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. (John 1:14)
John saw fit to introduce his portrait of Jesus in this way, and you might be among those blessed for believing it, without having personally seen it (John 20:29). But do you know what this means? Do you? It means you are ceremonially pure and holy, without trace of defilement from your past choices. It means you were not irrevocably disqualified by the abuse you suffered. It means God remembers you daily and singles you out for particular affection. It means you shine with his glory, your nakedness has been adequately clothed, and your life is never really in question.
But how can this be so?
John’s Introduction of Moses’ Tabernacle
In the prologue to his Gospel, John clearly has two things in mind: the creation of the world and the tabernacle of Moses. I’ll come back to the creation in a bit, but let me list the evidence for my latter claim:
- He mentions the giving of the law through Moses in John 1:17. And though Moses was given the Book of the Covenant (Ex 20-23) with its ethical instruction (Ex 24:7), the longer work of “law” he was handed on Mt. Sinai was the blueprint for the tabernacle (Ex 25-31, especially Ex 31:18).
- “We have seen his glory” (John 1:14). Moses asked to see God’s glory (Ex 33:18), in between the tabernacle instructions (Ex 25-31) and the tabernacle construction (Ex 35-39).
- “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). “Grace and truth” summarizes the “name” God revealed to Moses on that mountain (Ex 34:6), again between the tabernacle instruction and construction.
- “We have seen his glory” (John 1:14). “Glory” is what was visible on top of the mountain (Ex 24:17) and came to dwell within the tabernacle (Ex 40:34-35).
- Greek scholars regularly note that the word for “dwelt” (John 1:14) is the verb form of the word for “tabernacle.” Some go as far as to translate John 1:14 as “and tabernacled among us.”
So John clearly has Moses’ tabernacle in mind from the start, at least in the paragraph of John 1:14-18.
John’s Development of Moses’ Tabernacle
John doesn’t stop alluding to the tabernacle after that intro paragraph. Not only does he make explicit reference to Jesus’ body as a new temple (John 2:19-21), but he also develops many themes from the tabernacle description in Exodus. I’ve been working through the book of Exodus with some sample Bible studies. Now that I’ve gotten to the end of the tabernacle instructions, it’s a good time to reflect on how John uses this material for his purposes.
Many have taken note of the seven “I am” statements throughout John’s Gospel. But have you ever noticed their connection to Moses’ tabernacle, at least for the first few?
- I am the bread of life (John 6:35), like the bread of the Presence set on God’s tables regularly (Ex 25:30).
- I am the light of the world (John 8:12), like the lamps that cast their light on the holy space (Ex 25:37) and must burn every evening (Ex 27:20-21).
- I am the door (John 10:9), like the only entrance to the courtyard (Ex 27:16) or to the tent itself (Ex 26:36-37).
- I am the good shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11), a composite image showing Jesus to be both priest (Ex 28:31-35, 42-43) and sacrificial substitute (Ex 29:10-14).
I confess the connection is either absent or much less clear with “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25-26), “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) and “the true vine” (John 15:1). But the Exodus/tabernacle imagery never really goes away in the narrative.
- Jesus speaks with an authority greater than that of Moses, speaking of God’s commandment, which is eternal life (John 12:49-50).
- His presence with them leads him to give a new commandment (John 13:33-35).
- Jesus prepares a place in his Father’s house, where there are many rooms (John 14:1).
- Jesus acts like a high priest when he prays for his people (John 17).
- Like Yahweh in the burning bush, Jesus terrifies people by speaking his name, “I AM” (John 18:5-6).
- Jesus times the very hour of his conviction to the timing of the Passover festival (John 19:14).
And then, at the story’s climax, John paints a picture of a new Holy of Holies, with a new mercy seat—the place where Jesus’ body had lain—all decked out with two angels, one on one side, and one on the other (John 20:12). Don’t miss the allusion to the ark of the covenant! Full access has now been granted to God’s people. Not to a high priest on a high holy day, but to a woman who loved her lord (and to the rest of us who likewise love him). We have now truly seen his glory, full of grace and truth.
The Tabernacle and the Creation of the World
I write these things not to amaze you with elusive mysteries or secret knowledge. I do it simply because we’re usually not familiar enough with the tabernacle narratives to catch the allusions.
And let me take it one more step. Through my study of Exodus, I’ve been arguing that the tabernacle is pictured as a re-creation of the world, a starting over of God’s people in relationship with their Father. If we were already familiar with this idea from Exodus, we would quickly see John trace out the same connection.
John is concerned from chapter 1 with not only the tabernacle but also the creation.
- He starts right where Genesis 1 starts: “In the beginning” (Gen 1:1, John 1:1).
- He calls Jesus the Word, just as God “spoke” creation into existence (Gen 1:3, John 1:1).
- He identifies Jesus as the Creator God (John 1:3).
- Just as the creation in Genesis begins with light (Gen 1:3), leading to life (Gen 1:20, 21, 24, 25, 30, etc.), so also Jesus brings light and life in John (John 1:4-5).
- In Genesis, God creates the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1). In John Jesus comes from heaven to earth to reveal God (John 1:9, 3:31, 6:41, etc.).
- Just as God creates the world in seven days (Gen 1:1-2:3), John now shows Jesus beginning his work over the course of seven days (John 1:28, 29, 35, 43; 2:1).
So when we reach the story’s climax, we have not only a new Holy of Holies (John 20:12), but also a new Man and a new Woman in a Garden, drawing near to God and preparing to rule and subdue the earth (John 20:15-18).
Please let these things motivate you when you hit the hard parts of the Bible, such as the tabernacle instructions. They’re here for a reason, and, if you have eyes to see, they will explain marvelous things about the person and work of Christ. When you read that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, make sure to step back and get a clear handle on what it really means.