“See, you (not ‘we’ as in NIV) didn’t gain/profit at all”, the Pharisees point out to each other. Does this indicate some divisive criticism among them? We cannot tell, but at least it shows that they had expected to make headway in their plots against Jesus when he came into Jerusalem. They evidently sensed that they would soon succeed in putting Jesus to death.
But at that time they were disappointed. “The world went after him”. The verb form seems to refer to the one event of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. On that occasion when they had expected to be able to capture Jesus, they were temporarily disappointed. He was enthusiastically welcomed by “the world”. This word may convey various truths.
a) “The world” could just be taken as a synonym for the crowds, the multitudes. Throughout the Gospels Jesus was trying to win the crowds of ordinary people. He frequently addresses his teaching to the masses and his miracles also draw the crowds to believe in him. As we have seen in earlier blogs, the raising of Lazarus was a case in point (see 12.17). But the multitudes are a fickle lot and swither between faith and mob opposition. In our modern day too we have witnessed how mass demonstrations can some times lead later to sad disappointment. ‘The will of the people’ may be like a pendulum swinging from one side to the other.
b) “The world” is some times used in John’s Gospel to convey the general cultural world-view that prevails in society. As Jesus’ disciples we are expected to be ‘in the world’, but not ‘of the world’. Public opinion generally stands against true discipleship of Jesus. For relationships’ sake we should not cut ourselves off from the prevailing culture, but we remain critical of it and follow Jesus’ patterns of life.
But the Pharisees complain that the crowd followed Jesus at that time. To follow Jesus had become the popular thing to do. It is our prayer that even in our time public opinion would support faith in Jesus. When my wife and I worked as missionaries in Indonesia, we saw how this could be. Faith in Jesus was the central topic of gossip and chatter in the coffee shops. Positive attitudes and talk of Jesus lay at the heart of popular public opinion. Let’s pray and work for this in our country today! We long for the day when people in the pubs will be discussing positively about Jesus and what he can do in our lives if we put our faith in him.
c) In John 1.9-11 the word “world” relates not only to Israel and the Jews, but also more widely to all nations and peoples. Of course the Pharisees in John 12 were not aware of this international sense of their observation, but later the followers of Jesus saw the almost prophetic nature of the Pharisees’ words. By the time John is writing his Gospel later in the first century the Christian faith had already attracted large numbers of Gentiles/non-Jews. Already the church had accepted the reality that it was now no longer the preserve just of Jewish believers, but Gentiles of various ethnic backgrounds had also become an integral part of the Christian church. Already in the first century the Gospel was reaching out into Armenia, Babylon and other nations to the east and north east of Israel. Mark had begun the mission of the church to North Africa, Paul had moved around the northern coast of the Mediterranean and Thomas had almost certainly used the trade winds to travel to southern India and plant the church there. Now in the past two thousand years the good news of Jesus has been carried to every country and the church has spread most amazingly worldwide both among Jews and others. Indeed in our 21st century we can praise the Lord as we observe the huge growth of the church in so many countries. Thus China now has the largest Christian population in the world with huge fast-growing churches. This should come to us as a call to be fellow-workers with Christ in Jewish evangelism and in international worldwide mission.
“The world went after him” – not only at Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, but on through history and very particularly in our day. Hallelujah!
PS Prayer request – Our much loved grand-daughter Chloe is undergoing a major operation today (16 January) to try to remove a large tumour at the base of her brain – an unusual and dangerous position for a brain tumour. We much value prayer for her.