As the darkness of winter deepens, we are amid the season we Christians call Advent. Advent is the celebration of the dawning of the True Light in the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, conceived by a young virgin whose birth pangs brought into this dark and hostile world God’s Son who would become the Savior of the world. Yet do we give adequate consideration to the wonder and daily significance of Advent?
Celebrations of Advent feature Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels because both include narratives concerning the holy conception and birth of our Lord to the Virgin Mary. Also, both Matthew and Luke provide genealogical records that respectively reach back to Abraham, the God-appointed father of all believers, and to Adam, our disobedient ancestor whose sin brought the curse of death and darkness to us all.
The Advent’s Origin—In the Beginning
Tending to be overshadowed during Advent are Mark’s and John’s Gospels which present neither a birth narrative nor a genealogy. Nevertheless, they also contend that their accounts concerning Jesus of Nazareth originate from the Old Testament, though with different beginning points. If Mark’s Gospel draws us to Isaiah’s prophecy as “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s Son” (1:1), John’s Gospel reaches farther back in the Old Testament, to the absolute beginning.
John situates his account of the Messiah neither genealogically, like Matthew and Luke, nor geographically, like Mark, in the Judean desert to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy. Rather, John situates the Messiah eternally. John’s opening words, “In the beginning,” deliberately draw us back to the initial words of Genesis: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (1:1). Both Moses’s ancient narrative and John’s Gospel begin not with creation but with the absolute beginning, before creation’s beginning.
“In the beginning was the Word” confronts us to ponder the imponderable—that the uncreated Word had no beginning but was already existing when what was created came into existence. This truth beckons us to acknowledge that the historical advent of Jesus has an eternal antecedent that takes us back beyond “the beginning” of primordial history to the time of no beginning when “the Word was with God, and the Word was God, who was with God in the beginning” (John 1:1–2).
As a title, “the Word” deliberately evokes remembrance of the Genesis creation account spanning six days portraying each phase of God’s creative activity accomplished by God’s speech, “and God said” (1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26). Who but God speaks things into existence? Though Genesis is not a synchronous journal with God’s speaking all things into existence, it is the Creator’s authorized account.
Divine Accommodation: God’s Word in Human Words
The chasm between the Creator and us, his creatures, is vast. So vast, that if God were to speak to us in his divine language, none of us would understand him. At most, we might say, “It thundered” (John 12:29; Job 40:9). When the Creator spoke to Adam, the first man, God did not communicate in a divine language. He condescended to the human level, speaking Adam and Eve’s language and appearing to them in their likeness in form and qualities. God accommodated himself to their human language with human words.
As creatures, it is essential that we acknowledge that God invariably reveals himself to us this way, whether embedded in creation, written in his Word (i.e., the Holy Scriptures from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21), or incarnate in his Son. Yet, we must affirm that when God condescends to accommodate human likeness, he does so without any sinful tarnishing of thought, word, or deed. Thus, we would be grievously wrong to reason as some do: “God anticipates the future in a way analogous to our own experience.” The fallacy is to forget that we are made after God’s likeness. The error is to project back upon God our creaturely restrictions of qualities we received from him who made us in his image. To regard ourselves as the fundamental reference point for ascribing qualities to God is idolatry which is what the Prophet Isaiah condemns:
1. Clark Pinnock, “God Limits His Knowledge,” in Predestination and Free Will, ed. Basinger and Basinger, 157, emphasis added. Pinnock continues, “God is omniscient in the sense that he knows everything which can be known, just as God is omnipotent in the sense that he can do everything that can be done. But free actions are not entities which can be known ahead of time. They literally do not yet exist to be known. God can surmise what you will do next Friday, but cannot know it for certain because you have not done it yet.”
You turn things upside down,
as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!
Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it,
“You did not make me”? (Isaiah 29:16)
Throughout the Old Testament, the Creator’s willingness to accommodate himself to his creature’s likeness to make himself known to us prepares for the appointed time when God condescends to take on human likeness in the flesh. Thus, God intentionally inspires the psalmist, David, to compare God to earthly caring fathers.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:13–14).
Because God made humans analogous to himself, he delights to be analogized in these appropriate ways by his people—he would not have inspired it if he did not delight in it. He does this because he as the Creator imbued the material and nonmaterial creation with his imprint, reflecting his self-revelatory divine perfections. Made after the Creator’s likeness, we are God’s earthly analogs. Accordingly, God is pleased that we should call him by names obtained from the created realm, names with which the Creator richly endowed and loaned to his creation for this purpose, that his whole creation might resound with his praise.
2. An Analogue is an “earthly reality corresponding . . . to the person or condition to which it points (Donald K. McKim, Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms [Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997], 9). Cornelius Van Til succinctly expresses this point: “Man was created as an analogue of God; his thinking, his willing, and his doing is therefore properly conceived as at every point analogical to the thinking, willing, and doing of God” (“Nature of Scripture,” in The Infallible Word, ed. N. B. Stonehouse and Paul Woolley (Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1947), 273.
3. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2: God and Creation, trans. John Vriend, ed. John Bolt (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 107.
For example, David’s analogy of Psalm 103 above is fitting because God is pleased to be compared to compassionate earthly fathers because he is the Father “from whom every fatherhood [patrilineage] in heaven and on earth is named” (Ephesians 3:15; cf. Matthew 23:9). The entire created order analogically correlates to God, the uncreated, self-existing, eternal one whose invisible traits, including his eternal power and divine nature, have been readily apparent in everything that the Creator brought into existence (cf. Romans 1:19–20).
Like each Stradivarius violin indelibly bears the signature of its craftsman, so God infused his individual works with his glory. True, no one sees God as he is in himself because he is beyond comprehension and his majestic glory exceeds all human perception. Nevertheless, God reveals himself daily in the symphonic beauty of the vast universe, making it impossible for humans to open their eyes without being constrained to encounter him.
From the created order, knowledge of God is inescapable. Consequently, however highly educated philosophers and theologians may be, no human can say anything about God without using analogies from creation. We are all like children, and we must get the reference point correct, or else we will become idolaters, foolishly thinking ourselves the measure of all things as we carve out a god after our own likeness.
God’s authorized account of his creative acts testifies that humans alone are God’s earthly analogs. For God condescends to speak as a human, saying, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”
4. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV), Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
So, God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female, he created them. (Gen. 1:26, 27)
Here, then, is a divine irony succinctly expressed: “Because God formed Adam from the ‘dust of the earth’ and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, making him in his own image and likeness, God makes himself known to his creatures in their likeness, as if he wears both their form and qualities, when in fact they wear his likeness.”
5. A. B. Caneday, “Veiled Glory: God’s Self-Revelation in Human Likeness—A Biblical Theology of God’s Anthropomorphic Self-Disclosure,” in Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity, eds. John Piper, Justin Taylor, & Paul Kjoss Helseth (Wheaton: Crossway, 2003), 161.
How would the transcendent Creator make himself known to us, whom he formed after his likeness, apart from condescending to us, his creatures, by taking on human likeness, especially human speech? Knowledge of the Creator is possible only because God condescends to bridge the vast chasm between him and us to make himself known sufficiently though not exhaustively. So, from its initial words and throughout, Scripture represents the unseen Creator as if God were a man—with a face (Num. 6:25–26), eyes (Prov. 15:3), hands (Ex. 9:3), and nostrils (Ex. 15:8). With greater intense humanness, the invisible Creator is pleased to present himself as personified speech, “the Word of the Lord.” God welcomes our worship when we heartily declare:
For the word of the Lord is upright,
and all his work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap;
he puts the deeps in storehouses (Ps. 33:4–7).
Likewise, the prophets regularly speak of “the Word of the Lord” as a personified divine messenger. Jeremiah declares, “Then the word of the Lord came to me” (Jer. 1:4; cf. Ezek. 1:3; Isa. 38:4).
God’s Word in Human Flesh Inaugurates the New Creation
Returning to the Fourth Gospel, “the Word” (the Logos) aptly fits John’s use as the title for God’s supreme self-disclosure because it suitably anticipates the movement from the personified Word to the Word incarnate, God’s unique Son in human flesh. The Creator, who formerly revealed himself analogically to humans whom God made to be his earthly analogs—bearing God’s image and likeness—now in Christ Jesus, God’s true image, reveals himself in the form of an earthly analog to his earthly analogs. God, who was pleased to reveal himself anthropomorphically by speaking through the prophets at many times and in various ways, is now pleased to speak to us through his Son as his own earthly analog, who is the exact earthly representation of the invisible God whose word of power sustains the entire creation (cf. Heb. 1:1–4).
The common elements between Hebrews 1:1–4 with John 1:1–18 are several, profound, and in harmony. Both feature (1) God’s speaking through his Son, (2) the Son’s creating and sustaining all things, (3) God’s effulgent glory shining forth in the Son, and (4) the Son’s divine nature. “The whole revelation of God is concentrated in the Logos, who became ‘flesh’ and is, as it were, one single act of self-humanization, the incarnation of God.”
6. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 100.
John’s opening verse, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” activates a string of allusions to Genesis 1, each bursting with immense implications—creation, life, the binary of light and darkness—themes that John’s Gospel develops. In verses 4–5, “the Word,” the embodied speech title for God’s Son used three times in verses 1 and 2, gives way to another revelatory title for God’s Son, “the Light.” This title dominates verses 5 through 9 and becomes a core theme that runs through the whole Gospel.
“The Word,” in whom life resides, is the Light that burst forth at the divine command, “Let there be light!” That light was divinely radiated from God’s Son—not solar light—for the sun was not formed until day four (Genesis 1:14–19). Thus, “The Light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not apprehend it” is a tightly compressed summary of the storyline of John’s Gospel, and it signals the dawn of the new creation.
The deliberate double reference of light, darkness, and “did not apprehend” simultaneously alludes to the first day of creation, in the beginning, and to the Light’s entrance into the world as God’s incarnate Son (1:9). This shining Son reveals the Father and vanquishes the evil human darkness of his own people, who in alliance with the devil vigorously attempted to extinguish the Light, the Word in whom life resides.
Although subtle, these unmistakable and pregnant allusions to the seven days of the creation account in Genesis 1–2 prepare us to recognize that John’s Gospel carefully tracks the days that accrue as the initial week of Jesus’ mission climaxes at a wedding (1:19–2:1). John seems to indicate that Jesus is inaugurating the new creation.
7. D. A. Carson observes, “[F]or a writer as subtle as John to set out a week of activity, culminating in the miracle of new wine on the seventh day, may reflect more than antiquarian precision. John has already drawn attention to creation: the good news he proclaims in this Gospel reflects a new creation. . . . the week of days climaxing in the miracle at Cana may provide an echo of creation-week (Gn. 1) that means the miracle itself takes place on the seventh day, the Sabbath.” The Gospel According to John, PCNT [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991], 168.
God’s Word in Human Flesh Inaugurates the New Covenant
If John 1:1–5 reverberates with echoes from the creation week narrated in Genesis 1–2, John’s announcement, “And the Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14), abounds with echoes from the covenant renewal account in Exodus 33–34. “Tabernacled,” (John 1:14; Exod. 33:7–11) “glory” (John 1:14; Exod. 33:18, 22) and “for no man may see my face and live” (John 1:18; Exod. 33:20) are easily discernible verbal links that point to the inauguration of the New Covenant in the incarnate Word. Of these echoes, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” foreshadows Jesus’s riddle at the temple, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days” (John 2:18–22). In this passage, Jesus announces that he will bring Israel’s tabernacle-temple to its foreshadowed fulfillment and end. The Word, who was with God in the beginning, whose theophany illuminated Sinai at the meeting with Moses (cf. John 1:5), and who inhabited the tabernacle (Exodus 22:7), has now taken up residence in the tabernacle of his flesh to reveal the Father who cannot be seen (John 1:18). The Word’s habitation in the tabernacle of flesh accents his “glory as of the unique Son from the Father.”
What a mystery! This Glory was a theophanic representation of the unseen God with Moses but now is God’s beloved Son made flesh. The Word’s divine glory is now seen in the Word’s accepting human mortality. He alone, in whom life resides, could lay down his life on behalf of his people and rise again to live, defeating death and all enemies.
That John 1:14–18 entails the inauguration of the New Covenant is evident from this statement: “From his fullness, we all received grace instead of grace because the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John draws not an antithetical but a progressive contrast between the Mosaic Covenant and the Christ Covenant. The Law Covenant that God renewed with Moses on Mount Sinai entailed grace, a grace now replaced by the fuller grace and truth that came through Jesus Christ.
8. Author’s own translation.
9. Ardel B. Caneday, “God Veiled in the Tabernacle of Flesh: Exodus 33–34 in the Gospel of John,” SBJT 20.1 (2016): 55–72.
Through Moses, God gave the law with its ark, its tabernacle, and its priesthood to his people; through Jesus Christ, God himself came to his people and receives his people in and through the new tabernacle-temple who is Jesus Christ. The Law Covenant’s shadows have dissipated with the incarnation of the Word who cast those shadows. Manifestations of the Lord’s presence among the Israelites, though resplendent and glorious, were but shadowy earthly representations of God’s heavenly majesty. The Law Covenant, imbued with God’s presence, prefigured Jesus Christ, who is the very presence of God in flesh.
10. Geerhardus Vos is right: “The law was not yet the highest, atypical grace which was necessary to constitute it ‘truth’; it was typical adumbration, but it was not on that account ‘false’ in the invidious sense. The contrast is the same as the epistle to the Hebrews expresses in 10:1: ‘The law having a shadow of good things to come, not the very eikon of the things’” (“‘True’ and ‘Truth’ in Johannine Writings,” Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Richard Gaffin, Jr. [Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1980], 349).
The ramifications from this brief consideration of the advent of our Lord presented in the prologue to John’s Gospel are numerous and full. Consider four implications: (1) God’s creational revelation of himself to us, (2) God’s redemptive revelation of himself, (3) the sanctity of God’s creation, especially our fleshly bodies, and (4) the Lord’s ownership of all creation.
1. God’s Creational Revelation of Himself to Us
God spans the gap between himself and his creation by condescending to our level to make himself known to us. From the beginning, the Creator’s act of forming Adam, our first ancestor, established our indissoluble access across the Creator-creature distinction by constituting Adam and all his descendants to be his own earthly analogs. That we resemble our Creator is at the core of what it means to be made in God’s image, after his likeness.
How are we God’s earthly analogs? The Creator conferred to us many of his own characteristics in creaturely, derived, and miniature forms. Thus, we are unique among the Creator’s creatures, self-aware and having knowledge of God. We think because God thinks, speak because God speaks, hear because God hears, see because God sees, love because God loves, are capable of anger because God is, and act because God acts. We have a deep and abiding awareness of God (sensus divinitatis) that entails the inescapable sense of moral accountability by way of an implanted understanding of God’s divine majesty. No one can escape this culpability by pleading ignorance.
2. God’s Redemptive Revelation of Himself to Us
If God is infinite and we are finite, God must condescend to our level to make himself known to us. This God reveals aspects of himself in creational revelation—the vastness of the oceans, the beauty of the clouds, and the power of volcanoes all testify something about their Creator. But he has revealed more of himself in redemptive word revelation—in the very Bible that he inspired. God’s creational revelation is glorious and it makes God known to us that we are culpable for our sinfulness (Rom. 1:20)—but it redeems no one. God’s redemptive word revelation, in concert with his creational revelation, exposes our sinfulness, purchases us out of our slavery to evil, shines the light of God’s holiness upon us, and brings us to the True Light that we might see all things with renewed vision.
Who can span the vast chasm between Creator and creature? Only the Creator can do this. The Word, first as speech inscribed throughout the Old Testament Scriptures, became incarnate in human flesh to accomplish the redemption prophesied by foreshadows throughout the Law and the Prophets. God who made us became one of us as the God-Man to redeem us from our sinful alienation and hostility toward our Creator. Thus, with joy and worship, we fittingly celebrate Advent, the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
3. The Sanctity of God’s Creation, Especially Our Fleshly Bodies
The Word’s incarnation, his becoming human flesh, makes clear the sanctity of God’s creation. God did not create a disposable universe. Lamentably, sinful human inclination tends either to deify the material creation, as Gaia worshipers do, or to denigrate the physical creation as many evangelicals have tended to do under their unacknowledged influence of the ancient heresy of Gnosticism. The incarnation of the Word exposes both as antithetical to the Creator’s design for creation. The psalmist rightly expresses the Lord’s design.
The heavens are the Lord’s heavens,
but the earth he has given to the children of man (Ps. 115:16).
Indeed, the first man’s disobedience invoked the Creator’s curse upon the entire created order, both the visible and the invisible realms. Even so, God did not then, nor will he ever, cede his creation to that ancient serpent, the devil. From the beginning God has been carrying out his redemptive plan and purpose because his created order is sacred, and he will redeem it—along with his people—from the curse of death he imposed on account of the rebellion. This leads to the fourth ramification concerning the prologue of John’s Gospel as it pertains to our celebration of Advent.
4. The Lord’s Ownership of All Creation
We, at Christ Over All, are fully persuaded that our celebration of Advent, properly engaged, underscores God’s ownership of the entire created order first by his acts of creation and then by his great redemptive act of the Word becoming flesh and tabernacling among us. The incarnate Word is the very image of God who has made the invisible God visible. As John’s Gospel assures us, everything was made by him that has been made, whether in heaven or on earth, whether visible or invisible, including all earthly spheres of government—the family, the church, and the state. Everything God created through the Word and sustains by the word of his power he made for himself and his own glory.
Thus, Christ Over All exists to acknowledge these truths, to assist others to do the same, and to convey as clearly as possible Christ’s Lordship over every sphere of this earthly realm— a realm visited by the Word of God who took on our flesh and blood to redeem what belongs to him for his glory and our joy. Indeed, it is our deepest desire for you to experience God’s richest blessing as you observe the incarnation of our Lord throughout this Advent season, and especially on Christmas, which aptly falls on a Lord’s Day.