The word became human, and explains God.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 October

This is the reason he came to us. Not atonement; he could’ve done that invisibly. But to reveal God.

John 1.14-18

John 1.14-18 KWL
14 The word was made flesh. He encamped with us.
We got a good look at his significance—
the significance of a father’s only son—filled with grace and truth.
15 John testifies about him, saying as he called out, “This is the one I spoke of!
‘The one coming after me has got in front of me’—because he’s first.”
16 All of us received things out of his fullness. Grace after grace:
17 The Law which Moses gave; the grace and truth which Christ Jesus became.
18 Nobody’s ever seen God.
The only Son, God who’s in the Father’s womb, he explains God.

We Christians have had the darnedest time translating and explaining this passage, because while it’s in really simple Greek, it’s deep. It’s profound. It tells us the word of the LORD, the Son of the Father, God of God, God from the Father’s womb (usually translated “bosom” because human fathers don’t have wombs, and any language which might give God feminine qualities tend to give certain macho guys the heebie-jeebies), the one-who-comes-after-me who’s really the one-who-came-before-me, grace and truth personified, the visible image of the invisible God Cl 1.15became flesh. Flesh. Meat. Blood and bone and muscle and tissue and nerves and fluids. An animal. Yet God.

People still find the idea blasphemous. It’s why heresies keep cropping up to claim Jesus isn’t really flesh: He only looked flesh. Peel off his human mask (eww) and there’s God under it. He only looked physical, but he was a spirit with a physical appearance. He only looked real, but he was a mass hallucination which confused the real world. He only looked like a man, but was a superman, a demigod, a new species, a hybrid, an alien.

But he wasn’t. He was human. Yet God.

Got a really good look at him, too.

The knowledge that Jesus is the word of the LORD wasn’t just known by divine revelation. It was confirmed by experience. This fact also gives people the heebie-jeebies, especially those people who think religious ideas should stay entirely in the mind, and never intrude into the real world, and mess with our carefully ordered lives.

But John’s gospel is a series of testimonies. John points out they saw the word of God in person—“we got a good look at his significance.” When John wrote “encamped with us,” he wasn’t just speaking generically of God dwelling with humanity. The author, Jesus’s student, John bar Zavdi, had literally slept in a tent with a man who was the incarnate God. This isn’t ivory-tower speculation from a clever theologian. This is the testimony of a man who saw this stuff, in person, up close, close enough to smell Jesus’s morning breath.

Over and over again, Jesus did things which made his students believe in him, and realize who he really is. The prophet John among them. Jesus was, as John the baptist personally put it, “The one coming after me [who] got in front of me.” According to Luke John was older than Jesus by a few months, but age wasn’t the issue; Jesus was first. God is uncreated yet has a birthday, and a mom and dad. Again, people still find the idea blasphemous, and teach heresy instead.

Yeah, Jesus is first in priority ’cause he’s Messiah, and John’s his messenger. Jn 1.31 But Jesus is first in order of creation, because Jesus existed before he was made flesh, and John was created at the same time his flesh was—same as us all.

The students saw grace and truth come from Jesus. The sort of grace and truth which can only come from God; more grace and truth which could come from any mere prophet. We all know good Christians. Some of us have good Christian parents. Some have got to know church leaders who are really good Christians. Assuming they’re not hypocrites—’cause hypocrites would hide it—we’ve seen them slip up, make mistakes, sin, be less than loving, gracious, patient, kind, generous, and so forth. Well, Jesus’s kids spent a whole lot of time around their rabbi, and never ever EVER saw him slip up.

Think about that. Never once.

All of them were probably looking for it, too. Some of us want to see our leaders make mistakes, just so we know they’re “human,” ’cause they goof up like every other human. It’s also a useful learning experience to watch ’em be humble about it. Well, Jesus was humble, and probably missed the ball in a soccer game or two; when we say Jesus is perfect, we’re talking about morally perfect, not perfect at everything, like hand-eye coordination. As far as we know, Jesus wasn’t the best at everything he ever tried, although no doubt he tried his hardest. He probably didn’t bake the most delicious brownies in the world. But as far as sinlessness goes, as far as the Spirit’s fruit is concerned: Never ever EVER slipped up. And his students saw this—and correctly deduced from this, Jesus had characteristics only God could have. Like Father, like Son.

So while “nobody’s ever seen God,” whether John meant that abstractly or not, fact is we kinda have… once we take a good look at Jesus. When we see him, we see the Father. He explains God like no one or nothing else can.

Grace from Jesus.

Dispensationalists like to bend verse 17 to fit their theology. To them, the Old Testament, the Law of Moses, is all about getting saved by doing good works. Follow the commands, go to heaven. Break ’em, go to hell. Which sounds impossible to them—which is understandable; they’re never giving up bacon. Lv 11.7 Not even for Jesus.

In comparison the New Testament, the new-covenant system of salvation which God activated through Jesus, is grace: We’re not saved by working our way to heaven. We’re saved entirely through God’s good favor, through Jesus’s self-sacrifice. We needn’t do anything to be saved. Well, trust God. But that’s it.

Here’s the problem: Dispensations, multiple systems of salvation, aren’t biblical. People only believe in them because they don’t read the bible. (Or they do, but some yutz has brainwashed them into interpreting it funny.) There aren’t multiple dispensations. There’s only one: Grace. God saves people by his grace, and God’s always saved people by his grace.

Yeah, I’ll prove it; it’s really easy. Why did God choose Abraham? Because Abraham was good? No, because Abraham trusted God. Says so in both the Old Testament Ge 15.6 and New. Ro 4.3, Ge 3.6 Why did God free the Hebrews from the Egyptians? Because they were good? Heck no they weren’t good; the whole of the Old Testament proves that. It was grace. He loved ’em and freed ’em. Dt 7.8 Even before he gave them his commands.

Exodus 20.2 KWL
I’m your god, the LORD,
who took you out of Egypt’s land, out of the slaves’ house.”

That’s his preface to his Law: He’s their God—because he was gracious to them. And now that they’re a saved, free people, God has some good works for them to do. Same as he has for us Christians. Ep 2.10

God has always saved people by grace. Through Christ too—whether we knew Christ or not, whether we knew how he saved people or not, before Christ was even born, and no separate dispensations for Jews and gentiles either. Ro 3.21-30 The Law wasn’t given to save anyone; it was given to a people who was already saved! But now they had to live like God wanted, and that’s what it’s for. Not salvation. Just more grace. Grace upon grace.

Interpreting the Law as anything but grace, means we’ve fallen into the same error as the Pharisees. They thought they were right with God because they followed the Law. Wrong: They were right with God only because they trusted him to save them. And if they didn’t trust him to save them—if they thought their good works would do it—that’s a sad joke. The Law stopped being God’s generous act of grace to a people who wanted to know how to follow him best. Instead it was condemnation, proving we can never live up to God’s ideal, because everybody sins. Duh. Ro 3.20 We need grace.

So in verse 16, John mentions “grace after grace,” and lists two acts of it: The Law, and the Lord incarnate. We’re told how we oughta live, and we’re given the Son of Man. He personally demonstrates how we oughta do it, he explains how the Law works, and he personally fulfills it. Mt 5.17-20 Dispensationalists would overthrow it, and nullify half the bible. Jesus didn’t come for that; he himself said so.

Jesus our lens.

The only way to understand God is through Jesus.

Nobody’s ever seen God, the apostle said. Jn 1.18 Okay, there are God-appearances here and there throughout the bible, so sometimes people wanna debate whether John means this literally. The way I interpret it, none of those God-appearances fully revealed God to the degree Jesus has. Because Jesus is fully God. His students saw him up close. They knew him. In so doing, they got to know God. And we can know him too.

In fact we have to get to know Jesus. We have to look at his character. We have to recognize his motivations are God-like, and not based on the same self-centered humanity as the rest of us. We have to recognize God’s motivations and Jesus’s are one and the same. That the only way to exigísato/“exegete,” or explain, God: Through Jesus. If we get to know Jesus, we’ll know the Father. Jn 14.9

That’s why I spend so much time, on this blog and elsewhere, emphasizing Jesus. Wanna understand God? Study Jesus. Wanna grow close to God? Grow close to Jesus. Wanna please God? Obey Jesus. It’s all Jesus-centered, Jesus-focused, Jesus-shaped.

Humans have a bad habit of making idols, of shaping God in our own image. Well, God told us not to do that. Ex 20.4-6 Pounded that fact into ancient Israel, time and again. Because that’s for him to do—and then he created his image for us to look at, Rabbi Yeshua bar Miriam ha-Natzari, Messiah of Israel.

Listen to him. Lk 9.35 Follow him. And in so doing, follow God.