This is the great goal of this Gospel: "…that believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:31). This believing comes through a human witness to the Light. And this witness is a necessity. Our witness is a necessity, without a witness no one believes.
but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." Acts 1:8 NASB
Yeshua says to the disciples and the believers that the Holy Spirit is going to come and you're going to be witnesses unto Me. This is the same word, martus: "you're going to be giving testimony of the evidences that point to Me, the Savior, the Son of God."
He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. John 1:8 NASB
Both John the Baptist, and Eleazar, wanted to make it clear that Christ was the Light, and that John was merely a witness to that fact. There were some people in John's day that were wondering if he might be the Messiah—God's light:
Now while the people were in a state of expectation and all were wondering in their hearts about John, as to whether he was the Christ, Luke 3:15 NASB
The role of John the Baptizer in the Fourth Gospel is always to bear witness to Yeshua. John the Baptist is sent from God; Yeshua is face to face with God and is God. John is the witness; Yeshua is the one witnessed to. John is the witness; Yeshua is the Light.
Later in chapter 3 John's disciples come to him and ask:
And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him." John 3:26 NASB
Basically, what they are saying is, "John, you know, your career is over. The people are not coming to you anymore; they're coming to the One you were testifying about." And John's response was:
John answered and said, "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. "You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, 'I am not the Christ,' but, 'I have been sent ahead of Him.' John 3:27-28 NASB
John is saying, "I had my place. I received from God the commission and discharged it. I was simply a witness to the Light.
Later in this Gospel Yeshua says of John the Baptist:
"He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. John 5:35 NASB
We just saw Eleazar say of John the Baptist, "He was not the Light." But here Yeshua says, "He was the lamp." What's up with this? The word "lamp" in 5:35 is luchnos; it means: "a portable lamp"—small portable oil lamp with a little wick. John was that kind of light. He was a derived light. But in chapter 1, verse 8, when it says, "Yeshua is the light," it's the word phos, which is essential light from which you get "photography," "photosynthesis." Any time you see the pho that's from that Greek word "light." Yeshua is essential Light; John is a lamp that reflects that light in the same sense that you and I are the light of the world, and we're not to hide our light.
The Lord Yeshua is the eternal Creator. John is His creation. The Lord Yeshua is God. John is sent by God. The Lord Yeshua is the Light. John testifies about the Light.
Believers, like John the Baptist, we are all to be witnesses to the Ligh:
How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? Romans 10:14 NASB
Believers, all of us are called to be His witnesses. It is a great necessity. Faith comes by hearing a witness. We are all called to be like John the Baptist and bear witness to the Light. How are you doing with that?
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