“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” John i.9
The apostle John portrays Jesus as the true life-giving revelation of God to all people on earth. This means that the whole world should turn to Jesus Christ to know the true God and to receive the gift of everlasting life.
This statement is in line with Jesus’ radical claim, “I am the light of the world” (viii.12). Anyone who does not follow Jesus remains in the darkness of ignorance, sin and death. There’s no twilight zone. One is either in darkness or in the light. This has profound implications. What about other religious leaders? What about people of other faiths? What about their claims to the knowledge of truth? If Christians claim that Jesus alone is the source of true light and life, isn’t that a sign of arrogance? St John did not consider that claim to be presumptive or a sign of arrogance. He certainly espoused a religious exclusivism that would be considered politically incorrect in today’s world.
Christian religious exclusivism has its roots in Jewish exclusivist claims to religious truth. The Jews alone were God’s people because they had received God’s unique revelation in the form of Hebrew Scriptures. God had not entered into a covenant with any other nation. The apostle Paul affirmed such claims of exclusive favor: “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever.” (Romans ix. 4-5) Indeed, this is why Jesus told a Samaritan woman that her religion was based on ignorance: “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” (John iv.22)
Salvation, even though it arises from the Jews, is not restricted to the Jews. That’s what Jews of the first century struggled to comprehend. Even the mention of a possibility of God showing favour to Gentiles could provoke extreme reactions among the Jews (Luke iv. 28-29). Even Christians from a Jewish background insisted that Gentiles first convert to Judaism before they believed in the “Jewish” Messiah! (Acts xv.1) John wanted such Judaizers among Christians to know that Jesus was the Saviour of the whole world. (John iv.42)
The Gospel of John is very clear about this: with the arrival of Jesus, God had inaugurated a new age in which He extended salvation to all peoples on earth. Even more radical was the announcement that the Jewish nation too had to believe in Jesus in order to be considered God’s children. It is no longer possible to lay hold of God’s kingdom on the basis of one’s Jewish ancestry! As for the non-Jews, they have humbly accept the fact that the Bible is a book of Jewish origin and that Jesus, the Saviour of the world, came in accordance to the prophecies of Jewish prophets. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”