The Gospel of John, Jesus’ seventh sign, part 11
Jan 11, 2020
John 12:37, 38 says,
37 But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke [in Isaiah 53:1]: “Lord, who has received our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
Jesus had performed seven specific signs to manifest the glory of God in the earth, yet only a few truly believed in Him. So John quotes Isaiah 53:1, which leads into the important Old Testament messianic passage about “The Suffering Servant.” Though it was prophesied more than 700 years ago that the Messiah would be beaten and would die as the Lamb of God, no one could comprehend such a Messiah since the prophecy was first given.
God Imposed Blindness
The reason for this unbelief is given in the next quotation. John 12:39-41,
39 For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, 40 “He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their hearts, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them.” 41 These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him.
Here John quotes from Isaiah 6:9, 10, which speaks of the prophet’s commission,
9 He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand. 10 Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed’.”
Isaiah knew, of course, that this divinely-imposed condition could not be permanent, for then would the promises of God fail. So we read in the next verse (Isaiah 6:11, 12),
11 Then I said, “Lord, how long?” And He answered, “Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant, houses are without people, and the land is utterly desolate, 12 the Lord has removed men far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.”
Historically, Israel was “devastated” from 745-721 B.C. and the survivors were “removed” and resettled north in Assyrian territory (2 Kings 17:6). Yet their eyes and ears were not opened at that time, although some of them did indeed repent (i.e., “return” to the Lord). There is a non-canonical book which gives the account of one of those righteous Israelites named Tobit:
“1 The book of the words of Tobit… of the tribe of Naphtali, who in the time of Enemessar king of the Assyrians was led captive out of Thisbe, which is at the right hand of that city, which is called properly Naphthali in Galilee above Aser. 2 I Tobit have walked all the days of my life in the way of truth and justice….”
Although some of the Israelites repented, most did not, because the law of tribulation specified that “there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known” (Deuteronomy 28:64).
Hence, Israel’s exile to Assyria in itself could not turn the hearts of the people to satisfy the requirement in Isaiah 6:11. Many years later, Judah was also destroyed along with Jerusalem (70 A.D.) and its people exiled and scattered. This devastation too did little to end the blindness of the Judeans, although once again there were some who did indeed repent and turn to Christ.
I believe it will require a third devastation to put an end to the blindness and deafness. It will come after Jerusalem is destroyed fully and finally, as Jeremiah 19:10, 11 prophesied, “as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot again be repaired.”
This, I believe, was the meaning behind God’s answer to Isaiah’s question, “How long?”
Meanwhile, then, the apostle John quotes from Isaiah to let his readers know that the continuing blindness of the people and their inability to believe was not the result of failed prophecy but was actually the fulfillment of prophecy.
Further, God Himself took credit for imposing this blindness upon the people by an act of His own sovereign will. Because God did this, He also took responsibility for His actions, making it necessary to reverse this and to save all the blind and deaf people who were affected by His decision. Only in this way could God’s own sense of justice and love be satisfied. Only in this way could God remain true to Himself.
A Few Believers
Isaiah 6:9-11 gave a pessimistic prophecy of blindness, deafness, and unbelief during the course of the great tribulation that was to last for “seven times” (7 x 360 years). However, God also prophesied about exceptions, those whose eyes and ears would be opened to hear and to believe the word of God. So Isaiah 6:12 says,
12 Yet there will be a tenth portion in it, and it will again be subject to burning, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains when it is felled. The holy seed is its stump.
The principle of the remnant is thus set forth in the law of the tithe, which is more than just a command. It is a prophecy of the remnant. The next chapters of Isaiah develop this theme through the name of Isaiah’s son, Shear-jashub, “the remnant will return” (Isaiah 7:3; 10:21, 22).
John understood this, of course, and so he writes in John 12:42, 43,
42 Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue, 43 for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.
No doubt John was speaking specifically of Nicodemus, who did not publicly confess Jesus as the Christ until the crucifixion, when he cast aside all caution and helped his friend, Joseph of Arimathea, claim the body of Jesus and bury it with honor (John 19:38-40). Both were members of the Sanhedrin and therefore qualified as “rulers” who had been secret believers in Christ. Yet just a few days earlier, between the resurrection of Lazarus and the death of Jesus Christ, they and others were still keeping their faith secret.
We may perhaps extrapolate from this that a tenth of the Sanhedrin were believers and that their eyes and ears had been opened to the truth, as Isaiah 6:12 suggests. There were 70 in the Sanhedrin, and a tenth of these would be seven members. Although their faith was yet shaky, it was sufficient to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy of the remnant.
Healing Blindness in Two Stages
John 12:44-46 continues,
44 And Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me. 45 He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me. 46 I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.
“Darkness,” in this case, refers to blindness, where men stumble, not knowing where they are going. To believe in Christ is to see the light and to walk in that light. Yet there are many who believe but do not take the next step of publicly confessing Him, whereby they may be baptized. Hence, their faith comes in two stages, prophesied in the story of the blind man that Jesus healed in Mark 8:22-25.
In that story, the blind man was healed in two stages. He first saw indistinctly, saying, “I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around” (Mark 8: 24). Jesus then laid hands on his eyes a second time, the man “was restored and began to see everything clearly” (Mark 8:25).
That example, I believe, illustrated two stages of healing the blind eyes of the remnant, which explains John 12:42 and 43.
The Father’s Judgment
John 12:47-50 says,
47 If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day. 49 For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak.”
Because Jesus was sent by the Father, He was acting as the Father’s Agent. Thus, Jesus spoke only the words of the Father and, as He put it, “I did not speak on My own initiative.” This is how we are to understand Jesus’ earlier statement in John 5:22,
22 For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son.
The Son is actually the Judge of the world, but He judges not according to His own will but according to the Father’s law. Hence, it is the Father and His law that actually judges people, and Jesus merely carries out that judgment faithfully.
Those who reject Christ and are too blind to believe His “sayings,” will be judged “according to their deeds” (Revelation 20:12, 13). This means everyone will be judged by the law of God in different ways, depending on their works. The judgment of God is pictured metaphorically as “the lake of fire” in Revelation 20:14, 15, which is the outworking of the “river of fire” in Daniel 7:10. The metaphor itself is derived from Deuteronomy 33:2 KJV, “a fiery law” reflecting the nature of God Himself, who was manifested only through “fire” (Deuteronomy 4:33).
John 12:50 concludes,
50 I know that His commandment is eternal [aionian] life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.”
The apostle ends with Jesus making a New Covenant statement: “His commandment is aionian life.” Many still think in terms of the Old Covenant and do not understand the significance of this brief statement. Whereas the Old Covenant leads inevitably toward death, because men cannot keep their vows perfectly, the New Covenant leads to aionian life, because God is able to keep His vows.
Hence, whereas the Ten Commandments are men’s responsibility to keep on account of their vows to follow God, the same are the Ten Promises in God’s mouth. God promises that we will have no other gods before Him. God promises that He will see to it that we learn to honor our father and mother, that we will not commit murder, that we will not steal or commit adultery or perjury or even covet. Whoever makes the vow or promise is the one responsible to keep it.
God’s commandment is His promise that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess (“profess”) Him so that they may be saved and given life in the end.
This is part 11 of a series titled "Jesus' Seventh Sign" To view all parts, click the link below.