19. Join All the Glorious Names (John 1)
19. Join all the glorious names
By now we have been introduced to all the main disciples that appear in John’s narrative, except for Thomas who appears later. John never gives us a comprehensive list of who they all were, like the other gospel writers. He is not interested in expanding the story line to be inclusive, even for himself. He is only interested in highlighting those people who are an integral part of the message he is looking to get across. If someone is mentioned by name it is important, there is a reason for it. That is because there is only one Person that is really important and by the end of this first chapter John has given Him many names to prove that point.
John gives Him many names and titles so that his readers would have an idea of the scope of Who they were dealing with, regardless of their backgrounds. Some of the names and titles would be understood by Greeks, others by Hebrews, but by any means and in a variety of ways he wants us to get the truth of who this really is.
In his first chapter, John uses at least fourteen names to describe Jesus.
• The Word (Logos): “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1)
• God: “and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
• The Light: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
• The One and Only of the Father: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14)
• Jesus Christ (Jesus the Anointed One, Messiah): “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17)
• The One and Only of God: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (John 1:18)
• Jesus: “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him” (John 1:29)
• The Lamb of God: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 & John 1:36)
• Son of God: “And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:34)
• Rabbi: “Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’ And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’” (John 1:38)
• The Messiah: “He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ).” (John 1:41)
• Jesus of Nazareth, Son of Joseph: “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”’ (John 1:45)
• The King of Israel: “Nathanael answered him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’” (John 1: 49)
• The Son of man: “And he said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’” (John 1:51) This is the title Jesus seems to have most commonly used of Himself.
That’s fourteen different names and titles given to Jesus in the space of 51 verses. No other passage in the Bible is so rich when it comes to unpacking who Jesus really is.
As has been well documented by many commentators, John’s gospel includes the seven “I am” statements of Jesus about Himself. But here John sets up the whole story by giving us a clear understanding of who He is right from the start, with twice as many names and titles. Whether you grew up and were educated in a first century Hebrew, Greek or Roman culture, by the end of this passage you would have no doubt as to who John believed Jesus to be.
It might help us to remember that this is a fisherman writing. John wasn’t a casual fisherman who fishes for a hobby that has a formal education and well paying day job. He is a fisherman by trade, a small businessman in partnership with his brother, who works long days and nights with his hands and against the elements to put food on his family’s table. Yet he is a wonderfully skilled writer.
He is obviously one of the “anointed ones” who must have had some dormant gift for writing (although most likely unused and untrained before he met Jesus). But when the Holy Spirit comes upon him, whatever writing gift he has suddenly awakens and moves to a whole new level of skill and excellence that can only be supernatural. Suddenly he is writing the words of God.
For those of us who enjoy language, let’s take another look at these names in the original Greek and Hebrew.
• The Word: Logos
• God: Theos
• The Light: Phos
• The One and Only of the Father: Monogenes para Pater
• Jesus Christ: Lesous Christos
• The One and Only of God: Monogenes Theos
• Jesus: Lesous (Hebrew origin)
• The Lamb of God: Amnos Theos
• The Son of a God: Huios Theos
• Rabbi: Rhabbi (Hebrew origin)
• The Messiah: Messias (Hebrew origin)
• Jesus of Nazareth, Son of Joseph: Lesous Nazareth, Huios Iospeh
• The King of Israel: Basileus Israel
• The Son of Man: Huios Anthropo
Each of these names and title is used later in John’s gospel, except one. This is the only passage where the title “Lamb of God” is used (as we have already seen this is the only place in all of the gospels where the title is used and only John of all the New Testament writers uses it). However the meaning of the title undergirds and is unpacked throughout the rest of John’s narrative.
These first 51 verses are the Apostle John’s introduction to the God man he walked with for three years and watched through cross, resurrection and Ascension. He, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, seeks to awaken us and awe us with all that Jesus really is. It is a wonderful introduction, the most comprehensive display of the glory of Jesus Christ of any single chapter in the Bible.
Yet, John would say he was only scratching the surface of all that Jesus really is.
Isaac Watts, the great cleric and hymn writer from the turn of the 18th century, set out to do the same thing in the wonderful hymn referred to in the title to this chapter. He wrote 12 verses, but still felt that he came up short.
We will finish these chapters on John 1 with Watts’ first verse, which aptly sums up John’s message.
“Join all the glorious names
Of wisdom, love, and pow’r,
That mortals ever knew,
That angels ever bore;
All are too mean to speak His worth,
Too mean to set my Savior forth.”