He came and went, and we were indifferent.
The true light, which enlightens 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. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.
Before the Fall of Adam, God walked the earth and conversed with man. He was in a visible and recognizable form. He “planted a garden in Eden” and “took the man and put him in the garden” according to Scripture (Gen. 2:8, 15). He spoke to Adam giving him instruction on how to work and live. He told him not to eat from every tree but one. He walked with Adam and conversed in human relations. After Adam and Eve sinned, they “heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden” and “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Gen. 3:8). God spoke to them and pronounced His judgment audibly.
They saw and they heard the Lord personified. The knew the sound of His footsteps. They were familiar with His voice. They believed His commands. They recognized Him.
Ever since the Fall, mankind has been forgetting the Lord. He has saved them, redeemed them, guided them, taught them, spoken to them, appeared to them, wrestled with them, and more. He has continuously made Himself known. But mankind forgets. Mankind suppresses the memory of God so that His nature, His power, His image, His works are forgotten.
This tragic reality is most believable when God comes as the Messiah. Christophanies, or appearances of Christ before His incarnation, occur throughout the Old Testament. It is very likely that the “Lord God” that was interacting with Adam and Eve in Eden was God’s Son. (See Gen. 16:7; 32:30 for examples.) The incarnation then, is yet another appearance of the Lord God. It was unique in that God actually took on human flesh and not just a form. It was also unique in its purpose. But make no mistake, this is the same Lord God.
With a bit of hesitation, I wonder how it must have felt to Jesus. After 4,000 years of interacting with the people made in His image and likeness, pouring out his mercy and love and saving them form their own troubles, revealing His mind and even appearing to them in visual form, He arrives yet again and they don’t recognize Him – not even those who have spent their entire lives studying Him.
I suspect the objection might be made that God’s Son came in another likeness, but we have no reason to think that to be true. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that Jesus came bearing the image and likeness of God and man. He showed His authority over nature. He spoke with great power. He did miracles. He healed. He delivered. And He even judged and forgave as only God could do. He was every bit God. He never changed. He was the Lord God walking and talking just as He did before. No, it wasn’t He that was different, it was they.
They forgot. So when the Lord God came, they didn’t recognize Him. And before we seclude them as the tragic ones, we should realize that we have done the same. God is unrecognized because we have forgotten Him.
This is one of the most tragic realities ever to be known. God has come and God has gone. And we didn’t recognize Him. He is our God (Jn. 1:1). He is our creator (Jn. 1:3). He is our life (Jn. 1:4). He is our teacher (Jn. 1:5). And when He appeared, we didn’t recognize Him. He even had John the Baptist, a man like us, tell us over and over that He was He was here (Jn. 1:6-8). But, we were so forgetful that we didn’t even recognize Him.
John calls Him the true light. This phrase is used in context of the preceding verses where the forerunner of Christ, John the Baptist, is described as he who “came as a witness, to bear witness about the the light, that all might believe through him.” Of course, he was “not the light, but came to bear witness about the light” (Jn. 1:7-8). Jesus, the incarnate Lord God, is the true light that he was witnessing about.
As noted in the previous commentary, the word “light” denotes an inner enlightenment of the mind. It is the stirring of the brain and heart. The true light is the One who can teach us the way to truth. And in essence, the light is the truth. It shines in a way that guides and directs all to itself. When Jesus is described as the true light, he is in fact the one who enlightens everyone in the sense of general knowledge as well as redeeming knowledge. He comes with the truth of Himself. He has been forgotten, but He is coming to bring remembrance. He makes an appeal to the mind of man calling Him back.
John writes that He not only was coming into the world, which was shocking enough, he also came and He was in the world. John writes that the Lord God came and left. This is shocking to read! But, it is verse 10 that is the most shocking. His statement is so profound. He uses the word “world” and a very interesting way.
First of all, John wrote that Jesus was in the world. He could be touched, heard, smelled, and seen. He uses “world” (Greek: kosmos) figuratively to refer to our living space. The realm that we call “our world.”
Secondly, it is written in conjunction that the world was made through himwhich restates the truths of verses 1-4. The word is used here to refer to the cosmos literally. “All things were made through him and without him was not anything made” (Jn. 1:3). The world of our living space can now be understood to refer to all space, time, and matter.
Thirdly, this is where the verse gets profoundly shocking. John makes a grave contrast, the world did not know him. Here, the word is used figuratively again to refer to the people that Jesus encountered. They were made by Him and they didn’t even recognize Him. This is the height of forgetfulness. This is not forgetting where you put the keys to the car or even forgetting your spouse’s birthday. This is far graver. This is profound. This is the peak of sin. This is the ultimate mind lapse. In fact, this cannot be done easily, this is willful forgetfulness.
And just when you think that it could not get any worse, John points out one more fact of this tragedy. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. John has moved away from the general sense of the word world and drawn closer attention to a select group of people. These people were the Jews. God chose them to be the people through whom God would be remembered. They knew first. They had traditions and sacraments that reminded them every day. If the world had excuses (which we don’t) the Jews could never. God’s own people didn’t recognize Him either.
Jesus was the unrecognized Christ.