Jesus—His Life and Message: The End of His Public Ministry
April 13, 2021
by Peter Amsterdam
Jesus—His Life and Message: The End of His Public Ministry
In John chapter 12, Jesus stated,
“While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.1
At this point in the Gospel of John, Jesus’ public ministry comes to an end.
Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” Therefore they could not believe.2
In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ miracles are referred to as “signs.”3 Within this Gospel, Jesus did numerous miracles/signs, and with the exception of two which were done in a private setting,4 all of the rest were done in public, mostly in Galilee and Jerusalem. Those who would not believe in him doesn’t refer to just those who asked Him, How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?,5 but also to all the crowds and all the Jewish leaders from the time of the first Passover of Jesus’ ministry until this point. One author writes:
While Jesus has repeatedly charged one or another group of his hearers with unbelief,6 this is the first time the Gospel writer has made such a sweeping generalization about them, confirming from the preceding narrative the principle stated at the outset that “his own did not receive him” (John 1:11).7
We are told that in spite of the many signs Jesus had done, the reason for the people’s unbelief was so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled. The Gospel writer then quoted Isaiah 53:1: Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? In asking who has believed, the implication is that no one has believed, which links back to verse 37: Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him.8 This same point is repeated in the next verse.
Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.”9
Jesus was quoting from Isaiah 6:9–10, which says:
Go, and say to this people: “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.” Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.
These verses from the book of Isaiah are also referred to in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke,10 as well as in the book of Acts.11
Once again we read about their unbelief—they could not believe. The point being made is that people who were unbelieving heard the outward words Jesus spoke, but they did not discern the meaning. When this Gospel quotes He has blinded their eyes, it does not mean that blinding took place against the will of these people. The same applies as far as the hardening of their hearts. They have made a decision, they have chosen, and therefore they are responsible for the outcome of their decision.
Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.12
For the third time, Isaiah is mentioned by name. In the book of Isaiah, we read:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”13
The Gospel of John sees the words of Isaiah as a reference to Jesus’ glory. One author explains:
The words of Isaiah 6:3 refer to the glory of Yahweh, but John makes no hard-and-fast distinction between the two. To him it is plain that Isaiah had in mind the glory revealed in Christ.14
John’s Gospel then states:
Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.15
Clearly many people, including some members of the Jewish leadership, believed in Jesus, as is pointed out here and elsewhere throughout this Gospel.
When he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.16
Many of the people believed in him. They said, “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?”17
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him.18
However, though many believed in Him, they didn’t publicly confess their belief, because of the consequences of doing so. To confess their belief would have resulted in their being put out of the synagogue. Earlier in this Gospel, we were told that the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.19 Here we read that these ones loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. This statement is similar to other declarations Jesus made.
This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness.20
How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?21
The remaining verses in this chapter (John 12:44–50) are the last words of Jesus’ public ministry in this Gospel. Commentators point out that Jesus most likely made the following statements at a later time than the verses which have been covered above.
Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.”22
Whatever the setting, Jesus spoke these words loudly, which indicates that what He was saying was important. He stressed the closeness between Himself and the Father by stating that whoever trusts in Him trusts God the Father. This is similar to what He declared earlier in this Gospel: My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.23 He also made this point in the synoptic Gospels:24 Whoever receives me receives him who sent me.25 The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.26
I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.27
Having just spoken about seeing, whoever sees me sees him who sent me, Jesus focuses again on light as He did earlier. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light,28 and I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.29 Due to sinful human nature, people are in darkness; however, Jesus has come into the world in order to bring salvation, to deliver us from this darkness.
If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.30
Earlier we read that though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him.31 Here Jesus addresses the question of what happens to those who do not believe.
We are told that those who have heard and understood Jesus’ teaching and have chosen to reject it will be judged. However, Jesus points out that it is not He who judges them; rather it is their response to His word that judges. He isn’t saying that judgment will not come, as earlier in this Gospel He had said, Whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.32
One author explains: Where the saving word is spoken and where anyone despises the Speaker and persistently rejects his sayings, that person does not go unscathed, but has a judge, and that judge is the very saving word itself. In the last day the judgment will be that the word of salvation came to that person and that person rejected it.33
I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.34
Jesus strongly stated that all that He had taught did not come from any human source, but rather was given to Him by the Father Himself. Jesus stressed that the Father was the One who sent Him, and that everything Jesus taught had been directed by His Father.
This brings to an end Jesus’ public ministry in the Gospel of John. From this point on, He no longer addressed the crowds; rather, He focused on His disciples as He prepared them for the events to come—His arrest and crucifixion.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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1 John 12:36.
2 John 12:37–39.
3 John 2:11, 23; 3:2; 4:48, 54; 6:2,14,26,30; 7:31; 9:16; 10:41; 12:18, 37.
4 John 2:11, 4:54.
5 John 12:34.
6 See John 3:12; 5:38,44; 6:36, 64; 8:44–45; 10:25.
7 Michaels, The Gospel of John, 708.
8 John 12:37.
9 John 12:39–40.
10 Matthew 13:14–15, Mark 4:11–12, Luke 8:10.
11 Acts 28:26.
12 John 12:41.
13 Isaiah 6:1–3.
14 Morris, The Gospel According to John, 538.
15 John 12:42–43.
16 John 2:23.
17 John 7:31.
18 John 11:45.
19 John 9:22.
20 John 3:19.
21 John 5:44.
22 John 12:44–45.
23 John 7:16.
24 Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
25 Matthew 10:40.
26 Luke 10:16.
27 John 12:46.
28 John 12:36.
29 John 8:12. See also John 1:4–9, 3:19–21, 8:12, 9:5.
30 John 12:47–48.
31 John 12:37.
32 John 3:18–19.
33 Morris, The Gospel According to John, 540.
34 John 12:49–50.