Why Is There A Distinction Made In John 1:17?
John 1:17 states: "For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."
It is important to understand what this verse does not teach. Some have taught erroneously from this verse that the Old Testament never had an ounce of grace in it and that the New Testament does not have an ounce of law in it. This is not true at all!
God has always shown grace throughout the three great dispensations of time: the patriarchal age, the Mosaic age, and the Christian age.
The Patriarchal age:
Genesis 6:8: "But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD."
The Mosaic age:
Exodus 33:12-17: "Then Moses said to the LORD, "See, You say to me, "Bring up this people.' But You have not let me know whom You will send with me. Yet You have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found grace in My sight.' Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people." And He said, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest."
Then he said to Him, "If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth." So the LORD said to Moses, "I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name."
The Christian age:
John 1:14: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
If we were to take this erroneous doctrine to its logical conclusion, then the Old Testament was not truth either! But it was the truth because God had revealed this system of revealed truth to the Israelites by which they were to be guided until the Messiah should come (Psalm 119:30,142,151,160; Galatians 3:22-25). It would also be the case that there would be no sin - because where there is no law, there is no sin (Romans 4:15; 1 John 3:4)!
The new covenant is a law that we are to follow today (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; Hebrews 8).
Since both systems are bodies of law, containing both grace and truth, then why did John make this distinction?
The Old Testament was primarily defined by the New Testament writers as a law that (a) defines what sin is (Romans 7:7); (b) when broken, separates the law-violator from fellowship with God (Isaiah 59:1,2); and (c) requires a penalty from the Divine Judge for law-breakers (Romans 3:21-26).
The New Testament was primarily defined by the New Testament writers as a law that stressed the Divine mission of the Savior who had come to bring redemption to those who were lost in sin (Luke 19:10). It stresses the ultimate meaning of grace and truth - that salvation was found exclusively in Jesus and the church that He founded (2 Timothy 2:10; John 14:6; Matthew 16:18).
When the gospel writers were writing their gospel accounts, they wrote concerning some of the Jews who thought that they could earn their own salvation by perfectly keeping the law of Moses. But nobody (except Christ, Hebrews 4:15) could ever keep the law perfectly. Therefore everybody was found to be in sin (Romans 3:23) and needed the Savior!
Romans 10:1-3 states: "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God." John was writing so that the Jews could see that the law of Moses was pointing in types, shadows, and prophecies that a Savior was coming who was "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
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