John is looking back on the events of Jesus’ life, and telling us that the Logos was what Jesus most resembled. But who or what was the Logos? A first-century reader would have recognised the term from the writings of the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo (20 BC–50 AD). Taking an excessively exalted view of the spiritual over the material (much like Plato), Philo asserted the existence of intermediary beings between God and the Cosmos; the Logos was the greatest of these, the “first-born of God.”
The Logos was God's instrument in Creation, and a force of Reason, producing order in the universe: “For the Logos of the living God is the bond of everything, holding all things together and binding all the parts, and prevents them from being dissolved and separated” (Philo, De Profugis, cited in Gerald Friedlander, Hellenism and Christianity, 1912, pp. 114–115).
Philo also identified the Logos with “The Angel of the Lord” in the Old Testament (see Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Volume 1, Continuum, 2003, pp. 458–462).
Some of what John says is consistent with Philo (“All things were made through him” and “He came to his own”), but really John only cites Philo as a starting point for his own description of Jesus, and goes on to articulate quite a different Logos doctrine. John’s Logos is higher than Philo’s (“the Word was God”) but stoops lower (“the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”). The gulf between God and the physical world was (in a way that Philo could not have accepted) bridged in a single Act.
Verbum by M. C. Escher
“From heaven You came, helpless babe,
Entered our world, Your glory veiled ...
Hands that flung stars into space
To cruel nails surrendered ...
This is our God, the Servant King;
He calls us now to follow Him ...” – Graham Kendrick