John Bible Study (That You May Believe)

John 1:15-18, Grace Upon Grace


John has let us know the Word, who is the eternal God in whom is light and life, became flesh and made his dwelling among us. God came back to his people. The glory of the Lord had returned to the earth. In Jesus, God and humanity meet and Jesus reveals the immense glory of God. That revelation was like no other revealing of God. We have seen the glory of the one and only Son. Jesus is the revealing of God’s covenant faithfulness and grace.

John’s Testimony (1:15)

The author tells us that John did his job. Verses 6-8 told us that John’s purpose was not to be the light, but to bear witness to the light. John was to point people to the light shining in the darkness of this world. John gave his testimony. Listen to what John declared: “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.'” Do you hear the illogical nature of John’s message? The one who comes after me is greater than me because he was before me. How can the one who comes after you be before you? The gospel declares that though John’s public ministry preceded Jesus, Jesus not only outranks John, but also existed before John. What an amazing message! The ministry of Jesus comes after mine, Jesus was born after me, but he is greater than me because he existed before I existed. John is declaring that Jesus is the Word, the eternal God who has no beginning. Therefore, John is not the light and is not important. Jesus is important and John is pointing to Jesus as the eternal light and life.

Grace Upon Grace (1:16-17)

What John says in verses 16-17 should change our view of how God dealt with people in the days of the Old Testament. In Jesus, God unveiled the full measure of grace and truth. But John does not picture the time before Jesus as a time lacking grace and blessing. Rather, grace has been added to grace. Now we are left with the question: what does it mean that we have all received grace upon grace? What does it mean that grace was added to grace? Verse 17 is the explanation of this message. Notice that verse 17 begins with the word “for.” John explains what he means here. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John does not paint the law in a negative light. Rather, the law is described as the first grace that was offered.

The Law of Moses revealed grace in a number of ways. We must never forget the occasion of God giving his law to Israel. He had just delivered them from Egyptian slavery. God had just shown his power against Israel’s oppressors and had set them free. Grace was already flowing toward Israel. The Law of Moses reveals God’s grace in many ways. First, the law revealed the character, nature, and will of God. The law was a detailed explanation of God’s demands. God did not leave his people in the dark about who he was and what he desired. It was gracious for God to reveal himself through the law. This is one of the misconceptions we continue to have about the scriptures and about God’s laws. We often look at God’s laws as a bunch of rules given by a cosmic dictator trying to tell us what to do. Instead, we need to see the scriptures and the laws of God as grace. God is revealing himself to us. God is telling us about himself. God is telling us what we must become if we are going to have a relationship with our Creator. Law is not in opposition to grace. Law is the extension of grace, the revealing of grace. Israel’s deliverance under the first redeemer, Moses, issued the gift of the Law. The Law was given to the people. It was not a burden. The Law was the revelation of God’s will for his people.

Second, the Law revealed the truth about ourselves. The Law was gracious because it showed where the people stood before God. The Law revealed their shortcomings. The Law declared the character of God so that their hearts would be illumined that they fell short of his character. In this we truly see grace. The Law revealed sins and revealed that the people were law breakers. But God did not judge the people immediately for their sins. God did not destroy people for every sin they committed. Grace was extended to the people. Grace was being offered, allowing the people to repent and offer sacrifices so that the people would see the gravity of their sins. Fire did not come down from heaven and consume every person for every sin. We see that happen on a few occasions toward those who were standing in rebellion to God. But that was not the stance God had toward the world, nor toward his people. Grace was being offered through the Law of Moses in that though the people did not obey the law, God continued to have a relationship with his people. God continued to bless his people though they were violators of the law. This is the very point the apostle Paul was making about God in Romans 3:25. In speaking about Jesus being the propitiation for sins, Paul says, “This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (Romans 3:25 ESV). Carefully read those words: in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. Passing over sins is grace. God was being gracious to the people throughout their history.

But now we are receiving the fullness of grace through Jesus Christ. Through Jesus God has revealed the full measure of grace. God’s faithfulness has its ultimate fruition in Jesus. God’s character of grace and truth (faithfulness) was revealed with the giving of the law but was fully revealed and made available to all people through Christ. To parallel the exodus, the redemption brought by the second Redeemer (Jesus Christ) was a deeper revelation of God and the fullest experience of salvation, grace, and covenant faithfulness. God had been giving grace but now the ultimate reality of grace has been bestowed through Jesus. God’s grace and faithfulness are seen in Jesus. This thought leads us to the uniqueness of Jesus.

Seeing God (1:18)

John wants to grasp what we have seen so he reminds us of an important truth: no one has ever seen God.  This statement again takes us back to Exodus 33-34. Remember what God told Moses when Moses requested to see the glory of the Lord.

And he said, “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. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:19–23 ESV)

Moses could not see all God’s glory because God declared that no one could see his face and live. You cannot see God. No one can see. God is so great and so powerful that we cannot as flesh begin to handle seeing the Almighty God. In Ezekiel 1 we read about the prophet Ezekiel seeing a vision of the throne room of God. Listen to what happens to Ezekiel when he saw these things.

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. (Ezekiel 1:28 ESV)

Look carefully at the text. What did Ezekiel see? He did not see the full glory of the Lord. He saw “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” Yet even seeing the likeness of his glory, it caused Ezekiel to fall on his face.

What happened when the apostle John saw the glorious vision of Jesus? “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” (Revelation 1:17 ESV) Even the visions of the Lord’s glory are too much to handle for flesh. God tells Moses that he does not understand what he is asking. No flesh can see God and live. Therefore, feel the gravity of the words of John 1:18 which tells us that now we have seen God in the one and only Son. Jesus will say this directly later in this gospel, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9 ESV)

But John is giving us the reasoning how seeing Jesus is to fully see the Father. First, Jesus is the one and only Son. We saw this phrase back in verse 14. We noted in that lesson that the Greek word is monogenes which means, “to be 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 communicates the uniqueness of the person of the Word and the uniqueness of the relationship the Word has with the Father. 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. Jesus is unique. Jesus is like no other.

Second, Jesus is himself God. He is God. When you see Jesus you see God because he is God. This has been the point of the first verse of this gospel. The Word was in the beginning. The Word was with God and the Word was God. He is God.

Third, Jesus is in the closest relationship with the Father. Literally, it is that he is “in the bosom of the Father,” as some translations have. This is an image to drive home the absolute intimacy the Son has with the Father. Holding an object to one’s bosom declared the specialness of that object. Being in the bosom was a picture of intimacy, closeness, and fellowship. Consider when Jesus tells the story about the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 that Lazarus is described as being in the bosom of Abraham. This is what makes Jesus the one and only Son, because he is in the closest relationship with the Father. Moses could only see the backside of the glory of the Lord. Jesus is face to face with the Father, side by side with the Father, and in a relationship with the Father that no one else can have. God the Son is the one and only to have this relationship. He is the eternal God.


  1. Jesus is the full expression of God’s faithfulness
  2. Jesus is the full expression of God’s grace
  3. Jesus is the full expression of God the Father
  4. To not know Jesus is to neither know God, know his faithfulness, or know his grace

(NIV 2011)

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