It is intriguing that the Evangelist who spends least time talking about the actual nativity is the one who has the strongest and richest doctrine of the Incarnation. For John, that cold night of Jesus’ birth is not the start of the story, not by a long shot. No, the story began far far longer ago…
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God.
From the very beginning John tells us, in a deliberate pick-up of the language of Gen. 1:1, the Word of God was there with God, the Father. He was the agent of creation (1:3) and life itself (1:4). Indeed, there is nothing that the Father does that He does not do through this Word. The Word, or “logos” (in the greek), of God pervades the Old Testament (where He is identified in the Hebrew manuscripts as dabar yahweh. He creates (Ps 33:6), reveals (Ezek 33:7) and delivers (Ps 107:20) – no surprise, then, that John not only immediately stresses the role of the logos in creation (1:3), revelation (1:5,18 etc.) and salvation (1:12) but continues in the Gospel to identify Jesus with the God of the Old Testament. Not least of which is Jesus regular self-reference as ego eimi, the LXX translation of the explanation of God’s covenant name in Ex. 3:14.
Thus, from the outset, the Word of God is the revealer of God, not just in His own person but in the actions that He carries out. In all aspects of His nature and operation He is clearly seen to be God. And this is the way that it has always been for John is at pains to point out that…
18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
The word translated “made him known” is the greek exegesato; literally the Word “exegetes” the Father – He explains Him fully. But more than this, He is the only way that the Father can be known, since no-one has ever seen God (which may lead us to consider such occasions as Gen. 32:30 or Exo. 24:10, as we will do in passing later).
We have already seen from the prologue of the gospel that this revelation of the Father is comprehensive, but nowhere is it seen more clearly than in the central work of the Incarnation – the Cross. What is striking about this revealing death is that it is described in terms of “glory”.
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.
We are drawn immediately into the theological language of Exodus. The Greek verb to dwell, skeno-o brings to mind the tent where God would “skn” (in the Hebrew) (dwell/reside) among His people (Ex 25:8). Not only that, but there is also a similar allusion to the shekinah glory which would fill the tent (Ex 24:16; 40:34-35) . Glory, more generally, was used to refer to the honour due to God or majesty and eminence radiating from Him. God could not be seen but his radiance could be apprehended(Ex 16:7, Dt 5:24) in the tabernacle (Ex 40:34) and Solomons temple (1Kings 8:11).
Despite having been spoken to by the LORD face to face in the Tent of Meeting (Ex 33:11), Moses asks God, Please, show me your glory (Ex 33:18). This glory is revealed, in part, to Moses on the mountain (Ex 33:12); Moses cannot see the face of God lest he die (Ex 33:19-23, cf. Ex 40:34-35). There is another seeming paradox in the encounter. At times Moses and the people have a face to face relationship with God (e.g. Ex 33:11, 14, 15, 19; 34:6, 23). At other times we are told “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Ex 33:20 cf. v23). Moses’ great request is that the LORD’s face go with them (Ex 33:14-16) and yet, surely, would that not be the greatest disaster for a sinful people in the presence of a holy God?
The revelation to Moses is in both the words and works of God. He is gracious and shows mercy as He chooses (Ex 33:19), forgiving sin (Ex 34:7). Yet He is also just, not clearing the guilty (Ex 34:7). God’s glory is, paradoxically, about both grace and judgement. This glory is said to be the proclamation of the name of the LORD (Ex 34:5);the same name, we must conclude, that the Son has manifested (17:6, 26), the Father has given the Son (17:12) and which is glorified in the hour of Jesus death (12:28).
What seems hard to understand in the Exodus narrative is explained to us by John. Unlike Moses we do not have to ask to see Gods glory nor be shielded from it. We have seen it in the Son. We do not need to see the Father since in the Son we have the sufficient revelation of the Father. Indeed, no-one has ever seen the Father, but it is the Son who makes Him known (1:18).And therefore, presumably, the Son who made the Father known in the Old Testament Theophanies (cf. 8:56-8; 12:41).
Philip’ s request of Jesus, “show us the Father, and it is enough for us” (14:8), is a striking parallel of Moses’, “Please show me your glory” (Ex 33:18). The Evangelist has already made it clear in his Prologue that however mitigated God’s gracious disclosure was in former-times, in Jesus he has made himself known, definitively, gloriously, visibly. Philip should have realised the redundancy of his question. There is no more of the Father to know than that which can be seen in the Son, rather “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father since I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (14:9,10). It is in the Son and His works that the glory of the Father is seen (e.g. 2:11; 8:54; 11:4, 40; 12:41; 14:13; 16:14), a glory that the Father gave to the Son because He loved Him before the foundation of the world (17:24).
Nevertheless, there is something more to see, and Jesus Himself tells us what it is. It is at the apparently lowest point in the incarnation of the Son that He is most glorified. In His being lifted up (referring both to the physical raising on the Cross and the glorification) Jesus tells us we will truly know that ego eimi (8:28) and see God in all His glory. The same LORD who showed His glory to Moses, declaring not only his steadfast love and faithfulness in mercifully forgiving sin but also his justice in not acquitting the guilty (Ex 34:6) now fully reveals that glory in the meeting of His mercy and justice on the Cross in the person of the Son . The heights of glory (and therefore the very name (i.e. nature) of the Father) are fully seen in the dying flesh of the Son. There is no way that revelation and crucifixion can be separated in John’s gospel – Jesus reveals God most clearly as He is raised up to die and we see His glory, the same glory that He shares with the Father.
John 17:4 I glorified you on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me at your side with the glory I had with you before the world was created.
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.
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