There are several ways to understand the phrase in John 1:10, "in the world". These are -
1. John is referring to Jesus incarnation
Barnes appears to hold this view. However, this understanding stretches the meaning and grammar and I do not believe it is either objectively or subjectively correct.
2. Jesus was in the world by His Holy Spirit or some other vague notion.
Again, this amounts to a special pleading to somehow excuse the plain force of the text. Again, I do not think this interpretation stands up to close scrutiny.
3. John is referring to Jesus' pre-incarnate appearances in the OT.
The pre-incarnate Jesus regularly appeared in the OT and while recognized by a few, most did not understand.
The following passages make it clear that the “Angel of the LORD” is almost always, the LORD (Jehovah) Himself. Further, in view of clear statements that state that no one has ever seen God the Father (eg, 1 John 4:12, John 1:18 - compare Isa 64:4), these appearances in the OT presumably mean that these people actually saw the pre-incarnate Jesus. Gen 16:7-13, 22:11-17, 32:24-30, 48:16, Ex 3:2-6, 32:34, Num 22:22-35, Josh 5:13-15, Judg 2:1-4, 6:11-23, 13:3-23, Isa 63:9, Dan 3:25, 28, Hos 12:4, 5, Zech 3:1-7, Mal 3:1, Rev 8:3-5, 10:1-10, 18:1, 20:1-4.
A closely related phrase, “Angel of God” who is clearly God as in Gen 6:13, 8:15, 9:8, 17, 15:13, 17:3, 4, 21:12, 16-21, 35:1, 10, Ex 4:3-8, 6:2, 23:20, 21, Deut 1:6, 1 Kings 12:22, etc. See also Acts 10:3, 4, Gal 4:14.
In Isa 63:9, “the Angel of His [LORD’s] presence saved them”, and is almost certainly a reference to the same being.
In other places we see that the LORD sends the LORD:
- Zech 2:6-12 – the LORD (= YHWH) claims three times that He has been sent by the LORD.
- Isa 48:11-16 – again, the LORD has been sent by the LORD.
Thus, unsurprisingly, Jesus is the messenger to the human race and underlines the importance that the Godhead places upon such messages.
This is not to suggest that Jesus is an angel in the sense that He is less that God; far from it! However, the Greek and Hebrew word for “angel” simply means messenger and it is in this sense that Jesus is the messenger in the above passages.
Benson suggests something very similar -
John 1:10-11. He was in the world — From the beginning, frequently
appearing, and making known to his servants, the patriarchs and
prophets, the divine will, in dreams and visions, and various other
4. John refers to Jesus sustaining power as described in Col 1:17
This interpretation suggests that Jesus was "in the world" by His sustaining power:
- Col 1:17 - He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
Matthew Pooles has this:
He was in the world; he was in the place called the world, and amongst
the men of the world; for so the term world is often taken, John 16:28
2 Peter 3:6. Christ, before he came in the flesh, was in it; filling
both the heavens and the earth, and sustaining it by the word of his
power, and manifesting his will to it, more immediately to Moses and
to the prophets, and more mediately by Moses and by the prophets.
Gill arrives at a similar conclusion.
He was in the world,.... This is to be understood, not of his
incarnation; for the word was denotes past existence in the world,
even all the time past from the creation of the world; and the world
intends the world in general, as opposed to Judea, and the people of
the Jews in the next verse; besides, the incarnation of the word is
spoken of in John 1:14 as a new and distinct thing from this: but of
his being in the world, when first made, and since, by his essence, by
which he fills the whole world; and by his power, upholding and
preserving it; and by his providence, ordering and managing all the
affairs of it, and influencing and governing all things in it
I personally believe that the immediate text of John 1:10 best lends itself to interpretation #3 above but I would not exclude #4 as well.