Having addressed Exodus 32-34, we can now look at John 1:14-18, assess the text, and also consider some possible allusions to the Exodus passage.
The text begins by bringing the Word (logos) back into focus as the subject and it tells that he became flesh. The one who was spoken of in verse 1 as being with God and God himself is now said to have taken on flesh, entering into the earthly sphere as a human being.
He made his dwelling among us or tabernacled among us. The Word became a human being and lived among us. Recall how Moses was seeking God to be among his people in light of God’s saying he would not lest he destroy them for their wickedness. Moses pleaded, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Ex. 33:15-16) And God grants that his presence will go with them. But now, in the 1st century A.D., John announces an even greater presence, the Word who is with God and himself God, has condescended to become human and live among his people.
John the writer goes on to say that “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Exodus allusions continue. Moses asks to see God’s glory (Ex. 33:18) and God tells him he will cause all his goodness to pass before him and will proclaim his name to him, but Moses is not allowed to see God’s face since no one can see the face of God and live (Ex. 33:19-20). But now John the writer tells us that we have seen God’s glory and it is through seeing his one and only Son. We see God’s glory by seeing Jesus, who is full of grace and truth. And this expression, “full of grace and truth” echoes Exodus as well. When God does proclaim his name before Moses, he says, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…” (Ex. 34:6). The Hebrew expression is hesed v’emet which is captured nicely by John’s use of kharis kai alethia in Greek (see Carson, The Gospel According to John, 129-130, for full argumentation, I won’t recount it here). Jesus reveals God’s glory being full of grace and truth, part of the very nature of God.
Verse 15 breaks up verses 14 and 16 providing us with some of John the Baptist’s testimony: “He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” Despite John seemingly being prior to Jesus and therefore possibly of more importance, John states that Jesus is before him and is of greater importance.
Verse 16 then picks up from verse 14 stating that out of the Word’s fullness “we have all received grace in place of grace already given.” This phrase, “grace in place of grace…” has been variously translated with widely different understandings as a consequence. The TNIV rendering I just quoted, I believe, sticks to the meaning of the text very well. The preposition between the two uses of “grace” is best understood as “substitutionary” and so “in place of” is an excellent rendering of the preposition (see Porter, Idioms, 145). We have received grace in place of grace. But what grace was replaced? The text tells us in verse 17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” This means that the giving of the law was God’s grace upon the people but it has now been supplanted by a new grace: that of Jesus Christ.
Finally, John uses further Exodus language referring to God’s never being seen, making explicit in the negative what was stated above in the positive in verse 14 about God’s glory. “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.” Even though no one has seen God, Jesus who is himself God has now made him known. It doesn’t say that we have now seen the Father (and this will be elaborated upon in later chapters by John) but we now know God through Jesus.
Do you want to see God? Do you want to see his glory manifest? Look to Jesus.
As we move through the narrative proper of John’s Gospel the themes we have seen in this Prologue will be expounded and expanded. Look to see Jesus and the glory of God as we proceed through the book.
(* Because of my semi-remote location in writing this it was easier to use the TNIV than my usual personal translations so the above quotations are all TNIV)