“In him was the life.”
This verse is commonly drawn into lofty speculation and profound thoughts about creation’s twofold being which made the Platonic philosophers famous: All creatures have their being first in their own nature and kind, as they are created, but they also have their being in the divine providence from eternity in which he decided in himself to create all things, so that just as he lives, all things are alive in him. And, they say, this being of the creature in God is nobler than the being it has in its own kind and nature. For even that which does not live in itself, lives in God, as,e.g., stone, earth, water, etc. And thus St. Augustine says that this verse is an image of all creatures, as a treasure chamber, full of the kind of images they call ideas, according to which the creature is made, each according to its image. And John supposedly spoke about this here, saying, “In him was the life.” To get to this meaning, they tie this verse to the previous one in this way:
“Whatever was made, was life in him,” that is, whatever was ever created, was alive in him before it is created. But even though I do not reject this, I think it is too far afield and a forced meaning at this place. For John speaks simply and plainly and does not intend to lead us into such hair-splitting and subtle considerations. Currently, I am also not aware that Scripture anywhere speaks about the creatures in such a way. To be sure, Scripture says that all things are known,
chosen, and prepared and alive before God, as if they had happened already, as Christ says in Luke 20:38 about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: “God is not a God of the dead, but of the living;” for they all live in him. But we do not find that Scripture says: “In him all things live.” Moreover, this verse talks about more than the life of the creature in him which was before the creation of the world. In the most simple manner, John means to say that the Word is the fountain and origin of life, that is, everything that lives, lives from him and through him and in him and that outside of him, there is no life, as he himself says in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” and in John 11:25: “I am the resurrection and the life.” This is why John calls him “the Word of life” in 1 John 1:1. In particular, he speaks about the life men have from him, that is, the eternal life, which was the reason why he undertook to write the gospel, John 20:31. The entire first chapter of the gospel proves this: For he explains himself of what kind of life he speaks, saying, “The life was a light for men.” Thereby he, without a doubt, shows that he speaks of the life and light Christ gives to men through himself. This is also why he introduces John the Baptist as a witness to such light. But it is evident that John the Baptist preached about Christ not according to the lofty speculations they use, but simply and plainly, setting forth how Christ is light and life for the salvation of all men…The evangelist, then, means to say simply and plainly: “Those who do not recognize Christ or who do not believe him to be a true God–as I have so far described him: in the beginning, he was the Word with God, and all things were made through him–but want to consider him to be only a creature who had its beginning in time and who came into existence after his mother…those are lost forever and may not have life. For there is no life outside of this Word and Son of God in whom alone is the life.”…The fact that the evangelist says, “In him was the life” instead of “In him is the life,” as if he spoke of something in the past, we must not refer to the time before the world or before the beginning…Rather, we are to refer it to the time when Christ lived and walked on earth, when God’s Word showed himself to men and among men. For the evangelist intends to write about Christ and his life in which he carried out everything we need for eternal life.