37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
39 Therefore 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.”
41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.
If an abundance of evidence was sufficient to convert men to the one true God, then all the world would have already been converted. Creation and all therein is nothing but evidence for the triune God, yet the world is full of rebel human beings who make up myths like “mother nature” and “father time” instead of just giving glory to God. Unbelief in man is not due to a lack of evidence. You could list every evidence possible and still it would not convert a single soul. Why? Because spiritual unbelief is not unbelief because there is a lack of evidence and reason. Spiritual unbelief is not the lack of some information. The unbeliever is not a neutral inquirer, but an active rebel. Unbelief does not come from a lack of evidence for God, but from an already present opposition to God. The unbeliever does not need to be convinced of God by the evidence, because his opposition to God already shows he knows God is. He is very much opposed to Him. What is needed then, is gospel preaching that includes a call to repent of that opposition to God. The unbelieving heart does not need to be swayed by evidence, it needs to be taken out and replaced with a new heart by the power of God. And since Jesus died and rose from the dead, God loves to do just that. So if you’re an unbeliever sitting here today, I must warn you that you are in danger of God taking your unbelieving heart and giving you a new believing one here today without asking for your permission.
Considering this in light of our passage today there are certain distinctions I want to make between evidence as we use it today and the signs that Jesus did. Simply put, they are not the same thing. The signs that Jesus did such as healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, multiplying food, and raising the dead, were specific Messianic signs that pointed to Jesus as the Messiah sent from God. These signs were designed, in part, to show people that they should believe in Jesus. That is the case that we see several times throughout John where John will make a comment that says something like, “and many who saw the signs Jesus did believed in Him.” In some sense the signs themselves were gospel preaching. That is one way we understand how some people believed and some did not after observing the same signs Jesus did. Because the gospel has two designs as we are told in 1 Corinthians that the cross is either the power of God to those being saved, or it is folly and foolishness to those who are perishing. Jesus is either a rock of offence and stumbling, or the rock of our salvation. So the emphasis of verse 37 is the incredible blindness and unbelief of the crowds who witnessed so many of the signs that Jesus did yet still they did not believe. Verse 37 is trying to get us to ask the question: “how in the world could these people still not believe in Jesus?? They saw Him multiply food to feed 5,000 men from 5 loaves and 2 fish; they saw him heal the unhealable; they saw him raise Lazarus from the dead for crying out loud; they heard his superior teaching from God! And all of this in fulfillment of their own law and prophets concerning the Messiah.” Yet they did not believe. How could they not? That is what is answered for us in the immediately following verses.
They did not believe to fulfill the Word of God
Verse 37 continues into verse 38 and says “…still they did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled…” Read the quote from Isaiah. After quoting from Isaiah, John emphasizes the point further by saying in verse 39, “Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said…”
Do you see what is being said here? They did not believe in order that the Word of God would be fulfilled. They of course unwittingly fulfilled the prophecy. They were so blinded they did not see they were those the prophet spoke of as being blinded and hardened. God decreed their unbelief before it happened, so when it happened it fulfilled the Word of God. This is a hard truth. Notice it does not merely say that they would not believe or chose not to believe or decided not to believe. John quotes the Word of God from the prophet Isaiah and says, inspired by the Holy Spirit, “Therefore they could not believe.” Much like Pharaoh, God hardened their hearts and darkened their eyes. Here is a good test for the Christian: though your flesh may not understand this, though you struggle to wrap your mind around it, do you still love God? Do you still humble yourself at His feet and worship Him? That is what this should do. This is the type of stuff that makes me people mad and so it is the type of thing that preachers skip over, or soften the edges to, or explain away. And as a Christian you will be tempted to do the same. You will be tempted to blunt the Sword of the Spirit. But we must not apologize for the Word of God. We must put it into our minds that we will not be embarrassed about our God hardening their hearts. God’s not embarrassed about it. We must be determined to have no problem passages. Because you see, one thing that is happening here is that John is showing us how the Word of God cannot be broken. If God didn’t harden their hearts, He would’ve broken His own Word – how dare we ever consider trying to put breaks in God’s Word where there are none! This is not a testimony to God being mean, but to Him being honest, good, and faithful.
We are shown here the extensiveness of their unbelief, that they could not believe, for that is what the prophet Isaiah looked forward to see, that God hardened their hearts and blinded their eyes. It is clear. It is straightforward. It is a reminder that God is God and we are not; and as God, He does not deserve our scrutiny, but rather our worship.
Now there are a few things we would do well to remember and observe here to help us know that God is good and worthy of our worship, despite how we might struggle to understand things like this. One of the most common objections to predestination of any kind is “well doesn’t that make people robots?” That of course has been answered many times and in many ways from Scripture. But we can even note in our passage today that verse 37 still shows us that these people were still responsible for their sin and unbelief. It says, “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still not believe in him.” They were the ones required to believe and they were the ones who did not believe. It was not God who did not believe for them. They did not believe.
People often struggle to see how God is sovereign and man is still responsible for what we say and do. But I’ll just say this shortly: God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are not opposed to one another, but in fact, the reason man is responsible in the first place is because God is sovereign. Because God is sovereign we are responsible. Because God is sovereign, we will give an account for every thought, word, and deed – which makes us responsible. Only people who are responsible can be called to give an account. And we are. If there were no sovereign God to hold us accountable, and nothing will be made right on a day of judgment, then nothing matters and we are not responsible – there’s nothing to be responsible for and no one above us to be responsible to. So it is only because we have a sovereign God who will have all to give an account that makes us responsible, and maybe that is why there is such vitriol among many against the sovereignty of God.
They did not believe so that the Word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled. Therefore they could not believe. He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart. Others would accuse God of being unjust and unfair here. Other passages deal more directly with such objections to the justice of God, but I will just say briefly, by way of reminder, God is not hardening and blinding good men and innocent people who really wanted to follow Jesus and love Him. No, God hardened wicked men, and guilty people who hated Jesus, and loved their sin, and who wanted to murder Jesus. They were not innocent and they were not good. Those people do not exist. In fact God gave them exactly what they wanted. You hate the Lamb of God, the only Christ sent from the Father? Okay, you don’t get Him.
Sinful creatures will use this passage and many others like it for purposes it was not intended for. But you know what John, through inspiration of the Holy Spirit intended this passage for? He wrote it, so that we might believe. That’s what John says in chapter 20, I think it is, that He has written all these things (meaning everything in his entire gospel account), so that we might believe that Jesus is the Son of God. John wrote about the sovereignty of God in the unbelief of the apostate Jews, so that we might believe in Jesus. Thinkin about it that way, you know what this passage shows us? It shows us that Jesus’ earthly public ministry was not a failure. A critic may look at the gospel accounts and see all of these Jewish people hating this guy Jesus, who was supposed to be their Messiah and then crucifying Him. How can non-Jews like us believe that Jesus is the Messiah, if His own people who had the promises, prophets, and scriptures telling them about the Messiah, did not believe in Jesus?? Here’s why: because that is exactly what was supposed to happen. That’s exactly what God said was going to happen. And then we see in the book of Acts, and even in our passage next week, that many Jews did come to Christ. But enough of them in the right positions were hardened in their unbelief so that Jesus would be delivered up to crucifixion by them to fulfill the purposes of God. So you see, this helps show us even more clearly that Jesus is the Messiah and that His ministry was not a failure but actually a perfect success as the Word and purposes of God were exactly and perfectly fulfilled by Christ.
It’s interesting that John pulls from the prophet Isaiah and inspired by the Holy Spirit sees the prophecies from Isaiah as being fulfilled here in Jesus, because there elements of Jesus’ ministry that were very much Isaiahic. Isaiah prophesied unto a people whom God blinded the eyes of and hardened the hearts of, just like Jesus would do much the same.
The good news is that was not the only aspect or even the primary aspect of the ministry of Jesus. Jesus came also to fulfill the ministry of taking hardened hearts, and replacing them with hearts of flesh that beat for God. He came to take rebel enemies of God and make them into friends. He came to give sight to the blind, physically and spiritually. He came to be light that overcomes the darkness. We shouldn’t read about the sovereignty of God and be depressed, but we should read about it and rejoice that now there is hope for me! There is hope for the most hardened and dead of sinners. It is God’s sovereignty that gives us reason to hope. Because our fallen will is only for sin and only to gratify the desires of the flesh. So our only hope comes in a sovereign God who changes hard hearts and opens blind eyes. He sent His Son to minister among a people who were so hardened they could not believe, yet many did believe. We are born so dead in our trespasses and sins that we already have blind eyes and hard hearts. What we need is new eyes and a different heart. That is what Jesus does. As the pure Son of God not born in sin and transgression, who took our sin on him, and died with it. He then rose on the third day, instituting the new creation, and begins that work one set of eyes and one hard heart at a time, making us new creations in Christ Jesus.
The Christian View of History
We not only see the prophetic word at play in the lives of these individuals but we see how it the words shapes history, and thus the Christian view of history. And when we understand this Christian view of history, we better understand that we are small part in the grand scheme of the story of all history and time on this earth, and thus we can better understand the sovereignty of God. Here is the Christian view of history, in short: it is word-fulfilling. History is not trillions of random choices made by humans that end up giving shape to what happens on this earth. Instead, everything that happens is in fulfillment of the word of God. Now the Bible of course does not tell us what all God has decreed in every moment of history. But it tells us God has decreed all things in history, the beginning from the end. So we know then that history is a fulfillment of His decreetal-Word.
Another way to look at it is to say that in the Christian view of history the future determines the past. The future determines the past. Just look at it from our passage. Hundreds of years before these people lived in John 12 Isaiah looked into the future by God’s revealing it to him, and prophesied the future. So the Jews had this prophesy – this Word, way before it was ever fulfilled. So that future decree, determined the past, in the sense that it determined what came before it. Everything before the future, worked to bring about the future, according to God’s Word. This is how history works. God decrees an end, and that determines the past. God decrees the glorification of Christ on the cross, and that determines that everything in the past leads up to that point. For example, if I want to have a picnic at the park, that future event is going to determine the past. It’s going to determine the steps that I take before that future event. I am going to go buy peanut butter and jelly from the store the day before. I am going to get up that morning and make my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and so on and so forth. This view of history is opposed to and contrasted with the naturalistic Darwinian view of history, which says the opposite: that the past determines the future. It said there is no eternal decree of God. There is no prophetic word of God, therefore creatures are their own determiners. Survival of the fittest. There is no end goal or decree. Therefore all the decisions and things done in the past, all evolve into something random no one can predict in the future. The Christian view is the opposite. God decrees an end and everything works out and toward those ends. That is exactly what has happened in our passage. We need to understand our lives fall into this sovereign plan. Everything in our lives, is working toward the ends of God’s glory. This is how we can make sense of hard things like unbelief.
Where this blog post ends, the sermon, as it was preached, went further into verse 41 speaking of Isaiah seeing the glory of Jesus.