In John 1:14-18, the apostle John says this:
“14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth. 15 John beareth witness of him, and crieth, saying, This was he of whom I said, He that cometh after me is become before me: for he was before me. 16 For of his fulness we all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”
In this passage, John describes the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, its main witnesses, and its effects on the first disciples of Christ.
One may divide this passage into 11 parts:
- Christ’s pilgrimage
- Christ’s presentation
- Christ’s peculiarity
- Christ’s prosperity
- Christ’s perfection
- Christ’s paramountcy
- Christ’s promulgation
- Christ’s pardon
- Christ’s precursor
- Christ’s procurement
- Christ’s portrayal
First, then, John describes Christ’s pilgrimage: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us . . .”
As John did in the beginning of this chapter, he is now calling Christ “the Word”. That is, he is bringing attention to the Message who has always existed, participated in the creation of the universe, and had life in Himself, which was the light of men. Now, John says that this Word became flesh. What does this mean? The word, “flesh”, refers to the body, so John is saying that this divine Person who has always existed as spirit now permanently became a human being — the Lord Jesus Christ.
Not only that, but John also says that the Word who was now flesh dwelt among us. This word, “dwelt”, is translated from a Greek word that is used in the most popular Greek translation of the Old Testament at that time of the tent that was used as the temporary temple for the Israelites. John’s audience would have understood this, and would have known that the word, “dwelt”, could literally be understood as “tented” or “pitched a tent”. Thus, John is saying that the Word in the flesh temporarily lived among people as in a temporary tent that was meant to eventually be taken down.
But who is the “us” among whom the Word in the flesh dwelt? Well, John has just finished talking about those people who received Christ by believing in His name when He was on the earth among them before His death, so it is natural to understand that he is speaking of Christ’s disciples. In other words, he is saying that Christ dwelt among His disciples temporarily, knowing that His pilgrimage was temporary, and deliberately living life with the recognition that it was temporary, and that He was moving on to another place eventually.
Next, John describes to us Christ’s presentation: “. . . and we beheld his glory . . .”
Here, obviously, John is saying that Christ’s disciples — and John has particularly in mind the apostles, who were the “sent ones” with the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ to be His witnesses — beheld His glory. What does this word, “beheld”, mean? It’s translated from the Greek word, theoamai, and means “to look closely at” or “to visit”. Therefore, the disciples didn’t just see a passing glance of Christ’s glory, but they looked closely at it, and for a prolonged period of time — every time they looked at Him doing anything — for about 3 years.
So, what is Christ’s glory that John speaks of? First, it is the glory of His peculiarity: “. . . glory as of the only begotten from the Father . . .”
What does it mean that Christ was manifested, or glorified, as being the only begotten from the Father? Does it literally mean that Christ was begotten, or produced through conception, by the Father? Of course not.
By calling Jesus the only begotten from the Father, the Holy Spirit is telling us at least two things. First, that Christ is the begotten from the Father. That is, He has such a relationship with the Father that is analogous to the relationship that a son has with his father. What does it mean that someone is the begotten of another? It means that he or she is his offspring, and as such, shares his nature and many characteristics. It is similar in the case of Christ and the Father; Christ shares the Father’s nature, by virtue of being His only begotten Son, and shares every single divine attribute that the Father possesses.
At this point I would like to address a possible misconception about what it means that Christ is the only begotten from the Father: it doesn’t mean that Christ became the only begotten from the Father when He was conceived in the womb of Mary. Why? Because it wasn’t the Father who conceived Him in Mary, but the Holy Spirit. You will find no mention of the Father having any direct, supernatural, and biological, involvement in the conception of Jesus in the Bible, apart from the Holy Spirit’s work. Thus, what John is referring to is not something that came into existence at the time of God the Son’s becoming a human when He was conceived, but something that He has always been. He has always been the only begotten from the Father, but it was only when He became flesh that this glory was manifested to people.
The second aspect of this glory that the disciples saw is that Christ was the only begotten from the Father. That is, there was, and never will be, anyone who is begotten from the Father as Christ is begotten from the Father. Although believers are begotten by the Father through the Spirit, they are begotten at a certain point in time, and are not natural children, as Christ is. There is no human being that has the same kind of father-son relationship as Christ has with the Father. As Hebrews chapter 1 says, He is the radiance of the Father’s glory, and the exact representation of His nature, and He always has been. He has always been the Father’s only begotten Son.
When Christ dwelt among the disciples, they saw this glory that showed them that Christ was the only begotten from the Father — that He was God in the flesh, since He shared the Father’s nature and attributes — and that He had a relationship with the Father that no one else had, nor could possibly have. In short, the disciples saw that Christ and the Father had always been the Son and the Father, and shared the same divine nature.
The second aspect of this glory that the disciples beheld is Christ’s prosperity: “. . . and we beheld his glory, . . . full of grace . . .”
What is grace? The formal definition of this word is undeserved favor from God, and that is its basic meaning. But what does it mean that Christ was full of grace? Well, we must understand this in the context in which John puts it. This fullness of grace that Christ had was part of the glory that the disciples beheld. Hence, the way that John knows that Christ was full of grace was that He beheld this fact by beholding Christ. Thus, we can understand that John means that when the disciples were beholding Christ, they saw Him overflowing with undeserved favor for people — He was the most gracious man who ever walked the earth. He was a fountain of God’s grace, bestowing grace upon anyone He could rightly bestow it upon. He was so gracious that every thing He did manifested the grace of God. In other words, He was full of grace.
The last aspect of the glory that the disciples saw is Christ’s perfection. Not only was He full of grace, but He was also full of truth. What does this mean? Well, it is similar in meaning to Christ being full of grace. He was overflowing with truth. Every thing He did manifested the truth of God, and every word He spoke was a true word. Also, He lived according to the truth — He didn’t give heed to lies, nor was He deceived in any way. When the disciples beheld Him, they saw that He was a man who was full of truth, since He was God the Son — the Word.
After telling us about Christ’s glory, John now describes His second main witness — John, His proponent: “John beareth witness of him . . .”
This is the same John the baptist that John mentions in John 1:6-8. He was the man sent from God for witness, that he might bear witness about Christ, that all might believe through him. Now, John is again saying that John the baptist was one of the main witnesses, in the beginning of Christ’s public ministry, of who Christ was, and what He came to do.
John now comes to Christ’s paramountcy in comparison to the baptist, which the baptist himself testified to: “. . . and crieth, saying, This was he of whom I said, He that cometh after me is become before me: for he was before me”.
We must first notice about this statement that John the baptist “crieth” or “cried out”. John was preaching this testimony, not just sharing it in a quiet word. Thus, we must understand that he was preaching to many people — there were many people who heard his testimony about Christ. This is striking because John was the center of attention at that time — having multitudes flocking to him to be baptized by him. But now, he gives all of the attention to the One who is before him.
Second, notice that John here says that Jesus “was he of whom I said . . .” That is, he is referring to something that he said previously to his disciples. In other words, he is saying that the One for whom he had prepared his disciples was there in their presence.
Third, what does it mean that Jesus is “he that cometh after” John? In order to understand this, we must note that John had a very well-known ministry of that time. He drew the attention of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, who sent delegates to him, as you can see at the end of John 1. Furthermore, crowds of people went to him to hear him preach and be baptized. He was a national phenomenon in Israel, as he was clearly demonstrating that he was a prophet. However, John said that there was One who was coming after him. What he meant by this was, whereas he was ministering as a prophet and preacher in Israel at that time, there would come a time when a new prophet and preacher would arrive, who would have a ministry that would replace John’s ministry — and that Man had come.
Fourth, what does it mean that Jesus was “become before” him? These words should be rendered “has a higher rank than I”, as the New American Standard Bible renders them. What is the baptist saying? That Jesus has a higher rank than him. That is the reason that He will come after John.
Finally, what does John the baptist mean by “for he was before me”? Well, if you will read the first couple of chapters of Luke, you will find that the baptist’s mother became pregnant before Mary conceived Jesus, so John can’t mean that Jesus was conceived before him. John was conceived, then Jesus. Therefore, the only logical conclusion that one can draw is that John the baptist is saying that Jesus has always existed, and that is how He existed before the baptist. John gives this pre-existence of Christ as the reason that Christ has a higher rank than him — He is God.
After showing this paramountcy of Christ, John next shows the promulgation of Christ: “For of his fulness we all received . . .”
What is the “for” referring back to? It has to be referring back to the beginning of this passage, where John says that Christ dwelt among us, and they beheld Christ full of grace and truth. The “us” in that part is included in the “we all” in this part, and the glory that was “full of grace and truth” is the “fulness” here.
So, why does John begin this verse with “for”? To tell us that he is explaining why the disciples beheld Christ’s glory, as well as how he knows that Christ was full of grace and truth. So why did the disciples behold Christ’s glory? Because they received of His fullness. And how does he know that Christ was full of grace and truth? Because they received of His fullness.
So, what is Christ’s fullness? First, it is the fullness of Deity, as Colossians 1 tells us. That is, it is the fullness of the divine nature and attributes in Christ. Second, it is the fullness of grace and truth. In other words, this fullness includes undeserved favor and the truth of God.
Next, what does it mean that the disciples received of Christ’s fullness? It means that they received from His fullness of Deity, grace, and truth. To put it another way, they received the manifestation and revelation of His divine glory, and they received His grace, and His truth. They did this when they received Him Himself by believing in His name, as John tells before this passage.
Not only did the disciples receive from Christ’s fullness, but they also received “grace for grace” — His pardon. The New American Standard Bible renders this phrase, “grace upon grace”. The idea is that the disciples received from Christ a shower, or waves, of undeserved favors that were given to them to improve upon previous ones — they received grace after grace after grace.
And why did the disciples receive from His fullness, and grace upon grace from Him — the only begotten from the Father, who was full of grace and truth? First, because of Christ’s precursor: “For the law was given through Moses . . .”
What does John mean by this? Why does he all of a sudden speak of this law? Well, first, what is this law? It is the law that was given through Moses. And what law was given through Moses? The whole Law of Moses, the Law of the Old Covenant, or the Law of commandments contained in ordinances (Eph. 2:15). This is the Law which God gave to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament through Moses — and it’s not just the Ten Commandments. Every other law that God gave to Israel through Moses was also a law, or a commandment, and all of them — including the Ten Commandments — were given to Israel at one time in the form of a covenant law. That is, God made an agreement with the nation of Israel, that if they kept the Law, He would bless them, and if they disobeyed the Law, He would curse them.
So, why does John mention the Law here? He is alluding to the fact that the disciples of whom he has just referred as receiving of Christ’s fullness, and grace upon grace, were Jews who were under the Law of Moses. And he doubtless was writing to an audience that included Jews who esteemed the Law of Moses. Therefore, he is here explaining to them why the disciples received from Christ’s fullness, and grace upon grace from Him. It was because the Law that they were previously under was given through Moses. Moses had no fullness, nor could he give people grace upon grace. Much less could the Law that he was used to give to Israel allow people to receive from the fullness of Deity, and grace upon grace.
But John now gives us the positive reason that the disciples received from Christ’s fullness, and His grace, rather than from the Law and Moses — Christ’s procurement: “. . . grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”.
Here, John is contrasting the Law and Moses with grace and truth and Jesus Christ. He is implying that grace and truth didn’t come, or weren’t realized, through the Law, but through Jesus Christ. Was God gracious in giving the Law to Israel? Yes. Did the Law contain truth? Yes. But God’s grace and His truth weren’t realized through the Law of Moses, but through Jesus Christ. That is, the Law could give no undeserved favor to people in saving them from their sins, and didn’t reveal the whole truth of God — who He was. It only condemned and damned sinners, and mostly gave them the truth about God’s wrath against sinners, and His hatred of them and their sins. In contrast, Jesus the Anointed One — the Prophet, High Priest, and King — realized God’s saving grace by living His perfect life of obedience, dying for our sins, raising Himself from the dead, and promising the forgiveness of sins to all who will change their minds and trust in Him and His saving work. Furthermore, He realized truth by manifesting through Himself the fullness of Deity, and being the brightness of God’s glory, and the exact representation of His nature.
And why did truth have to be realized through Jesus Christ? Because, John says, “No man hath seen God at any time . . .”
So, how did Jesus Christ realize truth? John tells us that it was through His portrayal: “. . . the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”
Here, John is again calling Christ the only begotten — the only eternal and divine Son of the Father. The use of the word, “Son”, in this translation is actually not completely accurate. It would be better to replace the word, “Son”, with “God”, as the New American Standard Bible does. So, John would actually be saying “. . . the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”
This is important because it shows us that, although no one has ever seen God, we can spiritually see something of God in the Lord Jesus Christ, because He is the only begotten God.
However, not only is He the only begotten God, but He is also in the bosom, or chest, of the Father. What does this mean? Well, there’s a good illustration of this in the Gospel of Luke, in the account of Jesus’s story of the rich man and Lazarus, in which Jesus says that Lazarus, when he died, went to “Abraham’s bosom”. Then, Jesus tells us that the rich man saw Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom. What did this mean? That Lazarus was enjoying intimate fellowship with Abraham. Another example of something like this would be in the account of the Last Supper in John, in which John tells us that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” was resting his head on Jesus’s bosom while they were eating. This is again a picture of intimate fellowship among family members. Thus, when John tells us that Jesus is in the bosom of the Father, he’s telling us that Jesus enjoys the most intimate fellowship with the Father that anyone can ever enjoy, and knows the Father more than anyone.
Since Jesus is the only begotten God, and is in the Father’s bosom, it makes sense that He declared, or literally exegeted, or explained, the Father. Notice that John doesn’t say that Jesus explained who the Father is, but explained the Father Himself. And why was He able to do this again, even though no one has ever seen God? Because He is the only begotten God, and He is in the bosom of the Father. Therefore, when He was on earth, He explained the Father through His character, His works, and His teaching. It is only in the Lord Jesus Christ that we can see the Father. As He said, “‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father'” (John 14:9).
So, are you beholding the glory of Christ, as of the only begotten from the Father, and full of grace and truth?
Are you receiving from Christ’s fullness, and grace upon grace?
Are you paying attention to the only begotten God’s explanation of the Father?
You will never behold the glory of Christ, receive from His fullness, or pay attention to His explanation of the Father until you behold His glory in the gospel, receive from His fullness in the gospel, and pay attention to His explanation of the Father in the gospel. The gospel is the good news that the apostle Paul speaks of in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15, verses 1-4:
“Now I make known unto you brethren, the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye received, wherein also ye stand, by which also ye are saved, if ye hold fast the word which I preached unto you, except ye believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures . . .”
So, how do you hold fast the word of the gospel? Paul tells us in Acts 17:30-31:
“The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked; but now he commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent: inasmuch as he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.”
What does it mean to repent? The prophet Isaiah tells us in Isaiah 55:7:
“. . . 7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto Jehovah, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
So does Paul in 1 Thessalonians 1:9b:
“. . . ye turned unto God from idols, to serve a living and true God . . .”
Finally, Paul tells us in Romans 10:9-11:
“. . . 9 because if thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved: 10 for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11 For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be put to shame.”
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:20-21:
“20 We are ambassadors therefore on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beseech you on behalf of Christ, be ye reconciled to God. 21 Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”
How do you get reconciled to God?
“. . . Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved . . .” – Acts 16:31