Christmas from Above

Christmas from Above

Christmas from Above

Around Christmas, we tend to see Jesus from below. We rightly read the birth stories and remember him as the baby in a manger. Though his conception was supernatural, he was born just like us—only in a crummy barn stable rather than in a sanitized hospital room. He grew up like we did—learning to walk, strap his sandals, learn the alphabet, spell, read, and write. He also learned a trade from his earthly father, Joseph. He was raised in an average home and average town.

Yet, we also need to see Jesus from above. Luke 1-2 gives us the classic story about Jesus’ birth—from below, from the standpoint of Mary and the shepherds. John 1:1-18 tells us truths about Jesus and his birth—from above, who He is from all eternity. As we will see, John shares that our Lord exists before he was born as a baby in Bethlehem. Our Lord exists in the beginning, prior to creation (1:1-3). Who is he? John calls our preexistent Lord “the Word” (vv. 1, 14), “God” (v. 1, 18), “the light” (vv. 8–9), “the Son” (v. 14), and “Jesus Christ” (v. 17). Let’s consider what he means by each.

First, God communicates himself through his “Word.” One of John’s main pictures of Jesus is as the Revealer of God. Before he became a man, the Word revealed God, as v. 4 teaches: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” The eternal life that was the source of all created life was in him. Indeed, the eternal Word was the Father’s agent in the creation of “all things” (v. 3). And the creation brought into being by the Word was the “light of men,” the revelation of God to humans.

Second, John calls the Word “God.” “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1). The Word was there in the beginning of all things (Gen 1:1). He was in the presence of God (the Father), and he was God (the Son). Is it true, as the cults claim, that John 1:1 omits the definite article “the” before “God” when it says, “And the Word was God?” Yes. Should we then translate “a god,” instead of God, diminishing the deity of the Word? Not at all. Just look carefully at the other occurrences of the word “God” without the article (Greek theos) in the prologue. See how erroneous it is to translate “a god” in these verses: “There was a man sent from a god,” v. 6; “he gave the right to become children of a god,” v. 12; “who were born . . . of a god.” No translation does so, and it is just as wrong to translate theos as “a god” in v. 1. It is strikingly clear: the Word is God the Son. John also calls Christ “the only God” in v. 18. Verses 1 and 18 are bookends proclaiming Jesus’s deity (see also John 20:28, where Thomas confesses Jesus as “My Lord and my God”).

Third, John speaks of the Word as “the Light.” John the Baptist “was not the light but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world” (vv. 8–9). Here, the world is portrayed as dark and sinful. The true Light, God the Son, became a man and came into the world to bring true knowledge of God and forgiveness. Here again, the Son is the Revealer of God. Sadly, most reject him (vv. 10–11), but all who believe in him are adopted by God and born again (vv. 12–13; see also Jesus as the Light in John 9, where Jesus calls himself “the light of the world” and demonstrates it by healing physically and spiritually a man born blind).

Fourth, John calls the Word “the Son.” “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (v. 14). The eternal Word became the incarnate Word in Bethlehem when Mary gave birth to Jesus. As such, he revealed the glory of God in his character, words, and works. We learn that “the Son” is a divine title in chapter 5. There, after healing a man who had been lame for thirty-seven years, Jesus calls God “Father” in such a manner as to make “himself equal with God” (v. 18).

Fifth, John calls the Word “Jesus Christ” in v. 17. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Matthew defined the meaning of “Jesus” for us in Matt 1:21: it means “the Lord saves.” Mary’s baby was the Savior of the world, the Savior of all who trust him to forgive their sins and give them eternal life. “Christ” refers to Jesus being the long-awaited Messiah, the Anointed One, as John later stresses: “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name (20:31; see also Peter’s famous confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” in Matt 16:16).

So, who is the Christ of Christmas? John stresses that our Lord is the Word, God, the Light, the Son, and Jesus Christ. Our Lord exists before he is born, reveals the Father, gives truth to all, serves as the object of our faith, comes as the Messiah, and saves.

Note also how John 1:1-18 highlights not only who Jesus is but also his coming, even his becoming fully human. John uses a type of parallelism (chiasm) to underline this. Here is a diagram of John’s pattern:

A The eternal Son is called “the Word” (v. 1)

B The eternal Son is called “the light” (vv. 8–9)

B “The light was coming into the world” (v. 9)

A “The Word became flesh” (v. 14)

Taken as a whole, the inverted parallelism draws our attention to one thing—the incarnation. Robert Peterson summarizes: Jesus “the true light . . . was coming into the world” (1:9). . . . Coming into this dark world, the Son of God illuminated men and women with the message of salvation. Furthermore, “the Word became flesh” (v. 14)—the eternal, almighty God became a man![1]

John is both dramatic and direct: God the Son has come into the world (1:9); God the Son has come into the world as a Jewish man (1:11); God the Son became flesh and dwelt among us (1:14); God the Son has come in the flesh (1 John 4:2).

What does this mean? What does it not mean? The creed of the most famous Christological council, Chalcedon (451), helps us. In brief, it clarifies that the incarnate Son is one person “in two natures without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.” More specifically, it states:

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the Godbearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.            

No wonder John urges us to believe in Jesus, the only one who is able to save us, the only one who gives us life, the only one who gives us the right to be children of God!

[1] Robert A. Peterson, Getting to Know John’s Gospel (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1989), 19.

About the Author

Dr. Chris Morgan
Dr. Chris Morgan, Dean and Professor of Theology, School of Christian Ministries, California Baptist University

Dr. Chris Morgan serves as Dean and Professor of Theology for the School of Christian Ministries at California Baptist University in Riverside. He is also Pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland. Dr. Morgan has been author and/or editor of more than 25 books including the textbook Christian Theology and the Systematic Theology Study Bible. Chris, Shelley, and Chelsey live in Highland.

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