John 12 - IVP New Testament Commentaries
Jesus Gives a Final Summarizing Pronouncement
Now that the public ministry is complete and John has reflected on the rejection Jesus has met, a final statement from Jesus is given. It is not located either in place or time (the NIV's then, v. 44, is misleading; the conjunction de is much weaker here). The statement weaves together many major motifs from the first twelve chapters, the main theme being the salvation and judgment that have come through Jesus and that are all grounded in the Father.
Jesus begins by emphasizing his oneness with the Father. Faith is not just in him but in the one who sent him (v. 44). Putting it this way places the emphasis on the Father in such a way as to include the Son, since the Father is described as the one who sent me (cf. Westcott 1908:2:138). Likewise, to see him is to see the one who sent him (v. 45). Here again is the language of agency, drawing on the Jewish notion that an agent is to act in accordance with the intentions of the one who has sent the agent, though Jesus far transcends the category of agent (see note on 5:21). Isaiah was privileged to have seen the Lord in his glory (v. 41), and now it is said that all who have seen Jesus have also seen this glory. Because faith in Jesus is faith in God the cowardice of the would-be believers in the previous section (vv. 42-43) is heinous. This unity between Jesus and the one who sent him grounds this section, as it has the whole Gospel.
Jesus next speaks of the salvation he has brought, using the image of light (v. 46; cf. 1:4-5, 9; 3:19-21; 8:12). He has come into the world as the light. The world is dark precisely because it is alienated from God, who is light. Because Jesus has brought the light of God everyone who believes in him no longer remains in the darkness.
After speaking of the believer Jesus describes two forms of unbelief (Westcott 1908:2:140), described as two responses to his teaching (vv. 47-48). First, there are those who hear his words but do not keep them (v. 47). Such people will listen, but they will not take the teaching into their life and live according to it. The would-be believers in verses 42-43 are one example of such folk. Jesus says he will not judge such a person since he came to save the world, not condemn it (cf. 3:17; 8:15). However, his very presence as the light (v. 46), revealing God, is an exposure and thus condemnation of the darkness. So in fact judgment does take place through him (cf. 5:22, 27; 8:16, 26). "Justification and condemnation are opposite sides of the same process; to refuse the justifying love of God in Christ is to incur judgment" (Barrett 1978:434). Although judgment takes place it is still of the utmost importance to understand that God's intent is salvific. Without this fundamental truth our view of God will go rotten quite quickly.
The second sort of unbeliever is one who out-and-out rejects Jesus by not receiving his teachings (v. 48). To refuse to receive Jesus' word is to reject Jesus himself, just as to refuse to receive the Father's Word, Jesus, is to reject the Father himself. Jesus says, that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. In other words, the judgment will be on the basis of that which had been made available to the person. "The same word which was to save him judges him" (Schnackenburg 1980b:423). The condemnation begins with the rejection (cf. 3:18) and, if one persists in rejecting him, it will lead to condemnation at the last day.
The condemnation works out in this way "because" (hoti), says Jesus, I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say (vv. 49-50). In other words, the teaching that these unbelievers reject comes from the Father and offers eternal life. Indeed, the text is even more graphic than the NIV suggests, for it says "his command is eternal life" (he entole autou zoe aionios estin, v. 50). The command has to do with a relationship with God himself and a sharing in his life. It is not just a description of a pattern of life and a demand to conform to it. It is a life that expresses the pattern of God's own character. Since Jesus' teachings come from God and offer eternal life, a rejection of these teachings is itself condemnation, for it is a rejection of God and his offer of life.
This final section has emphasized the words of Jesus, just as the previous section had emphasized his deeds (vv. 37-41). What is said about Jesus and his teachings in this final section echoes sections of Deuteronomy regarding the prophet like Moses who was to come (Deut 18:18-19) and the conclusion of Moses' own ministry (cf. Brown 1966:491-93). "When Moses finished reciting all these words to all Israel, he said to them, `Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you--they are your life'" (Deut 32:45-47). The theme of Jesus' superiority to Moses thus returns here at the end of the public ministry (cf. 5:46).
The final words of the public ministry emphasize that the foundation for Jesus' statements, and for his whole ministry, is his oneness with the Father. He has not spoken on his own accord, or, more literally, "from myself" (ex emautou, v. 49). Here is the divine humility of the Son (cf. Chrysostom In John 69.2). "In the first part of the gospel, which here closes, Jesus lives in complete obedience to the Father; in the second part he will die in the same obedience" (Barrett 1978:435).