There are many times when a student comes across a reading of scripture in which he feels completely inadequate to explain. This text is one of those places. They are words that are so glorious, so profound, and so life-changing, I feel completely inadequate to take this text up. In this study we are going to use the NIV 2011 translation. If you have a NIV that was printed before the end of 2011 then your NIV will not match this. At the end of 2011 the NIV made a major update to its translation and I believe that the changes made for John 1:14-18 are excellent and gives the best reading of the text.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.'”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:14–18 NIV 2011)
The Word Become Flesh
The Word became flesh. Please notice that the Word did not cease being God. He did not cease to be what he was from the very beginning. The Word only added to himself that he came to the realm of the flesh as flesh. Everything that has been attributed to the Word, as the eternal God and in whom is light and life, is now applied with the same absoluteness and exclusiveness to the man, Jesus. When the Word became flesh the Word did not cease to be God. We now know with certainty that John is writing about Jesus.
The Word, the Eternal God who created all things and in whom is light and life, became flesh and made his dwelling among us. Jesus is the eternal God who became flesh and lived with us. The Greek word for “dwelling” is skenoo which means a tent or tabernacle. If we were to translate with awkward English, we would say that the Word became flesh and pitched his tent with us, or tabernacled with us. The imagery is not merely that God lived with us. We saw that point made back in verses 10 and 11. The point is that a new Sinai has occurred.
Recall as we began this study we observed that John is trying to cause all to believe that Jesus is the Son of God (John 20:31). We noted that the way he would do this was by proving Jesus is God by showing that Jesus does what God did in the Old Testament. We saw this with the very first words of the gospel which did not read, “In the beginning God,” but “In the beginning was the Word.” The Word is God because the Word created all things. The Word is God because he tabernacled with us.
Exodus 33-34 is the primary reference point for this parallel. In Exodus 33-34 God gives the law from Mount Sinai a second time and reveals his character and glory to Moses. This is our first point of parallel. Just as the Law came from God which revealed the character and glory of God, now the Word has come from God which reveals the character and glory of God. Our second point of parallel is this: just as God “tabernacled” with his people in the wilderness, the Word tabernacled with his people, perhaps particularly referring to the apostles who are witnesses of the new exodus accomplished in Jesus. In the wilderness we see God in his glory dwelling with his people as a pillar of cloud and fire above the tabernacle. More importantly, when the tabernacle was constructed, notice what occurred:
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. (Exodus 40:34–35 ESV) The same thing happens when the temple is constructed.
As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. 2 And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD’s house. 3 When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the LORD on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (2 Chronicles 7:1–3 ESV)
Please notice that the people of Israel understood the glory of the Lord filling the temple as God’s grace, steadfast love, and goodness. The glory of the Lord was dwelling with his people. But what happens later in Israel’s history is sad. The people are full of sin and violate the covenant with God. The prophet Ezekiel comes on the scene and sees in his visions the glory of the Lord leaving the temple (Ezekiel 10:4, 18, 11:22-23). But Ezekiel prophesies of a hopeful time when the glory of the Lord will return to his temple.
As the glory of the LORD entered the temple by the gate facing east, the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the temple. (Ezekiel 43:4–5 ESV)
Then he brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple, and I looked, and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the temple of the LORD. And I fell on my face. (Ezekiel 44:4 ESV)
Further, Haggai commanded the people by the word of the Lord to rebuild the temple with these encouraging words:
For thus says the LORD of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. 7 And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts. 8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the LORD of hosts. 9 The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts.'” (Haggai 2:6–9 ESV)
But there is the curious thing about these prophecies looking forward to the day when the glory of the Lord would return to the temple. When the people returned from Babylonian exile and built the temple in the days of Zerubbabel, we do not read of the glory of the Lord filling this temple. The word “glory” does not appear in the books of Ezra or Nehemiah which chronicle the return from exile. But Haggai had promised the return of God’s glory to the temple. However, the people built the temple and nothing happened. No return of God’s glory. No filling of the temple. Nothing. Now listen to the words of John: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord return to the people in the imagery of the glory of the Lord filling the temple. Haggai said that the latter glory of this house would be greater than the former. The former glory was immense because Solomon built a temple that was filled with gold and precious stones. Further, God filled that temple with his glory. But the future glory of the temple would be greater. Jesus, the Word, was that future glory. Jesus is where God and humanity meet. Jesus is the revealing of the glory of God.
We Have Seen His Glory
Therefore, the apostles have an astounding observation. The glory of the Lord that left his people because of their sins has returned. The glory of the Lord, that did not return when Zerubbabel led the rebuilding of the temple and did not return when Herod beautified and expanded the temple, has now been seen. The glory of the Lord that had not been observed for hundreds of years has been shown to the world once more. “We have seen his glory!” Turn back to Exodus 33:18 and notice what Moses asked to see. He did not ask to see God, but asked to see God’s glory. What did God say would pass before Moses? “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” (Exodus 33:19 ESV) When God revealed his glory to Moses, he revealed that his character was abounding in covenant love and faithfulness. What does John say that we see when we see the glory of the Word? We see the Word “full of grace and truth.” In Jesus we see God abounding in covenant love and faithfulness. This is the idea of “truth” that John is driving at. The Jewish concept of truth was not merely knowledge but stressed one being true to his word (as we would say). Truth speaks to integrity. God is faithful to his word and that faithfulness and truth is seen in the Word. In Jesus we have seen the glory of the Father, full of grace and truth.
The Glory of the One and Only Son
There is one final phrase we need to consider. Not only have we seen the glory of the Father through the Son, but we have also seen “the glory of the one and only Son.” Some older translations use the phrase “only begotten” which can be somewhat misleading. The point is not at all the idea that the Word was physically a descendant of God the Father. The Greek word is monogenes which means “to being the only one of its kind within a specific relationship, one and only, only; to being the only one of its kind or class, unique (in kind)” (BDAG Greek Lexicon). This is why most translations read “the only Son” or “the one and only Son” to communicate the uniqueness of the person of the Word and the uniqueness of the relationship the Word has with the Father (which is further pressed in verse 18). The Word has no equal. He is able to fully reveal the Father, like no one else. God’s personal revelation of himself has no parallel elsewhere, nor has it ever been repeated.
The Sad Reality
The full glory of God is seen in Jesus! All other revelations of God’s glory had been partial. But now God has revealed himself through the Son in an unparalleled manner. How amazing! How precious! But what did the people see when they saw Jesus? Turn to Isaiah 53 and listen to what Isaiah prophesied would occur.
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:3–4 ESV)
It was not in the physical body of Jesus that there was anything glorious to see. But the glory was seen in his teachings, in his miracles, in his love, in his actions, and in all that he said and did. Real greatness and real glory does not need to assert itself and is not found in pomp, pageantry, and show. Real glory is seen in the Word leaving his exalted place and doing the lowly thing, becoming a servant. In fact, in John’s gospel we will see Jesus describe his coming execution on the cross as the time when he would be glorified (John 7:39; 12:16; 12:23; 17:1). People did not see his glory. They only saw shame. They considered him stricken and smitten by God. Jesus saw the shame as the means to be glorified. Leon Morris wrote well about this reversal:
“Real glory is seen in him leaving his exalted place and does the lowly thing, becoming a servant. Jesus lived a life of humility, of lowliness, of rejection; then he accepted the most shameful of deaths. In that way he performed the ultimate service: he took away the sin of the world. John is saying that this is what real glory means. Jesus had no need to come to earth. He might have retained all the joy and splendor of heaven. But he left it. And when he came to earth there was no need for him to live in poverty and rejection. But he did it. And when he came to the end of his life he was not compelled to die the painful and shameful death of the cross. But he did. Could anything be more glorious?
We see that for us as for him real glory is in lowly service. The Christian way is not a way in which we look of people to praise us, to recognize us for what we think is the full extent of our merit. Real glory rather is finding some useful piece of service, no matter how lowly, and doing it as well as we can. Unless we see that, we do not understand what Christian service is. The call to Christian service is not a call to occupy some comfortable and eminent place. It is not the suggestion that if we go along in the right way, everyone will speak well of us. The call of Christian service is a call to take up our cross daily and to walk in the steps of him who for our sake took up his cross.”
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. (John 1:14 ESV) May we be forever altered by this picture when we consider the words, “God with us.”