Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

172. “The word that I have spoken” (John 12:44-50)

The apostle John rounds off his account of the public ministry of Jesus with a paragraph which is probably intended to summarise the appeal made to Israel throughout his ministry. In these seven verses there is hardly a phrase which cannot be matched several times over elsewhere in the Lord's discourses.

The introduction: "Jesus cried and said ..." certainly reads as though beginning a public discourse (7:28; 1 :15). But only a few verses earlier (v.36) "Jesus departed, and did hide himself from them." However, this may have been his final declamation in the temple court, his very last public utterance-and this on the day before he was crucified!


John had introduced the ministry of Jesus with an emphatic statement of the main theme of his gospel: "The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (1 :17). With every fresh incident and discourse he was to re-emphasize this contrast. Always there is similarity—Jesus is the promised prophet like unto Moses—but it is a similarity which emphasizes superiority.

Appropriately, then, in this trenchant summary, phrase after phrase is chosen to floodlight this important truth yet again for the benefit of the Jewish readers of this gospel.

"He that believeth on me, believeth not on me (i.e. not only on me), but on him that sent me," When being sent back to Egypt for the salvation of his people, Moses harped disconsolately on this word "believe"; "Behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken to my voice" (Ex.4 :l-9). And in the section immediately before this, the key word is "send, sent" "Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The God of your fathers . . . hath sent me unto you" (3:0-16).

"He that sent me"

It is worthwhile to pause here to note how utterly destructive of the Athanasian doctrine of the Trinity—three Persons co-equal and co-eternal—is the incessant use of this word "send" in the writings of John. No less than 44 times in the gospel which is generally held to be the sheet-anchor of Trinitarian doctrine, he repeats his Lord's words that "the Father sent me ... I am not come of myself ... he gave me a commandment ..." This phraseology, and especially the word "sent", vetoes completely the invention that Father and Son are "coequal", for does not the one who sends have a higher status than the one who is sent? When Jesus sent his angel to testify the Apocalypse to John (Rev.22 :16), was he sending one equal to himself? And when he sent his apostles out with the gospel message (Jn.17:18), did any of them consider himself to be on the same level as his Lord, in any sense? "As my Father sent me, even so send I you" (20 :21). The Trinitarian is in real difficulty here. And so also regarding "the Comforter . . . whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth ..." (15 :26). In the light of this is it possible to believe that the Holy Spirit is a person co-equal with the Father?

The Lord's next saying, which might appear to some readers to be almost a pointless repetition of what he had just said, similarly links up in a marvellously explicit fashion with the experience of Moses—this time when he came down from the mount, his face radiant with divine glory (Ex.34 :30): "He that seeth me seeth him that sent me." Here the comparison with Moses is made more pointed by the use of the Greek word meaning to gaze or stare at.

The radiance in the face of Moses was all one with the Shekinah Glory of God in the midst of Israel—the pillar of cloud and fire. So, appropriately, Jesus continued: "I am come a light into the world (again kosmos used with reference to the Jewish world), that whosoever believeth in me should not abide in the darkness (of Egypt)" (cp. Ex.14 :20).

Those Israelites who saw the evident tokens of God's working through Moses, and still disputed his leadership, were answerable to God for their obstinacy: "Behold, the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me" (Ex.6:12). And so also regarding Jesus: "It shall come to pass that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he (the prophet like unto Moses) shall speak in my name, I will require it of him" (Dt.18 :19). Christ's equivalent of this was: "If any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not (i.e. I do not judge him now): for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world."

Even so, there could be no gainsaying the authority of Christ's message: "The Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak." This surpassed even the inspiration of Moses. To him God said: "I will give thee tables of stone, and a law and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them . . . And Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments" (tx.24 :12,3).


In place of the summary judgment meted out in the wilderness to the stiff-necked and rebellious, there is a solemn warning that the one who wilfully rejects the word of Christ will assuredly answer for his sin in the last day when Christ is Judge of all: "He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge (i.e. condemn) him in the last day."

Efforts to evade the plain meaning of these words have not been too successful. The suggestion, for example, that this is a warning of judgment against Jewry in A.D.70 is promptly vetoed by all the other occurrences in John's gospel of "the last day" (6 :39,40,44,54; 7:37 (type); 11 :24). And there are far too many scriptures, with varying degrees of emphasis, which all carry this doctrine that the wilful rejector of Christ, who is sufficiently enlightened to know the seriousness of his evil choice, will be called to account in the day of resurrection because of his deliberate spurning of the call of the gospel. But it needs to be recognized that the word "rejecteth" used by Jesus here is a very strong one, as its occurrence elsewhere plainly shows: "He that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me" (Lk.10:16; 7:30; and also 1 Th.4:8).

The seriousness of this rejection Jesus now underlined by declaring again his own undeniable authority: "I have not spoken of myself (i.e. of my own initiative), but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment what I should say, and what I should speak." It is not certain what distinction the Lord intended by these concluding phrases, but probably the first describes the imperative of Holy Scripture (in the O.T.), whereas the second refers to the Father's personal communion with His Son in the course of his ministry: "Whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said to me, so I speak ... I speak that which I have seen with my Father ... the truth which I have heard of God" (12:50; 8:38,40).

"Eternal Life"

With the nation now settled into an attitude of non-commitment or (by its leaders) of open rejection and hostility, it was needful that the seriousness of such rebellion be brought home to them. And, accordingly, many of the later parables of Jesus had this monitory theme. But he would fain draw the people to him with the graciousness of his message: "I know that his (the Father's) commandment is life everlasting," that is, the commission given to him by the Father is a message concerning eternal life.

This key phrase: "eternal life", occurs here, and in a number of other places, without the definite article. The suggestion has been made that in this way John's gospel (and his epistles) distinguishes between (a) the eternal life of the coming kingdom of God and (b) the germ of that regeneration which is implanted in the believer through receiving the word of Christ. In different senses both are "eternal life". More probably, these two related meanings just mentioned are to be distinguished by the context, and not by presence or absence of the article. In the thinking of Jesus the connection between these two aspects of "eternal life" is so close that the one inevitably merges into the other. Recognition of this idiomatic usage could have saved much mystification and time-wasting contention.

In the beginning of his work, and throughout it, Jesus was The Word—the very embodiment of the Father's message of redemption. Right to the end of the ministry the Lord continued this emphasis in his preaching: "whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak." The close personal fellowship between Father and Son, such as no O.T. prophet ever knew, not even Moses, meant a spoken revelation of God to men far surpassing Law

Notes: Jn. 12:44-50

Believeth not on me means, here, not only on me, as in Mk.9:37.
Abide in darkness. This assumes that darkness is a man's normal natural condition.
The scriptures dealing with this theme are more copious than is often supposed. 1 Pet.4 :4,5 (see the modern versions); Dt.18 :19; 29 :20; Rom.2 :8,9; Acts 24 :25; 17 :30,32; Lk.13 :28; 19 :27; 14 :25,31-33; 12 :48; 10 :14; 2 Pet.2 :6-9; 1 Cor.7 :39; Jn.12 :48; 9 :31; 8 :21; 3 :18,19; 15 :22; Rev.21 :8; ls.66 :24; Jude 14,15; 2Thess. 1 :8,9;Mt.ll :20-24; Heb.2 :3; 10 :28,29. There is comment on Jn.12 :48 in Eureka 3.671.
Examples of each aspect of "eternal life":

a. Jn. 6:53,54; 10:28; 5:24; 17:2,3; 1Jn.3:14, 15; 5:11-13.

b. Jn. 6:27, 40, 51; 12:25; 4:14, 36; 5:26, 29; 11:25; 1 Jn.2:25; 5:16.

c. Both ideas: Jn. 10:10.

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