The author of the gospel of John begins by telling the reader who Jesus is from the outset, similar to the way a musical overture functions. In a dramatic and sweeping pronouncement, John 1:1 declares that the (Greek) Logos, or the Word, was eternal, was with God, and was God himself. He likens the Logos to light, life, and the One and Only Son of God (John 1:4, 14, NIV). John then goes on to illustrate the assertions of the prologue by showing Jesus in a series of stories of personal encounters between himself and individuals (or groups.) As the reader reads through the progression of encounters, a picture of Jesus beings to emerge.
We see examples of Jesus embodying titles such as a man/human, teacher, prophet, Messiah, Son of God, and the Word. The reader also derives imagery connected to Jesus and his mission such as the Logos, life, light, the only Son, and prophet (comparison to Moses). John uses the titles and images of Jesus as bullet points, or a table of contents, for the reader to pay attention and “see” Jesus more clearly while moving through the narrative. This God-man was multi-dimensional and John uses a variety of ways to describe him for the sake of the early church (and ours.)
John especially emphasizes the need to believe—this is the predominant theme throughout the gospel. Each story and assertion seem to ask the characters of the narrative, as well as the reader, the question: “Do you believe?”
For “those who believed in his name,” the author of John offers the promise of “the right to become children of God…children born of God” (John 1:12-13, NIV).
We, the reader, get to witness the revelation of who Jesus actually was unfold for a wide cast of characters, beginning with John the Baptizer. John boldly declares that Jesus is the one whom he testified about, calling Jesus the “Lamb of God” and “Son of God.” (John 1:29, 34, NIV). John’s testimony is soon followed by a group of disciples; by the guests and host of a wedding party alongside members of Jesus’ family; by a crowd of worshippers, moneychangers, and Jews at the temple court; and by Nicodemus, an educated and powerful Jewish leader. As we move through the company of players, I wonder, who do you relate to? Who says or does something that feels familiar to your own experience? Pay attention to Jesus’ particular interaction with that person.
In a parallel account from Mark 8:27-29, Jesus pointedly asks Peter the question–
On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
From Jesus’ initiation on the scene of the world, his presence caused every person to react in some way. There are no given examples of ambivalence or neutrality in the text. Each of the examples offered above are encounters that Jesus had with someone (or a group) where the other party had to make a decision about who he was (and whether they believed what was being said about him.)
This pattern continues throughout the gospel as John continues to offer scene after scene of Jesus interacting with someone…and then a challenge is made to the reader’s belief. As the narrative develops, the action becomes more intense and the stakes for Jesus’ life become higher. This has an effect on the reader as if each encounter is building toward an ultimate climax of story, presumably Jesus’ death (the ultimate challenge to his claim to divinity.) No conversation is wasted, no moment frittered away. Every encounter is toward the single purpose of God’s will unfolding through Jesus’ experience on this terra firma. Immanuel was here–God with us.
This week: Read Psalm 113 and ponder the complexity and magnitude of God coming to earth as a man. Meditate on the many names and images that John gives to Jesus and invite the Holy Spirit to help you acknowledge two things: your place before Almighty God and the incredible love that drove Jesus to fulfill the mission of the Father.
 Alan R. Culpepper, The Gospel and Letters of John (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 117. Bultmann first made this comparison of John’s prologue to a musical overture.