01. Introduction to John’s Gospel

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and without Him not even one thing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men; and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overtake it. There was a man sent from God; his name was John. He came for a witness, that he might witness concerning the Light, that all might believe through Him. He was not that Light, but that he might witness concerning the Light. He was the true Light; He enlightens every man coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave authority to become children of God, to the ones believing into His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but were born of God. And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us. And we beheld His glory, glory as of an only begotten from the Father, full of grace and of truth. John witnesses concerning Him, and has cried out, saying, This One was He of whom I said, He coming after me has been before me, for He was preceding me. And out of His fullness we all received, and grace on top of grace. For the Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, that One declares Him. (John 1:1-18)

When a person reads the Word and considers it holy, then its natural meaning becomes spiritual in the second heaven and celestial in the third. In this way its natural quality is progressively removed. This takes place because natural, spiritual and celestial things correspond to each other, and the Word was written solely in terms of things that correspond. The natural meaning of the Word is the sort found in the meaning of the letter, and everything of this becomes spiritual and then celestial in the heavens. When it becomes spiritual, it is then alive in that heaven from the light of truth there; and when it becomes celestial, it is alive from the flame of good there. The reason is that spiritual ideas among angels of the second heaven draw their life from the light in that heaven, which in its essence is Divine truth, while celestial ideas among angels of the third heaven draw their life from the flame of good, which in its essence is Divine good. For in the second heaven the light is bright white, and the angels there think from this; and in the third heaven the light is flaming, and the angels there think from that. The thoughts of angels are altogether different from the thoughts of people. Angels think by means of the kinds of light they have, bright white or flaming, and these are such that they cannot be described in natural terms.

It is apparent from this that the Word is inwardly full of life, consequently that it is not dead but alive in a person who reads it and thinks of it in a reverent way. Moreover, everything in the Word is made alive by the Lord, for with the Lord it becomes life, as the Lord also says in John:

The words that I speak to you are spirit, and are life. (John 6:63)

The life that flows in from the Lord through the Word is the light of truth that flows into the intellect and the love of good that flows into the will. This love and that light together make the life of heaven in a person, which is called eternal life. The Lord also teaches:

… the Word was God…. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:1, 4)

(De Verbo 2)

Today we begin a series in which we will look at what the Gospel of John teaches concerning the Lord and His movement in our life as the Word or Logos. The perspective that Spiritual Christianity offers is that the Word is Divine revelation which unfolds the operation of the Lord as the Word within the human mind. John’s Gospel is well suited to this as its style lends itself to lifting our thought above the merely historical framework of the Gospel story that supports a literal reading of letter, into the living, dynamic, operation of the Word or Logos as the Divine power that recreates our mind into a heavenly form. If we open our hearts to what the Lord has to say to us from His Word then our journey through this Gospel will one of transformation as we come to see, reflected in its text, our relationship to the Lord as the Word. And so find there what it is we must do if we are to grow and progress in the things of the spirit and be delivered from the hell that is our selfishness.

To encounter the Gospel as the living Word, the Logos in our midst, we must see it as a spiritual rather than a historical text. This means its focus is on inner or spiritual things or, those things that have to do with our mental life for it is through the Gospel’s application to our mental life that will provide us with the spiritual benefits it offers. So, if we choose to engage with the Text with a view to encountering the Divine within then we need to be open to being challenged by it as to our very life.

Spiritual Christianity views the historical elements in the Word as a vessel for conveying spiritual truths. The Word was written by human agents under Divine inspiration to impart an understanding of spiritual truths for ongoing spiritual growth and development. The selected historical events used to convey that understanding serve as a means to convey profound spiritual realities tailored to human comprehension when understood in the light of the doctrines for Spiritual Christianity.

The historical accuracy, including the chronology, of the events themselves from the perspective of Spiritual Christianity are not held to be sacrosanct. In other words, whether the events are recorded accurately or not doesn’t have a bearing on the truth they seek to convey. This is clearly evident in the discrepancies found between the various Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. The Gospel of John orders events very differently to those found in the other Gospels. Many theories are given as to why this might be so but they are usually natural theories that look to give a natural explanation for these differences. Most are unsatisfactory from a spiritual perspective. From the perspective of Spiritual Christianity these differences don’t present any difficulty at all; they are differences inspired by the Lord in His infinite wisdom for the purpose of the salvation of the human race.

When adopting a spiritual perspective, we discern a clear distinction between historical facts and spiritual truths. We prioritise the presentation of spiritual truths over the mere historical accuracy of recorded events. This alignment allows us to understand things in their rightful sequence. In the context of the Gospel events, history is interpreted to serve eternal spiritual purposes. Hence, the differences in details and sequence among the Gospels are part of a Divine design aimed at shaping our minds to embrace higher truths. This transformation shifts our focus from self-centered loves to heavenly ones—love for the Lord and for our neighbour. As a result, historical truths serve as a foundational stepping stone toward genuine spiritual life and understanding.

A helpful analogy for understanding the historical aspects of the Lord’s life is to compare it with the written Word. At its core, the written Word consists of ink impressions on paper, with letters and words serving as symbols with inherent meanings. However, this meaning does not reside in the ink and paper themselves. To someone unfamiliar with English for instance, the symbols would appear as mere ink markings without significance yet those proficient in English can derive coherent meaning from these symbols. Similarly, historical events surrounding the Lord’s life serve as symbolic representations, holding inherent significance for those who understand their spiritual implications.

The essence lies not in the ink and paper itself but rather in the interpretation of the symbols one brings to them. This interpretation resides within one’s understanding, firmly rooted in their internal cognitive processes. The meaning of words transcends the ink symbols on paper; it resides within individuals, in their comprehension of the Word and spiritual concepts—essentially, their doctrine. We’ll revisit this concept shortly, but for now, let’s explore the parallels found in creation and historical events.

In spiritual thought, creation is often seen as a book reflecting the creator’s mind. Just as creation can be likened to the paper of a book, historical events can be likened to the ink symbols inscribed upon it. In isolation, these events hold no inherent meaning; they are merely inert facts, akin to meaningless symbols on the pages of human history. The significance of symbols emerges only when individuals engage with them, contemplate their implications, and construct meaning in their minds. A historical event acts as an imprint on the canvas of creation; it occurs, yet its impact varies among individuals, shaped by the meaning they attribute to it. For instance, colonisation events evoke diverse perspectives and meanings among different groups, influenced by their unique worldviews, beliefs, and values. Consequently, explanations of these events may conflict due to such disparities but each narrative serves a distinct purpose and can only be understood within the context of its intended significance.

The essence resides in interpretation rather than raw historical facts, akin to how the Gospel’s significance reveals itself through our grasp of its symbolic language. The doctrines for Spiritual Christianity are able to enhance our comprehension of the sacred Text by unveiling insights into Biblical imagery using the science of correspondences. This science allows readers to access the deeper psychological level of meaning not apparent in letter, thereby opening up insights into the inner life of the mind.

When we read the Bible account of the Lord’s life we are not viewing the actual historical events themselves but a written record of them. That record is written in symbols to which we bring our sense of what it all means for us. This is why it can mean so many different things to so many different people. If I view the Gospel as a human invention, perhaps nothing more than some writer’s interpretation of certain events, then I will interpret the differences I find in one Gospel over another as the result of human fallibility, and I will find all I need there to confirm the rightness of my view.

On the other hand, if I regard the Gospel as the Divinely inspired Word of God then the differences will be seen to be deliberate in their design according to the infinite wisdom of the Lord to achieve spiritual ends in the minds of those who approach the Word with an open heart. Regarded as a merely human invention the Gospel story leads me nowhere – it has little value other than historical. Regarded as something spiritual however, its meaning is transformed in my understanding and it becomes something that can impact on my life for good.

The first view is a natural view that doesn’t see anything particularly special where the Word is concerned. The second view can be either a natural or a spiritual view. For those who don’t know or, reject the idea that the Word contains a deeper symbolic or spiritual meaning it remains a natural view. This view is locked into the literalism of the dead letter and places undue importance on the historical accuracy of the Text as its test of being true. For literalists, spiritual interpretations appear threatening because those who hold to a natural view of Scripture can’t separate their idea of what constitutes truth from factual accuracy. The belief inherent in this mode of thinking is that for something to be true it has to be factually accurate.

But this creates difficulties when working with the Bible. We know for a fact that the different Gospels give different accounts of the facts surrounding the Lord’s life in the world. A natural view that is positive in its acceptance of the inspired nature of the Text when confronted with these difficulties is not really equipped to reconcile them or find solutions. On some points of difference it’s a case of falling back on natural theories that scholars offer up, like the idea that different eyewitness accounts led to the different accounting for the facts – but the basic message remains the same. Another approach is to simply not deal with the things that can’t be reconciled, and say that these things must be taken on faith. Both responses are unsatisfactory for a person who is seeking truth and from that, an understanding of spiritual things. There is a more satisfying approach and it lies in holding a positive view of the Text as something spiritually living.

When we see the Text in this way then all these kinds of difficulties and questions tied to its historicity become insignificant, or even irrelevant, for then we see that the Word is not, nor was it ever intended to be, a history text but, that it is a spiritual text within which lies a deeper spiritual meaning. The doctrines for Spiritual Christianity offer us an understanding of the Word that can open this up for us. The Word, when viewed in this way, becomes something living, relevant, and powerful, something able to transform our lives. What are contradictions and difficulties in the Text for the naturally minded person become invitations to the spiritually minded person to enter deeper into it and to draw from the well that living water that can quench the spiritual thirst of every genuine seeker of truth.

Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again,  but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:13-14)

So what is the connection between the historical events that took place in the world, their record in text form, the meaning we bring to this and, the Lord’s presence in our life as the Word? Each of these elements are intimately related and dependent on the other. Without the manifestation of the Divine in human form within space and time as Jesus Christ there would be no foundation from which the Gospels could take their most external form. Without the Text in this form we would have nothing from which our understanding of spiritual things can be drawn forth and developed into a conscious sense of the Lord’s presence in our life. All these elements taken together are the Word, and they are all from the Divine and serve as the means by which He interacts with human minds to make Himself known to us in His Divine Human. As we explore the wonder of John’s Gospel may our prayer be that the eyes of our understanding be opened that we might come to see more clearly how the Lord is the Word.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men; and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overtake it. … He was the true Light; He enlightens every man coming into the world.

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