God manifested in His only-begotten Son
This powerful statement is the grand finale of John’s introduction of his Gospel which deals specifically with the greatness and glory of the Person of the Son of God. In the opening verses John makes clear that He is the “the Word” and as such He is no one else than the eternal God (John 1:1). John then had explained what He has become (and still is), namely a true man. The Word became flesh and dwelled among us (John 1:14). He is what He always was and will never cease to be – God. He was not, what He has become and still is now – a true man. Now He will be forever both: God and man in one person. We will never fathom the mystery of that wonderful person.
Now John proceeds to tell us that He is the only-begotten Son in the bosom of the Father and not only that, but as such, He has manifested (revealed, made know) God. Verse 17 speaks of the law which was given by Moses. In contrast to this we see “grace and truth” subsisting (or coming and beginning) through Jesus Christ. But this is not all. There is a further step. John now no longer speaks about „grace and truth“, (as great as they are) but he speaks of God Himself. He no longer describes the fullness of blessing of “grace and truth”, but he speaks of Him, the source and origin of all blessings. He presents Him as the One who He is, the only-begotten Son in the bosom of the Father, who has manifested God. What a blessed truth!
No one has seen God at any time.
This great statement is confirmed in 1. John 4:12. No one can ever see God. When Moses wanted to see the glory of God he heard the answer. “Thou canst not see my face, for Man shall no see me and live” (Ex. 33:2). God dwells in an unapproachable light “whom no man has seen, nor is able to see” (1. Tim 6:16). He is the “incorruptible, invisible, only God” (1. Tim 1:17).
The testimony that no man can ever see God is not in contradiction to the revelations of God in the Old Testament. God did indeed reveal Himself in a certain way in Old Testament times. He did so in the creation. He did so in His dealings with man. He did so in the form of an angel. Still it remains true that no man has ever seen God as He is. This remains impossible. No man can see God in His absoluteness, in His nature and in what He is in Himself. Therefore the statement of our verse is not inconsistent with what Isaiah said: “… for mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts” (Isa 6:5). In the Old Testament God showed Himself in a form that was perceptible to man but this did not allow man to contemplate and realise who He really is.
The only-begotten Son hath manifested Him
Even though God is invisible He has fully revealed Himself– and He did so in his only-begotten Son. Through the incarnation of His Son God entered into a new relationship with man in a way He never did before. The revelation in the Son of God far exceeds all the revelations in the Old Testament. Hebrews 1, verse 2, mentions “the end of these days” in which God spoke to us “in the person of the Son”, who is the “effulgence of his glory” and the “expression of his substance”. That was unknown in the Old Testament.
To “manifest” something means to “reveal” or to “tell” about something, to describe or to express it. Here it is used to make clear that Jesus, the Son of God, is the complete revelation of who God is. Nothing is held back. The Greek word occurs six times in the New Testament. In all other references it is translated “to relate” (Luke 24:35; Acts 10:8; 15:12.14; 21:19 - JND) which means “to report”. The word could also be rendered by: “to show” or “to explain”. In our verse the meaning is that the Son has revealed and shown God in His very essence. Those to whom God has been manifested and who have accepted the Son of God know God now in His nature. It is not a question of a mere outward appearance. In the Son can be seen who God really is – perfect love and perfect light.
What God is, can only be fully revealed in the Son of the Father. In the Son God opens his heart. No angel and no man could have ever done this. This was only possible in the only-begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father. Every man is “from the earth” and speaks “as of the earth” (John 3:31). This does not apply to the Son of God. He alone knew God and therefore He alone could reveal Him as He is. It is to be noted that the Greek text just says: “He hath declared”. Nonetheless the context makes it clear that this refers to God. The beginning of the sentence allows this conclusion, even though it is equally true that He has revealed the Father. It could not be otherwise. The Lord Jesus himself said: “He that has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). But in our verse the emphasis is on God in his absoluteness. He who saw the Son of the Father with eyes of faith saw God in His very essence – God as He is.
There is only one who could be called „the only-begotten Son in the bosom of the Father“. The expression “only-begotten” that is used in the original language is composed of two words the one meaning “one and only” (unique), the other one meaning “offspring” (stock) or “kind”. Putting the two together we get the meaning “one of a class” or “the only of his kind”. There is no reference to a natural birth (like every man who is “born” into this world). It is a matter of the nature or the essence, of character of a person who is thus described. He is the only “one of his kind”. He is absolutely unique. No one else could ever be compared with Him. Being the „firstborn” there are others among whom He has the priority or precedence. But being the “only-begotten” there is no one else who could stand next to Him or beside Him.
There are other writers and Scriptures which use this expression “only-begotten”. In Luke 7:12, 8:42 and 9:38 the only-begotten Son is the only son. Hebrews 11:17 speaks of Isaac, the son of Abraham (Gen 22). Abraham offered the only-begotten Son . This is a clear reference to the uniqueness of Isaac. He was the beloved son of Abraham on whom all the affection and well pleasing of Abraham was resting (Gen 22:2). He is an Old Testament type of the beloved and only-begotten Son of God. John as far as he is concerned uses the expression “only-begotten” several times (John 1:14.18; 3:16.18; 1. Joh 4:9) and is to be noted that in his writings he always refers to the Eternal Son of God. Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God. Therefore He is, was and will ever be unique and cannot be compared to anyone else. There is none like Him.
Colossians 1:18 says that the Lord Jesus must have the first place in all things. This statement is justified by in the following statement: “… for in him all the fullness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell (Col 1:19). Only in the only-begotten Son of God could the fullness of the Godhead dwell. It is an infinite grace that we have been adopted and are called “sons of God”. With reference to us, the expression is always used in the plural form. But there is only one “Son of God” (singular): that is He, the eternal and only-begotten Son. Angels are also referred to – even though in a different sense – as “sons of God” (Job 1:6). But in no way they could be compared to the only-begotten Son of God. Angels are created beings whereas the only-begotten Son has never been created (He is the creator and entered into his creation, but He is no creature). Angels can by no means be compared to Him. Only He is the eternal and only-begotten Son – without beginning without end. All other who are by grace entitled to be called “sons of God” have a beginning, because they are creatures.
We repeat that the expression “only-begotten Son” therefore has no reference to the birth of the Lord Jesus. It is true, that Psalm 2:7 says: “Thou art my Son. I this day have begotten thee”. The meaning of this expression is that Jesus had also as man been begotten by God (in the Person of the Holy Spirit). Before His birth the angel had said to Joseph: “… for that which is begotten in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Math 1:20). Mary herself heard the angel say: “… the holy thing which shall be born shall be called Son of God” (Lk 1:35). But this is related to time and has nothing to do with the expression “only-begotten Son of God”. These two things have to be distinguished carefully.
The expression “only-begotten” therefore clearly proves how unique and incomparable He is. He alone was and is in an eternal relationship to the Father. He and the Father are one (John 10:30). This is why He, and only He, could reveal God. As true man He was born of a woman, as the only-begotten Son of God He was never born. He has no beginning and no end, because He is eternal. Therefore the statement which is sometimes used “Jesus, born in eternity” is not tenable and against the teaching of the Holy Scripture.
The bosom of the Father
This expression has often been misunderstood and requires particular attention. It is obvious that the Lord Jesus uses figurative language in order to clarify something that we cannot understand and seize in another way. Of course He does not speak about a natural bosom, but about an intimate relationship of love in closeness in an unspoilt fellowship with the Father. A “bosom” literally is an arch, a breast or a bay (comp. Acts 27:39). But it is also used in figurative sense. In Luke 6:38 we read of “your bosom” and in Luke 16:22-23 of “Abraham’s bosom”. John uses the expression either for the “bosom of the Father” or the “bosom of Jesus” (John 13:23). The Holy Spirit uses thus a figure in order to adapt to our limited faculty of understanding spiritual realities. The point is that we should learn something about the nearness and intimacy of the eternal relationship between Father and Son. It is not possible to be nearer than “in the bosom”. God could only be declared and revealed by a person who was in full and tender closeness and familiarity with the Father. Only the Son was in this sphere of love and therefore He alone could reveal God as well as the Father.
Let us very carefully remark, that Scripture does not say that the Son was in the bosom of the Father, but that He is there. This is a timeless statement which is always true. He was there in the eternity before time. He was there when the Son was here on earth and He will be there in all eternity. The bosom of the Father is not a “locality” or a “place” that the Son would have ever left. He could not leave the bosom of the Father. We should literally read: “The only-begotten Son being in the bosom of the Father”. That clearly makes the statement timeless. The expression denotes an everlasting relationship of closeness, intimacy, affection and fellowship. This relation could never ever been broken by anything or anybody. There is an eternal relationship of love between the Father and the Son (John 17:25). It is true that the Son is “of” or “from” the Father (John 6:46; 7:29) and that He even “came out from the Father” (John 17:8) but at the same time He never left the bosom of the Father. It is his continual relationship in communion with the Father. Wherever the Father is, the Son will be and wherever the Son is, the Father will be. Son and Father are one (John 8:16; 10:30). Therefore Jesus could also say that He was not alone. The Father was always with him (John 16:32).
Nothing could ever disrupt of even touch this wonderful relationship and intimacy. He always remains the only-begotten Son in the bosom of the Father. This was true when He was born by a woman and when He laid in a manger in Bethlehem. This was true when He trod his pathway through this world in deep humility and self-abasement, and had not even a place where to lay down his head. And even when hanging on that shameful cross of Calvary where He was made sin for us and bore our sins He did not cease to be the only-begotten Son in the bosom of the Father. Under all circumstances He continued to be what He was.
It remains an unsearchable mystery that the eternal Son of God became man in order to manifest and reveal God. The same is true for the great fact that He is, has been and will ever be the only-begotten Son in the bosom of the Father. The greatness and glory of His person will ever surpass the capacity of human understanding. Yes, “no one knows who the Son is but the Father” (Luke 10:22). We accept it by faith. We contemplate Him, we marvel at Him and we adore Him and God who gave Him as His unspeakable gift.
The Lord Jesus alone is unique and incomparable. Through his humanity and his atoning death on the cross of Calvary He has not only brought an enormous fullness of blessing but also He has made known the invisible God. This was only possible because He is the only-begotten Son and because He is in the bosom of the Father. This He has ever been and will He ever be. He is in timeless fellowship with His Father. As such He could manifest and reveal God. Now we know who God is. To Him be everlasting glory.