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John 1:1-18 - This is Jesus: The Preeminent One, The Greater Moses, The Revelation of the Father (The Prologue - Part 5)

John 1:1-18 – This is Jesus: The Preeminent One, The Greater Moses, The Revelation of the Father (The Prologue - Part 5)

© Eric M Schumacher – Preached June 10, 2007 at Northbrook Baptist Church , Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Have you ever been involved in one of those conversations, where after a bit you have to interrupt and ask, “Wait a minute, who is it you’re talking about again?” One might be excused for feeling that way when dealing with the “prologue” (the introductory comments) to the Gospel of John.

This is the fifth week that we have examining John’s prologue. I have been freely and unashamedly telling you what this teaches us about Jesus Christ. Have you noticed, however, that John has not yet specifically told us about whom he is writing? As Christians, we assume John is speaking of Jesus. But, could you imagine hearing or reading this passage for the first time, especially as an unbeliever?

John refers to his subject with two titles, titles that are somewhat vague and almost cryptic. He refers to him as “the Word” and then as “the true light.” We’re not really sure what or who John is talking about. We know that he speaks of “the Word,” who was “in the beginning,” “was with God” and “was God.” We know that he came into the world. We know that John bore witness to him.

But what and who is “he?” John uses the pronoun “he.” But, that pronoun can be used to refer to angels, spirits, and God himself. So, who and what is “he,” the Word and the light? Is he a human? A spirit? An angel?

And then, in verse 14, John says, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Now, it is quite clear that John is writing about a man, a human being. At some point in history—in “time and space”—the Word gained a human nature and lived on earth.

So now, as a fresh reader, after reading verse 14, your curiosity is about to burst and you’re ready to exclaim: “Who are you talking about?!” John enters a helpful parenthetical remark before he outright tells us. John writes in verse 15: “John bears witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”

John the Gospel-Writer’s readers may have known of John the Baptist’s ministry. The entire point of John the Baptist’s ministry was to prepare people for the arrival of one man. John the Baptist existed in time and space, at a particular point in history. And, therefore, so did the Word who became flesh.

John is telling us that we are not dealing with a myth, an allegory, a fable, or a ‘spiritual story.’ He is writing about true, real touchable history. In verse 15, John grounds the subject of his Gospel in a specific, historic person—Jesus Christ (verse 16).

The Preeminence of Jesus

This is John’s main reason for verse 15, which we will read about in context in verse 30. However, I want us to look at the content of what John the Baptist declares. (The word translated in the ESV as “bore witness” is actually in the present tense, better translated as “John bears witness”—as if his testimony is still bearing witness to us today.)

John cried out, “This was he of whom I said…” When John spoke these words, he evidently did not yet know about whom specifically he was bearing witness. He evidently did not know Jesus as the Messiah at this point. Rather, he was simply stating that the one who came after him would be greater than he was.

What John said of Jesus was this: “He who comes after me ranks before me.” John said that even though Jesus was born 3 months after him and began his public ministry after him, Jesus still had a higher rank than John.

Why did Jesus have a higher rank than John? John declares, “…because he was before me.” In other words, John the Baptist understood already what John the Evangelist would write in the Prologue—namely, that the Word who became flesh and walked among us .

What’s going on here? What point is John the Baptist (and John the Evangelist) making?

Priority is important. If you have children, you may found them arguing over a toy and one of them staking his claim by asserting, “I had it first!” When the West was settled, ownership of land was often determined by who got their first. Even in churches this argument can be used. What are those famous lines? “But that’s the way it’s always been!” and “But we’ve never done it that way before.” The implication that priority takes precedence, the place of honor.

There is something to this way of thinking. In the Old Testament, the eldest child was given a place of preference, receiving a double portion of the father’s inheritance (Deut 21:17). Respect was to be shown to the elders (Lamentations 5:12).

Therefore, on one level the question might be asked: Is John greater than Jesus, since John arrived first? John’s answer is “No, Jesus ranks before me because was before me.”

In other words: Jesus’ preexistence grounds his preeminence. Jesus was preexistent. That is, Jesus existed “in the beginning.” Therefore, Jesus is preeminent. “Preeminent” is probably not a word that you used last week. “Eminent” means to “stand out.” “Preeminent” means to “stand out before.” Webster defines it as “having paramount rank, dignity or importance.”

John the Baptist is arguing that because Jesus existed “in the beginning,” because “all things were made through him” (and consequently Jesus existed before all things and all people), Jesus is “before him” in rank, even though he arrives on the scene after him.

What application does this have? Realize that the Jews that Jesus will confront in the first twelve chapters of this Gospel took a lot of pride in their ethnic heritage. They, after all, were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the fathers of Israel , the ones to whom the promises an inheritance were given and thus the promises were given to them. They were the people who were given the Law-covenant through Moses, who received it from God on Mount Sinai . They were the people who were given King David and his son Solomon. They were the people who the Lord spoke to through the Prophets.

So, who was Jesus? How did he relate to these things? How should he be viewed in relationship to these people and institutions? John’s answer: “He who comes after ranks before, because he was before.” Jesus’ existence before everything and everyone makes him superior to everything and everyone.

In John 4, Jesus tells a Samaritan woman that she should ask him for a drink of living water. Her reply is:

Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.

The issue is: Is Jesus greater than their father Jacob?

Jesus answers: “Everyone who drinks of [your father Jacob’s] water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Jesus is greater than Jacob.

In John 6, the Jews say, “What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” The issue is: Is Jesus as great as their fathers who gave bread from heaven?

Jesus answers: “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died….I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” Jesus is greater than the fathers in the wilderness.

In John 8, Jesus says that those who keep his word will never see death. The Jews reply, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” The issue is: Is Jesus greater than Abraham and the prophets?

After a bit of dialogue, Jesus says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” To which the Jews reply, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” And then Jesus gets to the heart of the matter, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was I am.” Jesus asserted that he was greater than Abraham and the prophets. “So they picked up stones to throw at him.”

This theme is found in the other Gospels. For instances, Jesus says in Matthew 12, “something greater than the temple is here…something greater than Jonah is here…something greater than Solomon is here.”

One of John’s concerns, I think, is to show the superiority of Jesus in relation to what has come before him. He wants his Jewish reader to see that what God had been doing in the past was all intended to point forward the what he would bring in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises.

And from his fullness we have all received…

Last week, we examined John’s statement that in the Word, “we have seen his glory…full of grace and truth.” We looked back at Moses’ experience on Mt Sinai. There, Moses’ request is “Please show me your glory.” God’s reply is “I will make my goodness pass before you.” As the Lord causes his glory, which is his goodness, to pass before Moses, he proclaims his name. That is, the Lord narrates for Moses ears what Moses cannot see with his eyes and live. The Lord’s self-revelation of his glory revolves around him “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” We saw that the glory (goodness) of the Lord is his grace and faithfulness to his covenant people in salvation.

John has already told us that when the Word became flesh, he and the other believing eyewitnesses saw “his glory;” and that glory was “full of grace and truth.” The phrase “grace and truth” is a simple summary of the glory of the Lord revealed in the salvation of his covenant people. Therefore, Jesus is the supreme revelation of the glory of God. Furthermore, Jesus Christ is the supreme and final location of the Lord’s covenant salvation.

So what does this mean for us?

Jesus is “full of grace and truth”—he is full of the Lord’s steadfast love and faithfulness to his covenant people in salvation. What does that mean for us? John says that from this fullness “we have all received.”

When John writes “we have all,” I think that he is referring to all who believe, even if they have not “seen” (John 20:29). Those who read this Gospel and believe, receive from this fullness.

But, what do believers receive “from his fullness”? John writes, “we have all received, grace upon grace.”

…grace upon grace.

What does this phrase mean?ca,rin avnti. ca,ritojThere are several different translation options.

1) An abundance of grace. “Grace upon grace” (ESV/NAS) or “one blessing after another” (NIV/NLT). The idea being that “grace heaped upon grace.”

2) Grace in return for grace. “Grace for grace” (KJV) The idea here being that God gives us faith by grace. This grace in turn gains us the grace of eternal life with God.

Both of these ideas are absolutely true. In the Gospel, we do receive an abundance of grace, never-ceasing supply of grace. And, faith is God’s gracious gift, through which we are graciously given eternal life. However, I think that both of these ideas are foreign to the context of this passage and are not the best translations.

3) Grace instead of grace (one grace replacing another grace). This is the option that I prefer. The most common use of “anti” (the word translated in the ESV as “upon”) speaks to an opposite, literally “instead of, in place of.” So my preferred translation of this would be “From his fullness we have all received, grace instead of grace” or “we have all received, one grace replacing another grace.”

Well, you can certainly understand why no translation puts it that way. At first glance, it doesn’t seem to make any sense. What does it mean that “grace replaces grace?” We could understand it if it said, “Grace replacing works.” Or, “grace in the place of wrath.” But, “grace instead of grace?” What does that mean? It doesn’t make sense—unless, that is, we look at how it is connected with verse 17.

For…

Notice that verse 17 begins with the word “for.” The word “for” here is used as a “causal conjunction;” it tells us why what was just stated is so. We could translate it “because” or “since.”

If we receive “grace in the place of grace” (or, “one grace replacing another”), it implies that there are two things present: (1) a former grace and (2) a new grace.

How does verse 17 help us understand this? It says, “Because/since the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Again, the word “for” that begins verse 17 signals that this verse is explaining what was just stated in verse 16.

So what was the “former grace”? “The law was given through Moses.” Notice that John is not speaking of legalism or the abuse of the law. He is speaking of the law as it was actually given to Israel through Moses on Mt Sinai. The covenant of the law was “grace,” John is saying. It was a gracious gift through which the Lord revealed his “glory,” his steadfast love and faithfulness.

However, from the fullness of Jesus, we have all received, “grace in the place of grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” That is in Jesus Christ, a new and greater grace has come; a grace which replaces the grace of the law. Through Jesus Christ, we receive a fuller and greater and final expression of the Lord’s “grace and truth,” his “steadfast love and faithfulness.”

Jesus’ ‘grace and truth’ is the fulfillment of the Law and therefore greater than the Law.

This does not mean that the law is bad—only that Jesus is better.

Jesus says in John 5:46, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.” Like the manna and the serpent, the Law prophesied and pointed to something greater than itself—Jesus Christ, full of grace and truth. Jesus Christ supersedes and replaces the gift of the Law, which spoke of Him (5:46-47).

These passages (and others) show us that the way John (and Jesus) view the Old Testament Scriptures. They point forward to something to come, they prophesy (Mt 11:13). It is in this sense that Jesus “fulfills” them. In this sense, the Law is displaced, set-aside because its purpose is served.

Therefore these two displays of grace are not equal or identical. The former serves the later. When Jesus Christ arrives, the Law is surpassed and superseded by him.

The grace of the Old Covenant law looked forward to and served the grace of the New Covenant. As Paul says in Galatians 3:24, “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came.”

When this fresh grace arrives, the old grace is made obsolete. The Old Covenant is obsolete at the pronouncement of the New Covenant. This is what the author of Hebrews argues:

Hebrews 8:13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

The simple prophecy of a New Covenant in Jeremiah—simply speaking of it—makes the first covenant “obsolete” and “ready to vanish away.”

What is John’s Point?

One cannot depend upon their connection to Moses for spiritual blessing, but only to Christ. One of the problems that I think John is guarding against is the temptation for his readers to revert from Christianity back to Judaism. John is very graciously yet clearly stating that everything that came before was simply preparing the way for Jesus Christ.

John’s wording is less offensive to a Jewish audience—yes, the Law which came through Moses was God’s grace, but, in the words of Andreas Kostenberger, “if you want an even more gracious demonstration of God’s covenant love and faithfulness, it is found in Jesus Christ.”

This helps understand how to view the Law—it was good (not bad), but not to be clung to; something greater has come.

This also helps us understand how we, as Christians, ought to relate to the Law. It is not uncommon to hear of Christians who get caught up in “Messianic” movements through which they become convinced that the Old Covenant law still holds sway over us—and that we are obligated to abide by its requirements; such as its teachings on food and cleanliness laws, festivals, etc.

If the purpose of the Law was to point forward to Jesus Christ, then once he has arrived, we are no longer under the Law, but under Christ. If the “grace and truth” which came through Jesus Christ are given in the place of the grace of the law, then we are not required to live according to the Law of the Old Covenant, but according to the “law of Christ.”

This is Paul’s argument in his letter to the Colossian believers. He writes in Colossians 2:16-17:

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

Some argue that Paul is referring to abuses of the Law. I am not convinced by this view, for Paul says that “these are a shadow of the things to come.” Abuses of the law were not shadows of something to come. The law as it was given was a shadow of something greater to come—Jesus Christ. Jesus is the substance that cast the shadow.

What do you do when you are standing outside and a shadow suddenly comes over you? You look up! And, from then on, where do you fix your attention? On the substance casting the shadow! You look at the cloud or the airplane or the UFO. You attention is fixed on the thing, not the shadow. And, if you do look back at the shadow, you see nothing other than an outline of what you know cast the shadow.

So it is with the Law and Christ. The law was a gracious shadow. Jesus Christ is the fullness and the substance. We no longer fix our eyes on the shadow, but on the substance. And, if we do look back upon the Law, we see nothing but other than an outline of the One who cast the shadow—Jesus Christ.

John Calvin wrote, “…in the Law there was nothing more than a shadowy image of spiritual blessings, but that they are actually found in Christ; whence it follows, that if you separate the Law from Christ, there remains nothing in it but empty figures.”

We should not let anyone drag us back to the shadowlands, when the substance has come. We should not let anyone convince us that receiving God’s favor is now dependant upon us obeying the Old Covenant Law. The way to truly honor the Law Covenant is not to try to live according to it, but to embrace what it prophesied about—Jesus Christ. The way to “fulfill” the law is to receive the “grace and truth” that replace it, which are received through Jesus Christ.

He Has Made Him Known

The “preeminence” of Jesus is verse 15 is connected to what is taught in verses 16-17. Jesus is greater than the Law; Jesus is greater than Moses. Jesus accomplishes for us what Moses and the Law could not.

We read, “No one has ever seen God.” Despite what we read in Exodus and Numbers about the Lord appearing to Moses and the elders, about Moses speaking with the Lord “face to face” and in Isaiah about the prophet “seeing the Lord seated on his throne,” John tells us “no one has seen God.”

The Old Covenant system did not allow the people of the Lord to see him. The Lord dwelt in the Tabernacle and in the Temple , hidden by walls and by a veil. The people could only know the Lord from a distance, through a system of priests and repeated sacrifices. A high priest may enter the dwelling place of the Lord once a year, but the people did not see him.

However, Jesus Christ has done something unique. He has made the Father known.

The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side…

First, notice how John describes Jesus Christ here. He repeats the phrase found in verse 14, “the only begotten” or “the only Son.” And then, he simply uses the word “God.” This is best translated, “the only Son [comma] God,” meaning, “the only Son, who is himself God.” Notice how John is closing the Prologue as he opened it. He again affirms that the Word—who we now know as Jesus Christ—is himself God.

But then he says, “who is at the Father’s side.” Who is the Father, except God? Yet, we see that the “only Son” is himself “God.” Just as in verse 1, the Word who was God is also “with God.” We see one God who exists in multiple persons.

“Who is at the Father’s side.” This is a beautiful expression. Your translation might read, “who is in the Father’s bosom.” Or, as the New Living Translation reads, “near to the Father’s heart.”

This expression is used in John 13:23, where the disciple “whom Jesus loved” was (literally) “in the bosom of Jesus.” This refers to the practice of reclining on the floor at the dinner table. The person who reclined in front of you would have their head near your chest, your bosom. It allowed for very close and intimate conversation. Therefore, this because an expression to indicate an intimate relationship.

The Only Son, who is God, is “in the bosom of the Father.” This tells us that Jesus Christ the Only Son had an unmatched, direct intimacy with the Father.

…he has made him known.

The word translated “made known,” is the greek word from which we get our word “exegete,” which means to “give an account of” or to “tell the whole story.” Jesus gives us a “full account” of the Father. Jesus is the supreme and final revelation of God the Father. This is why Jesus says in John 14:9, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

This is how the New Covenant that Jesus surpasses the Old Covenant given through Moses. This is how Jesus is preeminent over Moses:

· Moses gave the people a tent. Jesus gave us God in the flesh.

· Moses saw the Lord’s “back.” Jesus Christ was “in his bosom.”

· When the Law-covenant was given through Moses, Moses was told, “…man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). But, when “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” “he has made him known.”

Have you ever wanted to see God? Do you want to know God? Read this verse!

John Calvin summarized the implications of this by writing, “we have the breast of God, as it were, laid open to us in the Gospel.”

God the Father may be fully known through the person and work of Jesus Christ. By repenting of our sins and believing the Gospel—the sinless life, substitutionary death and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ—we are given access to and knowledge of the Father.

Do not look to know God by returning to the Law and the Prophets. [That is, do not look to enjoy a personal, intimate, covenant relationship with the Lord through the Old Covenant.] They pointed forward to something greater, someone preeminent!

“Oh come to the Father through Jesus the Son and give him the glory, great things he has done!”

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