Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

170. The End of Public Ministry (John 12:37-43)

Before John's gospel moves on to its record of the Lord's suffering and resurrection, the main part of the ministry is rounded off with an unexpected theological comment by John himself, followed by Christ's own final appeal to a people which had now made up its mind about him.

Throughout his ministry Jesus had wrought copious miracles—works of grace and power-in Jerusalem, in Galilee especially, and in every part of the country. It was impossible to explain them away. "When the Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man doeth?" (Jn.7 :31). "What do we? for this man doeth many miracles" (11 :47).

' "Yet they believed not." In the time of Moses the angel of the Lord had been reduced to desperation: "How long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them?" (Num. 14 :11). Even the more eloquent signs of the Son of God met with no better response.

In the face of the plainest facts, the nation's leaders, and the nation itself for the most part, continued in its stubborn refusal to acknowledge the truth which these signs taught so plainly. Thus they gave their answer to the reproachful rhetorical questions of the prophet Isaiah: "lord, who hath believed our report (Christ's preaching)? and to whom hath the arm of the brd (his miracles) been revealed?" (ls.53 :1). The Hebrew text of this passage needs only the slightest change in pointing, and it reads: "To whom hath the sown seed of the Lord been revealed?'—the corn of wheat which was to fall into the ground and die (v.24). It is the kind of double meaning common enough in the prophets.

This rejection of Jesus, writes John, was a direct fulfilment of Isaiah's prophecy. Thus even the stubbornness of Israel made its indirect contribution to the glory of God by displaying the truth and accuracy of God's Word.

"Therefore", John continues, with what appears to be "the crudest possible statement of a naked doctrine of predestination" (Hoskyns), "they could not believe, because that Isaiah said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened (as a callus) their heart; in order that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them." These words are difficult. For no amount of allowance for Hebrew idiom or for the personal style of the apostle can get round John's bald assertion: "they could not believe because . . ." Nor is the problem lessened by the plain implication in the context that the people had power of decision in themselves: "Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you" (v.35). Is there any resolving this paradox?

The writer of the gospel is more concerned about another paradox—that a despised and rejected Messiah should nevertheless be assured of a personal share in the glory of God. The context of the prophecy of Israel's rejection is more important than the prophecy itself: "These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him."

In the awe-inspiring vision of Isaiah 6, the prophet saw "the Lord high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple." It is a description of the Almighty enthroned. But John says: "Esaias saw his (Christ's) glory." There is no inconsistency, because when Christ returns he comes "in the Glory of his Father" (Mt.16 :27). The vision of "the Son of man with the clouds of heaven" (Dan.7:13) carries the same idea.

It is remarkable that Isaiah's picture of this Heavenly Glory has not only the idea of a King upon his throne, but also of one offered in sacrifice—'lifted up'—and of a high priest ministering in the sanctuary—'his train (s.w: Ex.28 :33,34) filled the temple."

The cherubim in the vision are described as seraphim—fiery ones—because their characteristic cherub faces were covered by their wings: "Your sins have hid his face from you" (ls.59:2).

Subterranean belief

For all that, there was not to be a clean sweep of the nation. Isaiah's prophecy told of the preservation of a faithful remnant (6:13). There were signs of this even among the ruling class: "Nevertheless (a very emphatic expression) even among the chief rulers many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue. For they loved the glory of men (in the synagogue) more than the glory of God (in His new Temple)," The tenses employed by John here are splendidly effective. They were convinced ("believed'—aorist) regarding Jesus, but there was no steady witness ("confess'— imperfect). They decided for ("loved'—aorist again) the synagogue rather than Christ.

Almost certainly the group described here included Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea. Neither gospels nor Acts name any others, yet John's text says "many". In little more than twenty-four hours those two worthy men made a more honourable decision—they burnt their boats, and came out openly as disciples of the Man of Nazareth, even when he hung lifeless on the cross, (cp. 1 Jn.4:18).

As far back as the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus had made pointed appeal to Jewish rulers who were convinced of the truth about him (Jn.8 :31). But it needed the shattering evidence of his resurrection and the vigour of a thriving ecclesia in Jerusalem to make an impression on them. Then, at last, "a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith" (Acts 6 :7)—the belated fruit of the Lord's patience and perseverance in the holy city.

There is a strange paradox here. John has stated very emphatically: "they could not believe because" Scripture foretold that it would be so. The prediction causing the event! Yet, within two verses, "many believed." John must have been aware of the seeming contradiction, yet his record does not pause to offer explanation. Did he mean that the nation as a whole could not believe, but that there was a substantial if inconspicuous remnant who were convinced about Jesus?

These "did not go on confessing him." This Greek verb seems to imply that they attempted it, but were promptly overborne by their Sanhedrin colleagues.

In concluding the study of this section of John's gospel it is worthwhile to underline again the allusive character of much of its phrasing. Direct quotations from Isaiah, already commented on, are also broad hints to the reader to join the apostle in following detail after detail relevant to the ministry of Jesus. It is possible to trace in Isaiah 4,5,6,53,49 many verbal links and similarities of idea. Examples of this kind serve to emphasize how fully the inspiration of the gospels is shot through with the inspiration of the prophets and their anticipations of "the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that shall follow."

John 12

Mary's costly ointment.
Censure of beautifying by the daughters of Zion.
Corn of wheat brings forth much fruit.
The "shoot" of the Lord ... the fruit excellent and comely.
Mt. 21:12
The cleansing of the temple.
He that is left in Zion .. .shall be called holy.
Mt. 23
Woe unto you (repeated)
Woe unto you (repeated).
Greeks: "We would see Jesus."
I saw the Lord high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.
Now is the Son of man glorified.
The whole earth full of his glory.
It thundered.
The posts of the door moved at the voice.
The prince of this world cast out.
Death of Uzziah, the prince who was cast out (2Chr.26:ll-20).
35, 46
Lest darkness come upon you ... should not abide in darkness.
Darkness and sorrow . . . the light darkened in the heavens.
Jesus did hide himself from them.
He covered his face.

The Lord that hideth his face from the house of Jacob.

They loved the glory of men more than the glory of God.
The Shekinah Glory in the temple. 40:6 LXX: All the glory of men is as the flower of grass.
The Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak.
Whom shall I send? and who will go for us?
Ye are clean, but not all.
A people of unclean lips.
I am the true vine.
The song of the vineyard.

One man to die for the people.
For the transgression of my people was he stricken.
If I be lifted up. . .
He shall be exalted, and lifted up (LXX: lifted up and glorified exceedingly)
Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground ... if it die, it bringeth forth fruit.
To whom is the arm (or, sown seed) of the Lord revealed?
I have glorified it, and will glorify it again
My Servant in whom I will be glorified.
20, 46
The Greeks . . . I am come a light into the world
A light to the Gentiles
Where I am, there shall my servant be.
Thou art my servant.
Save me from this hour
I have laboured in vain, and for naught.
A voice from heaven (at Passover)
In an acceptable time have I answered thee.
Jesus departed, and did hide himself.
In the shadow of his hand hath he hid me.
They did not confess him.
Shew yourselves.
Whosoever believeth in me should not walk in darkness.
Them that are in darkness
The judgment of this world
I will contend with him that contendeth
I came not to judge the world but to save the world
And I will save thy children

Notes: Jn. l2:37-43

Compare ls.52:14a, 15c. See also Ex. 4:30,31; Num. 14:11.

Many miracles before them, Cp. 20:30.
John, the most Hebraistic of the NT. writers, quotes Is. 53:2 from LXX version.
Saw his glory. King-Priest; cp. ls. 52:13b, 15a; Dan. 7:13,14; Jn. 12:15 with 13:3 (and context). The Targum of Is.6:1 has: "I saw the glory of the Lord."

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