Summary of John 12:20-33

Jesus came from the Father with a mission, to reveal God to us and provide a way of escape to God from the chains of sin, death, and hell. The cross was the focal point of Jesus’ coming. The Son glorified the Father through his obedience, even to the point of death. The Son’s obedience in glorifying the Father led to the Son’s exaltation by the Father.

The cross means total commitment, death to self and fruitfulness

Death produces life.

The whole world is fed by seeds that die to produce fields of grain. In the same way, following Jesus means laying down my life for him in order that the world may see the way to light and life.

Who is the Son of Man

In John chapter 3, (see “Sign of the Serpent” and “Lifted Up”) Jesus had already taught the people that just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, thus must the Son of Humanity be lifted up, in order that all who believe in him will have life eternal. The people were familiar with this teaching from Jesus. He was talking about dying on a cross.

But it made no sense to them. Those listening had come to understand Jesus’ claim as Messiah. Jesus was at the very apex of his popularity, the height of his power. And besides, their understanding of the scriptures, the understanding that had been taught to them by their scribes and rabbis, was clear. The Messiah was to remain into eternity.

They were referring to Psalm 110 which talks about Melchizedek, a Messianic figure who never dies.

Your people will offer themselves willingly
    on the day you lead your forces
    on the holy mountains.

From the womb of the morning,
    like dew, your youth will come to you.
The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind,
    “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

Psalm 110:3-4 (NRSV)

And they were not far wrong! The writer of Hebrews would one day make the selfsame point.

But they added another which was disingenuous, because they knew very well the answer.

And how can you say that it is necessary to elevate the son of humanity? Who is this son of humanity?

Gathered crowd to Jesus, John 12:34

It was not a new phrase from Jesus, and it was not a new phrase to them. It was a well-known phrase, appearing all throughout Ezekiel as a term for the prophet, the representative of humanity, and in particular in Daniel in which the Son of Humanity approaches Daniel, representing humanity.

As I watched in the night visions,

I saw one like a human being
    coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
    and was presented before him.
To him was given dominion
    and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
    should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
    that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
    that shall never be destroyed.

Daniel’s vision of the Son of Humanity, Daniel 7:13-14 (NRSV)

Walk in the Light

Jesus was not taken in by their seeming befuddlement, as his response made clear. He reminded the crowd, and warned his disciples, the light would be with them only a little longer. Their only hope of not being overtaken by the darkness was to walk in the light of Jesus’ words and meaning, and to follow Jesus where he was going. If they feigned perplexity, they would be walking in darkness, and then they would truly not know where they were going.

Even as you all have the light,” Jesus said to them, and I picture him placing both his hands on his chest so there would be no mistaking what he meant, “Believe in the light, in order that you become children of light.

But then strangely, immediately after he said this, Jesus – the light – removed himself; he departed and actively hid from the crowd. John explained that even though Jesus had performed many signs in their presence, the Judeans, those who lived in Jerusalem, in God’s holy city, upon God’s holy mountain, in daily view and access to God’s holy house, seemed inured to the light.


The first step towards unbelief is exercising a selective faith.

The cross offended their preconceived idea of who the Messiah would be and what he would do. Their Messiah was a conqueror, a deliverer to make Israel the preeminent world power.

You and I can fall into the same trap today. We might focus on a passage in the Bible and say, “This is what God is like. This is what God has promised me,” without taking the whole Bible into consideration, or even the context of that verse or passage. If a problem comes up, or something happens that does not match the way we want God to look, or act, we get angry.

The second step towards unbelief is ignoring the opportunity to gain understanding.

Instead of getting angry, or discouraged, it is better to come back to the light, get back to Jesus.

This is a critical hour, Jesus was saying, seize it. Act on it. Soon the opportunity is going to pass, and the light will fade, and then you will be left in the dark about these things. Stepping into the light means stepping out of the darkness of old mindsets, preconceived ideas about God that do not take the whole of God’s story into account.

The third step towards unbelief is denying the need for light. The Hebrew scriptures do describe the Messiah Jesus was presenting to the people, but the people simply did not want to see it. They zeroed in on Psalm 110 and said that is the whole story, without taking into account the suffering Messiah the prophet Isaiah presented.

As Isaiah had predicted 700 years earlier when he saw Jesus’ presence fill the temple with glory, in their blindness the people would be made even more blind.              

These people had an opportunity to believe. They were invited to believe. They were shown many miracles, given much evidence. But they made a choice to reject the truth they did not like, and God sealed their choice.

Choosing and Becoming

What we choose and we persist in doing is what we will eventually become. Watch the progression from John 12:37 to John 12:39. Some of them, John remembered, would not believe until there came a point when they could not believe.

Even more remarkably, there were those who did believe, but still would not act because they were so imprisoned by their fear of the Pharisees, fear of the power the Pharisees had over them, of being driven from the synagogue and all the devastating repercussions such a forfeiture had in store. But the bedrock of that fear was exposed to John.

For they prized with high esteem the glory of people better than the glory of God.

John 12:43

Choosing not to believe eventually becomes an inability to believe

To act on the truth changes a person. If you and I act on the truth we have received – even if our knowledge of the truth is limited – we will become more filled with truth and more wise.

If we respond to the light we will become inwardly enlightened. Not only that, we will become a light to others.


If a person rejects the truth, or chooses to ignore it, that person will begin to lose their ability to even recognize truth, until finally becoming unable to know the truth at all, let alone act on it.

[Light | and John 12:35-36 (NRSV)]

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