In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
The opening to the most important gospel (written by the closest friend of the incarnated God, and the Gospel with most propositional insights into the person and purpose of Jesus) has four simple interrelated ideas that are unpacked later in the book.
First, Jesus is the communication of God personified. Like a living, breathing letter, an acted out treatise or a cradle-to-grave piece of performance art. The Word. The Logos in Greek. The one who was with God from the beginning is Jesus, the man who John, author of this document, saw, befriended, ate-with, questioned, touched, loved. The Word, ‘God spoken out’, is also God lived out, God expressed in full humanity. Jesus’ life is meant to be read. In reading it we see God. In seeing God, we become like Jesus.
Second, God is intrinsically communicative. This living letter, the personification of God, this accessible, approachable, understandable expression of God was there with God from the beginning. Jesus was with God from the beginning but at one point in the history of the universe was born as a human on planet Earth. He must have had some pre-incarnate form. God is intrinsically communicative. Jesus is also intrinsically communicative. In pre-, during and post- incarnational form, Jesus oozes the essence of God. It is what he does. The everlasting Word.
Third, this communicative expression of God is personal. He, was with God. In the starry swirls of the astronomers’ glimpses into the distant past and the primeval dinosaur-inhabited planet, there is a personal God with personality and purpose. We should never imagine any part of, or stage of development of, the earth or the created universe without a personal communicating loving Jesus-like intelligence at work sustaining it and communicating the essential nature of God.
Fourth, the Word is God but the Word was with God. Jesus is of the essence of God but is not identical to God. There is order here, differentiation, hierarchy even. In revealing God to the world, Jesus did not claim equality with God but acted with God’s authority as one who has been with God since the beginning. This, I think, is the key sense in which Jesus is God. He co-existed with God from the beginning as the Word. We may debate theologically and abstractly what this means or does not mean. But what Jesus asks us to believe is actually quite simple: that He, Jesus the Word, the envoy, the open book of life, the person embodied within the first century Jewish prophet, was with God from the beginning. This is His credential. This is where His wisdom comes from.
This sets the theme of the whole of John’s account of Jesus. If you read closely in what follows, there is an overarching emphasis in Jesus’s own interpretation of his incarnation as he comes to terms with who He is and communicates this to others: ‘I came from God and will return to God’.
This is the gospel in essence. Remarkably, it is all anyone has to believe in to have eternal life. Jesus was with God in the beginning. He came to do a job – to show us what God is like and empower us to be transformed to that likeness. He went back to God. He came back to us in Spirit to complete His work on Earth. He will come again in body to set up a new Earth inhabited by those who have accepted the person, wisdom and Lordship of the one who has been with God from the beginning. The Word was with God. Came to speak God to his creation. Returned to God to empower us through His poured out Spirit. Will come again to dwell with us forever. The eternal Word.
(Imitation of Christ)
Jesus who has become my daily companion: it is hard for me to grasp that you were with God at the beginning and at all times between then and now. Transform my view of history and of science, that I may see all that has ever been, in the light of your love. In the light of your presence – the spoken and demonstrated word of God. In the light of your companionship. You smiled and loved as the stars were formed, as rocks hardened around fossils. You laughed with God at the oversized and impossibly ugly creatures you had experimented with, which were, of course so beautiful to you. You held you breath as you made a man and woman. Then you breathed spiritual life into them and sang your love over them. Your holy purpose is written through the fabric of the entire universe.
More than you can imagine, my son. And my purpose comes to rest upon you, you who have chosen to embrace me. You will sing with me for eternity as we tend creation together, exploring beauty too extreme for words. Beauty wrapped in love, tended and enjoyed as worship to God. This is our future together my friend, my loyal disciple.
Now I understand a little more clearly: you were with God from the beginning; you came from God; dwelt among us; went back to God; came back in Spirit; will one day return in person. The incarnational cycle. Too wonderful for words that this is my inheritance: to join you in your state of eternal oneness with God but in a created environment where I am at home.
I will open my mind to the knowledge imparted by the only man to have walked this earth having come from God, and who had been with God ‘from the beginning’.
That is good enough reason to submit to your wisdom and devote my whole life and energies to you.
But beyond that wonder, another and even greater, if that is possible: the Word of God, with God from the beginning, comes and joins his spirit with mine. This is indeed a precious pearl worth selling everything for.
And yet there is something even more precious: the knowledge that at some glorious future point in history, eternity will come to earth and remain there.
The Word was with God in heaven in the beginning becomes: God is with the Word on the Earth in the end. All despair withers in the light of this hope.
How trivial and untrusting that I worry about the state of your handiwork in the light of this great eternal story.