Why So Few People Believe (John 12:37–50)

Read John 12:37–50.

Maybe you’re like me. Sometimes I read the Gospels and want to scream, What is wrong with these people? Jesus is right there, close enough to touch. He’s healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead—why isn’t everyone falling on their knees, tossing aside their sins, and begging to follow Him wherever He goes?

This question must have bothered the apostle John too—or at least he knew it might bother some of his readers. So, now that Jesus has come to Jerusalem publicly for the Passover, and with the Jewish authorities ready to pounce, he reminds us this is how God said things would go.

The prophets of the Old Testament, whose messages were rejected by the vast majority of the people, were all setting the stage for the biggest rejection of all: that of God’s Son. John points us back to Isaiah, who was famously told his ministry would be a failure before he even got started. The people would have ears that couldn’t hear and eyes that couldn’t see; they would not receive His message of hope, no matter how convincingly he preached it.

The people were so committed to their idols, they had become like them. They were deaf and blind, just like the little statues before whom they bowed. In Jesus’ day, the idols look a bit different, but the people of Israel are again found to be deaf and blind.

This is the power of Jesus’ testimony and Jesus’ miracles. Though He says, “I did not come to judge the world” (John 12:47), He can also rightly say, “For judgment I have come into this world” (9:39). Judgment hinges not on anything Jesus does or says, but on how people respond to Him—whether or not they prove themselves to have spiritual eyes and ears that work.

The people of Israel are trapped in a prison of their sin, kept in chains by the spiritual powers of darkness. Jesus has come to break their chains, overpower their captors, and set them free. He has made a way to a new kingdom, one of light and love and grace. He opens the door and invites everyone to come, to set aside their shackles and follow Him to freedom. Those who accept the invitation are indeed set free. But for those who have convinced themselves their chains are quite comfortable—who ignore Him and choose to remain behind, enamored with all there is to do in prison and their social status among the other inmates—their judgment stands. They remain in their chains, and rightly so. 

While it’s true that some people see the signs and hear the teaching, and then put their faith in Jesus, most do not. And many who do only dip their toes in, becoming disciples in secret for fear that their allegiance to Jesus may harm their reputation and influence. But even these soft-commitment believers are the exception rather than the rule. The sad truth is, most of the people do not believe.

But remember what Jesus said a short time earlier: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (12:32). His ministry is headed toward the cross, and it is His death and resurrection that will bring about true and lasting faith in people who are far away from God. The cross breaks the power of sin; the empty tomb, the power of death. The faith Jesus is looking for recognizes its need of both. That is why, even today, it is often those who have struggled with addictions and rejection, the broken-down and cast out, who are the most eager to run to Jesus when they hear the good news.

No matter how much we might love the idols of this world, none can do for us what Jesus has done. None can set us free.

What’s this all about?

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