Verses 2-5 as a whole: Do the terms “life” and “light” have a creation or salvation connotation in these verses? Hendriksen, Hengstenberg, Hughes, and Lenski all agree that salvation is the connotation of these words in this context. This passage proves the divinity of the Son by His manifestations of creative power (Hutcheson). How does this prove the thesis of 20:31 (that the Christ is Jesus, and that by believing, we might have life in His name)? If the Messiah is going to be powerful enough to save us from our sins, then He has to have re-creative power (Keddie). The flip side of that is that here we learn about the exceeding sinfulness of sin. “Let us often read these first five verses of St. John’s Gospel. Let us mark what kind of Being the Redeemer of mankind must needs be, in order to provide eternal redemption for sinners. If no one less than the Eternal God, the Creator and Preserver of all things, could take away the sin of the world, sin must be a far more abominable thing in the sight of God than most men suppose. The right measure of sin’s sinfulness is the dignity of Him who came into the world to save sinners” (J.C. Ryle). McHugh says it well: “One may then recall that in Gen 1, the creation proceeds from day to day, in a careful logical succession, establishing the conditions in which living things may grow until on the sixth day, when all is at last ready for the completion of the work, God creates the land-based beasts and finally the human race. In Genesis, all these things, from the first creation (light) to the last, were brought into existence through God’s Word. So in the Fourth Gospel. All proceeds towards the restoration of life for the entire human race on the sixth day of the final week of Jesus’ earthly life, with Paradise Restored.”
Verse 2: “Houtos” (“This one”) implies “none other” (Beasley-Murray). Lenski also argues that this sums up verse 1 in one word. This verse says that the relationship of Jesus with the Father is eternal (Bernard). Westcott tells the profound truth that it is not only the Father and the Son (as persons) who were responsible for the creation of the World. But it is also their relationship that was involved (God speaking through His Son, the Word). Of course, we know from Genesis 1 that the Holy Spirit was involved as well. Creation was a result of the eternal fellowship among the persons of the Trinity.
Verse 3: This verse states the same thing twice, once positively, once negatively (Barrett). The “all things” is completely comprehensive of all created things. There is great comfort from this verse, in that nothing is outside God’s control, if nothing is outside His creative power (Schaff).
Verses 3-4: A punctuation issue: does “which came to pass” go with verse 3 or verse 4? An example of the former is the ESV: “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” An example of the latter is the NRSV: “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being, etc.” Most translations have the phrase go with verse 3. In favor of having it go with verse 4 is that “any thing made that was made” sounds a bit redundant. One could answer to this objection that this phrase could be consciously excluding the Word Himself as someone who was begotten, but not made. He was not created, but was rather the Word by Whom all things were created. In favor of having it go with verse 3 is that it is difficult to know what “What has come into being in Him was life” actually means (so many commentators). To this it could be answered that in Christ’s person and work the way of salvation has come into being. The new creation that Jesus accomplished in the resurrection is life (for us!) that has come into being in Him. I marginally favor the latter reading (with verse 4), but it’s certainly not a hill on which I desire to perish.
Verse 4a: “The life which was eternally in the Word, when it goes forth, issues in created life, and this is true both of the physical world and the spiritual world” (Bernard). Hutcheson says that “the life of all living creatures was ‘in him’ as in the fountain cause, as the stream is in the fountain, and the rays of light in the sun.” Keddie says that “the logic of the text is that the Creator of life must be the very essence and definition of life.” Keener notes that the Jews believed that life and light both resided in the Torah. That belief would be in contrast to what John teaches here. Meyer argues that any and all kinds of life are here included.
Verse 4b: See Genesis 1:3 (“Let there be light”) leading to John 8:12 (“I am the light of the world”) (Bernard). Of course, light is what makes it possible for life to exist (Kostenberger). It also leads to a choice which has to be made. See Boice, vol 1, pp. 46-47, for a good illustration of the difference between lesser lights and the great light of Jesus Christ.
Verse 5: Note the present tense of “shines” (Bernard). “Darkness” has an ethical quality here (Barrett). Brown interprets “the darkness” to be the fall in Genesis 3. Hengstenberg adds that the darkness is both a deficient religious condition and also the end result, hence darkness implies death. Ambrose tells us that the darkness is not a protection, since the light will always expose what is done in darkness. Isaiah 9:2 (“the people walking in darkness have seen a great light”). Light and darkness are opposites, but not of equal strength, contra dualism (Bruce). Besser (quoted by Lenski) says “In Christ is the life-light, outside is the night of death.” He now shines in us (Lenski). See 12:35 (“Walk while you have the light”) for application (Lincoln). John does not leave us in suspense: the story has a happy ending (Michaels). Luther notes that this verse hurls a thunderbolt against all human reason, since the light exists only in Jesus, not in us. In us is darkness. The so-called Enlightenment isn’t.
Verse 5: (Translation issue: is “katelaben” to be translated “overcome” or “comprehend”?) Maybe it plays on the two meanings (Barrett). Hendriksen argues a litotes here emphasizing the absolute antithesis between darkness and light. Perhaps the best translation is one that incorporates both connotations: “mastered” is my favorite way of translating the term.