The Last Sign
The apostle John carefully selected and recorded seven signs and tells us that, even though there were many other signs Jesus did, these are recorded that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God and through believing have life in his name (20:31). The last recorded sign was Lazarus being raised from the dead which was to bring Jesus’ public ministry to a close. The next day, as he rode into Jerusalem to waving palms and shouts of the people, he declared that his hour had finally come (12:23). But he was not to be exalted to the throne, as some there may have thought, but to be delivered up to the cross (12:24). And through being lifted up in this way would draw all peoples, not just The Jews, to himself (12:32).
The Final Curtain
Jesus then urges them to respond to light while they had it, just a little while longer, as the final curtain was closing (12:35). Again in the following verse He makes one final plea to “believe in the light while you have it, that you may become sons of light”. Then we read the sobering words that “he departed and was hidden from them”. That was it! His public ministry had now ended.
The Hardened Heart
John then declares that “although He had done so many signs before them, they would not believe in Him” (12:37) He then quotes Isaiah in saying “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” to make that point clear. John continues, saying “therefore they could not believe” and quotes Isaiah again “because Isaiah said again: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts” (Jn 12:39-40). What’s important to note here is that they would not believe (verse 37) and then they could not believe (verse 39). This principle seems to help think through how man’s will certainly is honored by a soveriegn God and man is responsible to make his choice accordingly.
Refusing to Humble
Pharaoh, after being warned of his 1st born being struck dead, first suffered 9 plagues before that actually happened. We could say that each time he “would not” his heart was hardened until ultimately it was so hard that perhaps he “could not”. The most insightful verse in this narrative is found in Ex 10:2-3 where God clearly asks Pharaoh “How long you refuse to humble yourself before me?”. That certainly doesn’t sound like God over-ruled his will and fitted him as a vessel for wrath, but that Pharaoh’s own refusal resulted in him being fit for judgment. God has chosen to give grace to the humble and Pharaoh refused to humble himself. Clearly pharaoh could have, but would not. He chose, he refused, he hardened his own heart. And then with each plague and each refusal, God’s hardening was a consequence of pharaoh’s own hardening. Matt 23:37 comes to mind here when Jesus looked over Jerusalem that day and said “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, ..How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not“
Responding to The Light
Paul, in Rom 1:19-28, also speaks of a judgment towards those who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness”. In the very the face of clear revelation they refused to believe and were said to be “without excuse”. Subsequently, because they would not, God also “gave them up to uncleanness” (1:21) and “gave them up to vile passions” (1:26) and “gave them over to a debased mind” (1:28). It seems that one was the consequence of the other. We might then conclude that each person is quite clearly responsible to respond to the light they have and that perhaps if one “would not” believe he risks a day when perhaps he “could not”. The word “today” is well placed in Heb 3:15 when it well says “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts”.