The successor and the superior.
Well here we go, the last of our discussions on the first 18 verses of the Gospel of John so let’s get stuck into it.
Someone once lent me a DVD on the problem of evil and why God allows it to happen. On this particular DVD, there was a Jewish Rabbi who was being interviewed on the topic and the interviewer began asking questions about the teaching of Christ.
Being an orthodox Jew, he obviously did not believe that Jesus was the messiah. But what I found really interesting was that this guy asserted that the teachings of Christ were in line with the teachings of Moses. Now according to his tradition, the Torah is essentially authored by God, but so much of the vocabulary that he used stressed the importance of Moses as the be all and end all of prophecy and the sort of model for the ideal ‘man of God.’
This is of course a discussion taking place 2000 years after Christ. So it is really no surprise that many of the writers of the New Testament had even more of a struggle to proclaim the supremacy of Jesus Christ in a context that knew only paganism or Judaism. We can see this struggle echoed in John’s conclusion to his prologue:
John 1:17-18 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son,1 who is close to the Father’s heart,2 who has made him known.
1. Can anyone say Hero Worship?
I have read some Aussie authors and preachers that say that Australia’s religion is really its sport, (and perhaps the ANZAC’s). I near drive off the side of the road in a rage when I hear sports commentators talk about the social responsibility of sports people. I agree that this is the case, but it’s sad that it is. Where are we at as a social system if people are required to be paragons of virtue the moment they can kick, throw or hit a ball? G.K. Chesterton once said that “the biggest problem with people no longer believing in God will be that they’ll believe (in) anything.”
He’s right. Once you remove God, the human heart creates an idol. In fact the Bible says that save for the grace of God, our hearts are really simply idol factories.
It’s nothing new.
In verse 17 in particular, John addresses 1st century Judaism with its ridiculous overemphasis on the Law of Moses, also known as the Torah. It was even believed by some that God had invented the spoken word simply in order to convey the law. But Moses was just a guy and just the messenger at that. Jesus though, he’s the message itself.
John however asserts the importance of Moses to get ‘his foot in the door’ in the minds of his audience, but as we have seen so many times now, turns it all on its head in the second clause; John 1:17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
What you get here is a double entendre; Christ is not only superior to Moses just because he is God in the Flesh, but also what Christ brings to humanity. Moses represents the Old covenant of Law while Christ represents the new covenant of Grace.
See the very existence of the new covenant necessarily implies that the old covenant could not suffice for eternity. So, the correct interpretation of this verse has its foundation of a correct knowledge of the Old Testament. Christ is greater than Moses as the one whom Moses saw is greater than Moses. Moses simply got something from God and passed it on, Jesus on the other hand only gives because he is, as John has been straining to point out in the previous versus; the very source of life.
Later on in John;s gospel it says: John 8:12 2 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
Light is the only thing in the universe which bears witness to its own existence. All other things have to be illumined in order to be seen but light illuminates the farthest reaches of galaxies. Jesus is the light in that he illuminates everything and everyone else.
Even Moses could see only part of God’s glory but in the person of Jesus God’s whole heart is fleshed out for the world to see. Therefore those who receive Jesus receive the full measure of grace and truth present in him, not just the partial, veiled measure of the law.
In an atmosphere where many believed that Christ was simply a great prophet in the order and tradition of Moses, John asserts that if it not for Christ, Moses would not have even existed let alone had any words to speak or any law to receive.
2.The heart and knowledge
It is for this reason that Christ can truly be called the true and final revelation of God. So John says. John 1:18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son,1 who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
You know this verse especially reminds me why love studying John. Usually, when you see a word translated in English as ‘know’ in biblical texts, it is quite wide in meaning and usually has a relational flavour. It can even go as deep as relations between husband and wife. So, I honestly thought when approaching this verse that I would be explaining it in that context and it would all be ‘wow that’s amazing.’ But Yet again, just when I thought I had John figured out, he turns around and hits me with another textual genius. It’s like thinking you have just gotten DaVinci figured out and then you go and see the Mona Lisa.
So do not ever (and I really mean this) ever subscribe to the utterly vacant secular argument that the Bible was written by a bunch of misdirected and shovanistic ‘ancient trade unionists’. Make no mistake, when the God who created knowledge reveals his word to a person, he moreover confers the gifts necessary to its proclamation upon that same person and such is obvious to the eyes of that person’s contemporaries.
And here in v18 we are reminded of the same. John surprises the reader by using a far rarer word for knowledge which only appears 13x in the whole bible. And in keeping with the major theme of thoughts expressing themselves in action which is a big one in John, this word means more to explain, to declare, report, describe or interpret.
On the other hand, this word is preceded by incredibly intimate language; 1:18; It is God the only Son,1 who is close to the Father’s heart. The imagery here is almost of two adults reclining next to each other at the same table. Therefore ‘know’ has to also be read in this context as well.
So John, in the space of one sentence manages to tie the concepts of relationship, knowledge and the deeds and actions that necessarily follow. In 15 words! I struggle to do that in a whole sermon! But it doesn’t stop, it also offers a rebuke against both the Greek and Roman sages who asserted that the gods would be revealed only to the pure and highest intellects.
Meanwhile to the Jews, the verse suggests that for Jesus to make God known implies far more than communicating a visual image; the term suggests that Jesus fully interprets and explains God, thereby succeeding and replacing all the Old Testament prophets.
And do you know what the best thing is? Although God wants us to explore him evermore deeply, because he is the God of relationship, and because the Word made himself flesh for us to be joined to him, you don’t have to do or be anything else than a human being, willing to trust him like a little kid.
I suppose that is why I love the Song “Jesus loves me this I know.” It’s not a ‘kid’s song’ it’s an important song….for reminding adults of who we are before God.
3.So, to Sum up
So that’s it really, the famous prologue of John’s gospel which although never once mentions the death and resurrection, clearly presupposes it throughout.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said only weeks before he was murdered “There are difficult days ahead but that matters not to me now, for I have been to the mountain top and I’ve looked over and I have seen the Promised Land.”
Luther king refused to abandon his vision of a redeemed humanity because he put his trust in the immovable, unconquerable and solid reality of the Word made flesh.
He is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end as Paul says and I close with this; Colossians 1:11-20 11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled1 you2 to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.1 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in1 him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in1 him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. He truly is mighty to save.