The First Last Teaching
A Crowd of Doubters
Before Good Friday and Easter Weekend, let’s take a look at John 12 where we can read the last recorded message Jesus gave to a crowd before His death. His last teaching or address to a crowd is known as the Great Commission; we’ll call this portion in John 12 Jesus’ first last teaching.
First of all let’s look at the crowd. Jesus taught to many crowds in many places during his three-year ministry. In John 12, we learn that five days before Passover Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a young donkey and the crowds were large because these were people who had seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, so they came out in droves to see Jesus. They held palm branches and shouted, “Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hail to the King of Israel!” Sounds like a good crowd, ready to listen to what Jesus might have to say, but what we find is that this crowd is very doubtful of Jesus and filled with questions.
“‘Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came! Father, bring glory to your name.’ Then a voice spoke from heaven, saying, ‘I have already brought glory to my name, and I will do so again.’ When the crowd heard the voice, some thought it was thunder, while others declared an angel had spoken to him.” (John 12:27-29)
Even when Jesus was on this earth and an audible voice spoke from heaven, people still missed it. Oftentimes, I can find myself longing for an audible answer from the Lord, but this example here shows that sometimes people hear it and sometimes people claim it is only thunder. After Jesus again declared that his time to die was coming, the crowd was filled with doubt.
“The crowd responded, ‘We understood from Scripture that the Messiah would live forever. How can you say the Son of Man will die? Just who is this Son of Man, anyway?’” (John 12:34)
Do you see how much in common we have with the crowd? Even when Jesus says it will be one way, the crowd questions him based on their own knowledge and understanding. Proverbs 3:5: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.” Relying on their own understanding even led them to ask the Son of Man, who the Son of Man is!
“But despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him.” (John 12:37)
This is not the crowd that was hungry for Jesus’ teachings like the crowd at the feeding of the 5,000. We often think of the crowd changing in a matter of days going from shouting “Hosanna!” to “Crucify Him!” but here we see that they are filled with questions and doubt when they hear what Jesus had to say.
“Many people did believe in him, however, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. For they loved human praise more than the praise of God.” (John 12:42-43)
Something that we see again today: loving human praise more than the praise of God and hiding our belief out of fear.
And then we have Jesus’ final address to the crowd and he holds nothing back.
“Jesus shouted to the crowds, ‘If you trust me, you are trusting not only me, but also God who sent me. For when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me. I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it. But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken. I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it. And I know his commands lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say.’” (John 12:44-50)
To a crowd who had questioned his statements, his predictions, who could not hear a voice from heaven but instead claimed it was thunder, to a crowd who was clearly relying on its own understanding, Jesus gave them everything: the purpose of his ministry (to save the world, not judge it), the authority with which he said these things (God’s authority, not his own), that he was God in the flesh ("when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me"), and what will happen at the end of time ("I will not judge those who hear me…but all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment…"). For a first last message, Jesus laid it all on the line and it is still there for us today. We can accept this message or reject it. After the resurrection, Jesus would speak again to a crowd, but this time it is a crowd of believers. What crowd do you find yourself in? A crowd of doubters or a crowd of believers?
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.