3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 12

Contents

Chapter 12:

IMG_7991This is part 12 of a 21-part series which traces “seeing” and “hearing”, and looks at how they relate to “believing”, through the Gospel of John.

In this chapter, we see the effect that the resurrection of Lazarus had on the Jewish observers, and we find foreigners coming to enquire into the teachings of this miracle-working Jewish rabbi. Then things get really  interesting!


REVIEWING THE TEXT – CHAPTER 12

Hearing, Seeing, and Believing

As I said in Week 11, the “hear”, “see”, “believe” rhythm has now changed. It changed because a man was raised from the dead. We are now looking at the story of faith in a situation where God has raised a man from the dead, and we (the readers) are supposed to be taking lessons here, about faith in the world after Jesus’ Resurrection. Notice in verse 8, Jesus says, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me”.

I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.

This is actually a continuation of something he frequently has been saying: a time will come when Jesus will not be able to be found. By verse 36, Jesus is actively hiding himself from the people. This is all prefiguring his own Resurrection, and subsequent Ascension, after which he will not be available in the physical sense any more. This is all part of the lesson about the weakness of “seeing”, as a precursor to faith. There will come a time when Jesus will no longer be seen.

When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus. – John 12:9-11

Notice in the above passage that plenty of “the Jews” were “deserting” the Jewish leaders and converting to Christ. They were doing this because of Lazarus – a Resurrection. At the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, however, notice that there is a distinction being made, which should by now be familiar to us, in week 12 of this series:

the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. – John 12:17-18

on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge

Ok, so the ones testifying were the ones who “saw”, but what they saw was a Resurrection. This is something that can be “seen”, which is valid for faith. The others came, not because they had “seen” anything, but because they “heard”. This is the model for the church into the future: Those who saw Jesus resurrected would testify, and those who hear about it would come to faith.

The Gentiles

Now, all that was concerning the Jews. But what about Gentiles? No surprise to find that they are mentioned next:

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” – John 12:20-21

Now, is “we wish to see Jesus” any sort of valid way to come to faith? Not really. What would they see? A Jewish peasant-preacher. So Jesus starts talking at what seems a tangent, all about losing one’s life, and so forth. What does it have to do with anything?

It is this: The only “Jesus” the Gentiles should be looking at is the crucified, and risen Jesus. This is the glorified Jesus. That’s why Jesus suddenly starts talking about his death, and then cries out to God, “Father, glorify your name” (v28)

What??? What does that mean?

And what about the response? God the Father says, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (v28).

A head-scratcher…?

Let’s unpack it.

God Glorifies His Name

What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me

Without delving deeply into the theology of it, let me propose here that raising a man from the dead is what God the Father is talking about when He talks about glorifying His name. It’s what Jesus is talking about, too. This is what is happening here:

  1. Jesus raised a man from the dead (in chapter 11).
  2. Jesus says, “Father, glorify your name”, referring to his own death and resurrection soon to come.
  3. God says, “I have glorified it”, because God raised Lazarus from the dead in chapter 11.
  4. God says, “I will glorify it again”, because God will raise Jesus from the dead, too.

The voice

God’s booming voice confused the people. This is unusual in our “hear”, “see” series, but is consistent with the experience of the voice of God at Sinai, which terrified the people.

The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” John 12:29

But this voice had the purpose of pronouncing judgement, which is explicitly not what Jesus used his voice for.

Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. – John 12:30-31

Now something interesting happens. Jesus talks about a visual sign which will “draw all people” to him:

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” – John 12:32

The sign is the crucifixion, as Jesus told Nicodemus in chapter 3:

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. – John 3:14-15

Of course, it’s not just the crucifixion, because normally, rebels and terrorists were crucified. A simple crucifixion would not be a sign from God. It is the Resurrection in combination with the Crucifixion. Why? Because crucifixion was the most public, prominent way to be completely killed, beyond any doubt, and was supposedly completely shameful in the eyes of the world. A unilateral Resurrection is completely impossible, and proves that the one so Resurrected is the Son of God, a completely honourable man. This turns the opinions of the world on their head, not least because the world believes what it sees.

The Gentiles…?

the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus. 

Before we move on, let’s not forget our Greek friends, who’s question prompted the story to focus strongly on the upcoming crucifixion, setting Jesus on the final leg of that journey. When Jesus said, “I … will draw all people to myself”, it was not a careless statement. It meant, “not just the Jews”. It was said in response to Gentiles, and it was a deliberate signal that Jesus’ Resurrection was to be a sign in no small way to the Gentiles. He had said elsewhere on many occasions that the Jews already ought to have believed in him because of the Scriptures (John 5:45-46), or because of Abraham’s example (John 8:39-40). Now, the Jews have even seen a man raised from the dead (ch 11)!

Hear, See, Believe

Back to our pet theme again now, at the close of the chapter:

Then Jesus cried aloud: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. – John 12:44-45

The “seeing” here is now different, would you agree, to the first ten chapters? This is because Jesus is now talking about the time after the resurrection of Lazarus (for the Jews), or of his own Resurrection (for the Gentiles). Without the Resurrection, “seeing” was worthless. But “hearing” is also still vital, of course:

I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me.” – John 12:46-50

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself

I wonder if you can spot the absolute slam-dunk phrase in that section of text? The whole passage is replete with allusions to light/dark/belief, and spoken words/belief, but there is one phrase around which all the others orbit: on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge” (v48). This underscores the whole hear/believe motif we have been tracking from the beginning: If you don’t believe what Jesus says, then you will find yourself condemned by those very same words. For a cross-reference on this, see chapter 3, where Jesus essentially makes the same point:

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God. – John 3:17-21

 


Questions to Ponder from Chapter 12

If the Resurrection is so important, what place does Jesus’ “words” have any more?
How is God “glorified” in the church, and in the life of Christians?
Do you believe Jesus was actually Resurrected from the dead?

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