The most essential doctrine in the Christian Faith
John opens his gospel with 18 verses that we would call a prologue, a prologue.
This is John talking theologically. Starting in verse 19 he goes into the narrative part of it in which he starts to tell the story of Jesus’ life in the world.
And he goes into the statements that Jesus makes and the works that He does and the miracles He performs, and gives us the wonderful story all the way to the cross and the resurrection.
But in the opening prologue he makes his thesis statement. And the statement in the opening prologue is that Jesus is God in human flesh. That He is the Creator of the universe who has become a part of His creation. He is pure, eternal being who has become a man. That is John’s message, that Jesus is not a created man; He is God in human flesh. And that, dear friends, that is the most essential doctrine in the Christian faith. That is it. And that is why there have been and continue to be so many heresies [ex. Arianism] concerning Jesus Christ, concerning the essence, or the nature, or the person of Jesus Christ. This is the important doctrine in the Christian faith. It must be known; it must be believed for someone to escape hell and enter heaven, that Jesus is God.
The only way to have eternal life
He gives his purpose in chapter 20, verse 31 at the end of his gospel. “These have been written”–everything in the gospel up to this point–“so that you may believe that Jesus is the anointed One, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” The only way to have eternal life is by believing in Him–believing who He is, first of all, and what He has done.
In chapter 2 of 1 John, down in verse 22, he says, “Who is the liar…Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son doesn’t have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning [from the apostles, from us] abides in you, you will abide in the Son and in the Father.” Again he goes back that if you tamper with who Christ is, you will alienate yourself from God–very, very serious to John.
God’s glory: what it is
What is glory? What does that mean?
You have to go back to the Old Testament to pick up on that, really. God’s glory is intrinsic to His nature; it is who He is. It is the sum of His attributes. Take all the attributes of God and you can list them; all of the attributes of God in perfect complex are His glory, His intrinsic innate glory–all of His attributes.
But then there is also His manifest glory. And He manifests His glory symbolically and in reality. Let me tell you what I mean.
Moses in Exodus 33 says, “Show me Your glory. I want to see Your glory.” And the Lord says, in effect, “Okay, I’ll show you My glory, but I have to warn you, I can’t show it all to you because no man could see My face and live” (Exodus 33:20).
“So the Lord said, ‘There’s a place by Me, and you can stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, I’ll put you in the cleft of the rock and I’ll cover you with My hand until I pass by.”
And what you’re going to see is the edges of My glory shining across the cover. You can see the fringes of My glory, because if you saw My full glory, you’d be incinerated in a millisecond.
What is this kind of glory? What is this? This is God’s nature, God’s essence that the eternal complex of all that He is–the all-glorious God manifest in blazing light, manifest in blazing light.
I think that’s something of what Adam and Eve saw when they walked and talked with God in the garden, because God is invisible, called repeatedly the invisible God. So what did they see? They walked with the Shekinah. They walked with the presence of God manifest in light to some degree. And maybe they were able to absorb more of His glory since they were unfallen, and once they fell they had to be kicked out because they could no longer look at His glory or fellowship with Him.
…That’s the powerful majesty and glory of God that would destroy us because we’re sinners.
And then the glory is defined. Moses said, “Show me Your glory…and the Lord begins to describe His glory.
Verse 6, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, forgives iniquity, transgression, sin,” etc.
Later on when the children of Israel were walking in the wilderness, you remember God led them by a fiery flame at night, and when the tabernacle was built in Exodus 40, the glory of God came down to the tabernacle. When the temple was built, 1 Kings 8:11, the glory of God came down to the temple. So God’s glory is His attributes, but manifestly seen frequently in the Old Testament as light.
In the future, Matthew 24, Matthew 25, Jesus returns and it says in both those chapters, chapter 24, verses 29 and 30, chapter 25, verse 31 that He will come in great glory and the shekinah will be back.
Revelation says people will call on the rocks and the mountains to hide them from the face of the glory, the sky will go dark, the moon and sun will not give its light, and into the blackness will come this blazing shekinah presence of Jesus Christ.
Grace in place of grace
And then John calls His friend, John the Baptist; we call him John A and John B. John the apostle calls on John the Baptist and says, “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.”’” How can somebody who comes after me exist before me? John says He came after me. He was born after me.
Elizabeth was pregnant with John the Baptist before Mary was pregnant with Jesus. John was born first. And John says, “The one who was born after me was before Me. He existed before Me.” Again, that’s pure eternal being. So John the apostle borrows some testimony from John the Baptist.
Why do you think he does that? Is that necessary? It’s necessary if you’re Jewish and you believe in Deuteronomy that everything has to be confirmed in the mouth of two or three witnesses. Why not? It was John the Baptist. This language here, the verbs here indicate that this was constantly John’s pattern. This was what he was always saying. “He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, because He existed before Me.” How could anybody who comes after me have existed before me unless He’s eternal?
So the testimony of John A, the apostle, John B, the Baptist, join together to declare that Jesus is the divine glory, that Jesus is the divine glory, divine God on display.
…the incarnate Christ dispenses grace “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.” We’re so glad to be delivered from the law, right? And brought to grace, grace came through Christ. So He displays glory, He dispenses grace. This is the evidence of His deity.
He is “full of grace and truth.” He is full, in verse 16, and “of His fullness we have all received,” and then he illustrates it by saying in the Greek, “Grace after grace”; “grace in the place of grace.” That’s what that is. It’s just endless, non-diminishing supply of grace upon grace upon grace. I love that the preposition after grace, after grace, after grace–after this grace is moved, there’s more grace filling the vacuum. There’s never any diminishing of grace. We have received the fullness of the grace that He possesses, grace in the place of grace, in the place of grace, in the place of grace.
Romans 5, Paul says, “In this grace we stand”–we live; this is where we exist. Grace comes constantly to us because we have believed the truth of the gospel, and we don’t receive some small amount of grace. You remember to the apostle Paul who was concerned about his thorn in the flesh. Our Lord said, “My grace is sufficient,” right? “My grace is sufficient.” It’s a never, ever ending supply. We read in Hebrews, “Come to the throne of grace”; there’s a never diminishing supply for every need that you will ever have. John says, How do we know He’s God? Because we are living in this realm of grace that just keeps being poured out and poured out and poured out on our lives.
And all we knew under the law was threats and warnings, and death and judgment, and along comes Christ, and it’s grace in the place of grace, in the place of grace. At the end of verse 17, “grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” Promised in the Old Testament? Yes. Promised in the Old Testament. Activated in the Old Testament? Sure; Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Grace all through the Old Testament. Everybody ever saved in the history of the world has been saved by God’s grace.
But grace was not fully realized until Christ came and paid His penalty on the cross. The word “realized” here isegeneto, egeneto. It’s from the verb ginomai, “to become,” and it means “came into being,” “came into existence.” We could read it that way. Grace and truth came into being through Jesus Christ.
What the word Bosom really means
One final point: the incarnate Christ defines God, He defines God. He displays glory, dispenses grace, and defines God. I love verse 18. “No one has seen God at any time.” Why? He’s invisible. There are times when God has appeared as smoke and fire and things like that, but He has no form. No one has seen God at any time. However, the monogenes, the Son of God, the incarnate One, the One “who is in the bosom of the Father.” “Bosom” is really an antiquated word; let me tell you what that word is. It’s actually used in the book of Acts for “bay,” or “inlet.” It’s a word for the fold in material. If you took a bunch of material and piled it up, and it had little folds, that would be the word used; or it’s for a very tight, small pocket.
What does it mean? It means to explain, interpret, give the meaning. Jesus exegetes God. So you want to know about God? Jesus defines God. He displays glory; He dispenses grace; and He defines God. So don’t come to me with any patronizing nonsense about Jesus being a nice man, a good teacher, a noble, religious leader. That’s not an option. He’s God. He is God. And if you believe that and you receive Him, “to those who received Him,” right? Verse 12, “He gave the right to become children of God…to those who believe on His name.”
Jesus Christ explains God
And so, what he is saying is the monogenes, who is tucked in intimately to the very presence of God–beautiful picture–who is folded into God, he has explained Him. That last statement: “He has explained Him,” really powerful.
Wouldn’t you like to have God explain to you? When somebody said to you, “How would you explain God?” where would you go? Well, you’d go to that verse and say, “Look at Jesus Christ, He explains God.” By the way, the word “explained” is an interesting word. It’s the word exegeomai from which we get exegete. We use that word a lot in seminary because we teach people how to do exegesis, how to exegete Scripture.