“He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:11)
I wonder if you even noticed it as we were reading the beginning of John’s account. The statement above is just one of the 18 profound verses to start his account. And yet it represents an enormous statement.
He came to his own
To say that Jesus came to his own is not simply to identify a geographical location, but to express the fulfilment of thousands of years of build up. Jesus’ arrival in Israel was the culmination of years of expectation.
Since almost the beginning of creation, we’ve had a really significant question – how can a sinful people relate to a perfect God? The answer to that question had been answered in part – through God’s kindness, some individuals were given the opportunity to have relationship with Him. And for several hundred years, this was limited to the people of Israel1. If you weren’t part of the nation, then you didn’t have relationship with God.
But even those who did have relationship with God knew that their relationship with fraught with difficulties. And it was to this group that a promise was made – that a special king would come, the “Christ”. They were promised this Christ who would offer them a most extraordinary rescue to sort out all of those difficulties which fractured their relationship with God. How clearly they understood this rescue is a bit unclear, but it was very obvious that they were still waiting for this “Christ” with eager anticipation when Jesus rocked up. Indeed, they were so expectant, they were ready to credit John the Baptist with the title (John 1:19-25)!
This was a special group of people who God had singled out, and to whom God had made this amazing promise: “One day, I’m sending you a special King.”
But when Jesus arrived, they responded with rejection.
His own people did not receive him
The statement should descend on us like a tonne of bricks. In fact, I cannot help but assume that John’s readers were already somewhat put off by the realisation that Jesus’ own people rejected Him – the very people who knew their Bibles inside out, those who should have been expecting him, chose instead to respond by putting Him to death.
It’s not like me walking into Brixton and getting shunned. It’s not even like the Queen arriving back to the UK after a long absence and finding the gates to Buckingham Palace locked. It’s a bit like that, but even that sells short the significance of what happened. Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. How could the Jews reject the one they had been promised – the one who they claimed to be waiting for?
More than that, Jesus’ claim is that He is God. We saw that in John 1:1. But if that’s really the case, how could the people of God, the people of Israel, choose to reject their God?
Ask the experts
Share with me a thought experiment. A woman comes up to you claiming to be the Queen of England. She is wearing all of the right gear – it looks like she must have raided the Tower of London. And she speaks the right way, she even knows the right answers to all the questions that you’d expect the Queen to know the answer to. But if she is the Queen, that’s going to make a big difference to how you treat her, so you want to be sure. You gather the BBC’s Royal Correspondant, the Queen’s chief butler, and Prince Charles, and you ask them if this is indeed her. And they all say, ‘no’.
That’s not just put you in a quandary, has it? It’s caused you an absolute crisis of confidence. You’re going to struggle to believe that this is the Queen anymore. Frankly you wonder what’s going on!
This must have been the kind of thing the early Christians thought as they came to see Jesus as He was reported by His disciples (including John). He talks the right way; He does the right things. In so many ways He’s the one He claims to be. And yet His own did not receive Him. What are they to think of Him? After all, the Jews had decided that He was so contemptible they should kill Him. He doesn’t sound much like their Messiah – let alone their God!
I hope you can see how significant a problem this should be for us. I hope you can see how great a question we should have. Because as we move on to John 5-10, John is setting out to give us an answer to this very real problem, and we’ll feel the relief and significance of these chapters much more if we understand the problem he set up in 1:11.
He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.
More on John’s gospel will be published each Wednesday evening, with a bonus blog article thrown in on most weeks at some point before the next Wednesday. Feel free to share posts using the buttons below, and you can subscribe to the blog by using the sign-up form on the right.