Summary: John sought to bring the good news of Jesus in our own language and our own words to our own world that is dark and so desperately needed.
Before I get into John’s Gospel tonight, I have to do a lot of historical work for you, to give you some sort of foundational understanding. We’ll talk about Hebrew theology and its history. We’ll talk about Greek philosophy and its history, and seek to bring those together for you guys in some sort of whole.
The Hebrews really, historically, had through thousands of years come to, in John’s day at the end of the first century, this place whereby they had a lot of faith in their pedigree and in their stock and in their racial identity.
They could look back and they could trace their ancestry from Abraham’s call in Chapter 12 of Genesis, forward to Isaac and to Jacob and to Moses and to David and all of the prophets and all the priests and all of the Old Testament Scriptures and the temple. And God’s provision for them, and the giving them of the land, and the delivering of them from evil in Egypt, and the exodus narrative.
God had done so many things, and the Hebrew people had this propensity to look at their life and believe that because of their ancestry, because of their heritage, that somehow they had a privileged position with God. And within that, at the bottom of their theology, was this understanding of the Word of God.
And for the Hebrews, this was tremendously important. They believed that in a miraculous way, God at certain times would speak through men that he would raise up, called prophets. And in addition, sometimes priests. That God would literally speak through men, and his voice would come right through a man, and that those things would be written down and recorded in a divine way, with authority, as if God were in his very essence speaking directly to a people with authority.
And so, for them, the Word of God was paramount and tantamount, and they would memorize Scripture, and they would study Scripture, and their theologians would commit their lives to understanding the books of the Old Testament. In addition, they understood that the Word of God for them was not just what is found in Scripture, but the Word of God was the active agent through which God accomplished his will in the world.
In a sense, God’s Word did things. It was action in orientation. In Genesis, we find that God speaks, and it’s through God’s Word that creation comes into existence. In Isaiah 55, God says that his Word goes out into all the nations of the earth, and it doesn’t return void, that God’s Word has power and authority, and it acts as it is sent. And it always accomplishes what it was sent to accomplish.
And so, for the Hebrew, the foundation of their thinking, the Word of God was paramount. The Word of God, spoken through the prophets, written in the Scripture, and every time God acted in the world, that was his Word.
And now, at the end of the first century, as John is writing, he’s now an elder statements, an older man, he’d seen Jesus’ life and ministry and death and resurrection, John comes from this great lineage. John understands this world. John knows that Scripture.
But there’s this other world that now exists as well, and that’s this Greek world that isn’t bound up with theology – it’s bound up with philosophy. It doesn’t trace it’s root system back to Abraham, but instead, back to a gentleman named Heraclites. And the Greeks at this point, according to William Barclay, probably outnumber the Jews in the early Christian Church, 100,000 to 1.
And the Greeks also had this concept of the Word, the Logos, is what they would have called it in Greek. And for them, that stems out of this thinking of their Abraham, Heraclites.
Heraclites was a philosopher that predated Socrates and Plato, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, and Cicero. Heraclites taught that the world was in a constant change of flux and that there was really tremendous chaos and disorder within the world. His now famous illustration is that you never put your foot into the same river twice, because the river is constantly moving and constantly changing, and so is life. There is nothing constant, just continual change and flux.
And as he looked at the human world, he understood that there was so much change, and there was so much flux, and there was so much chaos, that he tried to find a way to explain how there could still be overarching harmony, how there could be order, how things could still be brought together.
And he came up with this concept of the Word, the Logos, and he said that the Logos was really the essence of the study of philosophy and of all things. And that the Logos created the world by fire. And that in addition, it was the Logos which governed all of human affairs, and governed all things that existed within creation. That any harmony that was brought out of this flux and chaos was because of the Word.