How do you think about, how do you describe, something that exists before time begins? A chapter in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is titled, “Deeper Magic from before the Dawn of Time.” The book is powerful, though not a reliable guide on the nature of the atonement. However, “before the dawn of time,” effectively describes eternity. John 1:15 takes you into eternity as he describes the coming of Jesus into this world.
Believe John’s testimony. John testifies. John the disciple, the author of the Gospel, introduces another John, John the Baptizer, back in verse 6. He was sent by God, he came for witness. His purpose was to give testimony. That is what he does, see verses 15, 19, 32. Significantly he testifies, — present tense — as some translations reflect. John the Baptizer had been executed during the public ministry of Jesus, long before John the disciple wrote his Gospel. The testimony of John continues. It is relevant. The text repeatedly identifies John’s speaking as testimony. It is objectively true. Our post-modern world tells you it’s all about you. If you find peace in Jesus, fine, just don’t try to insist that anything is objectively true or universally valid. You have your way, I have mine. Yet even today, our court system refuses to bend to that kind of subjectivity.
John’s testimony points away from himself. John’s Gospel focuses on the witness that the Baptizer gives and on his baptizing. Matthew, Mark, and Luke give some more details about John’s work. Mark tells us that “the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem” went out to hear his preaching. Understandably the priests and Levites and the Pharisees sent a fact-finding delegation to interrogate him. His preaching of repentance, because the kingdom of God was near, indeed raised messianic expectations. But John denied (confessed freely), “I am not the Christ.” He denies various other theories about his identity: Elijah (see Malachi 4:5 and Matthew 11:14). He is not the Prophet of Deuteronomy 18:15. Who, then, are you, John? The answer: “the voice” (verse 23, Isaiah 40:3). Voice contrasts with the living, eternal Word. Learn something about your task of being a witness as you look at John’s example. He could have given the details of the wonderful account that Luke 1 records. Instead he goes to Scripture. This is what the Word of God says. John’s use of Isaiah 40 contrasts with the direction of the Qumran community, which withdrew, focused on baptismal cleansings, and identified themselves as the righteous ones. Instead, John calls the covenant people to repentance. John’s work was to prepare the way for the Lord by concrete repentance (Luke 3). No message that panders to felt needs here! The wilderness setting, verses 23, 28, is important, for this is historically where God has met with his people.
Recognize the superiority of Jesus Christ. Understand the surpassing greatness of Jesus Christ. Although John precedes Christ, Christ surpasses him, verse 15, also verse 30. This was a time when historical precedence was identified with greatness (some Jews argued that Moses was greater than the Greek philosophers because he was earlier — they really were the good old days!), but though John came before Jesus, Jesus is greater, for he really was before John — he is the eternal Word! John, whom Jesus identified as the one than whom there was none greater, sees himself as unworthy to untie the sandal of Jesus, verse 26. Verse 14 told you that the Word made flesh was full of grace and truth. That grace has impacted you, verse 16. He is full of grace, and we have received grace for grace, grace in place of grace, like breakers coming in on the Oregon shore. John furthers the contrast. The law was given through Moses. He was the intermediary for what was a high point, even the high point of revelation in the OT. But now grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ. The law alone can only condemn. God has brought grace and truth to you in Christ Jesus.
See the Lamb to whom John points. John has preached to prepare the hearts of the people. He has baptized so that the Christ might come and be revealed. Then one day it all comes together. John points, and says, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” “Lamb.” Where does John’s mind go? He has listened to his father, Zechariah recount the Bible stories (are you doing that with your family?). He thinks perhaps of the firstborn of the flock that Abel brought so early in human history. He hears the conversation between Abraham and Isaac as they slowly climb a mountain in the region of Moriah, “Father, where is the lamb?” “God himself with provide the lamb, my son.” He thinks of the lamb that each household killed in Egypt and sprinkled the blood on the doorposts, so that the angel of death would pass over that house. With Isaiah 40 on his mind he certainly thinks of Isaiah 53, the Lamb led silently to the slaughter. Which of John’s hearers that day had not followed the details of Leviticus 4 in bringing a lamb or goat as a sin offering, laying his hand on the animal, slaughtering it, watching the priest touch the horns of the altar with the blood, and then see the offering burn? That is how my sin is removed. And this Lamb takes away my sin, and not just mine, but the sin of the world! This Lamb had appeared repeatedly in the Old Testament in temporary form, the Angel of the Lord and the pillar of cloud and fire, assuring God’s people that he was with them.
“He revealed himself particularly in Israel, which he had chosen for his own inheritance and led and blessed as Angel of the covenant. He came continually to his own in theophany, prophecy, and miracle. In that manner the Son prepared the whole world, including Jews as well as Gentiles, for his coming in the flesh. The world and humanity, land and people, cradle and stable, Bethlehem and Nazareth, parents and relatives, nature and environment, society and civilization—these are all components in the fullness of the times in which God sent his Son into the flesh.”Herman Ridderbos, Reformed Dogmatics., Vol. 3, p. 280
Worship the eternal Word. The Logos is eternal. Our minds, since we are creatures existing in time, struggle to understand eternity. But God, and God alone is eternal. Echoing Genesis 1:1, John tells you that in the beginning was the Word.
“There is no time before creation. There is only eternity, and time can make no intrusion into eternity, no creature can by its existence or nonexistence add something or take away from eternity. Already Augustine said very accurately, ‘Without doubt the world did not come into existence in time, but with time’ (De Civitate Dei [The City of God], 10.6).”Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics,Vol. 1, pages 178–179
The fourth Gospel uses the term Word or Logos in Greek, to identify Jesus. It’s the word from which we get our word, logic. But don’t think of Greek philosophy and its modern descendants. The Gospel uses the term with the background of the Old Testament. God speaks his creation into existence in the first chapter of the Bible. The “word of the Lord” is sure and firm. It cannot be broken. This Word, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, came before John. But not only had he preceded John the Baptist in time, not only was he greater than John, but, John adds at the end of verse 15, “he was before me.” That takes you back, not just to the beginning of creation, not just to the start of time, but to before the dawn of time. In eternity, this Word existed. He had no beginning. He is truly God. That is why he could appear from time to time in the Old Testament. And now, according to John, in the one person to whom he points, you can see, not only a true human being, but also God himself. John’s testimony seems to peak in verse 18. No one has seen God, the invisible, eternal Creator. Yet, God the one and only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known. The Word made flesh is not less than God the one and only!
“[I]n Christ the Mediator there occurs the unique appearance of one and the same person who at the same time exists in two completely different natures. According to His deity, the person of the Mediator is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent; but according to His humanity the very same person of the Mediator is limited in knowledge and power and circumscribed by space. The deity has not ceased to be deity and is not in the least altered or changed by the incarnation, except insofar as it through the person has entered into a new relationship.”Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics,Vol. 3, p. 49
Receive his gracious blessing. John the Baptist in not speculating about philosophy. Rather he is pointing you to the Lamb. And John the disciple, inspired by the Spirit, is introducing you to the God-man who suffers and dies in the place of sinners and places you in the glorious freedom of the children of God. You receive grace upon grace. In Matthew 1, the angel assures Joseph that the child conceived in Mary’s womb is of the Holy Spirit, and that he is the Son of God. Luke 1 recounts the same truth in Gabriel’s words to Mary. As wonderful as those accounts are, John takes you further back, deeper in. He tells you that this person is “before him” in the sense of being the eternal God. And he has come as the Lamb.
Both the Baptist and the disciple point you to Jesus. Both, inspired by the Spirit, call you to entrust yourself to him, the One who is the eternal God become man to be your Savior.