And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore 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.’”) 16 And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. John 1:14-18 | ESV
‘The Word became flesh’. The Word who was with God and was God became man. As Peter Lewis in his excellent book ‘The Glory of Christ’ writes, ‘the philosophically unthinkable became a fact’. As is so often the case, God’s wisdom confounds the wisdom of the wise: while the philosophical world saw progress in terms of escape from the physical and material by contrast God’s salvation, the only and best possible progress for humanity, involves God becoming flesh. Human aspiration (hubris!) is to become pure Spirit, like God: God, in the person of this Son, humbles himself to assume flesh that he may redeem it, and to do so forever. God’s thoughts are not human thoughts and God’s ways are not our ways. We should remember,that while God becoming man established that there is nothing morally suspect about material creation itself (before the entrance of sin it is described by God as ‘very good’) yet nevertheless for God the Son to assume human nature was an act of immense grace and self-humbling (Phil 2:5-11). God, that he may reveal and redeem, would experience creation ‘from within’ (another Peter Lewis expression).
enfleshment to reveal
It is in the Word made flesh that God in history is finally and fully revealed. God had spoken in the past in a variety of ways and he had truly revealed himself but only in Christ do we see God as he fully and completely is. John says,
No one has ever seen God; the One and only, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (or fully revealed him). John 1:18
John’s background to this statement in v18 and to the previous verses in this section (vv14-18) is Moses’ encounter with God on Sinai. Moses had two Law-receiving visits to Sinai. On the first visit it was to receive the covenant, the two tablets of stone containing the Ten Commandments (and various other aspects of the covenant). The context was law and the mountain was a terrifying place, full of thunderings and darkness. Pure law and a sinful people is a terrifying combination. Little wonder the atmosphere was terrifying. In fact, the two tablets of the covenant given by God to Moses on Sinai never reached the Israelite camp for when Moses saw their idolatrous revelry as he approached he threw the tablets down breaking them. Even while receiving the covenant commands on the mountain God informs him the nation are busy breaking it on a grand scale in the valley below. Law, as a covenant, proved to be a failure, even before it had properly begun. If the covenant terms are to be enacted then God’s judgement will consume the people (Exod 32:10) for covenant justice is outraged. The covenant was pure law and offered no mercy. All, if left to the covenant, was over for Israel. Moses, however, ascends Sinai a second time. This time the meeting is more complex. Moses pleads with God on behalf of the people. He asks for and receives a ‘seeing’ of God. And he receives a second giving of the law.
It is this second visit to Sinai that lies behind John’s text (vv14-18). The covenant like the stones on which it was written is in broken and in pieces. Fearful judgement is the justice the law demands. Is this consuming justice the only way? God finds the solution to the covenant demand for consuming wrath in the goodness of his own character (Ex 33:19). More precisely, he finds it in his own determination to be merciful if he chooses. God’s heart is gracious and he wills to show mercy to whomsoever he chooses. Israel’s salvation (both at that point and in future occasions) and ours rests solely on this determination in God’s part to bless and be merciful. God will be gracious to whom he will be gracious and be merciful upon whom he will be merciful. He loved Israel and that love would overcome all obstacles. He is the Lord, the ‘I AM’, the Sovereign Self-Existing, Self-Determining One, who chooses to bless (Exod 33:18). Moses, asks to see the glory of the ‘I AM’ but he is told he can only see God’s ‘back’. He will see the glory but not fully. He will not see God’s ‘front’. He will not see his face where the full identity of the Lord will be known. He will be placed in a rock-cleft and will see the trail of God’s glory after he has passed (Ex 33:20-23). Thus we read,
The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. 6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. Exodus 34:5-8 | ESV
The full glory of the God who ‘abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness’ he will not see but a partial view of it he will. Perhaps, in a sense, Moses experience on Sinai shapes the covenant experience of Israel. The covenant will include a sacrifice system for human failure (Leviticus). The God of mercy provides for sin. The ‘back’ of God’s glory as the Lord, the merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’ is revealed in this provision for sin in the covenant and in the many occasions in their history when God acts graciously even if the covenant people deserved otherwise. However, the revealing of God’s ‘front’, of his ‘face’ and full glory must await another day. This day arrived in Jesus. In Jesus, the full glory of the ‘I AM’ is revealed. John says,
and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (1:14).
The words ‘grace and truth’ are the same words as those in Exodus, ‘steadfast love and faithfulness’. That glory which was partially seen by yet partially hidden from Moses radiates in its fullness from Jesus Christ. To see him is to see the Father. The full identity of ‘the Lord’ is revealed by the incarnate Word. All that God is in himself is revealed in Christ. God’s ‘face’ is shown and it is the face of a Father. The ‘truth’ of who God is finally revealed. The gracious heart of Yahweh is unveiled. Unlike the OT tabernacle or tent where God lived among his people but remained hidden behind its veils, in Jesus, the tabernacle where he now dwells, his glory is not hidden but shines out in all its beauty. In his character, his demeanour, his words, his actions, his life, death and resurrection, the divine shekinah radiates and God is fully seen.
John will brook no rival to Jesus. He, like God on the mountain of transfiguration, is jealous for the unique glory of Christ. Moses and Elijah may be there (representing the revelation in the law and the prophets) but they must disappear if Jesus’ unique glory is threatened. He alone is the beloved Son to be heard (Mk 9). Moses may at Sinai see the glory, however partially; Jesus is the glory. He is the Lord, the ‘I AM’ who was before Abraham (Jn 8:58). He and he alone is the Light of the world. Not creation, not the covenant (of Sinai), but Christ is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15), the radiance of the glory of God and exact imprint of his being (Hebs 1:3).
Do we wish to see God as he really is? Does our heart wish to see the full beauty of the one living God? Look at Jesus. Behold his glory. The glory of God was (and is) revealed in Jesus but not all saw it. It was then and is now perceived only by faith. For those of faith the gospels are the Spirit-breathed portrait of Christ and so of the living God. John tells us many more books could have been written, more books than the world could contain, but in God’s wisdom four have been written, enough for us to see the divine glory in the One and Only, enough for us to receive of his grace, believe in his name, look only here and nowhere else for glory, and adore.
enfleshed to redeem
The word must become flesh not only that God may be fully revealed but that man may be redeemed. In his Prologue John only hints at redemptive issues. They are implicit in Christ as life and light and explicit, if undeveloped, in the promise of birth into the family of God. John’s primary focus in his prologue is that Jesus reveals but it is sure that the revealing is to the end of redeeming. The one who was in the form of God took up human nature for the death of the cross. The glory of Christ will include, and especially be, the strange glory of the cross (Jn 12:22). There his glory of grace and truth will transmit to the world for it is in being ‘lifted up’ he is fully disclosed for who he is and draws all men to him (Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32). For unless a corn of wheat falls into the ground and dies it abides alone but if it dies it bears much fruit (Jn 12:24). Thus he assumed humanity that he may redeem humanity.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Hebrews 2:14-18 | ESV
The logos became flesh. God did not merely live in a human body, he became human. Jesus is the seed of the woman. He had a biological, not adopted, human mother (though her sinful nature was not transmitted). He had human physiology and human psychology. He is truly Abraham’s seed and has true birthrights to David’s throne. He is our brother in every respect, except sin. He has experienced our experiences and known our emotions. His heart has praised yet cried out ‘why’. He has enjoyed a meal yet known hunger, drank wine and felt thirst, worked all day and experienced weariness. He knew friendship, isolation, betrayal, and abandonment. He experienced the extremes of being lionised and demonised. He loved and hated. He knew compassion and anger. He obeyed and trusted. He prayed and hid the Scriptures in his heart. He anticipated, sometimes with joy and sometimes with dread. He knew satisfaction and shame. He loved and lost (Judas). He learned what obedience meant by experiencing all obedience cost. As Peter Lewis says, ‘he laughed and cried, hoped and feared, knew delight and disappointment… was tempted as man and perfected as Mediator’. This is God manifest in flesh (1 Tim 3:16). He assumed flesh that the divine glory may be revealed not least in redeeming it, sanctifying it, and that it may, like him and in him, be received up in glory.
Let Peter Lewis have the last word.
Go to the spiritual heart of the created universe, and you will find a man! Go to the place where angels bow who never fell, and you will find a man! Go to the very centre of the manifested glory of the invisible God, and you will find a man: true human nature, one of our own race, mediating the glory of God!