C. The Son of God’s First Advent (1:9-18)
1:9 That was the true Light. Other persons down through the ages have claimed to be guides and saviors, but the One to whom John witnessed was the genuine Light, the best and the truest Light. Another translation of this verse is, “The true Light, which, coming into the world, gives light to every man.” In other words, the expression coming into the world may describe the true Light rather than every man. It was by the coming of the true Light ... into the world that every man was given light. This does not mean that every man has received some inward knowledge concerning Christ. Neither does it mean that all men have heard about the Lord Jesus at one time or another. Rather, it means that the Light shines on all people, without regard to nationality, race, or color. It also means that by shining on all men, the Lord Jesus has revealed men in their true character. By His coming into the world as the perfect Man, He has shown how imperfect other men are. When a room is in darkness, you do not see the dust on the furniture. But when the light goes on, the room is seen as it actually is. In that same sense, the shining of the true Light reveals man as he actually is.
1:10 From the time of His birth in Bethlehem until the day He went back to heaven, He was in the very same world in which we now live. He had brought the whole world into being and was its rightful Owner. Instead of recognizing Him as the Creator, men thought that He was just another man like themselves. They treated Him like a stranger and an outcast.
1:11 He came to His own (things or domain, NKJV margin). He was not trespassing on someone else’s property. Rather, He was living on a planet which He Himself had made. His own (people) did not receive Him. In a general sense, this might refer to all mankind, and it is true that most of mankind rejected Him. But in a special sense, the Jewish nation was His chosen, earthly people. When He came into the world, He presented Himself to the Jews as their Messiah, but they would not receive Him.
This verse tells us clearly how we can become children of God. It is not by good works, not by church membership, not by doing one’s best—but by receiving Him, by believing in His Name.
1:13 To become a child in a physical sense, one must be born. So, also, to become a child of God, one must have a second birth. This is known as the new birth, or conversion, or being saved. This verse tells us three ways by which the new birth does not take place, and the one way by which it does. First, the three ways by which we are not born again. Not of blood. This means that a person does not become a Christian through having Christian parents. Salvation is not passed down from parent to child through the blood stream. It is not of the will of the flesh. In other words, a person does not have the power in his own flesh to produce the new birth. Although he must be willing in order to be saved, yet his own will is not enough to save him. Not of the will of man. No other man can save a person. A preacher, for instance, may be very anxious to see a certain person born again, but he does not have the power to produce this marvelous birth. How, then, does this birth take place? The answer is found in the words but of God. This means simply that the power to produce the new birth does not rest with anything or anyone but God.
1:14 The Word became flesh when Jesus was born as a Baby in the manger at Bethlehem. He had always existed as the Son of God with the Father in heaven, but now chose to come into the world in a human body. He dwelt among us. It was not just a short appearance, about which there might be some mistake or misunderstanding. God actually came to this earth and lived here as a Man among men. The word “dwelt” means “tabernacled” or “pitched His tent.” His body was the tent in which He lived among men for thirty-three years.
And we beheld His glory. In the Bible, “glory” often means the bright, shining light which was seen when God was present. It also means the perfection and excellence of God. When the Lord Jesus was here on earth, He veiled His glory in a body of flesh. But there were two ways in which His glory was revealed. First, there was His moral glory. By this, we mean the radiance of His perfect life and character. There was no flaw or blemish in Him. He was perfect in all His ways. Every virtue was manifested in His life in exquisite balance. Then there was the visible outshining of His glory which took place on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1, 2). At that time, Peter, James, and John saw His face shining like the sun, and His garments gleaming like bright light. These three disciples were given a preview of the splendor which the Lord Jesus will have when He comes back to the earth and reigns for a thousand years.
When John said, “We beheld His glory”, he was referring primarily, no doubt, to the moral glory of the Lord Jesus. He and the other disciples beheld the wonder of an absolutely perfect life lived on this earth. But it is likely that John also included the incident on the Mount of Transfiguration as well. The glory which the disciples saw indicated to them that He was truly the Son of God. Jesus is the only begotten of the Father, that is, Christ is God’s unique Son. God did not have any other Son like Him. In one sense, all true believers are sons of God. But Jesus is the Son of God—in a class all by Himself. As the Son of God, He is equal to God.
The Savior was full of grace and truth. On the one hand, full of undeserved kindness for others, He was also completely honest and upright, and He never excused sin or approved evil. To be completely gracious and at the same time completely righteous is something that only God can be.
1:15 John the Baptist bore witness that Jesus was the Son of God. Before the Lord entered upon His public ministry, John had been telling men about Him. When Jesus arrived on the scene, John said, in effect, “This is the One I have been describing to you.” Jesus came after John as far as His birth and ministry were concerned. He was born six months after John and presented Himself to the people of Israel some time after John had been preaching and baptizing. But Jesus was preferred before John. He was greater than John; He was worthy of more honor, the simple reason being that He was before John. He existed from all eternity—the Son of God.
1:16 All who believe on the Lord Jesus receive supplies of spiritual strength out of His fullness. His fullness is so great that He can provide for all Christians in all countries and in all ages. The expression grace for grace probably means “grace upon grace” or “abundant grace.” Here grace means God’s gracious favor which He showers on His beloved children.
1:17 John contrasts the OT period and the NT era. The law that was given through Moses was not a display of grace. It commanded men to obey and condemned them to death if they failed to do so. It told men what was right but did not give them the power to do it. It was given to show men that they were sinners, but it could not save them from their sins. But grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. He did not come to judge the world but to save those who were unworthy, who could not save themselves, and who were His enemies. That is grace—heaven’s Best for earth’s worst.
Not only did grace come through Jesus Christ, but truth came by Him as well. He said of Himself, “I am ... the truth.” He was absolutely honest and faithful in all His words and works. He did not show grace at the expense of truth. Although He loved sinners, He did not love their sins. He realized that the wages of sin is death. And so He Himself died to pay the penalty of death that we deserved, in order that He might show undeserved kindness to us in saving our souls and giving us a home in heaven.
1:18 No one has seen God at any time. God is Spirit and therefore invisible. He does not have a body. Although He did appear to men in the OT in visible form as an Angel or as a Man, these appearances did not reveal what God is really like. They were merely temporary appearances by which He chose to speak to His people. The Lord Jesus is God’s only begotten Son; 1 He is God’s unique Son; there is no other son like Him. He always occupies a place of special nearness to God the Father. Even when He was here on earth, Jesus was still in the bosom of the Father. He was one with God and equal with God. This blessed One has fully revealed to men what God is like. When men saw Jesus, they saw God. They heard God speak. They felt God’s love and tenderness. God’s thoughts and attitudes toward mankind have been fully declared by Christ.