(John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:15-17)
In a parenthesis, John writes that the baptist bore witness about Jesus, saying that Jesus was that of whom he said, “He who comes after me ranks before me, because He was before me.” This is a beautiful play on words, meaning, “He who was born after me and will start his ministry after me, is ranked higher than me, because He was actually here before me.” He’s speaking of Jesus’ preexistence as the Son of God for all eternity. So, even though He was, in bodily form, six months the junior of the baptist, He has been God forever. Similarly, Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am.”
John goes on to speak of the Savior saying that from His fullness, John and his siblings in Christ had all received grace upon grace. There’s a colloquialism these days that says, “I got stacks on stacks”. The meaning is that one has piles of money. The rap artist who coined the phrase would probably understand what I mean when I say, “I have grace on grace on grace on grace.”
The Lord has been immeasurably gracious to His people, such that John could say we have all received grace upon grace.
John explains that the law was given through Moses, and grace and truth was given through Jesus Christ. The law is contrasted with grace. Of course, this is not to say that the law wasn’t gracious. The law pointed forward to the Savior. The law showed the beautiful character of God. The law showed the way to live life to the fullest, and it served to provide order and government for the nation of Israel. For these reasons, the psalmist writes, “Oh how I love your law!” (Psalm 119:97). It’s why Jesus came to fulfill the law.
But the law couldn’t save. The law couldn’t make a sinner right with God. It is only by grace through faith in Christ Jesus that sinners like you and me can be saved.