The Old Testament Law made provision for Gentiles to benefit from Israels religion (Ex 12.48-49). Rahab and Ruth were two prime examples of this. Even in New Testament times Gentiles who were disillusioned with godless paganism often found spiritual solace within the purity of Israels worship. In John 12 such Gentile proselytes (converts to Judaism), having come to Jerusalem to worship at the feast of Passover, and probably having witnessed Christs triumphant entry into His capital, approached Philip with the request, "Sir, we would see Jesus" (v.21). Their sincere desire prompted one of the most enlightening explanations of Calvary in the whole of Scripture, revealing the Saviours own view of His imminent sufferings (vv.20-36). It teaches us that the cross was timely: "The hour is come" (v.23). God ordered history so that everything was in place for the coming of His beloved Son (Gal 4.4). The cold ruthless ambition of Rome to extend her boundaries ensured that He was born in the right place (Micah 5.2; Lk 2.1-4) and that He died in exactly the right way, by crucifixion the Roman form of execution (vv.32-33; Ps 22.16). No one could hasten nor delay His death (Jn 7.30; 8.20), for He died at precisely the right time (Rom 5.6). The cross also glorified God and Christ (vv.23,28). It was here that "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other" (Ps 85.10). At Calvary God fully displayed both His love for a sinful world (Jn 3.16) and His perfect righteousness, because Christs death allowed Him to "be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Rom 3.26). The cross was the Son of Mans pathway to personal glory (Lk 24.26), and a platform upon which His moral excellencies could shine. It showed that He was a true man. When they smote Him He bruised and when they wounded Him He bled (Is 53.5). Further, it showed that He was a perfect man, for instead of retaliating (Is 53.7; James 3.6-8; 1 Pet 2.23) He prayed for His enemies (Mt 5.44; Lk 23.34). At the same time the cross proved Him to be Gods beloved Son, always submissive to the Fathers will (Lk 22.42), always seeking the Fathers glory (Jn 12.28).
The costliness of the cross and the infinite blessings that followed exhibited a principle of the natural world, for Christs death, like a corn of wheat falling into the ground and dying, brought forth much fruit (v.24). This law of nature life out of death also holds true for discipleship. Men who love this life, who cling desperately to earthly possessions, success and glory, will lose everything. But a believer, who abandons himself to Christ, aiming to receive the eternal reward of the enjoyment of Christs presence and the Fathers approval (v.26), will turn his back on this world system, dying to it (Rom 6.1-14; Gal 2.20; 6.14). This is the world system that was judged at Calvary (v.31), for Christs suffering not only exposed its true character as "a vast and complicated kingdom of Satan, breathing his spirit, doing his work"1 but also sealed the expulsion of its prince (Heb 2.14; Rev 12.10). And as a powerful magnet the cross draws all men to Christ (v.32): voluntarily or involuntarily everyone will finally bow to Him (Phil 2.10). Moreover, Christs crucifixion concluded a period of unparalleled testimony on earth, bringing in a new era of spiritual darkness to a rebellious world. "Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth" (v.35). Emphasizing this closing opportunity, the Saviour "departed, and did hide himself from them" (v.36).
Sadly, as a nation Israel rejected Christ (vv.37-44). Israels leaders were planning to murder Him, and although the multitudes had excitedly welcomed Him as Messiah, public opinion turned quickly. Many that had cried, "Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord" (v.13), soon shouted out, "Let him be crucified" (Mt 27.23). And this was despite His having "done so many miracles before them" (v.37). Such unbelief, coupled with a deliberate rejection of Gods beloved Son, provoked the judicial blinding foreseen by Isaiah the prophet. "He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them" (v.40). Even some of the ruling Jews who felt convinced in their own minds that the Lord Jesus was Messiah refused to confess Him, fearing excommunication (v.42). Now, if this nation, so wonderfully blessed of God, "to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came" (Rom 9.4-5), remained in unbelief, it proves that only a genuine work of grace in the human heart can bring about salvation. And it shows that even the best miracles those performed by Christ do not generate saving faith.
Features of His service
John concluded the section with a summary of Christs public ministry (vv.44-50), a ministry which was transparent in the sense that "Jesus cried out" (v.44, ESV) for all to hear. Even though the Lord Jesus was about to teach His disciples privately in the upper room (Jn 13-17), and at a point in His ministry when Israels rejection became inevitable He taught in parables to conceal truth from the multitudes (Mt 13), much of the Lords teaching had remained public, giving large numbers opportunity to listen. Nevertheless, His teaching was never meant to engender a mere assent to religious ideals in the many, but to direct individuals to saving faith in Himself: "He that believeth on me"; "whosoever believeth on me" (vv.44,46). His miracles confirmed this intention for, as well as being messianic credentials, acts of immense kindness in response to human need, and proofs of His deity, they also acted as sign posts directing men to Him as the only true answer to their spiritual poverty. Another constant feature of Christs earthly ministry was His perfect submission to, and oneness with, the Father. "He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me"; "I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak"; "even as the Father said unto me, so I speak" (vv.44,49,50). This unity within the Godhead, which had eternally existed, is consistent with the Sons complete revelation of the Father. Throughout history God had made Himself known to mankind, whether in the grandeur and beauty of creation (Ps 19.1-6; Rom 1.20), or in the intermittent and varied testimony of Jewish prophets (Heb 1.1). However, there had never been such an unsullied, pure and uninterrupted manifestation of God comparable to the shining of the sun as in the days of the flesh of the Lord Jesus who is the "brightness of [Gods] glory, and the express image of his person" (Heb 1.3). And so the Saviour claimed, "he that seeth me seeth him that sent me"; "I am come a light into the world" (vv.45,46). For the many who refused to believe or receive Christs words and instead rejected Him, His earthly ministry, and especially His words, laid the foundation for future judgment (vv.47-48).
We ourselves have never seen Christ physically, "yet believing, [we] rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory" (1 Pet 1.8). May the desire of those Gentile proselytes "we would see Jesus" (v.21) be our daily prayer, for in striving to know Him better (Phil 3.8) and yearning for His coming (Rom 8.23) our lives will become less cluttered with worldly things; we will sin less; and local churches will experience far less friction.
1 Jamieson, Fausset & Brown. COMMENTARY ON THE WHOLE BIBLE (Zondervan Publishing House, 1961).