John 12:35-50 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. Explain the meaning of the mini-parable Jesus presents in verse 35 (printed below).

Jesus said to them, The light is with you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before the darkness descends upon you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. (John 12:35)

In verse 35 Jesus presents a mini-parable with the object being to impress upon His hearers the need to exercise faith in Him without delay: the sun is setting, therefore, do not linger along the roadside; use the remaining sunlight left in the day to find your way home; do not allow the darkness to descend upon you while you are still on the road; if you allow that to happen, you will never find your way home and you will be lost forever. By means of this parable the Lord Jesus is urging men to believe in Him—to accept His Word and act upon it—while they still have the opportunity.

2. What does Jesus exhort His hearers to do and what will be the result if they heed His counsel? See John 12:36 (printed below)

While you have the light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of light. When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them. (John 12:36)

Jesus is urging His hearers to believe in Him on the basis of the evidence He has already presented, as opposed to insisting upon further proof before they will commit themselves to Him. By means of His comments in verse 36 Jesus indicates that greater spiritual understanding follows faith; it does not precede it. To become a “son of the light” means to become a member or partaker of the light, to become a part of the light. Jesus is saying, “You see the light of God in Me, do not wait until you have the fullness of the light before you believe; on the contrary, it is by believing that you will enter into the light and grow in your knowledge of the light of God.” (cp. John 8:31-32)

3. What does verse 37 (printed below) tell us about the peoples’ response to Jesus?

Even though he had done so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him (John 12:37)

Verse 37 tells us that, although Jesus had performed so many miraculous signs in their presence, these people nevertheless refused to believe. They chose to willfully reject Jesus and His claim to be the Messiah despite the evidence. John informs us that Jesus presented “many” miraculous works that served as “signs” testifying to the truth of Jesus’ claim. Furthermore, these signs were performed “in their presence.” The people themselves were eyewitnesses to Christ’s divine acts. Consequently, their rejection of Jesus was a willful and inexcusable act.

4. What do verses 39-40 (printed below) tell us about the peoples’ unbelief? How do you think this relates to what has been said in verse 37 (printed above under question #3?)

For this reason they were not able to believe, because in another passage Isaiah says, (40) “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart; in order that they should not see with their eyes or perceive with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.” (John 12:39-40)

Whereas John 12:37 informs us that those to whom Jesus spoke did not believe, John 12:39 tells us that they could not believe. Then a passage from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 6:9-10) is supplied to explain the reason for this prevention of faith. What is presented to us here is the very mysterious and sobering phenomenon we may identify as divine judicial hardening—it is a form of judgment enacted by God against men who hear His Word but who persistently refuse to respond to it. The message of Isaiah 6, which had an awful bearing upon the people of Jesus’ day, and which we must soberly consider for our own spiritual well-being, is this: when a people have the privilege of hearing the Word of God, but refuse to respond to that Word in faith and obedience, then the continued exposure to that Word eventually has the reverse effect upon them: it causes them to become spiritually numb, insensitive, and unresponsive to it—they become spiritually “callous” to the life-giving Word of God.

5. What does Jesus tell us about the message He brought? See John 12:49-50 (printed below)

This is the case because I did not speak of my own accord; on the contrary, the Father who sent me, he has commanded me what to say and how to speak. (50) And I know that his commandment is eternal life. Therefore, what I say is just what the Father has spoken to me. (John 12:49-50)

Jesus assures us that He does not speak on His own initiative; on the contrary, He speaks the very Word of God: God the Father has told Him what to say, and exactly how to say it (verse 49). Jesus further testifies that He knows that the message He brings from His Father is the message of life (verse 50): it reveals to us the life of God and invites us to enter into that life through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.