These words commence the verse considered by some to be the
greatest in the New Testament. John identifies the One who is the Word in the
second verse. He "was in the beginning with God." The evangelist thus clearly
demonstrates the pre-human existence of Jesus, and accordingly quotes the
Baptist (v.30) having declared that "he (the Word) was (that is to say,
"existed") before me", although, in fact, John the Baptist was born six months
earlier. Paul's words in Phil.2:7 demonstrate that He who was the Word with God
"was made in the likeness of men", and in Rom.8:3 "in the likeness of sinful
flesh" statements which are supported by Psa.8.5 (Heb.2:7) "made him a little
('for a little while') lower than angels".
Although our initial text declares that the Word was made flesh, John shows that
there was uniqueness about this One in that John and others "beheld his glory,
the glory as of an only son of a father, full of grace and truth", which wording
other translations support. There is much here that calls for close attention.
First, the A.V. does not show that John is using a human illustration, and it
translates the Greek word "monogenes" literally as "only begotten", whereas the
main sense of the word is "only". This is seen in the following passages where
the A.V. translates by the word "only", omitting "begotten". The passages are
Luke 7:12 "only son"; 8,42. "only daughter"; and 9:38 "only child". Just as an
only child is the sole reflection of his father's characteristics, so the Word
made flesh reflected the glory
of His Father.
How shall we define "glory"? It is as difficult as endeavouring to define
beauty. We see a sunset and we exclaim it is beautiful, even glorious. We see a
flower and exclaim, how beautiful! We gaze on a young child's countenance and we
say the same thing. But John expends his reference to our Saviour's glory in the
expressions that follow—"full of grace and truth", and in verse 17
uses the words "grace and truth" a second time: "For the law was given by Moses,
but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ". Paul wrote of the same
contrast in 2 Cor.3:7-10: "But if the ministration of death, written and
engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not
stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which
glory was to be done away: how shall not the ministration of the spirit be
rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more
doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was
made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that
excelleth". John, of course, does not write of the Mosaic covenant having glory
as does Paul, and we shall come back to John's contrast later, and also consider
further "grace and truth".
Meantime, we quote verse 16: "And of his fulness have all we received
(or 'drawn upon'), and grace for grace". Fulness is the same word that Paul used
in his letters to the Ephesians and Colossians. We read "In him (Christ)
dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead (Deity) bodily (Col.2:9) and the
same writer tells of his prayer for believers that they might "know the love of
Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness
of God"—partakers of His divine nature even now. In adding "and grace for
grace", John seems to be saying that the more we know Christ, the more wonderful
He becomes. The longer we journey with Him, the more wonderful He is, and more
of His loveliness we discover. And this reminds us of Peter's exhortation
(2 Pet.3:18) "Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of…Jesus Christ".
We examine verse 17 further: "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and
truth came by Jesus Christ". The contrast is significant. At Sinai God was the
Lawgiver but through Jesus He has become Father. Freedom has displaced slavery
and bondage. Grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.
Grace: It means that which is entirely undeserved. Saved by grace and
that not of ourselves; it is the gift of God—neither earned nor achieved
by ourselves. Grace stresses both the helpless poverty of mankind and the
limitless loving-kindness of God—for in Jesus we are confronted with the sheer
loveliness of God.
Truth is the second quality. Twenty-five times John uses this word in his
gospel. If we think of truth only in terms of doctrines, we miss the many
significances of this wonderful word. Jesus is the embodiment of the Truth. "I
am the truth", He said (14:6). Throughout the ages men have been trying to
define just who and what God is. But we can look at Jesus and say "That is what
God is like". Jesus did not come to earth merely to talk about God but in
Himself to show what God is like. This is what John means in verse 18: "No man
has seen God at any time". God's only Son hath declared, or literally,
interpreted Him; and this because Jesus "is in the bosom of
the Father". This expresses the deepest intimacy, complete and uninterrupted. ln
writing these words "the bosom of the Father" John must have recalled his own
loving and intimate relationship with Jesus, for in 13:23: "Now there was
leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples,
whom Jesus loved".
Jesus is the communicator of the truth—of the reality of God. He told
Pilate that the object of His coming into the world was to witness to the
truth—to God's realness (18:37). He told some believers that if they continued
in His word, they would know the truth which would make them free (8:31,32) and
verse 34 shows that He was talking about freedom from the bondage of sin.
Christ the Truth delivers those who are captives to sin. Thus in 3:21 we have a
remarkable expression when John writes "But he that doeth truth cometh to
the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God".
This shows that truth is something that must be known by the mind, accepted with
the heart, and acted out in the life.
Forest Gate Monthly