The crowds try to side-track Jesus’ wonderful declaration that he would draw all people (not just Israel) to himself when he was lifted up from the earth. They ask him two very interesting and important questions. Will Jesus really be lifted up from this world? And who is this Son of Man? But Jesus refuses to allow himself to be deflected from what he wanted to teach them, so he does not answer their questions – some times we may be wiser not to try to answer someone’s questions. Rather, he warns them that they will not have the light among them for much longer, so they must be active now before darkness overtakes them. He exhorts them to believe and thus become children of light. In Jewish thought a child should reflect the very character and nature of the parent, so Jesus wants us as children of light to demonstrate God’s light in our character and life-style.
Following the Light
In these verses we are strongly reminded of the introduction to the Gospel in John 1. Firstly, in John 1.9 the light was coming into the world and in John 12.46 Jesus says that he has come into the world as the light. Then also, in John 1.5 “the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood/overcome it”. Likewise here in John 12 the light shines so that people should no longer “stay in darkness” (12.46). In reference to John 1.5 Jesus also exhorts people to get working while they still have the light (John 12.35), before “darkness overtakes you” (the same verb as in John 1.5). In John 12.47-50 Jesus emphasizes the vital importance of his words for those who believe in him; this links in with the teaching in John 1 concerning the Word which was God and was coming into the world in flesh.
So we clearly observe that Jesus is the Light of the World (see also John 8.12; 9.5). He desires to shine not just in Israel among Jewish people, but also more widely in “the world”. So in John 1 the four-fold repetition of the word “world” underlines the amazing truth that the Jewish Messiah, the Word and Light of God, has come for the salvation of all people, Jew and non-Jew alike of every ethic background all over the world. Because Jesus is himself the light there is a close association of following the light and following Jesus in faith
Jesus obeys the Father
In these verses Jesus also makes it plain that actually his purpose is not to glorify himself, bur rather to bring people to his Father. He declares, “When a person believes in me, they do not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me” (12.44). His words are also not just his own teaching, but what the Father has told him. He strongly asserts that it is the Father who has sent him. And what the Father has given him is “what I have spoken and will say” (12.49). In 12.49/50 Jesus declares that the Father gave him a “command” and it is this command which brings eternal life. Knowing the equality and love which exists between the Father and the Son, we might have expected the Father graciously to give Jesus a request. But the repeated use of “command” underlines the absolute authority of the Father. In today’s world we tend to downplay concepts of authority, command and total obedience. But faith in Jesus demands such obedience to his commands.
Consequences of the Light
Through walking with Jesus as the light our eyes can be opened, our hearts enlightened and we can be healed. As children of light we have eternal life. Jesus as the light of the world brings us to the Father in glory. What a privilege that we can actually know the Father personally and relate intimately to him in all his glorious splendour and burning holiness. Many of our compatriots may say that they believe in the existence of God, but the idea of knowing him personally through faith in Jesus is largely alien to them.
As we talk of the light, we have to remember too that this is a two-sided coin. Jesus teaches also that rejection of the light means walking in darkness (12.37-41 and 47-50). Jesus did not come in order to judge, but rather to save. Nevertheless his word brings condemnation to those who do not believe in him and follow what he says. In our world today it is not fashionable to talk of the final judgement “at the last day” (12.48), but Jesus warns us that failure to follow him and his word will inevitably bring judgement now in this life on earth and also eternally. Some were rejecting Jesus and even after witnessing his miraculous signs would not believe. With reference to them Jesus quotes some really hard words from Isaiah (John 12.37-41). The second half of verse 40 is introduced with the Greek ‘Hina‘/’in order that’. Isaiah is saying that such people’s eyes have been blinded in order that they may not see. This is not just the consequence of the blinding, but is its purpose. Some times God does not want people to see his light lest they either profess to believe but without heart-felt faith or they understand, reject and then act violently against the messenger of God.
As a Christian worker among strong Muslims in Asia, I had this experience. Some young men well understood what the message of Jesus meant and rejected it. As a result they ganged together, surrounded us in the market and then pelted us with stones. After two such occasions I began to think through this quote from Isaiah and the New Testament teaching that we should not cast our pearls before swine (Matthew 7.6) lest the good news of Jesus be trampled into the mud and his messengers be torn to pieces. As a result we were more careful to whom we should explain the beauties of the good news of Jesus. Rejecting Jesus is also a heart-hardening experience and makes it even more difficult in the future to turn to him in life-giving faith.
Happily this passage in John’s Gospel also states encouragingly that many of the leaders of Israel came to believe in Jesus (12.42). As an elderly Russian Babushka once said to me, “When you preach the Gospel the result is always the same – some will believe and some won’t”! Sadly the statement here that many believed is counter-balanced by the negative comment that they were afraid to declare their faith openly because they might be excommunicated from the synagogue. They were keener on enjoying the praise of other people than receiving the praise of Almighty God. Fear of other people’s rejection still today stands before us as a huge hurdle to overcome. As a public speaker and preacher I confess also how strong the temptation is to seek and enjoy the praise of other people rather than looking for the name of the Lord to be uplifted and glorified.
As we conclude this blog, let us again glory in the positive good news that with faith in Jesus we can walk in the light, know where we are going, rejoice in his wonderful gift of salvation and eternal life, coming to know and relate to the Father. So let us follow Jesus and what he says, obedient to the Father’s commands.