Rev. Dick is pastor of Grace Protestant Reformed Church in Standale, Michigan.
That is the question.
Some may think other questions and matters are more or at least equally important. “To invest in stocks, or not to invest in stocks.” “To marry or not to marry.” “To change jobs or not to change jobs.” “To go to church on December 25 or not to.”
But to believe in Jesus or not to believe in Jesus is the question one must answer. It is the issue one must address. It is the decision one must make—now, and every day.
To believe or not to believe in Jesus, in all that we do or say, think or desire…this is the most important thing.
The reason believing or not believing is the question, the issue, the decision of life is that believing or not believing is the way to the Father or the way to the fire. Believing in Jesus is the way to the Father and to eternal life. Not believing in Jesus is the way to the fire of hell and to eternal death.
To believe or not to believe … is to be or not to be … saved!
In the passage before us, John 12:34-50, we see plainly how “to believe or not to believe” is the question. We see here some not willing to believe, but instead to be sermon critics and Scripture-twisters. We listen to Jesus admonish them to believe (vv. 34-36). There is an explanation of the reason why so many believed not Jesus (vv. 37-41). Then there is mention of the fact that to some “to believe or not to believe” was not the question. They chose instead to believe “sort of” (vv. 42, 43). Finally we have recorded in this passage a summary statement of what it is to believe or not to believe (vv. 44-50).
To believe or not to believe Jesus. That is the question always, and also here in this portion of sacred writ. That is the subject. See for yourself. Search the Scriptures. And believe!
For Study, Meditation, & Discussion
1. Denying…departing (vv. 34-36).
What is believing on Jesus? What is not believing on Jesus?
The people who heard Jesus speak of the glorification of the Father and the Son and the church were unbelievers.
The people show their unbelief in two ways.
The people show this unbelief first in their misinterpretation of the voice from heaven. The voice was God’s voice. It was plainly God’s voice. John the believer evidently knew it to be God’s voice. But some said the voice was thunder. Others said it was an angel’s voice (v. 28, 29). In unbelief the people could not rise above the level of creature. They could believe in thunder. They might be fascinated with the thought of angels. But they refuse to hear and to acknowledge God. How is this sort of unbelief manifest today?
Second, this unbelief shows itself in the people’s refusing to acknowledge the Messiah who is revealed in Scripture. It is especially over the truth Jesus had just proclaimed about His dying (vv. 23ff., and especially v. 32) that the people stumble. They will have none of this: their Messiah, dying?! God forbid! “We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, the son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man” (v. 34)?!
To what law might the people be referring as proof that Christ abideth for ever (might it be in the Pentateuch, e.g., Genesis 17, 49, or in the rest of the Old Testament, here referred to as “the law,” e.g., II Samuel 7; Psalm 2, etc.)?
Why do these people, and so many also today, refuse to accept the necessity of Christ’s death for His people?
This claim of the people is a classic example of what we see so often today: picking and choosing certain texts in Scripture which seem to support one’s position, and overlooking, even twisting those which seem to deny one’s position. What texts in the Old Testament do in fact teach the (necessity of the) death of the Christ? The people’s unbelief prompts an exhortation from Jesus to believe in the light while the light (Jesus Himself, cf. John 8:12) is still with them (vv. 35, 36). What is the spiritual significance of all these truths: the light, the darkness, walking in the light, being children of the light? How do we show we are children of the light, walking in the light?
Jesus, the all-wise preacher, recognizing the unbelief of His audience, warns the people that the light will be with them only a little while longer. After this brief, yet sharp, warning, Jesus departs, and hides Himself from them (v. 36)! His departing is judgment. For His departure is the departure of the Word and gospel of God, the only hope of life eternal, from a people which had rejected God and Messiah. Elijah and the prophetic word had been taken away from Israel under the idolatrous Ahab. Jesus, the true Word from heaven, departs from the Jews under the self-righteous reign of the Pharisees.
God in Christ hiding Himself from the church! How is this evident today?
2. The explanation of unbelief (vv. 37-41).
Jesus spoke convincing sermons. Jesus worked convincing miracles. No one who heard Jesus, no one who saw or heard of Jesus’ miracles might deny that Jesus is the Christ.
The passage in John 12:37-41 tells us that though no one might deny Jesus (it is wrong to do so!), yet many did deny Him and believe not on Him.
From the passage and from the passages referred to in Isaiah 6 and 53, and in the light of the entire Word of God, cite three or four explanations for the cause of unbelief.
Diligent study of the causes of unbelief leads to our consideration of other related matters. Discuss also these:
1) The sovereignty of God/the responsibility of man. Is this true, as some minister has said: “God is 100% sovereign; man is 100% responsible”? How do we refute the charges that the doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of God makes God the author of sin and makes man a mere puppet of God?
2) The free offer of the gospel. Some say that God sincerely desires to save all who hear the preaching of the gospel. He wants all, He urges all, He begs all, in ardent love, to believe, and, therefore, to be saved. Others, including the Protestant Reformed Churches, deny that there can be such a passion and love of God for all to be saved who hear the preaching. Think on this and discuss this in light of the various causes of unbelief (e.g., Can God “harden” someone He at the same time desires to save? Can the sovereignty of God be maintained if the desires of God with respect to many are ultimately not fulfilled? Can there be a desire in God for all to be saved if there is no cross for all?)
3) How is the gospel always “triumphant” if many who hear it do not believe it (cf. II Cor. 2:14-17)? How is this an encouragement to us when in the preaching of the true gospel the multitudes continue to resist our preaching, and instead flock to the mega-church down the street?
3. Some believe…sort of (vv. 42, 43).
Many of the chief rulers believed on Jesus. However, they were afraid of being put out of the synagogue, and therefore they did not confess Jesus.
Was the faith of these rulers fake? Is it ever possible to believe on Jesus, and yet not to confess Him publicly (cf. Matt. 10:32, 33; Rom. 10:9, 10)? Is it ever wise to be silent about our faith?
How do we confess Jesus? How do we “walk the talk”?
4. To believe, or not to believe (vv. 44-50).
This passage is a summary and review of the authority and ministry of Jesus. We cannot be sure when Jesus said these words. Perhaps John, under the inspiration of the Spirit, compiled various statements Jesus had made all along regarding His ministry and authority, and was led to include them here in his account where is recorded the close of Jesus’ public ministry. Certainly this remarkable summary of Jesus’ credentials is to state very plainly just what it is to believe, or not to believe, on this the Son and Messiah of God!
Arthur Pink, in his commentary on John, notes how each verse of this passage has a reference to what Jesus had said earlier. Look these up for yourself:
John 12: Other passages in John:
v. 458:19; 10:38
v. 468:12; 9:5
v. 475:45; 3:17
v. 495:30; 7:16; 8:26-28
v. 503:11; 5:32; 8:55
How in this passage does Jesus once more affirm that His authority and ministry are of God? Why is not believing on such a One condemnation, and why is believing on such a One life everlasting?
In this passage Jesus equates believing on Him with “seeing” Him and “receiving” His words. Unbelief is equated with “not seeing” Jesus and “not receiving” His words, but instead “rejecting” Jesus and His words. What do these equations say of faith and unbelief?
John 12:47 states that Jesus did not come to judge the world, but to save it (cf. 3:17). Other places speak of judgment being appointed to the Son: 5:22, 27; 8:16, 26. And Jesus says in John 9:39: “For judgment I have come into this world.” How do these statements harmonize?
5. Perspective (John 20:31).
In referring to Isaiah 6 as evidence of the kind of judicial hardening which was going on through Jesus’ own ministry, John 12:41 tells us that Isaiah saw “his glory.” The reference is clearly to Jesus. When Isaiah saw the Lord, Jehovah, sitting in all His glory on the throne, high and lifted up (Isaiah 6:1-4), Isaiah saw Jesus! What does this say of Jesus?
What do you say of Jesus? How do we show we believe in Him, God of glory revealed, God of our salvation?
Dear reader: believe! Believe entirely in Jesus. Rejoice and be glad through faith in Him. He is salvation and everlasting life!
Believe just in Jesus!
At the time of my writing this (December 25, 1997) there is talk on the radio and in the press, and also among the clerics and churches, of acceptance of all kinds of religion. There is truly “no room in the inn” for the Jesus who declares that to believe in Him is to be saved, and to believe not in Him is to be damned…. Here them soliloquize, and then pontificate: “To be or not to be … tolerant. That is the question.”
Enter Antichrist. Exit Truth.