The Power of Unbelief (The Reason He Went to Calvary) John 12:34-50

Dr. Angulus Wilson
Dr. Angulus Wilson

One of the strongest and most powerful things in the world is unbelief! It can keep somebody in denial, danger and disobedience. Unbelief is known to send people into all of eternity without a savior. Unbelief is known for breaking up relationships, killing friendships, destroying trust and even causing confusion in multiple levels of life. I have come to discover that unbelief is a complex activity. If one was to research it closely you could discover that it affects every area of life.

Unbelief was birthed, empowered and mandated by Sin. Sin has issued this plague to men since The Fall in the garden. It sits and dwells in the hearts of believers and nonbelievers. It can only be cured by faith in Christ alone. It is an act of the old nature in the believer and the fallen nature of the unbeliever. It wakes up with you, walks with you, talks with you and tries to interfere with your decisions to obey God and his plan for your life.

Today, this is what we see and wrestle with. The fate of the cross is coming, the end is at hand and Jesus is laying out the reason he has come to earth to redeem man. We also get to see that the crowds that were following him were filled with unbelief—even after seeing his work, feeling his power and testifying about his words. Unbelief was all around them and it was present for a reason. Man has rebelled against God and is rebelling against God.

As we open up our text, we see unbelief at its best in the heart of the crowd:

34 The people answered Him, “We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever; and how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?”

This is the temple crowd that was just seen praising Him as he rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. They were crying “Hosanna-Hosanna blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Now that the feast days have begun and Jesus is calling for them to believe in Him as the Messiah, they want no parts of him. Jesus as Christ had come to die for their sins and they were looking for a Messiah that would stay with them on the earth. So now there is unbelief in their response to His question.

Listen: they say, “We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever; how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?”

  • They did not believe in His words, or in a dying Christ.
  • They did not want a lifted up Christ on a cross.
  • They did not want a martyr for a leader.

Belief in His words and what God wanted was not on their agenda. They wanted God to meet their ‘human welfare’, not their ‘spiritual welfare’.

They were just like some of us—we need a ‘welfare’ God!

  • A God who will be present to meet the rent.
  • A God who will be present to take care of the bullies.
  • A God who would be present to shower you with gifts.
  • A God who would be present to heal all of your aches and pains.
  • A God who would be present to make sure that you shine and get things going your way.

Just like Israel wanted a Christ to please them, so do we. And as they were filled with unbelief, many of us have the same sin.

The next thing we see is that Jesus knows that unbelief has them arrested and in turn offers them a divine invitation:

35 Then Jesus said to them, “A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.

He attempts to inform, invite and instruct them on how to come out of unbelief.

Here we discover that Jesus knows that unbelief has them under arrest. He attempts to inform, invite and instruct them on how to come out of unbelief.

He informs them that just for a little while longer, the light (Jesus) will be with them and that they must walk in the light while they have it. This action is informative because Calvary is just a few days away. In spite of their lack of understanding of what was to be done on the cross, He informs them that they needed to remain with Him.

Then Jesus reveals why he was revealing this information to them; darkness was present and those who are caught in it will not know where they are walking! Satan and his emissaries were moving forward with their plans to crucify Him (turn off the light). The world would soon become very dark and those who were with Jesus would no longer have him in their physical presence to consult with on what to do!

He then attempts to invite and instruct them on how to leave unbelief and become believers in Him. He says, “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

Here you have the great invitation to escape darkness, by becoming children of the light! The information on how to do it is predicated upon believing. He is telling them to “believe in in the light, that you may become sons of the light.”

The divine invitation from unbelief had been given and Christ was calling for those who saw and experienced Him to change their minds, their thoughts, their ideas and their unbelief!

Someone here today can hear the Lord calling for you to come into the light because the world is a dark place!

Somebody can hear the Lord calling for you to come walk in the light while you can still see it!

Someone here today hears the Lord calling for you to change your mind, thoughts, ideas and unbelief!

The world is a dark place, wickedness is everywhere! Evil is rampant and sin is out of control, but the light of the gospel is still shining and is still the answer.

  • You can still hear of Jesus in spite of the darkness!
  • You can still see his works in spite of the darkness!
  • You can still feel his presence in spite of the darkness!

The light is still present and shining. If I were in unbelief, I would come while the light is on my heart. I would leave from unbelief and trust in Him by faith.

As we continue through the text, we see a divine insight offered by Christ:

37 But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, 38 that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” 39 Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, Lest they should see with their eyes, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.” 41 These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.

What a powerful phrase written by John in verse 37. One scholar notes that, “it is written in what we call the negative imperfect active voice.” In other words, they “kept on not believing in Him; stubborn refusal in face of the light.”

They knew what to believe, but kept refusing to believe. They knew but would not submit to the light and continuously rejected his promptings to come out of darkness.

  • It’s the adulterer who knows it’s wrong, but will not stop! They have a stubborn refusal in face of the light.
  • It’s the murderer who knows he’s guilty, but won’t stop killing! They have a stubborn refusal in face of the light.
  • It’s the liar who knows he’s a liar but won’t stop lying! They have a stubborn refusal in face of the light.

A friend in my library says, “The last words of Christ’s public ministry (vv. 35-36) were a terrible warning against letting the opportunity for salvation pass by.”

“These things Jesus spoke and departed and was hidden from them.”

In the verses that follow, the apostle John explains why Christ hid Himself and why the Jews were condemned.

To begin with, they had rejected the evidence (v. 37). The light had been shining, but they refused to believe and follow the light. The terrible results of repeatedly rejecting Christ’s Word are found in verses 37–41!

  • They would not believe (v. 37) though they had seen the evidence for His divine Son-ship.
  • They could not believe (v. 39) because their hearts became hard and their eyes blind.
  • Therefore, God said, “They should not believe” (v. 39) because they had rejected His grace!

So Jesus hid Himself from them!

What an indictment against men when God hides Himself from you! When the divine doesn’t want to be bothered by the looks of your faces and the only one who can save you won’t save you! What an indictment when the loving Savior of Humanity finds no grace to extend your way!

What a tragedy! You can see, but rejected what you saw. You could and did know that He was real, but because your heart was hard you rejected what you already knew. Because of your foolishness, God said that “you should not and would not believe because you didn’t want His grace. What a tragedy!

As I look at the text, I see John adding another blow to their tragic destiny! He said that it was a prophetic intervention that it would be this way.

  • Isaiah 53:1 had foretold their unbelief and Isaiah 6:10 of their hardened hearts.
  • John 12:40 (which quotes Isa. 6:10) states that God blinds the eyes and hardens the hearts of those who persist in rejecting Christ!

It’s Sovereign Unbelief given by the Hand of God because of the hearts of MEN!

This verse is found seven times in the Bible and each time it speaks of judgment (Isa. 6:10, Mt. 13:14, Mk. 4:12, Lk. 8:10, Jn. 12:40, Ac. 28:26, Ro. 11:8). It is a repeated warning that reminds the unsaved not to take their spiritual opportunities lightly.

We saw that in verse 36, Jesus is telling the crowd, “While you have the light, believe in the light,” similar to the words from the prophet Isaiah who proclaimed, “Seek the Lord while He may be found” (Isa. 55:6).

Scholar Warren Wiersbe tells us that “John presents the conflict between light and darkness. Light symbolizes salvation, holiness, life; darkness stands for condemnation, sin, death.”

He then points out that John speaks of four different kinds of darkness in this gospel:

  • Mental Darkness (Jn. 1:5-8, 26): “The minds of sinners are blinded by Satan (2 Cor. 4:3-6) and they cannot see spiritual truths.”
  • Moral Darkness (Jn. 3:18-21): “The unsaved love sin and hate the light.”
  • Judicial Darkness (Jn. 12:35-36): “If men don’t obey the light, God sends the darkness and Christ hides Himself from them.”
  • Eternal Darkness (Jn. 12:46): “To abide darkness and Christ means to live in hell forever.”

The Jews were showing how they were engulfed in unbelief concerning Jesus in spite of what they saw and what they heard, and what they felt.

Unbelief had them in a head lock! It had them incarcerated and held in bondage. Unbelief was responsible for their hard hearts and kept them in this horrible state of mind!

Somebody reading this text this morning is stuck in the same place! You are bound by unbelief in spite of what you know about the light of the world. Despite what God has done for you in the past and what He is doing for you right now, you are caught up in unbelief and rejecting who He is and what you know about Him to be true.

Here’s a serving notice: scripture has already talked about you and Isaiah has already called your name out. In verse 38 of our text, John remembers Isaiah’s prophecy about those Jews who saw, heard and experienced the living God, but rejected Him!

Someone reading this very text is exactly who the preacher was talking about! You are being exposed because of your unbelief even though you’ve seen the strong arm of the Lord (salvation), but refuse to believe. You have been blinded, think that you know better than God and as a result your heart has been hardened.

Who has believed our report? Who has the arm of the Lord been revealed to?

Who is the one capable of rejecting the almighty and dares to contest his knowledge, power, wisdom, grace and mercy?
What a tragedy to be so close, yet so far! It’s a tragedy to be so near salvation, yet remain so lost.

Verses 42 and 43 go on to reveal some of the dangerous decisions that can be made against Christ:

42 Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.

In the close of our text, we see the deceiving intentions of man when it comes to following Christ:

44 Then Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me. 45 And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me. 46 I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness. 47 And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, 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 words, has that which judges him— the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day. 49 For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. 50 And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.”

According to one of the world’s greatest theologians, this passage seals the condition that is plaguing men today all across the known world!

He says, “In these verses (42-50), John quotes Christ and shows why many people reject the light. He then says that the reason that some reject Christ today or refuse to obey Him is because of the fear of man (42-43).”

The elders and rulers knew they should believe, but would not publically do so because of fear! These men were deceiving themselves because there is no such thing as a closet Christian! You’re either all in with Christ or you aren’t!

The influence of others upon our lives is a powerful and frightening thing. We can actually be guilty of fearing man more than fearing God.

Some are afraid that a man or woman may leave them because they want to follow God! At times, we even fear that parents or family will reject them for choosing to obey God. But when we live and behave like this, we are afraid because we love the praises of men more than the praises of God!

Revelations 21:8 lists the kind of people who will go to hell and at the top of the list are those who are fearful.
In John 5:24 we learn that salvation comes through the word; today’s text shows that the rejection of this word leads to condemnation (v. 48) and this word will used as evidence against them at judgment.

The light of Christ will not always be shining and someday He will hide Himself from those who have no concern for His word.

Divine news comes from Jesus as he states that to believe in Him is to believe in the one who sent Him—the same is said of those who reject him. If the elders would refuse to claim Him they would also refuse to claim the Father. Those who would reject the light would also reject the one who sent it.

The text goes on to say that the one to reject Christ is not judged by Him, but rather is judged by His word. To reject Christ is to reject the word.

47 And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, 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 words, has that which judges him— the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.

The Father gave him the message to proclaim, and when they rejected the word they rejected their only chance to be saved. Judgment is therefore inevitable because his word cannot lie, nor can it be changed. Here we see where the world will all stand before God and give an account on what they did with the word.

  • His word will not come up short.
  • His word will not bend corners.
  • His word will not play favorites, nor will it comfort your excuses.

Everyone will be judged by the word. You cannot ignore it, say you haven’t heard it, excuse it or say it doesn’t apply to you, for it will be the very thing that brings God’s judgment upon humanity! Can you imagine the terror on that day when you try to make excuses for why you stayed in your sin or made provision for your wicked lifestyle?
Nobody will be spared by the word! You are not spared then and you are not spared now. Condemnation will come by the word.

As we close this text, Jesus makes it clear that He is not speaking to an unbelieving world by His own words; He is speaking what the Father has told Him to say.

49 For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. 50 And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.”

It was His word that founded the earth and the universe, so it will be His word that judges it. The Father’s authority rests with the Son and the Son spoke with clarity, power, understanding and divine favor.

The Father’s command was to proclaim everlasting life in Christ. So He who rejects Jesus will reject the word of everlasting life. The one who rejects Jesus rejects the Father and His word.

Those who were present had now been warned about the tragedy of unbelief. They had been briefed on the severity of being a closet believer, and fearing man rather than God. They had been advised not to flee from the light but walk into the light. They had also been told that if this moment passed and they continued in their behavior, there would be a price to pay. Their judgment would be based on what they heard and what they rejected.

Both the believer and the unbeliever here today must decide what they will do with the word. They must decide if they will trust in Christ for salvation and believe the Father at his word, or if they will fear man and reject the promptings of the Father because they love man more than they love God.

Calvary was near, the cross was a few hours away, the entire crowd was watching and the rulers were present, but because of fear they said and did nothing. He was brutally murdered for the sin of unbelief, counted guilty by those who knew and followed Him, but instead made the decision to reject Him. All of this occurred so that they might be saved, yet they rejected his promises and refused his appeal for salvation.

The good news is that He didn’t stay dead. Early Sunday morning, before the breaking of dawn, He rose again from the dead with all power of heaven and earth in his hands.

His word came true. It judged those who mocked him and reigned throughout Jerusalem. His word was true then and it’s true now. You can trust it or reject it—the choice is yours.

If I were you, I would trust and not doubt. He can surely bring you out of whatever you’re going through. There is nobody like Jesus, God’s one and only son.