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Unknown & Unreceived

The true light, which gives light to 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. John 1:9-11


Unknown: “not known; not within the range of one's knowledge, experience, or understanding; strange; unfamiliar.” (dictionary.com)

Unreceived: To NOT “take into one's possession (something offered or delivered)” (received defined by dictionary.com; apparently unreceived is not a word, but I am using it as such)


Our verse this week uses both these ideas--unknown and unreceived--and it is important to distinguish them. John says that the Word--who created the world--was coming into His creation. And yet, the world did not know him. Jesus was unknown to the world He created.

Then, verse 11 zooms in on one specific people group--the Jews--where John says that Jesus was not received. His own people refused to take Jesus--and all He offered--into their possession.

To me, these are both sad concepts. This verse selection is hard. Painful. Distressing.

And yet, this was the proper climate for Jesus to arrive. The unknowing world and unreceiving people were exactly right for Jesus to be born into, according to both Galatians and Romans.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. Galatians 4:5

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Romans 5:6

The confidence of these statements is refreshing. Even though, from a human lens, being unknown and unreceived might look to be poor timing, in God’s omniscience, it was the perfect time for Jesus to arrive.


According to David Guzik’s study guide on John 1, creation no longer knows its creator. Guzik quotes Leon Morris as saying: “When the Word came to this world He did not come as an alien. He came home.”

Can you imagine walking into a familiar place with familiar people only to be unknown? Jesus was with God in the beginning. He created the world and its creatures. He created its people. And yet, in his arrival, he was “not within the range of [the world’s] knowledge, experience or understanding.” (dictionary.com) He was strange. He was unfamiliar. He was also unreceived.


Jesus came to his own, and he was not received. This goes beyond being unknown. This is a rejection.

Imagine again walking into a familiar place with familiar people. This time, you are recognized, but rejected. You're unreceived.

A scholar named Dods, quoted in Guzik's study guide, connected this rejection to the Parable of the Tenants in Matthew 21:33-46.

Dods states: "It is not said of 'His own' that they did not 'know' Him, but that they did not receive Him. And in the parable of the Wicked Husbandman our Lord represents them as killing the heir not in ignorance but because they knew him."

The parable goes like this. A master of a house planted vineyards and completed other work and then leased the land/tower to tenants and went to another country. When the fruit was ripe, the master sent servants to collect it. Jesus says that the tenants first beat and/or killed the servants [the prophets] who had been sent to get the fruit. Then, when the father sent the heir [Jesus], the tenants recognized him and said "Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance." At the end of the parable, Matthew says, "When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet." (v.45-46)

They "perceived that he was speaking about them." They KNEW. And yet they did not receive Jesus as Lord and Savior. The connection from our verses in John to this parable is painful to me. 

Warren Wiersbe, in his commentary on John, writes: “Jesus came to His own world that He had created, but His own people, Israel, could not understand Him and would not receive Him. They saw His works and heard His words. They observed His perfect life. He gave them every opportunity to grasp the truth, believe, and be saved. Jesus is the way, but they would not walk with Him. He is the truth, but they would not believe Him. He is the life, and they crucified Him!”

It's possible to neither recognize nor receive the True Light. It makes me wonder if the same parallel could be made to our churches, where there are those who grow up immersed in church culture and tradition and yet ultimately reject Jesus. To be clear, John doesn't make that connection--he specifically writes about the Jews--but it seems there is a comparison to be had. And that sobers me right up.


These verses hit me hard. I don't like to think of people ultimately rejecting the Messiah. That concept weighs heavily on me. But it's also the truth, and that makes it important to consider.

The world didn’t know the Word. God’s people didn’t receive the Word. The reality is, there is a strong possibility that this is currently happening in our families, communities, churches. It can be easy to diminish the lives of Bible characters and narratives, thinking “that was then, this is now.” I’ve done it myself. It’s also possible to approach biblical characters--like the people of Israel, for instance--with pride, thinking, “What idiots. I’d never miss the Messiah. I’d never reject Him.”

Beth Moore says it this way: “We are complicated marvels of genetics, relationships, experience, circumstance, age, education, talent, giftedness, intellect, personality, memory, and physicality. We are dust and spirit handcrafted by a Creator, known and fully understood by Him alone. So were the men and women on the pages of Scripture. Let’s welcome the Holy Spirit to huff and puff warm life into the print and rescue us from thinking complicated thoughts of ourselves while making mannequins of the mortals in Scripture.” (Entrusted, 20)

Jesus’ obscurity was real. Jesus’ rejection was real. Because of this, I believe we would be remiss to remain neutral in examining this possibility in our own lives and in the lives of our churches. This season, as we prepare to celebrate the coming of the Word, would be a great time to start.

Advent Desire

May we agree with John that Jesus is the True Light, come into the world. May we desire for people to know Him and receive Him. And, may the Light continue to push back the darkness in our own lives as we know and receive the Word.

More in this series:
the WORD Eternal
the Un-Neutral Heart
Receive & Believe
From His Fullness
A Critical Declaration

Let's connect!

Article Sources:
  • English Standard Version (ESV) Study Bible 
  • Guzik, David. Study Guide for John 1. (Blue Letter Bible)
  • The New Bible Commentary: Revised. Edited by Guthrie, Motyer, Stibbs, Wiseman.
  • Wiersbe, Warren. Commentary on John.
  • Moore, Beth. Entrusted: A Study of 2 Timothy.


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