And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we beheld His glory…(John 1:14)
Commentaries on John, discussing the Word or Logos in John 1, routinely turn to Greek philosophy and say that John is using a term and at least part of an idea familiar in the ancient world. John is showing the Christian truth that is dimly seen in these philosophical concepts.
Fascination with this supposed Greek context of the word Logos has blinded these men to its profound Biblical root. In this short essay I don’t intend to go into all the ramifications of the Word-Logos in John 1 and in the Bible. I just want to point out one significant aspect that, as far as I know, has been overlooked by all.
The Hebrew term for “word” is dabar, and a variant of it is debir. The word debir is used for the Holy of Holies or inner shrine, God’s throne room, in the Temple (though not in the Tabernacle). The AV translates it as “oracle,” while many modern versions render it as “inner sanctuary” (1 Ki. 6:5-31; 7:49; 8:6-8; 2 Chr. 3:16; 4:20; 5:7-9; Ps. 28:2). A glance at these passages indicates that it is the room itself, not just the Ark and Cover, that is the debir.
Now, when we go back to John 1 and translate the Greek word logos as “holy of holies,” we get a strikingly pregnant series of associations and meanings:
In the beginning was the Holy of Holies. And the Holy of Holies was with God, and the Holy of Holies was God. This One was in the beginning with God (vv. 1-2).
Jesus is the Holy of Holies. To enter into the Holy of Holies is to enter into Christ Himself, to become one with Him. The Holy of Holies, the room where God dwells, is God Himself. God dwells within Himself.
All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being (v. 3).
The Holy of Holies is the archetype of all creation. It is the pattern. The universe is patterned after God Himself as Creator. This is why, in Biblical imagery, the Holy of Holies is replicated in the Holy Place, which pictures the firmament chamber between heaven and earth. Then the Holy of Holies is replicated in the Courtyard, which is the mountain top, the high place of the earth. And the Holy of Holies is replicated in the world and cosmos itself. All these are pictured as “four-square” in Biblical imagery, after the original Holy of Holies. And of course, man himself is created in the image of the Holy of Holies.
In Him was Life, and the Life was the Light of men. And the Light shines in the darkness; and the darkness did not overcome it (vv. 4-5).
The Light in the Holy of Holies is God’s shekinah glory, which as Meredith Kline has shown in his Images of the Spirit, is the Holy Spirit’s manifestation. In Genesis 1:2, both the Spirit and the darkness hovered over the deep, but the light of the Spirit overcame the darkness in this primordial “contest.” God breathed the Spirit of Life into Adam, and into every man since. Every man is a created holy of holies, containing the light of the Spirit, which men sinfully try to overcome with their own darkness.
And the Holy of Holies became flesh, and Tabernacled among us, and we beheld His Glory, Glory as of the only-begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (v. 14).
Once we see that the Word is the Holy of Holies, it is no surprise that He “tabernacles” among us. The Tabernacle and Temple are pictures not only of the cosmos, but also of the human person, with God enthroned at our center. By becoming man, the Holy of Holies put on the Tabernacle around Himself. The shekinah Glory that was enshrined in the Tabernacle was thus enshrined in human flesh. John’s Gospel, as I showed in Through New Eyes, then proceeds on a tour of the Tabernacle, showing how the Holy of Holies fulfilled its meaning.
Thus, instead of thinking in abstract “logos concept” philosophical categories when we read John 1, we ought to think in terms of the concrete imagery of the Holy of Holies. What was inside the Holy of Holies?
First, the Throne of God, signified by the Cover on the Ark with its two cherubim, on whose wings God sat enthroned. Jesus is the Cover of the Ark. He is the Throne, who glorifies the Father and holds Him up eternally. That is what the Word is, and that is what we as little words, living epistles, are to be as well.
Second, the Ark itself, a chest containing three items. Inside the chest were the three aspects of human life, which are copies of the divine life of the Holy of Holies Himself.
Third, the Tablets of the Law, inside the Ark, are the linguistic Word of God. Usually this is all that commentators see in John 1, though as we are seeing there is more to it. Jesus is the eternal Word of God, which is part of the Holy of Holies, and we are made in His image. Thus, we must be living epistles also.
Fourth, the Golden Pot of Manna, inside the Ark, is the gift of life, mediated through food. The eternal Logos, the Holy of Holies, carries the life of God, which lightens every man.
Finally, Aaron’s Rod that Blossomed, inside the Ark, represents the glorified man, aged with white blossoms on his head. The Logos Holy of Holies is the image of the Ancient of Days. He is eternally mature, and eternally a ruler.
When we draw into the Church for worship, we see the elders, we hear the Word, and we eat the sacramental manna. Thus, we come in contact with the created manifestations of the eternal Holy of Holies.
To limit the Word or Logos of John 1 only to language or to some abstract philosophical concept is an error. The Logos is the Holy of Holies, and all it embraces.
James Jordan is Scholar-in-Residence at Theopolis Institute. This article was originally published in Biblical Horizons No. 73.