Commentary on John 1:1-14
“In the beginning was the Word…and we have seen his glory.”
John doesn’t shy away from talking about glory; in fact, the second half of the gospel is often referred to as “the Book of Glory.” John introduces the theme of glory without subtlety in this pericope: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
To be clear, the way John talks about glory is not “glory theology,” which is about human self-glorification. No. For John, God’s glory is God’s presence that defies powers of injustice and brings newness. In the theology of John’s gospel, one “does not have to wait for a future revealing of the fullness of God’s glory and God’s will for the world or for eternal life to be bestowed. Both are available now in Jesus.”1 For John, God’s glory is clearly manifest in the ways God dwells among God’s creation — that is God’s Shekinah. God indwells the tabernacle; Jesus dwells on earth. These concrete indwellings point to the coming of God’s total indwelling — God’s total glory in on its way.
At the end of history, when God’s glory is fully consummated on earth, then God’s glory will mean “an overbrimming life that makes what is dead and withered live; a life from which everything that lives receives its vital energies and its zest for living; a source of life to which everything that has been made alive responds with deepest joy and ringing exultation.”2 Yet John uniquely reminds us that God’s glory is not only manifest at the end of history in the full consummation. God continually breaks into the world and makes God’s glorious presence manifest.
Theologian Jürgen Moltmann says that God’s glory causes four things: the resurrection, eternal life, the kingdom of God, and the new heaven and new earth (The Coming of God). Each of these four proclaims hope in God’s glory for today.
- The resurrection
The glory of God is the cause of the resurrection. On account of God’s glory,
- God encounters the negative,
- negates the negative, and
- obliterates the power of the negative by taking it up into Gods own self-realization.3
The death of Christ is the primary manifestation of God’s encounter with the negative within creation. On the cross, Christ enters into the negative — the absolute pain of life. God negates and obliterates the power of the negative by taking it up into God’s own self-realization. When taken up into God’s own selfhood, the negative is negated and obliterated because it is redeemed. The redemption of the negative into God’s own self-realization undermines the power of the negative, which otherwise makes created life incompatible with God’s own being. The resurrection proclaims hope because it means that God enters into the most negative aspects of our own real lives. Having encountered the negative in our lives, God will transform the negative and bring redemption. God encounters, negates, and obliterates the negative on account of God’s glory because the negative stands in contradiction to God’s glory.
- Eternal life
The glory of God causes eternal life. On account of God’s glory, death is left without options and forced to retreat. God’s glory has this effect on death; death cannot withstand God’s indwelling. Since God’s glory causes death to flee, God’s glory provides access to eternal life for all creation. Eternal life proclaims hope, personally, for one’s own life in God’s fullness. Personal eternal life is but a fraction of what eternal life means theologically. Eternal life is more adequately expressed in terms of God’s redemptive action that God’s glory performs on behalf of all of creation when God’s glory expels death.
- The kingdom of God
The glory of God causes the kingdom of God. Since God’s glory is incompatible with kingdoms (political systems) that use their power against people and creation, God’s glory brings about the kingdom of God as God’s own realm of justice and peace.4 God’s glory creates the space — the kingdom of God — in which God’s glory indwells creation. The kingdom of God proclaims hope. Think of the injustices carried out by political leaders: nuclear weapons, gun violence, deportations, walls. The kingdom of God proclaims hope by bring about a kingdom that contradicts kingdoms that defy God’s peace and justice. On account of God’s glory, the kingdom of God will affect an end to the injustices of current administrations under which the vulnerable suffer.
- The new heaven and new earth
The glory of God causes the new heaven and new earth. When God fully indwells creation, the new heaven and new earth are created through the unmediated splendor of God’s glory. Moltmann considers the unveiling of God’s full glory to be a divine act of “de-restriction” in which God completes Godself.5 The new heaven and new earth proclaims hope because God will no longer veil God’s presence but will indwell creation with God’s immediate presence. God will indwell the new heaven and new earth on account of God’s glory because God’s glory becomes fully revealed through cosmic redemption.
God’s glory is a revelation of God’s true being and is revealed through the cross. Living toward full humanity even in the midst of crisis is a way to glorify God. Many times the true fullness of humanity does come through at the hardest times. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma leave no shortage of stories of great humanity — compassion and self-giving on behalf of those who suffer.
People in my congregation exhibit the depth of humanity:
- it’s the teacher, Sara, advocating for the wider needs of the students receiving free and reduced lunch,
- it is Jared framing his chronic illness by his intention to live fully in ways that bring life,
- it is the widowed and brave Kathi, reminding her teens how much their father loved them.
People in your congregation exhibit the depth of humanity through crises.
1. Gail O’Day, “John.” Ed. Leander E. Keck, The New Interpreter’s Bible: Luke – John (Nashville, Tenn: Abingdon Press, 1996), 497.
2. O’Day, 336.
3. Jurgen Moltmann, The Coming of God, 328.
4. Moltmann, 142.
5. Moltmann, 295.