In John 1:14-18 the John uses a metaphor to describe how the Word, as the Creator God and true light, could be the human Jesus. The Word “became flesh and tabernacled among us.” This is an allusion to the Wilderness period when God lived amidst his people at the Tabernacle (Numbers 35:34, also in the Temple, 1 Kings 6:13). Most important, the Tent of Meeting is called the Test of Testimony (σκηνὴ μαρτυρίου) in LXX Exodus 33:7. This combines two key themes in John 1, the Word dwelt with men, and the Word is a witness to God. The Tent of Meeting is the place where God revealed himself in the wilderness and revealed himself to Moses.
The “glory of God” may also allude to the Wilderness period (Numbers 16:19, Psalm 102:16, referring to the first Temple and Ezekiel10:4, the glory of God departing from the Temple). In the Gospel of John, Jesus reveals God’s glory in several ways. The seven signs in John reveal Jesus as God’s glory (2:11, 11:4, framing the seven signs.) Jesus says he has his own glory (17:5, 24). Jesus is glorified during his public ministry, but ultimately in the crucifixion (11:4, 12:28, 13:31-32).
John also alludes to Moses and the Law in verse 17. When the Law was given the people saw the glory of God on the mountain and were terrified, they could not stand to see the power and the glory of God. Even the phrase “no one has ever seen God” is an allusion to Moses at Sinai. Moses saw only the effects of the glory of God, not God himself (Exodus 33:20).
Perhaps the most surprising allusion to the wilderness period here is the statement that The word was “full of grace and truth.” Commentaries usually get bogged down on “fullness” as a potential allusion to Gnosticism. But I think the phrase “grace and truth” is more important since this is a way in which God described himself to Moses in Exodus. In Exodus 34 God reveals his glory to Moses. When he does, the Lord himself proclaims that he is the LORD, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, using two words in Hebrew, hesed and ‘emet. These are well-known from the theology of the Hebrew Bible and are roughly equivalent to grace and truth in John 1:14.
John is therefore claiming that the Word is the true Light of God and that he is a complete revelation of the steadfast love and faithfulness of God, using the same words that God himself used in his self-revelation in Exodus 34:6.
Why the Wilderness? First, it was in the wilderness that Israel first became the “people of God.” He had rescued them out of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness to initiate their relationship through a covenant at Sinai. Isaiah 40-55 describes the end of the exile as a return to the wilderness. When God rescues his people from exile, they will once again travel the wilderness back to the land of the Promise. Third, as N. T. Wright often says, Second Temple Period Judaism thought of themselves as still in the exile. The Word, therefore, is inaugurating a new wilderness period. He is God dwelling among his people in a tent (of flesh this time), leading them into the wilderness where he will care for them (John 6).
In the Gospel of John, Israel will encounter the glory of God through Jesus, but they will once again rebel and reject him, preferring to remain in the darkness.