(John 1:10-11 ESV) 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.
We are, of course, familiar with the story. Jesus came into the world, and he was rejected by not only the Romans, but the Jews.
(Isa 53:3 ESV) 3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
But it was not merely the man Jesus who was rejected. This was God in the flesh — the Creator of the universe, who came to earth to reveal himself to the people he’d made — and was rejected by his own.
We look back at history in amazement at the irony, and yet many of us realize that if Jesus were to appear today, many of his own people would surely reject him all over again. Human nature hasn’t really changed, and we continue to resist a God who calls us away from selfishness, consumerism, and materialism and to love, service, submission, sacrifice, and suffering.
Jesus came from the God of the Jews, and yet the Jews largely rejected him. This would seem to be an embarrassment to his claims. And yet the early church did not hide the fact. Indeed, John introduces Jesus in chapter 1 in terms of his being rejected by his own people. Why?
In part, this is because Isaiah predicted exactly this outcome. In part, this is because, as Paul explains in Romans 9 – 11, God was preparing for the Gentiles to be welcomed into the Kingdom. And, in part, the rejection of Jesus tells us the kind of lives we should be prepared to live. If God himself is willing to suffer rejection at the hands of his own people to bring the gospel to the lost, so should we all.
(John 1:12-13 ESV) 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.
Some did not reject Jesus, of course. They received him by believing in his name. To become a child of God harkens back to —
(Deu 14:1-2 ESV) “You are the sons of the LORD your God. … 2 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
The Jews were the children of God, and so for Gentiles to become children of God is for them to be included in the blessings promised to Israel — that is, to enter into covenant relationship with the God of the Jews.
“Born” is better translated “begotten” or “conceived.” The verb refers to birth when speaking of a woman but to conception when speaking of a man — and this is the meaning that makes the most sense in context —
(1Co 4:15 KJV) For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.
(Phm 1:10 NAS) I appeal to you for my child, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, Onesimus,
(Heb 5:5 ESV) 5 So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”;
The Jews used “begotten” as a standard metaphor for becoming like a father to someone. When an Israelite king was anointed, Psalm 2 was recited, because the king was considered to become the son of God — who, like a son, would be responsible to further his Father’s work. The king of Israel was seen as serving under God to fulfill God’s will — as a son should do for his father.
Paul saw himself as a “father” to young Christian converts he mentored — and so he considered himself to have “begotten” them — become as a father to them.
Therefore, to be “born … of God” is really to be “begotten of God,” which is really to enter into a parent-child relationship with God — or, as Paul would say, an Abba relationship. This is more than having God as best friend or comforter. It’s more than getting to go to heaven when you die. It’s to take on God’s mission — to further his work on earth. You see, in that ancient world, a son would follow his father’s trade.
(John 1:14 ESV) 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
“Only Son” translates “only begotten Son,” which takes on new meaning when we understand that all Christians are begotten sons of God. We become sons of God, his children, begotten of God just as Jesus is all these things! It’s an amazing promise!
Now, Greek studies reveal that “only begotten” does not mean “only child of.” Obviously, God has many children, all Christians as well as Jesus. Rather, “only begotten” refers to someone who is singularly special or unique. Thus, the scriptures refer to Isaac as Abraham’s “only begotten” son (Heb 11:17), even though Abraham also fathered Ishmael. “One of a kind” would be a fair translation.
Jesus is God’s one-of-a-kind Son, but we Christians are included as sons of God as well.
“Glory” normally refers to the special, bright, shining presence of God himself. Therefore, to see Jesus’ “glory” is to see his nature as God.
“Full of grace and truth” will be explained by John later on. But the key is that “truth” is the truth about God revealed in Jesus. Jesus is full of grace and truth because he is the very image of God — and God is filled with grace and truth.
“Truth” is a special word in John, and it ultimately refers not only to God’s revelation of himself through Jesus but to the gospel — which only makes sense. The gospel — the good news — is very much about God revealing himself to his people so that the gap between man and God can be bridged through the gospel.
(John 1:15 ESV) 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'”)
John again emphasizes that John the Baptist considered Jesus his superior. Evidently, John’s audience thought highly of John the Baptist, and so his testimony about Jesus would carry great weight.
(John 1:16 ESV) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
(John 1:16 NET) For we have all received from his fullness one gracious gift after another.
(John 1:16 NIV) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.
The meaning of “grace upon grace” is less than obvious. Some translators take it as meaning “many blessings” whereas others refer back to —
(Exo 33:13 TNK) “Now, if I have truly gained Your favor [Greek: grace], pray let me know Your ways, that I may know You and continue in Your favor [Greek: grace]. Consider, too, that this nation is Your people.”
In the Septuagint, Moses is asking God to grant him grace (favor) because he has already found grace (favor). The idea, then, is that Christians, having entered into God’s grace can expect to continue to receive God’s grace — indeed, to be in grace is to qualify for further grace.
“Fullness” would refer to the complete divinity of Jesus — that is, the fact that he is fully God. Therefore, to be in right relationship with Jesus — in grace — qualifies one for grace from God the Father as well.
We tend to think of “born again” as being about baptism and getting to go to heaven when we die. “Born again” means “serious about our Christianity.” And that’s not entirely wrong, but neither is it quite right.
To be born of God is to become his child, and to become his child is to take on a certain place and role in the divine order. God’s son is, of course, like God. Children are like their fathers. The behavior of God’s child reflects on God. God has accepted you into his family, and so will be shamed by your sinful conduct.
Just so, in the ancient world, a son was expected to follow his father’s vocation and to honor his father in every way. Sonship was about far more than privilege! Family was everything, and no son would dare bring shame to his father or act contrary to his father’s instructions.
Then again, a father would do anything for his son — even dying for him. Indeed, as part of a Middle Eastern wedding ceremony, even today in some places, the fathers would take blood oaths to pay with their lives if their sons or daughters were to violate their marriage covenant.
By becoming God’s children, God takes responsibility for us — even willingness to die for our sins — to pay the price for us. But, of course, no son who loves his Father would ever intentionally cost his father’s life by violating his father’s covenant!