Jesus’ public ministry now draws to a close. In John’s introduction (John 1:10-11), he tells us that Jesus came to His own people and they neither recognized nor received Him, but that there will be some who would receive and believe in Him (v. 12).
This divided response is evident in our passage today. First, there are those Jews who reject Jesus (v. 37). Their unbelief, however, has been foretold in Scripture and is not outside of God’s sovereign oversight (vv. 38-40). Such sovereignty exists alongside human responsibility. These Jews both ″would not″ (v. 37) and ″could not″ (v. 39) believe. Judgment is sure (v. 48). Second, there are some that do believe, but remain fearful of openly acknowledging Jesus (v. 42). The reason for their timid belief is revealed in verse 43.
In the face of this divided response, John records these last words of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus makes three points:
- There is solidarity between Jesus and the one who sent Him (vv. 44-45). Therefore, anyone who rejects His words is rejecting God’s very words (v. 48), because Jesus both says what God told Him to say and in the way God told Him to say it (vv. 49-50).
- Jesus is the light in the midst of darkness (v. 46). His words lead to eternal life for those who believe (v. 50).
- It is urgent that people choose the right response to Jesus in order to avoid judgment and embrace eternal life.
Why don’t more people believe in Jesus? This is one of the most difficult questions for believers to answer. Jesus offers that which is attractive, and His signs show that these are not empty promises, so why don’t more people believe?
First, people are stubborn and hard in their unbelief, despite the evidence (v. 37). Disobedience and obstinacy are Israel’s twin characteristics, according to Isaiah 65:2, quoted by Paul in Romans 10:21.
Second, the sovereign God has hardened their hearts, binding them in the unbelief they have chosen for themselves (v. 40). God is in control of all things, even our responses to Him. Because we all deserve God’s judgment, the faith of every believer is ultimately His to give.
Third, this understanding does not petrify the evangelist, Jesus, who makes the strong appeal that they must urgently believe (v. 44), and that God is a generous giver of such belief. This appeal from the one who takes ″no pleasure in the death of the wicked″ (Ezekiel 33:11) has the double effect of conferring saving belief on those who listen and judgment on those who resist (vv. 46, 48).
Paul concludes his treatment of such matters, ″Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God . . .″ (Romans 11:33-36).
The Baptist preacher C. H. Spurgeon once said, ″The Lord . . . chose me . . . surely this ought to make us in our very worst and dullest moments sing for joy″.10 Is this your response?
10C. H. Spurgeon, ″How to Become Full of Joy″ (sermon, Metropolitan Tabernacle, UK, 17 September 1865).