Text: John 12:37-50, Title: Anatomy of Unbelief, Date/Place: NRBC, 3/10/13, AM
A. Opening illustration: Dangerous Theology, “We must never forget that it is by God’s appointment that if His
word does not quicken, it must deaden.”
B. Background to passage: the scandal of the unbelief of God’s chosen people was a thorn in the flesh for the
followers of Jesus. And what we see here was not the beginning of their unbelief, but a continuation of the
pattern established in the first part of the gospels, and the first parts of the bible. And John notes that they
“kept on disbelieving” with the imperfect tense. One little precursory note—John notes that Isaiah said what
he said “when he saw the glory of God.” That is interesting on a couple of fronts. First is that the context of
what Jesus has just been speaking about is the glorification of the Son of Man. Secondly, this truth we are
about to speak of is close to the core of who God truly is—in this instance, One who is absolutely free to open
the eyes of the blind or restrain the eyes of those who might see, revealing Himself to only those He chooses
and when He chooses. Absolute freedom is very close to the core of who God really is. Another place this
link is found is in Ex 33:18-19. God’s name, His being, His core is proclaimed in the description: “I will be
gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy.”
C. Main thought: in this text we see people who see but don’t see, on purpose. This morning I want to look at
some characteristics of unbelief.
In spite of evidence (v. 37)
1. In this instance, and often unbelief is held in the face of a good body of proof. John notes here that Jesus
did many signs (indicators of deity) in their presence. And yet, they still chose not to believe.
4. Unbelief for good reason or for no reason is blameworthy. There is not enough proof for some people.
Some people have already made up their minds, they just want your agreement, not your opinion. Some
just have to be against it. Some people would argue with a fencepost. And according to Jesus their
condemnation will be worse.
B. So that prophesy may be fulfilled (v. 38)
1. John also notes that their unbelief was
also due to Isaiah’s prophesy. God foretold through Isaiah that
people would reject the messiah. He would be a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; despised,
rejected, slandered, and mocked.
2. 3 the great trials which your eyes have seen, the signs, and those great wonders. 4 Yet the LORD has not
given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day. –Deut 29:3-4
3. Illustration: Although the Greek conjunction hina sometimes has resultative force (the meaning here
would then be that the unbelief of the people resulted in the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, not
that it occurred in order that Old Testament prophecy might be fulfilled), no such weakening can be
legitimate here: v. 39 insists that it was for this reason that the people could not believe. On the other hand,
such unambiguous predestinarianism is never set over against human responsibility: v. 37 presumes there
is human culpability, and v. 43 articulates an utterly reprehensible human motive for the unbelief. 1
4. Every prophecy in scripture is guaranteed to come to pass. It is good to know that God is trustworthy,
isn’t it? He has the ability to accomplish anything He desires.
Carson, D. A. (1991). The Gospel according to John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary (447). Leicester,
England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans.
C. Restricted by God (v. 39-40)
1. Now, here is where the theology
gets dangerous. Neither Isaiah, nor John are ambiguous about who
in part is responsible for this unbelief—God is! John says that they are not able to believe. In earlier
chapters, he has gone to great lengths to say that people are only saved if God draws them. Isaiah says
that God blinded eyes, and God hardened hearts SO THAT they couldn’t see, couldn’t understand, and
couldn’t be saved. This is kinda implied from the previous point. If a prophesy is made, we know that we
have a God would will ensure that it will come to pass.
3. Illustration: the crucifixion is one of the biggest events that would have never taken place w/o unbelief.
“What he is now saying is that the hand of God is in the consequences of their choice…The ultimate cause
of all there is, in a genuinely theistic universe, must be found in the will of God.” “God thus blinds and
hardens, simply by letting alone and withdrawing His aid: and God can do this by a judgment what is
hidden, although not by one that is unrighteous.” –Augustine, “God’s judicial hardening is not presented a
the capricious manipulation of an arbitrary potentate…but as a holy condemnation of a guilty people who
are condemned to do and be what they themselves have chosen.” –Carson,
4. Unbelief serves God’s greater purposes of God. And God has the freedom to show grace on some, mercy
on some, and some to harden, and restrain them from seeing His glory. This is hard for us to fathom, but
it is the clear teaching of scripture. It’s part of the hidden will of God. And it is part of God being God. It
is all governed by the goodness and wisdom of Christ. This is why there is no room for pride—if you are
in, it’s only by grace. Nobody deserves it. And it is only because God opened your eyes.
D. Same as Unbelief in God (v. 44-45)
1. According to Jesus, to believe in Him
is to believe in the Father who sent Him. Therefore the opposite is
also true. If you don’t believe in Christ, you don’t believe in God.
3. Illustration: personal testimony about believing in God.
4. One who says that they believe in God, but don’t follow Christ, doesn’t see the oxymoron. You can’t
believe in something and not believe in something at the same time in the same way. Jesus says that
trusting in Him is also trusting in the Father. It is a package deal. It is who God really is, and to believe in
another is blasphemy. “Believing” in God, and not following Jesus is damning.
Walking in Darkness (v. 46)
1. Jesus also says that knowing Him is like walking in the light, whereas unbelief is like fumbling around in
the darkness, bumping into things, knocking over things, falling into things. Jesus says He turns the lights
on in your house, and you will remain in darkness no more if you trust in Him. But if you don’t, you are
already in the dark, and don’t know it.
4. Some of you here don’t have the light of the world. Some of you are not found in Christ, and therefore
have no light. Salvation is asking God to open your eyes. Salvation is begging God to rescue you from
the darkness within.
F. Rejecting God’s Authority (v. 48-49)
1. Jesus makes some hard sayings here.
He says that if you reject Him, you are rejecting God and His
authority in your life. Jesus is clear that His words, actions, and ministry come on direct order from God
the Father. So to ignore what Jesus says is tantamount to hearing a direct command from a superior
officer, and you blowing him off flippantly.
4. So when you do not love your brother in Christ, you are willfully rejecting the Creator of the Universe.
When you ignore the command to be reconciled with your brother before worship, you are blowing off
the Great I AM. When you fail to fast, or give, or pray, you are thumbing your nose at Absolute Reality.
Makes you realize how often you fail. Makes you glad that this whole thing is done on grace.
G. Rejecting Everlasting Life (v. 50)
1. Maybe the most pertinent thing
that Jesus said in this conversation, especially to those of you who are not
yet convinced that you are authentic believer, is that if you reject Jesus, His commands, thus the Father’s
commands, you are rejecting eternal life.
4. You cannot go to heaven on your terms. You can’t say, “I wanna miss the whole ‘hell’ thing, but I am
not sure about the morality thing.” Nor can you say, “I’ll take the whole heaven’s gates, but don’t want
witnessing, cross-bearing, and sacrifice.” You don’t set the rules, you don’t call the shots. And if you
reject his terms, you can only inherit destruction.
Closing illustration: “Grace may be refused to the so persistently as to destroy the power of accepting
it. ‘I will not’ leads to ‘I cannot.’” “Finally, God hardened them, and those who were unwilling to believe
became unable to believe. Having been entrusted with such great privileges, Israel was accountable for
B. John finishes off his public ministry with a final public appeal to believe. 21 Then Jesus said to them
again, “I am going away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin. Where I go you cannot come.” –
C. Invitation to commitment
● Human responsibility is not negated. You must repent and believe.
● If a superficial reading finds this harsh, manipulative, even robotic, four things must constantly be borne
in mind: (1) God’s sovereignty in these matters is never pitted against human responsibility (cf. notes on v.
38); (2) God’s judicial hardening is not presented as the capricious manipulation of an arbitrary potentate
cursing morally neutral or even morally pure beings, but as a holy condemnation of a guilty people who are
condemned to do and be what they themselves have chosen; (3) God’s sovereignty in these matters can also
be a cause for hope, for if he is not sovereign in these areas there is little point in petitioning him for help,
while if he is sovereign the anguished pleas of the prophet (Is. 63:15–19)—and of believers throughout
the history of the church—make sense; (4) God’s sovereign hardening of the people in Isaiah’s day, his
commissioning of Isaiah to apparently fruitless ministry, is a stage in God’s ‘strange work’ (Is. 28:21–22)
that brings God’s ultimate redemptive purposes to pass. Paul argues rather similarly in Romans 9:22–33.2