John 1:15 (John testified concerning him [the Word]. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ ”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.
These few verses are contested ground, and on several levels. And yet, the author’s point is obvious: Jesus is first. The Baptiser’s testimony is that although Jesus comes ‘after him’ (temporally), he is ‘before him’ in two ways (i) he was pre-existent, explaining v1-14; and (ii) he is ‘before him’ in rank and greater in honour. See John 1:30. So on both counts, Jesus is first.
This testimony is significant because John was widely regarded as God’s prophet. John the Baptist is the first major witness to step forward in this gospel. The signs of Jesus and the words of Jesus will also play their part in verifying his identity, divine origin and nature. These are all put forward to commend belief in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God (John 20:30-31).
The NIV struggles to translate the original language at verse 16. Out of Jesus’ fullness– his completed work and fully recognised person– we have received ‘grace over and against grace’ (χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος). So it seems that Jesus gives us grace replacing the grace that was already given in the Old Testament. This is one blessing after another. Indeed, Jesus supersedes Moses.
Already in this gospel I am being drawn to recognise that, before Jesus, I am in the presence of such greatness that I cannot remain unmoved. Undoubtedly I am dwarfed when standing before Moses– the great law-giver. But Jesus Christ is far greater, because he is the one who brings grace and truth from God.
Jesus supersedes Moses because what he brings from God is from God’s very heart. Jesus stands in such unique relationship to the Father– he comes straight from his bosom, as the ‘only-truly-born’ Son.
Heavenly Father and my Lord Jesus Christ, thank you for revealing yourself to me. Thank you that your Spirit has enabled me to receive this revelation, believe it, and benefit from it. Thank for your grace upon grace, one blessing after another. Please graft into my heart a response befitting your kindness to me. Amen.