Yet again, our Lectionary compilers left out another few key verses from readings for public worship.

They included the first part of Isaiah’s prophecy in John 12:38, but omitted the rest, which form the core of a warning in this chapter about the severity of unbelief.  God will give diehard unbelievers over to their own devices. Every Christian should be aware of what happens when people actively ignore or make light of God and His Son Jesus Christ.

As these verses have been excluded from the Lectionary, they can be added to my ongoing series, Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to our understanding of the Bible.

Today’s reading is taken from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

John 12:39-41

39Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,
40 “He has blinded their eyes
   and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
   and understand with their heart, and turn,
   and I would heal them.”

 41Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.


Last week, we read that John 12 opens with Mary (Martha and Lazarus’s sister) anointing Jesus’s feet with expensive and fragrant spikenard. From there, Jesus makes His triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Passover — what we remember on Palm Sunday. The Pharisees were beside themselves in fury and contemplated whom to have put to death — Lazarus, recently raised from the dead, or, the cause of their vexation, Jesus.

Between then and today’s verses, the rest of the day progressed. Two ‘Greeks’ (John 12:20) asked the apostle Philip if they could see Jesus. We are not certain if John meant two Hellenist Jews or two Gentiles, as ‘Greek’ is sometimes used in the New Testament to mean non-Jews in general. If they were Gentiles, they might have been among those living outside the city gates of Jerusalem.

Their request signifies to Jesus that His time has now come. Jesus’s response to Philip and Andrew of the strangers’ request is John 12:23:

And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

When Gentiles asked to see Him, that was — for Him — the signal that His earthly ministry had come to an end. The Apostles did not know that. Matthew Henry analyses this for us (emphases mine):

The end designed hereby, and that is the glorifying of the Redeemer: “And is it so? Do the Gentiles begin to enquire after me? Does the morning-star appear to them? and that blessed say-spring, which knows its place and time too, does that begin to take hold of the ends of the earth? Then the hour is come for the glorifying of the Son of man.” This was no surprise to Christ, but a paradox to those about him. Note, [1.] The calling, the effectual calling, of the Gentiles into the church of God greatly redounded to the glory of the Son of man. The multiplying of the redeemed was the magnifying of the Redeemer. [2.] there was a time, a set time, an hour, a certain hour, for the glorifying of the Son of man, which did come at last, when the days of his humiliation were numbered and finished, and he speaks of the approach of it with exultation and triumph: The hour is come.

Effectual calling, simply put, is the Holy Spirit working in a person to bring about — effect — a yearning to know Christ without having seen Him.  The Trinity Baptist Church (Burlington, Ontario) website explains effectual calling beautifully:

Scripture distinguishes between what has been termed the “general” or “universal” call of the gospel and the “effectual” call.

The general call of the gospel can be rejected and indeed is rejected by men and women because of their sinful state. This call is seen in verses such as Isaiah 45:22; Matthew 11:28; Isaiah 55:1. This call is genuine and real and is to be issued by God’s servants to all mankind. However, the response to this call is illustrated in the parable of Matthew 22:1-6.

But there is in Scripture an effectual call: that is a call which not only invites and summons but which also carries with it the power to ensure the desired response. The effectual call not only invites sinners to salvation but actually brings them to it. In this call the Holy Spirit makes the general call effectual; it comes through the gospel message to the elect of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. Compare 1 Thessalonians 1:4,5.

It is the effectual call to which the Bible refers most often when it speaks of “call”, “called”, and “calling”. Compare Romans 8:28-30; 1 Corinthians 1:23-27; Hebrews 9:15.

The Bible uses the word “called” to describe Christians. Compare Romans 1:6,7; 1 Corinthians 1:9, Jude 1.

The effectual call is the result of God’s purpose. The “purpose” of Romans 8:28 is obviously God’s purpose of election referred to in Romans 9:11. The Bible says that God’s purposes will most certainly come to pass. Compare Daniel 4:35; Isaiah 46:10,11; Job 23:13,14.

So, these men who asked to see Jesus were effectually called. However, note what Jesus says in John 12:26:

If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

Henry writes:

The Greeks desired to see Jesus (v. 21), but Christ lets them know that it was not enough to see him, they must serve him. He did not come into the world, to be a show for us to gaze at, but a king to be ruled by. And he says this for the encouragement of those who enquired after him to become his servants. In taking servants it is usual to fix both the work and the wages; Christ does both here.

[1.] Here is the work which Christ expects from his servants; and it is very easy and reasonable, and such as becomes them.

First, Let them attend their Master’s movements: If any man serve me, let him follow me. Christians must follow Christ, follow his methods and prescriptions, do the things that he says, follow his example and pattern, walk as he also walked, follow his conduct by his providence and Spirit. We must go whither he leads us, and in the way he leads us; must follow the Lamb whithersoever he goes before us …

Secondly, Let them attend their Master’s repose: Where I am, there let my servant be, to wait upon me. Christ is where his church is, in the assemblies of his saints, where his ordinances are administered; and there let his servants be, to present themselves before him, and receive instructions from him. Or, “Where I am to be in heaven, whither I am now going, there let the thoughts and affections of my servants be, there let their conversation be, where Christ sitteth.” Col. 3:1, 2.

[2.] Here are the wages which Christ promises to his servants; and they are very rich and noble.

First, They shall be happy with him: Where I am, there shall also my servant be. To be with him, when he was here in poverty and disgrace, would seem but poor preferment, and therefore, doubtless, he means being with him in paradise, sitting with him at his table above, on his throne there; it is the happiness of heaven to be with Christ there, ch. 17:24. Christ speaks of heaven’s happiness as if he were already in it: Where I am; because he was sure of it, and near to it, and it was still upon his heart, and in his eye. And the same joy and glory which he thought recompence enough for all his services and sufferings are proposed to his servants as the recompence of theirs. Those that follow him in the way shall be with him in the end.

Secondly, They shall be honoured by his Father; he will make them amends for all their pains and loss, by conferring an honour upon them, such as becomes a great God to give, but far beyond what such worthless worms of the earth could expect to receive. The rewarder is God himself, who takes the services done to the Lord Jesus as done to himself. The reward is honour, true lasting honour, the highest honour; it is the honour that comes from God.

After that, a crowd near Jesus begin provoking Him with questions about His divinity. These are on a par with those of the Pharisees. It’s as if these people are wilfully blinding themselves to the Messiah standing before them. They refuse to believe.

Jesus advises those in Jerusalem for the very last time (John 12:35-36):

The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.

When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.

That is Jesus’s last teaching and discussion with the Jewish people.  He then disappears.  He is finished with them — forever.

John, again proving Jesus’s divinity to us, directs us to the Prophet Isaiah.  Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy about the unbelief of the Jewish people (verse 39).  If Jesus’s divinity is one ongoing theme through John’s gospel, the other, where the Jews are concerned, is their abject refusal to believe in Jesus as the Messiah.

However, verse 40 tells us that Isaiah also foretold that God blinded them in unbelief (Isaiah 6:10). Henry, being well acquainted with the writings of the Doctors of the Church up to the Bible scholars of his time, interprets it as meaning that because they refused to believe, God withdrew His grace and left them spiritually blind for previous obstinacy and sin as a people.  The Old Testament is one long account of the Jewish people turning from God towards carnal sin, idolatry and pride. Yes, when they repented, He saved them, but

Judicial blindness and hardness are in the word of God threatened against those who wilfully persist in wickedness, and were particularly foretold concerning the Jewish church and nation. Known unto God are all his works, and all ours too. Christ knew before who would betray him, and spoke of it, ch. 6:70. This is a confirmation of the truth of scripture prophecies, and thus even the unbelief of the Jews may help to strengthen our faith. It is also intended for caution to particular persons, to beware lest that come upon them which was spoken of in the prophets, Acts 13:40.

Acts 13:40-41 paraphrases Isaiah 6:10 and John 12:40:

40Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about:
41 “‘Look, you scoffers,
   be astounded and perish;
for I am doing a work in your days,
   a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.'”

A number of ‘Forbidden Bible Verses’ refer to God’s desertion of people for wilful and wanton disobedience. The sign of repentance is turning away from a particular sin forever, not just crying about it one day and then returning to it later on. Yes, we all struggle with sin as part of our innate depravity, but our grievous sins become progressively fewer the further we get into the sanctification process.  With the Jewish nation, sanctification as a whole had not happened. Yes, some individuals believed on Jesus as Lord, but, by and large, we can see that the Jewish people did not — whether out of stubbornness (the religious leadership) or fear (the people, afraid of being thrown out of the synagogue).

John MacArthur explains:

They had a history of unbelief that bred right into them a moral impossibility. They had long ago hardened themselves against God and now God hardened Israel so Israel could not believe and that’s the sovereign side and yet at the same time every individual Jew was responsible for what he did with Messiah

Remember it, verse 35 Jesus begged them to walk in the light. But when men by their own decision and by refusing repeated warning reject Christ, then and only then God hardens them and those who are not willing to believe are not able to believe. They would not, so they could not. That’s a tragedy. The harvest was past, the summer was ended, the sun had set and it was over. Mark it, my friend, it is an inviolable law of God that personal rejection becomes judicial hardening on the part of God. And Isaiah foretold every detail of it word for word …

So they had refused the light. Rejected the truth that God judicially hardened them. Boy, it’s a solemn thing to remember what God did to Israel here. They’re still hardened today, two thousand years later. But what God did to Israel there wasn’t anything new for God, He did it in history before, didn’t He? He did it to the pre-flood civilization, He did it in Sodom and Gomorrah, He did it again, and again, and again and He’s going to do it another time in the great holocaust that comes at His return in the great flaming judgment of the Second Coming. And he may be doing it in your own life individually. God may judicially abandon you as an individual because of repeated refusals to receive His grace.

John specifies in verse 41 that Isaiah 6:10 concerns the Jewish people’s reaction to Jesus Christ. He wants us to understand the connection. Furthermore, John also wants us to know that the Lord revealed the glory of Christ to Isaiah when He gave him this prophecy.  Matthew Henry says of Isaiah (Esaias in the King James Version):

He saw his glory. Jesus Christ therefore is equal in power and glory with the Father, and his praises are equally celebrated. Christ had a glory before the foundation of the world, and Esaias saw this.

Let this be a warning about the deadly sin of unbelief. If you are struggling with it personally, please pray for God’s grace so that you believe fully in Christ Jesus, our Saviour and Redeemer.

Next week: John 13:16-20