Through the Bible: John 1:7-18, John the Baptist and Jesus

We have been going through Tatian’s Diatessaron, a second-century harmony of the Gospels. We are in Section III, and today we are covering John 1:7-17.

John’s Gospel is the last of the Gospels written. It may well have been written in the AD 90’s. John would have been living in Ephesus in those days, watching over the churches in that area (Clement of Alexandria, Who Is the Rich Man Who Must Be Saved, ch. 42). The churches he would have been watching over are the ones we read about in the Revelation chapters 2 and 3, all of which are within about 100 miles of Ephesus in an area known as Asia Minor. The area is in the far west of what is modern Turkey.

John the Baptist

This man came to bear witness, that he might bear witness to the light, so that everyone might believe through his mediation. He was not the light, but [came] that he might bear witness to the light that was the light of truth that gives light to everyone coming into the world.

John’s Gospel is careful to point out that John the Baptist is not the light. In doing so, John gets away from John the Baptist and focuses on Jesus for a little while. He goes back to John the Baptist in verse 19.

The focus that John gives to distinguishing John the Baptist from the true light, who was Jesus, makes me wonder if there were people in Asia Minor who were still following John, but I know of no history of such a sect.

The Creator and the New Creation

He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own did not receive him. Those who received him, to them he gave the power that they might be sons of God, those who believe in his name, who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a man, but of God.

This is our introduction to being born again. Jesus talks with Nicodemus about being born again in John chapter 3, but John does not wait until then to get to the subject. The context does not call for a discussion about the new birth. John brings it up out of the blue, making sure to insert it into the discussion of receiving him.

This is where the time frame of John, well after the other Gospels, matters. He is emphasizing things because he thinks they are being missed. It is obvious that John’s letters are battling problems in the church because he mentions “those who are trying to seduce you” (1 Jn. 2:26), talks about antichrists (1 Jn. 4:3), and even discusses a church takeover (3 Jn. 9-10). We don’t always think of John’s Gospel being written with the same concerns in mind, but it was.

John wants to centralize the new birth. It is one thing to devote ourselves to obeying God. It is even a good thing, but that commitment is not going to be an effective one without our being born again (Jn. 3:3-5). That is not new to John. Paul calls the new birth a new creation (Eph. 2:10; 2 Cor. 5:17), but he means the same thing. If we lean on ourselves, with no transformation from God, we will live in the powerlessness described in Romans 7. God has a deliverance from that powerlessness (described in Romans 8:1-13), which is the new birth.

Apparently some were forgetting the importance of the new birth towards the end of the first century because John takes the time to put the new birth back at the forefront and to remind us that it is a work of God, not of man.

The passage began by letting us know that the world was made by Jesus, and the people he came to were his own, not because they were Jews like him, but because he made them. I do not know how to give that the emphasis it deserves. The Creator was walking around in our midst, offering new life and giving the power to become children of God to those who received him. That is worth stopping to meditate on.

The Word became flesh and took up his abode among us. We saw his glory as the glory of the only Son from the Father, who is full of grace and equity.

Many missed who he was. Though he has ascended to heaven since the days his apostles saw him, he has sent the Holy Spirit to the earth to convict us of sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn. 16:8). As those who know him, we have to trust that our testimony that Jesus is Lord and that God has raised him from the dead (Rom. 10:9-10) is backed up by the conviction of the Holy Spirit. That is why there are so many Christians today, two thousand years later. Our Gospel does not come only as the word of man, but it is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16).

Those who do not yet know him, I warn not to miss him. It may seem like 2,000 years gives sufficient excuse for doubt, but God desires truth deep down inside (Ps. 51:6). He will hold you accountable for ignoring the conviction of the Holy Spirit that is in the world (1 Jn. 5:10).

Then the apostle John returns to John the Baptist, but even there it is to testify even more about Jesus.

John bore witness of him and cried and said, “This is the one that I said comes after me and was before me because he was before me.” And of his fullness we all received grace for grace. For the law was given through the mediation of Moses, but truth and grace were through Jesus Christ.

One of the great emphases of the Gospel of John is that the incarnation was not Jesus’ first trip to earth. John starts by pointing out that Jesus is the Maker of the world, but repeatedly he testifies that Jesus has been around a long time. Here, John the Baptist testifies that “he was before me.” Later, Jesus himself says he was before Abraham as well (Jn. 8:58).

The fact that Jesus is the eternal Word of God is the reason that he could bring more than Moses. Moses brought something good in the way of the law, but the sin that abides in us keeps us from following that Law (Rom. 7). Jesus, however, could do something more. As Romans 8:3 puts it, “What the Law could not do, God did.” The Law could not make us doers of the Law (Rom. 3:10ff), but God was able to do so through his Son (Rom. 8:3-4).

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