Do you have a favorite author? I personally enjoy C.S. Lewis, both his fiction (like the Chronicles of Narnia that I read as a kid) and his discourses (like Mere Christianity). His British humor and insight is fun to read, but still contains some deep insights. However, these are pretty different books. Someone who likes Mere Christianity might not be into the fantasy world of Narnia (despite the allegories in the latter). Someone who enjoys the tales of Narnia might not be into Lewis’s wartime radio broadcasts.
However, many other authors are great to follow in the same style, and readers will pre-order new books from them – sight-unseen, but having confidence that they will get another great volume in a series or in a genre, because of the skill previously demonstrated by the author.
In the Bible, the same authors sometimes wrote somewhat different books (for instance, Solomon’s book of Ecclesiastes, versus the Song of Solomon), while others wrote multiple volumes with the same tone (read Jeremiah and Lamentations, for instance). However, while God inspired each book of the Bible, the style of individual authors still shows through.
Today, let’s take a look at a couple of writings from the Apostle John. Specifically, let’s take a look at how John started out two of his writings: the book of John (that is, the gospel of John), and 1 John (one of 3 epistles, or letters, that John wrote, along with the book of Revelation).
In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.
John 1:1-5 NLT
This passage has pretty much always struck me as sounding a little different – an introduction that doesn’t sound or feel like much of the rest of the book. As a result, I like the way that the translation above arranges it in a poetic format. In my mind, that fits the message well, and reconciles the style with the rest of the volume.
What key points does John lead with, before telling the story of Jesus’ ministry on earth? In these few verses, he identifies that:
- Jesus (identified as the Word, here), existed before time. This logically confers upon Him a position that is well above our finite existence.
- Jesus was with God, and He was God. This – along with similar characteristics for the Holy Spirit – has been described as the concept of the Trinity. However, God being One, and yet having multiple Persons, is identified elsewhere in the Bible, leaving us to continue to marvel at God’s nature (see Genesis 1:26-27, John 10:30, Deuteronomy 6:4).
- Jesus created everything. If we thought we were puny compared to Him when we learned that He existed before us, His act of creation gives Him authority and the right to define things (like right and wrong). A fancy word for this is that Jesus is sovereign.
- Jesus brings light, and that light cannot be defeated (or, in an alternate reading, it cannot be understood by darkness). Many have tried to overcome, suppress, and exterminate the message of Jesus, but it continues to exist, thrive, and change lives. In the same way, many of those who have tried to work against the teachings of Jesus have simply not understood them, or their impact.
With this introduction, John proceeds to describe the ministry of Jesus. Unlike authors like Luke, he skips the birth of Jesus and starts with the ministry of John the Baptist (who is, for the record, not the same as John the apostle who wrote the book). John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry, and then stepped aside.
Later, the book of John closes with this great summary:
This disciple is the one who testifies to these events and has recorded them here. And we know that his account of these things is accurate.
Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.
John 21:24-25 NLT
The testimony that we have in the book of John is compelling, but is just a selection of all of the things that could be written about Jesus.
In some ways, the introduction to the book of 1 John could almost pick up where the Gospel of John left off.
We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.
1 John 1:1-4 NLT
The author restates Jesus “pre-existence” (if that’s a word), but then moves immediately into both the author’s personal testimony – what he observed first-hand.
Although not martyred like his fellow apostles, John endured significant persecution for his testimony about Jesus. At any time, John could have retracted his statements or just kept his faith to himself, and life probably would have gotten easier for him. However, he was so sure that what he had seen was true – and was so important for the world to know – that he continued to share what he had personally experienced, despite the suffering that he endured as a result.
Having spent time with Jesus, John understood that Jesus wasn’t just sovereign and divine. John had learned that Jesus was the source of eternal life and our only opportunity to have fellowship with God.
Together, the gospel and the epistle make up parts of one big message that John is sharing. Like a pastor or author explaining a well-known event in a new and different way, John had more experiences than he could ever write down, but that didn’t keep him from sharing what he could.
If you like John’s work in these two books, I encourage you to keep reading through 2 John and 3 John, and then tackle the complexity of Revelation.