The Light and the Right

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:6-13 ESV

Up to this point in his gospel account, the apostle John has yet to mention the name of Jesus, choosing instead to refer to Him as the Word, the life, and the light. It seems that John is attempting to establish, from the outset, the divinity and eternality of Jesus. The birth of Jesus, while important to John, was only significant because the Word of God who was God took on human flesh. The co-creator of the universe became one with His creation by assuming the lowly nature of a man. The apostle Paul describes this divine demotion in stark terms:

he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being… – Philippians 2:7 NLT

John was not trying to underplay the humanity of Jesus. He had spent more than three years of his life living with and learning from Jesus. John had shared many meals with Jesus and seen Him fall asleep in the bow of a fishing boat, exhausted from the day’s activities. He had watched as Jesus wept over Jerusalem and the death of His friend, Lazarus. And he had been an eye-witness to the gruesome crucifixion of Jesus, watching in helplessness as his friend and teacher endured excruciating pain and eventually gave up His life. But John knew that the birth, life, and death of Jesus were meaningless if Jesus was not the Word of God and the light of men.

And John recalls how God had prefaced the arrival of Jesus in human form by sending a witness, a martyria – one who testifies. Unlike Jesus, this witness was a mere “man.” But he had been sent by God. In that sense, he followed in a long line of other men, the prophets of the Old Testament, whom God had sent to proclaim His Word to His chosen people.

But the people of Israel had endured a nearly 400-year period of silence, with no prophets or witnesses for God appearing on the scene. Malachi, the last of the prophets disappeared off the scene around 400 B.C. So, for four long centuries, the people of God had no word from God. He had gone silent. And those years had been anything but pleasant. The Israelites had no king and found themselves under the successive rules of the Persians, the Greeks, and, eventually, the Romans. Their land was under constant occupation by enemy forces, and they were subjected to the humiliation of living under Gentile rule. In 63 B.C., the Romans conquered Israel and subjected the land to military occupation and heavy taxation.

The people of God were relegated to living as little more than slaves in what had once been the land of promise. And their dire circumstances created in them an intense desire for the arrival of their long-awaited Messiah. The prophets had spoken of one who would come and rescue them from their suffering. He would be a warrior-king like David had been, wielding his sword on behalf of the downtrodden people of Israel and delivering them from their enemies. But with each passing year, their hopes of rescue grew dimmer as the Messiah’s arrival failed to take place.

But John emphasizes that there was hope. A light had pierced the darkness. A baby had been born who would prove to be the very one for whom the Israelites had been waiting. And that baby’s birth had been heralded by angels, proclaiming “the good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10 ESV).

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” – Luke 2:11 ESV

The word, “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of “Messiah.” The angels were announcing the arrival of the Savior of Israel. The 400-years of silence had been broken. The long period of darkness had been broken by the arrival of the light of the world.

Eight days after His birth, the parents of Jesus took Him to the temple in Jerusalem to be circumcised. There, a “righteous and devout” man named Simeon pronounced a blessing on the baby.

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
    according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
   that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and for glory to your people Israel.” – Like 2:29-32 ESV

The light had come. And some 30 years later, John the Baptist would begin to testify of the arrival of the light. The infant had become an adult and the earthly ministry of Jesus was about to begin. John the Baptist was given the responsibility to act as God’s herald, announcing the arrival of the Messiah.

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
    make his paths straight.’” – Matthew 3:1-3 ESV

John makes it clear that John the Baptist “was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light” (John 1:8 ESV). He was the messenger, not the Messiah. His job was to proclaim the arrival of the King and His Kingdom. And John the Baptist knew his place, fully recognizing that Jesus was someone and something special. He humbly announced, “Though his ministry follows mine, I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandal” (John 1:27 NLT).

And yet, the apostle John records that the good news regarding the arrival of the light of men received an unenthusiastic response from the people.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. – John 1:9-10 ESV

You can almost sense the disbelief and disgust in John’s words. How could these people fail to recognize the arrival of the light? The creator of the universe had penetrated the darkness of their world and they acted as if nothing had happened. They were completely oblivious to the momentous nature of what was taking place right in front of them. And, to make matters worse, John describes the failure of the Israelites to recognize and receive their long-awaited Messiah.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:11 ESV

The one they had longed for had finally appeared and they had chosen to reject Him. But John makes it clear that not all had rejected Jesus. He had been one of a handful of Jews who had chosen to follow Jesus because they believed Him to be the Messiah. John had been joined by Peter, who had said of Jesus, “You have the words that give eternal life” (John 6:68 NLT). It was Peter who also said of Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV).

And John makes it clear that all those who received Jesus and “believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 ESV). John is writing these words after the fact – long after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. He is writing after the events of Pentecost when the Spirit of God had descended upon the disciples gathered in the upper room. John is penning these words with full confidence that Jesus was who He had claimed to be and who Peter had testified Him to be: “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

And because Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, all those who believed in Him received life. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4 ESV). And that life was eternal in nature. The creator-God had given men their initial life, but the Son of the living God, the light of the world, had made it possible for men to have everlasting life. They were “were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13 ESV). 

John is describing the new birth, the Spirit-empowered transformation that takes place in an individual’s life when they place their faith in Jesus. It is what Jesus described to the Pharisee, Nicodemus.

“I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
 – John 3:3 NLT

And Jesus qualified His statement by adding, “Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life” (John 3:6 NLT). And that is John’s point in this passage. The new birth is not like human birth. It is not the result of human initiative. It is the miraculous work of God, made possible through the birth, death, burial, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. Those who received Jesus as the Christ and believed in His name as the Son of God enjoyed the amazing benefit of eternal life. They became children of God. Their acceptance of the Light provided them with the right to be adopted into God’s family. It was just as Jesus had told Nicodemus:

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” – John 3:16-17 NLT

The Light had come. And He had made possible the right to become a child of God. But belief was the key. Faith was the means by which eternal life became accessible and possible.

to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” – John 1:12 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson