Law and Grace

The Apostle John made an astounding statement in his Gospel: “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:18) John wrote his Gospel account at the end of the 1st Century A.D., years after Matthew, Mark and Luke had written their Gospels, years after the Roman Army had destroyed Jerusalem and relocated most of the survivors by 73 A.D. Israel would cease to be a nation of Jews and become known for centuries as Palestine (first called Syria Palaestina in 135 A.D.). All of the other Apostles of Christ were most likely dead when John wrote his Gospel account sometime between 85 and 90 A.D. He was the last Apostle standing. Israel as a religious entity had been decimated. The religion of Judaism was fast becoming a memory. The history of Israel at the end of the 1st Century makes John’s statement about Law and Grace, Moses and Jesus, even more interesting and important to our lives today.

John wrote that Jesus “came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” (John 1:11) Jesus Christ, the Word of God, offered Himself to Israel as its Messiah and King, but the leaders and people of Israel rejected His offer and become an evil mob that led to Christ’s death on the Cross. Jesus made a second offer to Israel from Heaven to return to earth and establish the prophesied Kingdom  of God on earth (Acts 3:19-21), but the leaders and people of Israel again rejected the offer and killed the King’s messengers (Acts 7 – 8).

Jesus Christ, the Eternal God, met Moses on a desert mountain top and gave the great prophet and leader of the people of Israel the Holy Law of God. That same Jesus came to earth in Person more than a thousand years later to bring the people of the earth Grace and Truth. “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Why does John write these words at this point in his Gospel account?

God expressed His Love to Israel in a specific way when He gave them His Law. The Law is a revelation of God’s amazing Character and His desire for Israelites to develop their character based on the values of their God. After giving Israel His Law and promising them victory in battles with their enemies, God called Moses back to the mountaintop and told him how to build a tabernacle for God: “And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8) God also told Moses about the Ark of the Covenant, the Table of Showbread, Golden Lampstand, and all of the other furnishings and elements of the great Tabernacle. God did come into the Tabernacle and lived in the Holy of Holies. However, only the high priest was allowed to enter the Holy Place once a year on the Day of Atonement: “that he may make atonement for himself, for his household, and for all the assembly of Israel.” (Leviticus 16:17) God dwelled with His people, but access to God was strictly controlled by the Law God gave to Moses. That restriction continued for more than a thousand years. Israel knew their God was with them, but they weren’t allowed to have a personal relationship with Him. The relationship God had with the people of Israel was “national” in nature.

But that changed centuries later. God expressed His Love to Israel in a “personal” way when He sent His Son to Israel. Jesus Christ is the direct Revelation of God: “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.” (John 1:14) Jesus was “born” into the nation of Israel as any other Israelite, except His birth was a miracle being born of a virgin. Though Christ’s mother was a human, Jesus did not have a human father. He was from God the Father and therefore had no sin. He was perfect in every way. Even as Jesus gave the Law to Moses so that Israel would know God and become obedient to His Will, Jesus now gave Israel Himself so they would know God in a personal way and become obedient to His Will. However, as we know, Israel didn’t obey God’s Law and they didn’t obey His Son. Israel rejected God’s Law for centuries and would finally reject Jesus Christ and God’s offer of national grace. As Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome: “but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. As it is written,: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 9:31-33) Israel failed in all its attempts at national righteousness because of the people’s rejection of Jesus, the stumbling stone and rock of offense.

Today, Jesus continues to offer His Grace and Truth, but His offer now is primarily to the Gentile world. The Apostle John knew that when he wrote his Gospel account. He knew that God had set Israel aside for a time while Jesus made His offer of personal salvation to the Gentiles. This offer will come to an end, so now is the time of salvation: “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2) If you know the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ, rejoice in His Grace today and every day. If you do not know His salvation, now is the time. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:31)


Mark McGee

GraceLife Ministries