John 12:37-43. Unbelief

John 12:37 Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

“Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

39    For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:

40    “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.”

41    Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him. 42 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human praise more than praise from God.

The blind unbelief of many who witnessed Jesus’ public ministry is interpreted by two quotes from the prophet Isaiah. Despite all the signs in front of their own eyes, many refused to believe. And perhaps just as problematic, God knew all along that many would never believe. Just as Isaiah had experienced, Jesus spoke God’s word faithfully and powerfully but most rejected it. Isaiah’s rejection foreshadowed Jesus’ rejection; which is the immediate significance of the first quote from Isa 53:1, “Lord, who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” Jesus is now identified as the sacrificial substitute, often called ‘The Suffering Servant’, in the book of Isaiah. With this John’s Passion Narrative is introduced.

But just as John identifies the parallel between Isaiah’s preaching and Jesus’ ministry, he seems to have something more to say. His reflection on Isaiah has shown John that hard hearted rejection was always going to be the way of the messiah because that was the plan of God, announced in Isa 6:9-10. Although God plainly revealed his power (‘his arm’) in Jesus’ ministry, it seems that the effect of generations of hardened hearts would result in judgment, despite God’s salvation purpose. The emphasis in this second quote, from Isaiah 6, is on the divine initiative in ‘blinding’ the people, although in the LXX text the statement has the form ‘they closed their own eyes’. John understands the words of Isaiah 6 in the sense that neither the message of God (Jesus’ words) nor the acts of God (the arm of the Lord revealed in Jesus’ signs) resulted in faith on the part of the people.

And yet John understands something more from Isaiah 6. He identifies that the vision of “the Lord” in the temple seen by Isaiah was in fact Jesus himself (v41). Isaiah wrote:

“… I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. (Isa 6:1-4)

Lord Jesus, I wonder at your majesty and my heart weeps that so many do not believe. Here am I. Send me.