Do you like a mystery? Do you enjoy reading a mystery novel or watching a mystery program or movie? Each generation has its own mystery writers, and the ones from previous generations are still classics. There are more and more mystery programs on the television these days because the viewing audience and the ratings for a good mystery program are so high. Why this interest in mysteries? They appeal to our curiosity. A good mystery usually shows good prevailing over evil. It also has interesting characters, often reminding us of ourselves or people we know, having motives that aren’t always clear.
Secondly, and more importantly, mysteries are appealing because people like to solve things. Look at all the cross-word puzzles and other kinds of puzzles in our newspapers and magazines. A mystery is like a puzzle. It challenges our problem-solving abilities. The goal in everyone’s mind is to try to solve the mystery before the solution is given; to figure out the “whodunit” before it’s done. This challenge causes us to immerse ourselves in the plot and the action. The majority of mystery stories are solved at the end, but there are exceptions. People want a solution, so when there is no solution given, everyone makes up their own minds about the solution, or the character who committed the crime. As the saying goes about mystery writers: “You don’t always have to give the answer, but you always have to raise the question.”
The apostle John began his gospel much like a mystery writer would begin a mystery novel. And why not? He appeals to the curiosity of his readers by presenting a mystery, using terms they are familiar with, but in a way that is unfamiliar. “Who is this Logos?”, his readers are wondering. “What are all these things that you are saying about him?”
Can you remember these words being directed at you: “I demand an explanation!” The person who said those words probably had the right and authority to say them. If you heard those words as a kid, you knew that you had to either confess the truth or come up with a really good alibi in a hurry! When John’s readers say or think those words, “I demand an explanation”, they are being drawn into reading the rest of his gospel to find out if a satisfactory explanation is going to be given in order to satisfy their curiosity and remove their confusion.
In this particular mystery, John revealed the identity of the Logos in chapter l, verse 17. The Logos is the Lord Jesus Christ. But it’s going to take twenty-two chapters to explain the solution to this mystery. They are going to read about many of the miracles that Jesus performed and see Jesus’ description of Himself. They are also going to read the testimonies of many eye-witnesses who responded to what they saw and heard and experienced. John’s desire is that his readers might come to the right conclusion about Jesus Christ by the grace of God. I have chosen to focus my study on just one verse, John 1:18, because John uses this verse to give a short, concise description of the Lord Jesus Christ from the perspective of eternity and the Old Testament scriptures. He is preparing us for what will follow. The mystery still remains a mystery to our human minds and imaginations.
I. THE INVISIBLE GOD (John 1:18a)
The apostle John begins verse 18 by saying, “No man has seen God at any time”. We might take issue with that statement. “Didn’t God appear to many people in the Bible?” “Jesus is God, and thousands of people saw Him,” Those comments are true, but John is referring here to the fullness of God’s glory. His Greek and Hebrew readers knew what he was talking about. As commentator William Barclay puts it, “In the ancient world men were fascinated and depressed and frustrated by what they regarded as the infinite distance and the utter unknowability of God.” The Greek philosopher Plato said, “Never man and God can meet.” The Jews also remembered what God said to Moses in the Old Testament: “You cannot see My face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). So both Jews and Greeks would have agreed with John’s statement. Later, the apostle Paul said, “God dwells in unapproachable light” (I Timothy 6:16). Jesus Himself made that clear to His listeners when He said of Himself in John 6:46, “Not that any man has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father.”
Let’s take another look at that first phrase in John 1:18. The NIV says, “No man has ever seen God.” The literal Greek translation gets the point across more strongly. It says, “God no man has seen never“. This phrase is referred to as an “absolute negative”. To put it into American English: “Absolutely no one has ever seen God, period!” What he means is that no man has seen God in a full and complete way, in all His glory. I think John is getting his point across to his readers and listeners!
There is a story about a kindergarten teacher who asked a boy what he was drawing. Without pausing to look up, he said, “A picture of God”. The teacher smiled and responded, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” The boy carefully put down his crayon, looked her squarely in the eye, and declared, “After I’m finished here they will.”
He must have had a clear picture of God in his mind! I would like to have seen the finished drawing. It may have been very insightful!
II. THE REVEALER OF GOD (John 1:18b)
If God is invisible, how can we know Him personally? The author of Hebrews begins his epistle with these words: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways . . . “. God revealed His presence, his character and His will through the prophets and through “visual aids” (miracles, visions, pillar of cloud, pillar of fire, the ark of the covenant, the “angel of the Lord”). Hebrews 1:2,3 says, “In these last days has spoken to us in His Son . . . And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature . . . “.
In John 1:18, the apostle John calls Jesus “the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father”. That description requires some explanation. Only John uses this title for Jesus. As the “only begotten God”, the Lord Jesus Christ is unique and existed from all eternity as God. The Lord Jesus is the God-man, reminding us of John’s words in verse 1: “In the beginning was the Word . . . and the Word was God”, and “the Word became flesh” (verse 14).
The phrase “in the bosom of the Father” is an expression that conveys the closest of relationships, and the deepest love for one another and enjoyment of one another’s presence. This figure of speech was used elsewhere in Scripture to describe the relationship of a husband and wife (Deuteronomy 13:6), of a nurse carrying a nursing infant-child (Numbers 11:12), and of the affectionate protection and rest afforded to Lazarus in Paradise (Luke 16:23) (Vincent’s Word Studies). The phrase also reminds us of John’s words in John 1:1-2, “And the word was with God . . . He was in the beginning with God.”
Because of Jesus’ identity as God, and His closeness to the Father, He is the only One qualified to reveal and explain the Father to us. In chapter 14, Jesus said to Thomas, “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” Philip then asks, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” (They still don’t understand what Jesus is saying to them.) So Jesus replies, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me?” It is a difficult concept for them, and us, to understand. They are both God, and inseparable in their relationship to one another.
God is still invisible in the sense that we cannot see Him today with our physical eyes. In the same way, the Lord Jesus is also invisible to our eyes. He left us no visible, physical image of Himself. He didn’t pose for a painting or sculpture of Himself while He was on this earth. All of His eye-witnesses are dead and none of them made a sketch of him or gave a detailed description of His physical appearance. But even though we can’t see Him, He sees us and is with us always. His character, His actions, His attitude, and His obedience to the Father have been written down for us by eye-witnesses. Some of them were with Him day and night for a period of three years, and also witnessed His death, His post-resurrection appearances, and His ascension into heaven. Because of their closeness to Jesus Christ while He was here on this earth, their understanding of God increased immensely, and they have shared that understanding with us. Their belief in Him became firmly established and most of them were martyred because of their faith in Him.
We don’t need any more explanation. It’s all there in the Scriptures, and evident in the lives of those who have entrusted their lives to Him. There are no excuses for not having a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. If you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, are you giving others an explanation for the hope and joy that is in you? If you don’t know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, don’t you think it’s time that you did? It’s the one decision you could never regret, and will forever enjoy!
There are many other completed projects on this site and you are welcome to visit them all. It’s always “Open House” here. Thanks for visiting. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be your continuing source of joy and strength.