I know we read this verse yesterday, but I want to focus on it alone for a day, because there’s more than enough here to keep us occupied. As I once read in a Bible Study about the Gospel, John’s writings are shallow enough for a child to swim in and deep enough for an elephant to drown in, and this verse is a prime example.
If you’re already familiar with what I’m about to say, then I apologize. John was a Jew, and his Gospel has a lot of Jewish and Old Testament allusions. The first three words of his Gospel evoke the first three words of the Torah. But he also had a Greek audience in mind as he wrote this. The key here in his prologue (which is verses one through eighteen) is the word "word" (sorry that I couldn’t phrase that better). The Greek word is Logos, and it has a breadth and depth of meaning. It can mean "word" like apple, and it can be used in the sense of “message” or “concept.” The suffix “–ology” which we attach to mean the study of something (like entomology) shows something about it. The Greeks (supposedly) believed in the Pantheon with Zeus and Apollo, but the philosophers believed in a concept they called Logos. Nothing John says about the Logos in vss. 1-5 would be that out of the mainstream of Greek thought. For example, when he says that everything was created through the Logos and it's from eternity past. “In the beginning. . .” means that there was nothing before it (actually him, as we’ll see).
They saw the Logos as the principle that oversaw the order of the universe. Now granted, they didn’t see it as a person with personality. But they were familiar with the term.
But verse 14 is where John says something about the Logos that would make them sit up and take notice: "The Logos became flesh and dwelt among us." Literally it says that he “pitched his tent among us.” Again, this uses verbiage which would be familiar with both Greeks and Jews.
“Became flesh” isn’t just in the sense of skin. The word is sarx, which is the crudest possible word the Greeks used for the human body. The term meant humanity and carried the connotation of all our frailties and stinkiness and bodily functions which we don’t talk about in polite company.
This would've horrified and scandalized the Greeks. They saw the body as something to escape from. They saw spirituality as the higher form of everything. Their dream and goal was to rise above human flesh and become more spiritual. That’s why some of the heresies of the 2nd and 3rd centuries tried to deny that Jesus was really human. He only “seemed” human, like the angels who visited Abraham. That’s not what John says. In fact, it’s quite the opposite of what John says. The term he picked means Jesus sweated. He burped. He did. . . the stuff in the bathroom that we don’t talk about in mixed company. If you think I’m being crude just for shock value, or that I’m being disrespectful to the Lord Jesus, take it up with John. His word is actually a lot more shocking than it sounds in English.
But don’t worry. John’s an equal opportunity offender, and he proves it with the other part of the phrase translated as “made his dwelling among us.” The “tent” referred to here is talking about the Tent of meeting. Remember Moses and his meetings with God? He met with God “face to face” in a tent called the tabernacle. That was where man and God talked together and fellowshipped together.
That’s what happened in the Incarnation. And John specifically used a term which would evoke that image of the Tabernacle, which would provoke either worship or violent anger from Jews.
The Word became flesh—with all its frailties and indignities and crudities--and set up his Tabernacle with us. The Logos that was in the beginning and made everything seen and unseen came down and lived with us. And “we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Lord Jesus, what words can I possibly add to that? I think I’ll follow Job’s example, and put my hand over my mouth for a while.