In John 1:9-13 the apostle John says this:
“9 There was the true light, even the light which lighteth every man, coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world knew him not. 11 He came unto his own, and they that were his own received him not. 12 But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Having just described the preparation for the public ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, and contrasted that preparation with the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, John now turns to Christ’s public ministry. In other words, in this passage, John summarizes the public ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, and its effects on mankind.
This passage can be divided into 11 sections:
- Christ’s personality
- His proclamation
- His personification
- His presence
- His possession
- His passiveness
- His pass
- His possessors
- His permission
- His people
- His production
John begins this passage, then, with Christ’s personality: “There was the true light . . .”
What does it mean that Christ was the true light? The word, “true”, is translated from the Greek word, alethinos, which means “truthful” or “genuine”. Thus, John is describing Christ as the light which is full of truth and is the genuine light, in contrast with fake lights. More specifically, John is contrasting Christ with John the baptist, whom he has just said “was not the light, but came to bear witness of the light”.
But what does it mean that Christ is the true light? John tells us in John 1:4-5:
“4 In him [God the Word] was life; and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness apprehended [overcame] it not.”
Christ is the embodiment of the light of men, which shines in the darkness, and hasn’t been overcome. That is, He is the embodiment of God’s truth.
Next, John describes Christ’s proclamation: “. . . which lighteth every man”. In the New American Standard Bible, the word “lighteth” is rendered as “enlightens”, which is it’s true meaning. The word, “enlightens”, means “to give light to”. In this case, the light which is being given is the light of truth. Notice that this word is in the present tense, indicating that Christ always enlightens every man. Also, notice that it is every man who is enlightened by Him, telling us that this light isn’t exclusive to believers, but is light that every person possesses. What is that light? The light of conscience. All people know certain things innately, without anyone telling them, because Christ has given them that knowledge. They know that certain things are right, and they know that certain things are wrong. Also, they know that there is a Creator who is divine, and is eternally powerful:
“20 For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse . . .” – Romans 1:20
Third, John describes Christ’s personification: “There was the true light . . . coming into the world”. Here, John is giving an account of God the Son’s coming to earth by being conceived in the womb of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s Truth had now come into the world.
Fourth, John describes Christ’s presence: “He was in the world”. Having been incarnated, He was now in the world — He was now among the things of the world, just as we are. He was now a human being, with a human mind, a human soul, a human spirit, and a human body. However, He was still the same Word and Light that He had been for all of eternity. In terms of the manifestation of His presence, He was now in the world in the form of a human being.
Fifth, John describes Christ’s possession: “. . . and the world was made through Him . . .” Here we see that Christ was not just the Light of the world, but the Creator of the world. Notice that this doesn’t say that “He made the world”, but that “the world was made through Him”. This is implying that He was the Agent through whom the Father made the world. He made the world, yes, but the Father had Him do it for Him. Now, Christ was in the world that He had made.
Sixth, John describes Christ’s passiveness: “. . . and the world knew Him not”. Obviously, “the world” has to refer to people, since impersonal things and beings can’t know Him. So, the very world of people that He had created didn’t know, or recognize, Him. Why? Because they weren’t able to recognize Him before He was incarnated. If they couldn’t before He was a human, how could they now that He looked just like them?
Seventh, John describes Christ’s pass: “He came unto his own, and they that were his own received him not.” Now, who were “His own”? Well, they can’t be “the world” for these reasons:
- John has just said that He was in the world. Now, He came to His own.
- John has just said that the world knew Him not. Now, John says that His own received Him not.
- The very fact that John calls these people “His own” tells us that he has something special in mind compared to “the world”.
- Jesus Himself said that “. . . I was not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel“. – Matthew 15:24
- Deuteronomy 7:6 describes the people of Israel as the special possession of God:
“6 For thou art a holy people unto Jehovah thy God: Jehovah thy God hath chosen thee to be a people for his own possession, above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth.”
Thus, John must mean the Jews by “His own”. In fact, this makes sense, since most of the Jews indeed didn’t receive Christ. And what does it mean that they didn’t receive Him? They didn’t welcome Him, nor accept Him, nor believe in who He said and demonstrated that He was.
In contrast, John next describes Christ’s possessors: “But as many as received him . . .” These are those who did believe in, accept, and welcome Christ as the Messiah — those who received Him. This would consist of Christ’s true disciples, who remained with Him throughout His public ministry.
John now tells us how Christ’s coming affected them — His permission: “. . . to them gave he the right to become children of God . . .” It is only to those who received Him that He gave the right to become children of God. But what does it mean to become a child of God?
Well, what is a child, but one who shares the nature and many characteristics of his or her father? It is similar in the case of God’s children — they share in the moral character of God — righteousness and holiness — since they have been born from Him through His Spirit.
However, there is more to being a child of God than sharing His character. It also entails having a share in His inheritance — the new earth. Furthermore, it involves Him being the perfect Father to His children. This means that He cares for, provides for, disciplines, teaches, and guides them. His purpose in all of this is to be glorified through His children becoming more like Him.
But what is the chief characteristic of the children of God? John characterizes these people of Christ by describing them as “. . . them that believe on His [Christ’s] name . . .”
What is His name? Well, it is something that we must believe in. Thus, it can’t just be a regular type of name, such as Jesus. How can you believe in the name “Jesus”?
Rather, His name is His trustworthy reputation — who He is, and what He has done. Have you ever heard or read anyone say something like “he made a name for himself”? That is the type of name that John is referring to — who Jesus is and what He has done.
But what does it mean to believe on, or in, Christ’s name? Does it just mean to believe that Christ’s person and work exists, or are realities? If that is the case, how do you explain these passages?
“23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, during the feast, many believed on his name, beholding his signs which he did. 24 But Jesus did not trust himself unto them, for that he knew all men, 25 and because he needed not that any one should bear witness concerning man; for he himself knew what was in man.” – John 2:23-25
“13 And Simon also himself believed: and being baptized, he continued with Philip; and beholding signs and great miracles wrought, he was amazed . . . 18 Now when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, 19 saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay my hands, he may receive the Holy Spirit. 20 But Peter said unto him, Thy silver perish with thee, because thou hast thought to obtain the gift of God with money. 21 Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right before God. 22 Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray the Lord, if perhaps the thought of thy heart shall be forgiven thee. 23 For I see that thou art in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” – Acts 8:13, 18-23
“Now I make known unto you brethren, the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye received, wherein also ye stand, 2 by which also ye are saved, if ye hold fast the word which I preached unto you, except ye believed in vain.” – 1 Corinthians 15:1-2
So, what does it mean to believe in Christ’s name, then? Have you ever heard or read someone say, “I believe in you”? What are they saying when they say that? They are saying that they trust the person in whom they believe, and they believe that that person is able to do whatever they think the person is going to do, and are trying to get the person to believe that he or she can do it as well.
This is the type of belief that John is speaking of in this passage. Those who believe in Christ’s name trust in Christ’s name, which is who He is — the Prophet, High Priest, and King of the Old Testament — and what He came to earth to do — preach the final Word of God, secure salvation for His people, and reign over them. When they trust in His name, they believe that He is able to do what His name says He’s able to do — save them, and reign over them. This was the essence of what the disciples trusted in during Christ’s public ministry.
But how did these believers become children of God? John tells us by explaining Christ’s production: “. . . who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God . . .”
The first thing John tells us is that these children weren’t born through blood. That is, they didn’t become children of God by being born into a physical family. It wasn’t their heritage, lineage, or ethnicity that made them children of God.
Secondly, John tells us that they weren’t born by the will of the flesh. By “flesh”, John means the human body, and by “the will of the flesh”, he means the human will exercised by the body. In other words, they didn’t become children of God by doing anything. They didn’t do anything at all to become children of God.
Thirdly, John tells us that they didn’t become children of God by the will of man. The word, “man”, here is anthropos, which means “humanity”. So, what is the will of man? It is the will of humanity, or humans. In other words, it wasn’t by the will of people that these believers became children of God. In fact, it wasn’t even because of their own wills.
Finally, John tells us how these believers did become children of God: by being born from God. In other words, God made them His children through a supernatural work of His Spirit.
So, this passage tells you that you’ve been enlightened by Christ with the knowledge of your Creator and right from wrong, and He has come into the world. That is a historical fact: Jesus of Nazareth lived on this earth for about 33 years. There is no escaping it — the One who has proclaimed to you what you know to be right and wrong, and the eternal power and divinity of your Creator has come to this earth.
Also, this passage tells you that you’ve been made through Christ, since you’re part of the world. However, you were conceived in ignorance of Him, and unless you trust in His name, you’ll never know Him.
This passage also promises you that if you’ll receive Christ as the man who is also God Himself, who came to this earth to die on a cross because of our sins, and to be raised from the dead 2 days later, and if you’ll depend only upon Him, His death because of your sins against Him, and His resurrection as the only basis for God’s forgiveness of your sins, and your reconciliation to Him, then He will forgive your sins, and you’ll be one of His children. The apostle Paul tells us how we must have our sins forgiven in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4:
“Now I make known unto you brethren, the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye received, wherein also ye stand, 2 by which also ye are saved, if ye hold fast the word which I preached unto you, except ye believed in vain. 3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4 and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures . . .”
What must you do to be saved? Receive and hold fast to the facts that Christ died for our sins, and that He was raised from the dead, and depend only on Him and those facts for God’s forgiveness of your sins. The apostle Paul also said this in Acts 17:30-31b:
“30 The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked; but now he commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent [change their minds]: 31 inasmuch as he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he hath ordained . . .”
If you have received Christ, and are depending only on His name for God’s forgiveness, then you are a child of God, and as such, you are to be holy, for He is holy. He is your Father, so you owe Him your love, respect, reverence, delight, praise, obedience, and submission.
Also, if you’ve received Christ, and are trusting in His name, then you didn’t become a child of God by natural birth, nor by your own will, nor by the will of others, but by God’s supernatural work in you to turn you into one of His children. Now be an imitator of God, as one of His beloved children.