With this study, we continue our examination of the prologue of John's Gospel.
10He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him.
In the previous verse, John announced that the "true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world" (vs. 9). Here he begins: "He was in the world." It is as if John is saying, "But wait. Christ is and always has been in the world." In fact, "the world was made through Him". And Christ was not a Creator who (as agnostics would contend) started the world running and then turned His back on it. No, our Creator is and has always been intimately involved in His creation. Augustine explains: "For He did not make it as a carpenter makes a chest. The chest which he makes is outside the carpenter, and so it is put in another place, while being made; and although the workman is nigh, he sits in another place, and is external to that which he fashions. But God, infused into the world, fashions it; being everywhere present He fashions, and withdraweth not Himself elsewhere, nor doth He, as it were, handle from without, the matter which He fashions. By the presence of His majesty He maketh what He maketh; His presence governs what He made. Therefore was He in the world as the Maker of the world."[Footnote #5]
Other passages support the fact that Christ the Creator is and always has been actively present in the world. Paul teaches: "He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together" (Col. 1:17); in Hebrews we learn that Christ "sustain[s] all things by His powerful word" (Heb. 1:3). So, Christ not only "made the world", but also actively "sustains" the world: holding all things together, sending rain, giving life, even at times appearing to His people.[Footnote #6]
John here mentions again that "the world was made through [Christ]" in order to emphasize the sadness of the next statement: "The world did not recognize Him." All would intellectually acknowledge that the Creator of the world has homage due Him; and yet, we fall so short of paying our Creator even a minimum amount of respect: The world largely "does not recognize Him." Paul, in the first chapter of Romans, teaches that no one has an excuse for not knowing their Creator: "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--His eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse" (Rom. 1:18-20). The evidence that there is a Creator is rife, and so, ignorance of Him is shameful, worthy of condemnation. Oxen and asses know their Maker (cf. Isa. 1:3; Job 12:7-9), angels glorify Him, even demons testify to Him (cf. Matt. 8:29), but those of the world did not recognize Him.
John here, in saying that the world "did not recognize Him", is not speaking of mere intellectual acknowledgement. He is speaking of truly knowing Christ (the KJV and many other translations render this phrase that "the world knew Him not"). Our knowledge of Christ must be more than assent that He existed; more than that, we must know Him intimately, know Him experientially, be in a close relationship with Him. This is the knowledge of our Creator that is required: anything short of such knowledge is shameful. Yet, the world largely chooses to ignore Christ, chooses not to seek nor obey Him. The world even builds monuments to this ignorance: in Athens, Paul found a statue inscribed: "TO AN UNKNOWN GOD" (see Acts 17:23).
God desires to be known to us. He has gone to great lengths to be known to us. But, apparently, the testimony of the creation was not enough for men "to recognize Him". And so, He came into the world as a man, so that, in seeing Him as a man, we may know Him better. This is the subject of the next verse, which we shall (D.V) study next month.
Lord, may we know You better. We praise You that You have gone to such great lengths to make Yourself known to us. And may our knowledge of You be not only an intellectual acknowledgement, but an active knowledge that manifests itself in service to You. May You, and You alone, be glorified in our lives. In the name of Christ we pray these things, Amen.
5. Augustine, Homilies on the Gospel of St. John, from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII, pg. 17.
6. Many contend (myself included) that references to "the angel of the Lord" in the Old Testament refer to appearances of Christ to the His people, such as in Gen. 22:11 to Abraham, Ex. 3:12 to Moses, Judges 6:11 to Gideon, II Kings 1:3 to Elijah, etc.