From His Fullness We Have All Received, Grace Upon Grace

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.

We pick up where we left off in John 1:14: “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.” The Word—who was revealed as God in verse 1—became flesh, that is, became human. So God dwelt among us for about 33 years as the God-man, Jesus Christ.

And John focuses on two things in verses 14–18: Christ’s glory and his grace. His truth is mentioned also at the end of verse 14 (“full of grace and truth”) but grace gets the emphasis. You can see that in verse 16: “And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

The Emphasis Falls on Grace

He could have said we received “truth upon truth.” But he said “grace upon grace.” In fact, after this verse the word grace will never turn up again in this Gospel, but the word truth or true or truly will occur 55 times. In other words, there is no minimizing of “truth” in this Gospel. Truth is the way grace works: “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). But here, at the outset, the emphasis falls on grace.

This is hugely important for us to see and for the world to see. What John is saying is that the way people meet God today, see God today, and get to know God today is by looking at the glory of Jesus, namely at the fullness of his grace. If you want to be really alert to seeing Jesus’ divine beauty, his glory—the spiritual brightness that sets him apart as self-evidently real and true—then make sure you tune your senses to see his grace. That’s what his glory is full of.

Seeing the Glory in John’s Gospel

Verse 14: “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” This is the great issue for all of humankind. Will they see the glory of the Son of God? One of the reasons we are making special efforts to help you point your friends to Christ this holiday season is that this Gospel is explicitly designed by God to reveal the glory of Christ and awaken people to see him and have eternal life.

It is hard to exaggerate what we find in this Gospel. Stupendous things are revealed in the Gospel of John. Herman Ridderbos, who wrote a massive commentary on this Gospel, said, “By means of incarnation God has visibly appeared among humankind. And—we may immediately add—the entire Gospel of John is proof of it: proof of that abundant glory, a glory manifested before the eyes of all” (The Gospel of John, p. 49).

That is an amazing statement: “The entire Gospel of John is proof of it.” How can that be? Because here in this Gospel we read the deeds and words of the Son of God and how he died and rose again. And in that story the glory of the only Son from the Father shines off the life of Jesus. And if we have eyes to see it, we see it. We hope you will join us in being the means of people seeing the glory of the Son of God this holiday season.

Grace to Be Born of God

Why do the people you know need grace—grace upon grace, as verse 16 says? Why did you need grace? The answer John mentions here in this first chapter is that without grace we are not the children of God. This is overwhelmingly relevant to everyone you know. Remember verses 12–13? “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

When you are “born of God”—not the first birth, but the second one, and that’s a work of pure, free grace—you become a child of God. That happens consciously through faith in Christ. Think of how stupendously important this is: Even though people say things like, “We’re all God’s children,” that’s not what Jesus taught.

Only the Children See

Listen to these words of Jesus from John 8:41–47. He was disputing with the Jewish leaders. They are the ones who knew their Old Testament backward and forward. They worshipped seriously. They said to Jesus,

“We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. . . . Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:41–47)

In other words, the most religious people of Jesus’ day were not children of God. That’s the condition of everyone if they don’t hear about Jesus, experience new birth, see the glory of Jesus, and believe.

You remember John 3:3, where Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God”? Without being born again—that is, without becoming a child of God—we will never see the glory of God’s kingdom.

Jesus’ Twin Goals

It would not be an overstatement to say that the ultimate goal of this Gospel is that God’s children see and enjoy the glory of Jesus Christ as fully as a created being can see it. I based that on John 17:24 where Jesus is praying for us. He says, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”

The ultimate goal of his prayer for us is that we see the fullness of his glory after he returns to his Father. This will make him central and will make us supremely happy. That is what the Gospel is aiming at: the exaltation of the glory of Christ and the fullness of the joy of God’s children who see it. “Father, glorify me,” Jesus prays, “in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5). “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). His glory and our joy. These are the twin goals.

Two Obstacles to Overcome

Now for this to happen, two obstacles have to be overcome. Two kinds of darkness have to be removed. The glory of the Son of God has to be revealed in the world for us to see, and the blindness and darkness of our own hearts has to be removed. There is a darkness in the world, and there is a darkness in our souls. Both have to be overcome. Otherwise, we cannot see the glory of the Son of God.

How does this happen?

The darkness in our souls is overcome by regeneration (new birth); and the darkness in the world is overcome by the incarnation (the Word became flesh). Our sinful blindness is removed by regeneration; and light was coming into the world in the incarnation. And, of course, the two are inseparable and interrelated: The incarnation revealed the glory that overflowed with grace, and that very grace is what was needed to bring about our regeneration. So the revelation of the glory of Christ in the incarnation was both the means and the goal regeneration. It was the grace of the Son of God that opened our blind eyes. And it was the glory of the Son of God that we saw when our eyes were opened.

Look how John develops this in verses 15–18.

“He Ranks Before Me”

He has just said in verse 14 that because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us “we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Before explaining this further in verse 16, he lets John bear witness in verse 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.”’”

The emphasis here falls on the ranking of Jesus above John. In one sense, John came first. He appeared on the scene first. Jesus’ ministry came after. But John says Jesus is doubly before him. He is temporally before him—and this probably means that Jesus had his beginning in eternity. And therefore, Jesus is absolutely before him in rank: “He ranks before me.” John is underlining in his own way the truth that the glory of the incarnation in verse 14 really is a glory absolutely superior to his own. This is the glory as of the only Son from the Father.

Grace to See Glory

Now verse 16 jumps back over the parenthesis in verse 15, and connects back to verse 14, and literally begins with because not and (as in the ESV). So it reads like this, starting with verse 14: “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth . . . [verse 16] because from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

So what John is saying is that receiving grace is the reason why we could see the glory. “We have seen his glory . . . because . . . we have all received grace.” This seeing is not a natural seeing. It is supernatural. When we receive supernatural grace and it opens our blind eyes through faith, we can see the glory of Christ. Jesus said to Martha just before he raised her brother Lazarus from the dead, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40). Many people saw the raising of Lazarus as a physical fact, but only some saw in it the glory God. That is a work of grace.

So the logic of verses 14 and 16 is this: “We have seen his glory . . . because . . . we have all received grace upon grace.” The grace enabled the seeing. Grace is the supernatural power of God regenerating us and opening our blind eyes so that we can see Christ for who he really is. This is what we pray will happen for many during this holiday season. As they hear (or read) the story of Christ, may the grace of God open their eyes to see his self-authenticating glory, and become the children of God.

Now verse 17 begins with the same word verse 16 does—for or because. So we should read 16 and 17 together: “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Why Moses?

Now why does John bring Moses and the law in here? We have to stick close to the context to get this. If we run to Galatians or Romans too quickly, and the contrasts that Paul makes between grace and law (Romans 6:14–15; Galatians 2:21; 5:4), we may miss what John is focusing on. John is focusing on seeing the glory of God as full of grace.

So the reason he turns to Moses here is that Moses was the most famous Old Testament figure who passionately wrestled to see the glory of God. If anybody would be said to have seen God, it would be Moses. Exodus 33:11 says, “Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” But this face-to-face conversation was not enough for Moses. He wanted to see more of God.

“Show Me Your Glory”

So he says in Exodus 33:13, “Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight.” He wanted to see God present and active. “Show me now your ways.” But that was not enough. He went one more step. He wanted to see God’s unmediated glory.

In Exodus 33:17–19, “The LORD said to Moses, ‘This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.’ Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory.’”

To this God responded by revealing his grace and the backside of his glory (Exodus 33:19–23).

And [God] 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. “But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 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. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

The very next thing that happens in Exodus 34:1 is the giving of the law tablets for a second time: “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.” And when the Lord came down it says, “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” (Exodus 34:6).

Jesus Is the Glory

So here is what I think John is doing in John 1:17–18. He is contrasting Christ with Moses not because the law is not a gracious gift. It is. That’s why verse 16 refers to receiving “grace upon grace”—first one grace, Moses giving the law, and then another grace, Christ bringing the fullness of grace and truth. The contrast is that Moses points to grace, but Jesus performs grace. Moses reports the words of God. Jesus is the Word of God. The law mirrors the light of God. Jesus is the light of God.

This contrast with Moses is continued in verse 18: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” “No one has ever seen God” is John’s way of saying: Even Moses, who said, “Show me your glory,” was only allowed to see the back of it. But in contrast, Christ who is called “the only God” is not at the Father’s back, he is in the Father’s lap—literally, “in the chest of the Father.” No one has seen God. But the Son of God has seen him as closely as can be seen: not only is the Son in the chest of the Father, but he and the Father are one (John 10:30). That’s the contrast with Moses.

The Vast Superiority of Jesus Over Moses

So Moses may have mediated the best gift he could—recording the law. But John 1:18 says that vastly superior to that is the presence of God himself, as the end of verse 18 says, making God known, “narrating God.” Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness; Jesus himself was lifted up (John 3:14). Moses gave the manna from heaven; Jesus himself was the true bread from heaven (John 6:32). Moses wrote about Christ (John 5:45); but Christ was Christ. The law of Moses was the word of God, but Christ was God, the Word.

That is the sort of contrast John wants us to see. The whole point is the vast superiority of Jesus over Moses. And the focus is on seeing the glory of God. Moses glimpsed the back of God’s glory. Jesus embodies the fullness of God’s glory. There is an infinite qualitative difference between Moses the creature and Christ the Creator—between Moses the pointer to grace and Christ the performer of grace.

Seeing Jesus Is Seeing the Father

No one has ever seen God, not even Moses. But now, the one who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. God has become flesh. The simplest believer who sees Jesus Christ sees “the glory of God full of grace and truth.” Or, as Jesus said in John 14:9, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

I will let Jesus have the last word of this message: “And Jesus cried out and said, ‘Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me” (John 12:44–45). That’s our prayer now and all through this holiday season.