“In the Beginning Was the Word”

God’s Eternality in the Gospels

5 min

“In the beginning was the Word . . . .” This simple but profound statement is the opening of the Gospel of John. Looking at the other three Gospels, Mark began his record with the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. Matthew and Luke began their Gospels with the wonder of the Incarnation and the miracle of the virgin birth of the Lord. But John’s Gospel commences with a statement of the eternality of the Lord Jesus Christ, reminding us that the life of Jesus existed eternally before He took on human flesh and dwelt among us.

The Lord Jesus walked on earth for thirty-three years and was “made like unto his brethren” (Hebrews 2:17). Just as He willingly took on a human body and was subject to the limitations of space, so Jesus also was subject to the limitations of time. Yet He was still the eternal Son of God, without beginning and without end.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). In this passage, Jesus is revealed to us as the eternal Word of God. This verse clearly states one of the essential doctrines of Christology: The Word was God.

The careful word order and the precise placement of the definite articles assert that Jesus, the Word of God, was an eternal Person in the Godhead but distinct from the Father. Two pernicious heresies arose in the early Church that sought to weaken the orthodox teaching of the eternal Sonship of the Lord Jesus.

Arianism is the heresy that taught that Jesus Christ was not eternal, and that the Son took on divinity at His baptism. Its mantra was “There was a time when He was not.” Arianism was denounced at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, where the truth was affirmed that Jesus was indeed eternally begotten and was of the same substance as the Father. Arianism exists today in a modified form in the teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Sabellianism (also called Modalism) is the heresy that taught that Jesus Christ was merely a human manifestation or “a mode” of the one being of the Godhead. It denies the Trinity, as well as the eternal nature of Christ, and asserts that God is not three persons but rather one person that is revealed in different ways (or modes) at different times. The Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451 asserted the orthodox doctrine that Christ is “truly God and truly man . . . acknowledged in two natures without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.” Sabellianism exists today in a modified form as taught by some Unitarians and the Oneness Pentecostal movement.

Both of these heresies must fall before an honest examination of the Scripture which affirms the orthodox truth that Jesus is eternal and, in His incarnation, was simultaneously fully God and fully man. For a few remarkable years, the eternal Word was “made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The word dwelt comes from an Greek word that expresses in a very picturesque way how the eternal Son “pitched His tent” here among us for a brief, but all-important, time. He took on our flesh, bore our curse, and lived inside of time. Yet He retained His divine nature; while living as “very man,” He was also “very God.”

Jesus Himself emphasized His eternal Godhead on many occasions during His earthly ministry. As a twelve-year-old boy, He respectfully reminded His mother that “I must be about my father’s business” (Luke 2:49). This statement demonstrates that even before His baptism, the Lord Jesus was conscious of the destiny that His Heavenly Father had given Him.

At the baptism of Jesus, an audible voice came from Heaven, affirming the Father’s pleasure in the Son: “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Jesus echoed this relationship with the Father when He told His disciples, “And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29).

In this same chapter, John 8, Jesus told a hostile group of Jewish leaders, “If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me” (verse 42). As the discussion developed, the Jews proudly scoffed at the claims of Jesus and claimed Abraham as their father. Jesus replied, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad” (verse 56).

Continuing in this chapter, the Jewish leaders regarded this statement as utterly preposterous! They mocked Jesus in their response: “Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?” (verse 57). Our Lord answered with perfect clarity and confidence. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am” (verse 58). By invoking the Divine name, I AM, and by removing Himself from the bondage of time and the restriction of a human generation, Jesus asserted very clearly His Own divinity and eternality.

Modern liberal theologians and Christological heretics may try to reinterpret what Jesus meant, but to the Jewish leaders, Christ’s meaning was very clear. “Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by” (John 8:59).

Two chapters later, when identifying Himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus said, “As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:15). In this same chapter (10), Christ enraged the Jewish leaders with the statement, “I and my Father are one” (verse 30). It was immediately after this claim that the Jewish leaders again took up stones and attempted to stone Jesus to death.

On the night that He was betrayed, Jesus offered for His disciples the “High Priestly Prayer” (see John 17:1–26). In that prayer, Jesus affirmed His Own eternality when He prayed: “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (John 17:4–5).

What practical value does the eternal nature of Christ have for us today? Much! The ministry of our Lord Jesus was not confined to the thirty-three years that He spent walking the dusty hills of Galilee and Judea. He is alive today, and still about His Father’s business. He has sent us the Holy Spirit as our Comforter (see John 14:26). He is interceding for us before His Father’s throne (see Hebrews 7:25). He is preparing a place for us (see John 14:2), and someday He will come again to receive us unto Himself (see John 14:3). Yes, His eternal nature has practical value for us! Jesus, Who was beyond the bonds of space and time, willingly made Himself subject to those bonds for a few years. Why? Jesus answered that question Himself according to John 3:16, “that whosoever believeth in him [Jesus] should not perish but have everlasting life.” Have you believed in Him? If so, you will one day be set free from the bonds of time to live eternally with Christ in His glory.

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

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