John the Baptist and the Light of the world.
In my last part of this series, I covered the first four verses of John 1, but I did notice that while I explained the Greek concept of the Word in relation to this passage, I provided an incomplete picture of the Jewish conception of the Word. The Torah was considered one conception, but the concept John really appears to have pointed to was the first word of Creation and that Jesus Christ existed before all of Creation. Not only that, in Him and through Him all things were made. What John is saying is that from the dawn of Creation, Jesus was always the centerpoint of space and time. God had a plan even before the Fall to redeem mankind and reconcile the universe unto Himself.
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:5-13, KJV)
John is now speaking of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and His ministry on earth. He further sets the stage by setting up the protagonist in Jesus as the light with the antagonist being darkness. The light is the kingdom of God and the Holy Spirit. The darkness is spiritual ignorance and the satanic opposition to God. The purpose of the light is always to overcome the darkness. The Orthodox Study Bible states that the word “comprehend” can mean both “understand” and “overcome” in this passage, so the darkness was both confounded and defeated in the coming of the Incarnation of the eternal Logos.
John the Baptist – enter stage right. John the Baptist, who was also Jesus’ cousin, comes onto the scene as the first act. He is the forerunner, the herald for the coming King. His witness is to help the people prepare the hearts of the people, so that there would be a welcoming committee. These are the ones that finally saw Jesus and received Him, welcomed in as adopted children of God. What’s most interesting about this? John probably hadn’t even met Jesus yet. At a young age, John probably went off to the wilderness and was separated from Jesus as a part of his family. Later passages show he may have been completely unaware until he saw Him, that Jesus was the Messiah.
Going back to the passage, John Chrysostom explained that it is futile to reason out the Light. The Light is something greater than a feeble human concept, grasped in knowledge:
Let us not then remove the eternal bounds which our fathers set, but let us ever yield to the laws of the Spirit; and when we hear that “That was the true Light”, let us seek to discover nothing more. For it is not possible to pass beyond this saying. Had His generation (form) been like that of a man, needs must there have been an interval between the begetter and the begotten; but since it is in a manner ineffable and becoming God, give up the “before” and the “after”, for these are the names of points in time, but the Son is the Creator even of all ages.
The Light referenced in John is often compared to the sun. Chrysostom mentions the sunbeams and man’s inability to look directly into the sun in another paragraph. The apostle John could be said to show that John the Baptist is like a man pointing all men up to the sun and soak in it’s glorious rays, but instead of the actual sun, he’s pointing them to the Son of God, whose light fills the entire world and gives everything life.
Augustine covers this more and explains how the world was to receive Him and what purpose God had in bringing John to prepare the people for God:
What then? If He came hither, where was He?He was in this world.He was both here and came hither; He was here according to His divinity, and He came hither according to the flesh; because when He was here according to His divinity, He could not be seen by the foolish, by the blind, and the wicked. These wicked men are the darkness concerning which it was said,The light shines in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.(John 1:5) Behold, both here He is now, and here He was, and here He is always; and He never departs, departs no-whither. There is need that you have some means whereby you may see that which never departs from you; there is need that you depart not from Him who departs no-whither; there is need that you desert not, and you shall not be deserted. Do not fall, and His sun will not set to you. If you fall, His sun sets upon you; but if you stand, He is present with you. But you have not stood: remember how you have fallen, how he who fell before you cast you down. For he cast you down, not by violence, not by assault, but by your own will. For had you not consented unto evil, you would have stood, you would have remained enlightened. But now, because you have already fallen, and hast become wounded in heart—the organ by which that light can be seen—He came to you such as you might see; and He in such fashion manifested Himself as man, that He sought testimony from man. From man God seeks testimony, and God has man as a witness—God has man as a witness, but on account of man: so infirm are we. By a lamp we seek the day; because John himself was called a lamp, the Lord saying,He was a burning and a shining light; and you were willing for a season to rejoice in his light: but I have greater witness than John.(John 5:35)
What I find most beautiful about this commentary is that Augustine is basically saying that the Light surrounds us in space and time. Jesus came as one of us and through face to face God came to lift the hearts of man. John was like the flickering lighthouse drawing all lost ships to safe harbor and when Jesus came peace and light infilled where he came. Those who came and made a place for Him already were the first ones to help bring the light of the Kingdom out. They were taking the flickering light and spreading it like wildfire.
I think that we think of preparing our hearts for Christ as an odd exercise as He’s always with us, but sometimes we need to just rest and in the quiet prepare our hearts for Him. His Spirit within us will continue to grow brighter and witness to Him. We acquire more of the Spirit, not because we’ve lost it, but because the flickering fire within us always needs a dousing of gasoline every now and then. Spend time with Him and ask Him to mend wounds, enlighten your heart and fight back the darkness that might entangle you.