JOHN 1:17 EXPLAINED
THIS SERMON WAS DELIVERED ON JANUARY 3, 2015
The apostle John made a rather startling statement in the first chapter of his Gospel. Here is what he said:
John 1:17: For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (NIV).
For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (KJV).
For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ (NET).
What are we to make of this statement? It’s not difficult to understand that grace came by Jesus Christ as the very fact Christ paid the death penalty in our stead demonstrates His grace bestowed upon us. But why does John seemingly contrast the giving of the law through Moses, with truth coming by or through Jesus Christ? Isn’t it God who gave the Law through Moses and, therefore, isn’t the Law as much the truth as the truth that came through Jesus?
Psalm 119:142: Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true.
John 17:17: Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.
The law given by Moses came from God, therefore the law was the word of God and constitutes truth no less than the truth that Christ is said to have brought. So why does John seemingly contrast the Law given by God through Moses with truth brought by and through Jesus Christ?
The answer to that question involves the issue of the two covenants in scripture and how the one covenant that God established through Moses deals with truth relevant to that covenant while the covenant established through Christ deals with truth relevant to that covenant.
Both Moses and Christ brought truth. The truth Moses brought was associated with a physical and temporal covenant while the truth Christ brought was associated with an eternal spiritual covenant. We begin to see this in the letter written to the Hebrew Christians.
Hebrews 10:1: The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming--not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.
The writer is saying that while the law was true for the purpose for which it was established, it now has been superseded by a different and greater truth, a truth having a greater reality. The Law was true in its role as a shadow or pattern of what was to come but what had now come was a greater truth.
By contrasting the law given by Moses with the truth brought by Christ, John is contrasting a truth that had temporal significance with a truth that has eternal significance. John was speaking of a new truth that had superseded an old truth. The truth of a New Covenant in Christ had now superseded the truth of the Old Covenant which, as the writer to the Hebrews points out, was a shadow or precursor to what was to come. It is not that the Law given by Moses was not truth in comparison to the truth that Christ brought; it was a matter of Christ revealing a greater truth that had now superseded the truth that was extant under Moses. What Christ brought didn’t invalidate what Moses brought, it superseded it.
There is a distinct difference between invalidating or falsifying what is thought to be truth and superseding what actually is the truth. Let me provide an example of the difference.
At one time in history it was believed that the sun revolved around the earth and the earth was stationary in space. This was the prevailing belief for centuries. This was held to be the truth. Then came along Galileo and Copernicus who showed that the earth revolves around the sun. Did the truth change? No it didn’t. The sun revolving around the earth was never true in the first place. It only appeared to be true based on extant observations at the time. When new information came along, what was once considered truth was found out to be false. The supposed truth about the sun revolving around the earth was falsified.
There have been many things once thought to be true that upon the introduction of new information have turned out to be false. But there also are circumstances where something is true in and of itself but is superseded in significance by new truth.
If you were to drive a Modal T Ford you would not be able to drive the Modal T over forty-five miles an hour. The Modal T was designed to go a maximum of forty-five miles an hour. That was true of the Model T when it was first made in 1908 and it is still true today. If you should be so lucky as to own a stock Model T Ford that is still in running condition, you could not drive it over 45 miles an hour. The truth that a stock unaltered Model T can only go a maximum of 45 miles per hour is as true today as it was in 1908.
But, as we all know, the Model T has been superseded by modern Ford cars that reach speeds over 100 miles per hour. If you were to drive a 2015 Ford Focus, you could reach a speed of 124 miles per hour because that is the speed the new Ford Focus is designed to reach.
What is true for a 2015 Ford focus is not true for a 1908 Model T and what is true for a 1908 Model T is not true for a 2015 Ford Focus. Yet both maximum speed limits are true for these respective Ford cars. The 45 miles per hour limit is true for the 1908 Model T and the 124 mile per hour limit is true for the 2015 Ford Focus. In this case the truth hasn’t changed. What has changed are the circumstances. New circumstances can generate new truth.
Well the same can be said of the two covenants. What was true for the Old Covenant is still true for the Old Covenant today. But the Old Covenant has been superseded by the New Covenant. So we no longer follow the truth of the Old Covenant, we follow the truth of the New Covenant no different than we no longer drive Model T Fords but we drive much more modern cars. We find in the New Testament Scriptures the contrast between the old truth and the new truth.
Hebrews 9:22-24: the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence.
Here the writer is showing that under the law (old covenant system), there existed physical patterns of things that exist at a much higher level of reality in the heavenly realm. The writer says, AFor Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence.
We can analogize this to the making of a dress or suit. In most cases you would use a pattern. The pattern would not be of the same material as the garment. Nor would it be the thing that you would wear. The pattern is the shadow so to speak of the garment you are making. Once the pattern is used it is generally cast aside because it is not the garment. You would now wear the garment.
Well the same thing is true of the law versus the truth as discussed by John. . The law, as Paul points out in Galatians 3, was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. It was a true schoolmaster in doing what it was designed to do. But it brought us to a much greater truth, a truth having eternal ramifications. The Mosaic Law, while being true for the purpose it was established, has been superseded by a truth of much greater value.
Hebrews 8:1-2: The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.
The sanctuary made by man and the center piece of the Old Covenant system was to be a temporary truth for the people of Israel as it was given to them as a precursor to a much greater truth, the sanctuary in heaven. It was just a few years after the writing of Hebrews that the sanctuary made by hands was totally destroyed during the war with Rome in AD 70. Not one stone was left upon another as Christ had clearly predicted in the Olivet Discourse found in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21.
It must be understood that the law given by Moses was not somehow faulty in its design and purpose? It was given by God through Moses no different than the truth Christ came to give was given by God through Christ. Paul said in Romans 7 that the law was holy just and good. And so it was, since it came from God who is holy, just and good. The law was everything God wanted it to be. And what he wanted it to be was a pattern, a figure, and a shadow of a much greater reality, the greater spiritual truth that was to come in the fulfillment of the law by Christ Jesus. That=s why Christ said He came not to destroy the law but to fulfill it. He fulfilled it by becoming the reality of its patterns, figures and shadows.
A much greater level of truth is tied into the spiritual nature of the New Covenant system as opposed to the physical nature of the Old Covenant system. This spiritual verses physical nature of the two covenants is found throughout the scriptures and has great ramifications relative to how we understand the teachings of scripture including that of prophetic scripture. Let’s take a look at some of these ramifications!
Under the law there was a tabernacle made with hands, made of physical materials. The shape, design and general nature of this tabernacle is fully described in Exodus 26 and 27. Within the tabernacle were performed a variety of ceremonial ordinances, including animal sacrifice which were to apply until the time of reformation. In Hebrews we have it clearly established that the real and true tabernacle is of the heavenly realm and not of the material creation. So we again see the Old Covenant law contrasted with the New Covenant truth. The old system was true for its time but is not true for our time and hasn’t been since the crucifixion of Christ.
The establishment of the physical tabernacle which was replaced by the temple in Solomon’s time is no longer of significance since it has been replaced by the heavenly tabernacle brought to light by Christ. This should change how we look at prophetic scripture that relates to the tabernacle. For example, in Amos 9:11, the following statement is made by the prophet:
Amos 9:11-12: In that day I will restore David's fallen tent. I will repair its broken places, restore its ruins, and build it as it used to be, so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear my name, " declares the LORD, who will do these things.
This prophecy is often taken to be referring to a literal physical tabernacle or temple to be built yet in the future in Jerusalem to which the gentiles will flow. Is this what Amos is prophesying? Is Amos talking about a physical tabernacle or temple when he speaks of the restoration of David’s fallen tent? Would God, after having abolished the need for a physical tabernacle or temple restore a physical tabernacle or temple? Let’s have the apostle James answer that question. How did the apostles understand the words of Amos?
Acts 15:13-17: The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up: "Brothers, listen to me. Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: "`After this I will return and rebuild David's fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things' that have been known for ages.
When James associated the prophecy of Amos with the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through Paul and Barnabas, the physical temple was still standing in Jerusalem but would fall in just a few years. Yet James sees the Gentiles becoming believers in Christ as a fulfillment of Amos’ prophecy about restoring David’s fallen tent.
Many believe that a physical third temple will be built in Jerusalem in order to fulfill Amos’ prophecy. Yet James sees this prophecy being fulfilled in the Gentiles coming into the church in his day. Furthermore, what do we see the Scriptures teaching about a temple under the New Covenant system that Christ established.
Acts 7:47-49: But it was Solomon who built the house for him. "However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says: "`Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be?
Ephesians 2:19-22: Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
2 Corinthians 6:16: What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people."
We see throughout the Scriptures this contrast between the physical nature of the Old Covenant system with its physical sanctuary and the spiritual nature of the new Covenant System and the spiritual sanctuary or as John put it, a contrast between the Mosaic Law and the higher truth that Christ brought.
Another example of this concerns the priesthood. Under the Old Covenant there existed a physical priesthood that performed physical sacrifices of physical animals and performed a variety of physical ceremonial activities. Under the New Covenant we find that the priesthood has changed from the physical to the spiritual with Christ now being a spiritual high priest in the heavens and we constituting a royal priesthood of believers offering spiritual sacrifices to God through our spiritual high priest Christ Jesus.
1 Pet. 2:4 & 9: You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Verse 9: You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
Another contrast seen in Scripture is between the brick and mortar city of Jerusalem and the spiritual Jerusalem in the heavens where we now have citizenship. In this respect a Christian has a dual citizenship. A Christian is a citizen of his earthly country but also a citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem.
Hebrews: 12:22: But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly.
Philippians 3:20-21: But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
The Old Covenant system was a temporary, physical system which was created by God to pre-stage the New Covenant spiritual system that came from God through Christ Jesus. The Old Covenant system was truly a shadow which prefigured the reality contained in the New Covenant which is centered and focused in Christ.
Colossians 2:16-17: Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
We earlier looked at Hebrews 10:1 where the writer speaks of the Law as a shadow of the reality that was to come. Here we see Paul using similar language to say the same thing. Paul shows that the Law was a shadow of the reality to come and that reality was found in Christ.
The Mosaic system, even though it was given to Moses by God and constituted truth for the time and purpose for which it was established, it still was a shadow system that pointed to a much greater reality and therefore a much greater truth. This greater truth came through the Christ event and it replaced the shadow system. This is why John could write that the Law came through Moses but grace and truth came through Christ Jesus.
The Mosaic Law was the entire body of law given at Sinai. It included regulations governing how the Israelites were to conduct themselves before both God and man. It was this law that constituted the Old Covenant. When David was about to die and he was passing the baton of kingship to his son Solomon, here is what he said.
1 Kings 2:1-3: When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son. "I am about to go the way of all the earth," he said. "So be strong, show yourself a man, and observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go.
Here we see that the Law of Moses was a law given by God and included degrees, commands, laws and requirements. It also included the Ten Commandments.
Exodus: 34:27-28: Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel." Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant--the Ten Commandments.
Deuteronomy 4:12-14: Then the LORD spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets. And the LORD directed me at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.
The Ten Commandments were the foundation of the Law of Moses. This body of law along with statutes, judgements, and an assortment of other regulations became what we call the Old Covenant. It was given to Israel. It was a covenant between Israel and God. This covenant has been abrogated. To abrogate something is to do away with it. It is to formally end an agreement or contract. The Old Covenant has been formally ended. In discussing the two covenants, the writer to the Hebrew Christians said this:
Hebrews 8:13: By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.
It is interesting that the writer speaks of the Old Covenant as being obsolete and aging but indicates it had not yet disappeared. It certainly was obsolete in view of the crucifixion of Christ, but it had not yet disappeared. The temple was still standing. The priesthood was still performing the rituals connected with the Old Covenant. Animals were still being sacrificed. But all of that was soon to disappear and did disappear with the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. There has not been a physical temple, priesthood or sacrificial system since. The physical temple, physical priesthood and physical sacrifices have been replaced by a spiritual temple, spiritual priesthood and spiritual sacrifices.
1 Pet. 2:4 You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
You may ask, what about the Ten Commandments? Paul wrote to the Colossians that religious festivals, New Moon celebrations and Sabbath days were a shadow of the things that were to come but the reality is found in Christ. Religious festivals, New Moon celebrations and Sabbath days were all part of the Old Covenant System. So were the Ten Commandments. Were the Ten Commandments also a shadow of things to come? Yes they were. As was true of the other components of the Old Covenant system, the Ten Commandments were a precursor of a much greater truth. We see this in the teachings of Christ.
Matthew 5: 21-22: "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, `Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.
Matthew 5: 27-28: "You have heard that it was said, `Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
While the Ten Commandants dealt with the physical act of murder and adultery, the law of the New Covenant deals with what leads to murder and adultery. If you control for the precursors of murder and adultery you eliminate murder and adultery. Murder, adultery, fornication, theft, lying, drunkenness and all other behaviors contrary to the law of love begin with what goes on in the heart. As to moral law, the New Covenant is all about what goes on in the heart.
The New Covenant deals with the spiritual or covert aspects of behavior. It deals with thought and attitude which is a spiritual dimension. You don=t see or feel thought or attitude but you experience its effects by the type of behavior it produces. Therefore, the New Covenant embraces a spiritual reality that is far greater and far more demanding than the Ten Commandments written on stone.
I began today by questioning what John meant in saying the law was given through Moses but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. In our investigation into this issue it should be apparent that the law given to Moses was just as much truth as the truth that came through Christ Jesus. However the truth that came through Moses was truth for a different time and different circumstances no different than the truth of the 45 mile speed limit for the Model T Ford was for a different time and circumstance. Times and circumstances change and new truth supplants old truth. The Christ event ushered in a new truth, a truth, as far as we can determine from the Scriptures, that will last forever and never be replaced. A truth that provides for life beyond physical death. A truth that we all can truly be thankful for.