And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
When John tells us that the Word becomes flesh and dwells amongst us, he is effectively telling us the same thing again and again. This is a good teaching technique, but it also conveys different nuances. Let’s examine some of them.
Jesus: Where God Pitches His Tent
The Greek verb used here is variously translated: “dwelt” (ESV); “took up residence” (Holman); “pitched tent” (commentators generally point to this a kind of literal translation); “moved into the neighbourhood” (The Message). All these are attempts to capture some of the subtle meanings of this verb. It isn’t a word that is used often in the New Testament (see Rev 7:15; 12:12; 13:6; 21:3), but it has an important history.
In the Greek translations of the Old Testament, this word is associated with the tabernacle—the place where God’s dwelt with his people in the time of Exodus. There the tent of meeting was pitched right in the middle of the Israelite camp, and John 1:14 picks up this powerful symbol and puts it on steroids. God is now dwelling in an even closer and more permanent way. The eternal Word has moved into the neighbourhood.
What does this mean?
It tells us that the Word has come breathtakingly close. The Word is just over the back fence. The first implication is visibility once more—and this is the point that the prologue comes back to, when it reminds that no-one has ever seen God but Jesus has revealed him in detail (v18). To use the neighbourhood analogy, it’s like God has opened his house for inspection. We may not know him exhaustively but, from now on, we can know God truly. The eternal questions, asked by philosophers, theologians, and thinkers over the ages have definitive answers. Is there a God? What is he like? What does he think of us? All of these are answered with startling clarity in the person of Jesus, the Word made flesh.
All this should drive us to humble reflection. We have seen what God is like—and he is not like us. He’s shown himself in the humility of Jesus the Word made flesh.
Jesus: Where We Do Business with God
These allusions to the tabernacle can help us to think though the implications of Jesus incarnation. The tabernacle was a potent symbol of God’s rule and presence. It was also the place where Israel “did business” with God. In time, as Israel settled in the land, the temple took over the tabernacle’s functions.
But in the Fourth Gospel Jesus is presented as the new temple. In John 2 he challenges his inquisitors to destroy the temple, and says that in three days he will rebuild it. John notes that he was referring to his body.
A little later on Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that a time is coming when true worshippers will worship God in spirit and truth—not in any particular place—because of his work (John 4:24). There are hints of this theme again in John 7 and John 10.
In John 7 there are more allusions to the temple. As Jesus stands in the midst of the Feast of Tabernacles and promises streams of living water flowing from within, the image alludes to the Ezekiel’s temple vision (Eze 40ff) and, again, suggests an expansiveness to the work of Christ. He is the one who will allow the water of life to flow out to the nations.
Thus Jesus presents himself as the one who enables us to do business with God, and who finally gives Gentiles access to God as well as Jews. The incarnation suggests the possibility of people from every nation knowing and worshipping God in truth.
Thanks be to God that the Word became flesh and moved into our neighbourhood.
Photos: (Header) Staci Flick, flickr; (Body) Wikimedia Commons