We have spent 3 weeks so far on John’s prologue, and we’ve seen wonders within it; wonders that form and fill out many of the essential truths of the Christian faith. Today we finish his prologue by looking at v17-18. And right away we see something new. v14 told us that Christ was full of grace and truth, now we find in v17-18 that by Christ grace and truth has come to us.
Follow along as I read the whole of John’s prologue, one last time.
Two points to see in these two closing verses: Christ the Fulfiller (v17) & Christ the Revealer (v18)
Christ the Fulfiller (v17)
In v17 we see a contrast and comparison of what God did through Moses and what God is now doing in Jesus Christ. The contrast John brings to us is Moses and law against Christ and grace/truth. “For the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” I want to ask John why he brings this up and what it means, but before asking those questions I want to encourage you to take caution with this comparison. John does not intend to teach us that God wasn’t gracious or truthful with Moses or with His people in the Law, not at all. Remember when God revealed Himself to Moses He proclaimed that He was “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Ex. 34:6) So grace and truth were present in the law. John’s point is that grace and truth are ultimately and fully revealed in Jesus Christ. In this sense Christ is the Fulfiller, or the fulfillment of the law. And we can even go beyond this and say that Christ is not only the fulfillment of the law, He is the fulfillment and culmination of the entire Old Testament. Jesus displaces the law as the divine revelation of God. We’ll see this in numerous ways throughout John’s gospel: the wine of new creation far exceeds the wine of Jewish religion, the new temple supersedes the old temple, the new birth, not physical birth, is the entrance into covenant life with God, the living water Christ brings is superior to the water of Jacob’s well, the bread of life is the reality the manna in the wilderness could only point to, and on and on. God was gracious to redeem Israel from slavery and reveal the law to them, no doubt. John’s point here is that what God did with Israel, was a preview of the greater grace God is now showing to the Church through His Son Jesus.
So back to our questions: why did John bring this comparison up and what does it mean? In a manner of speaking we’ve already answered it: John brings up this comparison to show that Christ is the fulfillment of the law. But that means a few things we should take note of:
First, that Christ is the Fulfiller of the law means Jesus is superior to the law. Think back to the moment when God, through Moses, gave His people the law. It was a gloriously terrible moment for Israel. All the people were assembled before Sinai. They were glad and thankful to have been rescued from the slavery of Egypt. But the God that had rescued them terrified them in His glory. He called Moses up to the mountain and wrote the law with His own hands. Moses had to do this twice because of the golden calf incident, but once the people had the law they learned not only who God is, they learned what He required of them. Through the law God had revealed His will to them, giving them direction and guidance for their life as His chosen and redeemed people. The law truly had a glory about it and because of that glory the people of Israel held Moses in the high esteem. And not only Moses is in view here, but every Old Testament prophet after Moses all the way up until Jesus in view because they all preached Moses to the God’s people. They preached the law. Joshua, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Hosea, Amos, Obadiah, and all the others preached the law of God to God’s people because it was the law that God revealed His will to His people. In this sense all these prophets were calling Israel back to the pattern of life God had called them to in His law. But then something new came, but not something entirely new. No longer did God send a prophet to preach His law to His people, no, God Himself came and walked among us in the Person of His eternal Son, Jesus Christ. And no longer was God going to give them His law, but He writes it onto our hearts. John is saying the glory of Moses giving God’s law to Israel is nothing when compared to Christ through whom God gave us grace and truth.
God puts this on display for me to see every time I go to the gym in the morning. So there I am, I’ve been going for a few months now, I’m slowly working my way up and I think I’m lifting some pretty heavy weight. So I grow a little proud of myself to see the improvement and strength I’ve gained…Then I look to my right and on the bench press next to me sits a guy who makes the Hulk look small, and the more weight he puts on his bench press the less my weight looks. Sure I may have a gained some strength these past few months, but in comparison to this guy, I look like a little kid playing on the monkey bars.
Hebrews 3 compares Moses and Jesus like this when it says, “Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses – as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself…Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son.” So while Moses deserves honor for being a faithful servant in the house of God, Jesus deserves greater honor and glory because He, as God’s Son, is over God’s entire house. A ‘greater than’ argument is being made in v17. Jesus is superior to the law.
Second, that Christ is the Fulfiller of the law means Jesus can do what the law never could. Probably the most important verse in the law of God is found in Deut. 6:25, which says, “And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as He has commanded us.” I say this is the most important verse in the law of God because of what it promises. If we are careful to obey all this law, it will be righteousness for us. If, we obey it will be righteousness to us. If we obey all of God’s law we can stand before God in full assurance that we have done enough to earn a right standing with God. This verse is true, but what’s the problem with it? We can’t do it. Because of our sin, we can’t obey God’s law. I wonder if you agree with that. I wonder if that rubs you the wrong way. Proverbs 20:6 says every man loves to proclaim his own goodness. But let me ask, have any of you ever told a lie? Any of you ever stolen anything? Any of you ever disobeyed your parents? I thought so. By our own admission, we are lying, thieving, disobedient children, and that’s only three of the Ten Commandments, there’s seven more, how do you think we’ll do on those? If we obeyed all of God’s law we would be counted righteous, but because of who we are, sinners, God’s law is very good at one and only one thing: condemning us. Can you now taste the despair the law brings to us? We need a perfect righteousness to be acceptable to God, and we can’t do it! Despair over your own ability to keep the law, yes, but do not forget what I said a few moments ago, Jesus can do, and has done, what the law never could! While the law condemns, Jesus saves! Paul even tells us that God gave us the law for that very purpose in Galatians 3:24 saying, “The law was out guardian (or tutor) until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” See it? God gave us His law to chase to the foot of the cross where we behold the only One who is righteous! Hebrews 10 says it too, “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near…For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”
So we could conclude this: what was impossible under the law is now possible in Christ. We can say more: what was impossible under the law is now purchased for us in Christ! God didn’t send Jesus to make redemption possible, He sent Him to purchase a people. Therefore, we are no longer under law, but under grace. Or as Dave Arnold puts it, “If you’re a Christian coming to worship, you don’t come to a courthouse and find guilt and sentencing, you come to a church and find redemption and forgiveness.”
Jesus is the fulfiller because He is superior to the law and has done what it couldn’t do.
Christ the Revealer (v18)
Popular new age teacher Deepak Chopra has said, “Asking about where we can seek God is like standing in an ocean and asking to get wet. God’s only love and God’s already in you.” Steve McSwain, the Ambassador to the Council on World Religions said it even stronger, “If we think God is somewhere ‘up there’ while we are ‘down here’, God cannot be found at all. God is within you.” There are many people and opinions floating around today like this, asking us to put off the old religion that says the holy God is separated from sinners like us. They tell us that when we go around knocking on all sorts of doors trying to find truth, that we should just stop, rest, and realize that we’re knocking from the inside. John has a different opinion. His opinion has been embraced by the Church in all ages, and must continue to be embraced today, “No one has ever seen God, the only God who is at the Father’s side, He has made Him known.”
No one has seen God in His full array of glory and beauty. Even Moses had to be shielded from the full glory of God. Only one Person has made God known – the God who is at the Father’s side – Jesus Christ. This word ‘known’ stands out at the end of v18 doesn’t it? The final word in John’s prologue is ‘exegeomai’ which is translated into English as ‘to make known.’ Did you know this is where we get the word ‘exegesis’ and ‘exegete’ from? To properly exegete a passage, or to do the work of exegesis is to pull from a passage what is really there, rather than pulling out a meaning we’ve put into the text ourselves. All this to say, in opposition to all new age talk going on these days, which is really old age thought repackaged is Jesus, who exegetes, or makes God known to us. This is the final word in John’s prologue and perhaps we could say it’s the most important word. Where we do find God? How do we seek God today? In what way has God revealed Himself to mankind? If we want to know who God is, we need look no farther than Jesus Christ.
Perhaps you remember the scene in John 14 when the Philip, probably speaking for all the disciples, in a moment of frustration with Jesus said, “Just show us the Father and that would be enough for us!” Philip here reveals his lack of faith. If he could just see God the Father in all His glory that would be enough; that would give him all the evidence that Jesus truly is who He says He is. How many say the same thing today? How many of you in moments where unbelief seems to blitz upon you have said the same? Just show me who you are God, and that’ll be enough. Jesus responds with words of brilliant clarity, “Have I been with you so long and you still do not know Me Philip? Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father.” Do you want to know who God is? You simply have to look to Jesus. Now, God truly did reveal Himself to all Israel through His law, but He was veiled to a certain degree because the people couldn’t handle being exposed to who He truly is. The law in this sense, though a true revelation of God, wasn’t a full revelation of God. We see hints of a greater revealing in v17, and sure enough, when we get to v18 that’s exactly what we see. Through Jesus Christ, the invisible God has fully, finally, and visibly revealed Himself. Hebrews 1:1-3 puts it like this, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son…(who is)…the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature.”
Let me end with two thoughts:
1) Both Moses and Christ are necessary for us. Hear Johannes Brenz, “The Word of the Lord has two offices: to kill and to give life, to reveal and remit sin, to work wrath and to make grace known, to demand righteousness and to give righteousness…the Law was revealed through Moses, but the gospel was revealed through Christ. Indeed these are the two famous preachers in the world…Both these preachers are necessary…for Moses without Christ drives one to despair, Christ without Moses makes people careless and proud…through the law Moses made it known that we are cursed, condemned, and children of wrath. Through the gospel Christ made it known that God Himself accomplished what the law could only promise – a perfect righteousness.”
2) Take great caution here Church, many voices today – Deepak Chopra, Steve McSwain, Rob Bell, Oprah, and the like – are trying to persuade you that you don’t need to go searching for who God is ‘out there’ in His holiness because God is already with you, within you, and all around you. B.B. Warfield expresses the caution we must take very well when he says, “He who begins by seeking God within himself, may end by confusing himself with God.” Church, because God has fully and finally made Himself known in Christ, the only way you can know God is in, by, and through Christ. And because the only way you can know God is in, by, and through Christ, the only way to know God is through Christ’s gospel.
What do we find in gospel of Christ? Grace and Truth.
Is that enough for us? Indeed, it is more than enough.