John 12:37-43 – A Final Summary of Jesus’ Ministry

These verses are John’s evaluation of Jesus’ ministry. Even though Jesus did many signs, he was rejected by his own people. In many ways this paragraph mirrors themes from the prologue in John 1:1-18.  John cites two verses of Isaiah as “fulfilled” by this rejection. Jesus himself quoted the description of the people’s rejection of Isaiah’s message ( See Matthew 13). The original context of these two quotes is important:

Isaiah 53:1 from the most important of the “servant songs” in Isaiah. This section of Isaiah describes a “servant of God” who will be exalted by God (52:13) because he suffers on behalf of God’s people. This whole section of Isaiah is filled with language which is applied to Jesus by the early apostolic preaching. The servant of Isaiah 52:13-52:12 is afflicted, oppressed and crushed “for our iniquities” and “transgressions.” He was silent before his oppressors and the Lord “laid the iniquity of us all” on this innocent sufferer.

The identity of the suffering servant was something which was discussed in first-century Judaism. In Acts 8 the Ethiopian Eunuch is reading this passage when Philip is led by the spirit to share the gospel with him. The Eunuch asks if the writer was describing himself, or someone else, both were live questions even in the first-century.

Early preaching of the apostles centered on the identity of the suffering servant, claiming that Jesus was that servant of God. His death was an atonement for sin, and his resurrection is the ultimate vindication from God that Jesus was truly his representative.

The second text John quotes is Isaiah 6:10, a line from the beginning of Isaiah’s ministry. When he was called to be a prophet he was told that the people to whom he was sent will not listen to him and that he will not be successful in turning the majority of the people back to the Lord and covenant faithfulness. Like Isaiah 52:13-53:12, the rejection of Isaiah 6:10 looms large in the preaching of the early church. Jesus himself cites Isaiah 6:10 to describe his generation after his Galilean ministry (Matthew 13:1-17, the Parable of the Sower, cf. Mark 6:52).

John’s point here is that the generation who heard Jesus preach and saw the signs he did refused to accept him as the messiah. Like Isaiah’s generation, those who reject the message of the Messiah have been rejected and face God’s judgment.

Like Isaiah’s day, there is still a remnant who believes in Israel. Just as in the time of Isaiah there is a small faithful minority who have responded properly to God’s clear revelation. But even this righteous remnant is not perfect. John is quick to point out that those who do believe refuse to openly confess Jesus because of fear of the “authorities”

John’s summary of Jesus’ public ministry draws on themes found throughout the first 12 chapters of the book – God revealed himself in Jesus, the true light of the World, but those who saw the light did not receive them and therefore remained in the dark.

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