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John 1:16-18 by Robert Dean
Series:John (1998)
Duration:1 hr 0 mins 8 secs

  Christ's Pleroma and You
John 1:16-18
John Lesson #012
July 26, 1998

John 1:15 NASB "John testified about Him and cried out, saying, "This was He of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.' [16] For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace." The Greek word for "for" is gar [gar] and it always introduces an explanation." John the Baptist is going to make a prophetic announcement that someone existed prior to him because He existed before him. He is the pre-eminent one. Why does he say that? What is the significance of that? When John the apostle writes some 60 years later in about 95 AD he is going to explain the significance of that remark. Why is that important? Because it relates to the whole doctrine of the hypostatic union. The word that we find here is the Greek word pleroma [plhrwma]. We have to look at the significance of this word because it has some powerful doctrinal implications, because from the fullness of Jesus Christ we receive. So what then is the fullness? We receive this from His pleroma. What exactly is the pleroma of Jesus Christ? 

Twice the apostle Paul uses the word pleroma in Colossians and then he uses the word in a completely different way in Ephesians. The basic meaning of the word is completion, to be complete, to be full, to full up. It has the idea of totality and fullness. Colossians 1:19 NASB "For it was the {Father's} good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him." What is this fullness? Colossians 2:9 NASB "For in Him all the fullness [pleroma]of Deity dwells in bodily form." Here we have the doctrine of the hypostatic union. So we have a clear statement that in Christ is full undiminished deity in bodily form. The fullness in Colossians 1:19 relates to the complete essence of God.

John says, "For of His fullness we have all received." What does that man? In Ephesians Paul uses the word pleroma in a much different sense. Ephesians 3:19 NASB "and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God." The words "come to know the love of Christ." This is a genitive: agape [a)gaph] plus the love of Christ. This is an objective genitive. That is, a genitive that emphasizes the object of the genitive as almost the object of the verbal idea. So here it would be translated "but to know the love for Christ." What is the love for Christ? This is what we have discussed under the theological concept of occupation with Christ. It is a process. The verb here "to know" is an ingressive aorist, which means it is a progressive concept. It is the beginning of something, to know, we grow as we learn doctrine. We can't love someone you do not know. So the love for Christ is a growth process that is determined by our understanding of doctrine.

The next phrase relates to our understanding of doctrine: "which surpasses knowledge." What kind of knowledge is this? The Greek word here is gnosis [gnwsij]. gnosis equals academic knowledge. What happens in the process of learning doctrine is that the pastor-teacher communicates doctrine and the Holy Spirit makes it clear to the believer as pneumatikos [pneumatikoj]; He makes it understandable to the believer. It is transferred through the left lobe of the soul, the nous [nouj]. There is becomes gnosis, academic knowledge. This is a staging area. It says here that the love for Christ surpasses knowledge, it surpasses academic knowledge. Academic knowledge isn't enough. It is a starting point. You can't get there without academic knowledge. You have to start there but you go beyond it. You go beyond it when you believe what you are taught. God the Holy Spirit drives it home deep in your soul, to the right lobe which is the heart, the kardia [kardia]. This is not an emotional term, the heart refers to the innermost thoughts of the mind, the right lobe of the soul where our deepest thinking takes place. There the Holy Spirit circulates doctrine in our soul. This is meditation; when you think about doctrine is circulates. The Holy Spirit stores doctrine there and recalls these things to our mind so that we can apply them in times of testing. So we read, "and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be" what? "… filled up [brought to completion] to all the fullness of God."

The word for "filled" here, the verb, is pleroo [plhrow] its cognate. It means to be filled and it also means to be completed; pleroma is the noun and it refers to the fullness or completion. How are we filled? Ephesians 5:18 NASB "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit." We have here the command to be filled and the object of the verb is the dative of pneumati [pneumati]—"be filled by means of," that is the thrust of the dative. It indicates means or instrumentality. If there was intention to indicate content the genitive case would have been used. After the command to be filled with the Spirit there are several participles which describe the result of the filling by means of the Spirit: "speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart [mind] to the Lord…" This is singing that is done from the mentality of the soul because there is doctrine in the soul. So part of being filled by means of the Holy Spirit is that you are going to be able to sing true psalms and hymns that have doctrinal content as you relate back to God what He has done. A second result given here is gratitude: "always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father." Then a third area in which this is played out is in terms of relationships: "and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ," then specifically wives in relationship to their husbands, husbands in relationship to their wives, children in relationship to their parents, parents in relationship to their children, and employees in relationship to their employers. All of that is a consequence of being filled by means of the Holy Spirit.

Colossians 3:16 NASB "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you…"  What are the results of letting the Word of Christ dwell within us? "…with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms {and} hymns {and} spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God." In Ephesians we had the result of the filling by means of the Spirit. Here in Colossians it is letting the Word of Christ richly dwell within us. [17] "Whatever you do in word or deed, {do} all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father." And so on in the succeeding verses. Notice the parallel. In both passages there is a list of results, but in the Ephesians passage the command that brings about the result is to be filled by means of the Spirit. The command in Colossians is to let the Word of Christ richly dwell within us. So what we have is on the one hand the Spirit and on the other hand the Word of God, Bible doctrine. Together they produce these results. The Holy Spirit indicates means; the Word of God indicates the content.

Ephesians 3:19 NASB "and [that we might come] to know" ... advancing in our spiritual life to the point of spiritual maturity where we understand occupation with Christ, where our focus in every issue in life is Jesus Christ. What would Jesus Christ do? We can only answer that question if we understand Bible doctrine and know the mind of Christ. We have to think like Christ to be able to choose like Christ. We have to focus on the person of Jesus Christ. "…the love of Christ which surpasses [academic] knowledge [gnosis], that you may be filled up [with the content of Scripture, Bible doctrine] to all the fullness of God." Fullness here is our word pleroma, which has a synonym. pleroma means completion or to be filled; teleios, which means maturity, to be brought to completion in your spiritual life, to grow to spiritual adulthood so that you can begin to have the invisible impact on your family and your surroundings that has a plan for your life.

So when we look at this passage in Ephesians 3:19 we understand that pleroma goes from Jesus Christ who had the pleroma of God in Him in reference to the hypostatic union. When He came to earth he was going to revolutionise the spiritual life, because in the Old Testament the spiritual life was based on the faith-rest drill but there was no Holy Spirit to empower the believer. When Christ comes He sets the precedent for the spiritual life of the church age. He is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and He is filled by means of the Holy Spirit. In His humanity He grows in His understanding of doctrine and he applies it and sets the precedent for church age believers as to how to live the spiritual life. The precedent for the church age is not the Old Testament. It is the Holy Spirit whose production is our spiritual growth. This can be counterfeited through the flesh under the principles of morality. This is something that many believers don't understand. They think that if they are moral they are spiritual. If you are immoral you are not spiritual, but if you are moral that doesn't mean you are spiritual because morality is something that any unbeliever can do. Anything an unbeliever can do is not part of the unique spiritual life of the church age. The unique spiritual life is that which is uniquely produced by means of the Holy Spirit. So it is through the Holy Spirit and under His power and influence and His teaching ministry that we grow. The precedent for that, the model for that, was set by Jesus Christ during the time of the incarnation.

John the Baptist said that Christ was to be pre-eminent. John the apostle gives us his commentary in verse 16: because from the source of His pleroma He lived out His spiritual life under the filling ministry of God the Holy Spirit to set the precedent, the model, for our spiritual life in the church age. "For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace." That is, the spiritual life grace upon saving grace. Those are the two graces in verse 16: spiritual life grace based upon saving grace. Then we have a further explanation: John 1:17 NASB "For [gar] the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ." The law was temporal, it had a specific purpose; it was related to the nation Israel. But grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. Moses was just a mediator of the law, but it was Jesus, the second person of the Trinity in terms of His messianic role, who is the one who teaches us grace—the sum total of all of God's plan for human history. This does not mean there was no grace in the Old Testament. What this means is that in Jesus Christ grace is taken to a new level. We get a full revelation of it in the person of Jesus Christ. Truth relates to the absolute truth and veracity of the Word of God, what we would call Bible doctrine, the complete, total teaching of Jesus Christ.

Then John concludes: John 1:18 NASB "No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained {Him.}" In the Old Testament there were various theophanies—an appearance of God. But who was that? Was it God the Father, God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit? This passage says that no man has seen God the Father at any time. That is not the role of God the Father. God the Father is the architect of the plan, but it is God the Son who carries it out; it is God the Son who is the revealer of God to man. So all throughout the Old Testament are these theophanies which are appearances of the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ. Before He had a human body he appeared to man to reveal God throughout the Old Testament. All of those appearances in the Old Testament are not of God the Father, they are of the Son in His role as the revealer of God. "…the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained {Him.}" This tells us that this phrase "begotten" is not a phrase for birth. In the Greek it is the word monogenes [monogenhj] and it means unique. It is from the Greek word gene [genh] meaning kind, where we get our English word genus or species. Mono [mono] is one; genhj = kind: one of a kind or unique. He is the unique Son. He is not born, it is not referring to the virgin conception or the virgin birth. Here it specifically refers to the second person of the Trinity in His pre-incarnate condition, it is the title of His eternity. Throughout all eternity he is the begotten one. "…He has explained {Him.}" This is the final verb. It is this person who has "declared" –exegeomai [e)ceghomai] which means to bring out, to explain, to develop. He has explained Him. So here we are told that it is God the Son, the logos, this one who was in eternity with God; He was the Word, He was with God and He was God. He was light, the light of men. He shines in the darkness. He is the one who continually shone throughout the Old Testament and was continually rejected by the majority of men. But those who did receive Him God gave the right to be called the children of God, even to those who believe in His name. It was this logos, the second person of the Trinity, who became flesh and dwelt among us, the incarnation" "and we beheld His glory." So that is the thrust of John's Gospel, to explain the logos, to explain His glory, and how all of that relates to our salvation; that we can believe in Him through faith alone in Christ alone, and can have eternal salvation.