With Dale Ratzlaff
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him).
In these few verses we are presented with the reality and mystery of the incarnation:
And the Word became flesh.
The “Word”, as we learned in John 1:1, continually existed as God and with God—another mystery that created beings cannot fully comprehend. The eternal God became flesh. “Became” is aorist tense and middle voice meaning that the Word became flesh for Himself in a moment of time. We should also notice that when the Word became flesh, He did not stop being continually God. He was not God at one moment, and then the next only a man and no longer God. The careful wording of John makes this clear.
Dr. Luke, the “beloved physician”, must have had the same questions we have about this miraculous event. Therefore he
…investigated everything carefully from the beginning (Lk. 1:3).
Here is Dr. Luke’s record of what happened in this moment of time.
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God (Lk. 1:30-35).
Paul speaks of this mystery,
By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, Was vindicated in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory (1 Tim. 3:16).
Many have wondered why John wrote, “The Word became flesh” instead just saying “God became a man”. In the early Church there were some who taught that Jesus only “appeared” to be a man, but was really a phantom. John cuts off this heresy at its root. He became human flesh.
The humanity of Jesus, as well as His divinity, is central to the Christian faith. We must next ask, what kind of humanity, what kind of “flesh” did Jesus have? Was His human nature the same as what we have? Or, was His human nature that which Adam had before the sin entered into the world? This is not just some sideline topic for debate, but is central to the nature of the gospel. The understanding of Christ’s human nature not only defines the person and work of Christ, but also our “work” in receiving salvation. This topic is so important that I want to explore a few references outside of John for clarity.
Some hold that Christ came primarily to be our Example showing us how to overcome sin. His death on the cross took care of our past sins; now that we are forgiven; we are to follow His example in overcoming sin. By dependence on the Holy Spirit we can overcome all sin and the last generation, who will be alive at the Second Coming of Christ, must have a perfection of charter such that they will be able to stand in the sight of a Holy God without an intercessor.1 Therefore, they reason, if Christ is our example in overcoming sin, how can God expect us to overcome sin in our fallen, sinful nature, unless Christ had the same fallen, sinful nature? Otherwise, the people who stand in the sight of a holy God will have done something greater than Christ did unless He had the same nature we do.
I believe this idea is a false Gospel.
I believe that Christ came primarily to be our Substitute.2 He had the same nature of sinless Adam before the fall and did not participate in Adam’s original sin3 that was imputed to the rest of humanity.
For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever. (Heb. 7:26-28)
The New Testament is clear that we are not saved by our own works.
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction (Rom. 3:21-22).
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law (Rom. 3:28).
The New Testament does not teach that our salvation is dependent on our works, but rather, it is dependent on trusting Christ as our Substitute.
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).
Moreover, Romans 3:23 makes it clear that Christians living this side of the Second Coming will continue to fall short of God’s ideal:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).
“Fall short” is in the imperfect, continuous tense indicating that Christians who rely on their own words will not stand in the judgment day. Paul makes it very clear that our assurance is NOT on personal obedience to law, but rather the righteousness of God that is from God and received by faith in Christ.
More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith (Phi. 3:8-9).
I conclude, therefore, that the teaching that Christ had the same fallen nature that we do undermines the purity and total sinlessness of Christ. It gives rise to a false gospel that moves from faith in Christ alone to trusting one’s works in order to demonstrate that the law can be kept.
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John was one of the first disciples of Jesus and was “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. Can you imagine what was going through John’s mind as he wrote the above sentence? The disciples never had a full knowledge of who Jesus was until after the resurrection. Now, some years later, John is stating that he was there when the incarnate God “dwelt among us”. He saw the glory of Christ and recognized that Jesus was the unique, one and only Son of God, who was full of grace and truth.
John [the Baptist] testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’”
Here again the Gospel of John makes it clear that there was a big difference between John the Baptist and Jesus. Jesus had a higher rank that John. Why? Because Jesus was the eternal God and even though Jesus was born after John the Baptist, he existed before him.
For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.
Here is a wonderful truth. “His fullness” embraces God’s character and work in the salvation of man. This phrase is a reflection of how God revealed Himself to Moses.
Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth” (Ex. 34:6).
In commenting on God’s abundant grace Luther explained it well.
This spring is inexhaustible, it is full of grace and truth from God, it never loses anything, no matter how much we draw, but remains an infinite fountain of all grace and truth; the more you draw from it, the more abundantly it gives of the water that springs into eternal life. Just as the sun is not darkened by the whole world enjoying its light, and could, indeed, light up ten worlds; just as 100,000 lights might be lit form one light and not detract from it; just as a learned man is able to make a thousand to others learned, and the more he gives, the more he has—so is Christ, our Lord, an infinite source of all grace, so that if the whole would draw enough grace and truth from it to make the world all angles yet it would not lose a drop; the fountain always runs over, full of grace.4
Our text says that “we have all received” of this grace. The “we all” primarily refers to those who have responded to God’s gracious offer of salvation. They are the “whoever believes” repeated over and over again in this Gospel. Yet, secondarily, all mankind have received and continue to receive God’s grace.
…for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Mt. 5:44-45).
For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.
There are three important contrasts in the short verse. (1) The law vs. grace and truth, (2) was given vs. were realized, and (3) Moses vs. Christ. With the coming of Christ into the world major changes were made. The new covenant revelation supersedes that given to Israel in the books of the law.
No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him).
“Has seen” is perfect tense cementing this as reality. However, we immediately think of statements in the Old Testament which state that God was seen. How do we reconcile these?
He said also, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God (Ex. 3:6).
So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved” (Gen. 32:30).
As one reads the story, it is obvious that this was not a revelation of God in his glory, but was a theophany—a scaled down appearance of God.
Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend (Ex. 33:11).
The LORD spoke to you face to face at the mountain from the midst of the fire (Deut. 5:4).
“Face to face” actually means “mouth to mouth”. However, we know that God is Spirit without physical features. Statements of the physical features of God are anthropomorphic designed to help us understand in a limited way the infinite God which is unknowable.
What John is communicating is extremely important: all the revelation in the Old Testament was only a limited and partial revelation of the reality of God. Now, in the Word, Jesus Christ, we have the full expression of God because the pre-incarnate God, who is still God, was in the “bosom of the Father” as a member of the Trinity, He has experienced and continues to experience God. He came to “explain” God to us. “Explain” is the word from which we get exegesis which means to bring out the full meaning, to interpret, to make clear. This thought is expressed in Hebrews 1:2-3
…in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb. 1:2-3).
As I studied this section, I felt I was walking on holy ground. Who am I to explain these verses that describe an eternal, self-existent God becoming man? Here are the points John makes:
- Jesus is the self-existent, eternal God and He became a real human being without the original sin we receive from Adam’s sin.
- Jesus did not cease from being God when He became a man.
- Jesus’ revelation of God is centered in the infinite, inexhaustible grace of God and His eternal truth.
- The coming of Christ into this world marks a significant change in salvation history. The partial, shadowy revelation in the Old Testament must give way to the glory of the New Covenant expressed and revealed in the person of Christ. Specifically: (1) Grace triumphs over law, (2) Christ trumps John the Baptist, or any gifted teacher, (3) Christ displaces Moses in revealing God and His will for mankind.
Father, it is with a since of wonder and even astonishment to realize that the eternal, self-existent God became a real human being so that you could reveal yourself even to me. Thank you for providing a way so that I can spend eternity with you. I praise you for revealing your grace and truth to me, a forgiven sinner standing in the need of your love, continued grace, and truth. In Jesus name.
- “In that fearful time, after the close of Jesus’ mediation, the saints were living in the sight of a holy God without an intercessor.” Ellen G. White, Early Writings, p. 280. See also, Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, 1988, p. 614, 649; 1911, p. 614.
- Following Christ’s example is something we do after we have been saved by faith in His life, death, and resurrection. Our obedience is not what is weighted in the judgment for salvation. Our works are, however, the focus in the judgment of rewards.
- See Romans 5:
- Martin Luther, as quoted in R.C.H. Lenski, Commentary of the New Testament, John, p. 88.