Translation and Commentary on John’s Gospel
JOHN 12: 37
Although Jesus had done so many miraculous signs in their presence, they did not put their trust in him, so that the word of the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled, as he said,
Lord who has trusted our report, and to whom has the Lord’s arm been revealed?
For that reason they were unable to trust. For Isaiah also said,
He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts in case they should see with their eyes, and understand with their hearts and turn to me and I should heal them.
Isaiah said these words because he saw his splendour and spoke of him.
Many even from among the leaders nevertheless did put their trust in him, but because of the Pharisees they did not acknowledge him, so that they would not be expelled from the synagogue; for they loved the honour that comes from human beings more that the honour that comes from God.
And Jesus cried out, “Whoever trusts in me, trusts not me but the One who sent me; and whoever sees me as I am, sees the One who sent me. I have come as a light into the world, so that all who trust in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my teaching and does not keep it, I do not judge her; for I did not come to judge but to rescue the world. The one who rejects me and does not accept my teaching has a judge: the word that I have spoken will judge her on the last day. For I have not spoken from myself, but the Father who sent me has given me a commandment- what to say when I speak. And I know that his commandment is the life of the Age to Come. So what I say when I speak is what the Father has told me.”
The passage reflects on the difficulty of putting trust in Jesus, in spite of his “miraculous signs” especially the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Although his opponents cannot deny the miracles they deny them as signs of Jesus’ messianic identity. He may be a healer but he does not do what they expected of a messiah. The gospel writer sees their refusal of Jesus as foreseen by the second prophet Isaiah whose servant song registers the rejection of God’s servant; and he recalls the scornful words of the first Isaiah, whose message from God is said ironically to cause blind eyes and hard hearts. The writer is doubtless also thinking of the Gospel messengers of his own community, whose witness was rejected by their fellow Jews.
The writer mentions the threat which was especially active in his own day, that those who acknowledged Jesus as Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue.
The words given to Jesus here echo what he has said before. He is the worldly presence of the Father, sent to rescue human beings from the worldly powers. He and his teaching are the unveiling of God. He does not bring an interpretation of tradition to be argued over, but a encounter with the rescuing God. He disclaims the role of judge, but warns that those who reject him will be reminded of his words in the day of judgement. He is light – the Greek reads “Ego phos (I a light); he is not separate from his words and his words are from God who sent him. He is, as the prologue to the Gospel proclaims, “The creative wisdom made flesh.”
The final sentence shows a concern with the act of speech and with its content. It seems a bit clumsy, but is a way of allowing Jesus to insist that God has not just sent him as a preacher but has also determined the content of his utterance. He is wholly God’s mouth.
In the face of expulsion from the synagogue and the bitterness between the “Judeans” and the writer’s Christian community, the writer refuses to give up on the faith of Israel, but rather re-interprets it from the perspective of a new revelation of God, in Jesus. The book of Isaiah provides a bridge between the old revelation and the new.