They Could Not Believe – Jn 12:39

The book of John opens revealing the Word who existed with the
Father (1:1) and was in fellowship with the Father from the very
beginning (1:2). John eventually shows us that within Him was the life
and this life was the very light of men (1:4)…for Jesus Christ Himself
being the resurrection and the life ( 11:25,26) was and is the light of
the world ( 8:12). In a conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus explains
that the worst part, the very condemnation of the world, was that the
Light shone in the darkness but men loved darkness rather than light
(3:19). This puts us in an immediate problem when we get to John 12:39

For this reason they could not believe, because
Isaiah [6:10] said "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts
so that they would not see and understand with their heart, and turn to
me and I would heal them"

In the midst of flashes of light and the thundering voice of God
from heaven, Jesus' public ministry closes with such somber words and
we're left wondering: Was Jesus' purpose then to save the few and damn all the others to hell by assuring that they couldn't believe?

There are some that hold to that position of course. God before the
foundation of the world elected the few to salvation and either damned
the rest to hell or bypassed all the others and let them naturally head
towards hell. Those who have been elected to salvation have been saved
because God gave them the ability to believe whereas no others had that
ability since they are desperately wicked and have no desire to seek

The discussion is much longer than a single article, but our purpose is to look at the passage in chapter 12 and ask if Jesus' only goal was to save the few and assure all others would not believe?

Firstly we should try to understand the context of the usage of the Isaiah passage.

Portrait 1: The disciples sitting around a table
with the living Lazarus and the Lord. We find from other accounts that
this was the house of Simon the leper. Mary, taking expensive oil,
anoints the head (Mt 26:6-13) and feet of Jesus weeping and washing
those feet with her hair. What a glorious picture of true worship and
in that glorious flash we see the dark contrast of Judas, a supposed
disciple, calling the act a waste of resources in his greed. (12:1-11)

Portrait 2: Crowds of people shouting "Hosanna!" as the King enters Jerusalem in peace, riding on a donkey

and weeping (Lk 19:37 -44).

. In contrast we see those people who had seen the raising of Lazarus bearing repeated witness. (12:12-19)

Portrait 3: The Pharisees murmuring against the
Lord that the entire world has gone off to follow Jesus (ironic in that
those people crying "Hosanna!" weren't true believers at all) and at
the same time we see Greeks actually seeking Jesus. Those learned men
who should have known better, in the dark, while the Greeks from
outside the covenants come near seeking the Messiah. (12:19-26)

Portrait 4: Jesus seeks to glorify the Father's
name and the Father speaks from heaven that His name has been glorified
and He will glorify it again. Such a tremendous event and the people
think it to be the voice of thunder or of an angel. With all the signs
that Jesus performed the people did not believe. (12:27-36)

Some will point to John 10 that Jesus knows His sheep and His sheep
know Him (10:14) and will respond to Him. Jesus being the only
entranceway (10:7-9) into eternal life and greener pastures assures the
salvation of His sheep for His sheep know Him (10:27) whereas those
others who don't believe are damned because they are not his sheep and
therefore can not believe (10:26).

The problem is when we see John's purpose for writing the book of
John (20:30,31). At no point does John say "I write this so you, being
the drawn sheep of God, you few, may believe that Jesus is the Christ,
the Son of God and that all you others may not believe." In fact, John
chapter 10 doesn't end with Jesus telling the unbelievers that they
don't believe because they are not His sheep.

On the contrary, Jesus points out that He and the Father are one
raising the hackles and stones of the theologians. Jesus questions
which good work was it that resulted in them wanting to stone him.

The theologians answer that it was not for His good works but
because He makes Himself out to be God. He then goes onto illustrate
that their problem is not a theological one but if they don't want to
believe Him, go right ahead, but believe His works that they themselves
have just declared to be good (10:34-38).

How do sheep get to know a shepherd? Well, the shepherd stands at a
distance from the frightened sheep and pulls up a tuft of good, green
and crunchy grass and tosses it a few feet away. The sheep looks at the
stranger, looks at the grass and sees that it is good for food, runs
over and eats it, then runs back to it's safe position.

The shepherd then says "Good sheep, oh, you like that good grass
don't you? Here's some more." Picks up more grass and throws it a tad
closer. The sheep runs up and eats the grass and runs back. The
shepherd will keep this up, getting the tossed grass closer and closer
to himself until the sheep is eating from his hand and it trusts him.
It has become his sheep and he has become its shepherd.

Jesus' good works are that grass, it was a means by which those
unbelievers could wind up believing. They may not have been ready to
eat out of his hand acknowledging Him as the Son of God, but to
acknowledge that His works were good was fine (10:37). This is the Good
Shepherd at work!

This being the case, when we look at the Isaiah passage quoted in
John 12, it is not substantiating some erroneous notion that the people
were forced to not see that Jesus is the Christ, nor that the people
had no choice in the hardening of their hearts simply because they were
never His to begin with.

We see people, rather, who have been exposed to Jesus' public
ministry for at least 3 years and at the end of the ministry, they made
their choice. Some decided on their own profit, some on their own
position and some on their own possibility of royalty. Isaiah spoke of
such people that they would willfully harden themselves upon hearing
the message, for indeed the words spoken to Isaiah were not hidden away
as if they were a sentence, but rather a prophecy of what people would
do and meant to be professed to them.The sentence is that with the
continued unbelief on their own part, they would be judged and then
could not believe.

Note the text: In light of all the signs the people would not believe in Him ( 12:37) resulting in the fulfillment of the Isaiah texts where the people could not believe ( 12:38-41)

Jesus came into the world to save men (Lk 9:56) and not the few (Jn
1:29, 3:16
). In His dying on the cross He would cast out the ruler of the world
(Jn 12:31) and seek to draw all men to Himself (Jn 12:32). His message
(given directly from the Father, Jn 12:49) asked those who believe to
come out of the dark into the light. That first time He came into the
world (Jn 12:46), it was neither to judge nor to condemn…such matters
are for the last day (Jn 12:48), not for a day before in history's
eternity past. It is in that day that men will reap the penalty due for
their willful rejection of the Father's message and promised one.

God is an amazing God, giving eyes for men to see and the ability to
see. He also gave eyelids so they, if they so wish, can close their
If they persist in that shutting he gives them over to their desire and
shuts their eyes.

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