Read John 1:1-18
Read vv. 16-17 again. What if you read it this way, “Because God is so gracious, He has given us many blessings, one after the other. The first blessing was the Law, which came through Moses. The second blessing was Jesus Christ, who brought grace and truth into the world.”
There is no contrast in v. 17 saying that the Law was bad and Jesus was good. John is acknowledging the overall graciousness of God throughout history and the progressive nature of His revelation and guidance of His people.
Many Christians have the idea that the Law is bad and that Jesus came to set us free from the oppressive system of the Law. This is evident in the way the Living Bible paraphrases this verse (very poorly, by the way)
For Moses gave us only the Law with its rigid demands and merciless justice, while Jesus Christ brought us loving forgiveness as well. (The Living Bible)
This paraphrase comes from a definite bias against the Law. The words he uses to translate are simply not present in the original language. The NIV translates it very literally.
Read Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the verse to get a more accurate (while still very embellished) feel for what John is really saying.
We all live off His generous bounty, gift after gift after gift. We got the basics from Moses, and then this exuberant giving and receiving, This endless knowing and understanding— all this came through Jesus, the Messiah. (The Message)
See the point? The Law is not bad, it is just the basics. The way God dealt with His people throughout history is just like how a good parent should raise a child. In the early years you lay down the law and enforce swift and fair judgment. Through this you establish a clear value system and a firm understanding of right and wrong in the child’s conscience. As the child matures and becomes an adolescent, they can move beyond the black and white rules and begin to see the shades of gray and the nuances of reality. A child could never handle these nuances, so, as a loving parent, you reveal them in the appropriate timing.
So it is with spiritual development. In the early days of our walk with God, we need to be involved in a regimented, disciplined routine of Bible Study, Prayer, and accountability while we get the basics of God’s moral standard burned into our conscience. In the beginning, the gospel is simple and clear; Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. As we grow, we can begin to see the subtleties and complexities of the infinite “Word” that we worship. We can grow deeper in love as we come to know, in ever-increasing levels of understanding, the maker and lover of our souls. God is truly a gracious God who pours out blessing upon blessing as He shines His light into our lives and invites us to know Him.