John 1:16-18 (NIV): From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.
Jesus was indeed the greatest person the world has ever seen. This wasn’t just because of Who He was – God in the flesh – but because of what He accomplished. If you were to ask a Jewish person in John’s day who the greatest person in the history of the world was, they were very likely to say Moses. This was because God used him to lead the whole Israelite family out of Egypt, and God gave them the law through him. And Moses was indeed a very great person.
But Jesus was far greater than Moses. Moses led the way out of Egyptian bondage; Jesus led the way out of bondage to sin. Moses decisively defeated the army of Pharaoh; Jesus decisively defeated satan and all of his demons. Moses prayed for the people and saved them from temporal destruction; Jesus died for the people and saved them from eternal destruction. Moses gave the law to the people to show them what God required, and the sacrificial system to atone for their sins when they fell short; Jesus gave grace to the people by becoming the once-for-all sacrifice for our sins, and then by giving us the Holy Spirit to live in our hearts, to empower us and make us holy, so that we don’t have to fall prey to sin.
By his statement in verse 17 John is not saying that the law is bad and grace and truth are good. He is saying that, as good as the law was, grace and truth are better. The law showed God’s people what He required of them, but it did not empower them to do it. That requires the grace and truth that came through Jesus.
Verse 18 reminds us that before Jesus came, no one had truly seen God. Some had seen traces of Him, but even Moses was not allowed to see Him as He truly is. But in Jesus the people of His day got to see God in ways that no one had ever seen Him before. In Him God’s power was on full display, day after day. In Him God’s love was made obvious, and the hard to understand parts of God’s commandments were made clear. Some of the disciples actually got to see a glimpse of God’s glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus made God known in ways that nobody had ever known Him before. He was right on the money when He told Philip, “John 14:9 (NIV)
9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9)
Father, it is easy for us to see that Jesus was far greater than any other man who ever lived, no matter how great they might have been. In Jesus all the fullness of the Deity lived in bodily form (cf. Colossians 2:9), and that can be said of no other person in history. To know Jesus is to know You, and He opened the door for anyone who wants to know You to be able to. Thank You! Amen.