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The Rich Man and Lazarus – Parable or not?

Lazarus and the Rich Man is the final parable of five that Jesus told in response to a group of Pharisees and scribes who were unhappy over the fact that Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them (Luke 15:1 and 16:14). Just before this parable, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for loving money, exalting themselves in self-justification, and ignoring the Old Testament’s authority, which testified about the Messiah (Luke 16:14–18). All three themes are woven into the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Starting from Luke 16:19, Jesus begins the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. What can we learn from this parable?

Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day (Luke 16:19 NASB 1995)

Now there was a rich man. This is similar to the way Luke introduces the four parables that precede this. Parables are introduced with the generalizing formula such as “there was a man” (Luke 15:3, 15:8, 15:11; 16:1). The rich man is the first character in this story, and he represents the Pharisees and anyone who loves money more than God.

He habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. Purple color was expensive as well as splendid, and was chiefly worn by nobles, and the very wealthy. Fine linen was chiefly produced of the flax that grew on the banks of the Nile and it was also very expensive. So, we are told that this rich man feasted and lived selfishly in a splendid manner not just occasionally, but constantly, ignoring God’s commandments to help the poor. You shall fully open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11)

And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores (Luke 16:20)

And a poor man named Lazarus. This is the second character in this story, representing a class of people despised by the Pharisees. Jesus named the poor man in this story, and not the rich man, which was countercultural in that society and it would have felt really wrong to the Pharisees. The name Lazarus means “The one whom God helps”. God’s help was much more evident after Lazarus’ death as the parable goes on to show.

Now some say that this story is not a parable, but a real event since it mentions historical figures such as Lazarus, Abraham, Moses—something no parable has. This observation is right, but it’s hard to miss the fact that Luke introduces this story the same way he does the previous parables such as “there was a man”. Further, there are no known rules that prohibit parables to include actual names.

Was laid at his gate, covered with sores. He was laid at the door of the rich man probably by some man in order that he might obtain help. We are told he was afflicted not only with poverty but loathsome and offensive ulcers.

And longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. (Luke 16:21)

And longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table. It was common in that day for dogs to eat the food spilled from the table of their masters. Lazarus was so hungry that he longed to be treated as well as the rich man’s dogs.

Even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. The picture is not that the dogs came to befriend Lazarus, but they come to humiliate and irritate his condition more by licking his sores and possibly infecting them even more. The dogs in this culture were considered ceremonially unclean, and to be licked by an unclean creature magnified his humiliation.

Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried (Luke 16:22)

Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The poor man Lazarus died, but Jesus surprises the listeners by saying that “the angels carried him to Abraham’s side” and not the rich man. Pharisees would have expected the rich man to be favored by God, and that people like Lazarus were poor and diseased because they were under God’s judgement; hence, it was people like Lazarus who should have been tormented in Hades when they died. Jews also held to the belief that the spirits of the righteous were carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom or side in heaven at their death. Jesus mentions these facts based on the prevailing view at this time. In The Testament of Abraham, a Jewish apocryphal text, it is written in 20:11-12 about Abraham’ s death as follows: “And they buried him in the promised land at the oak of Mamre, while the angels escorted his precious soul and ascended into heaven singing the thrice-holy hymn to God, the master of all”.

A question arises though. Should this parable of the rich man and Lazarus be used as a definitive statement about the afterlife? Since parables were told to illustrate a point, not to give a systematic account of any doctrine, we must be careful to use it as a definitive statement about after life. However, the Scriptures do teach that, at death, “the dust [body] will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God” (Ecclesiastes 12:7), and the body will “sleep” in the grave till the resurrection of the body at Christ’s second coming. See our study on The state of the dead. While the Bible do not mention angels carrying spirits to heaven elsewhere (besides in this parable), the Bible is clear angels are “ministering spirits” (Hebrews 1:14) doing God’s work, and it may not be surprising for angels to be involved in this work.

“Abraham’s bosom” was a term equivalent to being with Abraham’s side in Paradise or heaven similar to when Jesus says, “Many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven: (Matthew 8:11). Generally, all parables have an earthly setting, but not this one, again, compelling some to interpret this not as a parable, but a real historical event.

And the rich man also died and was buried. Burial was thought to be an honor, and funerals were often expensive. This is said of the rich man to show that he had “every” earthly honor unlike the poor man.

In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom (Luke 16:23)

In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment. Jesus completes the surprise by telling them that the rich man also died and was buried, but he is the one who found himself being conscious and tormented in Hades. From this, some conclude that the parable teaches that the poor go to heaven and the rich to hell at death. The problem with such a view, as Augustine noted long ago, is that poor Lazarus is carried to the side of wealthy Abraham. If wealth alone determines our fate, then Abraham, Job, among many others should not be in heaven along with the rich man.2

Further, it is noteworthy that the parable nowhere states that both Lazarus and the rich man were in Hades; Lazarus appears to be placed in Abraham’s Bosom, a place far off (Luke 16:23) from Hades and separated from it by a great chasm. (Luke 16:26). Again, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus should not be used as a definitive statement about the afterlife, or the nature of Hades. Thus, Jesus intended not to fully describe Hades, but to warn His listeners about their hardheartedness, and love of money.

Sheol/Hades: In the Old Testament Scriptures, the Hebrew word generally used to describe the realm of the dead is SHEOL. It simply means “the place of the dead” or “the place of departed souls/spirits” (Genesis 37:35), or sometimes the “grave” (Psalm 141:7), with context determining the meaning. Sometimes the Old Testament present those who go down to sheol as silent, and another time, they are conscious as we find in Isaiah 14:9, which says that Sheol below is excited about you, to meet you when you come; It stirs the spirits of the dead for you” .The New Testament Greek equivalent to SHEOL is HADES, which is also a general reference to “the place of the dead”.

– Jehovah’s Witness’ and Seventh-day Adventists, among others interpret SHEOL and HADES, simply to be the grave (nothing more), where both righteous and wicked go at death until the final resurrection and judgement. In their theology, generally the soul/spirit do not exist apart from the body after death. In this view, soul is the whole person, and their view is generally known as “soul sleep”, where the whole person sleeps (or is not conscious) until the resurrection.

– While other Christians see sheol/hades to be more than just the grave. In this view, “bodies” of the dead sleep at death, but the “spirit/soul” is to some degree conscious and go to the following destinations. In this view, some believe that during the Old Testament time period, the “spirits” of the righteous went to a part of Sheol/Hades called “Paradise/Abraham’s Bosom”, not heaven, and the “spirits” of the wicked went to a part of Sheol/Hades where they were tormented, similar to parable of the rich man and Lazarus . After Jesus rose from the dead, it is interpreted (I Peter 3:19; Ephesians 4:8-10) to mean that He cleared out the side called Paradise (where the Old testament righteous saints have gone at death), and took all of them with Him in His ascension to heaven (where all “the spirits” of all post-resurrection saints now go at death). Hades is now exclusively a temporary place of torment for the wicked. And that may or may not be true. Christians do not agree on these specifics. [Others feel that paradise, Abraham’s bosom, and heaven are three different descriptions of the same place, where all the “spirits” of righteous saints (before and after the cross) have gone (Hebrews 11:10,16)].

Not HADES, but the Greek word GEHENNA is used in the New Testament for “hell” or “lake of fire”, the final place of punishment for the wicked after the “bodily” resurrection at the final judgement (Revelation 20:14).

Saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. This appears to aggravate his misery and suffering, to see the poor man that lay at his gate completely happy with Abraham.

And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ (Luke 16:24)

And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me’. The Jews believed that departed spirits might know and converse with each other. Jesus speaks in conformity with such opinions. Now, remember that this man is a Jew and his Jewishness has not saved him. He bore no fruit that befits repentance, he shared no food, no clothes, and now he’s condemned. Interestingly, the rich man is not represented as calling on “God.” The Jews considered a proud honor that Abraham was their “father” and they were “descendants” from him, yet having Abraham as father was not enough to escape.

And send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.

The rich man knew Lazarus by name, so he clearly was aware of the impoverished poor man at his gate. The rich man, even in his torment, remained self-centered, viewing Lazarus as a servant. He showed no sense of remorse for how he failed to help Lazarus during their time on earth. A drop of water on the tongue would not stop his agony in the flame yet he was desperate to have even a drop of water. This again shows that we need not take everything in this parable literally.

You received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony (Luke 16:25)

“Your good things” refers to the wealth and riches that the rich man valued most during his life. But they were of no value to him after death.

And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ (Luke 16:26)

It was also commonly understood in the teaching of the ancient Jewish writings, that the righteous and the unrighteous were separated after death, and although they can see each other, they cannot cross the unfathomable, uncrossable, unbridgeable chasm that God has fixed in his sovereign judgment.  There is also no indication in the Bible or in this parable that there’s a purgatory because “those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us”.

But the underlying revelation in this story is that, in fact, there is one who crosses chasms for the sake of sinners, that is Jesus. God gave his eternal Son for all sinners, not just for sinners like Lazarus, but for sinners like the rich man, too (John 3:16-17). But the rich man, a symbol of the Pharisees and the scribes, who gathered to condemn Jesus, didn’t want the God who became flesh.

And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ (Luke 16:27-28)

The rich man continues to be self-absorbed, concerned only about those in his immediate family. He again views Lazarus as a mere servant.

But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ (Luke 16:29)

“Moses and the Prophets,” that’s a way of saying what we call the Old Testament, which was the extent of the Bible at that time, which was sufficient revelation about the necessity of love and the danger of judgment, until Jesus came. Jesus had already told them that the Law and Prophets testify about Him (John 5:39), a testimony they had rejected. How much more so does the entire Bible today, by detailing the fulfillment of the Old Testament messianic prophecies, and in the New Testament, clearly laying out God’s offer of grace through Jesus’ atoning death on the cross?

But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ (Luke 16:30)

Once again, the rich man shows his pride and arrogance by arguing with Abraham. But the rich man knows that his brothers do not listen to the Old Testament Scriptures. They may have devotions in the morning for a few minutes and they attend synagogues once a week, but he knows that their whole mindset about money is shaped by the world not God. And so the rich man knows it is not going to do any good for Abraham just to say to them: read Moses, read the prophets! If someone could go from among the dead—something really startling, some miracle—then they would wake up and repent. They would forsake their selfish luxury and start to live for others to the glory of God.

But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:31)

Jesus is foretelling the resurrection of his close friend Lazarus (John 11) as well as His own. In both cases, some believed, but many did not. Moreover, in both resurrections, many actively resisted the outcome and plotted against the characters involved. If a person is so in love with money that he is deaf to the commands and warnings and promises of Moses and the prophets, then even a resurrection from the dead will not bring about repentance. Jesus’ friend Lazarus (John 11) and Jesus rose from the dead. Yet the Jews weren’t convinced; the Pharisees, scribes and chief priests who conspired to have Jesus crucified also conspired to have soldiers lie about his resurrection (Matthew 27:62-66) and proceeded to persecute and kill those who became believers.

Additional thoughts:

By the first century two conflicting schools of thought were prevailing, represented by the Saducees and the Pharisees respectively. Whereas the Saduccees dismissed any idea of disembodied spirits/angels or the resurrection of the dead, the Pharisees — as well as the Jewish populace at large (see: Matt 14:26; Luke 24:37–39; John 11:24; Acts 12:15) — embraced both these concepts (Acts 23:8–9). 

  • In Luke 16, Jesus offers the most graphic New Testament depiction of ongoing conscious existence beyond death. Some first-century Jews had ideas about the afterlife that included such concepts as Abraham’s bosom and consciousness in sheol. Jesus used these ideas as the setting for the story, without attempting to correct those ideas. Neither Jesus nor Luke felt any compulsion to correct the popular beliefs about the afterlife. Would Jesus use a pagan error to illustrate his parable of Lazarus and the rich man? Would one use error to illustrate truth? This is a valid question.

  • While the lesson of the parable is very clear, it is difficult to conclude that Jesus’ audience (the Pharisees for instance) were not expected to draw relevant inferences from it regarding life after death. Thus, whilst one should be cautious about pressing all the details in this parable to be literal (e.g., the rich man and Lazarus are both depicted in a corporeal manner, having a finger and tongue respectively, and can communicate with one another, among other things), Jesus appears to be giving at least tacit endorsement to the idea of after death, but pre-resurrection, state of being. Thus, the scenario portrayed in this parable seems to correlate in some measure with the idea of an intermediate state for both the righteous and the unrighteous, before the final resurrection and judgement.  

  • However, this is the only biblical text that lends any support to such an interim conscious punishment for the wicked (perhaps a case could be made in Jude 1:6-7 too). As such, it is also arguably mistaken to build such a doctrine on the basis of such a debatable passage. While there may be little or no definitive biblical support for the conscious intermediate state of the wicked, there is much clearer evidence with respect to the righteous after Christ’s resurrection.1

Adapted & Referenced:

  1. Death and the Afterlife – Paul R. Williamson
  2. Is the Rich Man and Lazarus a Parable? Peter Gurry
  3. Lecture on the Rich man and Lazarus by D. A Carson.

See also our chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse, commentaries on the book of DanielRevelation & Genesis for a deeper understanding of the Sabbath. 

And more:

Your support of this ministry is greatly appreciated and can be made here.

The Only Begotten Son (John 1:1-18)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him not even one thing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:1-3 NASB 1995).

In the beginning. It’s almost identical to Genesis, chapter one, verse one. “In the beginning” carries us into the depths of eternity, before time or creatures were. If you think of Genesis chapter one as the language of creation, then you might think of John chapter one as the language of the new creation or the re-creation, which will be a major theme in John’s gospel.

Was the Word.  The Greek word for Word is Logos. The Greeks had a concept of the logos, and so did the Hebrews. John’s background for the term was probably Hebrew, and specifically the Hebrew Old Testament. The idea is that the word—just words—think of it that way, are an expression of me. If I speak words, that means I exist. So, there’s already this concept of self-existence. And because I exist, I express myself. That’s the Word. So, forever God has existed; He expressed Himself in the Word, in the Logos. “Was the Word” therefore means the Word was already in existence from the beginning, from eternity. All the “was” in verse 1 are in the imperfect, durative tense in the Greek language and the literal translation of Greek to English is actually, “In the beginning the Word continually was, and the Word was continually with God, and the Word was continually God”.

The Word was with God. The Greek could be translated, “the Word was face to face with God”. There are two parts to this. One would be equality. It’s not saying the word was hanging out with God. Face to face means equal with God, but distinct from God. You don’t stand face to face with yourself. Hence, the meaning here is the Word  was with the Father, meaning Word is distinct from the Father, and not same as the Father. Also, the word was continually with God. There was no point in eternity past when the Father existed without His Son. 

The Word was God. Some false teachers say the word was “a” god, implying one god, among many. It’s helpful to understand: first of all, the Greek language has no indefinite article; it has no “a”. So that’s not what it says. It also has the definite article “the” but it’s not used here. The language is very careful, and it’s very precise. So, if John had said “the word was the God”, it would have meant the Word was the Father, but that’s not the point being made. The point being made is the Word was with God and was God. The Word is a divine person just like the Father. Hence, verse 1 may be paraphrased as, ‘The Word existed from all eternity, face to face with the Father who is a divine person, and the Word himself is a divine person equal in essence or nature or divinity of the Father’. Of course, the Word (Greek is Logos) is none other than the person who is called the “Son”.

He was with God in the beginning. This is a repetition of what was said in the first verse; but it is stated over again to “guard the doctrine,” and to prevent the possibility of a mistake. Emphasis here is the Word (Son) who was continually God was a person distinct from God the Father.

Through him all things were made. The Word was with God the Father in the beginning, but not as an idle, inefficacious existence. On the contrary, God the Word was the source of all activity and life. “All things were made through Him”. Notice what another inspired writer Paul says:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. And He [Son] is before all things, and in Him all things hold together(Colossians 1:15-17).”

All creatures, whether in heaven or on earth, the whole universe, and every being contained therein, you and me, animate or inanimate, intelligent or unintelligent. Everything came into being, or was created, through the Word. Here, right at the beginning of John, we see evidence of the God of the Bible composed of a person called the Father, and a person called the Word.

Without him nothing was made that has been made. Nothing that was made, neither the heavens nor the earth, neither things visible nor invisible, were made without God the Word.Nothing, absolutely nothing, was created or came into being without the Word. If Jesus caused all created things to come into existence, then He existed before all created things (angels, humans, etc.) came into existence. Therefore, the Word was not made or created. If Jesus created everything that has come into being, and Jesus also came into being (as some erroneously contend), then Jesus created Himself, which is absurd. He created all things. Hence, Jesus is the uncreated Creator. Jesus is eternal God. The only alternate “facts” available are found in the wishful thinking of those whose theology demands another reading. It’s clear from the text that Jesus is continually God.

In Him was life, and the life was the Light of mankind. And the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not grasp it (John 1:4-5)

In Him was life. It’s not saying He was alive; it is saying He is the origin of life. Wherever life is found anywhere in the universe, it has to have a start; it has to have an origin. And the origin ultimately is in God as the origin of life.

The life was the Light of mankind. In the ancient world, without all the artificial lighting that we take for granted, it was just dark. So life was lived in the light; it wasn’t lived in the darkness. This becomes like a metaphor. If you want to find life, life is going to be found in the light, and the light originates in God.

The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not grasp it. So, the Light shined into the darkness. Grasp it could be translated overpowers it. So what this is telling us is there’s going to be a cosmic war between light and darkness, but the darkness will not win. This theme gets unpacked further in the rest of John’s gospel.

A man came, one sent from God, and his name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.

God even sends a prophet (John the Baptist) whose only responsibility was to announce that the Messiah has come in order that people might believe. This is John’s big message. This word believe is used ninety-three times in John’s gospel. “These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that by believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31). John wasn’t the Light. He came to announce the Light. Some scholars think the reason John put that in there is even by the time John wrote this gospel, there were still those who were followers of John the Baptist, and not yet believers in Jesus.

“This was the true Light that, coming into the world, enlightens every person” (John 1:9)

This was the true Light. Jesus is the true Light. He is the true God, one with the Father. 

Coming into the world, enlightens every person. True Light was there for those who choose to believe it. Very similar to Paul in Romans chapter one when he says that God has made Himself evident through creation, and because God is so evident in creation, no one can ever say they didn’t know there was a God.

“He was in the world, and the world came into being through Him, and yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not accept Him” (John 1:10-11)

So He entered into the world He created, but the people He created, His own possession, did not know Him.

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name (John 1:12)

But as many as received Him to them. Again a key word for John, receive simply means to invite in. Think of the imagery of Jesus standing, knocking at the door. The door needs to be opened, and Jesus is invited in. That’s the word receive.

He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name. Children, literally means born one’s of God. Again, if you think of Genesis one as creation, then think of the gospel of John as new creation, or re-creation—born again—which again is a theme that will be unpacked in John’s gospel. This idea of He gave the right—it’s not the power. That’s not really a good translation. He gave the right or the authority. People can tell you I’m a child of this and that. But that doesn’t make it so. What John is saying is there are people whom God has given the authority to call themselves God’s children. Who are those people? Those who believe—there’s John’s word—in His name. His name would be like the sum total of His person and work—everything that he is going to talk about in this gospel. Those who “believe” in His name, and  those who were?

“Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a man, but of God (John 1:13)

Who were born [how?]. Not of blood meaning not nationality or ethnicity. The Jews thought they were children of God because they were Jews. He is saying, “No, it doesn’t work that way.” Nor of the will of the flesh meaning not human effort, not by religious activity, not by good works, not by good performance—it doesn’t have anything to do with that. Nor of the will of man meaning man there is male, so it’s referring to a husband. A husband wants offspring; a man wants offspring. He gets married and has offspring with his wife. John is saying, “No, it’s not like that either.” Then how does it happen? but of God. And John will unpack that later in the gospel.

“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) 

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory. I’m sorry, what? The eternal Creator of the universe, a God so powerful He spoke the universe into place, took on human flesh and became a man? The first big thing John is asking you to believe— and he will make his case through the gospel—is that the God of the universe, at a point in time, actually entered into human history and became a man. Literally the word dwelt is pitched a tent, could be translated tabernacled among us. It’s a reminder of all these old covenant pictures reminding us of the promise of a Messiah.

The only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. You have heard the word used when reading those long genealogies in the Bible: so-and-so begat so-and-so.John applies this language to Jesus as well, referring to Him as the only begotten Son of God.  There is a strong case to interpret this Greek word “monogenes” as “unique, one of a kind”, which is the meaning found in Hebrews 11:17 when the writer refers to Isaac as Abraham’s “only begotten son”(KJV). Abraham had more than one son, but Isaac was the only son he had by Sarah and the only son of promise.However, begotten sonship could also mean one is generated by a father. Then the question is “when” was the Son begotten? The answer is there is no “when.” Why? Because John has already told us that Jesus was continually with the Father, and Jesus was continually God (John 1:1-3). Unlike human generation, the Son’s generation then has to be eternal, timeless, continual. We are told Messiah’s “goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”’ (Micah 5:2 KJV), just like God’s “throne is established of old: thou art from everlasting (Psalms 93:2). There never was a time when the Son was not, nor ever a time when the Son was not from the Father. If the Son’s generation did fall within time (not timeless), then not only is there a time when the Son was not, but there is a time when the Father was not Father. IfHe is Son because He is from the Father, then His sonship must be as eternal as the Father Himself. “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me?” (John 14:10). Then the Son only begotten “from the Father” means He is not generated after the Father, which would make Him less than the Father, but the Son is generated from the Father timelessly. As Jesus Himself says, He is the truth (John 14:6). Was there ever a time when God the Father was without His Truth? The Arians of the fourth century said yes, and some say the same thing today. For if the Son was not before His generation, Truth was not always in God. Hence, the Son is begotten of the Father not by will, but by Father’s inherent nature, so that the Son is a subsistence of that one divine nature, not the production of another, second nature. The Son’s existence did not take its beginning out of nothing, but went forth from the Eternal. It is appropriate to still call it a birth (that is the meaning of begetting), but it would be false to call it a beginning. Unlike human generation which is physical and material, the divine nature, however, is spiritual and therefore indivisible. God is spirit (John 4:24), so He remains one, simple, and undivided. This can explain how God is one (Deu 6:4), or one being or one essence, but within this single indivisible divine nature exist more than one consciousness or person.1

Let’s summarize. In these verses right at the beginning of John’s gospel, we should recognize a number of interesting concepts, events, and words that are parallel with the first chapter of Genesis.

Genesis 1John 1
In the beginning God.In the beginning was the Word.
God created the whole world.All things came into being through the Word
God created all life.In Him was life.
Let there be light.His life is the light of the world.
The darkness he called night.The darkness did not comprehend it.

 So not only the Father is called God, but the Son is called God. Hence, the phrase God is bigger than just the Son or the Father, because the word God includes the divine person of the Father and the divine person of the Son. Moreover, Father is unbegotten, but the Son is begotten (not created or made). Because the Father has begotten the Son, the Father is not the Son. Because the Son is begotten by the Father, the Son is not the Father. Similarly, because the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (John 15:26), the Spirit is distinct from the Father and the Son.