“He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.”
In this season of the year, when we reflect on the passion of Christ, we observe that among all the sufferings He endured there is none that is so pronounced as His utter rejection.
Always, according to the Scriptures, He is described as the contradicted, the rejected One. Isaiah, in his monumental passage on the suffering Servant, speaks of Him as “the despised and rejected of men, a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). The psalmist David prophetically depicts the passion of Christ with these words: “I was a reproach among all mine enemies, but especially among my neighbors, and a fear to mine acquaintance; they that did see me without fled from me” (Psalm 31:11). And again, “I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother’s children” (Psalm 69:8). The aged Simeon, addressing the mother of Jesus at the time of His presentation in the temple, declared: “Behold this Child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be spoken against” (Luke 2:34): The writer to the Hebrews even considers it salutary for his readers to “consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (Hebrews 12:3).
And the apostle John, already in the first chapter of his gospel from which our text is taken, speaks of this frightful rejection of Christ. Fact of the matter is that the apostle describes the coming of the Son of God into the world in terms of penetrating two circles, placed as it were in concentric relation to each other, in both of which He is rejected and cast out. Into the first and larger circle He came when He entered into the world. The apostle described Him in the context not only as the true Light that penetrates the world which lieth in darkness; but also as the Word of God, the Logos, Who was God, by Whom the cosmos of created things was made. And when He entered into that circle, according to verse ten, “the world knew Him not.” This cannot possibly mean that somehow the world did not recognize or understand Him. Rather, it means that the world deliberately refused to acknowledge Him. Mind you, He came into the world of created things, of which He was the proper Possessor, being the Creator; and they who were of the darkness refused to acknowledge Him. Verily, He was cast out of His own world.
But the apostle does not stop there. He further describes the Son of God as penetrating still farther—into that inner circle. In the words of our text, he writes: “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.”
In contemplating the sufferings of Christ, we wish now to concentrate our thoughts on Christ’s entrance into that second circle, and observe how utterly therein He was rejected, and cast out by His own.
It cannot be denied, of course, that our text, in the light of the preceding context, would give good sense if it were interpreted to mean that He came into the world, and the world received Him not.
Was He not the Son of God, co-equal and coeternal with the Father and the Holy Ghost? Was He not the Logos, the Word, by Whom the world was made? Was He not the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and all that they contain? And as such, was He not the sole Proprietor of all things? And, according to the Scriptures, was He not the Person of the Son in human flesh, in Whom it was the good pleasure of the Father that in Him should all the fullness dwell, and through Whom it was the divine purpose that all things should be gathered in one in Him? Had not the poet written: “Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possessions” (Psalm 2:7, 8)? Did not the writer to the Hebrews say of Him, “Hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, Whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by Whom He made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:2)?
Surely, in the light of the context, our text would give good sense if it were to be understood as referring to the coming of Christ into the world of His created things, with the expressed purpose to lay claim to His possessions; but that the world, as it lay under the dominion of darkness, received Him not. It would seem on the very surface that this explanation would appear quite indisputable.
Yet, there is, indeed, a deeper, a far richer meaning. The apostle in our text is not merely repeating himself. He is no longer speaking of that larger circle of the world in which Christ was not acknowledged. Rather, he is speaking now of that smaller circle within the larger circle. It is his intention to show how the rejection of Christ became progressively magnified. He penetrated deeper into the inner circles, where also He was utterly rejected.
The original text makes this quite evident. Our translation, as cited above, simply states: “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” But the original text clearly differentiates. “His own,” in the first part of the text, may properly be translated, “His own things”; while “His own” in the second part of the text may be properly translated, “His own people,” or, “His own countrymen.” And when you put it all together, you have: “He came unto His own things, and His own people received Him not.” But what does this imply?
It means, first of all, that in the fullness of time Christ came unto the things which properly belonged to Him and His people.
These were the things that pertained particularly to the land of Canaan, the promised land. They were the things that resided in the institutions of the old covenant, and the theocracy. He came to the house of God with all its rites and ceremonies. He came to His own synagogue and temple, to His own sacrifices and- offerings, to His own Sabbaths and feast days. He came to His own kingdom and throne. He came to His own promised land and people.
All of this was His by divine right. He it was Who founded the house of God and its service, while Moses was only His agent. He it was Who had delivered His people from Egypt, the house of bondage. He led them out through the Red Sea. He led them through the dry and thirsty wilderness. He fed them with manna as the Bread of Life. He gave them water from the rock of which He was the antetype, the Water of Life. He was the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night, that directed and protected them. He it was Who instituted the old covenant at Sinai. He led them after forty years into the promised land where He established the throne of David, whose Son He was. He spoke to the people through the prophets and signs, through the priests and their sacrifices, through the kings who followed in David’s line.
Verily, in the fullness of time He came in His incarnation, born of a virgin, of the seed of David, of the tribe of Judah, from whose hands the sceptre would not depart until He came to lay claim to it. He was the Shiloh unto Whom the gathering of the people would be. He came in His preaching and wonderful works. And when He declared that He was the one of Whom the prophets spoke; when He cleansed the temple, and showed how He was the One Who realized all that the temple signified; when He pointed to Himself as the end of all the sacrifices; when He brought an end to the priesthood of Aaron, and set up an eternal priesthood after the order of Melchizedek; when all the shadows ceased because He was the reality to Whom they pointed—then He came unto His own things. They were His property by divine dispensation, to which He could indisputably lay claim. Being One with the Father, He could rightfully say as He did in Deuteronomy 32:9, “The Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance.”
But when He came unto His own things, His own people, His fellow-countrymen received Him not.
Cast out was He by His own people in Israel!
Israel was indeed His own people. Not only because He was of their flesh and blood. O, that He was too; there could be no mistake about it. He was not born of the heathen, nor could He be; but He took on Him of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Judah, of the seed of David. Indeed, He was like unto His brethren in all things, sin excepted.
But in a deeper sense they were the sheep of His own fold. They were the church of the old covenant, the people of God. They were Israelites to whom pertained the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the prophets, etc. (Romans 9:4, 5). Moreover, they were the people that were looking for Him, and of all the people would be expected to receive Him.
But they cast Him out of His own house!
This they had always done when He came to them through the prophets of old. But when He came to them in the flesh, and they recognized Him, they said: “This is the heir, come, let us kill Him, and seize upon His inheritance” (Matt. 21:38). They cast Him out of His own synagogue, and would push Him off a cliff (Luke 4:16ff.). Often they took up stones to kill Him, but His hour had not yet come. But when His hour did come, they took Him to their court, where under oath He had declared that He was the Christ; and they cried out for His death. For what they considered blasphemy, they decided He was worthy to die. With the help of the world of darkness (Pilate), they led Him out of Jerusalem to the hill of the skull. They excommunicated Him, and put Him to death on the cross.
Why did they refuse to receive Him?
How could they possibly cast Him out?
Would it not be expected that He should be accepted by His fellow-citizens with open arms?
The answer to these questions is bound up, first of all, in the fact that “not all is Israel which is called Israel” (Romans 9:6). Always the line of election and reprobation cuts through the church, in accord with the counsel of God. Always the spiritual seed runs parallel with the carnal element. The former often are small and few in number; while the latter grows as the grass in power.
And, in the second place, the answer must be found in the fact that the carnal seed always desires a carnal, earthly messiah. They desired an earthly kingdom, with an earthly king, who would protect them from the heathen, and provide bread for their earthly stomachs. When, on the other hand, they realized that Christ would fulfill neither of these prerogatives, and in Christ’s kingdom they would be exposed as naked and miserable, unrighteous citizens, they refused to receive Him.
They cast Him out of His own things, from His own house!
While they continued to be as He had always castigated them—a den of robbers and thieves!
But marvel of marvels, beloved!
Mark here the unsearchable wisdom and grace of God! Precisely through their rejection of the Son of God in the flesh, God fulfills His eternal purpose of redemption!
Of this mystery, the apostle Peter speaks on the Day of Pentecost with these words: “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by Him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know; Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:22, 23).
The very stone which the builders disallowed, became the Headstone of the corner. Of the cross of Christ, God prepared an altar. The blood they shed becomes the blood of atonement. Through their casting Him out, Christ actually comes unto His own-the great Redeemer of His people!
The apostle John was also aware of this wonder. For in the very next verse in our chapter he writes: “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name” (John 1:12).
Indeed, He is the Redeemer of all whom the Father had given unto Him, not only of Israel, but of all nations!
O, the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
Of Him, and through Him, and unto Him, be the glory!
World without end!